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“The Debate Between The Two Sides Got Lost”: What Happened To The Battle For The Soul Of The Republican Party?

Remember when the 2016 presidential primary on the GOP side was going to be a “battle for the soul of the Republican Party”? At the conclusion of a period of frustration and tumult, with Barack Obama’s reign coming to its end, they were going to have a passionate debate over the party’s identity. What does it mean to be a Republican at this moment, and what do they want to achieve? Who does their coalition include? How do they appeal not just to the voters they have now, but to those they want to win over in the future?

The problem is that a party’s ability to have that kind of debate in a primary depends on both the people running for president and its voters themselves. Both have to be willing to have the debate—to explore the possibilities, advocate for different approaches, and come to a conclusion. But with the Iowa caucuses just days away, that’s not how it turned out.

Even the battle between the “establishment” and the “insurgents” has been far less than it was cracked up to be, because the insurgents won before it even started. Every candidate agreed from the outset that the establishment was vile and loathsome, and they wanted nothing to do with it. The closest thing to an establishment candidate, Jeb Bush, turned out to be a pathetic failure. Even the candidates who were supposed to unite the two camps—first Scott Walker, then Marco Rubio—failed to convince too many voters of their merit (though obviously Rubio might still gain strength).

In the process, the debate between the two sides got lost. Right now the two leading Democratic candidates are having a spirited argument about whether their voters should seek the kind of revolutionary, dramatic change represented by Bernie Sanders, or the more pragmatic approach of Hillary Clinton. As Paul Krugman wrote, “Mr. Sanders is the heir to candidate Obama, but Mrs. Clinton is the heir to President Obama,” one focusing on lofty ideas and fundamental ideals, while the other understands the hard slog of governing and the necessity of accepting half a loaf when you can get it. But Republicans aren’t talking nearly as much about their varying approaches to governing. Indeed, it’s hard to tell if most of them have even thought about it, beyond the notion that they’ll deliver everything conservatives want and make America great again.

Which brings us to perhaps the biggest reason Republicans haven’t been able to fight it out over their party’s soul: Donald Trump. At the moment, we see two things happening simultaneously. First, as Dana Milbank noted, everyone from The Wall Street Journal editorial page to the likes of Bob Dole “are acquiescing to the once inconceivable: that a xenophobic and bigoted showman is now the face of the Republican Party and of American conservatism.” Part of that comes from terror at the prospect of Ted Cruz leading them to electoral disaster, but it’s also a simple acknowledgement that Trump could be their nominee, and the party elite is a practical group.

But at the same time, other members of that elite are making last-ditch panicky pleas to the voters to come to their senses. The National Review just published a package of articles under the headline “Against Trump,” where movement figures from Ed Meese to Glenn Beck made the case that a Trump nomination would be a betrayal of everything they all stand for.

And on that at least, they’re probably right. Trump isn’t a “real” Republican in that he has little history with the party, but more importantly, there’s no reason to believe he has any commitment to conservative ideology. Everything he’s doing now is to appeal to the particular electorate he’s courting, and it’s hard to imagine even his supporters thinking he’s genuinely a huge advocate of the Second Amendment, or a huge opponent of abortion, or a huge fan of the Bible. Everyone laughed about him quoting “Two Corinthians” at Liberty University, but what’s more telling is that after quoting it he said, “Is that the one, is that the one you like? I think that’s the one you like.” The man who proclaims his brave willingness to say what’s “politically incorrect” is actually the most deeply cynical politician running this year, and if he wins the GOP nomination, I promise you he’ll become markedly less conservative as soon as he starts trying to appeal to a wider set of voters.

Contrast that with someone like Mitt Romney, who also had his conservative bona fides questioned. Had Romney won, he would have governed like exactly the hard-right conservative he ran as. He was a creature of his party, and had made commitments that couldn’t be revoked. Republicans would have gotten no unpleasant surprises from him. But Trump? He’d be completely unpredictable.

So while a year ago everyone assumed that there would be some insurgent candidate getting support from the unruly and angry voters and then everyone else would coalesce around an establishment-blessed alternative, now conservatives face the horror of a race being fought out between an insurgent they can’t stand and a demagogue they can’t trust.

