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“Locals Very Anxious About The Bad Vibes”: Republican Insiders Are Dreading Their Own Convention

Cleveland is one of those cities that has invested a whole lot in rehabilitating a once-dismal image, with some success. Now it’s probably better known as a vibrant music center (home of a fine symphony orchestra and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) than as another decaying Rust Belt graveyard full of industrial ghosts. There’s a major NASA facility there. Cleveland has its share of foodies and hipsters. The sports scene once probably best defined by the Ten Cent Beer Night riot that canceled an Indians’ game in 1974 now has produced an NBA championship.

But as is the case in a lot of cities fighting a bad rep, there’s a certain strained boosterism to Cleveland’s self-promotion, perhaps best characterized by the frenetic “Cleveland Rocks!” assertions that festooned comedian Drew Carey’s long-running ABC sitcom. So you have to figure the locals are very anxious about the bad vibes surrounding next week’s Republican National Convention. Will the event be remembered as another (to borrow the term of derision once commonly applied to the huge, frigid Cleveland Stadium until its demolition in 1996) Mistake by the Lake?

Of course, the widespread “dread” of the convention among GOP insiders that Politico‘s Alex Isenstadt wrote about today has less to do with the convention’s locale than with the Trump nomination it will formalize. An unprecedented number of elected officials are finding somewhere else to be next week. Political operatives who would normally no more miss a convention than a child would forget her or his own birthday are planning hit-and-run visits to conduct essential business only. Several big corporations are canceling what would normally be routine sponsorships (Isenstadt reports ominously that some local caterers are laying off staff because of the reduced number of corporate events).

There will not be a shortage, however, of media observers, many of whom are coming to Cleveland in hopes of seeing some sort of garish and horrific spectacle, whether it’s a fight over the convention rules, violence in the streets, or just an exceptionally cheesy Trump-driven agenda of C-class celebrities and washed-up athletes.

Totally aside from the hostility to Trump many Republican Establishment types feel, there’s a sense this convention could rank down there with Barry Goldwater’s Cow Palace convention in 1964 as the kickoff to a general-election fiasco.

But perhaps an even greater source of “dread” is the potential contrast between chaos outside the convention arena and tedium inside.

At a time when the nation is reeling from a series of mass shootings, there is widespread concern about safety in Cleveland. Increasing the worry is the nature of Trump’s campaign events, which have at times resulted in racially charged violence between his supporters and critics. The convention is expected to draw scores of protesters, ranging from Black Lives Matter to white-supremacist groups.

Thanks to Ohio’s robust “concealed carry” law, Cleveland police are being reduced to begging protesters not to bring along their shooting irons. Fortunately, the more respectable Trump supporters are ahead of the curve:

Tim Selaty, director of operations at Citizens for Trump, said his group was paying for private security to bolster the police presence. While Mr. Selaty said people should be allowed to carry guns, his group is banning long weapons from a rally in a park it is hosting on Monday.

“We’re going to insist that they leave any long arms out for sure because we believe that will make sure our people are safer,” he said. “In other words, no AR-15s, no shotguns or sniper rifles — all of the things that you would think somebody would bring in to hurt a lot of people in a very short time.”

Gee, that’s a relief: at least some people in the protest zone will have nothing more troublesome at hand than their hand cannons.

In a terrible affront to both the Second Amendment and the constitutional doctrine of federalism, the Obama Secret Service has banned firearms inside the convention perimeter itself. But the biggest worry Republicans have about what goes on inside Quicken Loans Arena involves Team Trump’s apparent disorganization in planning the convention. Six days out, and more than a week after Trump himself boasted the speaking schedule was full-to-overflowing, there’s still no convention schedule available. A relative handful of isolated announcements have been made about this or that elected official agreeing to speak at the convention, in a sharp departure from the usual assumption that all of them would be there and most of them above the rank of dogcatcher would be offered three minutes during a sleepy afternoon session. We’re all beginning to wonder if there will be a schedule in place when the convention officially opens on Monday.

