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“The Monumental Fall Of The Republican Party”: A Step-By-Step Capitulation To A Politics Of Unreason

The fixed smile on Donald Trump’s face as Sarah Palin unleashed her free-association, who-knows-what-she’ll-say-next harangue endorsing him on Tuesday sent its own message. “How long do I have to stand here?” it seemed to say. But of all the developments in the astonishing Republican presidential contest, this moment told us what we need to know about the state of a once-great political party.

Consider the forces that brought Palin to the national stage in the first place. In 2008, John McCain, running behind Barack Obama in the polls, wanted to shake up the contest by picking a moderate as his running mate. His first choice was then-Sen. Joe Lieberman, and he also liked former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge.

But McCain won the nomination against the will of the Republican right as more-conservative candidates had fractured their side’s vote. “He is not the choice of conservatives, as opposed to the choice of the Republican establishment — and that distinction is key,” said Rush Limbaugh, using language that is now oh-so-familiar. The establishment, Limbaugh charged, had “long sought to rid the party of conservative influence.”

A moderate VP choice would have been too much for Limbaugh’s legions. So McCain, facing a full-scale revolt on the floor of the Republican convention, gave up on Lieberman and Ridge, turning instead to Palin. A new hero for the Limbaugh-Fox News disciples was born.

Where Palin was concerned, Limbaugh overestimated the establishment’s dedication to principle and underestimated its opportunism.

After Obama won, the main goal of Republican leaders of all stripes was to take back Congress as a prelude to defeating the president in 2012. The angry grass-roots right — it has been there for decades but cleverly rebranded itself as the tea party in 2009 — would be central in driving the midterm voters the GOP would need to the polls. Since no one was better at rousing them than Palin, old-line Republican leaders embraced and legitimized her even if they snickered privately about who she was and how she said things.

Today’s Republican crisis was thus engineered by the party leadership’s step-by-step capitulation to a politics of unreason, a policy of silence toward the most extreme and wild charges against Obama, and a lifting up of resentment and anger over policy and ideas as the party’s lodestars.

Many Republicans are now alarmed that their choice may come down to Trump, the candidate of a reality-show populism that tries to look like the real thing, and Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.), an ideologue whom they fear would lead their cause to a devastating defeat. There is an honorable pushback against this outcome from champions of a genuinely more moderate and tolerant brand of conservatism — the columnists Michael Gerson and David Brooks among them.

But this is a battle that needed to be joined long ago (which, I should say, is a central theme of my new book, “Why the Right Went Wrong”). A showdown was required before the steady, large-scale defection of moderate voters from the party. Now that opponents of Trump and Cruz need the moderates, they are no longer there — except, perhaps, in states where independents might cross into the party’s primaries to save it from itself.

And instead of battling the impulses now engulfing the party, GOP honchos exploited them. They fanned nativist feeling by claiming that illegal immigrants were flooding across our borders, even when net immigration from Mexico had fallen below zero.

They promised radical reductions in the size of government, knowing no Republican president, including Ronald Reagan, could pull this off. They pledged to “take the country back,” leaving vague the identity of the people (other than Obama) from whom it was to be reclaimed. Their audiences filled in the blank. They denounced Obamacare as socialist, something, as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is pointing out, it decidedly is not. Indeed, it’s rooted in proposals Republicans once made themselves.

Politicians whose rhetoric brought the right’s loyalists to a boiling point now complain that they don’t much like the result. But it’s a little late for that. Why shouldn’t the party’s ultra-conservatives and its economically distressed working-class supporters feel betrayed? At least with Trump, Cruz and Palin, they have reason to think they know what they’re getting. “We are mad, and we’ve been had,” Palin declared on Tuesday. “They need to get used to it.”

So watch for the establishment’s next capitulation. There are reports that some in its ranks are already cozying up to Trump. Given the record, there’s little reason to doubt this.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 20, 2016

January 22, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, GOP Presidential Candidates, Sarah Palin | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“McCain’s Loyalty To Palin Goes Unrewarded”: The Loyalty And Respect Appears To Be A One-Way Street

After Sarah Palin announced her support for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign late yesterday, it was hard not to wonder: what does John McCain have to say about this? The answer, apparently, is not much.

The man who first gave Sarah Palin a starring national role in August 2008 will try to avoid getting involved in the Trump endorsement storyline – for now, at least.

