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“A Telling Shift In Dynamics Of GOP Politics”: Why 2016 Is Different For The GOP; The Establishment Is Divided, The Base Is Mostly United

Billions of pixels have been spilled about Trump, Fiorina, the radical extremism of the GOP base and the fecklessness of Republican establishment candidates. But while numerous ad hoc explanations exist for the bizarre way the GOP primary is playing out, the simplest story is often the most overlooked. Traditionally, hardcore movement conservatives find themselves split over who will be the anti-establishment candidate, while the establishment usually unifies early and rolls over the top of the divided opposition.

In the 2012 campaign, establishment Republicans backed Mitt Romney early. Romney never had the backing of a clear majority of Republican voters. A number of anti-Romneys collectively had a majority of the vote against him, and even as they dwindled to just Gingrich and Santorum those two continued to outpoll Romney collectively. Had either stepped aside and delivered their voters to the other, it’s conceivable that Romney could have been defeated. But Romney limped forward to the finish line and the rest is history. A similar pattern elevated John McCain from a nearly defunct candidacy to the nomination in 2008, despite widespread opposition from the most conservative GOP voters.

This year that pattern is reversed. The establishment is divided among a bevy of uninspiring choices. The leading favorite until now has been Jeb Bush, but his unimpressive campaign performance has prevented him from coalescing support despite numerous advantages. The other GOP establishment picks from Rubio to Kasich to Walker have all had their challenges as well.

Meanwhile, of course, the Tea Party right has mostly fallen in behind Donald Trump, with a side of support for Carson. Where once the far revanchist right was divided and the corporate right was unified, now the reverse is true.

That’s partly a reflection of the corruption-fueled billionaire primary in which a variety of wealthy plutocrats can dictate their own terms, backing their own preferred candidates long after they would have normally bowed out. Party leadership no longer has the control of the moneyed establishment the way it once did; the Kochs and Adelsons fund whomever they please all the way to the convention.

It’s also the product of Trump’s singularly powerful understanding of the anti-establishment right’s desire not for a traditional presidential candidate, but someone who will declare war on the sort of cultural decency they view as “political correctness.”

It’s possible, of course, that the GOP will return to form and that the establishment will mobilize around a single candidate as conservatives split. But there’s no guarantee of it. Without that, we could easily see a Donald Trump nomination and a telling shift in the dynamics of Republican politics.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, September 20, 2015

September 22, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, GOP Primaries | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The GOP Is Outraged By Trump? Oh Please”: No More Out Of Line Than The GOP Has Been For Six Years

I watched all day Friday on cable this juxtaposition of the Trump video and the old John McCain video from 2008, when he gamely told that hair-swept woman that no, Barack Obama is a good family man and a citizen. By the 15th viewing, it hit me just how insidious the juxtaposition is.

Here’s why. The quasi-informed viewer will reflexively think that the McCain video, buttressed by all the talking heads chastising Trump for not having followed McCain’s admirable example, represents the default Republican handling of such situations over the years. But in fact, of course, it’s Trump who comes far closer to representing the way most Republicans have handled such questions over the years.

Think about it. How many videos have we seen over the years of Republican members of Congress at town halls, or being confronted by reporters, and being asked if they think Obama is a Christian or an American or if he loves his country. We’ve seen loads of them, and they all follow the same script. The member of Congress first chuckles nervously. He then glances from side to side to see who’s around, who might overhear him. You can see the gears turning in his head. “What do I say? This will surely find its way back home to my constituents, so what do I say?” So they say something like “Well, it’s not for me to say” and scamper on their way.

Look. There’s a reason 43 percent of Republicans still believe that Obama is Muslim, and that reason is far from mysterious. It’s that elected Republicans have allowed the rumor to fester.

Thought experiment: Suppose that Republicans from Reince Priebus and Michael Steele (his predecessor) to the senators to the members of Congress and governors and on down to the locals had agreed in 2009 that the party line on such matters would be, “Look, we disagree strongly with the President’s policies, but we don’t question his citizenship, his Christian faith, or his patriotism, and we encourage all Republicans to stop doing this.” What would that percentage be today? Not 43, I assure you. If Republicans had spent six years saying that, pollsters wouldn’t even be still asking the question.