All in all, it’s not looking good for Republicans or for Cleveland. If the convention is a mess or if violence erupts outside it, you can be sure that media types will reach for long-buried symbols of Cleveland disasters like the occasions in the 1960s and 1970s when the heavily polluted Cuyahoga River caught on fire. Thanks to a generation of environmental efforts nationally and locally, that doesn’t happen anymore. But it could be an apt metaphor if RNC ’16 goes up in flames.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, July 12, 2016

July 14, 2016 Posted by | Cleveland OH, Donald Trump, Republican National Convention | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Whoa Nellie!”: Bernie Sanders Is The Future Of The Democratic Party, Right? Not So Fast

As the competitive phase of the Democratic presidential primary has wound down, the action now moves to the nebulous contest to define the terms of Hillary Clinton’s victory and what, if anything, she owes to Bernie Sanders. It is a little strange, as Ed Kilgore points out, that the coverage of this question treats Sanders as the victor and Clinton as the vanquished. The discussion hinges on the premise that Sanders, even while losing the fight for delegates, has won the war of ideas within the party. The premise is shared by such disparate figures as economically moderate Matthew Yglesias (“Sanders’s basic vision of a party with a more sharply ideological message on economic issues is very likely to dominate in the future”) and ecstatic radical Corey Robin, who sees in Sanders’s success the rise of socialism that will sweep liberalism into the dustbin of history. But this assumes that Sanders’s appeal was mostly or even entirely ideological. That is probably wrong.

It is certainly true that Sanders pushed the debate leftward, by bringing previously marginal left-wing ideas into the Democratic discussion. It is also true that his disproportionately young supporters lie farther to the left than Clinton’s, and that his ideas account for at least some of his enthusiastic support. But to understand the Sanders campaign as primarily a demand for more radical economic policies misses a crucial source of his appeal: as a candidate of good government.

American liberalism contains a long-standing tradition, dating back to the Progressive Era, of disdain for the grubby, transactional elements of politics. Good-government liberals prefer candidates who make high-minded appeals to the greater good, rather than transactional appeals to self-interest. The progressive style of politics was associated with the middle-class reformers and opposition to urban machines, and was especially fixated with rooting out corruption in politics. Candidates who have fashioned themselves in this earnest style have included Adlai Stevenson, Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Gary Hart, Jerry Brown, Howard Dean, and Barack Obama. These candidates often have distinct and powerful issue positions, but their appeal rests in large part on the promise of a better, cleaner, more honest practice of politics and government.

Sanders has tapped effectively into this tradition. His disdain for corporate donations, disheveled appearance, frequent disavowals of personal attacks (“People are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails!”), and pleas to conduct the campaign as an elevated issues seminar have lent him a rare authenticity. This has been aided by the fact that Clinton is unusually vulnerable to a good-government candidate. Through a combination of her husband’s scandals, her own missteps, and a hostile news media, Clinton has labored under the buildup of years of toxic coverage. Obama effectively attacked her on these themes eight years ago, and in 2015 her campaign began under the clouds of new scandals around her buckraking and misuse of a private email server. Polls of Democratic voters showed Sanders crushing her on perceptions of being honest and trustworthy.

The Wisconsin primary is indicative. Fifty-four percent of Democrats said they wanted a candidate who would continue President Obama’s policies, while only 31 percent of voters preferred more liberal policies. (This measure is itself imprecise, since Obama would also prefer more liberal policies, except the Republican Congress is blocking them.) But almost 90 percent of Democrats called Sanders honest and trustworthy, versus 57 percent who said the same about Clinton. Sanders won Wisconsin by 13 points.

Sanders has certainly benefited from and encouraged the spread of radical policies on the left. But the media attention to these ideas has magnified their real-world constituency. A faction is not close to taking majority control of a party before it is able to win at least a sizable minority share of the party’s elected officeholders. When Barry Goldwater led an insurgency to win the Republican nomination in 1964, the conservatives who supported him represented an important faction within the party, with representatives in both houses of Congress. Within the Democratic Party, on the other hand, socialists — depending on how you define it — are limited to Sanders himself. Sandersism may one day become the Democratic mainstream creed, but that day is probably a long way off.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, May 2, 2016

May 3, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Calgary Ted”: What Goes Around Comes Around; Trump Shifts His Birther Gaze To Cruz

Who says Donald Trump lacks subtlety? The way he’s raising “birther” questions about his chief rival for the nomination is worthy of Machiavelli.

“I’d hate to see something like that get in his way,” Trump said of the fact that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) was born in Canada. Trump referred to the Constitution’s provision that “No Person except a natural born Citizen” — whatever that means — is eligible to be president.

“But a lot of people are talking about it,” Trump continued, in an interview with Post reporters, “and I know that even some states are looking at it very strongly, the fact that he was born in Canada and he has had a double passport.”

Cruz flatly denied ever having a Canadian passport, telling CNN that this was just one of those “silly sideshows” the media love to engage in. But there is no question that he was born in Calgary, Alberta, to an American mother and a Cuban father. And there is no question that he had Canadian citizenship — before renouncing it in preparation for his presidential run.

