Donald Trump has been trying to make peace with his party – and is failing miserably.
Earlier this week, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee went up to Capitol Hill to meet with GOP senators in a bid for party unity. According to reports, the meeting did not go well. As the New York Times described it, Trump’s session turned into “an extraordinary series of acrid exchanges, punctuated by Mr. Trump’s threatening one Republican senator and deriding another as a ‘loser.'” The episode prompted the Washington Post to declare that “GOP unity is dead.”
For any other presidential candidate, this would be problem of enormous proportions. For Trump, it’s more of a minor annoyance.
Trump doesn’t really need his party. His entire candidacy has been predicated on being an outsider. The continued conflict with party leaders has allowed Trump to pull off the rather difficult but necessary feat of being two things at once. As the party’s nominee, he is de facto the establishment. But the reticence of many of his political colleagues to embrace his candidacy means he remains the outsider, despite his current position as head of his party. The duality is essential for keeping the Trump campaign alive.
If Trump were to go mainstream, he wouldn’t be Trump anymore and the base of support that propelled him to the nomination would begin to dissipate. Would falling in line with his party, however, allow Trump to pick up the moderate votes that are always so crucial in a general election? Maybe. But those votes may not be enough if the core base that nominated him starts to feel disaffected because their candidate changed course. Trump rode to the nomination on a wave of disgust for the current system. The one and only rationale for his campaign is the claim that America needs to be fixed to be great again. It would be hard for Trump to continue toeing that line if he starts cozying up to some of the people who have been running America for several years.
The lack of GOP unity doesn’t just work for Trump. It also works for everyone else in the Republican Party. While some members of Congress have been quick to support Trump because it makes for good politics back home, there are several others who view their party’s presidential nominee as toxic to their re-election. The distance between Trump and the rest of the party benefits these folks greatly, as it helps insulate them from the “Trump effect” in their state or congressional district. For the most electorally vulnerable members of Congress, winning over moderate voters will be key to their ability to stay in office. Association with Trump’s polarizing views would jeopardize their ability to do so.
So if no one really benefits from GOP party unity, why do they keep trying to make it happen? It’s unclear. In most election years, a unified party is an important part of a winning strategy. It ensures a cohesive message and presents a comprehensive case to the country for the party’s entire ticket. Perhaps it’s hard for the GOP to move away from that paradigm. However, the Republican Party would do best to acknowledge that this election year is unlike any other and disunity may be their smartest strategy.
By: Cary Gibson, Contributor, U. S. News and World Report, July 8, 2016
The #NeverTrump movement is rightfully disgusted and deeply concerned about the prospect of Donald Trump winning the presidency. These #NeverTrump conservatives have admirably broken from the Republican National Committee, which seems to care far more about avoiding “an embarrassing spectacle” at the convention than about sparing the party from being enduringly identified with Trump.
I admire and sympathize with #NeverTrump motives. But I’ve been unable to shake the feeling that the movement’s goal is not just futile but also somehow illegitimate. Trump won the nomination fair and square. He pulled in nearly 45 percent of the vote in the GOP primary, which is on the low end historically but not at all unprecedented. He carried 36 states and ended up with 300 more delegates than he needed to clinch the nomination. Roughly 14 million people voted for him, which is 4 million more than Mitt Romney won four years ago. All of which means that Trump seems to deserve the honor of standing as the Republican Party’s nominee for president.
The GOP should dump Trump anyway.
Yes, an anti-Trump coup (in which delegates are given the freedom to vote their consciences) would most likely fail. And even if it succeeded, it would almost certainly guarantee a GOP loss in November. Bill Kristol may like to indulge in fantasy-tweets about how an alternative nominee could win in November. But the result would almost certainly be a badly fractured party, with probably around a third of its voters bolting to a protest candidate or just staying home on Election Day.
The case for a coup has different grounds. It’s not about the conservative movement or the Republican Party’s chances in the 2016 election. It’s about what’s best for the country.
