President Obama delivered a powerful commencement address at Rutgers University over the weekend, taking some time to celebrate knowledge and intellectual pursuits. “Facts, evidence, reason, logic, an understanding of science – these are good things,” the president said, implicitly reminding those who may have forgotten. “These are qualities you want in people making policy.”
He added, “Class of 2016, let me be as clear as I can be. In politics, and in life, ignorance is not a virtue. It’s not cool to not know what you’re talking about. That’s not ‘keeping it real,’ or ‘telling it like it is.’ That’s not challenging ‘political correctness.’ That’s just not knowing what you’re talking about.”
Donald Trump heard this and apparently took it personally. The presumptive Republican nominee responded last night with arguably the most important tweet of the 2016 presidential campaign to date:
“ ‘In politics, and in life, ignorance is not a virtue.’ This is a primary reason that President Obama is the worst president in U.S. history!”
I assumed someone would eventually tell the GOP candidate why this was unintentionally hilarious, prompting him to take it down, but as of this morning, Trump’s message remains online.
In case it’s not blisteringly obvious, candidates for national office generally don’t argue publicly that ignorance is a virtue. But Donald Trump is a different kind of candidate, offering an enthusiastic, albeit unconventional, embrace of ignorance.
Don’t vote for Trump despite his obliviousness, support him because of it. The Know-Nothing Party may have faded into obscurity 150 years ago, but it’s apparently making a comeback with a new standard bearer.
There’s been a strain of anti-intellectualism in Republican politics for far too long, and it comes up far too often. House Speaker Paul Ryan last month dismissed the role of “experts” in policy debates; former President George W. Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker have publicly mocked those who earn post-graduate degrees; Jeb Bush last year complained about Democrats using too many “big-syllable words.”
As a rule, prominent GOP voices prefer to exploit conservative skepticism about intellectual elites to advance their own agenda or ambitions. They don’t celebrate stupidity just for the sake of doing so; anti-intellectualism is generally seen as a tool to guide voters who don’t know better.
Trump, however, has come to embody an alarming attitude: ignorance is a virtue. If the president believes otherwise, it must be seen as proof of his awfulness. The Republican Party’s presumptive presidential nominee intends to lead a movement of those who revel in their lack of knowledge.
History will not be kind.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 17, 2016
As Donald Trump made the transition from Republican presidential frontrunner to presumptive Republican presidential nominee, one of the more common words in GOP circles has been “unity.” As in, “How in the world will the party achieve anything resembling ‘unity’ with this nativist demagogue at the top of the Republican ticket?”
For his part, Trump has said, on multiple occasions, that he can and will bring the party together. Yesterday on ABC, however, the Republican candidate, no doubt aware of the broader circumstances, suggested that unifying the party may be an overrated goal.
“Does [the party] have to be unified? I’m very different than everybody else, perhaps, that’s ever run for office. I actually don’t think so,” Trump told George Stephanopoulos in an interview that will air Sunday on ABC News’ “This Week.” […]
“I think it would be better if it were unified, I think it would be – there would be something good about it. But I don’t think it actually has to be unified in the traditional sense,” Trump said.
It’s an unexpected posture, borne of conditions outside of Trump’s control. Less than a week after wrapping up the nomination, the Republican candidate has stopped looking for ways to bring the party together and started looking for ways to justify intra-party strife as a tolerable inconvenience – not because Trump wants to, but because so many in the party are repulsed by his candidacy.
The New York Times added over the weekend, “Since a landslide victory in Indiana made him the presumptive Republican nominee, Mr. Trump has faced a shunning from party leaders that is unprecedented in modern politics. Mr. Trump has struggled to make peace with senior lawmakers and political donors whom he denounced during the Republican primaries, and upon whose largess he must now rely.”
In a fitting twist, Republicans are divided over the nature of their divisions. Former Vice President Dick Cheney, for example, became one of the most notable GOP Trump endorsers Friday, despite Trump’s condemnation of the Bush/Cheney administration’s handling of 9/11 and the war in Iraq.
Cheney probably wasn’t thrilled about extending his support, but he’s a Republican, Trump’s the presumptive Republican nominee, and apparently that’s the end of the discussion. For the former vice president, partisan considerations are, for all intents and purposes, the only consideration. (The fact that Trump is a cheerleader for torture probably helped tilt the scales for Cheney.)
But the former vice president’s announcement was striking in part because so many other national Republican leaders are moving in the exact opposite direction.
Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush have both said they will stay out of the 2016 race and withhold their official support from their party’s nominee. Jeb Bush, a former Trump rival, signed a pledge last year promising to support the GOP’s 2016 candidate, but he’s since decided to break that promise and oppose Trump.
I haven’t yet seen a comprehensive list of every notable Republican officeholder who has vowed to withhold support for Trump, but as best as I can tell, the list would include at least three sitting governors (Massachusetts’ Charlie Baker, Illinois’ Bruce Rauner, and Maryland’s Larry Hogan), three sitting U.S. senators (South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, Nebraska’s Ben Sasse, Nevada’s Dean Heller), and 10 or so U.S. House members. If we include former officials, the list grows much longer.
