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“Can Trump Bully His Way To The White House?”: Channeling Anger In The Most Ugly And Predictable Way

Donald Trump—with his swashbuckling, profanity-laced bigotry and searing, rapid-fire assaults against his opponents—is poised to either upend modern-day conservatism or reveal the true nature of its ideological roots. For now, it appears, his most serious remaining challengers—Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio—possess neither the gravitas nor the electoral might to save the GOP from the darkest impulses of its base.

Notwithstanding their fervent attempts to distance themselves from the billionaire businessman, Trump’s brand of conservatism is a creature of their own making. Until now, as long as the monster could be controlled, it found safe harbor in their midst. It has proven difficult to walk away from Trump wholesale or even authentically criticize him when they themselves have peddled a more digestible, coded form of the same cultural biases.

Trump, however, has now given voice to an ideological strain of extremism that is imbued with an ugly nativist theology and racial animus. Once secreted away in the shadows, where questions of its existence and influence over the party’s platform could be batted away or outright denied, the roots of economic loathing and racial resentment have been unearthed and paraded under cable news studio Klieg lights.

Some of the same party establishment players who chafe at Trump’s prominence now once delighted in the bully’s capacity to fell his foes. One after another, they trekked to his gilded Manhattan office tower to curry the favor of an unrepentant birther. In their lust to reclaim the White House, they relished the fruits of his largesse—pocketing thousands in campaign donations—despite Trump’s extensively documented track record that included allegations of housing discrimination, corporate bankruptcies that crushed small-business owners and their families, and tales of marital infidelity worthy of an E. L. James trilogy.

But, then the tables turned. Trump, the archetypical ruffian, grew dissatisfied with the size of his political kingdom and proffered himself for the grandest prize of them all—the American presidency.

In doing so, Trump, the celebrity wrecking ball who eschews the confines of conservative principles, has built an intractable movement fueled largely by a wave of white male resentment. It is the same tide, advanced by gerrymandering and funded by billionaire kingmakers, that swept through state legislatures—especially in the South—and delivered congressional control to Republicans. It was in that climate, one seeded and nurtured by conservatives, that the Trump candidacy found fertile ground.

“Conservatism has never been about anger,” Rubio told a crowd gathered at CPAC Saturday.

In fact, conservatism—from William F. Buckley to George Wallace, from Ronald Reagan to Newt Gingrich—has always been about the politics of resentment. Rubio’s flowing rhetoric is soundly disproven, both by contemporary evidence and the history of conservatism in the U.S. Party re-alignments that came after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation proclamation and Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Acts demonstrated the willingness of conservatives to switch parties when one or the other proved too liberal for their collective tastes. Because of this, the GOP has not always been the “party of white men.” But conservatism has always been driven by a desire to maintain their political and economic power—and their anger at the possibility of losing it.

And there has always been a chest-thumping, populist ringleader willing to take up that charge.

Early on, Trump validated the most deeply held anxieties of his supporters with coarse language aimed at the marginalized and disenfranchised. He, his base said, was just “telling it like it is.” Only Trump, they believe, can protect them from the boogeyman of their shrinking majority.

Trump’s popularity is buoyed by his ability to channel and manifest the anger of those who believe they are losing power as the country—and the electorate—grows more diverse. For them, the casino magnate is the perfect antidote— the proverbial captain at the blockade—who represents their best and last hope to maintain an economic system built on racial privilege.

No one—least of all Mitt Romney—cared about Trump’s volatile temperament, his string of failed businesses or his proclivity toward xenophobia and chauvinism while he was helping them carry the water. Ironically, for Trump, the measure of leadership is counted in the number of people who fit tidily under his diminutive thumbs—people like Romney, whom Trump alleges was once so desperate for his endorsement that he would have “dropped to his knees.”

That he would utter something so foul, so devoid of basic decorum, should have come as no surprise. According to researchers, studies of teens with history of aggressive bullying behavior suggest that they derive pleasure from seeing others in pain, and there is no question that Trump enjoys pummeling anyone who utters an unkind word about him. His goal has always been to strike enough fear to silence or discredit his naysayers.

“We find that bullies have a strong need to control others,” John Lochman, a psychologist at Duke University Medical School, told The New York Times. “Their need to be dominant masks an underlying fear that they are not in control, and they mask the sense of inadequacy by being a bully.”

“Bullies see the world with a paranoid’s eye,” added Kenneth Dodge, a psychologist at Vanderbilt University. “They feel justified in retaliating for what are actually imaginary harms.”