In the process, they’ve lost the chance to define today’s Republican conservatism for the voters and for themselves. Imagine that they lose in November, as is looking increasingly likely. What would the GOP that emerges from this election look like? How will it remake itself to win back the White House? If anyone knows, they can’t be heard over the din coming from Iowa and New Hampshire.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, January 26, 2016

January 27, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, GOP Primaries, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Unwrapping Falwell’s Trump Endorsement”: Trump “Reminds Me So Much Of My Father”

On the surface, the political dynamic is baffling. Jerry Falwell Jr., the son of a legendary right-wing TV preacher and the head of one of the nation’s largest evangelical universities, threw his official political support behind Donald Trump – a secular, thrice-married casino owner who’s never really demonstrated any interest in, or knowledge of, matters of faith.

And yet, here we are. Falwell has not only offered a spirited (no pun intended) endorsement to the Republican frontrunner, he’s even gone so far as to say Trump “reminds me so much of my father.”

There’s a fair amount to a story like this one, but let’s start with a blast from the recent past.

In November 2007, another thrice-married New York Republican was running for president, who also had a secular track record of supporting abortion rights and gay rights. And yet, a high-profile televangelist – Christian Coalition president and Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson – nevertheless threw his support to that GOP candidate, Rudy Giuliani.

Social conservative activists and leading religious right groups howled, for reasons that are probably obvious. Giuliani was the antithesis of everything evangelicals were looking for in a Republican presidential candidate, and yet, Robertson ignored his allies and threw in his lot with the secular, Catholic adulterer.

Why? Because Robertson’s priorities weren’t (and aren’t) at all similar to those of many other evangelical leaders: the “700 Club” host saw a Republican leading in the polls; he wanted a seat at the table with a man he perceived as a future president; and so Robertson followed the prevailing political winds.

With the benefit of hindsight, we know this was a poor bet – Giuliani failed spectacularly as a candidate, earning exactly zero delegates – but it was a reminder that Robertson is a partisan first and a culture-war ideologue second, while other prominent social conservatives reverse the two.

And Robertson isn’t the only social conservative who thinks this way.

In the current GOP race, prominent political evangelical leaders effectively limited their top choices to five Republican presidential hopefuls: Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and Ben Carson. Trump was an afterthought.

Cruz emerged as the religious right movement’s standard bearer, but like Robertson eight years ago, that didn’t stop Jerry Falwell Jr. from going his own way.

Of course, there’s also the larger question of why Falwell’s fellow evangelicals would even consider Trump in the first place. We can’t say with certainty whether the Liberty University president has partisan or electoral motivations, but that’s a separate question from what other social conservatives are thinking as they, too, rally behind Trump.

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent published a good piece on this last week.

Instead, Trump’s success among evangelical voters may be rooted in the fact that, more than any other GOP candidate, Trump is able to speak to their sense of being under siege. Trump somehow conveys that he understands on a gut level that both Christianity and the country at large are under siege, and what’s more, he is not constrained by politically correct niceties from saying so and proposing drastic measures to reverse this slide into chaos and godlessness.

I recently talked to Robert Jones, the CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, who has been studying evangelical opinion for many years. His research has led him to believe that Trump is very good at speaking to evangelicals’ sense of a lost, mythical golden age in America that predates the political and cultural turmoil of the 1960s.

In other words, we’re talking about a group of voters – largely white, older, social conservatives – who hear Trump vowing to “make America great again,” and believe him, without much regard for his ignorance about religion, his messy personal life, or his previous policy positions.

If a secular, thrice-married casino owner who uses phrases like “Two Corinthians” is eager to champion a vision of a bygone era, these evangelicals appear to care more about the message than the messenger.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 26, 2016

January 27, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Evangelicals, Jerry Falwell Jr | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Yuge Order”: Trump Said He Bought Windows From China Because America’s Were Too Expensive

Along with being the childhood home of Wyatt Earp and holding the world’s record for the number of people dancing in wooden shoes at one time (2,600), the Iowa town of Pella is best known for its namesake window company.

So you would figure that folks at the home of the Pella Corporation would remember Donald Trump’s declaration in 2010 that he had been forced to make a yuge order of windows from China because he had such difficulty finding any that were made in America.

“I ordered windows, thousands of windows the other day; they’re made in China,” Trump said during an interview with CNBC. “I don’t want to buy them, but it’s hard to get them anywhere else.”

The revelation had caused quite an uproar in the window industry. Trump had sought to smooth it over with a statement insisting “I would much rather buy ‘U.S’—and do much business with Pella—(and others). The U.S. product is better.”

“China’s artificially low currency makes it hard for U.S. companies to compete,” he said at the time.

In other words, Trump had bought the Chinese windows because they were cheaper. That translated into greater profits for him.

