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The Radicalization Of The Republican Party: Seven Years Late, Media Elites Finally Acknowledge GOP’s Radical Ways

Now they tell us the Republican Party is to blame? That the Obama years haven’t been gummed up by Both Sides Are To Blame obstruction?

The truth is, anyone with clear vision recognized a long time ago that the GOP has transformed itself since 2009 into an increasingly radical political party, one built on complete and total obstruction. It’s a party designed to make governing difficult, if not impossible, and one that plotted seven years ago to shred decades of Beltway protocol and oppose every inch of Obama’s two terms. (“If he was for it, we had to be against it,” former Republican Ohio Sen. George Voinovich once explained.)

And for some of us, it didn’t take Donald Trump’s careening campaign to confirm the destructive state of the GOP. But if it’s the Trump circus that finally opens some pundits’ eyes, so be it.

Recently, Dan Balz, the senior political writer for the Washington Post, seemed to do just that while surveying the unfolding GOP wreckage as the party splinters over Trump’s rise. Balz specifically noted that four years ago political scholars Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein examined the breakdown in American politics and zeroed in their blame squarely on Republicans.

“They were ahead of others in describing the underlying causes of polarization as asymmetrical, with the Republican Party — in particular its most hard-line faction — as deserving of far more of the blame for the breakdown in governing,” Balz acknowledged.

“We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional,” Mann and Ornstein wrote in The Washington Post in 2012. “In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.”

They continued:

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

Tough stuff.

And what was the Beltway media’s response when Ornstein and Mann squarely blamed Republicans during an election year for purposefully making governing impossible? Media elites suddenly lost Mann and Ornstein’s number, as the duo’s television appearances and calls for quotes quickly dried up. So did much of the media’s interest in Mann and Ornstein’s prescient book.

“This was far too much for the mainstream press,” noted New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen. “They couldn’t assimilate what Mann and Ornstein said AND maintain routines and assumptions that posited a rough symmetry between the two parties. (‘Both sides do it.’) It was too much dissonance. Too much wreckage. So they pushed it away.”

For anyone who still harbors the naïve notion that the political debates staged by the Beltway press represent freewheeling discussions where anything goes, the Mann/Ornstein episode helped shed some light on the fact that certain topics and analysis remain off limits for public debate for years — even topics that are accurate, fair and essential to understanding our government’s current dysfunction.

Mann and Ornstein stepped forward to accurately describe what was happening to the Republican Party and detailed the calamitous effect it had on our democracy, and the mainstream media turned away.

So committed was the pundit class to maintaining its safe narrative about “bipartisan gridlock” and Obama’s puzzling inability to find “middle ground” with Republicans (i.e. why doesn’t he just schmooze more?), the press was willing to ignore Mann and Ornstein’s solid, scholarly research in order to wish the problem away.

Quite predictably, that problem has only worsened since 2012, which is what Mann and Ornstein address in their latest offering, “It’s Even Worse Than It Was.”  

“It is the radicalization of the Republican party,” they recently wrote, “that has been the most significant and consequential change in American politics in recent decades.”

“The radicalization of the Republican party” — talk about the topic the Beltway press simply doesn’t want to dwell on, let alone acknowledge. Instead, the press has clung to its preferred narrative about how the GOP is filled with honest brokers who are waiting to work in good faith with the White House. Eager to maintain a political symmetry in which both sides are responsible for sparking conflict (i.e. center-right Republicans vs. center-left Democrats), the press effectively gave Republicans a pass and pretended their radical, obstructionist ways represented normal partisan pursuits. (They didn’t.)

Today’s Republican Party is acting in a way that defies all historic norms. We saw it with the GOP’s gun law obstruction, the Violence Against Women Act obstruction, the sequester obstruction, Supreme Court obstruction, minimum wage obstruction, 9/11 first responder obstruction, government shutdown obstruction, immigration reform obstruction, Chuck Hagel’s confirmation obstruction, Susan Rice secretary of state obstruction, paid leave obstruction, Hurricane Sandy emergency relief obstruction, the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act obstruction, and the consistent obstruction of judicial nominees.