And then, of course, there’s 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, who’s vowed to oppose Trump, and his former running mate, current House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who said Thursday he’s not yet ready to decide either way. Many more in the GOP have offered grudging support along the lines of, “I’ll back my party’s nominee, but let’s not call it an ‘endorsement,’ and for the love of God, please don’t make me say his name out loud.”
It’s tempting to look for some kind of modern parallel for a dynamic like this, but there really isn’t one. The only thing that comes close was when far-right Southern “Dixiecrats,” outraged by Democratic support for civil rights, broke off in 1948 and 1968, en route to becoming Republicans.
Those examples probably don’t offer much of a parallel here – or at least GOP officials have to hope not.
The more immediate question, of course, is whether a party divided against itself can stand. According to Trump, unity is an unnecessary luxury, though if you’re thinking this sounds like wishful thinking, you’re not alone. Given the presumptive Republican nominee’s unpopularity, Trump has very little margin for error, and having a sizable chunk of his party express contempt for his campaign poses an existential electoral risk. Winning primaries in a divided party is vastly easier than what Trump will face in November.
There’s a school of thought, of course, that says all of this strife will eventually pass. Emotions are still raw – the last contested primary was less than a week ago – and the argument goes that wayward Republicans will “come home” by the fall.
In a typical election cycle, this model would certainly apply, but this isn’t a normal year; Trump isn’t a normal candidate; and the scope and scale of the fissures in Republican politics are without modern precedent.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 9, 2016
Ted Cruz isn’t exactly what you’d call a member of the Republican establishment. He says outlandish things. He doesn’t play nicely with others. He wears no cloak of gentility over his criticisms of opponents. “Nobody likes him,” former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole said of Cruz, the U.S. senator from Texas and presidential hopeful.
Yet the establishment’s arbiters are increasingly lining up behind Cruz. This morning’s news brought word of an endorsement by a pillar of the Republican establishment, former presidential hopeful Jeb Bush. “For the sake of our party and country, we must move to overcome the divisiveness and vulgarity Donald Trump has brought into the political arena,” Bush wrote in a statement issued on Wednesday morning.
It is well known in Washington circles that Cruz is not well liked by his Capitol Hill colleagues. His willingness to use Senate rules, in defiance of his party’s leaders, to bring the U.S. to the brink of default, along with his more general penchant for grandstanding, have soured his relations with many of his fellow Republicans. Then there was that time he called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a liar.
In January, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina described a choice between frontrunner Donald Trump and Cruz for the presidential nomination as a decision between “being shot or poisoned.” He added: “What does it really matter?”
Earlier this month, Graham apparently decided that it actually did matter, and endorsed Cruz, prompting the Newark Star-Ledger to headline an editorial, “Senator Prefers Poison to Gunshots.”
In Tuesday night’s Utah caucuses, which he won with 69 percent of the vote, Cruz enjoyed the support of former GOP standard-bearer Mitt Romney who, while not offering an outright endorsement, declared that he would vote for Cruz. (Trump won Arizona the same night, leaving him well ahead of Cruz in the delegate count.)
If Ted Cruz, who has turned on his own party’s leaders and cast President Barack Obama as something just short of a traitor, who has accused the Black Lives Matter movement of celebrating the murder of police officers, who has called for the “carpet-bombing” of Mosul regardless of the devastating number of civilian casualties it would entail—if this Ted Cruz is the Republican Party’s best hope for ending divisiveness within its ranks and the American population, then the GOP, as many have written, is truly in crisis. It’s almost as if Ohio Governor John Kasich, a far more establishment figure, weren’t in the race. What the establishment figures lining up behind Cruz seem to have deduced is that while Kasich matches up favorably for the party against Democratic opponents in polls predicting a general election outcome, they don’t think he can win the nomination, which will be decided by a conservative party base.
For all the talk among Republican and conservative elites about the threat posed to the country by Trump, it’s more likely that the concern is for their own control of the party. Cruz may not play nicely with party leaders, but he is still part of the party structure, relying on its donors and leaders to fuel his presidential campaign and to support his political career overall. Cruz’s victory speech in Texas would seem to speak to that. He offered little of the red meat he throws to Joe Average primary voter, and instead emphasized environmental deregulation and tax reduction—favorite issues of the Koch brothers and other well-heeled Republican donors.
Trump, on the other hand, not only has little interest in appealing to the Republican establishment with his mostly self-funded campaign; it’s in his interest to see the party weakened. Trump has his own brand—one bigger, I suspect he has calculated, than that of the GOP. His strategy is that of a cult of personality.
It seems as if Trump is figuring that the most the party has to offer him is ballot access as a major party nominee, and the free television airtime that comes with the convention. He has little investment in the policy positions adopted by the party through the influence of donors and advocacy groups. He’s not running on policy, as his many changes of heart and lack of conservative orthodoxy on various issues, ranging from Middle East diplomacy to his assessment of Planned Parenthood, have shown.
Should Trump win the Republican Party nomination, scores of party leaders will become previously important people. But if Cruz wins, he will owe much to the establishment figures who ultimately, if reluctantly, backed him. The pooh-bahs will accordingly pick their poison.
By: Adele M. Stan, The American Prospect, March 23, 2016