Like any self-respecting schoolyard bully, Trump is unapologetic, seemingly emboldened by the cheering crowds and rising poll numbers. In turn, his swell of supporters continues filling hotel ballrooms and bingo halls—cheering his unchecked bravado, erupting loudly as he unleashes round after round of bombasts. They rejoice in his ability to degrade and dominate, proudly shoving and heckling dissenting protestors. Young activists for Black Lives Matter have drawn Trump’s specific ire and his supporters make no secret of their disdain.

“Their thuggish and uncivilized actions are going to be met with a response these people understand,” one Trump supporter posted on Facebook.

Trump, who has promised to pay the legal fees of anyone who assaults a demonstrator, has faced no backlash on this issue from his opponents. That silence is tacit approval and now, it appears, nothing stands between Trump and the GOP nomination.

“There’s nothing short of Trump shooting my daughter in the street and my grandchildren—there is nothing and nobody that’s going to dissuade me from voting for Trump,” 71-year-old Lola Butler told a New York Times reporter.

But will it be enough? Can Trump ultimately win the keys to the Oval Office?

“I haven’t even started on her yet,” he says of Hillary Clinton.

However, “the math suggests Trump would need a whopping 70 percent of white men to vote for him,” writes David Bernstein for Politico Magazine. “That’s more than Republicans have ever won before—more than the GOP won in the landslide victories of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and far more than they won even during the racially polarized elections of Barack Obama.”

But that the GOP cannot find a single candidate who can fell this tailor suited-hooligan once and for all, speaks volumes about the party itself. Over time, Trump has vilified undocumented immigrants, suggested a travel ban on all Muslims and even demanded that the nation’s first black president produce his birth certificate and college transcripts—to prove he was born here and had duly earned his laudable achievements. He has openly mocked a reporter living with disabilities and regularly disparaged the journalists who cover his campaign events. Cameras have captured him jeering and sneering at protestors from behind the microphone.

“Get out! Get ’em out!” he shouts.

For his part, Rubio claims Trump is attempting to “hijack” the conservative movement. The truth is the real-estate titan is simply taking the wheel of a car that was custom-built for him.

There is no evidence that a kinder gentler Trump will voluntarily emerge, nor is there—at this point—any incentive for him to rehabilitate his public personae. Once a bully has established his superiority, he tends to escalate the “violence” in order to maintain that reputation. He knows that when the fear is gone, power walks out behind it.

A bully like Trump will continue to wreak havoc on the meek, fueled by his escalating hegemony, until he is felled either by humiliation or brute force (in this case, a brokered convention). Or, as my late Uncle Ross used to say, “They won’t stop until you knock ’em on their ass.”


By: Goldie Taylor, The Daily Beast, March 6, 2016

March 7, 2016 Posted by | Conservatism, Donald Trump, GOP Primaries | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Governors Exact Their Revenge On Marco Rubio”: Governors Against Callow And Outrageous Candidates

There was a time when Republican governors were not all that different from Democratic governors.

The politicians from both parties who ran the states tended to be a pragmatic lot. They were pro-business because they wanted their people to have jobs, but they championed government spending in the areas that contribute to economic development, starting with education and transportation.

Democratic governors still largely behave that way, but many of their Republican peers have followed their national party to the right and now run far more ideological administrations. North Carolina, Kansas and Wisconsin are prime examples of this break from a longer GOP tradition.

But in a pivotal debate here on Saturday night, the old solidarity among Republicans in charge of statehouses made a comeback of convenience. Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey and John Kasich of Ohio and former Florida governor Jeb Bush are competitors, but they had no qualms about creating an ad hoc alliance that might be called Governors Against Callow and Outrageous Candidates.

They took on both Donald Trump and, indirectly, Sen. Ted Cruz. But their central target was Sen. Marco Rubio, who had a chance to put all three governors away with a strong performance. Instead, thanks to the pugilistic Christie, Rubio wilted.

In nearly every season, there is a media favorite whose standing with journalists relates not to ideology but to what reporters think a good candidate should look and sound like. For some time, Rubio has been that guy. Fresh and fluent, Rubio seems to bridge the party’s divides. He was nominated for the Senate as a tea party favorite, but was really an insider. You don’t get to be speaker of the Florida House of Representatives by being a mavericky rogue.

On paper at least, he’s the potential GOP nominee who scares Democrats the most. A young Cuban American (age: 44) would presumably have a nice edge on either of the Democratic candidates (ages: 68 and 74), and Rubio loves playing the generational card.