Since he clinched the nomination, Trump has managed the seemingly impossible by becoming even more erratic and even less presidential than he was during the primaries. The insults, the transparent lies, the racist taunting and bullying, the demagoguery, the narcissistic self-obsession, the incapacity to take a position and stick to it, the failure to raise funds and manage a campaign — the man has no business running anything of public consequence, let alone the government of the most powerful nation on the planet.
It really is that simple: Donald Trump should not be president of the United States. If there is even a small chance of successfully deposing him at the convention — an act that, if it worked, would deprive him of the means to compete in the general election — it should be undertaken. The alternative is complicity in a politically reckless and blatantly irresponsible endeavor: the attempted election of a candidate who deserves to lose.
Beyond the dangers posed by Trump himself are more sweeping concerns. As Jonathan Rauch argues in his important cover story in The Atlantic, American politics has gone “insane” in recent years due to the unintended consequences of a series of democratic reforms since the 1970s. These reforms severely weakened, and in some cases eliminated entirely, numerous informal intermediary institutions in Congress and the parties that once served to stymie the self-interested egoism of individual politicians and channel the populist passions of grassroots movements. Individual politicians are now increasingly free agents out to do the bidding of the angriest and most agitated voters, with both sides using social media to circumvent the institutions that would have once hemmed them in.
Rauch’s analysis is mostly correct — and he’s right to conclude that the best thing we can do to prevent the further degradation of our political system is to reassert the vitality of those old, anemic intermediary institutions. Allowing delegates to opt for an alternative to Trump would be a powerful example of precisely such a reassertion. The party would be saying, in effect, that although Trump prevailed democratically, democracy isn’t the only thing that counts. The party itself stands for something — not just popular government, but good government — and it would rather go down upholding a high standard than allow itself to be used as a hollow conduit for a demagogic rabblerouser to attain the pinnacle of power.
But wouldn’t this backfire? If the party denied Trump the nomination at the Republican convention, wouldn’t it fuel a “stabbed in the back” narrative that would inspire an even darker political movement four years from now? This was Jeet Heer’s argument in a recent smart piece in The New Republic. The Trump voters are a problem for American democracy, Heer asserted, one that can only be solved by allowing them to get their nominee and then ensuring that he’s roundly defeated at the ballot box in November.
It’s a powerful argument, but I’m unpersuaded that a general-election defeat will “solve” the problem of the Trump voters. These voters are activated now. Trump has given them a style and the rudiments of a policy agenda that they clearly prefer to the offerings from either the Republicans or the Democrats. The only way to keep those voters from flocking to Trump four years from now, or rallying around some even-worse populist copycat, is for the GOP to woo them by adjusting its platform and agenda.
That’s what both parties did after the original Populists upended American politics in the 1890s. It could happen again. It needs to happen again. And whether and how it happens will do far more to determine the future shape of the Republican Party than whether it dumps Trump this July.
In the short term, the party would most likely be wrecked. But that could well be less destructive, in the longer term, for both the party and the country, than trying to ride the Trump tiger. Exiling the Trump voters in 2016 would save the GOP from making a fatal compromise with competence and put it in a relatively strong position to run more compelling and capable post-Trump populists in the 2018 midterm and 2020 presidential elections. America would be much better for it.
At the end of the transformation, the Republican Party would look and sound quite a bit different than it has since Ronald Reagan took it over 36 years ago. But Republicans should consider that vastly preferable to allowing Trump to remake the party in his own Know Nothing image. We all should.
By: Damon Linker, The Week, June 29, 2016
The headlines today are full of surprising news on guns, from some of the least likely sources: Donald Trump, the Republican Party, and the National Rifle Association. “Trump to meet with NRA about banning gun sales for terror watch list.” “Trump Veers From Party Line on Gun Control.” “In wake of Orlando shootings, gun control getting a fresh look from GOP.” And even “NRA Announces Bizarrely Sane Position on Selling Guns to Terrorists.”
