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“Will Trump Go Away If He Loses?”: You Cannot Keep The Baby Without The Bathwater

A very interesting argument has broken out over an unusual political question: If Donald Trump loses in November, can he be pushed aside while Republicans find ways to appeal to his core supporters?

Party gadfly David Frum seems to assume Trump will go away quietly:

[O]nce safely excluded from the presidency, Donald Trump will no longer matter. His voters, however, will. There is no conservative future without them.

Frum, to his credit, was warning Republicans for years that the GOP’s indifference to the actual views of its actual voters on the economy and immigration would eventually become a critical problem. He was right. So he has some credibility in seeking to craft a policy agenda and message that scratches the itch Trump scratched with so much excessive force.

But that doesn’t mean Trump won’t have anything to say about it.

Jeet Heer isn’t a Republican but makes a good point in responding to Frum that you cannot keep the baby without the bathwater when it comes to Trump’s fans:

[W]ill Trump really cease to matter in November? After all, no human being loves the spotlight more, and he’s chased after media attention since he was a young man. Being the nominee of a major party is a dream job for him, because it means people will hang on his every word. Even if he loses badly in November, Trump will likely cling to his status as the strangest “party elder” ever—and convert it into new, attention-grabbing and lucrative projects.

Fortunately for Republicans, the old tradition of referring to the immediate past presidential nominee as the “titular head” of the party has fallen into disuse. But presidential nominees rarely just go away. Perhaps the most self-atomizing recent major-party nominee was Democrat Michael Dukakis. But his demise after 1988 was not strictly attributable to his loss of what most Democrats considered a winnable general-election race against George H.W. Bush; his last two years as governor of Massachusetts also made a terrible mockery of his claims of an economic and fiscal “miracle.” And, besides, nobody thought of Dukakis as ideologically distinctive or as leading any sort of political “movement.”

The bottom line is that the same media tactics that improbably made Trump a viable presidential candidate in the first place will help him stay relevant even after a general-election loss, unless (a) it is of catastrophic dimensions and (b) cannot be blamed on tepid party Establishment support for the nominee.

If Trump loses so badly that he does indeed become irrelevant, then people like Frum will have another problem: competing with those who want to dismiss the whole Trump phenomenon as a freak event with no real implications for the Republican future. And yes, such people will be thick on the ground, attributing the loss to Trump’s abandonment of strict conservative orthodoxy on the very issues Frum thinks were responsible for the GOP alienation of its white working-class base from the get-go. There will be show trials and witch hunts aimed not just at Donald Trump and his most conspicuous supporters and enablers, but also at people like Frum — and more broadly, the Reformicon tribe of which he is often regarded as a key member — who think Trump was revealing important shortcomings of the orthodoxy many others will be trying to restore.

So, ironically, and even tragically, #NeverTrumper David Frum may discover that Trump will not only still be around, but could wind up on his side of the intra-party barricades.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, July 6, 2016

July 7, 2016 Posted by | Conservatives, Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Duck And Cover”: To GOP Swiftboaters, “Democratic Socialism” Is A Politically Correct Term For ‘Handouts’ In The ‘Hood’

Do the folks who are concerned that Bernie Sanders would be swiftboated in a general election have a point?

Just as it is an article of faith among Sanders supporters that Democratic presidential rival Hillary Clinton is a “corporatist” who will stab progressives in the front if she becomes the 45th president, so too is it received wisdom among Clinton supporters that Sanders would be snapped in half by right-wing media/political operatives if he pulls off a political miracle and upsets Clinton for the Democratic nomination; the usual argument is that right-wing media/political operatives would exploit Sanders’s self-classification as a “democratic socialist” to run roughshod over him on November 8.

Yes, it’s true that right-wing media/political operatives labeled Obama a socialist in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, and the attack failed. However, it’s also true that Obama never labeled himself a socialist, democratic or otherwise.

