Do you remember what happened when the Berlin Wall fell? Until that moment, nobody realized just how decadent Communism had become. It had tanks, guns, and nukes, but nobody really believed in its ideology anymore; its officials and enforcers were mere careerists, who folded at the first shock.
It seems to me that you need to think about what happened to the G.O.P. this election cycle the same way.
The Republican establishment was easily overthrown because it was already hollow at the core. Donald Trump’s taunts about “low-energy” Jeb Bush and “little Marco” Rubio worked because they contained a large element of truth. When Mr. Bush and Mr. Rubio dutifully repeated the usual conservative clichés, you could see that there was no sense of conviction behind their recitations. All it took was the huffing and puffing of a loud-mouthed showman to blow their houses down.
But as Mr. Trump is finding out, the Democratic establishment is different.
As some political scientists are now acknowledging, America’s two major parties are not at all symmetric. The G.O.P. is, or was until Mr. Trump arrived, a top-down hierarchical structure enforcing a strict, ideologically pure party line. The Democrats, by contrast, are a “coalition of social groups,” from teachers’ unions to Planned Parenthood, seeking specific benefits from government action.
This diversity of interests sometimes reduces Democrats’ effectiveness: the old Will Rogers joke, “I am not a member of any organized political party — I’m a Democrat” still rings true. But it also means that the Democratic establishment, such as it is, is resilient against Trump-style coups.
But wait: Didn’t Hillary Clinton face her own insurgency in the person of Bernie Sanders, which she barely turned back? Actually, no.
For one thing, it wasn’t all that close. Mrs. Clinton won pledged delegates by almost four times Barack Obama’s margin in 2008; she won the popular vote by double digits.
Also, Mrs. Clinton faced immense, bizarre hostility from the news media. Last week Harvard’s Shorenstein Center released a report on media treatment of the candidates during 2015, showing that Mrs. Clinton received by far the most unfavorable coverage. Even when reports focused on issues rather than alleged scandals, 84 percent of her coverage was negative — twice as high as for Mr. Trump. As the report notes, “Clinton’s negative coverage can be equated to millions of dollars in attack ads, with her on the receiving end.”
And yet she won, fairly easily, because she had the solid support of key elements of the Democratic coalition, especially nonwhite voters.
But will this resilience persist in the general election? Early indications are that it will. Mr. Trump briefly pulled close in the polls after he clinched the Republican nomination, but he has been plunging ever since. And that’s despite the refusal of Mr. Sanders to concede or endorse the presumptive nominee, with at least some Bernie or Busters still telling pollsters that they won’t back her.
Meanwhile, Mr. Trump is flailing. He’s tried all the tactics that worked for him in the Republican contest — insults, derisive nicknames, boasts — but none of it is sticking. Conventional wisdom said that he would be helped by a terrorist attack, but the atrocity in Orlando seems to have hurt him instead: Mrs. Clinton’s response looked presidential, his didn’t.
Worse yet from his point of view, there’s a concerted effort by Democrats — Mrs. Clinton herself, Elizabeth Warren, President Obama, and more — to make the great ridiculer look ridiculous (which he is). And it seems to be working.
Why is Mrs. Clinton holding up so well against Mr. Trump, when establishment Republicans were so hapless? Partly it’s because America as a whole, unlike the Republican base, isn’t dominated by angry white men; partly it’s because, as anyone watching the Benghazi hearing realized, Mrs. Clinton herself is a lot tougher than anyone on the other side.
But a big factor, I’d argue, is that the Democratic establishment in general is fairly robust. I’m not saying that its members are angels, which they aren’t. Some, no doubt, are personally corrupt. But the various groups making up the party’s coalition really care about and believe in their positions — they’re not just saying what the Koch brothers pay them to say.
So pay no attention to anyone claiming that Trumpism reflects either the magical powers of the candidate or some broad, bipartisan upsurge of rage against the establishment. What worked in the primary won’t work in the general election, because only one party’s establishment was already dead inside.
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, June 20, 2016
On Tuesday the political arm of the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of America’s most influential environmentalist groups, made its first presidential endorsement ever, giving the nod to Hillary Clinton. This meant jumping the gun by a week on her inevitable designation as the presumptive Democratic nominee, but the NRDC Action Fund is obviously eager to get on with the general election.
And it’s not hard to see why: At this point Donald Trump’s personality endangers the whole planet.
We’re at a peculiar moment when it comes to the environment — a moment of both fear and hope. The outlook for climate change if current policies continue has never looked worse, but the prospects for turning away from the path of destruction have never looked better. Everything depends on who ends up sitting in the White House for the next few years.
On climate: Remember claims by climate denialists that global warming had paused, that temperatures hadn’t risen since 1998? That was always a garbage argument, but in any case it has now been blown away by a series of new temperature records and a proliferation of other indicators that, taken together, tell a terrifying story of looming disaster.