The 2014 obstruction of the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act was especially galling, as a single Republican senator blocked a vote on the crucial veterans bill.

At the time of the bill’s blockade, Media Matters noted that there was virtually no coverage of the radical obstructionism on CNN, Fox News, ABC, CBS, NBC or PBS, as well as news blackouts in the nation’s six largest newspapers: The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, New York Post, The Washington Post, Chicago Sun-Times, The Denver Post, and Chicago Tribune

In other words, the GOP’s radical brand of obstructionism not only doesn’t get highlighted as something notable, radical, and dangerous; it’s often met with a collective shrug as the press pretends these kind of nonstop impediments are commonplace.

As Obama works his way through his final year in office, at least pundits like Balz are highlighting that Mann and Ornstein (and yes, Media Matters) were right about the GOP and the asymmetrical blame the party deserves for trying to wreck our functioning government.

It’s never too late for truth telling.

 

By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters For America, March 29, 2016

March 30, 2016 Posted by | GOP Obstructionism, Governing, Mainstream Media | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Is Trump The New Boss Tweed?”: Tweed’s Downfall Demonstrates Just How Fragile Trump’s Popularity May Be

George Wallace. Henry Ford. Hitler.

No, it’s not the start of a bad joke. These are just a few of the historical figures to whom critics are comparing Donald Trump.

Of course, finding an exact precedent for Trump is a futile exercise. History is not a cycle that repeats itself over and over, but rather a never-ending continuum filled with intersecting layers. Think of it as less of a carousel, and more of a roller coaster that keeps adding new twists and turns, much to the discomfort of its nauseated passengers.

Still, historical comparisons are useful in examining how elements of the Trump phenomenon work. One of the most puzzling questions about Trump has been his knack for political mobilization. How has a widely panned candidate managed to gain such a substantial following? The answer lies in the strategy of another polarizing leader: William “Boss” Tweed.

Both men built a fervent political base out of a single demographic to which they did not belong. By focusing on the special interests of that neglected group, Tweed and Trump found success in a political climate that otherwise would’ve labeled them as crooks and liars.

Tweed’s Tammany Hall machine relied on securing the votes of recent immigrants, particularly the Irish. In an environment plagued by poverty and nativism, Tweed smelled opportunity. He and his colleagues created an early welfare system that supplied the immigrants with food, jobs, and housing in exchange for political support. Historian Kenneth D. Ackerman writes that Tammany Hall provided “state money for schools and hospitals, lumps of coal at Christmas, and city patronage jobs to put bread on family dinner tables.” Though the self-serving motives behind Tweed’s generosity were clear, New York’s poor continued to back him based on the simple fact that he made their lives better when other politicians just didn’t seem to care.

Tweed and his cronies used their growing power as an opportunity to embezzle thousands of dollars from public projects, most infamously through a phony renovation to the City Court House. Nevertheless, Tweed never viewed his theft as an immoral act. It was business, and he was good at it. Towards the end of his life, Tweed explained, “The fact is New York politics were always dishonest, long before my time. There never was a time you couldn’t buy the Board of Aldermen […] A politician coming forward takes things as they are.”

Sound familiar? Trump has similarly used bankruptcy laws and eminent domain — meant for “public use” — to his advantage.

Trump’s outspoken beliefs and motivations have already earned him the spite of many fellow billionaires, but he doesn’t seem to care. Instead, he has established his base among the less-educated, blue-collar voters across the country.

With promises to secure jobs at home and kick ISIS’s ass abroad, Trump has amassed a committed base of support. Based on a New York Times analysis, Trump support correlates strongly with white people who ethnically identify as “American,” those without high school degrees, and those who live in mobile homes.

