Saturday, January 09, 2016

Can The Short-Fingered Vulgarian Extricate Himself From This Mess Before He's Forever Labelled "A Loser?"


How ornery and set in their ways are Republican voters? Under the last (hopefully) Republican president, George W. Bush, GOP policies collapsed the economy and job growth went into negative territory. As a nation, we lost a net of 463,000 jobs while Bush was in the White House. In the seven years President Obama has been in office-- even with intransigent conservative opposition to every step he's taken, his policies have turned the economy around and 9,843,000 new private sector jobs are been created. If Obama had a Democratic Congress, there's every reason to believe the economy would be doing far better and systemic problems from Global Warming, deteriorating infrastructure and gun violence to comprehensive immigration reform and stronger regulation of Wall Street would all be in place now. None of this moves Republicans though. In fact, in their partisan frustration, many of them-- anywhere between a third and a half-- are turning to outright fascism. (The RealClearPolitics poll average of GOP voters as of today shows Herr Trumpf and Cruz together at 55.3% nationally, 59.6% in Iowa, and 38.5% in New Hampshire.)

Yesterday, former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson penned an OpEd for the Washington Post, warning his fellow conservatives that Trump's nomination would rip the heart out of the Republican Party. Gerson began his post by explaining why so many Republican establishment types hate the GOP runner-up, Ted Cruz, a way of emphasizing that even a Cruz nomination wouldn't be as big a catastrophe for the GOP-- a Cruz presidency would be for America though-- as a Trumpf nomination. He says every Republican is wondering what happens if the worst happens. "The worst," he insists, "does not mean the nomination of Ted Cruz, in spite of justified fears of political disaster. Cruz is an ideologue with a message perfectly tuned for a relatively small minority of the electorate. Uniquely in American politics, the senator from Texas has made his reputation by being roundly hated by his colleagues-- apparently a prerequisite for a certain kind of anti-establishment conservative, but unpromising for an image makeover at his convention. Cruz’s nomination would represent the victory of the hard right-- religious right and tea party factions-- within the Republican coalition. After he loses, the ideological struggles within the GOP would go on." Trumpf, he and others fear, is an entirely different cup of tea.
No, the worst outcome for the party would be the nomination of Donald Trump. It is impossible to predict where the political contest between Trump and Hillary Clinton would end up. Clinton has manifestly poor political skills, and Trump possesses a serious talent for the low blow. But Trump’s nomination would not be the temporary victory of one of the GOP’s ideological factions. It would involve the replacement of the humane ideal at the center of the party and its history. If Trump were the nominee, the GOP would cease to be.

Whatever your view of Republican politicians, the aspiration, the self-conception, of the party was set by Abraham Lincoln: human dignity, honored by human freedom and undergirded by certain moral commitments, including compassion and tolerance. Lincoln described the “promise that in due time the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance.”

It is this universality that Trump attacks. All of his angry resentment against invading Hispanics and Muslims adds up to a kind of ethno-nationalism-- an assertion that the United States is being weakened and adulterated by the other. This is consistent with European, right-wing, anti-immigrant populism. It is not consistent with conservatism, which, at the very least, involves respect for institutions and commitment to reasoned, incremental change. And Trumpism is certainly not consistent with the Republicanism of Lincoln, who admitted no exceptions to the promises of the Declaration of Independence and was nominated, in part, because he could appeal to anti-slavery German immigrants.

Liberals who claim that Trumpism is the natural outgrowth, or logical conclusion, of conservatism or Republicanism are simply wrong. Edmund Burke is not the grandfather of Nigel Farage. Lincoln is not even the distant relative of Trump.

Trump, in some ways, is an odd carrier of ethno-nationalist beliefs. He held few of them, as far as I can tell, just four years ago. But as a demagogue, he has followed some of America’s worst instincts wherever they have led, and fed ethnic and religious prejudice in the process. All presidential nominees, to some extent, shape their parties into their own image. Trump would deface the GOP beyond recognition.

Trump is disqualified for the presidency by his erratic temperament, his ignorance about public affairs and his scary sympathy for authoritarianism. But for me, and I suspect for many, the largest problem is that Trump would make the GOP the party of racial and religious exclusion.

American political parties are durable constructions. But they have been broken before by powerful, roiling issues such as immigration and racial prejudice. Many Republicans could not vote for Trump but would have a horribly difficult time voting for Clinton. The humane values of Republicanism would need to find a temporary home, which would necessitate the creation of a third party. This might help elect Clinton, but it would preserve something of conservatism, held in trust, in the hope of better days.