Don’t believe it for a minute. This new effort to make it more difficult for people on the federal government’s terrorism watch list to buy guns is going to meet the same fate as every other gun control measure in Congress.
Yesterday, Trump tweeted, “I will be meeting with the NRA, who has endorsed me, about not allowing people on the terrorist watch list, or the no fly list, to buy guns.” He can talk to them about that if it’s what he wants (which I doubt it is), but it won’t change their minds, because the NRA has a very specific position on the question of banning gun sales to those on the watch list, one you have to read carefully to understand. Here’s what they say:
The NRA believes that terrorists should not be allowed to purchase or possess firearms, period. Anyone on a terror watchlist who tries to buy a gun should be thoroughly investigated by the FBI and the sale delayed while the investigation is ongoing. If an investigation uncovers evidence of terrorist activity or involvement, the government should be allowed to immediately go to court, block the sale, and arrest the terrorist. At the same time, due process protections should be put in place that allow law-abiding Americans who are wrongly put on a watchlist to be removed. That has been the position of Sen. John Cornyn (R.-Tex.) and a majority of the U.S. Senate.
So: if someone is proven to be a terrorist, the NRA is opposed to letting them buy a gun and would prefer that instead they be arrested. Good to know! Now what about that investigation they want the FBI to undertake before the sale is completed? The reference to John Cornyn is important, because what the NRA supports is an amendment Cornyn proposed back in December, which was defeated in the Senate. It said that when someone on the watch list tries to buy a gun, the Justice Department would have 72 hours to file an emergency petition to a court, inform the gun buyer, allow the buyer to participate with counsel, then convince the judge that there is “probable cause to believe that the transferee has committed or will commit an act of terrorism.” Only then would the sale be stopped.
In practice, how often is the government going to be able to conduct an investigation, assemble an ironclad case, get in front of a judge, and get the judge to rule that the buyer has already committed terrorist acts or is about to, all within 72 hours? Basically never.
That’s in contrast to this amendment from Sen. Dianne Feinstein that Democrats now want to pass, which would allow the Justice Department to stop a gun sale not only to anyone on the watch list but anyone who had been on the watch list in the last five years (Omar Mateen had been on the watch list but had been removed), based on a “reasonable suspicion” (a much lower standard than probable cause) that the person had been engaged in or prepared for some involvement in terrorism.
In other words, Feinstein’s amendment would allow Justice to stop a gun sale to pretty much anybody on the watch list they suspected was a threat, while Cornyn’s amendment would make it almost impossible for Justice to stop a sale to anyone who didn’t already have a bomb strapped to their chest.
We should acknowledge that there are legitimate questions about the watch list itself. Many critics argue that it’s too broad and is full of people who have no involvement with terrorism. And there’s a positive and negative side to Feinstein’s five-year provision. It would mean that someone like Mateen might be identified, but it could also mean that a lot of people who justifiably got themselves off the watch list, and should never have been on it in the first place, could now face bureaucratic hassle and extra government attention they don’t deserve when they want to buy guns. So perhaps this debate could lead members of both parties to take a good look at how the list is operating and come up with a plan to reform it so that it focuses only on people who are genuinely suspicious.
But to return to the NRA and the Republican position represented by the Cornyn amendment, it has a gigantic loophole, one they themselves created. Let’s say you’re on the watch list, and you want to buy yourself an AR-15. You go to your local gun store, but the sale gets stopped by the government. What do you do now? Well, all you have to do is go to a gun show — there’s probably one in your area this weekend — and buy from one of the sellers in attendance who aren’t federally licensed dealers. Or you could go to one of the many online gun marketplaces, and get one there. Or you could find someone in your area selling guns privately, and buy it from them. Because we don’t have a system of universal background checks — which the NRA bitterly opposes and helped kill after the Newtown massacre when it was moving through Congress and had the support of up to 90 percent of the public in polls — there are multiple ways to get just about whatever gun you want no matter who you are.