Would Sanders really be a sitting duck in the fall? Sanders supporters point to polls showing that the Vermonter would be a stronger general-election candidate. However, Clinton supporters would obviously point out that Michael Dukakis was 17 points ahead of George H. W. Bush in the 1988 presidential election before right-wing media/political operatives unsheathed their machetes.

It is not irrational to be concerned that right-wing media/political operatives will exploit Sanders’s difficulties with black voters in a general election, promoting the idea that a Sanders administration will try to curry favor with African-Americans by lavishing largesse upon communities of color at the expense of working-class whites (especially the ones who have gravitated to Donald Trump). Right-wing media/political operatives (with Fox leading the charge, of course) will not hesitate to push the notion that “democratic socialism” is a politically correct term for “handouts in the ‘hood”; one cannot blithely dismiss the idea that a certain percentage of the voters who now say they would support Sanders over a Republican rival in a general election would be successfully seduced by relentless right-wing racial rhetoric in the weeks prior to Election Day.

Right-wing media attacks would not be Sanders’s only problem in a general election. It’s quite likely that mainstream-media outlets will also paint Sanders in the most negative light possible, in retaliation for Sanders’s extensive criticism of corporate-owned media entities. Presumably, the “corporate media” organizations the Vermonter has denounced would not be thrilled with the prospect of a President Sanders spending four to eight years condemning them daily from the bully pulpit of the White House, and encouraging Americans to stop reading and watching publications and programs connected to conglomerates. It’s entirely possible that mainstream-media outlets will be every bit as harsh as the conservative media will be towards Sanders, albeit for different reasons. You can imagine the perspective of the “corporate media” in this respect: Hey, Sanders isn’t being fair towards us; why the heck should we be fair towards him?

Does Team Sanders have a plan in place for dealing with tag-team trashing from conservative media and mainstream media in the event Sanders does the impossible and defeats Clinton for the Democratic nomination? If not, then the general-election savaging of Sanders will be remembered as the political equivalent of the chainsaw scene in Scarface.

 

By: D. R. Tucker, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 16, 2016

April 16, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Socialists, General Election 2016, Right Wing Media | , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“Revolution Incorporated”: How Clinton Can Bring Sanders Supporters Into The Fold

With the Republican presidential race careening toward a fractious convention in Cleveland and Donald Trump warning of riots, the coming Democratic convention has garnered little comment. But don’t expect Philadelphia to be all brotherly love. Reconciling Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and their respective camps, will take some work.

Yes, modern party conventions have been turned into slickly packaged made-for-TV unity fests: Carefully vetted speakers deliver carefully crafted messages, while any disagreements are settled off-camera. And yes, Barack Obama and Clinton made amends after a bitter primary season eight years ago. But there’s far more ideological conflict between this year’s candidates than between Clinton and Obama in 2008.

The most likely scenario at this point is that Clinton will be the nominee but Sanders will arrive in Philadelphia with a formidable number of delegates. In that case, the closest parallel is when Michael Dukakis overcame Jesse Jackson’s insurgent movement in 1988. That year didn’t end well for the Democrats, but it offers some useful lessons about achieving party unity, allowing ideological differences and generating passion.

Like Sanders, Jackson stunned the party establishment with a strong showing in the primary race. He won 13 primaries and caucuses and 7 million votes, amassing 1,200 delegates. Also like Sanders, he electrified young Americans. He helped register legions of new voters and outperformed Dukakis with voters under 30.

Going into the convention, Jackson and his followers demanded recognition for what they had built. They wanted Dukakis to acknowledge that they were integral to the Democratic coalition. They sought debate over the direction of the party and the country. And they thought Jackson had earned serious consideration for the vice presidency. Jackson delayed his endorsement, waiting for respect to be paid.

Dukakis, meanwhile, was eager to focus on the general election. He was tired of dealing with Jackson and intent on proving that he would stand up to him. He snubbed Jackson in his running-mate selection, and, by blunder or calculation, failed to tell Jackson before news leaked that he’d tapped Sen. Lloyd Bentsen. When Jackson learned of the pick from a reporter, he didn’t hesitate to broadcast his grievances, capitalizing on the six busloads of reporters that accompanied his caravan from Chicago to the convention in Atlanta. He suggested that he might contest Bentsen’s nomination at the convention. When he arrived, he was greeted by thousands of activists ready to march at a nod of his head.