...The nomination of Trump would reduce Republican politics-- at the presidential level-- to an enterprise of squalid prejudice. And many Republicans could not follow, precisely because they are Republicans. By seizing the GOP, Trump would break it to pieces.
Sean Kennedy never wrote a speech for George W. Bush but at the same time Gerson was fretting that Herr Trumpf was breaking the GOP, the former Senate staffer was writing for CNN that Trump Must Be Destroyed. He lectured the "conservative base and Republican establishment" that its almost too late and that they;'d better do it now... and he offered them some advise for Cato-- no, not the libertarian think tank, Cato the Elder who ran around Rome yelling "Carthago delenda est" (Carthage-- roughly Tunisia-- must be destroyed.)
Cato rightly saw the Carthaginians as an existential threat to the Roman Republic. Like Carthage, Trump is a behemoth with sway over the same territory that the GOP covets.

Trump channels the populism of Patrick Buchanan of the 1990s. His appeal to the public strikes deeply at the GOP establishment which has utterly failed to address the concerns of what Nixon, and now Trump's own signage, called the "silent majority." These voters and taxpayers are sick and tired of being run over, run down, and run off by their "betters."

When pollsters and demographers examine "Trump voters" they find them largely white, angry and economically struggling. Their America appears to be in the rear view mirror-- where hard work, strong morals and an unwavering resolve were rewarded with opportunity and eventual success.

As the New York Times' Nate Cohn's analysis showed last week, the GOP frontrunner runs best with blue collar, rural registered Democrats. They have taken a beating in recent decades. Trade agreements and economic shifts have sent the good paying union jobs they once held to sweatshops in developing countries. The private sector unions that defended them have entered into terminal decline. Society seems to have undermined their sense of self as cultural values alien to them have become the norm, and government bureaucrats and the coastal elites seem to have grown more overbearing.

These are powerful realities for people in Trump's America that the political prognosticators, who rarely send their children into the military or get their hands dirty at work, don't understand. Trump is an enigma to them-- at once part of their club, moneyed, well-educated and successful, yet appealing to a group of people who are so different.

To follow Cato's advice, the Romans went outside their comfort zone and built a serious navy-- something they didn't have beforehand-- to take on and destroy Carthage on its own terms.

The conservative base can undo Trump by first acknowledging and then embracing the cause of the righteous anger that has catapulted Trump to the top spot in the field. The complaints about lack of opportunity and Washington's complicity in the diminishing optimism of the American people have to be folded into the message of every non-Trump candidate.

That may be a difficult task with this current crop of contenders, each with his own claim to privilege and elitism, but it's an obstacle that can be overcome.
Yes, another case for the brokered convention turning to sheepish Paul Ryan to rescue the party, take the nomination and save the GOP from Bernie or Hillary. I'm surprised almost none of the pundits see this coming; it's as clear as water-- not Flint water-- and every slick, choreographed move Ryan makes points right to it. I hope Bernie and Hillary are preparing for the kind of candidate one of them is going to face in November. (And Dr. Ben says he's ready to step in and run for Congress and be Speaker; no, he really said that.) Enough out of me, let's get back to Kennedy explaining why Trumpf is unfit for public office, something we all get a kick out of.
The candidate who beats Trump (or a collection of the also-rans in tandem) has to unwind Trump's self-made, fire-breathing populist narrative.

Trump is no true conservative. He's not even a reactionary in the best sense of the word. He's a self-aggrandizing opportunist. His policies go no further than his catchphrase, "you're fired." Listening to his first television ad is like a preview for a bad movie-- an empty supercut of the highlights (or lowlights) without the plot being revealed because it's so thin.

Trump is no everyman. He built his empire with $100 million from his wealthy father. Far from born into working or middle class, Trump never struggled a day in his life except by his own failings in business and the resulting repeated bankruptcies. His privileged background enabled him to make money off money-- not exactly high on the hierarchy of middle-class values.

As for being incorruptible, Trump gave big to politicians. He admitted that was meant to buy favors. His policy positions are similarly ephemeral-- he supported the Big Government policies of Democrats and slippery values of the Clintons when it suited him. Steadfast, he is not.

If his opponents can show Trump is the emperor with no clothes, they can win over voters. When attacked, Trump seems to grow stronger but to date Trump's phony persona has yet to be unmasked. That's his Achilles' heel with his voters. An inauthentic and craven Trump would have little appeal to those seeking a candidate who would really fight for them.

The consequence of failure are huge. Not only is Trump's support base incapable of winning 270 electoral votes and the presidency, his unpredictability and inconsistency are liabilities and deeply dangerous for those who want to govern as conservatives in a methodical and principled way.

