“No Experience Necessary”: A Cycle In Which ‘The Base’ Isn’t Buying Anti-Washington Rhetoric From Senators Or Governors
My editor at TPM asked me to take a look yesterday at the historical precedents for so many candidates with no experience in elected office managing to run non-trivial presidential campaigns at the same time. And indeed, I can’t immediately find any precedent for three such candidates in a single cycle. As noted in my column, Trump, Carson and Fiorina registered a total of 42% support in the post-debate Fox News national poll of the GOP presidential nomination contest. Add in Ted Cruz, whose brief service in the U.S. Senate has mostly been devoted to attacking his colleagues, and you’ve got a clear majority preferring as little experience as possible.
Past “non-politician” candidates for president mostly had an abundance of other forms of public service. The last president without a prior elected position was the epitome: Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was on the public payroll most of his life, and was noted among generals more for his political acumen than his military skills. 2008 candidate Wes Clark was from the same mold. 2000 candidate Liddy Dole had served in two Cabinet positions, and was married to the ultimate Congressional Insider.
Steve Forbes and Herman Cain were entirely innocent of public office, like today’s trio. But they didn’t appear in the same cycle.
In writing my column, I added up the elected experience of the other 14 candidates in the ’16 GOP field, and came up with 144 years. That’s a lot of experience. But the only candidate who seems to be putting a lot of emphasis on how much experience he has is Rick Santorum, who is going nowhere fast.
Of the three novices, Carly Fiorina is the most unique historically insofar as she really has no great successes to boast of in the private or public sectors. Yes, she was by some accounts the first woman to head up one of the world’s largest corporations, but by even more accounts she ran HP into the ground and then used her golden parachute to run a notably unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign. Other than that, she’s good at getting appointed to the advisory committees of Republican presidential nominees–both McCain and Romney–and has the kind of communications skills you’d expect from someone used to doing Power Point presentations at shareholder meetings.
As I’ve discussed here often, there’s a big reason Fiorina has been largely bullet-proof despite her dubious resume; her gender makes her a very valuable party asset in a cycle where it’s still largely assumed Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. But you’d have to say she’s also benefiting from the same strange climate that has made Trump the GOP front-runner (in the polls at least) and Carson a grassroots favorite. Decades of attacks on the public sector combined with decades of broken promises by Republican pols have produced a cycle in which “the base” isn’t buying anti-Washington rhetoric from senators (other than perhaps the systematically irresponsible Cruz) or even governors. Maybe one of the experienced candidates with Establishment backing–you know, those who together are pulling a small minority of the vote in the polls–will eventually be the nominee. But said Establishment and the pundits and political scientists who view it as all-powerful need to take a long look at the dynamics of this nominating contest.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, August 19, 2015
“Trump’s Got The GOP By The Balls”: Trump Has The Power To Elect Clinton, And Both He And Priebus Know It
Deflating as it is, the likely Donald Trump scenario is this: He burns hot for a little while longer; he says something really out there in the first debate that roils up the base but makes Reince Priebus and Karl Rove break out in canker sores; but by the time of the baseball playoffs maybe, his act gets old, and somebody else becomes the Herman Cain of October. Then, next year, the primaries will start, and he’ll have to get votes. He’s not going to be all that competitive in Iowa, so it’s New Hampshire where he’ll need to deliver something. And if he doesn’t, he’ll just go away.
That’s the pattern anyway. I seem to recall that at this point in 2011, Michele Bachmann had a pretty good head of steam going. So maybe we shouldn’t get too overheated about him.
But Trump is different from Bachmann, and even from fellow entrepreneur Cain, in one major respect: He doesn’t give a crap about the Republican Party. He cares about Trump. And don’t forget he has the power singlehandedly to make Hillary Clinton president. He knows it, and you better believe Priebus knows it, and it is this fact that establishes a power dynamic between Trump and the GOP in which Trump totally has the upper hand and can make mischief in the party for months.
How does he have the power to elect Clinton all by himself? By running as an independent. Two factors usually prevent candidates who lose nominations from running as independents. One, they lack the enormous amount of money needed to pursue that path (pay the lawyers to get them on 50 state ballots, etc.). Two, they have a sense of proportion and decency, and they figure that if primary voters rejected them, it’s time to go home.