Only as the convention got underway did Dukakis finally meet with Jackson. At a negotiated “unity” news conference, Dukakis promised that Jackson would be involved in the campaign “actively and fully in a way that will bring us together and that will build the strongest grass-roots organization.”

Jackson met with his delegates that morning and convinced them to keep their powder dry. “We came looking for noble works, not fireworks,” he told them. “Not show business, but serious business.” As William Greider wrote at the time for Rolling Stone: “Jackson’s speech was as deft as anything I’ve ever seen a politician achieve with his listeners — building their commitment to future struggles and simultaneously cooling them out about the one they had just lost.” A less-skilled orator might not have been able to pull it off. And a less-committed Democrat might not have wanted to.

Sanders, too, will finish the primary contest with an army of impassioned supporters eager for recognition of their revolution — some even urging a third-party run. Clinton’s campaign operatives will want Sanders to step back, salute and turn his fire on the Republican nominee. But Sanders will be in a position to determine what happens in Philadelphia and will have major influence on whether his supporters turn out for the nominee. Respect must be paid.

In contrast to Jackson in ’88, Sanders has no interest in the vice presidency. His focus is on the direction of the party. “When people respond by the millions to your message, then that message is now mainstream,” Sanders recently told the New Yorker. “That changes political reality. Smart politicians like Hillary Clinton and anybody else have got to move where the action is, and the action is on those issues that I’ve been raising.”

Like Sanders, Jackson built his campaign around a fundamental challenge to the party’s timid agenda, calling for raising taxes on the rich and corporations, reducing military spending, increasing social spending, and barring the first use of nuclear weapons. When Jackson continued to press this agenda beyond the primaries and ahead of the convention, some Democrats accused him of being divisive. Jackson countered: “We grow through debate and deliberation. We can have unity without uniformity.”

The Dukakis camp incorporated some of Jackson’s agenda into the party platform, though it was often masked in vague language. At the convention, three additional measures went to the floor for debate, including the first call for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. And in his prime-time speech, Jackson challenged the party’s direction, even as he praised Dukakis. Disagreements were aired, but the convention ended with Jackson’s family joining those of Dukakis and Bentsen on the stage in unity.

In Philadelphia, Sanders will demand a debate over the platform. He’ll push for rule changes, particularly curbing the role of unelected superdelegates. He will seek floor votes on key issues in dispute. His ideas, in fact, will have the support of most of the delegates. And he’ll get a prime-time address to make his case.

The Clinton campaign would be well advised to embrace some of Sanders’s ideas and graciously endure public debate on others. Endorsing tuition-free public college would generate excitement. Banning super PACs in Democratic primaries would acknowledge Sanders’s challenge to big money. Floor debates on issues such as breaking up big banks, national health care, a $15 minimum wage and the right to a union may be inevitable.

As 1988 demonstrated, unity doesn’t require the suppression of conflicting ideas. In fact, the nominee may be better served by being big enough to allow an airing of the party’s differences. Sanders has won a staggering percentage of young voters, the future of the party. They are more likely to stay engaged if they see their champion and their causes given a hearing and making headway at the convention.

One final lesson from 1988: While unity at the convention provides peace, it doesn’t promise passion.

Dukakis left Atlanta with a double-digit lead in the polls over George H.W. Bush. He was hailed for unifying the party and for “handling” Jackson. Jackson stumped across the country for the ticket, registering black voters and rousing audiences wherever he went. But Dukakis continued to frame the general election as a question of — and this may sound familiar — competence, not direction. As Rolling Stone’s Greider warned at the time: “Running for president on a promise to be competent and honest is thin gruel.”

Indeed, Dukakis sank after the convention, undermined by his own missteps and a viciously negative Bush campaign, featuring the infamous race-based Willie Horton ads. In November, he lost in a low-turnout election, with black participation falling even more than that of the general population.