That’s how the NRA wants it, and that’s how they’re going to work to keep it. And the Republican Party is their partner in this effort. Despite the fact that many kinds of restrictions on guns are broadly popular, even with Republican voters and gun owners themselves, the GOP has not only adopted the NRA’s categorical opposition to any and all restrictions, it has moved that belief to the very center of Republican ideology, along with the commitment to low taxes, small government, and the elimination of abortion rights. While we might see a Republican officeholder here and there buck the party and the NRA on this issue — for example, Rob Portman of Ohio, a vulnerable senator up for reelection this year, is now offering some conditional support for keeping those on the watch list from buying guns — their opposition to both Feinstein’s amendment and a companion Democratic proposal for universal background checks will remain nearly unanimous.
Finally, there’s the question of what Trump actually believes on this issue, and what positions he’ll take. Here’s my prediction: Within the next day or two, Trump is going to walk back his implied support for something like what Democrats are advocating and adopt the NRA position. I suspect this will follow a pattern we’ve seen before, in which out of simple ignorance Trump says something that alarms Republicans, then gets told what his position should be, at which point he changes it. The classic case was when he said women should be punished for getting abortions, and was then told that anti-choice ideology has it that women are helpless victims with no agency, so he walked it back.
For all his transparently phony commitment to the Second Amendment, Trump probably hadn’t thought about this particular issue before, so he didn’t know what he was supposed to say. Once he does, he’ll fall in line. Republicans will kill the Democratic proposals, and we’ll be right back where we started.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, June 16, 2016
“Donald Trump’s Corrupt Bargain On Guns”: Where The Party’s Elites Pretend To Share The Base’s Cultural Values And Priorities
Donald Trump speaks before the National Rifle Association’s convention today, where he will enact a charade of cultural affinity for the assembled members, one utterly laughable in its insincerity. Not being there to ask them, I can’t say whether anyone in the hall actually believes that he means what he’ll say to them.
But as long as he hits the right notes — vowing to make sure guns are brought into as many places by as many people as possible, pouring sneering contempt on city slickers and egghead liberals, painting ludicrously paranoid pictures of America as a post-apocalyptic hellscape of crime and chaos, insisting that Hillary Clinton will singlehandedly destroy every right they treasure — it’ll be good enough for them.
This is a perfect expression of the larger Republican bargain, where the party’s elites pretend to share the base’s cultural values and priorities, and in exchange are put into office where they pursue an agenda of tax cuts and regulatory rollback. You can see it played out with one constituency group after another. For instance, when Trump stood before an audience of evangelicals and cited “Two Corinthians,” he quoted from the verse, then said, “Is that the one? Is that the one you like? I think that’s the one you like.”
The audience snickered at his ham-handed attempt at pandering, and when Trump says that the Bible is his favorite book (even better than The Art of the Deal!), nobody thinks he’s being honest. But guess what: Trump will have no trouble holding on to the evangelical vote in the fall. After some doubts, they came around to him, just like every Republican constituency group either has already or will before long.
It does take a bit of rationalization, but that’s often a part of the presidential campaign process. Once somebody is your party’s nominee, you’re going to work hard to convince yourself that he’s not just the least bad option, but somebody who’s actually terrific. So in the latest CBS/New York Times poll, 67 percent of Republican voters say Trump “shares their values,” even though for so many of them he plainly doesn’t. That number will probably climb higher between now and the election.
As for the NRA faithful, Trump is about as far from their values as he could be. A born-and-bred city dweller, he used to support an assault weapons ban and expanded background checks. In his 2000 book The America We Deserve he wrote that “The Republicans walk the NRA line and refuse even limited restrictions.”
