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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

“The Election-Industrial Complex”: Campaign Consultants And Media Companies Are Cashing In On Our Corrupt Elections

Four days before Ben Carson finally wrapped up his failed candidacy, his campaign paid $348,141 to a direct mail company. The same amount was paid at the start of the month to Pennsylvania-based Action Mailers, bringing the company’s February total close to $1 million.

That same day, a web service provider for Carson’s campaign (run by the candidate’s chief marketing officer) was paid $59,000. In February, as the campaign limped to an end, checks totaling $651,000 were sent to Eleventy for web services.

Carson, in an interview with CNN after he announced that he would be dropping out of the race, said “We had people who didn’t really seem to understand finances, or maybe they did—maybe they were doing it on purpose.”

In total, through the end of February, Carson’s campaign raised $63 million and spent $58 million, according to FEC filings.

Much of that money came from small individual donations, and much of it was spent on a handful of companies tasked with raising money from those individual donors. There are many links between companies paid money by his campaign and the individuals who surrounded Carson.

Eleventy, whose president, Ken Dawson, was the campaign’s marketing chief, received close to $6 million over the course of the campaign. Action Mailers received over $5 million. Carson spent just over $5 million on television buys, less even than Donald Trump, whose “free media” campaign has kept his ad expenses incredibly low. Just as important, Carson spent little on developing a ground game.

“There’s a lot of people who love me, they just won’t vote for me,” Carson said as he bowed out. Hundreds of thousands loved him enough to give money to what they thought was an actual campaign.

The rise of super PACs in the aftermath of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision has often dominated the discussion over money in politics in recent election cycles. There is much more to the tale. It’s not just about who is spending the cash, but where it’s going.

Harpers Magazine, in its April cover story, delves into the world of “strategists, pollsters, TV-ad makers, media buyers, direct-mail specialists, broadcasters, and other subcategories of what we should properly call the election-industrial complex.” Its conclusion leaves the reader feeling, if only for a moment, somewhat sorry for the billionaires and multi-millionaires pumping money into elections. It’s all wasted extremely efficiently, mostly on advertising buys.

Exhibit A: Jeb Bush, whose campaign and supportive PACs spent close to $150 million on his failed candidacy, with nothing to show for it but… well, actually, there’s just nothing to show for it.

The big winners are consultants and television companies.

Les Moonves, chairman of CBS, made it clear, twice, that what may be bad for America is very good for his company. “Super PACs may be bad for America,” Moonves said following the 2012 election, “but they’re very good for CBS.” That year, CBS made $180 million out of the election.

This election cycle, not only are broadcasters pulling in cash from advertising, they also have Donald Trump to thank for an unprecedented ratings spike.

“It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS,” Moonves told a media conference in San Francisco in December. “Man, who would have expected the ride we’re all having right now? … The money’s rolling in and this is fun,” Moonves said.

“I’ve never seen anything like this, and this going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.”

 

By:  John Breslin, The National Memo, March 23, 2016

March 24, 2016 Posted by | Campaign Advertising, Campaign Consultants, Election Industrial Complex | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Establishment Gets What It Deserves”: Republicans Stopped Producing Moderates And Wound Up With Trump

The Republican establishment, the one we hear so much about: That wall is crumbling in plain sight.

You may ask how I know this. Once the media and powers that be chose Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida as the last best hope to slow Donald Trump’s rise to the nomination on Super Tuesday, things felt surreal. If that’s true, then the establishment deserves to lose. It is sending too few moderate Republicans to Congress.

From what I’ve seen in the Senate, Rubio does not have the chops to challenge Trump, despite their nasty verbal brawling. In his 40s, Rubio is a slight figure in the Senate, when he is actually there. A bit vacuous, he’s what they call a showhorse, not a workhorse. Few bills bear his name. He balked at his big chance to take part in actually passing legislation, a bipartisan immigration bill that failed in 2013 in a close call.

Rubio comes from the Cuban-American community in Miami and rose on the financial wings of a wealthy car dealer. His base is hard-right, especially bitter when it comes to Fidel Castro and Cuba. Rubio held up an administration diplomatic appointment because the woman had worked on normalizing relations with Cuba. The exiled generation that raised Rubio – and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, roughly the same age – vowed to never forget nor forgive the revolution. They tend to have a dark outlook on foreign policy. At home, Rubio is equally stark, all for requiring – forcing – girls and women victimized by rape or incest (or both) to carry their pregnancies to term. I don’t think he will sell well outside the South.