Many of Trump’s supporters look to him as a paternal figure capable of redirecting America’s wealth back to its forgotten citizens. Paul Weber, an attendee of a Trump rally in Iowa, complained that recent immigrants are “getting pregnant and coming here and having babies,” allowing them to “get everything and the people that were born here can’t get everything.” Many also chalk up Trump’s personal success, multiple declarations of bankruptcy notwithstanding, as a sign that he would have better control over economic fluctuations. “I like him because he’s a businessman,” explained Trump enthusiast Linda Wilkerson. She added, “We’re in terrible financial debt. I hope he can bail us out.”

So, what can we expect from Trump based on Tweed’s trajectory? For one thing, Tweed’s subsequent downfall demonstrates just how fragile Trump’s popularity may be. He too is dependent on single group’s allegiance, and any hit to his tough-guy reputation could prove fatal. It’s just like that old saying about putting all your eggs—or Trump steaks—in one basket.

But where will this decisive blow come from? Trump’s media presence, currently one of his greatest assets, could become his undoing.

Like Trump, Tweed had a less than amicable relationship with the mainstream media. Perhaps in another world, the two men would meet in a penthouse to sip some vintage brut and scowl at caricatures of bloated bellies and bad comb overs.

Tweed was a favorite target of cartoonist Thomas Nast, nowadays most famous for his design of the modern Santa Claus. Nast portrayed Tweed as a sleazy criminal who stole funds from public projects while wearing a diamond on his shirt and a money sack over his head. The efforts of Nast and other journalists eventually exposed Tweed’s fraudulence and damaged his popularity among immigrants. He died penniless and imprisoned in 1878.

So far, Trump has dodged every media attack, somehow turning each gaffe and insult into a display of American authority. However, Trump will not be as invulnerable should he ever have the responsibility to govern. He has little to lose as an outsider candidate, but any corruption in office would reveal him as the hypocrite he is.

 

By: Dan Fitzpatrick, The National Memo, March 17, 2016

March 18, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Governing, William "Boss" Tweed | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Can Donald Trump Do An Extreme General Election Makeover?”: The Entire Country Will Have To Get Amnesia

Donald Trump may not be the Republican nominee yet, but he’s already started to pivot toward the general election. This is of course what many conservatives fear about Trump: that because he seems to have no real ideological beliefs, he’ll be happy to turn his back on them, both as a candidate and as a president.

But can Trump really cast off the very things that have brought him such improbable success in the Republican primaries when the time comes to appeal to a broader electorate that finds the Trump they’re seeing now utterly repellent? That may turn out to be the most important question of the general election.

It’s one of the wonders of Trump’s candidacy that where other politicians imply things, he just says them plainly so there’s no mistaking what he means. Others might try to convince you that they’re smart, but Trump will just say, “I’m, like, a really smart person.” And while others might begin to adjust their rhetoric in subtle ways as they prepare to appeal to a wider electorate, Trump just comes out and says that he’ll become a completely different person when the political situation demands it. Here’s what he told Sean Hannity last night:

“At the right time, I will be so presidential that you’ll call me and you’ll say, ‘Donald, you have to stop that, it’s too much.’ But you know what? It is true, and I think you understand: When they attack me, I have to attack back. I’m a counter-puncher. When they attack me, if I don’t attack back — You know, the press could say, ‘Oh, he should act more presidential.’ And then like a couple of days ago, I gave a speech, they said, ‘That was so presidential.’ I can be presidential.”

Who is the “they” he’s talking about? He doesn’t say, but I’m fairly certain no one has ever watched one of Trump’s stream-of-consciousness speeches and thought, “that was so presidential.” But as often happens, Trump just makes up something and attributes it to an undefined “they.” (Maybe “they” are the people chowing down on an imaginary Trump Steak while they read the latest copy of the non-existent Trump Magazine, both of which Trump insists do in fact exist.)

This isn’t the first time Trump has said something like this. “As I get closer and closer to the goal, it’s gonna get different,” he told Greta Van Susteren a month ago. “I will be changing very rapidly. I’m very capable of changing to anything I want to change to.” Or as he said in another interview yesterday: “In order to be victorious, frankly, I had to be very tough and I had to be very sharp and smart and nasty. I can see women not liking that. That will change once this is all over.”