But they most certainly did not do that. Steele is someone I’ve gotten to know and like, he’s a very nice man. But I see here that even he gave one of those cutesy answers back in 2009, when GQ asked him if he thought Obama was a Muslim: “Well, he says he’s not, so I believe him.” That too was a classic dodge, that “Well, he says he’s not.” On the moral see saw, the opening note of skepticism weighs far more than the closing affirmation, and thus signals to the conservative listener/viewer/reader, “This guy’s all right.” And while it’s fair to note that Hillary Clinton gave a similarly yucky answer during the 2008 primary, it’s the Republicans that have been singlehandedly promoting this nonsense for the last six years.

On my personal outrage meter, I regard what Trump did as being in fact not as bad as the kind of disingenuous tap-dancing other Republicans have done. Trump was very clearly just tolerating this guy, humoring him. Yes, of course he should have corrected the man, and he didn’t. But he was obviously trying to be vague and get past it fast. He wasn’t nudging and winking and didn’t come up with some coy and dishonest rhetorical pirouette that fed the man’s rage. “We’re looking into it” ain’t red meat.

What I find far more outrageous is the unified chorus of Republicans now denouncing Trump as if the vast majority of them haven’t spent the past six years behaving as Trump did or worse in such situations. This newfound rectitude is awfully convenient, and it obviously has a lot less to do with any devotion to the principle of civil discourse with respect to the sitting President. No, it’s about them taking advantage of a golden opportunity to dump on Trump and present themselves to people with short memories as being far better on this issue than they actually have been.

Permit me to refresh those memories. Here, I don’t even have to go back very far at all. Do you remember back in February when Rudy Giuliani said he didn’t think Obama loves America and “wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up”? Well, it set off the usual two-day cable shit-storm, such that all the GOP candidates were asked to comment on it. Here is what they said.

Bobby Jindal was the best (as in worst). He flat-out defended Giuliani, saying that “the gist of what Mayor Giuliani said…is true.”

Scott Walker, flying high then, was a close second. “You should ask the president what he thinks about America,” Walker told The Associated Press. “I’ve never asked him so I don’t know.”

Rand Paul and Jeb Bush both said it’s a “mistake to question people’s motives.” That’s better than Walker, but it’s still pretty cautious and still not a no, the mayor was clearly out of line. Others—Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Ben Carson—didn’t respond to media requests for comment.

Oh, and then there was Lindsey Graham. Now Graham was great on Andrea Mitchell’s show Friday: No, what Trump did was an outrage, of course Obama is a Christian, yadda yadda. Back in February, though, he was hedger too. He said: “I am not Dr. Phil. I don’t know how to look into somebody’s eyes and find out what their soul’s up to.” He did then say “I have no doubt that he loves his country, I have no doubt that he’s a patriot.” He deserves credit for the second part, but why that Dr. Phil business?

I’ll tell you why. Because until Trump got involved and took his current commanding (and to Republicans like Graham, terrifying) lead in the polls, the default Republican position was to find some way to humor the base on these questions about Obama. So saying something skeptical that fed the base’s rage was required. But now that Trump is guilty of doing what most Republicans have spent the better part of a decade doing, suddenly it’s all too outrageous. There is no principle at work here. Indeed precisely the opposite. This is the definition of expediency.

And if Trump is smart, and he is, he’ll find a way to communicate this when he “apologizes,” and the GOP will get precisely what it deserves.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, September 20, 2015

September 22, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Not What The People Want”: Scott Walker Failed Because He Followed The Republican Party’s Playbook

On Monday evening, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker announced that he was dropping out of the 2016 presidential race. “Today, I believe that I am being called to lead by helping to clear the field in this race so that a positive conservative message can rise to the top of the field,” he said. He claimed his decision was motivated by a desire to help voters “focus on a limited number of candidates who can offer a positive conservative alternative to the current front-runner,” a reference to Donald Trump.

That Walker would leave on that note is only natural: No candidate has suffered more, or more directly, from Trump’s insurgent 2016 run. Eight months ago, Walker, a deeply red governor in a traditionally blue state, was a favorite to win his party’s nomination. He had garnered a national reputation among conservatives, including the wealthy donor class, thanks to victories in dogged local fights over budget austerity and labor issues. His environmental agenda was as dangerous as any we are likely to see this campaign season. With a folksy, Cheez Whiz sort of charm, and a proven record of conservative achievements, he seemed the perfect vessel through which to unite the increasingly powerless Republican establishment with its increasingly volatile fringe.

