Browsing the archives for the Republican Party category.


A Goblin of Nihilism

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Bad Hair, Republican Party

Daniel O’Hehir explains the dark heart of Trump support:

Being impregnable and invulnerable and indeed indecipherable — possessing no inner life, no discernible ideology and no personality — are not bugs in the Trump avatar’s program. They are essential features of its success. If he could fly or read minds or see the future he would be even better suited for the job of American dictator, and given the slipped gears in the reality matrix those possibilities can’t be ruled out. Trump is dangerous precisely because he does not seem like a real person, and the people voting for him do not think they’re voting in a real election with real consequences. He is an empty symbol with no point of reference, a goblin of nihilism wearing a mask of hope.

As an example of “no point of reference,” Matthew Yglesias points out that Trump’s “law and order” speech last night contained no actual crime policies. He spoke of “law and order” over and over, but his only policy statement was —

I will work with, and appoint, the best prosecutors and law enforcement officials in the country to get the job done.

But to his followers, this doesn’t matter. “The Government” is to them something unreal and alien, like Mordor, and they need an avatar to go in and straighten it out. Exactly what needs straightening and how it’s done doesn’t concern them.

Remember, these are the same people who perpetually complain that The Government, or Political Correctness, or Liberals, or some amorphous thing out there is oppressing them, but they can never provide a concrete example of actual oppression. Nevertheless, they live in a simmering pot of resentment because someone out there disrespects them. And time after time they follow whatever demagogue du jour gives voice to that resentment.

But back to actual Trump — lots of people are pointing to this bit from a New York Times article

One day this past May, Donald Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., reached out to a senior adviser to Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, who left the presidential race just a few weeks before. As a candidate, Kasich declared in March that Trump was “really not prepared to be president of the United States,” and the following month he took the highly unusual step of coordinating with his rival Senator Ted Cruz in an effort to deny Trump the nomination. But according to the Kasich adviser (who spoke only under the condition that he not be named), Donald Jr. wanted to make him an offer nonetheless: Did he have any interest in being the most powerful vice president in history?

When Kasich’s adviser asked how this would be the case, Donald Jr. explained that his father’s vice president would be in charge of domestic and foreign policy.

Then what, the adviser asked, would Trump be in charge of?

“Making America great again” was the casual reply.

Of course. Because Trump has never done anything himself. He’s just the guy who puts up the money to make the deals. The actual building and managing and running of the businesses are done by other people. He seems to think he can be President of the United States and delegate the entire job to others, except for the taking credit part. It’s what he’s always done.

But may I also say that Mike Pence is one of the last people on the planet I’d want in charge of domestic and foreign policy.

Meanwhile, word is that Hillary Clinton is going to pick Tim Kaine for her veep. This is not official yet, mind you. But if so, this tells me she’s still not getting the national mood. Kaine is a very “safe” pick — from an establishment perspective — who will excite no one who isn’t already in the tank for her.

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The 2016 GOP Platform

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Bad Hair, Republican Party

Seriously:

The platform demands that lawmakers use religion as a guide when legislating, stipulating “that man-made law must be consistent with God-given, natural rights.”

It also encourages the teaching of the Bible in public schools because, the amendment said, a good understanding of its contents is “indispensable for the development of an educated citizenry.”
And it goes downhill from there. For example, The Wall:

the Republican platform explicitly states: “We support building a wall along our southern border and protecting all ports of entry. The border wall must cover the entirety of the southern border and must be sufficient to stop both vehicular and pedestrian traffic.”

The GOP isn’t just hostile to same-sex marriage, but to homosexuality itself.

Republicans repeatedly rejected efforts to even mention LGBT Americans by name in their platform. Instead, the GOP includes a defense of “natural marriage” and even embraces “conversion therapy”, the controversial and widely banned practice of trying to convert LGBT individuals to being heterosexual.

The GOP is so hostile to LGBT folks that the committee rejected a proposal to condemn Islamic terrorists’ targeting of LGBT individuals.

This is everything the GOP platform says about the environment:

In its entirety, it states, “We believe sound energy, agriculture, and environmental policy can foster sustainable economic growth. We are also the party of America’s growers and producers, farmers, ranchers, foresters, miners, and all those who bring from the earth the minerals and energy that are the lifeblood of our nation’s historically strong economy. We are the party of traditional conservation: the wise development of resources that keeps in mind the efforts of past generations to secure that bounty and our responsibility to preserve it for the future. Now we want to hear from you. What issues are most important to you?”