Trump probably could change — within limits. He isn’t going to become conversant with policy issues or demonstrate that he has the faintest idea how government works, but he will almost certainly be changing his focus once he has to appeal to a different audience. He’ll talk about his devotion to protecting Social Security and Medicare, and don’t be surprised if he starts to shuffle back to the center on issues like abortion, gay marriage, and guns. Most of all, he’s likely to downplay the nativist anger that has propelled his campaign, and focus more on the idea that he’s a can-do manager who will whip government into shape and get America winning again.

But that will only work if everyone forgets the Donald Trump they’ve seen since he announced his candidacy nine months ago. And that’s going to be an awfully tall order.

Right now, Trump is poised to be the most disliked party nominee in recent history. Polls routinely show two-thirds of the public saying they have a negative opinion of him. In the Post’s most recent poll, seven out of ten Americans said he isn’t honest and trustworthy, doesn’t understand the problems of people like them, and has neither the right experience nor the right temperament to be president. He seems to think that being “presidential” consists of refraining from calling his opponents names, but it’s going to take a lot more than that.

As just one example, consider the Latino vote. When the Post polled Latinos a couple of weeks ago, eight in ten had a negative opinion of him, and Hillary Clinton won a trial heat against him by 73-16. Many analysts think that if the GOP nominee doesn’t substantially improve on Mitt Romney’s 27 percent support among Latinos in 2012 — and get it up near 40 percent — then he can’t win. If you think Latino voters are going to forget everything Trump has said and done until now once he starts talking nice, I’ve got a bridge you might be interested in buying. (And if you’re thinking Trump will run up such huge numbers among working-class whites that he’ll overcome his weakness with minorities, that isn’t going to happen either.)

Then there’s the question of what happens to the Trump voters who are now so attracted to him precisely because he’s vulgar and angry. There’s an atmosphere of thuggery that surrounds Trump, with  his rallies regularly featuring violence directed by his supporters at the protesters who often appear. Trump has held on to that core of Republican voters because of his current persona. That group — a plurality of Republicans, which is miles from being a majority of the entire electorate — might not be so excited about Trump if he stops being the person he is now.

Maybe Trump will surprise us all, and in the general election he’ll be, as he says, “more presidential than anybody other than the great Abe Lincoln.” But in order for that to work, the entire country is going to have to get amnesia.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, March 10, 2016

March 13, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, General Election 2016, GOP Primaries, Governing | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Donald Trump And The End Of Civility”: Rejecting The Virtues Of Teamwork, Common Courtesy And Civility

For a decade we have seen article after article, study after study, comment after comment on the death of civility in our politics. Politicians, pundits and academics worried that gridlock and the paralysis of Washington was heavily due to the nastiness of the political culture and the vitriol inherent in today’s politics.

Well, as Donald Trump might say – you ain’t seen nothing yet!

My friend, Ira Shapiro, wrote a terrific book, “The Last Great Senate,” about the accomplishments of the civil and functional U. S. Senate that we were both privileged to be a part of a few decades ago. Whether it was the Panama Canal treaties, passage of environmental legislation or social security reform, Republicans and Democrats actually worked together, forged compromises and got the people’s business done.

But as Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann chronicled in their book, “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks,” published in 2012, the rise of tea party extremists and hard-right ideologues has polarized and paralyzed our constitutional system of government.

And now in 2016, we have Donald Trump, who would make Ornstein and Mann’s world of just a few years ago look like patty-cake. Trump, and many of his colleagues in this race who have followed his lead, has debased the dialogue and engaged in trash talk that would make a pro football player blush. It has truly spiraled out of control.

Facts and logical argument are cast to the wind like confetti; nasty statements about body parts are common and invective like “stupid,” “idiot,” “lightweight,” “choker,” “loser” are used by Trump in nearly every speech and press conference.

