Friday, May 6, 2016

Donald Trump and the Moment Conservatives Have Been Dreading

by Nomad

After years of divisive politics, Republicans are now reaping what they have sowed in the form of their presumptive nominee, Donald Trump. 

The Moment Has Come

Well, ladies and gentlemen, here we are. 
We have finally arrived at the moment. The moment when all of the Republican candidates have been vanquished. The moment many in the party have feared when nothing whatsoever stands between billionaire Donald Trump and the nomination. The road thus far has revealed the true character of the man, his pettiness, superficiality, his ugly bigotry and lack of judgment. 

All of the things that would in any normal election have delivered him into the rubbish heap of US political history.
(This was once, after all, the same nation that disqualified a candidate because of an overzealous war-whoop during the primaries made him look too too ridiculous.)  

Mainstream media has a lot to answer for in allowing this strange reality-tv show character to rise to the top. A lot of people should be held responsible. 
In terms of what kind of president he would be, what he represents and what he believes in, Trump has been vague, bereft of both specifics and sense. Indirectly, however, he has given us a general idea of the mentality.
Carpet-bombing ISIS may sound tough but it is a very stupid idea. Building a wall is neither a practical, nor a plausible solution to illegal immigration.  

Yet, with the state of American journalism today, right wing voters were encouraged, persuaded to take the man seriously. When it came to asking difficult questions, there's always been a bias between the two parties. Palin could be asked what newspapers she read and her party could condemn the interviewer as engaging in "gotcha" journalism.
Thanks to the mainstream media, low-information politicians were suitably paired with low-information voters who thought education and intelligence were products of elitism. 

Unity in the Face of an Exodus

When it came to trying to prevent an election calamity, the leaders of the GOP were as feckless and helpless as a baby. Something had to be done, many said, so long as it was somebody else that did it. 

The RNC chairman, Reince Priebus, stood by and timidly watched Trump rise higher and higher, even as the things the candidate said became more and more preposterous and dangerous. Priebus thought Trump was "a plus" for the party.

And today, leaving the entire party in the tiny hands of an intensely disliked billionaire, passive Priebus calls for "unity" from Republican voters. Something things, once shattered, cannot be magically glued together again.
All in all, Priebus' attitude has been a shameful and pathetic performance of a person from has capitulated to Trump at nearly every turn.
He might as well have the word "hopeless" writing on his forehead.

Amazingly, many conservatives have decided to abandon their party altogether. Slate provided a partial list of conservatives that are ditching their party. 

The sentiment among that crowd is best summed up by a tweet from a former JEB! spokesman, Tim Miller
Never ever ever Trump. Simple as that
Some have even decided to re-consider their choices. Clinton is at least the saner of the two presumptive nominees.  
The Daily Beast reported yesterday:
And the conservative activists who adamantly oppose [Trump] are now in the process of making peace with backing the Democrats’ eventual nominee. Because there’s one person they fear and loathe more than Hillary—and they say they won’t blink.
Remember this isn't coming for undecided voters but conservative opinion makers. In the Daily Beast piece Leon Wolf, the editor of the conservative site is quoted:
“Hillary is ideologically not where I am,...But I do feel pretty confident that she would actually be a better president than Trump. I wouldn’t go to bed every night worrying about a mushroom cloud opening up somewhere in the world because of some insane thing Trump had done.”
It remains to be seen how long that commitment will last or whether it is a knee-jerk reaction to the reality of the situation. 

The question remains: How could Trump have ever been whitewashed as a viable option for conservatives voters? Well, it was a relatively easy accomplishment when you have 17 unusually incompetent and unsuitable candidates in the pool. His leading rival was a man who repeatedly called for the shutdown of the government on matters of principle.
Green ham and eggs, for Pete's sake.

However, with Clinton poised to capture the Democratic Party's nomination, the attempt to normalize Trump just got exponentially harder.
That won't stop some people from trying.

The Difficult Choice for Conservatives

E.J. Dionne Jr., writing  an op-ed piece for the Washington Post, points out that conservatives are now faced with a very difficult choice: to vote along party lines, when the party has betrayed its fundamental principles, or sit this one out and offer the presidency to Ms. Clinton.

The same is true for Christian evangelist voters. Last June, the candidate told his fans:
I will be the greatest representative of the Christians that they've had in a long time.
As a man who openly bragged about cheating on his wives, he is  hardly a model of Christian piety, humility or tolerance. (But then neither was Ronald Reagan when compared to Jimmy Carter.)   

There are, Dionne points out, two roads ahead now and neither are very appetizing for conservatives. As they see it, a Clinton win would likely lead to...
"a liberal majority on the Supreme Court and the ratification of the achievements of President Obama’s administration, including the Affordable Care Act. Conservative opposition could deepen a popular revulsion against Trump that in turn could help Democrats take over the Senate and gain House seats."
On the other hand, Trump in the White House would mean conservative Americans  consider him to be "a morally acceptable leader for our country," that he represents conservative principles and that he, in any way, does credit to the party of Reagan, Eisenhower and Lincoln. That's a tall order for a
person who stands onstage and says things like:
"The beauty of me is that I’m very rich."