This was supposed to be the model for the Republican Party’s success in 2016 and beyond, as outlined in the GOP’s autopsy report following the 2012 election. “Republican governors, conservatives at their core, have campaigned and governed in a manner that is inclusive and appealing,” the report stated. “They point the way forward.”

Across the board, however, the aversion to established Republican leaders is making its presence felt in the 2016 race. Of the nine governors to enter the field, only one, Jeb Bush, is currently polling within the top five, according to a CNN poll released on Sunday. Rick Perry and now Walker have dropped out, and three more—Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, and Jim Gilmore—may not be far behind. In the end, Walker’s demonstrable accomplishments paled in comparison to Trump’s bluster.

Trump certainly isn’t the only reason for the Walker campaign’s collapse. Liz Mair, a former Walker strategist, offered up a lengthy autopsy on Twitter, with likely causes ranging from poor staffing decisions to the candidate’s confusion as to his “real identity as a political leader.” Others have pointed to Walker’s seeming ignorance of foreign policy issues and his campaign’s myopic focus on Iowa. In what turned out to be a prescient dissection of his campaign last week, The Washington Post quoted one “major” Walker donor as speculating that “something’s missing in the demeanor” of the candidate. Last week, Walker himself, following his second consecutive debate-night disappearing act, was quick to blame the media.

Yet, in a race that has already discarded one of the other key premises of the GOP’s post-2012 assessment—the need to reach out to Hispanic voters—perhaps it was only a matter of time before governors, too, were brought crashing down. If there’s anything to be learned from Walker’s exit, it’s that being thought of as a promising candidate may be the kiss of death in the 2016 Republican primary. As Doug Gross, a Des Moines, Iowa, lawyer and Republican activist, told Bloomberg shortly before Walker bowed out of the race, the Wisconsin governor “looks and acts and talks like a politician and that’s not what people want.”

 

By: Steven Cohen, The New Republic, September 21, 2015

September 22, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Primary Debates, Scott Walker | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Batten Down The Hatches!”: A Perilous Week Ahead For Our Republican Friends

There’s really only one way to say it: the week of September 21, 2015 could be unpleasant for a Republican Party struggling to find its way in the runup to a big, high-stakes election.

Its presidential field remains nearly as large and definitely as unwieldy as ever. Initial polling after last week’s second CNN debate shows that the long-awaited, fervently prayed-for decline in support for Donald Trump isn’t happening just yet. The main result of the debate was instead to consolidate the powerful position of three dubiously qualified “outsiders,” Trump, Ben Carson, and the star of the moment, Carly Fiorina. All three of them continue to say and do things that aren’t particularly troubling to the angry Republican “base” but are very problematic in a general election.

Over the weekend Trump batted away criticism over his silence in the face of a supporter who loudly insisted in the candidate’s presence that the president is a Muslim born outside the United States (an assertion an alarming percentage of Republicans believe against all evidence). Trump says it’s not his job to defend the hated Obama. Carson is in the spotlight for insisting against the rather explicit language of the U.S. Constitution that there should in fact be a “religious test” for the presidency, barring Muslims. Meanwhile, Fiorina is being besieged by the facts she ignored in her debate presentation–especially with respect to the Planned Parenthood videos she discussed to the delight of Christian Right voters–and by the long-overdue MSM scrutiny of her arguably catastrophic record as CEO of HP, her primary credential for high office (see Jeffrey Sonnenberg’s refutation of her debate remarks about him and her HP tenure).

But even as the three zero-experience front-runners lose friends and alienate people, it’s not like the rest of the field is moving on up. One early favorite, Scott Walker, is by all accounts in desperate condition, and having decided to drop everything else to go try to shore up his horrendous standing in Iowa, made a poor impression on his first post-CNN-debate public appearance there.

Off the campaign trail, congressional Republicans are snarled in separate yet equally dangerous internal disputes over the extent to which they will court a government shutdown to express unhappiness with the Iran Nuclear Deal–which they strangely consider a big political winner for themselves–and to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Budget wizard Stan Collender has now raised his estimate of the odds of a government shutdown to 75%. It’s a particularly bad sign that Republicans are already resorting to the tired and notably ineffective tactic of arguing that it’s Obama who would be shutting down the government by rejecting GOP demands.

