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“Sobriety Has Gone Out The Window”: The Brussels Attacks Brought Out The Worst In Cruz And Trump

Sudden, horrific events in the middle of a presidential campaign provide an X-ray of the instincts and thinking of the candidates. We can see what their priorities are and pick up clues about their character.

The terrorist attacks in Belgium brought out the worst in Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. Cruz demonstrated that his only focus right now is to find ways of out-Trumping Trump. He seeks words that sound at least as intolerant and as dangerous to civil liberties as the formulations that regularly burst forth from the Republican front-runner.

Thus did Cruz declare: “We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.” He happily intruded on Trump’s trademark issues by emphasizing the need to seal the nation’s southern border against “terrorist infiltration,” and by declaring that “for years, the West has tried to deny this enemy exists out of a combination of political correctness and fear.”

Cruz touched so many hot buttons that it’s a wonder he did not have to wrap his hands in heavy gauze. And it tells us something about how far the Republican Party has veered to the right that its more moderate conservatives, including now Jeb Bush, have decided that Cruz is their best hope to stop Trump. It is hard to imagine Bush offering sentiments about Belgium remotely similar to Cruz’s.

But being more out there on these matters than Trump is, as the man might say, a huge reach. The big winner of Tuesday’s Arizona primary actually complained that the United States is a land where the rule of law prevails.

“They don’t work within laws. They have no laws,” he said of the Islamic State on NBC’s “Today” show. “We work within laws.” He said we should change our statutes to permit waterboarding.

Not content to imply that he’s for torture, he embraced it outright. He insisted that it could have helped prevent the attacks in Belgium. Speaking of Salah Abdeslam, the terror suspect captured last week, Trump told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer: “Well, you know, he may be talking, but he’ll talk a lot faster with the torture.”

But a new terrorist episode was not enough to induce Trump to back away from his statements to The Post editorial board on Monday denigrating the United States’ commitment to NATO. At a moment when we should be declaring solidarity with our European allies, Trump seems ready to do the opposite.

You don’t have to be a socialist to share Bernie Sanders’s view that Cruz’s proposal to single out a religious group for special police treatment is “unconstitutional” and “wrong.” Hillary Clinton responded characteristically on Wednesday with a policy-heavy speech. She upbraided Cruz, saying that he was “treating American Muslims like criminals,” which was both “wrong” and “counterproductive.” She also condemned torture “anywhere in the world.”

Before the age of Trump, we valued sobriety in leaders when the country faced severe challenge. Clinton and Sanders apparently still think we do. But in the Republican primaries, sobriety has gone out the window.

The one Republican hopeful who hasn’t gotten that message yet is John Kasich. True, he did some partisan pandering, saying President Obama should not have gone to a baseball game in Cuba after the attacks. If he were president, Kasich added, he would have canceled the rest of the trip and returned to the White House to organize new anti-terrorism efforts.

But overall — and this is to his credit — Kasich’s reaction to Belgium contrasted sharply with the extremism of his competitors. “We are not at war with Islam, we are at war with radical Islam,” he said. “In our country, we don’t want to create divisions.”

In a more functional democracy, the campaign might provide the occasion for a serious debate on Obama’s strategy against the Islamic State (which, by the way, is what Clinton tried to start). Should the United States be more aggressive, or would such an approach, as the president seems to believe, lead us into unsustainable commitments? And how can we promote greater intelligence cooperation across Europe and give our allies a lot more help?

But such a discussion would not provide the incendiary sound bites that so much of our media seem to encourage and that Republican primary voters seem to reward.

With large parts of the Republican establishment giving up on Kasich and embracing Cruz as the last anti-Trump hope, we can now look forward to a GOP race to the bottom in which fear itself is the only thing its leading candidates have to offer.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 23, 2016

March 26, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Terrorist Attacks | , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Just Hiding In The Weeds”: Why Ted Cruz Is Happy Hiding In Donald Trump’s Shadow

On Monday, a few hours before Donald Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” Ted Cruz was asked whether he expects Trump to come after him, now that one leading poll has the Texas senator ahead in the coveted early voting state of Iowa. “Listen, I like and respect Donald Trump,” said Cruz. “I continue to like and respect Donald Trump. While other candidates in this race have gone out of their way to throw rocks at him, to insult him, I have consistently declined to do so, and I have no intention of changing that now.”

True to his word, Cruz refused to join the pack of Republican hopefuls who piled onto the front-runner’s latest obscenity. At a press conference the following morning to announce a Senate bill barring the resettlement of Syrian refugees, Cruz appeared alongside Texas Governor Greg Abbott and continued to dance around the question of Trump’s naked racism, at one point commending the Donald for “focusing the American people’s attention” on the urgency of fending off foreign invaders. Pressed for a direct response to Trump’s ban on Muslims, Cruz finally conceded, “I do not agree with [Trump’s] proposal. I do not think it is the right solution.”