Global warming? Not an issue. But there is an open question about whether the platform actually calls for ending all national parks (by turning them over to the states) or just some of them. Snopes points out that the language adopted by the platform committee just calls for “certain federally controlled public lands” to be conveyed to states, but doesn’t say which ones.

Random things:

  • The GOP platform opposes adding gray wolves, prairie chickens and sage grouses to the endangered species list.
  • The platform calls for abolition of the IRS.
  • The platform calls for criminalizing abortion with no exceptions for rape or incense.
  • The platform opposes legalizing marijuana even for medical uses.

What do the Democratic and Republican platforms agree on? Two things I know of:

  • Both platform committees refused to condemn the Trans-Pacific Partnership, even though both presumptive nominees (currently) say they oppose it.
  • Both platform committees have called for a return to Glass Steagall. Everybody hates Wall Street. However, if such a thing comes to pass watch Congress water the hell out of it first.
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Is The Donald Going Broke?

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Bad Hair, Republican Party

Trump’s presidential candidacy appears to be imploding before it has officially started. This morning he fired his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who hasn’t been doing much managing. According to Gabriel Sherman at New York magazine, Lewandowsky’s ouster was something of a coup orchestrated by three Trump offspring, Ivanka, Eric, and Don Jr.

Scripts for an HBO original film about Donald Trump’s failed presidential campaign are already being written. I can smell it.

But the bigger mystery is, where is the money? Trump’s campaign seems to be out of it. At the end of the last reporting period, Hillary Clinton’s campaign had $30 million in hand; Trump’s  had $2.4 million. And he doesn’t seem terribly interested in raising more.

John McQuaid writes at Forbes that Trump not only doesn’t bother about fundraising; he wants the Republican National Committee to do his fundraising and campaign organizing for him. But that’s not what the RNC is for, and if they have to take on that job it will reduce resources for doubt-ballot candidates.  McQuaid continues.

Trump’s campaign is based on the vague, grandiose notion of “winning.” He’s a winner who will help us all win. We will stop losing to immigrants and terrorists and China and Mexico and then will be so much winning we won’t be able to stand it. There are two pieces of evidence for this: Trump is ahead in the polls and he’s fabulously wealthy. He could keep the illusion going during the primaries. But now, as every day brings more bad news, the first is gone. If the second is falsified, it all collapses. So if there is literally nothing – or at least, much less than $10 billion – at the center, that is something that he would feel compelled to conceal no matter what.

This informational black box at the center of a major party candidacy is extraordinary.

We’ve been asked to trust and believe in Trump because he is a genius moneymaker and manager. Yet he appears to be in the process of committing campaign suicide, in part because he has no money and no managerial talent.  As citizens, we should know whether he’s lying about his wealth. We do know he’s either stupid, or not anywhere as rich as he wants us to believe, or – probably – both.

Many people are pointing out that if Trump really is worth $10 billion, as he claims, then coughing up a few tens of millions to keep his campaign going shouldn’t be that much of a stretch.  Last year Forbes estimated he was really worth only about $4.5 billion. But even then, he ought to be able to throw $30 million into the pot to keep up with Hillary, you’d think.

But he doesn’t appear to be doing that. Josh Marshall writes,

Even if Trump can’t not be Trump, the damage of being Trump could at least be off-set by pouring money into advertising in key swing states and field work. But at this moment, the Clinton campaign (and pro-Clinton superPACs) is rolling out a barrage of targeted swing state advertising focused on solidifying and embedding the highly negative image Trump has built for himself over the last year and especially the last eight weeks. That advertising is going entirely unanswered by the Trump campaign. Trump’s been reduced to making emergency appeals to raise $100,000. …

…So it all comes down to, where’s the money? We tend to look at Trump’s threadbare campaign as a product of epic disorganization or the candidate’s mercurial personality. But as the mammoth tv ad campaigns ramp up unanswered and field operations fail to materialize, those explanations are really no longer sufficient.

Assuming Trump really is worth some number in the billions of dollars, it makes no sense for him to get this close to the presidency and then get stingy.  Josh says he has loaned his campaign over $40 million already, but what’s another $40 million when you’ve got billions?

I keep saying that Clinton is going to win. One of the reasons I keep saying that is that it’s been evident for some time that Trump has nothing even approaching a national presidential campaign organization

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Toxic Trump

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Bad Hair, Republican Party

Frank Bruni has his moments:

IN normal times, a party’s leaders and comers grovel for roles in the convention and prime time on its stage.