Well, Trump has the dough and lacks the decency. In an interview this week with Byron York, he left the door open a crack to such a candidacy. And that would be all it would take. Given his fame and name recognition, he’d likely hit the polling threshold needed to qualify for the fall debates. And with that kind of exposure, he’d do well—enough. All he needs to get is 5 percent of the vote in Florida, Ohio, Virginia, and Colorado, and the Republican, whoever it is, is sizzled. Another electoral landslide.
The question is would he, and the answer is who knows? To York, he expressed awareness of the obvious drawbacks, pointing to the spoiler role he says Ross Perot played in 1992: “I think every single vote that went to Ross Perot came from [George H.W.] Bush…Virtually every one of his 19 percentage points came from the Republicans. If Ross Perot didn’t run, you have never heard of Bill Clinton.” He is—shocker—wrong about this, but what matters for present purposes is that he believes it, so maybe that means he wouldn’t follow through.
But he is an unpredictable fellow. Suppose Priebus and the GOP piss him off in some way, and he thinks the hell with these losers. Suppose he decides—and don’t doubt the importance of this—that an independent run would be good for the Trump brand in the long run. And suppose he doesn’t actually mind so much the idea of Hillary Clinton being president. We already know he retains a soft spot for old Bill. And he donated to Hillary Clinton’s senatorial campaign.
All that’s speculative. But even in the here and now this dynamic has consequences. It means the GOP can’t afford to offend Trump. This is why Priebus’s spokesman characterized the chairman’s Wednesday evening phone chat with Trump as “very respectful.”
And it’s why the other candidates’ criticisms of him have been a little, ah, restrained. Politicians aren’t always real smart about any number of things, but one thing in my experience that they almost always have a very keen sense of is risk. Members of Congress, for example, generally know exactly what percentage of their electorate they’re going to sacrifice by casting X vote. Jeb Bush’s Trump criticisms are muted because he has a lot to lose by offending Trump and his supporters. Chris Christie, who’s little more than an asterisk in the polls, has less to lose, so he’s willing to be a bit more blunt. Same goes for Rick Perry.
We’ll see if Trump has developed that politician’s sense of risk. If he goes too far, one or certainly two more equivalents of “Mexican rapists,” it’ll be open season on him. He’s at a point of maximum leverage right now, and if he wants to stay there, he’s got to tuck it in about 10 or 15 percent and start employing the kind of racialized euphemisms that are not only tolerated but celebrated within the Republican Party—build the damn fence, no amnesty, Al Qaeda is storming the mainland through Obama’s porous border, etc. That way, he’ll hang around. And he’ll build enough of a following that the threat of a viable independent candidacy remains a real one. And that is Trump’s trump card. And it makes Reince Priebus a very nervous man.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Dail Beast, July 10, 2015
“Trump Proves GOP Proclamations Of Mortal Affront Untrue”: He’s Only Repeating What His Party’s Has Been Saying All Along
In 2006, then-Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce advocated the return of a 1954 program for the mass deportation of undocumented immigrants. It was called “Operation Wetback.”
In 2010, Sen. David Vitter, Republican from Louisiana, released a campaign ad that depicted a bunch of seedy-looking Mexicans, some with gang bandannas, slipping through a hole in a border fence to invade America.
In 2011, Rep. Mo Brooks, Republican from Alabama, said of undocumented immigrants: “I will do anything short of shooting them” to make them stop “taking jobs from American citizens.”
That same year, Republican presidential contender Herman Cain vowed to build an electrified border fence that would shock Mexicans who sought to slip into the country.
In 2013, Rep. Steve King, Republican from Iowa, said that for every illegal immigrant who becomes a valedictorian, there are another hundred with “calves the size of cantaloupes” because they are drug mules.
Yet the party is shocked and offended by what Donald Trump said? Jeb Bush calls his recent comments on undocumented Mexican immigrants “extraordinarily ugly”? Sen. Marco Rubio finds them “not just offensive and inaccurate, but also divisive”? A major donor tells the Associated Press Trump should be excluded from the debates?
Beg pardon, but there is something rather precious in all this ostentatious umbrage. If you didn’t know better, you might forget that the GOP has sought votes for years by stoking fear and anger toward Mexicans who enter this country illegally. If you weren’t paying attention, you might not know that various Republican officials and pundits routinely characterize those people — most of them just dirt poor and trying to put bread on the table — as a disease-ridden invasion force of drug smugglers and gang members, not to mention pregnant women splashing across the Rio Grande in order to drop so-called “anchor babies” on U.S. soil.