The right solution, you may be surprised to learn, is Cruz’s solution, which he just happened to introduce in the Senate the morning after Trump belched out his own. The modestly titled “Terrorist Refugee Infiltration Prevention Act” would substitute Trump’s blanket, possibly unconstitutional ban with a more targeted—and, in certain senses, crueler—three-year moratorium on the resettlement of refugees from Syria, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and any other country determined to contain “terrorist-controlled territory.” Where Trump’s answer is typically lacking in nuance, Cruz’s bill is designed to “focus very directly on the threat.” He’s casting it as the principled, measured alternative to a vaguely defined problem that both candidates insist exists.

“This is not about the Islamic faith,” Cruz explained to NPR’s Steve Inskeep on Wednesday. “It is about Islamism, which is a very different thing.” The conservatives Cruz is courting don’t appear to recognize the distinction, and it would be naive to think that Cruz isn’t perfectly aware of that. According to a new Bloomberg poll, two-thirds of likely Republican voters support Trump’s indiscriminate prohibition; one-third say it makes them more inclined to vote for him.

If Cruz truly wanted to set his intentions apart from Trump’s, he could start by refuting the white-supremacist propaganda Trump has pointed to as evidence that “Muslim” is indeed synonymous with “terrorist sympathizer.” But Cruz, the champion debater and seasoned appellate attorney, is careful to present his disagreement with Trump as rooted in policy, not premise. “That is not my view of how we should approach it,” Cruz told NPR. He’s happy to let voters decide what the “it” is.

Trump’s precipitous descent into outright fascism is widely considered to be a problem for the GOP—and in some ways it is. But for Cruz, never a party loyalist to begin with, it’s also created a unique opportunity to channel the energies of racial anxiety into a comparatively palatable, mainstream campaign for the presidency. A number of commentators have noted that Cruz is positioning himself to consolidate Trump’s support in the eventual event of his collapse—which, we keep being told, will be arriving any day now.

But the net, and more dangerous, effect of Cruz’s strategy is to legitimize the racism that informs Trump’s. Two weeks ago, Cruz was on the extreme end of a national debate over admitting people fleeing the ravages of countries the United States has made war on. By allowing Trump to “effectively outbid” him in the wake of the San Bernadino massacre, as NPR’s Inskeep put it, Cruz has come out looking relatively moderate and responsible in an entirely new discussion about whether the basis of U.S. policy should be overt xenophobia or implied xenophobia.

Each of the remaining Republican contenders is cognizant of the need to create rhetorical distance from Trump without disavowing the sentiments he’s churned up from below. Carly Fiorina called closing the borders to Muslims an “overreaction”—a euphemism that became a false equivalence when she compared it to President Obama’s “dangerous” underreaction to the supposed threat. Marco Rubio criticized the form of Trump’s comments but not their substance, saying only that Trump’s “habit of making offensive and outlandish statements will not bring Americans together.” Jeb Bush, who supports imposing a religious test on the admission of refugees, called Trump “unhinged.” Ben Carson, who disagrees with Trump’s proposed ban because he does “not advocate being selective on one’s religion,” has previously stated that a Muslim shouldn’t be allowed to be president.

The other candidates may recognize the dilemma posed by the stubborn popularity of Trump’s ravings, but no one has been as deliberate, or effective, in incorporating the strains of white nationalism into their own overarching strategy as Cruz has. He’s hewed closely—but, critically, not too closely—to Trump’s noxious line on immigration and refugees, which Cruz frequently ties together with warnings of an impending invasion from the south. “Border security is national security,” he said in a statement on Sunday prior to President Obama’s address about terrorism and the San Bernadino shootings. “I will shut down the broken immigration system that is letting jihadists into our country,” he reiterated later.

So far, Trump’s flamboyant nativism has drawn all the scrutiny, leaving Cruz to concentrate on raising money and building out his ground game. He knows better than to openly embrace the most jarring of Trump’s flourishes, but he won’t attack them, either—and when others do, Cruz is right there holding the flank. President Obama sounds like a “condescending school marm lecturing the American people against Islamophobia,” Cruz told NPR’s Inskeep. At the last Republican debate, he invoked his Cuban-American heritage as a cover for the field’s more general shift in the direction of mass deportation and wall-building: “For those of us who believe people ought to come to this country legally, and we should enforce the law, we’re tired of being told it’s anti-immigrant. It’s offensive.” Two weeks later, campaigning on the road in Iowa alongside Representative Steve “Cantaloupe Calves” King of Iowa, perhaps the most aggressively ignorant anti-immigration crusader in Congress, Cruz assured reporters that “tone matters” when it comes to these issues.