If Trump continues to do well, there could be all kinds of consequences for Republicans who want to truly address the cultural, economic and personal struggles of the voters who now stand with him.

We don't need more damage to the conservative brand. Trump must be destroyed or conservatism and the GOP will be.

The once touted Deep Bench doesn't seem capable of defending itself or the party or the country from Trumpf. Today the former odds-on establishment fave, the bumbling Jebster, was babbling about ending the food stamps program and renaming it something to do with his obscene $120 million SuperPAC. It's supposed to be a paean to a Jack Kemp Republicanism that no one outside of DC and Buffalo has ever heard of... but sends a shiver dup Paul Ryan's leg. OK, enough of this GOP-nonsense? How about if we end on a happy note? A prediction from Dave Roberts at Vox that everyone was right all along and that Herr Trumpf will implode. Here's why: Trump's claim to fame is that he's a winner. What happens when he loses Iowa 23 days from now?
Trump's vulnerability (like his strength!) is that his appeal is entirely personal, entirely based on the expectation that he's a winner who will win. He's an alpha male, the top dog, the guy with the balls and the leverage to get the good deals, the guy who can't be intimidated, the self-made, independent guy who's not afraid to say what everybody's thinking. "I play to people's fantasies," he wrote in The Art of the Deal. "People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That's why a little hyperbole never hurts."

That hyperbole has been fervently embraced by his supporters, independent of any policy positions. Policy positions are simply not the point. Indeed, when the Trump campaign puts his platform into the traditional framework of a campaign commercial, it almost comes off like a parody.

"Stop Muslims coming into the US ... until we can figure out what's going on." If this is a policy position, your right-wing uncle's Facebook rants are a think tank.

The point isn't what Trump will do, it's who he is: someone who will stand up the Mexicans and Muslims and politically correct liberals and turncoat Republican pols and biased journalists. His rhetoric is full of dominance displays. That's what all the insults are about. They work because he's winning. But those who live by personal appeal die by personal appeal.

You don't have to be a psychologist to understand what's really going on with Trump. His entire career, like his campaign, has been about declaring his awesomeness and forcing others to acknowledge it. He has surrounded himself with trophy wives, sycophants, and his own name, everywhere he looks. He built a whole TV show premised on the idea that he's a savvy, decisive business executive, harvesting obeisance from the rotating cast of supplicants. It is overcompensation on a world-historical scale.

At the root of this kind of narcissism is always the same thing: a vast, yawning chasm of need, a hunger for approval and validation that is never sated. Down there in the lizard brain, it's fear: fear of being left out, laughed at, or looked down on, fear of never belonging, never being accepted, no matter how many towers you build.

The fear can only be calmed by validation, by accumulating visible markers of success until no one can laugh at you. There's a submerged glacier of insecurity beneath every blowhard. (I fear that conservative primary voters, as a class, are insufficiently aware of this important fact.)

Trump has built a life around being constantly validated, and his primary run so far has only seen him in that mode: winning, punching down at weaker opponents, being showered with adoration.

But the thing about politics is it's not an episode of The Apprentice. Despite the evidence of the past few months, it is not designed to make Donald Trump feel important and powerful. Sooner or later, everyone in politics is humbled. Everyone loses, at least a news cycle or two. Every politician has to eat shit, more than once, and smile through it. Eventually they must decide that eating all the shit is worth it for the chance to do some good.

...Even today, Trump's rallies have become long, discursive rambles in which he addresses and rebuts every single accusation cast at him by his detractors. (Responding to criticisms of his rhetoric: "I went to an Ivy League school. I’m very highly educated. I know words, I have the best words.") He can't let go of any slight. His whole life has been devoted to refuting those who doubt the awesomeness of Trump.

...[E]ventually, Trump will lose something-- maybe Iowa, maybe New Hampshire, maybe just a couple of news cycles. (And make no mistake: To a winner, second place is losing.) When he's being pressed to explain his loss, what he did wrong, do you suppose he will acknowledge error?

No. What error could there be? He can't communicate his message any better. The message is Trump. And he's Trump! If voters aren't voting for him, they're stupid.

The reactionaries who are attracted to Trump are, as numerous lines of research have demonstrated, more anxious than liberals and thus more prone to value order, stability, structure, and social hierarchy. They are highly sensitive to the pecking order and in-group/out-group distinctions.

This has served Trump's nationalist, xenophobic campaign well, but it could come back to bite him if he becomes second man on the totem pole-- or, god forbid, third. To the hierarchy-conscious, the way things work is you pay respect to the winners above you. You only punch down at the losers below.