Sanders has vowed to endorse Clinton if she gets the nomination. But he can’t transfer the passion he has generated to her. She’ll have to figure out how to inspire those voters or depend on the Republican nominee to terrify them into the voting booths.

 

By: Robert Borosage , President of The Institute for America’s Future; Opinion Page, The Washington Post, March 25, 2016

March 27, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic National Convention, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Hoodwinked”: Rumsfeld, Cheney, And A Bush-Family Drama

There’s something oddly Shakespearean about all of this.

Former President George H. W. Bush has ignited Republican infighting by alleging in an upcoming biography that former Vice President Dick Cheney formed his “own empire” within the White House and evolved into an “iron-ass” on foreign policy while serving in George W. Bush’s administration.

According to The New York Times, the 41st president is highly critical of Cheney and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in the book, with the elder Bush slamming both men for having ”served the president badly.”

Cheney, you’ll recall, was the defense secretary for George H.W. Bush before he became George W. Bush’s vice president. But Bush pere has come to believe this latest version of Cheney is “very different” from the one “he knew and worked with.”

The elder Bush was even less kind towards Rumsfeld, whom the former president sees as “arrogant” and lacking in “humility.”

In response, Rumsfeld today responded, “Bush 41 is getting up in years and misjudges Bush 43, who I found made his own decisions.”

For the record, Rumsfeld is an 83-year-old man. Not to put too fine a point on this, but hearing an 83-year-old flippantly dismiss the concerns of a 91-year-old because the latter is “getting up in years” seems a little ridiculous.

Making this a little stranger still, H.W. Bush suggested he wasn’t altogether pleased with some of his son’s phrases, most notably “axis of evil,” during his presidency. “I do worry about some of the rhetoric that was out there – some of it his, maybe, and some of it the people around him,” he said of W. Bush.

This led Jeb Bush to defend his brother against his father’s mild rebuke. The former governor told MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt, “My brother’s a big boy. His administration was shaped by his thinking, his reaction to the attack on 9/11. I think my dad, like a lotta people that love George wanna try to create a different narrative perhaps just to – just ‘cause that’s natural to do, right?”

Jeb added, “As it relates to Dick Cheney, he served my brother well as vice president, and he served my dad extraordinarily well as security of defense.”

Update: In H.W. Bush’s book, he also refers to his 1988 rival, former Gov. Michael Dukakis (D), as a “midget nerd.” Some of the instincts that did not serve Bush well during his White House tenure, regrettably, never went away.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 5, 2015

November 6, 2015 Posted by | Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, George H. W. Bush | , , , , , | 4 Comments

“This Is An Old Story”: Presidential Debates Often Stink. But It Has Nothing To Do With ‘Liberal Media Bias’

Republicans are divided about many things, but one thing they all agree on is that the news media are out to get them, and when they fail, it isn’t their own fault, it’s because of the dastardly liberal media. So it was that the biggest applause in last night’s debate came when Ted Cruz unloaded all the righteous indignation he could muster on the moderators of the debate.

“The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media,” he thundered. “How about talking about the substantive issues the people care about?” He added that it was the result of liberal bias, noting: “The contrast with the Democratic debate, where every fawning question from the media was, ‘Which of you is more handsome and why?’”

He wasn’t alone. “I know the Democrats have the ultimate SuperPac. It’s called the mainstream media,” said Marco Rubio. Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie added their own media critiques.

And they’re half right. There were plenty of problems with many of the questions the candidates got asked. But it has nothing to do with liberal bias.

This is an old story. Republicans began complaining about media bias back in the 1970s, and you can count on every losing presidential candidate to begin whining about it within a couple of weeks of their defeat. The idea that the media are biased against Republicans has been woven deeply into conservative ideology, to the point where they’ll trot out the assertion on every issue, whether there’s any evidence to support it or not.