In the Year of Trump, Republicans are racing for the exits. It’s as if the Emerald City suddenly turned into Chernobyl.  …

… Small wonder that one of Trump’s advisers recently suggested that the candidate not wait until the climactic hour to deliver his remarks but, in a break with precedent, speak every single night. Not just double Donald. No mere triple Trump. Four luscious scoops of him.

Not only are a lot of A-list Republicans skipping the convention, a whole lot of corporate sponsors are opting out as well. Never fear; the show will go on, somehow. Bruni continues,

What a total, utter freak show this promises to be, and not in the manner that Republicans feared just months ago. They wondered then if the convention would be contested, with Trump and Ted Cruz dueling for delegates. Now they’re looking at four excruciating days that will be light on appropriate speakers, short on cash and long on God-knows-what other than the music of Trump’s voice and the shimmer of Trump’s hair.

He’s in a bind. He has expressed the desire for an event incorporating more show business than usual (shocker!), but bling doesn’t come cheap, and neither corporate sponsors nor individual donors are coming around in their usual numbers to contribute.

And then there’s the question of who might be The Donald’s Number Two.

John Weaver, who served as the campaign strategist for Kasich’s presidential bid, was more blunt: “I can’t imagine a truly credible person agreeing to be his running mate, because it would be the end of his or her political career.”

Ironically, the presumptive nominee’s own toxicity is making the job of finding a vice presidential nominee that much easier, because the short list is so short. Multiple high-level Republican sources said it is topped by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, with Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions a distant third and Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin also in the mix.

It appears Christie and Gingrich top the list because they want the job. They may be the only ones.

The Vengeance of WaPo continues with this piece, The brutal numbers behind a very bad month for Donald Trump.

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Don’t Mess With WaPo

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Bad Hair, Republican Party

The Donald rescinded the press credentials of the Washington Post.  WaPo runs a story linking the young Donald Trump to Roy Cohn. And I suspect that’s only the beginning.

I love the title — The man who showed Donald Trump how to exploit power and instill fear.

Also at WaPo, we read that there are still those who want to block his nomination:

Dozens of Republican convention delegates are hatching a new plan to block Donald Trump at this summer’s party meetings, in what has become the most organized effort so far to stop the businessman from becoming the GOP nominee. …

…Given the strife, a growing group of anti-Trump delegates are convinced that enough like-minded Republicans will band together in the next month to change party rules and allow delegates to vote for whomever they want, regardless of who won state caucuses and primaries. …

… The new wave of anti-Trump organizing comes as an increasing number of prominent Republicans have signaled they will not support Trump for president.

In addition, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), who is slated to chair the Republican National Convention next month in Cleveland, said in remarks released Friday that House Republicans should “follow their conscience” on whether to support Trump.

It could be a contested convention, after all. What fun! But if Trump is not the nominee, the Democrats are so screwed …

 

 

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A Trump Death Spiral in Progress

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Bad Hair, Republican Party

One of the more bizarre headlines I’ve seen today is at the New York Times: ‘Trump and N.R.A. Leaders to Discuss Preventing Gun Sales to People on Terror Watch Lists.”

Yes, folks, Trump is openly allowing the NRA to dictate his gun polices. The article says,

Donald J. Trump said Wednesday that people on the terror watch list should be barred from buying firearms, putting himself in the center of a gun-control debate in Congress revived by the worst mass shooting in United States history.

Mr. Trump’s stance, expressed in a Twitter post, does not necessarily jibe with the positions of the Republican Party and the National Rifle Association, whose endorsement Mr. Trump frequently boasts about on the campaign trail. His tweet could be read to support measures pushed by Democrats and opposed by Republicans in Congress, reflecting the unusual nuances of the issue, which touches on public safety and civil rights beyond the Second Amendment.

“I will be meeting with the N.R.A., who has endorsed me, about not allowing people on the terrorist watch list, or the no-fly list, to buy guns,” Mr. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, wrote Wednesday morning on Twitter. His comment came three days after 49 people were killed when a gunman who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State stormed an Orlando nightclub.

Trump’s support shows signs of sagging already, if this Guardian article is any indication.

Amid shrinking poll numbers and smaller crowds, Donald Trump’s rhetoric took a dark turn on Wednesday in Atlanta.

The presumptive Republican nominee struck an apocalyptic tone, projecting that the United States would not survive if he were not elected. He raised the notion of welcoming the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, to the United States for negotiations. And he repeated his contention that Japan might have to “go nuclear” if it did not offer the United States better pay for its military protection.