It’s a lot for the Republican establishment to take in a week. First there was Jeb Bush’s unimaginable fall from tall heights of family and fortune. He had to leave the party early after a fatal fourth finish in South Carolina. It was fun to watch him unwind. The pundits said the environment wasn’t right for Jeb Bush this cycle. The truth is, he was a terribly flat candidate, whatever the cycle. He could not spin anything to his advantage. And it is not as if there is anything noble about his family tree. The Bushes play rough to win, as his father and brother did in their presidential campaigns; just remember the Willie Horton ads against Gov. Michael Dukakis and the Swift Boat campaign wielded against Sen. John Kerry in 2004

So it likely comes down to Trump vs. Rubio. Let’s not forget Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich are resilient, stubborn candidates. Cruz is wicked smart – both in equal measure – and Kasich comes across as the reasonable man in this field. Still, it’s a safe bet Trump will take the party on a forced march to the nomination like General Sherman to the sea in the Civil War. He’s just the bracing medicine the formerly grand old party needs to see what it has become.

And it wasn’t overnight. It just seems that way with Bush’s meteoric fall from grace. Observers say Trump will set the party back for years if he becomes the standard-bearer. Let it be. In the meantime, the Republican Party has some serious soul-searching to do.

 

By: Jamie Stiehm, U. S. News and World Report, February 29, 2016

March 7, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Rubio Already Seems Spooked”: Donald Trump Is About To Do Terrible Things To Marco Rubio

As bullies go, Donald Trump is unusually skilled.

When Trump decides to go after you, he considers carefully both your weak points and the audience for his attack. So when he decided to pummel Jeb Bush — apparently for his own amusement, as much as out of any real political concerns — he hit upon the idea that Bush was “low energy,” something Bush had a hard time countering without sounding like a whiny grade-schooler saying, “Am not!” More than anything else it was a dominance display, a way of showing voters he could push Jeb around and there was nothing Jeb could do about it. With a primary electorate primed by years of watching their candidates fetishize manliness and aggression, the attack touched a nerve.

And now with the Republican race effectively narrowed to three candidates, the one Trump hasn’t bothered to go after too often — Marco Rubio — must prepare for the mockery and rumor-mongering that will surely be coming his way from the frontrunner. Whether he can withstand it could go a long way toward determining how this race turns out.

Until now, Trump has been relatively soft on Rubio. But with the increasing possibility that Rubio could be the greatest threat to Trump winning the nomination, he’s almost certain to go after him. If the past is any guide, Trump will throw a bunch of different attacks Rubio’s way until he happens upon one that seems to resonate; then he’ll stick with it as long as it works. Trump is already dabbling in Rubio birtherism (though he doesn’t seem quite committed to it), but eventually he’ll find a line of personal criticism with just the right note of cruelty and derision.

Rubio already seems spooked. Appearing on Face the Nation this Sunday, he was asked how he would convince voters to choose him over Trump, and the strongest critique he could muster was that Trump hasn’t been clear enough about his policy plans. But Rubio went out of his way to assure everyone he wasn’t being mean. “So, look, this is not an attack or anything of that nature,” he said. “It’s just a very simple observation. If you want to be president, you have to start detailing some specific public policy.” Yowch, put away the shiv, senator!

Rubio may have avoided Trump’s wrath up until now, but that won’t last. The only question is what brand of contempt Trump will heap on him. It might be some kind of attack based on Rubio’s ethnicity, or it might be the same kind of you’re-a-girly-man insults he used on Bush. That could be effective, since Rubio does look like he didn’t graduate high school all that long ago. He could go after Rubio’s occasionally shaky finances, which Trump surely looks on with utter contempt, since as far as he’s concerned, not being rich makes you a loser.

Or perhaps Trump will tell voters that Rubio isn’t strong enough to channel their free-floating rage. Trump tweeted on Monday that he won the South Carolina primary because “I showed anger and the people of our country are very angry!” Whether anger fully accounts for that particular result, there’s no doubt that it fuels much of Trump’s popularity.

Up until now, Rubio hasn’t been very good at expressing anger. When he does, it comes out awkwardly, like the endless repetition of “Barack Obama knows exactly what he’s doing” that got him into so much trouble before the New Hampshire primary. He has gone back to being a candidate of optimism: “I will bring this party together faster than anyone else,” Rubio now argues, which might be true. The trouble is that anger remains the predominant emotion running through the Republican electorate, and they don’t particularly want to be brought together, if it means joining up with the establishment that now sees Rubio as its last hope of defeating Trump.