“Senator McCain has great respect and appreciation for Governor Palin,” a senior aide told NBC News. “As he has said since Senator [Lindsey] Graham exited the race, he will not be taking sides and endorsing a primary candidate at this point in the race.”

This level of restraint really can’t be easy.

In case it’s not obvious, Palin’s new pal is on record publicly mocking John McCain’s war record. Indeed, at a forum in Iowa in July, Trump said McCain is “not a war hero,” adding, “I like people that weren’t captured, okay?” Pressed to apologize, Trump refused.

Six months later, this same candidate picked up an endorsement from McCain’s former running mate – the person responsible for putting Palin on the national stage – and the senator still maintains the line about “great respect and appreciation” for the former governor.

I guess the alternative is a statement in which McCain asks, “Good lord, what have I done?”

Keep in mind, as Rachel noted on the show last night, the Arizona Republican, even after the 2008 fiasco, has been steadfastly loyal to Palin, praising her repeatedly, and emphasizing how “proud” he is to have chosen her for the GOP ticket. At one point, McCain said, “I love Sarah. I think she is still the best decision that I have ever made.”

And he did not appear to be kidding.

But after yesterday, it’s hard to escape the fact that the loyalty and respect appears to be a one-way street


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 20, 2016

January 21, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, John McCain, Sarah Palin | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Palin Is A Loser—But A Potentially Useful One”: Sarah Palin Backs Donald Trump, Murders Irony

Failed reality-television star Sarah Palin joined former reality-television star Donald Trump in Ames, Iowa, on Tuesday evening, not for a taping of Celebrity Apprentice or a casting for Dancing With the Stars, but to endorse him as the next president of the United States.

Dressed in a black overcoat and blue tie, the GOP frontrunner walked onstage at Iowa State University and gripped the lectern stamped with his name. “Wow, look at the press out there! They must think that a big event’s gonna happen today,” he said. “Wow! That’s a lot—it’s like the Academy Awards!”

He freestyled for 30 minutes, about his poll numbers and how Big League he wins, before welcoming a bedazzled Palin with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. He called her “a spectacular person” and said her endorsement was “very special to me.”

Trump stood off to her left and looked on as she spoke, his arms dangling awkwardly at his sides. He smirked.

“Heads are spinning,” Palin began. “This is gonna be so much fun!”

Searching for meaning in this spectacle is like trying to find enlightenment in the ball pit at Chuck E. Cheese. And the jokes, well, they write themselves but they’re not very funny, which, in a sense, is the key to Trump’s success in the Republican primary—and, perhaps, life in general.

Trump persists because he defies parody. He, like Palin, is in on the joke that is his public persona. The difference is he’s better at telling it than any lowly scribe or comedian. And he tells it not with a device as obvious as self-deprecation but with subtlety in his every decision, minor or Yuge, in his official capacity as The Frontrunner for the Republican Presidential Nomination.

Which is where Palin comes in.

“No more pussyfooting around!” she shouted. “He’s going rogue left and right, man, that’s why he’s doing so well!”

Once governor of Alaska, Palin’s own road to caricature began when she joined Trump foe John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign as his running mate.

Her tinny-voiced performance as a vice-presidential candidate was, at turns, erratic and self-destructive. By Election Day, it was difficult to distinguish between the real Palin and the version of her performed by Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live.

For a time after McCain’s defeat, Palin enjoyed her status as an in-demand conservative star, too rogue to be tamed by the establishment elite. But her shtick, complete with props like Big Gulps and Dr. Seuss books, seemed to grow tired. TLC canceled her reality show, Sarah Palin’s Alaska, after just one season. Palin sightings on cable news occurred with less and less frequency. A CBS News poll from January 2015 found that 59 percent of Republicans didn’t want her to run for president in this election.

To borrow a phrase from The Donald, Palin is a loser—but a potentially useful one, like conspiracy-monger Alex Jones, who was welcomed into Trump’s orbit in December.

Trump associates with sideshows and freaks as if to run on hot coals before the American public and media, who are left covered in sludge and scratching their heads. Unlike almost every politician before him, he is never tainted by these associations. No failed governor or tinfoil hat-wearing radio host or white supremacist making robocalls on his behalf can reflect poorly on his character, perhaps because we suspect he has none.

Trump befriended Palin before his formal foray into Republican politics began. In 2011, they were photographed eating pizza together in New York City—with forks. In August, Palin interviewed Trump, by webcam, for the right-wing One America News Network. He told her he liked her and her family “so much.”