No one is writing about a return to civility so long as Trump has seized the stage, forcing a dialogue that has taken American politics even further down into the gutter. In fact, Trump has left many people who should be speaking out speechless instead. Now Republicans and conservative columnists are shaking their heads and wondering why the other candidates and Republican Party leadership have kept their heads in the sand for so long. A flood of pieces by the likes of David Brooks and George Will spell it out perfectly: talking about “the governing cancer” and Trump’s “demagogic cynicism and anti-constitutional authoritarianism.”

But I fault those Republicans and conservative pundits who clearly should have been focusing on this transformation from a government that governed and legislators who legislated into a collection of talking heads whose constant desire is to be on gladiator-TV. Or to give a speech that incites a crowd. Many of them embraced the tea party and chose demagoguery over dialogue.

What has happened to words such as thoughtful, wise, substantive, open-minded and even educated, learned and knowledgeable to describe those in the arena of politics and government? Why are those not the standards we use to judge our leaders?

I am left with the enduring cover image from The New Yorker a number of weeks ago, showing a television set with Donald Trump raging and Presidents Washington, Lincoln, Kennedy and Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt looking on in horror.

This is no longer amusing nor something that should be passed off as entertainment. This is not “The Apprentice” or some reality television show. This is real.

If we allow a person like Donald Trump to capture the Republican Party, let alone the country, the price we will pay will be lasting, and the damage will be serious and permanent. This is so far from anything we have experienced; that it has no parallel in our history. He is not, as he says, building a new expanded Republican Party. This “movement” is based on fear and loathing, racism and prejudice, xenophobia and hatred. It is based on our basest instincts, not on our best instincts. It is destructive, not constructive.

With a Trump ascendancy, common courtesy and civility will be considered weaknesses and the politics of irrationalism and fear will triumph. That must not happen.

 

By: Peter Fenn, Democratic Political Strategist and Head of Fenn Communications; U. S. News and World Report, March 3, 2016

March 5, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Fearmongering, GOP Presidential Candidates, Governing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“At The GOP Debate, America Was The Loser”: Republicans Aren’t Remotely Serious About Governing

Last night’s debate in Houston was not only the first time Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz really attacked Trump. It was also the first time anyone went after Trump for the appalling superficiality of his statements and ideas about policy, and it did reveal that Trump is someone who neither knows nor particularly cares how government works or about what you need to do to address complex problems.

That’s good. But the debate revealed something else, too: That Trump is right at home in the GOP, because even the supposedly more serious candidates on that stage had barely anything more to say about policy than he did.

Let’s look, for instance, at an exchange Rubio and Trump had on health care. When Trump started to talk about it, it became obvious he doesn’t understand the first thing about health care policy. “We’re going to have something much better, but pre-existing conditions, when I’m referring to that, and I was referring to that very strongly on the show with Anderson Cooper, I want to keep pre- existing conditions,” he said. What he means there is that he wants to keep the ban on insurance companies denying people coverage because of pre-existing conditions, which is one of the central (and most popular) components of the ACA.

But soon after, they had this enlightening exchange:

RUBIO: Here’s what you didn’t hear in that answer, and this is important guys, this is an important thing. What is your plan? I understand the lines around the state, whatever that means. This is not a game where you draw maps…

TRUMP: … And, you don’t know what it means…

RUBIO: … What is your plan, Mr. Trump?

(APPLAUSE)

RUBIO: What is your plan on healthcare?

TRUMP: You don’t know.

BASH: (inaudible)

TRUMP: … The biggest problem…

(CROSSTALK)

RUBIO: … What’s your plan…

TRUMP: … The biggest problem, I’ll have you know…

RUBIO: … What’s your plan…

TRUMP: … You know, I watched him meltdown two weeks ago with Chris Christie. I got to tell you, the biggest problem he’s got is he really doesn’t know about the lines. The biggest thing we’ve got, and the reason we’ve got no competition, is because we have lines around the state, and you have essentially….

