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“Is Trump The New Boss Tweed?”: Tweed’s Downfall Demonstrates Just How Fragile Trump’s Popularity May Be

George Wallace. Henry Ford. Hitler.

No, it’s not the start of a bad joke. These are just a few of the historical figures to whom critics are comparing Donald Trump.

Of course, finding an exact precedent for Trump is a futile exercise. History is not a cycle that repeats itself over and over, but rather a never-ending continuum filled with intersecting layers. Think of it as less of a carousel, and more of a roller coaster that keeps adding new twists and turns, much to the discomfort of its nauseated passengers.

Still, historical comparisons are useful in examining how elements of the Trump phenomenon work. One of the most puzzling questions about Trump has been his knack for political mobilization. How has a widely panned candidate managed to gain such a substantial following? The answer lies in the strategy of another polarizing leader: William “Boss” Tweed.

Both men built a fervent political base out of a single demographic to which they did not belong. By focusing on the special interests of that neglected group, Tweed and Trump found success in a political climate that otherwise would’ve labeled them as crooks and liars.

Tweed’s Tammany Hall machine relied on securing the votes of recent immigrants, particularly the Irish. In an environment plagued by poverty and nativism, Tweed smelled opportunity. He and his colleagues created an early welfare system that supplied the immigrants with food, jobs, and housing in exchange for political support. Historian Kenneth D. Ackerman writes that Tammany Hall provided “state money for schools and hospitals, lumps of coal at Christmas, and city patronage jobs to put bread on family dinner tables.” Though the self-serving motives behind Tweed’s generosity were clear, New York’s poor continued to back him based on the simple fact that he made their lives better when other politicians just didn’t seem to care.

Tweed and his cronies used their growing power as an opportunity to embezzle thousands of dollars from public projects, most infamously through a phony renovation to the City Court House. Nevertheless, Tweed never viewed his theft as an immoral act. It was business, and he was good at it. Towards the end of his life, Tweed explained, “The fact is New York politics were always dishonest, long before my time. There never was a time you couldn’t buy the Board of Aldermen […] A politician coming forward takes things as they are.”

Sound familiar? Trump has similarly used bankruptcy laws and eminent domain — meant for “public use” — to his advantage.

Trump’s outspoken beliefs and motivations have already earned him the spite of many fellow billionaires, but he doesn’t seem to care. Instead, he has established his base among the less-educated, blue-collar voters across the country.

With promises to secure jobs at home and kick ISIS’s ass abroad, Trump has amassed a committed base of support. Based on a New York Times analysis, Trump support correlates strongly with white people who ethnically identify as “American,” those without high school degrees, and those who live in mobile homes.

Many of Trump’s supporters look to him as a paternal figure capable of redirecting America’s wealth back to its forgotten citizens. Paul Weber, an attendee of a Trump rally in Iowa, complained that recent immigrants are “getting pregnant and coming here and having babies,” allowing them to “get everything and the people that were born here can’t get everything.” Many also chalk up Trump’s personal success, multiple declarations of bankruptcy notwithstanding, as a sign that he would have better control over economic fluctuations. “I like him because he’s a businessman,” explained Trump enthusiast Linda Wilkerson. She added, “We’re in terrible financial debt. I hope he can bail us out.”

So, what can we expect from Trump based on Tweed’s trajectory? For one thing, Tweed’s subsequent downfall demonstrates just how fragile Trump’s popularity may be. He too is dependent on single group’s allegiance, and any hit to his tough-guy reputation could prove fatal. It’s just like that old saying about putting all your eggs—or Trump steaks—in one basket.

But where will this decisive blow come from? Trump’s media presence, currently one of his greatest assets, could become his undoing.

Like Trump, Tweed had a less than amicable relationship with the mainstream media. Perhaps in another world, the two men would meet in a penthouse to sip some vintage brut and scowl at caricatures of bloated bellies and bad comb overs.

Tweed was a favorite target of cartoonist Thomas Nast, nowadays most famous for his design of the modern Santa Claus. Nast portrayed Tweed as a sleazy criminal who stole funds from public projects while wearing a diamond on his shirt and a money sack over his head. The efforts of Nast and other journalists eventually exposed Tweed’s fraudulence and damaged his popularity among immigrants. He died penniless and imprisoned in 1878.

So far, Trump has dodged every media attack, somehow turning each gaffe and insult into a display of American authority. However, Trump will not be as invulnerable should he ever have the responsibility to govern. He has little to lose as an outsider candidate, but any corruption in office would reveal him as the hypocrite he is.