Recent polls show Hillary Clinton leading Trump by double digits nationally. And his unfavorability ratings continue to rise.

That slowdown in support seemed evident on Wednesday when Trump spoke at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre, which holds less than half the audience he commanded during his last appearance in Atlanta in February. “This place is packed,” he said, shielding his eyes against stage lights. “We have people outside who couldn’t get in. Does anybody want to give up their seat?”

Apparently Trump could not see the hundreds of empty seats in the theater’s second level. A similarly reduced crowd showed up at a recent campaign stop in Virginia.

Even better, see this just-published piece at New Republic, “American Horror Story.”

By all accounts he has no campaign organization whatsoever. He’s at open war with the Washington Post, having revoked the paper’s press credentials because he didn’t like WaPo’s coverage, and Charles Pierce predicts Trump will lose to the Post.  He’s at war with a portion of the Republican Party, or at least the portion that has refrained from endorsing him. It’s obvious he has no idea what he’s doing or what he’s in for.

We’ve got just over a month before the RNC convention, which I am looking forward to watching with all my heart and soul. This is going to be weirder than Clint Eastwood and the Chair times a million. They’ll have to get Rod Serling from the Afterlife to narrate the thing. Or better, Chuck Barris. But as he shows signs of spiraling further and further out of control, I wonder if he’ll make it to the convention, or to the November election?

Also, don’t miss “How Donald Trump Bankrupted His Atlantic City Casinos, but Still Earned Millions.” It’s fascinating.

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The “Neos”: Neoliberalism, Neoconservatism

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American History, conservatism, Democratic Party, liberalism and progressivism, Republican Party

As long as we’re defining terms — see Liberal, Neoliberal and Progressive: What Words Mean — here’s a really interesting article by Corey Robin called “When Neoliberalism Was Young: A Lookback on Clintonism before Clinton.”

Now, neoliberalism, of course, can mean a great many things, many of them associated with the right. But one of its meanings—arguably, in the United States, the most historically accurate—is the name that a small group of journalists, intellectuals, and politicians on the left gave to themselves in the late 1970s in order to register their distance from the traditional liberalism of the New Deal and the Great Society. The original neoliberals included, among others, Michael Kinsley, Charles Peters, James Fallows, Nicholas Lemann, Bill Bradley, Bruce Babbitt, Gary Hart, and Paul Tsongas. Sometimes called “Atari Democrats,” these were the men—and they were almost all men—who helped to remake American liberalism into neoliberalism, culminating in the election of Bill Clinton in 1992.

I confess I don’t remember hearing the term “neoliberal” before the Clinton era. This is from “A Neoliberal’s Manifesto” by Charles Peters, published in Washington Monthly, May 1983:

We still believe in liberty and justice for all, in mercy for the afflicted and help for the down and out. But we no longer automatically favor unions and big government or oppose the military and big business. Indeed, in our search for solutions that work, we have to distrust all automatic responses, liberal or conservative.

Third Way, anyone? I haven’t read it yet, but I understand that Peters and his Manifesto are called out in Thomas Frank’s new book Listen, Liberal. And not in a good way.

Robin continues,

In the hands of neoliberalism, it became fashionable to pit the interests of the poor not against the power of the wealthy but against the working class that had been made into a middle class by America’s unions. (We still see that kind of talk among today’s Democrats, particularly in debates around free trade, where it is always the unionized worker—never the well paid journalist or economist or corporate CEO—who is expected to make sacrifices on behalf of the global poor. Or among Hillary Clinton supporters, who leverage the interests of African American voters against the interests of white working-class voters, but never against the interests of capital.)

What comes through clearly in Robin’s piece, and also in this 2006 interview of Charles Peters by Ezra Klein (reading between the lines, anyway) is that the main thrust of neoliberalism was and is to throw the working class under the bus in favor of investors and entrepreneurs. The original neoliberals were, above all, anti-union, especially public sector unions. Weirdly, they seemed to think that union members had become too advantaged and were somehow hurting people on the lower rungs of the ladder. But then they also turned around and wanted Social Security to be means tested.

It’s difficult to make sense of what truly drives this contradiction, whereby one liberalism is criticized for supporting only one segment of the population while another liberalism is criticized for supporting all segments, including the poor.