And profit is what made Trump the Really Rich guy who had people lined up by the hundreds in Pella to hear him speak on Saturday. Here is how Trump began his speech.

“Oh Pella, Pella, Pella, I’m always negotiating the prices of those damn windows, you know?” Trump can be heard saying in a video of the event. “Brutal, brutal.”

The auditorium filled with cheers.

“But they’re good, I’ll tell you what,” he went on. “They’re a great product and we buy a lot of them.”

More cheers.

“Anybody who work at Pella? Anybody?” he asked.

Voices responded in the boisterous affirmative.

“Well, you know you have lots of orders for Trump,” he said. “They make a quality window and you’re proud to have them.”

He was not done.

“I didn’t realize I’d be speaking in Pella. I’ve paid so much money to them. Ay! I get the shudders to think I’m here.”

He then turned serious.

“But the end result is their product is great,” the man who six years earlier said he had ordered windows by the thousands from China now said, “Which is what we want in this country, right? That’s what we want.”

From the crowd came a cry.

“USA!”

Trump returned to the subject of windows while speaking of Donald-doubters, in particular people who suggested that his financial disclosure forms would show he was not as rich as he claimed to be.

“Actually, it turned out I’m much richer,” he said to the crowd’s manifest delight. “I built a great company.”

“Pella knows, Pella knows,” he went on. “Those windows go someplace. And those were successful jobs.”

Neither Trump nor the Pella Corporation responded to requests for comment, so it is difficult to determine what jobs he was speaking about.

Unless he was applying a Trump-ian definition of success, Trump was not likely talking of his casinos in Atlantic City, an adventure that led to multiple bankruptcies. That despite his father, Fred Trump, slipping him more than $3 million through a supposed gambling chips purchase at a casino cashier’s cage.

He certainly was not referring to whatever buildings were outfitted with thousands of Chinese windows, which he almost certainly purchased because they were cheaper than American-made ones such as those Pella produces.

Donald Trump was also not likely to have been citing a number of projects where he was not the actual developer but had simply licensed his name to lure investors.

In two of those projects, the Trump Soho and the Trump Fort Lauderdale, the buildings went into foreclosure.

In two other projects, the Trump Tampa and the Trump Baja, the buildings were never built.

The locals down in Baja in Mexico must get a pretty good laugh when they hear Trump talk about building a wall along the border and then see his smiling face on a billboard overlooking a hole in the ground.

“Trump Ocean Resort Baja Mexico,” the billboard says. “Trump. Owning here is just the beginning.”

Not laughing are the investors who lost millions imagining that Trump is a synonym for Midas.

His name remains his company’s greatest asset.

The first image that appears on his company’s website is of a foreclosed building erected with such business partners as Felix Sater, a Russian immigrant with a violent felony conviction who had previously participated in a multimillion-dollar stock fraud linked to the Mafia.

But the building is still the Trump Soho. It still bears the moniker that to some means bigotry and misogyny but to others means bucks and moxie.

In another of his foundering deals, a mega-project on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Trump had a partner named Vincent Lo who was sometimes called China’s version of The Donald. Lo even hosted an Apprentice-style reality show called Wise Man Takes All.

Lo could never quite pull it off: The Chinese might be able to make bargain-priced windows, just as they made bargain-priced garments that Trump sold in clothing lines before he got even better prices having them made in Lesotho.

But Trump is a uniquely American product.

Just ask those good folks in Iowa.

As Trump would say, Pella knows.

 

By: Michael Daly, The Daily Beast, January 26, 2016

January 27, 2016 Posted by | China, Donald Trump, Outsourcing of Jobs, Pella Corporation | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“And They Can’t Seem To Shake It”: The GOP’s Conception Of The Republican Primary Is Laughably Wrong

Ever since Donald Trump vaulted to the top of Republican presidential primary polls, GOP strategists have clung to the view that he could be defeated the same way so many other insurgent candidates have: First, party actors would settle on a single candidate to represent the party’s institutional wing; then, slowly, that candidate would consolidate institutional and stakeholder support, until, by late January or some time in February, he would enjoy plurality support, if not majority support, of primary voters and eventually clinch the nomination.

This is how Mitt Romney fended off late favorites like Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum in 2012, and how, in slightly more chaotic fashion, John McCain climbed out of purgatory to win in 2008.

Two things changed in the 2016 cycle. First, Trump established dominance like no other insurgent candidate ever has. Though dark horse after dark horse charged into the race, none of them were able to truly split the reactionary vote with him. Second, no Romney or McCain-like figure ever emerged. Jeb Bush, who was tailored for that role, faltered almost immediately, paralyzing the establishment and fracturing its support among several (currently four) candidates with whom party leaders would be satisfied.