Ah, what goes around comes around. For years, the Republican Party had nothing but patronizing nods and winks for the unhinged birthers — Trump included — who claimed, despite definitive proof to the contrary, that President Obama was born in some other country. Now, as party leaders desperately look for a way to deny Trump the nomination, the candidate with the best chance of doing so happens to have been born, without any doubt, in some other country.

Trump still leads the national Republican polls by a mile, while Cruz has pulled ahead of the rest of the field and now stands alone in second place. In first-to-vote Iowa, however, Cruz has taken a narrow lead over the bombastic billionaire and is favored to win. Hence Trump’s sudden concern over the birthplace of a man who perhaps should be nicknamed Calgary Ted.

“Republicans are going to have to ask themselves the question: ‘Do we want a candidate who could be tied up in court for two years?’ That’d be a big problem,” Trump told The Post. “It’d be a very precarious one for Republicans because he’d be running and the courts may take a long time to make a decision.”

Most legal experts agree that Cruz is eligible to run; the fact that his mother was a U.S. citizen means he had citizenship from birth, which would appear to satisfy the “natural born” requirement. But the question of precisely what the Constitution means has never been fully explored by the courts.

The issue came up in 2008 because Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) the GOP nominee, was born in the Panama Canal Zone to parents who were U.S. citizens. The Senate went so far as to pass a nonbinding resolution “recognizing that John Sidney McCain, III, is a natural born citizen.”

You’d think McCain might be sympathetic to Cruz’s situation, but did I mention that what goes around comes around? Cruz has gone out of his way to alienate many of his Senate colleagues, and McCain has called him and his allies “wacko birds.” Perhaps that’s why McCain, when asked by a Phoenix television station to comment on Cruz’s eligibility, responded: “I think there is a question. I’m not a constitutional scholar on that, but I think it’s worth looking into.”

McCain noted that the Canal Zone was “a territory of the United States of America” when he was born. And there was a precedent, he argued, since 1964 Republican candidate Barry Goldwater was born in Arizona when it, too, was a U.S. territory.

Whereas Canada is a whole different country.

I confess that I find the whole flap absurd. Cruz should be deemed unsuitable for the presidency because of his wrongheaded ultra-right-wing views and his dangerous political ruthlessness, not because his American mother happened to be living in Canada when he was born.

But maybe Cruz will have to squirm a bit. A lawsuit has been filed in Vermont to keep him off the ballot there, and I wouldn’t be surprised if suits were filed in other states as well. Somehow I doubt he’ll get the same moral support from his fellow senators that McCain was given.

Has the party of Lincoln really come to this, Donald Trump or Ted Cruz? The two men still insist that they like each other, their campaign-long bromance not extinguished. I’m reminded of something Machiavelli didn’t say but should have: Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 7, 2016

January 10, 2016 Posted by | Birthers, Birthright Citizenship, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Challenging The Party’s Ideology”: How Ted Cruz And Marco Rubio Are Battling For The Future Of GOP Foreign Policy

A few weeks ago, Ted Cruz committed a shocking act of heresy against the Republican Party Establishment. “If you look at President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and, for that matter, some of the more aggressive Washington neocons,” he told Bloomberg News, “they have consistently misperceived the threat of radical Islamic terrorism and have advocated military adventurism that has had the effect of benefiting radical Islamic terrorists.” Cruz was cleverly making a point about the Obama administration’s intervention in Libya, which resulted in a failed state that has nurtured ISIS, but his attack cut much deeper than it might have first appeared. One of the supporters of that venture was Marco Rubio, Cruz’s primary rival for the affection of regular (non-Trump-loving) Republicans. Rather than frame his contrast with Rubio as a matter of personal judgment or partisan loyalty, though, Cruz defined his opponents in ideological terms (“the more aggressive Washington neocons”). Indirectly, he was reminding his audience of another country in the Middle East where neocon military adventurism has wound up benefiting Islamic extremism — and harking back to an older conservative approach.

While Trump has distracted the party with bombastic grossness, Cruz has undertaken a concerted attack on an unexpected weak point: the belief structure, inherited by Rubio, that undergirds the party’s foreign-policy orthodoxy, opening up a full-blown doctrinal schism on the right.

The Iraq War remains the Republican Party’s least favorite subject, but the principles that drove the Bush administration into Baghdad (without a plan for the occupation) have remained largely intact. Most Republican leaders still espouse the neo­conservative belief in confronting autocratic governments everywhere, that demonstrations of American military power will inevitably succeed, and that the championing of democratic values should inform all major foreign-policy strategy.