This is not to say Trump’s words were not ugly. They were. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” he said. “…They’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems [to] us. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists, and some, I assume, are good people.”
But ugly as it was, Trump’s xenophobia broke no new ground. So you have to wonder at the pious denunciations it is generating. You’re tempted to say people are reacting like this because Trump was blunter than we are used to. On the other hand, there is nothing particularly subtle or ambiguous about threatening to shock Mexicans. Maybe folks weren’t paying attention before.
It’s worth noting that Trump’s comments came as he announced his intention to run for President of the United States, a nation whose last census found about 32 million of us identifying as Mexican-American (some, presumably, good people). Indeed, Mexican-Americans are far and away the largest group under the umbrella rubric “Hispanic.” All the Cuban-, Puerto Rican-, Argentinean-, and Spanish-Americans combined don’t equal the number of Mexican-Americans in this country. So when the GOP talks about “Hispanic” outreach, it is, in a very real sense, talking Mexican-American outreach. Yet this “outreach” seems always to be overshadowed by insult.
The party seems not to realize that you can’t have it both ways, can’t insult people, then ask them to vote for you. How telling is it that, even as party elders assure us his remarks don’t represent the GOP, Trump vaults to second place in the polling of Republican contenders? It’s a truth that gives the lie to these proclamations of mortal affront.
It’s hypocritical and unfair to put all this on Trump. He only repeated what his party’s been saying all along.
By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, July 8, 2015
“Ben Carson Is In Danger Of Losing All Respect”: He Can Only Lose In This Campaign, And More Than Just The Republican Primary
Over decades of a brilliant career as a brain surgeon, Dr. Ben Carson attracted legions of admirers — black, white and brown; liberal, moderate and conservative; fundamentalist Christian and agnostic. His story is the stuff of legend, the awe-inspiring tale of a poor black boy in Detroit who overcame daunting obstacles and vaulted to the very top of his profession.
Given that his profession was pediatric neurosurgery, black Americans were particularly proud. Carson, who was the first surgeon to successfully separate conjoined twins attached at the head, stood as stark repudiation of invidious stereotypes about black intellectual capacity. His memoir, Gifted Hands, has been passed through countless black households.
But the good doctor’s foray into Republican presidential politics threatens to become his epitaph, to overshadow — perhaps even to overwhelm — his academic and surgical accomplishments. He will likely be remembered as the GOP’s latest black mascot, a court jester, a minstrel show. He’ll be the Herman Cain of 2016.
Clearly, Carson’s chances of winning the Republican nomination for president stand at less than zero. No matter how many cheers he attracts at conservative gabfests, no matter how many of his bumperstickers appear on the vehicles of true believers, no matter how many Fox News pundits suggest he’s a viable candidate, he won’t come close to becoming the GOP standard bearer.
Nor should he. He is dangerously unqualified for the presidency — a political novice who is happily ignorant of policy, both foreign and domestic, and contemptuous of religious pluralism and personal liberties.
Carson catapulted to stardom in the ultraconservative firmament in 2013, when he addressed the National Prayer Breakfast with a speech in which he lashed out at the Affordable Care Act as President Obama sat nearby. Though the breakfast has a long history of nonpartisanship, Carson chose to criticize many of the policies that the president supports, including progressive taxation.
That was enough to cause conservatives to swoon. Since Obama’s election, Republicans have been sensitive to charges that their small tent of aging voters has become a bastion of white resentment, a cauldron of bigotry, nativism and fear of the other. They want to show that their fierce resistance to all things Obama has nothing to do with race.
That promotes a special affection for black conservatives who are willing to viciously criticize the president. As with Cain before him, Carson garners the most enthusiastic cheers from conservative audiences when he’s excoriating Obama, the most rapturous applause when he seems to absolve them of charges of bigotry. Why would Carson trade on his reputation to become their token?
I’ve little doubt that his conservative impulses are genuine. He grew up Seventh-Day Adventist, a conservative religious tradition. Moreover, he has adopted a view popular among white conservatives: that black Democrats give short shrift to traditional values such as thrift, hard work and sacrifice. (Hasn’t Carson ever heard any of Obama’s riffs excoriating deadbeat dads and promoting discipline, scholarship and parental involvement in their children’s lives?)
But Carson hardly represents the long and honorable tradition of black conservatism in America. Starting with the father of that movement, Booker T. Washington, its adherents have had a healthy appreciation for the reality of racism in America. Carson, however, thinks Obamacare “really (is) the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery. And … it is slavery in a way.” Washington and his peers, who knew better, would never have countenanced such nonsense.