Let’s take, for example, Cruz’s assertion that the Democrats got softball questions in their first debate. That wasn’t how I remembered it, so I went back and read the transcript. Here are some of those softballs. To Hillary Clinton: “Plenty of politicians evolve on issues, but even some Democrats believe you change your positions based on political expediency…Will you say anything to get elected?” And the follow-up: “Do you change your political identity based on who you’re talking to?”

To Bernie Sanders: “You call yourself a democratic socialist. How can any kind of socialist win a general election in the United States?” To Martin O’Malley: “Why should Americans trust you with the country when they see what’s going on in the city that you ran for more than seven years?” To Jim Webb: “Senator Webb, in 2006, you called affirmative action ‘state-sponsored racism.’ In 2010, you wrote an op/ed saying it discriminates against whites. Given that nearly half the Democratic Party is non-white, aren’t you out of step with where the Democratic Party is now?”

Those were the first questions each candidate got. The question to Clinton presumed she’s a phony, the question to Sanders presumed he’s an unelectable extremist, the question to O’Malley presumed he left Baltimore in tatters, and the question to Webb presumed he doesn’t belong in his party.

Like the CNBC debate, the first Democratic one had some good questions and some silly ones. But the defining characteristic of almost every debate in recent years is that the journalists doing the questioning go out of their way to try to create drama.

Sometimes they do it by saying “Let’s you and him fight,” encouraging the candidates to criticize each other. Sometimes they do it with the old Tim Russert technique of accusing candidates of hypocrisy and seeing whether they can worm their way out of it (which is no more enlightening now than it was when Russert was employing it). Sometimes they do it by asking candidates who are behind or falling in the polls why things are going so badly, which never yields anything more interesting than the opportunity to watch the candidate squirm a little. Sometimes they do it by asking trap questions of the “Have you stopped beating your wife?” variety, which have no good answers. Sometimes they do it with inane personal queries (“What’s your favorite Bible verse?”) that test nothing more than the candidate’s ability to say something forgettably banal.

In every case, the question involves more of a pose of confrontation than actual journalistic toughness, which would involve taking the candidates’ ideas seriously, forcing them to be specific where they’d rather be vague, and holding them accountable for not just their gaffes but the consequences of what they propose to do.

So how did we get here? I put the blame for this problem on the late Bernard Shaw. Televised presidential debates started in 1960, and while there were a couple of dramatic moments in debates prior to 1988, they arose in organic and unpredictable ways. But Shaw taught his successors that the questioner could manufacture a dramatic moment with the right question. Be clever enough about it, and your incisive query would be repeated on every news show and in every newspaper for days.

In 1988, Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis had been a lifelong opponent of the death penalty, a topic of substantial discussion on the campaign trail. As the moderator of the second debate between Dukakis and George H.W. Bush, Shaw could have explored this topic in any number of ways. With the debate’s first question, he said, “Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?”

When Dukakis answered by explaining for the umpteenth time why he opposed the death penalty, reporters declared it a huge “gaffe,” presumably on the rationale that in order to have answered the question properly, Dukakis should have said, “Well, if it was my wife, I’d completely change my position on the issue!”, or perhaps that he should have shouted, “I’d rip him limb from limb, I tell ya!” They never explained exactly what the proper answer should have been, but they declared Dukakis a heartless automaton for not showing enough emotion in answering Shaw’s idiotic question.

And Shaw himself was proud of his heroic effort. “I was just doing my job, asking that question,” he said years later. “I thought of Murrow taking on McCarthy. That was the essence of what I wanted to be: Fearless, not afraid of the scorching bite of public criticism.”

Ever since, the journalists who serve on these debate panels have tried to frame questions in ways they think will create those dramatic moments everyone will be talking about the next day. But it almost never works.

The CNBC debate featured some good questions, some terrible ones, and a bunch that were somewhere in between. The next debate will probably not be much different. One thing we know for sure is that no matter what, Republicans will complain that the media are biased against them, and their supporters will cheer.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, October 29, 2015

October 30, 2015 Posted by | Liberal Media, Mainstream Media, Presidential Debates | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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