At the same time, however, rapid technological progress in renewable energy is making nonsense — or maybe I should say, further nonsense — of another bad argument against climate action, the claim that nothing can be done about greenhouse gas emissions without crippling the economy. Solar and wind power are getting cheaper each year, and growing quickly even without much in the way of incentives to switch away from fossil fuels. Provide those incentives, and an energy revolution would be just around the corner.
So we’re in a state where terrible things are in prospect, but can be avoided with fairly modest, politically feasible steps. You may want a revolution, but we don’t need one to save the planet. Right now all it would take is for America to implement the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan and other actions — which don’t even require new legislation, just a Supreme Court that won’t stand in their way — to let the U.S. continue the role it took in last year’s Paris agreement, guiding the world as a whole toward sharp reductions in emissions.
But what happens if the next president is a man who doesn’t believe in climate science, or indeed in inconvenient facts of any kind?
Republican hostility to climate science and climate action is usually attributed to ideology and the power of special interests, and both of these surely play important roles. Free-market fundamentalists prefer rejecting science to admitting that there are ever cases when government regulation is necessary. Meanwhile, buying politicians is a pretty good business investment for fossil-fuel magnates like the Koch brothers.
But I’ve always had the sense that there was a third factor, which is basically psychological. There are some men — it’s almost always men — who become enraged at any suggestion that they must give up something they want for the common good. Often, the rage is disproportionate to the sacrifice: for example, prominent conservatives suggesting violence against government officials because they don’t like the performance of phosphate-free detergent. But polluter’s rage isn’t about rational thought.
Which brings us to the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who embodies the modern conservative id in its most naked form, stripped of the disguises politicians usually use to cloak their prejudices and make them seem respectable.
No doubt Donald Trump hates environmental protection in part for the usual reasons. But there’s an extra layer of venom to his pro-pollution stances that is both personal and mind-bogglingly petty.
For example, he has repeatedly denounced restrictions intended to protect the ozone layer — one of the great success stories of global environmental policy — because, he claims, they’re the reason his hair spray doesn’t work as well as it used to. I am not making this up.
He’s also a bitter foe of wind power. He likes to talk about how wind turbines kill birds, which they sometimes do, but no more so than tall buildings; but his real motivation seems to be ire over unsuccessful attempts to block an offshore wind farm near one of his British golf courses.
And if evidence gets in the way of his self-centeredness, never mind. Recently he assured audiences that there isn’t a drought in California, that officials have just refused to turn on the water.
I know how ridiculous it sounds. Can the planet really be in danger because a rich guy worries about his hairdo? But Republicans are rallying around this guy just as if he were a normal candidate. And if Democrats don’t rally the same way, he just might make it to the White House.
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, June 3, 2016
“Trump Drives Spike Into Culture War Politics”: Trump’s Second-Best Contribution To The Quality Of America’s Civic Life
Days before the Indiana primary, Ted Cruz paraded his two young daughters in matching pink dresses and spoke darkly of “putting little girls alone in a bathroom with grown men.”
This was a visual that, frankly, we could have done without. Thankfully, Donald Trump locked it in Ripley’s museum of the politically bizarre by trouncing Cruz in that conservative state’s primary.
It was Trump who had said that transgender people should use “whatever bathroom they feel is appropriate.” It was he who noted that there have been “very few problems” with transgender people using ladies’ rooms. Trump didn’t say — but could have — that men presenting themselves as women have been using women’s facilities for a long time, with the other occupants none the wiser or unconcerned.
So has Trump deep-sixed the culture war gambit in Republican politics? The formula is to draw votes by pounding on some controversy of little consequence to most people, preferably with a sex angle attached. The 2004 presidential election in Ohio was a textbook case. Placing a measure to ban gay marriage on the ballot probably gave George W. Bush — whose main game was tax cuts — a narrow victory.
Our friends the Koch brothers routinely give money to socially conservative groups to win over middle- or working-class followers otherwise not served by the family’s economic agenda. The brothers themselves have shrugged at gay marriage, saying they have no problem with it.
Perhaps, just perhaps, the working-class whites targeted by culture warriors don’t really care all that much about these issues — or care a lot less about them than they do about their falling incomes. Perhaps they’ve been voting all these years for an attitude, hitting back at the “liberal elites” who they feel rap them on the knuckles when they speak their mind. Trump’s magic potion involves adding attitude while subtracting threats to Social Security, Medicare and other government programs average folks depend on.
Trump has stomped on so many of the right wing’s most cherished wedge issues — while winning majorities among the Republican base — it gets you wondering how big that tide of moral umbrage really was. How much of it was a mirage pulled off with talk radio’s smoke and mirrors?