When he first came to Washington, Rubio distanced himself from these beliefs. “I don’t want to come across as some sort of saber-rattling person,” he said in 2012, the next year insisting that higher military spending be paid for with offsetting cuts elsewhere. The next year, he started rattling sabers. Rubio came to support higher defense spending even if it increased the deficit, and turned sharply against the Iran nuclear deal. Now a full-scale hawk poised to restore the banished Bush doctrine, Rubio has surrounded himself with neoconservative advisers, using buzzwords like “moral clarity,” and promised to stand up to Russia, China, Cuba, and North Korea, unworried by the possibility that standing up to some of the bad guys might require the cooperation of other bad guys. “I’m ready for Marco,” enthused William Kristol.

The Bush years trained liberals to think of neoconservatism as the paramount expression of right-wing foreign-policy extremism. But neoconservatism runs against the grain of an older and deeper conservative tradition of isolationism. Cruz has flitted about the edges of the libertarian right, sometimes forming alliances in the Senate with Rand Paul, an isolationist who — after briefly being in vogue — has largely been marginalized within his party. At the last Republican foreign-policy debate, Cruz identified himself with that creed more openly than he ever had. Just as Rubio’s buzzwords signal his neoconservative affiliation, Cruz conveyed his isolationism by calling for an “American-first foreign policy” and dismissing Rubio as a “Woodrow Wilson democracy promoter.” The face-off between Rubio and Cruz at that debate represented something far more profound than the usual exchange of canned sound bites.

The isolationist tradition has long been misunderstood to mean a policy that perished overnight on December 7, 1941, and that promoted complete withdrawal from world affairs. In fact, isolationist thought grew out of — and, in some ways, represented the apogee of — American exceptionalism.
It regarded other, lesser countries with disgust, a sentiment that bred the competing impulses to both be distant from the rest of the world and to strike out at it.

Isolationism dominated conservative thought from the end of World War I — as a reaction against Wilson’s costly democratization crusade, as Cruz implied — through Pearl Harbor. After the war, without losing its hold on large segments of the GOP, the worldview mutated in the face of communism. The Soviet threat intensified the contradiction between the desire to quarantine America from the communist contagion and to eradicate it. The old isolationists resolved the tension by developing a fixation on airpower as a substitute for diplomacy and land forces. American planes would allow it to dominate the world while remaining literally above it. (Airpower, wrote the historian Frances FitzGerald, “would allow America both to pursue its God-given mission abroad and to remain the virgin land, uncorrupted by the selfish interests of others or foreign doctrines.”)

Republican leaders opposed the Truman administration’s plans to rebuild Europe, create NATO, and station a huge land force in West Germany. Instead, they proposed a massive air force. The right’s belief in the efficacy of bombing was enabled by its indifference to widespread carnage among enemy civilians. Conservatives like Barry Goldwater proposed using nuclear weapons during the Vietnam War. “If we maintain our faith in God, love of freedom, and superior global airpower, the future looks good,” said Air Force general Curtis LeMay, who had also called for nuclear strikes against North Vietnam. (In 1968, LeMay ran as vice-president alongside the segregationist George Wallace, a campaign that prefigured Trump’s combination of populism, white racial backlash, and an ultranationalist foreign policy.)

Republican presidents like Eisenhower and Nixon, though, followed Truman’s internationalist program rather than the unworkable fever dreams of the right. The bipartisan embrace of internationalism sent isolationism into a long, slow decline, its ideas circulating but without influence, a philosophy for newsletter cranks. Eventually, the dominant Republican foreign policy evolved once more, into neoconservatism, which combined the Wilsonian fervor for exporting democracy abroad with the isolationist distrust of diplomacy. The neoconservative project imploded in Iraq, but still, even in the 2008 and 2012 campaigns, the lone voice of dissent on neoconservative foreign policy was the libertarian gadfly Ron Paul, who brought isolationism back into the conversation. The surprisingly durable support for an odd little man in poorly fitting suits who kept ranting about gold indicated a potentially underserved market for Republican discontent over Iraq.

The Paul version of isolationism, inherited by his floundering son, emphasizes the live-and-let-live principle. Cruz’s version is more bloodthirsty, putting him in touch with the current, freaked-out conservative mood while reviving the bombing obsession of the mid-century conservatives. “We will utterly destroy ISIS,” he boasted recently with LeMay-esque ghoulishness. “We will carpet-bomb them into oblivion. I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out.” (Cruz’s choice of imagery is important: Conventional bombing does not make things glow, but nuclear bombing does.) At the debate, Rubio shot back, “Airstrikes are a key component of defeating them, but they must be defeated on the ground by a ground force.” When pressed by moderators on the details of their respective plans, both Cruz and Rubio retreated. Cruz admitted he would not, in fact, level the cities held by ISIS (which are populated mostly by their unwilling captives) but would instead simply bomb ISIS’s military positions, which Obama is already doing. Rubio admitted he would not dispatch an occupying force back to the Middle East but merely send a small number of special forces while attempting to recruit local Sunnis, which Obama is also already doing.