Under attack, or in the face of skepticism or, y'know, losing, Trump's thin skin will make him defensive and volatile. He can't modulate, can't do humility, can't abide the thought of anyone above him. All his claims, all his stories, all his insults are yuge, the best you'll find anywhere.

The same belligerence that looked like strength when Trump was on top will look defensive and bitter when he's not. And the more doubtful or skeptical voters and the media become, the more Trump will escalate, the more his chest will puff. He doesn't know any other strategy. He'll enter a negative spiral as self-reinforcing as his rise has been.

For as long as he's been in the US public eye, Trump's been winning. He won every week on The Apprentice, and ever since he descended on his classy elevator, he has dominated every week of the GOP primary. Most of his supporters (few of whom reside in New York City) have never seen Trump when he's losing.

I suspect they won't like it. And he won't like them for not liking it. And they won't like that either. And so will go the inevitable fall.
So I guess we're all supposed to hope that the findings in that mid-December CBS tracking poll of Iowa GOP voters is accurate-- and will hold.
Cruz- 40%
Herr Trumpf- 31%
Rubio- 12%
Dr. Ben- 6%
Jeb- 2%
Fiorina- 2%
Huckabee- 2%
Rand Paul- 2%

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At 10:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

...even with intransigent conservative opposition to every step he's taken

Except for little things like fast track authority on the TPP. Obama wouldn't have that authority now if Boehner and McConnell hadn't whipped their memberships hard to support him. They even talked about punishing RNC reps and senators who voted against giving Obama fast track authority - that is, voted with their constituent's wishes.

If Obama had a Democratic Congress, there's every reason to believe the economy would be doing far better and systemic problems from Global Warming, deteriorating infrastructure and gun violence to comprehensive immigration reform and stronger regulation of Wall Street would all be in place now.

He had a Democratic congress, and they were more interested in covering up for war criminals, making sure that the banksters got their bonuses, and forcing people to buy crappy insurance from DNC campaign sponsors to do much about global warming or crumbling bridges. And stronger regulation of Wall street? Pull the other one.


At 1:24 PM, Blogger CWolf said...

Trump's nomination would rip the heart out of the Republican Party.

Assuming there is a heart in that abyss, what would be the downside to ripping the heart from the GOP's cold dead chest?

At 1:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Didn't mean to sound so harsh, Mr. Klein, sorry, I admire the work you do greatly. It''s just that the famously obstructionist GOP congress has been a bit choosy about when they obstruct and when they let things through. Pet peeve. My apologies.

I guess you could say they are selectively obstructionist.

The flip side of that is the times when their obstinacy actually helped. They didn't sign on to any "grand bargain", for instance.

As to Trumpf, it's amusing to watch the republicans try to distance themselves from their own Frankenstein monster. But do they really think that this is plausible?

...the GOP frontrunner runs best with blue collar, rural registered Democrats. They have taken a beating in recent decades. Trade agreements and economic shifts have sent the good paying union jobs they once held to sweatshops in developing countries. The private sector unions that defended them have entered into terminal decline.

It's cute the way he uses the passive voice to elide GOP responsibility for its own actions. "private sector unions... have entered into a state of decline" Yes, and Republicans were there making it happen every step of the way.

The conservative base can undo Trump by first acknowledging and then embracing the cause of the righteous anger that has catapulted Trump to the top spot in the field. The complaints about lack of opportunity and Washington's complicity in the diminishing optimism of the American people have to be folded into the message of every non-Trump candidate.

You've gotta be kidding, and who's the voice of the downtrodden here? Rubio? Cruz? Come on, now.


At 12:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

George W. Bush's speech writer is telling us about Herr Hair's deficiencies?!?
That's rich.

What I'd like to see know is the authoritative analysis of who among the rest of the GOP KKKlown KKKar of hopeful nominees IS presidential material and why.

Maybe Dick Cheney's speech writer will oblige us.

John Puma

At 2:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Update: "New Low from Which Herr Hair Must(?) Extricate Himself" watch.
(AKA: "Is There a Bottom to the GOP Abyss of Depravity" watch.)

"GOP front runner Donald Trump praised North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un for maintaining an iron grasp on autocratic power by slaughtering opponents, including his uncle. (includes video!!!)

John Puma

At 9:57 AM, Blogger Natalie Daniels said...

Luckily for us all Trumpf is no Herr Hitler and thank the Goddess for that. I am watching The World Wars on History. Right now and reading this article there is no way that Trumpfo is a modern Hitler. He is more like a Mussolini because he attempts to embody excellence and a cult of personality.


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