If that’s not enough for you, keep in mind the Pope is coming to town this week, and whatever comfort conservatives take from his inevitable condemnation of legalized abortion, he is certain to bring a message on climate change and corporate greed that will make conservative Catholics go a little crazy.

And stimulating craziness will definitely be like bringing coals to Newcastle for the GOP right now. Batten down the hatches!

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, September 21, 2015

September 22, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Government Shut Down, Republicans | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Caring About The Political Fortunes Of The Causes”: If Bernie Sanders Wins, Centrist Liberals Are Morally Obligated To Support Him

In modern electoral politics, moderate and centrist Democrats are well-known for browbeating leftists with the lesser-evil argument. Democrats might not be particularly concerned about, say, child poverty, but they’re still better than Republicans on just about any issue you care to name. Obama might drone strike American citizens, but at least he doesn’t start full-blown wars of aggression that kill hundreds of thousands of people.

And that’s true, so far as it goes. However, there is a small but distinct possibility that moderates might find themselves on the receiving end of such an argument in the next election, if a leftist like Bernie Sanders wins the presidential nomination. As Matt Bruenig points out, they don’t seem to like this possibility. But they better be prepared for it.

For an example of a Democratic partisan, here’s Mark Kleiman explaining why he doesn’t agree with “emo-progs” (i.e., left-wing critics of Obama), in a post from a couple years ago entitled “Confessions of an Obamabot”:

What the emo-progs refuse to remember — now, and in the run-up to the 2010 election — that I never for a moment forget is that, whatever the failings of Barack Obama the human being, “Barack Obama” the political persona is the leader of the Democratic Party (and thus, effectively, of the entire progressive coalition) in a battle with a well-organized, well-funded, and utterly dedicated plutocrat-theocrat-racist-misogynist-obscurantist-ecocidal Red Team, whose lunatic extremism is now actually a threat to republican governance. If I’m reluctant to help Rand Paul and Glenn Greenwald add NSA! to Benghazi! and IRS! and Solyndra! and all the other b.s. pseudo-scandals designed to make Obama into Richard Nixon, it’s not because I’m in love with “The One:” it’s because, for good or ill, the political fortunes of the cause I care about are now tied to Obama’s political fortunes. [Washington Monthly]

Interpreted narrowly, this is a reasonable point. It is very often taken too far, of course — as with the people who blame the 97,000 Nader voters in Florida in 2000 for Gore’s loss of that state, instead of the 2.9 million who affirmatively voted for Bush. I would further add that Democrats should not always be supported without question. Centrist hack Democrats like Andrew Cuomo do not care about left-wing priorities like affordable housing and quality public transit — indeed he has actively worked against both. In Cuomo’s case, it is worth risking a potential loss in order to change the political incentives in New York at the state level.

Still, in America, tactical voting must always be a consideration. And for voters in swing states, that consideration is powerful indeed. Republicans really could do spectacular damage — just look at the smoking wreckage the last GOP president left.

The question is whether moderates are willing to swallow such an argument if Sanders manages to clinch the Democratic nomination. It’s still an extreme long shot, but it’s not completely out of the question.

After all, something similar happened in the U.K. just last week, with the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. The reaction was not encouraging. Moderate liberals, like New Labourite Tony Blair, who all but begged his nation on hands and knees not to vote Corbyn (and probably added 10 points to Corbyn’s victory margin in the process), are furious. Some Labour MPs have reportedly even approached the Liberal Democratic Party about defecting.

Of course, that’s in the U.K., a genuinely multi-party democracy. There is less of an obligation to support Labour when the Greens or Scottish National Party could end up being part of a liberal coalition. In the U.S., there are only two real national parties, thus greatly strengthening any lesser-evil argument.

So unless moderate liberals’ arguments were 100 percent hypocrisy, should Sanders lock down the nomination, they will be obliged to support him. If they really care about the political fortunes of the causes they care about — ObamaCare, climate change, women’s rights, a higher minimum wage, keeping 27-year-old Heritage interns off the Supreme Court, etc. — they best start saying “actually, democratic socialism is good” in front of a mirror. They may need the practice.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, September 20, 2015

September 22, 2015 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democrats, Hillary Clinton, Progressives | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

   

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