There is overlap among their lackeys, too. Trump political director Michael Glassner previously served as chief of staff to Palin’s political action committee, and Trump’s spokeswoman, Katrina Pierson, was endorsed by Palin in 2014 when she ran for Congress in Texas.

Roger Stone, a longtime Trump confidant who worked on the campaign until August, said Trump only stands to gain from Palin’s public embrace.

“She is popular with evangelicals who dominate the process,” he told me. “Also blots out sun for [Ted] Cruz.”

At the very least, Trump loses nothing after Tuesday’s Big Show. At most, he starves Cruz—his central rival—of much-needed media coverage with two weeks to spare until the Iowa caucus. Unlike his other threats, like Ben Carson, Cruz has proved impervious to Trump’s put-downs. Despite weeks of Trump questioning Cruz’s citizenship, Cruz has hardly moved an inch in the Iowa polls, where he was beating Trump as recently as two weeks ago. As of this writing, Trump stands just a percentage point above Cruz in the Real Clear Politics polling average in the state.

Aiding Trump’s cause is Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who, sparring with Cruz over ethanol, said Tuesday that he hopes the Texas senator is defeated.

As surreal as Tuesday’s performance felt at times, it was guided by a certain logic. Even Palin, who flailed her sequined arms in the air for the crowd, equal parts pep and menace in her voice, sounded a nuanced battle cry. “You ready for a commander and chief who will do their job and go kick ISIS ass?” she screamed at one point.

But then she explained her plight, and the plight of all Trump true believers.

“Trump’s candidacy: It has exposed not just that tragic ramifications of that betrayal of the transformation of our country, but too, he has exposed the complicity on both sides of the aisle that has enabled it, OK?” she said. “He’s been able to tear the veil off this idea of the system, how the system really works.”

In Trump, Palin sees a leader—one who won’t be pushed off to the corner like she was. “We need someone new who has the power and is in the position to bust up that establishment,” she said.

She complained that establishment Republicans are as much to blame as the Democrats, and in their effort to thwart Trump, they have maligned all of conservative America.

“Funny, haha—not funny,” she said, seemingly out of nowhere. “But now what they’re doing is whaling on Trump and his Trumpeters, ‘Well, they’re not conservative enough’—Oh my goodness gracious, what the heck would the establishment know about conservatism?”

She said she, Trump, and those like them were “right-winging, bitter-clinging, proud clingers of our guns, our god, and our religions, and our Constitution.”

“Doggone right we’re angry,” she said. “Justifiably so!”

She said Trump could be trusted because “he builds things, he builds big things, things that touch the sky, big infrastructure, things that put people to work.”

And when President Obama leaves office, she said, she hopes he heads back to Chicago. He’ll “be able to look up and there, over his head, he will be able to see that shining, towering Trump Tower. Yes, Barack, he built that and that says a lot! Iowa, you say a lot being here tonight supporting the right man who will allow you to Make America Great Again!”


By: Olivia Nuzzi, The Daily Beast, January 19, 2016

January 21, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, Sarah Palin | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“St. Joan Of The Tundra”: The Inevitability Of Palin’s Endorsement Of Trump

Notwithstanding the howls of pain and rage from supporters of Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin’s decision to endorse Donald Trump for president makes perfect sense when you think about what she has distinctively represented in the Republican Party. Yes, she’s a “conservative” in the sense of standing for maximum confrontation with Democrats and constantly accusing the party Establishment of acts of betrayal. But no, there’s nothing particularly ideological — or, for that matter, intellectual — about her approach to politics or issues. She represents almost perfectly the passion and resentment of grassroots cultural-issues activists. When John McCain vaulted her into national politics, she was known for two things other than her gender: She was a “walk the walk” role model for the anti-abortion movement, thanks to her small child Trig, and she had taken on the “crony capitalist” GOP Establishment in Alaska and won. Thus she was a fellow “maverick” with Christian-right street cred and a “game-changing” identity.

The remarkably widespread belief that Palin lost the 2008 presidential election for her party is even more far-fetched than the hope that she could win it. And so the many fans she made in that campaign developed — with a lot of help from Palin herself — a deep resentment of all of the Democrats, Republicans, and media elites who belittled her. In a very real sense, she was the authentic representative of those local right-to-life activists — disproportionately women — who had staffed countless GOP campaigns and gotten little in return (this was before the 2010 midterm elections began to produce serious anti-choice gains in the states) other than the thinly disguised contempt of Beltway Republicans. And after 2008 she generated a sort of perpetual motion machine in which her fans loved her precisely for the mockery she so reliably inspired.