In an effort to explain his latest step down the road to the internment camp, some have speculated that Trump is attempting to fend off Cruz’s surging poll numbers. If so, he misunderstands the nature of Cruz’s maneuvering, as well as the depth of Cruz’s patience. With each reflexive lurch toward a darker, more explicitly ugly politics, Trump draws more attention to himself but also clears more ideological space for Cruz. Lindsey Graham, who’s polling somewhere ahead of Louis Farrakhan in the race for the Republican nomination, told the Guardian, “It’s time for Ted Cruz to quit hiding in the weeds and speak out against Donald Trump’s xenophobia and racial bigotry.”

But Ted Cruz likes it in the weeds just fine. He’s made it this far trudging through the muck, and there’s no reason for him to change course anytime soon.

 

By: Steven Cohen, The New Republic, December 10, 2015

December 12, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Completely Unhinged Embrace Of Firearms”: Easy Access To Assault Weapons Is Still Gospel On The Right

“Violence is as American as cherry pie.” — Black Panther H. Rap Brown

Did Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, suspects in the San Bernardino massacre, just hand the GOP nomination to Donald Trump? Will his poll numbers soar into the stratosphere now that Muslims with foreign-sounding names have been identified as the shooters who killed 14 people and wounded countless others?

Even before Trump came along with propane tanks of bigoted rhetoric, Islamophobia had been burning through the cultural landscape. He and rival Ben Carson poured on fuel, with Carson declaring that no Muslim should be eligible for the presidency and Trump swearing — wrongly — that throngs of American Muslims rejoiced in the aftermath of the 9/11 atrocities.

After last month’s terror attacks in Paris, Trump’s support wafted ever higher; he now claims the allegiance of nearly 30 percent of the GOP electorate, according to a Quinnipiac University poll. And even some Democrats have endorsed the uncharitable view that Syrian refugees should be subjected to such stringent background checks that they would be virtually disqualified from asylum in this country. Farook and Malik have likely intensified that fearful response.

Still, there was in the couple’s rampage much that was peculiarly American, not foreign. Farook, indeed, was a U.S. citizen, born in Illinois. His wife had a green card, a document allowing her to live and work here legally. And while investigators are still searching for a motive for their homicidal impulses, the attack had many of the hallmarks of the quintessential American mass shooting.

No matter what inspired the couple, whether Islamist extremism or perceived workplace grievances, they were mimicking countless other American mass shooters who find some twisted glory in gunning down other citizens — strangers, passers-by, co-workers, moviegoers, schoolchildren. This is a peculiarly American phenomenon, a homegrown form of madness.

And it centers around an irrational — a completely unhinged — embrace of firearms. Using almost any definition of “mass shooting,” the United States has more than any other country. (Most researchers discount homicides that are gang-related or have robbery as a motive. They also leave out domestic violence, counting only those incidents that occur in public places.) And staging them has only grown more popular. Mother Jones magazine, which has analyzed data for the past 33 years, concludes that there have been more mass shootings in the U.S. since 2005 than in the preceding 23 years combined.

According to University of Alabama criminal justice professor Adam Lankford, we account for less than 5 percent of the world’s population but 31 percent of its mass shootings. From his study of other countries, he has concluded that easy access to guns is a prominent factor.

But a significant portion of the population — and of conservative political leadership — refuses, just flat-out refuses, to see any link between the proliferation of firearms and the increase in mass shootings. Indeed, the gun lobby insists — and I couldn’t make this up — that the country would be safer if there were even more guns in every home, automobile, school, church, synagogue and nightclub.

The lunacy that pervades our worship of the Second Amendment — our warped reading of it, anyway — is so wildly perverse that it eclipses our fear of terrorism. Here’s what the gun lobby has insisted upon: Even if Farook had been on an official terrorist watch list, he still would have been legally permitted to purchase the semiautomatic assault-type weapons he allegedly used to gun down his victims. Yes, you read that right.

And GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina repeated that bit of gun-lobby gospel in the wake of the San Bernardino massacre: Even people on the terror watch list should be allowed to purchase firearms. There you have it — a tightly woven web of crazy that logic simply cannot penetrate.

Whatever motivated Farook and his wife, easy access to high-powered firearms allowed them to kill quickly and efficiently. Indeed, that’s the common element in the epidemic of mass shootings that has shaken the country. Yet that’s the one element we refuse to do anything about.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, December 5, 2015

December 6, 2015 Posted by | Assault Weapons, Donald Trump, GOP Primary Debates, Gun Deaths | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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