Sunday, August 23, 2015

If Trump's Mission Is To Destroy The Republican Party, He's Certainly Succeeding Brilliantly


Note: this morning, a brand new Reuters-Ipsos poll of Republican voters showed only 3 top tier candidates left:

Trump- 32%
Jeb!- 16%
Carson- 8%

Yesterday we saw how Trump has forced the GOP dangerously rightward on the anti-Hispanic racism that the party was determined-- after their 2014 autopsy-- to avoid. Trump may be able to fill half a football stadium in Mobile, Alabama, in the KKK heartland, but dozens of GOP congressional careers are now in jeopardy-- not to mention the eventual Republican presidential nominee-- because of Trump's cheap shots against millions of Latino Americans. 

Also yesterday, Emily Greenhouse, writing for Bloomberg, pointed out that this Republican lurch to the far right isn't helping them with the women voters that the autopsy concluded had to be appealed to. The gender gap is the biggest it's been in two decades, and thanks to Trump, Huckabee, Jeb, Rubio, Santorum and the rest of the weak Republican presidential contenders it's growing, not narrowing.
The last presidential election illuminated a stark gender gap; Mitt Romney was victorious among male voters, but lost among women by 11 percentage points. Among single women, he lost by 36 points. The following year, the National Republican Congressional Committee, wanting to improve on these numbers-- and avoid repeating damaging lines like former Missouri Rep. Todd Akin’s on “legitimate rape,” uttered three years ago this week-- held sessions with Republican aides on how to talk to and about women. Speaker John Boehner noted that, “when you look around the Congress, there are a lot more females in the Democrat caucus than there are in the Republican caucus.” He encouraged members of Congress to “be a little more sensitive.”

...Three out of four Americans say a woman should be able to obtain a legal abortion if she becomes pregnant as a result of rape. Since the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade, in 1973, not a single Republican presidential nominee has opposed exceptions to abortion in cases of incest, rape, or threat to the life of the mother.

And yet, as we roll toward the 2016 presidential election, the Republican Party seems to have undergone a vigorous rightward turn on the subject of abortion. Whether because of deeply held beliefs or the tactical imperatives of the GOP’s primary season, many of the candidates are taking surprisingly unyielding positions-- ones that are well out of the current American mainstream.
Perhaps Janell Ross got to the bottom of the GOP's self-inflicted-- or Trump-inflicted-- wounds, which are further damaging the Republican brand with wide swathes of voters. She pointed out in yesterday's Washington Post that Trump's appeal and surge is all about appealing to less-educated Americans-- people who get their news and opinions from Hate Talk Radio and Fox News. "Trump," she wrote,
has certainly distinguished himself as the candidate willing to express outrage and horror about the nation's immigration challenges. He has also espoused a range of demonstrably false, unproven and outright conspiratorial ideas about immigration. Those ideas might sound outrageous and even xenophobic to some Americans. But when you look at who told pollsters that they share at least some of Trump's concerns, that same pattern mentioned up above-- white, Republicans with more limited education-- shows up in a slightly more subtle way.
According to a recent ABC News poll, about a third of Trump's supporters come from a group of Republicans with high school diplomas but without college diplomas. Only 8% of Trump's supporters are Republicans with college degrees. "In a nutshell," Ross concluded,
the people pushing Trump to the head of the polling pack in the very crowded Republican field, the people who have assured Trump a position on the debate stage next month and the people fueling Trump's candidacy are-- overwhelmingly but not limited to-- white, Republicans with limited education.
These are people who are forced to compete with immigrants for low-skill/low-wage jobs. Hisham Melhem is the respected Al Arabiya correspondent in Washington, DC. His insights into American politics are insightful and worth paying attention to. Yesterday his column  explained the Trump Nation phenomenon to his readers back home.
In recent election cycles we briefly encountered the quick rise and the quicker fall of the candidate-de-jour phenomenon, particularly on the Republican side, represented by an assortment of eccentric, colorful, narcissistic scoundrels, usually charismatic, attractive and articulate men and women who control the early stages of the race by sheer aplomb and character. Think of Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich in 2012.These self-appointed saviors of Western Civilization always cast themselves as the outsiders holding the keys to quick fixes, or having the divine vision to deliver us from the political wilderness and put us on the righteous path. Never mind that most of them are the creation of the same political culture and the very economic system that they supposedly abjure. In America of late, every politician denounces ‘Washington’, while barely hiding his/her yearning to embrace it.

Trump is now one of them. His detractors say that he is this summer’s fling for angry and alienated Republican voters who will repent in the cold days leading to the first Republican Caucus in Iowa on February 1, 2016. It is very unlikely that Trump will be the next Republican nominee, but surely he has more staying power, than the previous shooting-star candidates because of his wealth, celebrity and his so far, masterful exploitation of the visceral fears that are weighing heavily on many Americans; a seemingly insoluble immigration problem resulting in more than eleven million undocumented immigrants, almost 15 years of unending wars abroad, rising racial tension and small scale riots in American cities that could turn into major ones , and what many see as America’s retrenchment in the world in the face of a rising China and the bloodiest terrorist entity in the modern world, the so-called ‘Islamic State’, a new threat driven by apocalyptic visions of End Time. Trump also is benefitting from the disillusionment of many voters over widening income inequality, stagnant salaries, and the disappearance of many jobs in the new economy, not to mention the squabbling professional politicians and a dysfunctional government in Washington and an election cycle that seemed only few weeks ago destined to be dominated by two candidates representing two political dynasties.