Unfortunately for those fans, St. Joan of the Tundra was never quite up to the demands of a statewide — much less national — political career. So she opportunistically intervened in politics between books and television specials and widely broadcast family sagas, mostly through well-timed candidate endorsements. It’s striking, though not surprising, that Palin is now endorsing the nemesis of one of her most successful “Mama Grizzly” protégées, South Carolina’s Nikki Haley, on the turf of another, Iowa’s Joni Ernst.

But in many respects, the Trump campaign is the presidential campaign Palin herself might have aspired to run if she had the money and energy to do so. Her famous disregard for wonky facts and historical context is but a shadow of Trump’s. His facility with the big and effective lie can’t quite match Palin’s, who after all convinced many millions of people in a Facebook post that the Affordable Care Act authorized “death panels.” And both of them, of course, exemplify the demagogue’s zest for flouting standards of respectable discourse and playing the table-turning triumphant victim/conqueror of privileged elites.

Conservatism for both Trump and Palin simply supplies the raw material of politics and a preassembled group of aggrieved white people ready to follow anyone purporting to protect hard-earned threatened privileges, whether it’s Social Security and Medicare benefits or religious hegemony. So it’s natural Palin would gravitate to Trump rather than Cruz, who’s a professional ideologue but a mere amateur demagogue. The endorser and the endorsee were meant for each other.


By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, January 19, 2016

January 20, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, Sarah Palin | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Sarah Palin All Over Again”: Ben Carson’s Fall Is A Damning Indictment Of Conservative Politics

Ben Carson’s popularity among conservatives has been marked by their imperviousness to questions about his honesty and fitness. Carson has made dozens of statements about federal policy that have transcended garden-variety conservative over-promising and reached the realm of Chauncey Gardner-esque absurdity. He has also faced serious questions about the veracity of stories he tells about his youth and young manhood. Through it all, conservatives have not only stuck by his side, but actually become more taken with him. They’ve brushed off scrutiny with glib mockery, accusing white liberals of “othering” a black man for having the temerity to leave the “thought plantation.”

That all likely changes now that Carson has confessed to fabricating a seminal story about having declined admission to West Point in his youth. When you’ve lost Breitbart, it stands to reason that you will also lose talk-radio fawning, viral email forwards, and all the other mysterious sources of conservative cult status.

But there is room for genuine doubt here: Could Carson’s supporters prove so uninterested in his genuine merits and demerits that they might look past this transgression? The very fact that this doubt exists incriminates both the conservative-entertainment complex and the nature of the Republican electorate.

Carson has been famous for years, and a political celebrity since February 2013, when he issued a meandering indictment of President Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast while Obama sat next to him, silent and captive. The whole time, Carson has boasted of rejecting a “full scholarship” to West Point, an academy that actually pays people for their attendance. He thrust his deception into the public eye over and over and over again, and nobody questioned it until he became a poll leader in the Republican presidential primary.

This is not a great reflection on the media, I suppose—but it’s a worse reflection on the people who vaulted Carson to the summa of the conservative movement without bothering to investigate him. The price of entry into this realm of politics is so low that many, many successful people (Carson, but also Herman Cain and others) believe that the way they are perceived will protect them from their skeletons.

In this way, Carson’s rise is reminiscent of the McCain campaign’s decision to elevate Sarah Palin to vice presidential nominee after the most cursory vetting. Carson and Palin both paired reactionary politics with identities more closely associated with liberalism. Palin’s value was in her potential to undermine the historic nature of Obama’s candidacy. Carson’s is in his willingness to validate and absolve conservative racial politics. Republicans have pointed to Carson’s popularity as evidence of conservative enlightenment on racial issues, taking the superficial argumentative power of “some of my best friends are black” and applying it to a national ideological movement.

These phenonema were driven, to a large extent, by the idea that branding can eclipse structural political realities. What’s amazing and distressing is that, for millions of American conservatives, it absolutely can.


By: Brian Beutler, Senior Editor, The New Republic; November 9, 2015

November 10, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Conservatives, Sarah Palin | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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