Nevertheless, the smartest minds in the GOP have maintained their faith in the old model. So committed to it are they that they’ve devoted a great deal of effort in recent days to damaging the first plausible competitor to Trump—Ted Cruz—because Cruz, equally detested and unelectable, also spoils their strategic analysis.

Nearly all available public evidence suggests this conception of the race isn’t just wrong, but laughably simplistic and far from representative of GOP voters’ preferences. The tragic thing for Republican leaders is that as poor as this strategic analysis seems to be, the other approaches available to them are just as bad or worse.

The fatal conceit of establishment Republicans’ strategy is its belief in a zero-sum relationship between the candidates that would satisfy them and the amount of support those candidates have within the GOP electorate. That a fixed segment of voters will behave in a way that perfectly mirrors the establishment’s political strategy. That if Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kasich enjoy a combined 25 percent support of Republican voters, then winnowing that “lane” down to one will yield a single candidate with 25 percent support.

If this were true, you’d expect any one of those candidates’ misfortunes to redound to the benefit of one or more of the others. Instead, poll after poll suggests that as other candidates falter, it redounds more to Trump and/or Cruz’s benefit than to anyone in the not-quite-hermetically sealed establishment cocoon.

Perhaps there are no “lanes” at all, or perhaps the lanes function very literally in that changing from one to another is easy and appealing when the one you’re in is backed up. The widely expected consolidation we were all promised is playing out more like a defection to leading, insurgent candidates. It may just be the case that voters whose first choice is a brash executive like Chris Christie, or a Cuban-descended avatar of the Tea Party like Marco Rubio, might see Trump or Cruz as a more natural second choice than another candidate with establishment backing.

Under the circumstances, you might have expected mainline Republican operatives to remain neutral in the Trump-Cruz feud, reflecting a last-best hope that the two would damage each other, or at least prevent one another from running away with the race.

Instead, terrified by the possibility that their theory of consolidation would work on behalf of a candidate (Cruz) whom they despise, many of these operatives have forged alliances of convenience with Trump, in order to arrest Cruz’s popularity before Monday’s Iowa caucuses. The problem is that this, too, is redounding to Trump’s benefit, rather than to the benefit of anyone else running.

If Cruz were to win in Iowa, where he was leading until this week, he would at least buy the establishment time to regroup after New Hampshire, where Trump leads mightily. Instead, the party’s faith in its own power to defeat Trump, mano-a-mano-a-mano-a-mano-a-mano, has increased the chances that he will sweep the first three contests and never look back.

 

By: Brian Beutler, Senior Editor at The New Republic, January 26, 2016

January 27, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Guillotine Finds A Modern-Day U.S. Proponent”: Maine’s Idiotic Gov Paul ‘Rage’ LePage Wants To Roll Back The Clock

Capital punishment has evolved over time, but the progression tends to move in one direction. As we discussed last year, those who believe that the government should have the authority to kill its own citizens have adapted over time to changing norms and technologies. When one method of execution is deemed gruesome, cruel, or of dubious efficacy, policymakers move towards another.

The standards have shifted more than once: from stoning to guillotines, nooses to firing squads, electric chairs to lethal injections. In each instance, the idea has been to make the killing process cleaner and more sanitary.

Occasionally, however, we’re confronted with an official who likes the idea of rolling back the clock. Politico reports today that Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) endorses use of the guillotine.

“I think the death penalty should be appropriate for people who kill Mainers,” LePage said…. He said he was “appalled” at critics, such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, who are angry over his comments, saying they are protecting drug traffickers.

“What we ought to do is bring the guillotine back,” he said, interrupting the hosts. “We could have public executions and we could even have which hole it falls in.”

It’s not altogether clear whether the governor was serious. With Paul LePage, it’s often hard to tell.

But the broader point about contemporary conservatives looking backwards for methods of executions is nevertheless true.

When Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) last year raised the prospect of bringing back the electric chair when chemicals for lethal injections are unavailable, Deborah Denno, a professor at Fordham University School of Law and a national expert on capital punishment, said something interesting: “[T]hey’re going backwards. They’re going back to using a method of execution that was basically rejected because it was so problematic. That’s never happened before.”

As it turns out, some others want to go backwards, too.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 26, 2016

January 27, 2016 Posted by | Capital Punishment, Death Penalty, Paul LePage | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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