But now he’s turned himself into a parody of a gun nut. He says he has a concealed-carry permit, he wants to rescind President Obama’s executive actions expanding background checks, he thinks assault weapons are tremendous, and he wants to make any permit you get in any state valid in the 49 other states, so people can bring their guns even where other states don’t want them. And as for gun-free zones, “My first day, it gets signed, okay? My first day. There’s no more gun-free zones.”
Trump is saying to gun advocates: Is that the one? Is that the one you like? I think that’s the one you like.
Gun advocates certainly get something substantive out of the deal: inaction. Fortunately for them, Trump doesn’t actually have to do much for them, since the status quo isn’t that bad as far as they’re concerned (forget about him wiping away gun-free school zones with a stroke of a pen on his first day — that exists as the result of a law passed by Congress in the 1990s, and it would take another act of Congress to repeal it). But the real appeal is cultural, and they want candidates to genuflect before that culture, no matter how baldly phony the act might be.
The NRA, which believe it or not used to be an organization devoted to promoting gun safety and good marksmanship, has succeeded over the last couple of decades in freighting guns with all kinds of cultural associations, making them one of the most powerful markers of identity in American life. They’ve encouraged people to think that gun ownership makes you self-reliant, independent, masculine, strong, capable, and patriotic — and anyone who thinks that 30,000 Americans killed by guns every year is a problem worth addressing must not be any of those things.
Those voters will be told that if they don’t get out and vote Republican, Hillary Clinton will send her jackbooted government thugs to break down their doors and take their guns, leaving them defenseless against the dusky horde of low-lifes lying in wait to kill them and rape their women. They will be told that it’s an emergency, that the gun-grabbing is set to begin the day after inauguration, that their lives and freedom and everything they hold dear hang in the balance.
“If you cherish Second Amendment rights, the stakes have never been higher than they are in this election,” says an NRA spokesperson, which is an amazing coincidence, considering that the stakes were never higher than they were in the last election, and the stakes were never higher than they were in the election before that, and the election before that and the election before that.
The cultural argument also helps cloud the fact that Republican politicians have chosen to take the positions of the NRA leadership, which are far more extreme not just than those held by the public, but even by the group’s own membership. The NRA opposes universal background checks, which are supported not only by around nine in ten Americans, but by three-quarters of NRA members. With just a few exceptions, nearly every Republican in Congress lines up with the NRA leadership and against their own constituents.
The group successfully tells gun owners: Forget about that, because Democrats want to grab your guns. There can be no compromise. And when Donald Trump goes before them and acts like Yosemite Sam, either they’re foolish enough to think he means what he says, or they decide that it doesn’t really matter.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, May 20, 2016
“A Deep Irony At Work”: Forget What You’ve Heard. Donald Trump Isn’t Really Challenging Conservative Orthodoxy
There used to be a standard operating procedure for Republican presidential candidates when they got asked about the Supreme Court. Avoid talking about specific issues you hope the Court will decide, don’t mention any specific people you want to put on the bench, and just offer some vague principles that sound good to everybody but are actually meant as dog-whistles to reassure your conservative supporters that they’ll get the kind of appointments they want. Your model justice would be an advocate of “judicial restraint,” who “won’t legislate from the bench” and who “respects the intent of the Founders.”
But as in so many things, Donald Trump doesn’t play by those rules. Instead, he just released a list of 11 judges from whom he says he’ll choose his Supreme Court picks.
In doing so, Trump demonstrated to conservatives why there’s almost no reason for them not to get behind him.
But that’s not because the list shows that he shares their perspective or will be ideologically reliable. It’s because it’s yet more evidence that when it comes to the things conservatives think are important, Donald Trump just doesn’t care one way or the other. And that means they can get almost everything they want out of a Trump presidency.