The beauty of me is that I’m very rich.
The point is, you can never be too greedy."
 "The point is, you can never be too greedy."
"My IQ is one of the highest — and you all know it! Please don't feel so stupid or insecure; it's not your fault."
Intelligent voters, both conservative and independent, are being faced with the question that they must surely have dreaded for some time. Do you really want to see the reins of power in the hands of a person like Donald Trump? Is there any valid rationalization for the self-destruction of party and national prestige? 

An Extremely High Stakes Gamble

House Speaker Paul Ryan has said that he is not prepared "at this time" to back Trump. Not an outright rejection, and not a kiss. That's what courage looks like in today's Republican party.
Paralyzed by the fear that he will be accused of betraying his party, Ryan has transformed into a mound of greasy gelatin. What else could explain his reserve except fear? After all, Trump is very unlikely to transform himself into the kind of man the Republican old guard can admire.
And why should he?
Trump's message has been winning primaries.

To make matters even worse, the stakes in this election could hardly be higher for the Republicans.
And that is their own fault. 

For example, Majority Leader in the Senate Mitch McConnell's decision not to proceed with the confirmation hearing of a moderate Supreme Court nominee was test of GOP magical thinking. It was not based on the election polls or a careful calculation of Republican chances in November. Putting off the hard choices will only make things worse.
Not only was it risky if Republican lose the election, it was also a politically unpopular move before the election.
A recent CNN/ORC poll found that two-thirds of Americans want the Senate to hold confirmation hearings on his candidacy, and a majority of Americans ( 52%) say the Senate should ultimately vote to confirm him. 
So far, conservative voters have largely not realized how much they stand to lose in this election.  And to add to the irony, McConnell, the man whose stubbornness will soon cost his party at least a moderate voice on the Supreme Court when Clinton wins,  came out with an endorsement for- you guessed it- Donald Trump.

Some have, however, realized the danger that Trump represents to the party. Dionne writes:
Three streams of Republicans are likely to oppose Trump: those to his right on trade and government spending; neoconservatives who oppose his “America First” noninterventionist foreign policy; and the remaining moderates and others in the party alarmed over his outbursts on, among other things, torture, immigration, race, women, Latinos, Muslims, Vladimir Putin and, lest we forget, Obama’s birthplace, Ted Cruz’s father and John McCain’s military service. These honorable and brave conservatives should not lose their nerve under pressure from conventional politicians or the very lobbyists and big donors Trump likes to denounce.
The Left (and left-leaning Independents) may derive a great deal of schadenfreude from the discomfiture of the Republican party. The rise of Trumpism " vindicates much of what progressives have said about the conservative movement.

It's time for the GOP to admit its failure. (Trump's made it impossible to deny.)
Republican leaders are now harvesting the crop they themselves have planted for year upon year.

Years of painting the government as the bad guy, (until a local flood or rampaging tornado or hurricane comes along).
Years of normalizing and validating people like Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman. (and nearly every Republican candidate in 2016). 
Years of giving validity to the opinions of "personalities" like Glenn Back. Anne Coulter and Rush Limbaugh and constant brainwashing by Fox News.
Years of destroying intelligent debate in this country and replacing it with sound bite politics and comments made not for their depth of observation but for their ability to shock and anger.
Years of appealing to the worst instincts of humanity, like greed, groundless suspicion, intolerance, and stupidity.

As long as there is even one person seduced by Trump's message, we cannot allow Trump to be mainstreamed.

Ignoring the Middle Class

The time of reckoning may well be upon the GOP and it has been a long time in coming. 
 The Republican establishment has
ignored the material interests of their struggling white working-class base and also popular exhaustion with foreign commitments fed by interventionist misadventures. Along with many Democrats, they underestimated the anger over trade agreements that accelerated the economic dislocation of the less well-off.
The very idea that corporations should be rewarded for taking manufacturing jobs to nations where labor was on par with slave wages is beyond comprehension. Incidentally, PolitiFact looked into the validity of that claim and found that while it was an exaggeration in some ways:
Companies are allowed to write off many business-related expenses as tax-deductible -- including relocation. That's true inside and outside the US.
When Dems in the Senate attempted to close the loophole which allowed tax deductions for companies moving overseas. the Bring Jobs Home Act in 2012 and again in 2014. Additionally, that bill would have given a 20 percent tax credit to companies who insource jobs.
The bill failed both times. 
Votes in 2012 and 2014 split almost exclusively along party lines -- with Democrats voting for the measure, and Republicans voting against.
Keep in mind too that in the elections of those years, the GOP ran on a promise of "jobs, jobs, jobs."
It wasn't the first time the remedy was thwarted. Democrats also proposed a similar bill, that also failed, in 2010.

While the Bush administration was giving tax cuts to "job providers" the manufacturing sector was in sharp decline. There are still respectable Republicans who use rewarding job providers as a success story for their party. 

And today it is something that Trump points out -in abject hypocrisy- as what is wrong with the US.  
Until now, conservative leaders have endorsed  a tax policy that protects the richest class (of whom Trump is a born member) even while wages for the middle class have largely stagnated for decades.