If Rubio ends up being his party’s nominee, it will mean that Trump came after him and he survived the onslaught. Because Trump will indeed come after him. He’ll bait him and belittle him, insult him and mock him, laugh at him and sneer at him. And it will be a test of Rubio’s ability to stand up and fight back, like a real man. Rubio will have to figure out how to fend it off, because nobody else has.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, February 23, 2016

February 24, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, Marco Rubio | , , , , | 5 Comments

“Can Marco Rubio Win Anywhere?”: Trump’s Landslide Victory In South Carolina Is A Waking Nightmare For The Republican Party

By winning the South Carolina primary, Donald Trump demonstrated he can win anywhere.

By coming in second place, well behind Trump and barely (about 1,000 votes with 99 percent reporting) ahead of Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio demonstrated he will have a hard time winning anywhere.

Rubio, and basically the entire Republican Party establishment, marched into South Carolina determined to play up an expected third-place finish as a kind of triumph and a second-place finish as outright victory. Before any networks had called second place, Rubio delivered an exultant speech promising to win the GOP nomination.

There are reasons to credit this as more than just amusingly strained political vaudeville. By breaking out of the pack of also-rans, Rubio forced Jeb Bush out of the race. If he hoovers up nearly all of Bush’s supporters, he stands to eclipse Cruz as the de facto leader of the non-Trump faction of the race. If John Kasich follows suit, after finishing below even Bush in South Carolina, Cruz may slip to a distant third. Viewed in that light, Rubio’s performance in South Carolina might genuinely and enduringly change the race.

But this also is the most charitable way to interpret Rubio’s distant second-place finish. Not because these are outlandish assumptions—they aren’t. It’s just that even if everything goes according to plan, Rubio will have proved fairly little in South Carolina.

By inundating Rubio’s campaign with endorsements and money, Republican Party officials have effectively communicated that they’ll attempt to thwart the will of the majority of GOP primary voters who support Trump and Cruz. And yet, despite all of that juice—and as badly as Cruz underperformed—Rubio can’t count on Cruz fading rapidly. He definitely can’t seem to come within spitting distance of Trump anywhere. And on top of all that, he’s yet to endure a concerted Trump onslaught the way Cruz has, and Bush did—and both those candidates were harmed badly.

Though the South Carolina returns drove Bush from the race, it isn’t a foregone conclusion that his supporters will overwhelmingly defect to Rubio. One of the most critical lessons of Iowa and New Hampshire is that Trump draws his support from across the party, including its mainstream. Many Bush supporters will presumably also defect to Kasich, who essentially skipped South Carolina and is pinning his ever-dim hopes on Northern primaries in Michigan and his home state of Ohio in March. Ben Carson’s supporters will likewise scatter, rather than defect to a single candidate in unison (though Cruz stands to be the single largest beneficiary).

Notwithstanding all these inconvenient truths, Rubio will emerge from South Carolina a party favorite and a media darling.

The person with the most to fear from the results is Cruz. South Carolina was supposed to serve as a model for the Super Tuesday states he needs to win—and with the evangelical turnout as overwhelming as it was, he should’ve been able to do better than a dead heat for second, double digits behind Trump.

Had Rubio finished third—ideally a distant third—Cruz could have credibly continued portraying the primary as a two-man race between himself and Trump. But Trump is a popular favorite, and Rubio is an elite favorite. Cruz enjoy neither of those advantages. To the extent that he thrives, it is thanks to the loyalty of conservative ideologues and Christian conservatives (many of whom, again, are still supporting Carson, Rubio, and Trump). If their affinity for Cruz isn’t robust enough to reliably outperform Rubio, his supporters will begin to question the logic of his candidacy. A fading Cruz would have little room to expand his appeal beyond right-wing purists (his concession speech tonight once again played up his “consistent conservative” bona fides), and his campaign would serve barely any purpose other than to deny Rubio a chance to challenge Trump one-on-one.

As time goes on, though, all the effort we expend examining the race for second place so granularly starts to seem like whistling past the graveyard. Trump probably could’ve won Iowa, and arguably should have. He won New Hampshire overwhelmingly. He just won South Carolina overwhelmingly, too, and is poised to do the same thing in Nevada’s caucuses on Tuesday night. This is a waking nightmare for the Republican Party. Their played-up enthusiasm for Rubio can’t disguise it.

 

By: Brian Beutler, The New Republic, February 20, 2016

February 21, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, Marco Rubio, South Carolina, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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