It could be as simple as the belief that government should work on behalf of only the truly disadvantaged, leaving everyone else to the hands of the market. That that turned out to be a disaster for the truly disadvantaged—with no one besides themselves to speak up on behalf of anti-poverty programs, those programs proved all too easy to eliminate, not by a Republican but by a Democrat—seems not to have much troubled the sleep of neoliberalism. Indeed, in the current election, it is Hillary Clinton’s support for the 1994 crime bill rather than the 1996 welfare reform bill that has gotten the most attention, even though she proudly stated in her memoir that she not only supported the 1996 bill but rounded up votes for it.

The neoliberals were and are devoted to an ideal of pragmatism:

Note the disavowal of all conventional ideologies and beliefs, the affirmation of an open-minded pragmatism guided solely by a bracing commitment to what works. It’s a leitmotif of the entire manifesto: Everyone else is blinded by their emotional attachments to the ideas of the past. We, the heroic few, are willing to look upon reality as it is, to take up solutions from any side of the political spectrum, to disavow anything that smacks of ideological rigidity or partisan tribalism.

That Peters wound up embracing solutions in the piece that put him comfortably within the camp of GOP conservatism (he even makes a sop to school prayer) never seemed to disturb his serenity as a self-identified iconoclast. That was part of the neoliberal esprit de corps: a self-styled philosophical promiscuity married to a fairly conventional ideological fidelity.

Robin also discusses another self-identified neoliberal, Marty Peretz, who for many years was owner of The New Republic, another allegedly liberal publication. Robin points out that Peretz’s positions often seemed to be plucked from the Republican Party platform, including his adamant Zionism. Which allows us a nice segue into the other neos, the neoconservatives.

A little appreciated fact about neoconservatives is that the founders of the movement were mostly liberals and Democrats. Yes, liberals and Democrats. New Deal, Cold War Democrats. I understand a few of them were even ex-Trotskyites.

Neoconservatism began in the 1960s and 1970s in part as a reaction to the New Left, particularly the Marxist and antiwar factions of the New Left and the candidacy of George McGovern in 1972. They also opposed Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs even though they were supportive of the older New Deal programs.

Make of that what you will.

The core membership of the original neoconservatives were a group of Jewish intellectuals who worried the U.S. would grow weak on defense, particularly against the threat of Communism. This was not atypical of Cold War liberals. One not-Jewish founding neocon was Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, something of a prototype of the Cold War Democrat. He was a good New Dealer and supporter of unions, civil rights and social welfare programs. He was also pro-military buildup and was a big promoter of military action against Communism, such as the Vietnam War. A number of neocons have cited Scoop Jackson as an influence. These include two of  his former Senate aides, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle. (See also Andrew O’Hehir’s comparison of Scoop Jackson and Hillary Clinton.)

By the 1980s, most neocons had become Republicans, inspired by the tall-in-the-saddle rhetoric of Ronald Reagan.  And as the threat of Global Communist Domination faded away, the neocons came to be obsessed with the threat of Global Islamic Domination, or something.

How do we define “neoconservative” now? I like this discussion by Jack Hunter in The American Conservative.

The “neocons” believe American greatness is measured by our willingness to be a great power—through vast and virtually unlimited global military involvement. Other nations’ problems invariably become our own because history and fate have designated America the world’s top authority.

Critics say the US cannot afford to be the world’s policeman. Neoconservatives not only say that we can but we must—and that we will cease to be America if we don’t. Writes Boston Globe neoconservative columnist Jeff Jacoby: “Our world needs a policeman. And whether most Americans like it or not, only their indispensable nation is fit for the job.” Neocon intellectual Max Boot says explicitly that the US should be the world’s policeman because we are the best policeman.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) heartily champions the neoconservative view. While virtually every other recognizably Tea Party congressman or senator opposes the Libyan intervention, Rubio believes the world’s top cop should be flashing its Sherriff’s badge more forcefully in Libya—and everywhere else. …

… Rubio’s flowery rhetoric is worth noting because neoconservatism has always been sold through the narrative of America’s “greatness” or “exceptionalism.” This is essentially the Republican Party’s version of the old liberal notion promoted by President Woodrow Wilson that it is America’s mission to “make the world safe for democracy.”

If you think about it, this really is an extension of older, pre-Vietnam liberal ideas about foreign policy. It goes back to the great Teddy Roosevelt, who wanted to make the U.S. a great global power and increase its influence and prestige in the world. It goes back to Franklin Roosevelt’s leadership in World War II. You could argue it has ties to the Truman Doctrine and John F. Kennedy’s attempts to push back Communism.