Enter Donald John Trump, once again. Americans have known Trump for decades. You could not ignore him even if you wanted to. He is loud, crass, bombastic, a mendacious swashbuckling tycoon and a misogynistic man who mastered the art of the scheme. This is the man who bragged that he used the laws of the land to amass huge sums of monies in tax breaks to finance his real estate holdings ( a whopping $163.775 million on Trump Tower, in New York according to a recent report in the National Review) The man, who wants to fix a broken wasteful government in Washington, has reneged on paying his debts because of the way he engineered four corporate bankruptcies, and he lived to brag about it. He tweeted recently ‘Stop saying I went bankrupt. I never went bankrupt but like many great business people have used the laws to corporate advantage-- smart!’

Of all the ‘outsiders’ and the career politicians who set their eyes on the prize of the White House in recent years, Trump, maybe because of his brusque and brash style, his celebrity status and wealth has the most formidable built-in immune system against blunders, gaffs and doublespeak. Any other candidate committing a fraction of the slips, half-truths and the outrageous answers born out of ignorance and arrogance, committed by Trump in the last few weeks, would have been history by now. Consider this: when the man who would be the Commander-in-Chief of the American Armed Forces was asked by veteran reporter and anchor of the Meet the Press program on NBC television network, ’Who do you talk to for military advice right now?’ Trump had no coherent answer, but he quickly recouped and blurted out,’ well, I watch the shows. I mean, I really see a lot of great-- you know, when you watch your show and all of the other shows and you have the generals and you have certain people that you like.’ However, when Todd pressed him gently ‘but is there a go-to for you?’, Trump began to fall apart and obfuscate claiming that there are two to three such advisors, including John Bolton, a well-known civilian neoconservative, who talks like a tough General, but he is certainly not one.

Then, maybe to please Todd, Trump mentioned retired Army Colonel Jack Jacobs, a highly decorated officer and one of NBC’s best military analysts. Trump, with a straight face continued ‘Colonel Jack Jacobs is a good guy, and I see him on occasion.’ The problem with this tale is that it is tall. Colonel Jacobs told David Corn of Mother Jones magazine that the claim is not true. ‘He may have said the first person who came to mind, I know him. But I'm not a consultant. I'm not certain if he has a national security group of people. I don't know if he does or if he doesn't. If he does, I'm not one of them.’

Candidate Trump, in his own mind and in the collective imagination of his supporters is the American equivalent of the awaited Mahdi, the restorer of American greatness and righteousness. The problem is that Trump is not the politically pure outsider destined to lead the nation out of the desert; he is in fact the quintessential insider, the very privileged product of the political-economic structure that he pretends to be railing against. Trump’s crass and intimidating persona has fortified him against serious and tough questioning not only from most of his rivals, but also from most journalists who are in a stampede to interview the pretender-performer-cum-candidate as if he is the sage of these bad times. Trump has yet to propose anything serious to increase American economic growth and narrow the income gap, or how to fight the Islamic State better than Obama’s limited war, or how to deal with China’s belligerence in the South China sea, or how to break down barriers preventing better trade deals with China and Japan or how to deal with an irredentist Russia.

Trump so far has given us one liners such as: If I am elected, I will beat China and Japan on trade, I will build a huge 2000 mile wall on the border with Mexico to be as huge and imposing as the great wall of China, chiming at once that ‘it will be known as the Trump Wall’, while he is forcibly deporting millions of ‘illegal immigrants’ but without telling us how. Trump, as President, will literally steal oil from Iraq as he told Chuck Todd ‘and I said you take away their wealth, that you go and knock the hell out of the oil, take back the oil. We take over the oil, which we should have done in the first place.’ And as president, he says he will demand protection money from Saudi Arabia vowing that ‘they should pay us.’ Trump thinks, that such foreign policy demands and grunts will achieve the elusive victories of a bygone era that he and his supporters yearn for, ‘we have no victories. I mean, we just don't have victories anymore. As a country, we don't have victories anymore’. I am hoping that during the next debate, one of Trumps competitors could muster enough courage and be able to memorize a simple question to be directed to the American people ‘do you trust a man like Donald Trump to be the next Commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces?’

It is not an exaggeration to say that the current large field of Republican candidates is shockingly weak particularly on foreign policy. Their first debate exposed their limitations and lack of experience. There were those like Senator Ted Cruz and governor Bobby Jindal who criticized President Obama because he talks about violent extremism but not ’radical Islamic terrorism.’ Jeb Bush continued to struggle with the war in Iraq, still unable to extricate himself from his brother’s war. He is still his brother’s keeper. Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon, supposedly a healer, defended waterboarding. There were the usual ritualistic and obligatory lines about U.S. support to Israel, and Trump, was well, Trump. There were no serious proposals about any outstanding foreign policy challenge, from Iran, to Russia, to the Islamic State. No wonder the Republican candidates are in such disarray on national security issues.

This is not your father’s Republican Party. In the wake of the Tea Party and the rise of such luminaries like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, this is no longer the home of George Herbert Walker Bush, Brent Scowcroft, James Baker or Colin Powell. It is doubtful that Ronald Reagan would be welcomed by the current custodians of conservatism. Dwight Eisenhower need not apply. The old healthy skepticism of Republicans and others of centralized Federal powers, has given way to very corrosive antipathy and even hostility to ‘government’ in general.

Trump screwing with the ole Red, White and Blue

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