Substantively empty though their bluster may be, Rubio and Cruz are pantomiming a deep-rooted, significant breach. While he has very little support among party elites, Cruz seems to believe that Republican voters are hungry for a candidate who will challenge their party’s foreign policy at the ideological level. Very soon, we will find out if he is right.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, December 27, 2015

December 28, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, GOP, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Giant Confidence Game”: Is Ben Carson’s Campaign One Big Con?

Ben Carson’s presidential campaign is many things. A curiosity, an oddity, a fascinating yet disturbing commentary on today’s Republican Party? Absolutely. But there’s also some reason to believe that it’s a giant confidence game.

That isn’t to say that Carson isn’t genuinely trying to become president. He has even moved into the lead in a couple of recent national polls. But the inner workings of his campaign will look awfully familiar to those who understand how one right-wing movement has been bilking gullible conservatives over the last half-century.

Like many outsider candidates, Carson is relying on small donors to raise money — lots of it. He took in over $20 million in the third quarter, more than any other Republican (though less than Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders). But he has also spent much of it already. As of the end of the third quarter, he had raised $31 million but spent $20 million, almost two-thirds of the haul, an unusually high “burn rate.”

Spending lots of money early in an election isn’t necessarily bad, if you’re investing it in things that will be valuable for you later. If you have a big staff in Iowa, for instance, presumably they’ll be organizing activists, persuading voters, and putting in place the infrastructure you’ll need to get your supporters to the caucuses.

But that’s not where Ben Carson’s money is going. Much of it is going to the fundraising itself, mostly through direct mail. And money spent to raise money is just gone. Yes, you can go back to those people who contributed and ask for more, but that might or might not pay off. The Carson campaign is also delivering phone spam to untold numbers of people all over the country. I know lifelong Democrats who have gotten these calls and can’t figure out what list would include them as potential Carson supporters, suggesting a telemarketing firm is billing the candidate for oodles of useless calls.

It sure looks like Carson’s campaign is a self-perpetuating machine in which money is raised to pay mostly for more money being raised — and the people doing the direct mail and phone calls are making out quite nicely. As conservative radio host Erick Erickson says, “Carson’s actual expenditure list reads like a wealthy Republican getting played by consultants.”

So why does this sound familiar? As Rick Perlstein has documented, out of Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign grew an entire industry in which conservatives would receive an endless stream of solicitations for both right-wing causes and various brands of snake oil, offered by people they trusted and with the assurance that they were remaking the country in their own image. Lists were the primary currency, the leads that were bought, sold, and traded between the industry’s participants, providing an endless stream of profits in mountains of small checks and bills. “The strategic alliance of snake-oil vendors and conservative true believers,” Perlstein wrote, “points up evidence of another successful long march, of tactics designed to corral fleeceable multitudes all in one place — and the formation of a cast of mind that makes it hard for either them or us to discern where the ideological con ended and the money con began.”

And that was before the internet and super PACs came along. Now it’s even easier, with conservative publications and organizations using the new versions of those lists to solicit more and more cash. Go to Newsmax or WorldNetDaily or Human Events and sign up for updates, and just watch the solicitations roll in. “Give to our super PAC and take down Obama!” they’ll say, and people do — though the money only goes to pay the fundraisers, who in a weird coincidence share an address with the super PAC. Meanwhile, Mike Huckabee hawks miracle Biblical cancer cures to the gullible fans on his email list, profiting off their misery with talk as smooth as any confidence trickster.

No candidate was better positioned to take advantage of these same marks, who had been conned so many times before, than Ben Carson. While most Americans only heard of Carson when he started running for president, he’s been a prominent figure in certain socially conservative circles for years. With his mix of fervent religious belief and faith in unseen conspiracy theories, Carson’s story and personality has been admired by those same people who get so many other solicitations from those in the movement — or who seem like they’re part of the movement, but who are really only there to make money.

It may be that Ben Carson is really running a professional, forward-thinking campaign where nobody’s getting rich and all the money being spent is only on wise investment that will pay off when the actual voting starts. But it sure doesn’t look that way so far.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, November 4, 2015

November 5, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Campaign Consultants, Campaign Fundraisers | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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