Moreover, black conservatism has promoted self-reliance, but it hasn’t been a font of right-wing intolerance and know-nothingism. Carson, for his part, has dismissed evolution (giving his former colleagues at Johns Hopkins heartburn); he has compared homosexuality to bestiality; and he has spurned the First Amendment’s separation of church and state.
Given the ultraconservative politics of GOP primary voters, those extreme positions may help Carson in the early campaign season. But those views also guarantee that mainstream Republican leaders and their donors will flock elsewhere, seeking to find an experienced, broadly appealing and electable candidate.
Carson can only lose in this campaign — and more than just the Republican primary. He also stands to lose his place as one of the nation’s most admired men.
By: Cynthia Tucker, a Pulitzer Prize Winner for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, May 9, 2015
“He Was Awfully Busy Last Time”: In Early Polling, God Remains Undecided On Pick For 2016 GOP Nominee
Had you asked me which of the 20 or so potential Republican presidential candidates would be first to claim that his candidacy was endorsed by God himself, I would have said Ben Carson, who has the necessary combination of deep religious faith and self-aggrandizing nuttiness. And today we learn that while the creator of the universe is still mulling his options, he’s not exactly giving Carson a no:
In an interview on Thursday with Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, Carson said he felt the hand of the Lord pushing him toward the White House.
“Has He grabbed you by the collar yet?” host David Brody asked.
“I feel fingers,” Carson said. “But, um, you know… It’s mostly me.”
Admirably modest and self-aware, I’d say. But I still bet that eventually Carson will announce that he’s received a signal from above that the campaign is a go. If and when he does, he’ll surely have some competition, that is if 2016 is anything like 2012. In case you don’t recall, God was awfully busy last time. Here are some highlights:
Michele Bachmann, when asked if she was being called to run, said, “Well, every decision that I make, I pray about, as does my husband, and I can tell you, yes, I’ve had that calling and that tugging on my heart that this is the right thing to do.” She also noted that God had called her to run for Congress in 2006.
In July of 2011, Rick Perry said his impending campaign was a God-sanctioned religious mission: “I’m getting more and more comfortable every day that this is what I’ve been called to do. This is what America needs.”
While Rick Santorum didn’t say God had instructed him to run, his wife Karen did say that she put aside her initial reluctance about a campaign after concluding that it was what God wanted.
My personal favorite is Herman Cain’s story of how one day when he was tired from going out and meeting potential voters his granddaughter sent him a text telling him she loved him. The sweet act of a loving child? Heavens, no. “Do you know that had to be God?” Cain said. “I know that God was speaking to me through my granddaughter, that this is something that I have got to at least explore.”
And here’s a little bonus from four years prior, when past and future candidate Mike Huckabee, who may or may not have been called to run, explained a fleeting rise in his poll numbers by saying, “There’s only one explanation for it, and it’s not a human one. It’s the same power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of five thousand people. That’s the only way that our campaign can be doing what it’s doing. And I’m not being facetious nor am I trying to be trite.” Apparently, God was only teasing, because Huckabee did not in fact become president.
Of course, just because God tells you to run doesn’t mean he’s promising you’ll win. Maybe it’s his plan that you run and humiliate yourself in order to make you humble, which looks like it might have been the idea with Rick Perry in particular (though I don’t know that the humility lesson really took).
All kidding aside, I understand that deeply religious people pray for guidance and wisdom whenever they’re faced with a big decision, and whether to run for president is about as big as it gets. It helps if you can attribute to God the thing you want for yourself. And this is really just a religious version of the reason every candidate says they’re running. No one says, “I’m running for president because I’m pathologically ambitious, it’s something I’ve dreamed of since I was 10 years old, and this is the year I think I’ve got a real shot.” Instead, they all say it’s a calling of one sort or another. It’s because the challenges the country faces are so enormous that as someone who cares so deeply about America, they just couldn’t stay on the sidelines. It’s because they have a vision that can lead us into the future. It’s because this is such a critical time in our history. In short, they all say, “I’m not doing it for me. I’m doing it for something much larger and greater.”
In other words, everyone who runs for president delivers a line of bull when asked why they’re running. Saying it’s because God demands it may at first blush sound particularly crazy, but it’s all the same.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, November 22, 2014