Abortion is a truly difficult issue. Your writer believes an abortion should be easy (and free) to obtain early in a pregnancy and limited later on. Others oppose abortion altogether, and it is this group’s genuine concerns that the right seeks to stoke.
As a result, it’s the rare Republican who will put in a good word for Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit that provides a variety of women’s health services in addition to abortions. But Trump praised the organization for doing the former without apology. And he won races in the heart of value-voter America — including the entire Deep South.
For liberals and moderates alike, Trump deserves gratitude for putting away Cruz. (Too bad about John Kasich, though.) It spared us from having to hear his running mate, Carly Fiorina, go on about Planned Parenthood’s harvesting “body parts” from a kicking fetus, a complete fiction.
Making things up happens to be a Trump specialty, so there’s some poetic justice in his volleying back some outright fabrications. His suggestion that Cruz’s father helped John Kennedy’s assassin is a classic of the genre.
Putting an end to culture warmongering as a political strategy — or at least dialing it back — could go down as Trump’s second-best contribution to the quality of America’s civic life. His best contribution would be to lose badly in November. Luckily, on getting himself not elected in the general, Trump has made a strong start.
By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, May 5, 2016
“Courting With Disaster”: GOP Elites Think Stealing The Nomination From Trump Will Be A Cakewalk. They’re Wrong
The Republican presidential primary is settling into one of history’s most familiar grooves: Failing elites confront an internal rebellion by doing their absolute utmost to change nothing whatsoever.
The Donald Trump insurgency has demonstrated several things. First, there is a large constituency among Republican primary voters for outright bigotry and xenophobia; second, the commitment to traditional conservative economics among many Republican base voters is totally ephemeral.
It turns out that hardscrabble racist white people aren’t actually interested in gutting Medicare, privatizing Social Security, or Olympus Mons-sized tax cuts for the rich. The perception that they were was mainly created by the canny exploitation of the culture war and wealthy conservatives purchasing the entire slate of Republican candidates every year.
Now Trump has blown the scam wide open. But instead of trying to reckon with the fact that the consensus party ideology is cracking apart before their eyes, Republican elites — led by the nose by the donor class — are plotting to deliver the presidential nomination to a nice friendly establishment figure, perhaps Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.
Now, they are enabled in this by Trump himself, who just had the worst two weeks of news coverage of the entire primary. His campaign manager is literally being charged with battery, he stumbled on abortion, he got into an unbelievably petty fight over Ted Cruz’s wife, and the latest polling shows him being utterly blown out of the water in the general election. Then on Tuesday night, he got creamed by Cruz in the Wisconsin primary.
All that created a sense that Trump had finally, finally doomed himself. His support would begin to melt away, and the Republican big money grandees could come together and hand the nomination to a reliable plutocrat who could enact the welfare and tax cuts 1 percenters demand. Charles Koch himself is reportedly behind Paul Ryan, should Trump enter the convention at least 100 delegates short of a first ballot victory.
These people are fooling themselves. First of all, while Trump might really have done himself in, this is about the 40th time this exact same groupthink has taken hold and it’s been wrong every time so far. Moreover, whatever damage was done has barely registered in the polls. He’s off his large lead only slightly in the national average, and Wisconsin wasn’t a great spot for him in the first place. A bunch of states are coming up where conditions are a lot more favorable, and in the ones with recent polling (New York, Pennsylvania) he’s ahead by a lot.
In short, while he might not come into the convention with enough delegates to win a first-ballot victory, conditions would have to change dramatically for Trump to fail to get a large delegate plurality — and that’s leaving aside the distinct possibility that he could bounce back from his current troubles by changing the subject, perhaps with yet another round of anti-Muslim bigotry.
What’s more, the second place contender (behind by 237 pledged delegates at the moment) is Ted Cruz, who is nearly as rabidly anti-establishment (and as bad a general election candidate) as Trump. It is literally mathematically impossible for John Kasich, the only sort of non-extremist left in the race, to win in a first ballot.
Primary elections have been exhaustively covered and have developed a deep democratic legitimacy. If Trump comes into the convention with a large plurality of delegates, trying to wrest the nomination from him is courting disaster. It probably wouldn’t even work, as the delegates would likely get cold feet at what amounts to a massive, bald-faced election theft. Even if it did, Trump would have every reason to attempt a third-party run and split the conservative vote — and might even do better than the Republican candidate.
Trying to wrest the nomination from Cruz as well, so the billionaire donor class can hand it to one of their pets who didn’t even enter the primary, is even crazier than that. It’s the kind of thing that actually destroys parties. At that point the donors would be openly stamping on the expressed preference of something like nine-tenths of their own voters, and all but teeing up a presidential challenger that would beat their own candidate by 40 points.
The GOP elite, such as it is, is largely controlled by people who think a full-blown populist rebellion can be handled with a few backroom conversations and massive checks. They’re about to find out the hard way that they’re wrong.
By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, April 7, 2016