As our reporters Jenna Johnson and Robert Barnes wrote, “Trump’s picks looked more like a wish list of the nation’s conservative legal elite than the product of a political revolutionary.” And that’s because, I promise you, Trump just told somebody to put together a list, looked at it, and said it seems fine. He had previously said he’d let the Heritage Foundation assemble his list, while this one has some of their picks and a few others. But I’ll bet that if you asked him today who’s on his list, he couldn’t give you more than one or two names. Even though, as I’ve been arguing for the last couple of years, the Supreme Court may be the single most important issue in this election, there’s nothing to suggest that Trump much cares about who he puts on it. Which means conservatives get what they want.
Some people, myself included, argue that we focus way too much on personality in the presidential campaign (as interesting as personalities are), because what matters more than anything is the basic ideological distinctions between the parties. Yes, the individual characteristics each president brings to the office can make a difference; for instance, Barack Obama is extremely cautious about foreign entanglements, while Hillary Clinton is likely to be more aggressive when it comes to getting involved in hotspots around the globe. But on the vast majority of issues, what matters is whether there’s a Republican or a Democrat in the Oval Office. Any Republican will pursue basically the same set of policies as any other Republican, and the same is true of Democrats. Furthermore, they’re going to have to fill all those thousands of executive branch positions from the same pool of people. Each party has its own government-in-waiting when it’s out of power, cooling its heels in think tanks and advocacy groups and lobbying firms, waiting to move back into government when they win, no matter which contender from their party gets the nomination.
But there’s a deep irony at work with Donald Trump. He’s the least ideologically committed candidate we’ve seen in a very long time, at least since Eisenhower and maybe even before. To the broad public, he offers a Great Man theory of the presidency: don’t worry about issues, because with my huge brain, superhuman deal-making skills, and overall personal tremendousness, I will solve all our problems. Yet precisely because Trump doesn’t care in the least about any policy issues, conservatives may have no more to reason to fear that he’d betray them on policy than they would with a committed conservative like Ted Cruz.
How are things likely to proceed in his presidency? On the Supreme Court, he just takes a list from conservative activists. When Republicans in Congress craft legislation, is he going to stay up late at night going over each sub-section to make sure they reflect his beliefs? Of course not — they’ll pass it, he’ll sign it, and he won’t bother reading more than the title. Is he going to worry about who all his undersecretaries and deputy secretaries are, and make sure he agrees with the policy decisions they make? Not on your life. He’ll say, “Get me some fabulous people, really top-notch, the best” — and the Republicans around him will put the same people in those positions who would have served in any Republican administration.
Trump has said many things during the campaign that contradict conservative dogma. So what? If you’re a conservative worried about some policy stance Trump took today, you can just wait until the next time he gets asked about the same topic, and he’ll say something completely different. That may mean he isn’t committed to your position deep in his heart, but that doesn’t matter. If on a particular day as president he takes some policy stance that runs counter to conservative ideology, is he really going to care enough to pursue it, especially when the people around him are objecting? Or is he more likely to say, “Eh, whatever — what else is going on today?”
This has already been made clear on specific issues. As this blog has previously detailed, no matter how many times media outlets say otherwise, Trump did not actually signal that he might raise taxes on the rich or raise the minimum wage. All he has done was signal general vagueness born mostly of disinterest or lack of appreciation of policy detail, followed by clarifications that he would cut taxes on the rich and opposes the existence of any federal minimum.
There are a couple of exceptions, particularly trade, where conservatives are generally advocates of free trade and Trump seems determined to start a trade war with China. But even on what may be the issue most important to him, it’s hard to tell how his bombastic rhetoric would translate into actual policy decisions. So there too, the Republicans around him would have plenty of room to shape policy in their preferred direction. And yes, the fact that he’s so ignorant and erratic could have consequences that range from the problematic to the catastrophic. But that’s not an ideological question.
So if you’re a conservative, you can refuse to support Trump because he’s such a raging buffoon that there’s no telling what kind of damage he could do to the country. That’s more than enough reason to oppose him. But if what really matters to you is the substance of conservative ideology, you probably have nothing to worry about.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, May 19, 2016