 

By: Dan Fitzpatrick, The National Memo, March 17, 2016

March 18, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Governing, William "Boss" Tweed | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Some Folks Are Gonna Switch Parties”: There’s Potential For Some Real Shifting In The Shape Of The Electorate

David Bahnsen speaks for a lot of Establishment Republicans. Today, he’s linked at the National Review. At this point, Bahnsen is so exasperated with the persistent popularity of Donald Trump that he’s calling on us all to beseech God to intervene.

I’m not sold on his political analysis here, but I do want to note his conclusion.

Trump will not be the President of the United States. His support level is maxed at 35-40% (generously) of the Republican primary voters. In a general election contest, he will lose the nine figure free publicity of the national media, who will turn on him in a New York minute. The blue collar white males who resent the economic changes of the last 25 years will be more than offset by his depleted support from Hispanics, females, and other grown-ups. His skyrocketing unfavorables will matter, and he will lose. And if I am wrong, that is even worse. The United States will be the laughingstock of the world if this man were to become our commander-in-chief.

You will not hear me talk about Trump’s ceiling. I won’t say he’s maxed out at any level. I am not about to say that he will lose the general election. I’m somewhere between skeptical, agnostic and terrified about these questions.

But, if Trump is going to lose as big as people like Bahnsen think he’s going to lose, it’s because a lot of moderate/soft Republicans conclude that it will be better if Trump loses to (presumably) Hillary Clinton than if he wins.

This is the time in the four-year election cycle when people love to promise that they’ll never support the nominee they don’t prefer. Sanders’ voters will never vote for Clinton. Erick Erickson will never vote for Donald Trump. If Ted Cruz is the president, we’re all moving to Costa Rica.

It’s mostly bullshit. The vast majority of people will hold their nose and vote for one of the two major party nominees. Very few committed Democrats or Republicans will cross over to vote for the other side. And no one is moving to Costa Rica.

But this cycle is a little different than most. I can see a lot of New Jersey Democrats who work in the financial sector deciding that they’d rather deal with Trump or Rubio or Cruz than with Bernie Sanders. And I can see a lot of Wall Street Republicans not going for the religious anti-choice extremism of Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio, and who know Trump well enough to be embarrassed by him and his desperate efforts to show he has class. They don’t like his act and they’re not haters on immigrants, Muslims, or anyone else.

This year, there’s potential for some real shifting in the shape of the electorate. And there really are some voters in both parties who might leave their party for good if they don’t get the nominee that they want.

There are also a lot of young voters who will be making up their minds about whether they’re aligned with the left, the right, or reality television.

 

By: Martin Longman, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, February 22, 2016

February 23, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The GOP’s Donald Trump Nightmare Is Far From Over”: Quick Rebound Less Farfetched Than Sudden, Terminal Collapse

Ted Cruz’s poll-defying victory in the Iowa caucuses Monday night spared the Republican Party the ultimate humiliation of a Donald Trump landslide—not in Iowa, per se, but in the presidential primary writ large. Until this week, nonplussed Republicans were contemplating with dread an increasingly likely scenario in which Trump won Iowa convincingly, reinforced his dominant leads in New Hampshire and South Carolina, and went on to essentially run the table to the nomination.

Things won’t be quite that straightforward for Trump after all. The early conventional wisdom out of Iowa is that Trump hurt himself by failing to put together a traditional campaign apparatus, that Cruz helped himself by putting together a great one, and that third-place Marco Rubio benefitted from a late burst of pragmatism within the Republican electorate. The results at the very least slow Trump’s juggernaut, and possibly reorient the primary into a real three-way race.

By relegating Trump to second, and even to the waters-edge of third, Cruz and Rubio both widened their paths to the nomination to unknown extent—and at an unknown expense to Trump, whose path narrowed.

Depending upon how the campaigns and Republican voters respond to Monday’s returns, the Trump campaign now faces either a bearish or a bullish outlook. And in many ways, despite the GOP elite’s celebratory mood, the prospect of a quick rebound is less farfetched than a sudden, terminal collapse.

The bullish case for Trump goes something like this. Despite his near-total disinterest in running a traditional Iowa ground game, Trump cobbled together a real and genuinely impressive constituency—at least for Iowa caucuses purposes. More Iowa Republicans voted for Trump last night than have voted for any Republican candidate in history—including Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and George W. Bush—except for Ted Cruz, who shattered the record.