You could also argue that in neoconservatism the American exceptionalism thing has morphed, or maybe metastasized, into a caricature of itself. Instead of coming from a place of noble intentions, in the neocons it comes from a place of bigotry and fear. I’ve argued in the past that neoconservatism is pro-active isolationism, attempting to use force to spread American hegemony so the world won’t be so scary and foreign. This is nothing like the Roosevelts, or Truman, or JFK. But you could see how those earlier liberal presidents might have inspired it.

If, in the end, it sometimes seems the neolibs and the neocons are as much alike as different, it’s because they are both weeds that grew out of the same pot. so to speak. They both originated on the Left or Center-Left. Both movements were reacting to events in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Both movements moved right and either adapted Republican ideas while remaining in the Democratic Party (the neolibs) or else they just flat-out became Republicans (the neocons).

Somewhere in his seminal work The Vital Center, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr argued that political ideologies shouldn’t be thought of as just lying along one axle, from left to right. It’s more like a circle. Taken to extremes, extreme Left and extreme Right meet each other and end up in totalitarianism.  Similarly, I say that neoconservatism and neoliberalism are not at all polar opposites, but rather like two sides of the same coin. They aren’t identical, but neither are they all that different, and it’s not at all impossible for the same politician to be some of both.

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Clash of the Unpopular Titans

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Bad Hair, Democratic Party, Republican Party, Sanders and Clinton

Or, what if they gave an election and nobody voted?

It says in the Washington Post:

Never in the history of the Post-ABC poll have the two major party nominees been viewed as harshly as Clinton and Trump.

Nearly 6 in 10 registered voters say they have negative impressions of both major candidates. Overall, Clinton’s net negative rating among registered voters is minus-16,  while Trump’s is minus-17, though Trump’s numbers have improved since March.

It takes some real talent for our two major political parties to  (presumably) nominate two people most voters don’t like.

At this point, the two candidates are in a statistical dead heat among registered voters, with Trump favored by 46 percent and Clinton favored by 44 percent. That represents an 11-point shift toward the presumptive Republican nominee since March. Among all adults, Clinton holds a six-point lead
(48 percent to 42 percent), down from 18 points in March.

This data about the close race between Clinton and Trump have gotten a lot of attention, but as many rightly point out, these numbers are likely to shift significantly before the election and don’t mean that much now. I still think Clinton will beat him.

Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who has given Clinton a stiff challenge in the contest for the Democratic nomination, enjoys the most positive rating of the three. Among registered voters, Sanders is net positive — 49 percent to 41 percent — and has seen his image improve steadily the longer he has been a candidate.

He needed more time and public exposure to introduce himself to people before the primaries started. The Democratic establishment and mass media denied him that.

But what I really want to write about is, it appears the general election campaign will be between two unpopular candidates. How did that happen? And what does that say about the status of democracy in America?

First, this tells me the political system is being played, and not by the people. An honest competition actually decided by the people ought to have given us more popular candidates. What we’re seeing is a symptom of managed democracy, a term usually aimed at Vladimir Putin’s Russia but which, many argue, describes the United States.  In a paper about managed democracy in Russia, we find,

According to Tretyakov’s definition, managed democracy is a democracy (as there are elections, voters have alternative options, there is media freedom, leaders are changing), but it is corrected by the ruling class (or rather that part of it that holds power).

Put another way, this is why we can’t have nice things. We aren’t really in charge.

See also Ted Morgan in Salon, “This Isn’t How a Democracy Should Work.”

But the managing is happening in different ways in the two parties. If anything, Trump is a management failure.  He is not the guy the ruling class wanted. The faux populism the Right has cultivated so well all these years got out of control; thus, Trump.

Clearly, the Republican Party also has lost control of the nominating process; they barely controlled it in 2012.  Relaxed campaign finance laws allowed any clown into the race who could talk a few wealthy people into bankrolling him. Candidates on the Republican side more or less were independent franchises who didn’t need the RNC.

However, it’s also the case that the guy with the biggest fundraising chops, Jeb Bush, couldn’t sell himself to voters. One does wonder if he would have done much better with fewer, and saner, competitors.

With Hillary Clinton, we’ve got the candidate the Democratic Party elite chose over a year ago, and as I’ve said many times already, if she loses in the fall, that’s on her. And on them. She is a monumentally unwise choice. Not only is she unpopular, but as Queen of the Status Quo she is just plain wrong for the public mood. Her only advantage in this election is Trump; she may be wrong for the times; she may be a bad choice; but he’s absolutely appalling.