In practice, trying to be all things to all Republicans has often thrown Rubio off balance. His multiple positions on immigration reform make him both a target of the GOP’s anti-immigration hard-liners and the object of (mostly private) scorn from Republicans who were struggling to get an immigration bill passed.

All along, the question about Rubio has been whether he’s too good to be true. After Christie’s clinical takedown during their encounter at Saint Anselm College, this suspicion is now front and center.

“Marco, the thing is this,” Christie thundered. “When you’re president of the United States, when you’re a governor of a state, the memorized 30-second speech where you talk about how great America is at the end of it doesn’t solve one problem for one person. They expect you to plow the snow. They expect you to get the schools open. And when the worst natural disaster in your state’s history hits you, they expect you to rebuild their state, which is what I’ve done. None of that stuff happens on the floor of the United States Senate.”

Ah, yes, governing is about running a government, even if Republicans aren’t supposed to like government.

The real shock was that Rubio played right into Christie’s hands by repeating a canned attack on President Obama four times. Christie couldn’t believe his good fortune. “There it is. There it is,” Christie declared, basking in his eureka moment, and chopping five seconds off the prefabricated Rubio sound bite. “The memorized 25-second speech. There it is, everybody.”

Of course, none of the three governors is like the moderate (let alone liberal) GOP executives of old. Kasich came closest when he insisted that conservatism should mean that “everybody has a chance to rise regardless of who they are so they can live their God-given purpose.” Bush had by far his best debate, for once taking on Trump without backing off, and he has looked comfortable, even happy, in his final town halls around the state. But over and over, Bush made clear just how conservative he was as governor, and how conservative he’d be as president.

Nonetheless, for one night, positioning, ideology and Obama-bashing wrapped in an attractive new package were not enough for Rubio. It’s not clear what Christie did for his own candidacy, but he performed a service by reminding his party that running a government is serious work and ought to be respected. That this was revelatory shows how far contemporary conservatism has strayed from the essential tasks of politics.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 7, 2016

February 8, 2016 Posted by | Chris Christie, GOP Primary Debates, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Marco Rubio | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“GOP Civil War?”: More Like Petty Wrangling Over Infinitesimal Ideological ‘Distinctions’

Mississippi primary voters just could not decide whether they wanted to nominate a very conservative Republican or a very conservative Republican for the US Senate.

Very nearly 50 percent of Tuesday’s primary voters favored a right-wing stalwart who opposes abortion rights and marriage equality, supports restrictive Voter ID laws, promises to oppose minimum-wage hikes, rips “Obamacare,” the IRS, the EPA and OSHA and trashes “entitlement” programs.

Very nearly 50 percent of Tuesday’s primary voters favored another right-wing stalwart, who opposes abortion rights and marriage equality, supports restrictive Voter ID laws, promises to oppose minimum-wage hikes, rips “Obamacare,” the IRS, the EPA and OSHA and trashes “entitlement” programs.

But Mississippi Republicans couldn’t quite get to a majority opinion about which conservative was conservative enough. So with virtually all the votes counted (and with a tiny percentage of the total streaming off to a little-known third candidate), the good Republicans of the Magnolia State appear to have decided to have another go at it—setting up a June 24 runoff that will require several more weeks of wrangling over what to most Americans will seem to be infinitesimal ideological “distinctions.”

That’s the thing to remember about the fabulous imagining that there is a meaningful difference between “establishment Republicans” and “Tea Party Republicans.”

Yes, there are stylistic distinctions to be noted between incumbent Senator Thad Cochran, a relatively distinguished senior senator, and state Senator Chris McDaniel, a relatively undistinguished challenger who says his campaign “had nothing to do with this sad incident” where a conservative blogger photographed the incumbent’s bedridden wife. Yes, the two Republicans now appear to be set for a high-profile runoff race that will be portrayed as a “GOP civil war” over emphasis and approach.

But that does not place them anywhere near the opposite ends of the ideological spectrum.

Cochran is identified as the “establishment” choice, which means he is favored by the US Chamber of Commerce and the CEOs and Wall Street financiers who support its campaign to elect a Senate that will rubber-stamp a wildly pro-corporate agenda.

McDaniel is identified as the “anti-establishment” Tea Party insurgent, which means that he is favored by the Club for Growth and the CEOs and Wall Street financiers interests who support its campaign to elect a Senate that will rubber-stamp a wildly pro-corporate agenda.