This feat is even more impressive when you factor in the institutional heft behind his competitors’ campaigns. Cruz’s powerful operation was built upon the strength of his close ties to Iowa evangelicals, and to influential local conservatives like Representative Steve King. It’s not unusual for Iowans to support a religious-right tribune in the caucuses (Santorum, Huckabee)—and it’s also not unusual for the winner to ultimately lose the nomination.

Rubio ran a relatively spare campaign, but benefitted both from late but relentless conservative and mainstream media boosterism, and from an equally belated Republican paid-media campaign against Trump. Rubio became the establishment’s de facto candidate in the final week, and it propelled him from a distant third … to a less-distant third.

All of which is to say that caucuses place a premium on traditional campaign infrastructure in a way regular primaries don’t. Iowa is essentially rigged to depress turnout and present barriers to new participants. And yet Trump nearly won anyhow. If that is how Trump and his supporters internalize his Iowa showing, he will perform well in New Hampshire, possibly South Carolina as well, and become a singular force in Republican politics once again.

At the same time, the seeds of Trump’s potential demise are buried just below the surface of this analysis. Barriers or no barriers, Trump underperformed on Monday night. His supporters could prove to be disproportionately flaky in every state. It also may be the case, after all, that a sustained barrage of negative press can harm him. Correlation doesn’t prove causation, but it’s worth considering the possibility that the anti-Trump ads, which flooded the market in the campaign’s final days, contributed to his underwhelming performance.

He will face many more of them in the coming week. If Cruz and Rubio gain ground in New Hampshire, Trump will probably see his lead there narrow before next Tuesday’s primary. If we credit, for the sake of argument, his critics’ favorite but untested hypothesis that his bubble will burst now because it was inflated by the perception of his invincibility, then his own supporters will be discouraged by his second-place finish, and defect to other candidates, or drop out of the electorate altogether.

If these developments transpire, Trump will (finally! at last!) fade from dominance. His campaign will evaporate just as quickly as it materialized, and the race will be transformed into a gloves-off battle between Ted Cruz and the establishment. If he pulls through, though, Republican elites will quickly realize, like an ill-fated resident of Elm Street, that when they woke on Tuesday morning, they brought their nightmare with them.

 

By: Brian Beutler, The New Republic, February 2, 2016

February 3, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, GOP Presidential Candidates, Iowa Caucuses | , , , , , | 3 Comments

“When A Candidate Becomes A Media Darling”: Media Hype Creates Strange Expectations For Rubio

For much of Saturday, the political world was treated to the latest in a series of rounds of Marco Rubio Media Hype, featuring breathless stories about the senator’s “surge,” “momentum,” and inevitable “rise.” Credible new polling suggested the fawning coverage was misplaced, which curtailed the hype – for about an hour or two before it began anew.

This Politico piece, published yesterday, captured the oddity of the expectations surrounding the Florida senator’s prospects in Iowa, where the article claims Rubio “can lose to [Ted] Cruz on Monday and walk away looking like the winner.”

Somehow, against all the evidence, Rubio has successfully spun that he’s gunning only for third place here. In sharp contrast, Cruz’s campaign, touting its superior ground game, has openly pined for and predicted victory.

The result: In the closing hours before Monday’s caucuses, Iowa is suddenly fraught with risk for Cruz while Rubio, who sits comfortably in third in most public and private polling, is almost guaranteed to meet or beat diminished expectations.

My point is not to pick on Politico. On the contrary, this approach has quickly become the conventional wisdom across many news organizations and much of the political world.

What’s odd is why anyone would choose to see the race this way. When Politico says Team Rubio has “successfully spun … against all evidence,” it helps capture a curious dynamic: the media is effectively admitting that the media has come to believe something the media knows isn’t true, but will pretend is true anyway, for reasons no one wants to talk about.

As recently as mid-November – hardly ancient history – Rubio’s own campaign manager talked on the record about his belief that the senator might actually win the Iowa caucuses.

Barely two months later, however, we’re now supposed to believe that a third-place finish – which is to say, a loss – would be a great, momentum-creating triumph. It’s a claim that we’re all supposed to simply play along with, because the Hype Machine says so.

Coverage of campaigns can get downright weird when a candidate becomes a media darling.

For the record, I’m not saying Rubio will finish third; he might do significantly better. My point is we’re watching a silly “narrative” take root before voting even begins: a GOP candidate who expected to finish first in Iowa will have actually “won” if he comes in third, based on “spin” literally everyone involved recognizes as insincere nonsense.

There’s no reason to treat such assumptions as serious analysis.

Postscript: Just as an aside, if Rubio ends up doing very well in Iowa – or very well by the standards of pundits inclined to present the results in the most favorable light possible – future candidates may decide they don’t have to spend that much time in the Hawkeye State.