I hope the lesson the Democrats take from this is that competition is good. In the future, please don’t presume to choose the candidate for us. Give us a slate of candidates, and let us choose.

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They Won’t Know What Hit Them

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Democratic Party, Republican Party

We’re watching the Republican Party crack up. I expect it to survive, but the party that emerges from the current implosion will likely not be exactly the same one we’ve been dealing with in recent years. A realignment will happen on the Right. I don’t expect “movement conservatism” and the influence of phonies like Paul Ryan to completely go away, but I do think, if Trump loses as badly as I think he will, the surviving Republican Party will be eager to sever any ties to teabaggerism. I also suspect that what emerges will be prepared to downplay social conservatism and “religious right” issues in favor of economic and foreign policies. That would be a “best case” for the GOP, though, and I’ll come back to this in a bit.

Meanwhile, let’s look at the Democrats. Thomas Frank wrote in exasperation about self-satisfied, complacent Democrats. Bow howdy, does he have them pegged. Party insiders and loyalists apparently think the Democratic Party has found the winning formula for glory and doesn’t have to change a thing.

For example, Rick Perlstein wrote in The Nation,

What are the prospects for a realignment of American politics? On the Democratic side, practically nil. The presidential front-runner—the one with the endorsements of 15 out of 18 sitting Democratic governors, 40 out of 44 senators, and 161 out of 188 House members—is running a campaign explicitly opposed to fundamental transformation. Her signature campaign promise—no new taxes on households making $250,000 or less—renders serious change impossible.

Note that Perlstein appears to see nothing wrong with this.

The chance for her opponent to win the nomination approaches mathematical impossibility. He is running as a “revolutionary.” But governing is a team sport. If, by some miracle, Bernie Sanders entered the White House in January, he would do so naked and alone—in command of a party apparatus less prepared ideologically, institutionally, and legislatively to do great things than at any other time in its history.

One side promises competence. The other promises the impossible. This is the Democratic Party in 2016.

The pathetic truth is that even if a miracle were to occur and Sanders won the nomination and the White House, he wouldn’t face obstruction just from Republicans. Most Democrats would probably try to destroy his administration also, to see to it that he accomplishes nothing and has only one term. Never forget that the Clintons own the DNC.

Perlstein’s comments were part of an article in which three people offered opinions on a potential political re-alignment of the two major parties. The first individual wrote about how cute it was that young people can organize using those social media things, although of course none of this will ever have any impact on the two major parties, in which the grown ups do stuff. The second comments were Perlstein’s, and the third guy, named Daniel Schlozman, apparently thinks that the future will lumber along about like the recent past.

Democrats and republicans will likely spend the coming decades as they have the last eight: fighting over the legacy of the New Deal, respectively defending and assailing its commitments to a robust welfare state and a mixed economy. …

With their own house largely in order, the New Dealers’ proverbial grandchildren watch with both fascination and horror the lurid spectacle of a Republican Party whose contradictions have, in the unlikely figure of Donald Trump, finally come to the fore.

According to Schlozman, then, the Democrats’ house is largely in order, and they are watching the Republicans crack up from a safe and secure distance.

Here’s the thing — first, all these complacent Democrats apparently are determined to overlook the fact that their darling candidate, queen of complacency and competence, has still failed to clinch the nomination with pledged delegates and will probably need the superdelegates at the convention to close the deal. And her only rival is an elderly socialist who was not a nationally recognized figure until recently and not formally part of the Democratic Party until last year.

The degree of their determination to not see the implications of this fact rivals that of General Patton at the Battle of the Bulge. Never have so many eyes been so avowedly glued shut.

Since she does own the DNC, and the convention is the DNC’s party, there’s little question Hillary Clinton will be the nominee. And in Donald Trump, Hillary has hit the opponent lottery. He is tailor-made for her long-practiced shtick of feigning martyred feminist victimhood while promising testosterone-on-steroids toughness, especially on foreign policy. Even better, if his crude bigotries become the center of the fall campaign she can look principled and serious without having to defend her own record on anything. Win/win!

And, as far as the complacency crowd goes, winning the November election will be vindication that those Sanders people were just wrong about everything and need to learn their place. Which is, like, nowhere, as far as they’re concerned.