For the most part, this year’s supposedly significant Senate contests between the establishment and the “Tea Party” have explored the range of opinion from what would historically have been understood as the right wing of the Republican Party to what is now understood as the right wing of the Republican Party.

Some very wealthy people take these distinctions very seriously. They have money to burn, and they are burning it up this year on political purity tests that pit those who like their economic and social conservatism straight against those who want it with a twist of Ted Cruz.

This has already made for an expensive race in Mississippi. Roughly $8 million in outside spending has been lavished on the state’s television stations—in addition to big spending from the Club for Growth, Citizens United and the Tea Party Patriots for McDaniel and big spending from the Chamber and the National Association of Realtors for Cochran. The race has seen $1.1 million spent by “Senate Conservatives Action” for McDaniel and $1.7 million spent by the “Mississippi Conservatives” super PAC for Cochran.

Confused? Don’t be.

McDaniel is a conservative.

And so is Cochran.

Despite the theater-of-the-absurd campaign, it is even more absurd to suggest that Cochran is a liberal with a Southern accent. Mississippi is not in the habit of populating the Senate with progressives. The incumbent’s latest US Chamber of Commerce rating is 100 percent, while his National Education Association ranking is zero. Cochran’s latest ACLU rating is zero, while the American Security Council Foundation has got him at 100 percent. Cochran gets 100 percent from the National Rifle Association and he’s at zero with the American Association of University Women. His latest rating from the National Right-to-Life Committee is 100 percent, while NARAL Pro-Choice America has him at zero—as does the latest assessment from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

It is true that Cochran has, on rare occasions been a reasonable player. But those are pretty much the same rare occasions when Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, another Tea Party target this year, has chosen not to follow Cruz off whatever deep end the Texan might be approaching. Usually, what passes for reasonableness is a vote to take care of some pressing home-state business—such as, in Cochran’s case, specific support for disaster assistance after hurricanes hit the Mississippi coast and general enthusiasm for military spending that keeps Mississippians employed.

That may make Cochran insufficiently “pure” for the purists.

But it is not a distinction that the vast majority of Americans need bother with, unless, of course, they really do imagine that Thad Cochran and Mitch McConnell are liberals.


By: John Nichols, The Nation, June 4, 2014

June 5, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Fact, Pseudo-Fact And Pure Imagination”: How Paul Ryan Escapes Scrutiny

Because of his pleasant demeanor, the Wisconsin congressman is rarely pressed on his radical agenda.

House Budget chairman Paul Ryan inhabits two, mutually exclusive spaces in Washington politics. He’s both a crusader for deficit reduction—the recipient of praise and accolades from the Beltway’s collection of deficit hawks—and a pure right-wing ideologue, whose budgets would gut the social safety net, slash taxes on the rich, and load the United States with trillions of dollars in debt. That he’s managed to do this without backlash from the Right or incredulity from the mainstream is a remarkable achievement, and as Jonathan Chait describes for New York Magazine, a product of his studied earnestness and ostentatious love of “wonkery”:

Seeming genuine is something Ryan does extraordinarily well. And here is where something deeper is at play, more than Ryan’s charm and winning personality, something that gets at the intellectual bankruptcy of contemporary Washington. The Ryan brand is rooted in his ostentatious wonkery. Because, unlike the Bushes and the Palins, he grounds his position in facts and figures, he seems like an encouraging candidate to strike a bargain. But the thing to keep in mind about Ryan is that he was trained in the world of Washington Republican think tanks. These were created out of a belief that mainstream economists were hopelessly biased to the left, and crafted an alternative intellectual ecosystem in which conservative beliefs—the planet is not getting warmer, the economy is not growing more unequal—can flourish, undisturbed by skepticism. Ryan is intimately versed in the blend of fact, pseudo-fact, and pure imagination inhabiting this realm.

The thing that comes across in Chait’s piece, more than anything, is the degree to which so many people simply don’t believe that Ryan is a right-wing ideologue. When given a choice between him and their lying eyes, they choose him, despite the fact that his budget would clearly result in a return to the pre-New Deal era, where government was mostly uninvolved in the economic life of the country, to the detriment of everyone.

To wit, Chait relays an interview with New York Times business columnist James Stewart, who assumes that Ryan would raise tax rates on capital gains as part of his budget plan, despite the fact that Ryan has been a vocal opponent of taxes on capital gains. Chait is baffled, and asks him to square the circle:

I asked Stewart why he believed so strongly that Ryan actually supported such a reform, despite the explicit opposition of his budget. “Maybe he’s being boxed in” by right-wing colleagues, Stewart suggested.