RUBIO: … We already mentioned that (inaudible) plan, I know what that is, but what else is part of your plan…

TRUMP: … You don’t know much…

RUBIO: … So, you’re only thing is to get rid of the lines around the states. What else is part of your healthcare plan…

TRUMP: … The lines around the states…

RUBIO: … That’s your only plan…

TRUMP: … and, it was almost done — not now…

RUBIO: … Alright, (inaudible)…

TRUMP: … Excuse me. Excuse me.

RUBIO: … His plan. That was the plan…

TRUMP: … You get rid of the lines, it brings in competition. So, instead of having one insurance company taking care of New York, or Texas, you’ll have many. They’ll compete, and it’ll be a beautiful thing.

It keeps going for quite a while like that. “Lines around the states” refers to the question of allowing insurance companies to sell policies across state lines, instead of only within one state. This is one of a very small number of ideas that Republicans have settled on so that they have something to say when asked what they’d do about health care.

And Marco Rubio supports that, too. The lengthiest explication Rubio has offered on his plans for health care came in this op-ed from August, which basically presents that Republican grab-bag: let insurance companies sell policies across state lines, give people tax credits instead of subsidies, block-grant (i.e. cut) Medicaid, turn Medicare into a voucher program, expand health savings accounts. And oh, you’re one of the tens of millions of people with pre-existing conditions? Um…well, you can go in a high-risk pool, which is just about the worst and most expensive way to cover those people. Throw in some meaningless drivel about “patient-centered reforms” and “empowerment” and you’ve got your standard-issue Republican health care “plan.”

What’s the difference between that and when Trump says he’ll repeal the ACA and replace it with “something terrific”? Almost nothing. If there’s anything the last seven years have taught us, it’s that health care policy is extraordinarily complex, and any reform you make has to grapple with that complexity. Republicans can’t seem to bring themselves to grapple with it: they talk about repealing the ACA as if that would be no big deal, when in truth repealing the law would represent a massive disruption to the American health care system in history, much more so than the passage of the law itself.

And it isn’t just health care. We see it over and over again in other areas: Trump offers some ridiculously simplistic notion about what he’d do in a critical policy area, and anyone with a brain says, “My god, he has no clue what he’s talking about,” but then when you look at the other candidates, you see that their ideas are barely more coherent or realistic. Trump says he’ll kick the crap out of the Islamic State. That’s no plan. But what do the other candidates say? Call it “radical Islamic terrorism,” and, uh, form a coalition! And also some crap-kicking!

Trump says he’ll go to China and tell them to give us back our jobs, then we’ll have a spectacular economy. And the other candidates? They say that if we cut taxes and curtail regulations, then we’ll have a spectacular economy. Their plan is to bring back George W. Bush’s economic policies, which will somehow produce Bill Clinton’s economic growth. Such a clever strategy.

Trump says he can eliminate the deficit by finding “waste, fraud, and abuse,” a line from the 1980’s that he doesn’t seem to realize is now considered a joke. “We are going to cut many of the agencies, we will balance our budget, and we will be dynamic again,” he says. It’s obviously inane. And the other candidates? They want to hugely increase the deficit with their tax cuts and increases to military spending. But they’ll do things like “prevent massive, irresponsible spending bills” (that’s from Rubio’s deficit reduction “plan”) or eliminate the IRS and “evaluate areas of waste and fraud” (that’s Cruz). And people wonder why the deficit always goes up under Republican presidents.

So yes, Trump is an ignoramus. He has no idea what is actually involved in running the government. But what’s really depressing is that even the other guys, who have been in government and do have at least some grasp of how it works, haven’t bothered to present anything that’s more than a notch or two more sophisticated to the voters. Either they don’t care enough to be remotely serious about governing, or they think the public won’t care that they aren’t remotely serious about governing. Or maybe both.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, February 26, 2016

February 27, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Primary Debates, Governing | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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