My sense of things is that the Clintonistas have persuaded themselves that opposition to Clinton is based on sexism and the many spurious charges of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. Once the election is over, they think, that opposition will fade away. Obviously I disagree, but a lot depends on keeping the young folks from getting too discouraged by what’s about to happen over the next few months.

But let’s go back to the Republicans. And the Democrats. It’s obvious to me that both parties have been in locked into extreme reactive mode for some time. This is particularly obvious with congressional Republicans.  They’ve devolved to the point of having no cohesive idea how to do anything; their only function is to stop the Democrats from doing anything.

And the state Republican governments are no better. They do little but think up new ways to stop abortions or react to the conservative outrage du jour, currently transsexuals in public restrooms. Kansas has gotten so bad that even the Republican legislature is in revolt against more tax and budget cuts. That’s one of the signs of the Apocalypse, I think.

Movement conservatism as we know it very much took shape as a reaction to the New Deal and the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. McCarthyism and John Birch-ism are part of its DNA as well, of course. But for the past several decades “conservatism” in America has been in a long arc of being more and more reactionary, until it’s finally reached the point of being utterly dysfunctional.

We may not yet have hit the Joseph Welch “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?” moment, but with the Trump nomination we’re damn close to it, I think.

But the Democrats, too, have fallen into their own reactionary pattern. Especially since the ascension of the Clintons, the Democratic Party has been locked into the mode of reacting to the Republican Party. Everything they do — or don’t do — seems calculated with the Right in mind, one way or another.

Even as the Right is imploding, we’re lectured by Democrats that nothing can be done because of the Right, but Clinton is our best hope of getting nothing done competently. She promises little on the domestic front except to keep things from getting worse. (Supreme Court; protecting Obamacare; etc.)  As Rick Pearlstein said, what little she has promised makes serious change impossible. And the current Democratic Party considers this to be a model of success.

And yet it doesn’t occur to the Democrats that if the Republican Party changes, they will have to change also.

But how? A lot depends on how the Republicans change, and how quickly.

Best case, for the GOP, would be if a large part of them disavowed the bigots and baggers, stepped back from the extreme-right precipice, and got serious about governing. It’s a long shot, but it’s not impossible they could revert to a being a mostly pro-business party as in the old days –Dick Nixon’s “cloth-coat Republicans” from the Checkers speech, but without the red-baiting. The culture wars would be put on the back burner, if not taken completely off the stove. They’d still fight for tax cuts and against regulations, but only within realistic limits.

That may sound farfetched, but if the donors who keep the GOP going decide that’s their best option after Trump, that could happen.  In which case, how would they be much different from the neoliberal Clinton Democratic Party?

In fact, sometime down the road I could see a realignment putting neoliberal Republicans and Democrats on the Right, and democratic socialist progressives on the Left. That would be more like the political alignments one sees elsewhere on the planet.

I’ve also seen it suggested that the GOP could evolve into an isolationist and anti-globalization party that would peel anti-neoliberal pacifists away from the Democrats, but I think that’s less likely. The point is, though, that whatever happens to the Republicans will force the Democrats to make adjustments, at the very least.

It would be good for all of us if Trump loses big, and if the GOP loses control of the Senate and ends up with fewer seats in the House. This would be good for all of us even if it means watching Clinton win in a landslide and assume a mandate. The bigger the loss for the GOP, the bigger the realignment. The bigger the realignment on the Right, the more pressure on the Dems to change as well.

Or, if the GOP implodes entirely, that leaves room for a new national party. And there’s no rule that says that party can’t form on the Left..

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What’s Happening Now

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Republican Party, Sanders and Clinton

Charles Pierce reports on a RICO suit filed against Michigan governor Rick Snyder. The suit takes Snyder at his word that he is “running Michigan like a business” and accuses him of racketeering in Flint. In particular, the suit says, he committed fraud by charging the people for the contaminated water they were receiving, representing it as safe to drink.

Ted Cruz, who criticized Donald Trump by saying he has “New York values,” is so not welcome in New York.

Bernie Sanders has been invited to speak at the Vatican. “The April 15th event, which will be hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, is scheduled to cover a number of the Democratic presidential hopeful’s signature campaign issues, including income inequality and the environment.”

Note that the New York primary is April 19. He is scheduled to debate Hillary Clinton on April 14 — he’ll have to get on the red eye right after, I bet. There’s a big rally in Washington Square April 13. He’s a busy guy.

Speaking of which, there’s a Sanders rally near me today, and I plan to take a bus there and try to get in. I’ll let you know if anything fun happens.

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