This is actually a problem for trying to challenge Ryan’s brand of reactionary conservatism; if the arbiters of mainstream discourse refuse to take Ryan on his stated terms—because he talks nice and works out a lot—then the public is necessarily less informed about what the Wisconsin representative wants for the United States. You can see this dynamic at work in today’s Times profile of Ryan, where we learn a lot about his popularity, his exercise regimen, and his love of noodling (catching catfish with your bare hands), and not very much about his plans or their implications.

Ryan’s ideas should discredit him—they are little more than an updated version of the policies that led us to the worst economy since the Depression. But people like to be hooked, and the earnest congressman is a great salesman.


By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, April 30, 2012

May 1, 2012 Posted by | Budget | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Can Mitt Romney Ever Flip Back Again?

The deflating open secret of the Iowa caucuses is that they don’t matter. Mitt Romney has won the Republican nomination by default. He was, and remains, wildly vulnerable to a conservative challenger. But the challenger needed to clear a modest threshold: having a national organization, enough money to engage in advertising wars, and the ability to recite standard party dogma in the form of complete sentences. Rick Perry had the first two but fell woefully short of the third. Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum could pass the third but not the first two.

Remarkably, the many Republicans who could have beaten Romney all decided not to enter the race or, in the case of Tim Pawlenty, dropped out prematurely. The challengers to Romney devoted all their energies to attacking each other – not a single attack ad against Romney even aired in Iowa. None of his many, enormous vulnerabilities has been exploited. The profusely bleeding, one-armed man managed to swim through shark-infested waters because most of the sharks drowned or decided either to eat each other instead of him.

But what kind of president would Romney be?

George Packer, in a terrific column about the casual acceptance of hysterical charges in the GOP, argues that Romney has crossed a threshold of wingnuttery from which he can never return:

It would be a mistake, though, to believe that, long after Iowa, once the horse race is over, and if he’s elected, Romney could suddenly flip a switch, clear the air of the toxicity left behind by the Republican field, and return to being a cautious centrist whose most reassuring quality is his lack of principles. His party wouldn’t let him; and, after all, how a candidate runs shapes how a President governs. In politics, once a sellout, always a sellout; once a thug, always a thug.

I agree with Packer’s conclusion but not his reasoning. There is actually a pretty close analogue to Romney: George H.W. Bush. The scion of a moderate, Establishment Republican, Bush abandoned his views on abortion and supply-side economics in order to curry favor with a party moving right, and was elected president by running a dishonest and viciously demagogic campaign. Once in office, Bush fulfilled the fears of his conservative critics by governing as a real moderate. The campaign did not shape the presidency.

The difference is that Bush faced a Democratic Congress. If faced with similar circumstances, we would probably see the old Massachusetts Romney reemerge. But, if elected, he is far more likely to enjoy a Republican Congress. An interesting theme in the conservative commentary today is that Republicans, while not thrilled about Romney, truly seem to believe that he will serve as a faithful vessel for the Party’s agenda. Here is Republican member of Congress Tom Cole:

“The real division in the GOP these days is not between moderates and conservatives. It is between pragmatists and ideologues. That same division plays itself out almost every day in the House and Senate GOP Conferences,” Cole continued. “The next GOP president will be forced to govern as a conservative to maintain the support of the GOP rank and file and its caucuses in both the House and Senate. Anyone who thinks we are going to nominate an Eisenhower, Nixon or Ford is out of touch with the GOP electorate. And any GOP politician who believes he can govern from the White House as anything other than a conservative is delusional.”

This is almost surely correct. A President Romney would have little leeway to push a GOP Congress to the center, and he has pledged himself to fulfill the agenda that the Party has already determined. Former Bush administration Minister of Propaganda Pete Wehner echoes, “This year, it seems to me, the party is the sun and the candidates are the planets … They are trying to prove to primary voters that they are reliable and trustworthy when it comes to the basic platform of the GOP.”

It is surely clear that Romney’s apparent victory was obtained by erasing every last vestige of his old and (I believe, though I can’t be sure) authentic self. At this moment hardly anybody believes that his conversion was actually authentic. The support for him, such as it is, is simply a combination of disqualifying rivals and the assumption that the Party will continue to own him in office.


By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intel, January 3, 2012

January 4, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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