Remember, Rubio deliberately took a gamble on a risky path: fewer events, fewer on-the-ground staffers, a smaller field operation, more reliance on TV and packing in a bunch of appearances in the closing weeks. If that works for him, others will follow the example, and the Iowa caucuses may see some dramatic changes going forward.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 1, 2016

February 2, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Iowa Caucuses, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz | , , , | Leave a comment

“Trump Holds An Unflattering Mirror To GOP, Fox News”: The Important Message Is That Trump Dominated Fox News

The GOP debate he wasn’t attending hadn’t yet begun, but Donald Trump, safely tucked into the plush leather seats of his 757, declared himself the winner.

He was right.

Political commentators would spend the next several hours parsing his feud with Fox News host Megyn Kelly. They would rehash the more genteel tone of the GOP debate that went on without Trump and try to determine if he offended Iowa voters by not appearing at the debate in Des Moines, attending his own event a few miles down the road instead.

They were missing the point. The tiff had little to do with Trump fearing Kelly’s stern and persistent questions as one of the debate moderators. It had to do with Fox News boss Roger Ailes’ role as GOP kingmaker.

If you are going to run against the Republican establishment, that means running against Fox News. Trump knew it; Ailes knew it (which is why premier Fox talent scurried to placate Trump); and now everybody knows it.

Ailes built his network empire by defining it against the so-called mainstream media. At the same time, he was building it as a sort of “oppo” research and broadcast arm of the Republican Party, a talent incubator for conservative media stars and a source of comfy sinecures for past and aspiring Republican candidates. Whatever part of the Republican Party Fox News doesn’t own, it keeps in line with its ideological beat cops.

Fox News has been a great brand, but now Trump has decided he has to rough it up to build his own brand as a candidate. So far, it’s working.

Trump reiterated in interviews before the debate that he had to stand up to Fox News. This isn’t just the narcissistic bluster we’ve come to expect from Trump. It’s true. Forget about his counter-event and whether it succeeded or disappointed on its merits. The important message is that Trump dominated Fox News — and that is unprecedented.

The squabble with Fox News illustrates how Trump has become such an appealing candidate. It’s a peek into the brain under the pompadour.

A lot of what he does is shtick, as you might expect from someone with a background in pro wrestling and reality TV. Consider the interview he gave on his plane with CNN correspondent Brianna Keilar before taking the stage at his veterans event

“I was insulted by Fox,” he said, following a well-honed script. Of voters, he added: “I think they are going to say he’s the one person who stands up for himself. And we need that.”

Claim that you are being mistreated and disrespected by the political establishment — a victim, if you will. It takes a lot of chutzpah to do that when you’re Donald Trump. But that has been the script at Fox News since forever, and now Trump is making it his own.

Another Fox News trope that Trump has turned against the network is its grievance over political correctness. While for years the network (and conservatives generally) have prissily wailed against this form of supposed oppression, Trump has run his mouth and Twitter account, violating decorum and decency with reckless and unapologetic abandon. When he did so against Kelly, Fox News was put in the uncomfortable position of having to acknowledge that such standards should exist.

Fox News — and the Republican Party it has remade — likes to bully. Its audience likes to see it bully. Now comes the spectacle of Fox News and the Republicans being bullied, outright dominated by a free-lancer nobody took seriously. Democrats and Republicans alike may despise Trump, but he understands all too well the populist strategy that lifted Fox News and the Republican Party to commanding heights in American politics.

How do you take down this verbose bully? If you’re the Republicans, you probably can’t. The other GOP candidates can’t beat him at his own game. He’s too good and they’re so lame. The verbal ribs that the other candidates lobbed at Trump in his absence at the debate came off flat. Spontaneity and authenticity are not their forte. Political life has stilted them.

Trump is a different story. What you see is what you get, and it’s very entertaining.

Republicans can’t attack his simplistic prescriptions for foreign policy and the economy. (2,000-mile border wall? Deporting millions? Good luck with that.) Facts do not matter to the Republican base — and haven’t for some time. So appealing to reality is futile.

Substance is not what is drawing people to Trump. It’s the allure of strength, the thrill of watching somebody assert his will against the weak.

In the upside-down world that has become the 2016 race, it’s the leading Republican candidate that is showing us what a corrupt and sick institution his party has become.

 

By: Mary Sanchez, Opinion-Page Columnist for The Kansas City Star; The National Memo, February 1, 2016

February 2, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, Fox News | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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