Republican voters have rightfully been energized by their resentment. As Bill Moyers recently observed, they've got a valid reason to be angry.
Look around at just some of the other sheer lunacy their party perpetrates when it’s not trying to shut government down, redistribute wealth upward, and prevent the president of the United States (who, the last time we looked, has the constitutional right and mandate) from filling a vacancy on the Supreme Court.
Too bad they have been too blind to understand who has been behind those policies. That's something liberals have been telling them and simply refused to listen.  Until now,  whenever Fox News tells them they are right to be angry and that liberals and big government are the culprits, they have accepted this notion without question.

Obama was to blame for everything that gone wrong and unless Trump is president, you will hear his supporters say, Clinton's going to ruin this country. Obama 2.0
Many of Trump's supporters really feel this way. With that degree of self-examination, it's no surprise the Republican party is so hopelessly lost.

Trumpism and the Breakfast of Fascists

Dionne points out, that the roots of Trumpism aren't planted in populism. Demagoguery is merely a tool he uses. He is, in fact, "channeling the European far right, mixing intolerance, resentment and nationalism."
Strange, isn't it?
He seems like such an American product.

Even though Trump's message might seem refreshingly unique, his policies dovetail neatly into the same divisive rhetoric we see coming from Marine Le Pen in France. It's the kind of politics that searches for minority scapegoats. 
It's the breakfast of fascists.

It's not the first time this comparison has been made. The New Yorker ran a story on the subject last December. 

However, Trump is far less gifted a politician than Le Pen. She, unlike Trump, could plausibly become France's leader. Like a chef, she has the skill to make the detestable seem palatable. She has said:
Immigration is an organized replacement of our population. This threatens our very survival. We don't have the means to integrate those who are already here. The result is endless cultural conflict.
Donald Trump may not be as articulate as that but then for his crowd, he doesn't need to be. "Our immigration policy stinks" is sufficient to charm his supporters.
Le Pen's depth would only confuse them.

Dionne notes that the media (and Republican apologists) may have put a halo over the fluffy head of Donald Trump but political brilliance is largely a success of self-promotion and well-funded advertising, rather than clever tactics.
Has any politician in American politics ever had to tell his supporters so many times how beloved and rich he was?

The Mirrored Parties

We should, Dionne says, recognize that
Trumpism is very much a minority movement in our country. He has won some 10.6 million votes, but this amounts to less than a quarter of the votes cast in the primaries this year. It’s fewer than Clinton’s 12.4 million votes and not many more than the 9.3 million Bernie Sanders has received.
In some ways, the battle within the Democratic party is a mirror of what's going on in the Republican party. Like a reflection, the elements are reversed. At one point in the campaign, Socialist Bernie Sanders was once considered the party's extremist candidate,  the outsider with a radical agenda. So too Trump was, at one time, an outsider. The joke candidate the Republican establishment never took seriously.

JEB might have been handicapped somewhat by the bitter aftertaste of his family name, but at least he was somebody that voters could take seriously. Mitt Romney might have been a bit too flexible a contortionist when it came to policy but he was undeniably presidential.. in a way. Like Reagan, he acted and looked the part.

But when we look at how things have developed since then, it says a lot of about the relative health (sanity?) of the respective parties. Ms. Clinton has clearly overtaken Sanders and is now within grasp of claiming the nomination of her party. Sanders ran, for the most part, a respectable campaign and the candidates debated the issues (rather than the size of their genitalia). At times, it was a heated discussion. That's normal for people who are passionate about what they believe it. 

(The Democrat debates might have had the elements of an opera, in which players- even lovers- roar into each other's faces, but the Republican debates at times resembled a convention of the Three Stooges impersonators.)

In a larger sense, Sanders successfully pushed Clinton toward the left and played an important role in keeping the left on the left and not dissolving in the grayness of the middle. Sanders provided exactly what the Democratic party needs, an anchor to the far Left, and a touchstone to what the party actually stands for. 

On the other hand, what does the rise of Trump say about the Republican party's selection process? Can anybody who watched the debates be proud of the Republican Party? Did they actually represent the best the Party has to offer voters? 

Possibly but hopefully not.

The Party that Failed Itself and Its Voters

The party has clearly failed in bringing the best candidate to the forefront. That was true even when there was a busload of candidates.
Early on, it wasn't clear whether one of more would end up serving time in prison for abuse of their authority in their present jobs.
Indeed, the selection process might well have found the worst one, but a case for that title could also easily be made for the runner-up Ted Cruz.   

As Dionne writes out, Americans who still see our country as "a model of tolerance, inclusion, rationality, and liberty" must not make the same mistake that the Republican elites have made with Trump. Trump should not be underestimated.
Both Republicans and Democrats- no matter how much they might disagree on particular issues -must view as a serious threat to the American Republic. 

The two parties cannot allow the media and the political advertising campaigns to convince voters that Trump is a plausible alternative or that he represents a plausible path for the US.

Trump is not the new normal.