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“Waiting For Their Nixon”: Reformicons Horrified To Look In The Political Mirror And See The Scary Clown Face Of Trump Leering Back

A small but influential group of conservative intellectuals hoped that this presidential cycle could produce a ice-breaking debate in the GOP ranks over the party’s iron commitment to certain economic and fiscal orthodoxies that had proved impolitic to middle class voters, including the white working class voters (remember “Sam’s Club Republicans”?) who had recently become a key segment of the party base.

Well, the “reformicons” got more than they bargained for. As Josh Barro’s New York Times op-ed over the weekend archly pointed out, the current GOP presidential front-runner shares their disdain for the old-time religion of tax cuts for the wealthy financed by “entitlement reform,” and the hostility many of them have for comprehensive immigration reform as well. But your typical urbane reformicon is horrified to look into the political mirror and see the scary clown face of Donald Trump leering back at him or her.

It’s an awkward thing: The reform conservative movement, to the extent it exists, is pointy-headed, technocratic and soft-spoken. Mr. Trump is none of those things. But his campaign has helped bolster a key argument from the reformocons: that many Republican voters are not devotees of supply-side economics and are more interested in the right kind of government than in a simply smaller one.

“There were a lot of people who wanted to think the Tea Party is a straightforward libertarian movement,” said Reihan Salam, the executive editor of National Review. But he said Mr. Trump’s ability to lead the polls while attacking Republicans for wanting to cut entitlement programs showed that conservative voters are open to “government programs that help the right people.”

Indeed, so long as “the right people” means their own selves and “the wrong people” are those people. It’s always been a bit ironic that the reformicons claim a sort of kinship to the Tea Party, but prefer pols like Marco Rubio even as the Tea Folk themselves gravitate to the Sarah Palins and the Donald Trumps. And so they are torn between the impulse to declare Trump-o-mania a vindication of their prophecies and the healthy desire to distance themselves from racist demagoguery. One very prominent reformicon Barro talked with, David Frum, has the obvious if unappealing analogy in mind:

In an analogy that won’t make anyone very comfortable, [Frum] said Mr. Trump could be useful in the same way George Wallace was in 1968: “Wallace talked about a lot of issues, many of them pretty dismaying, but he also seized on the crime issue. Crime was rising fast, and it was not an issue that respectable politicians wanted to talk about. The result was that Richard Nixon stole his issue and deracialized it.”

Well, not exactly. Pressed on whether Nixon’s anticrime language could really be considered deracialized, Mr. Frum argued Nixon “diminished its racialism and incorporated it into something like a workable policy agenda.”

If Mr. Trump is Wallace in this analogy, then the reform conservatives are still waiting for their Nixon. Whether that’s a hopeful prospect or an alarming one is up to you.

So reformicons are joining the ever-swelling ranks–right there next to an awful lot of Democrats–of those who view Trump the way some fifth century Christians viewed Attila the Hun–as a Scourge of God sent to rebuke arrogant and decadent imperial elites. But I’d advise they avoid mirrors.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, September 8, 2015

September 9, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Donald Trump, Reformicons | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Now Operating Entirely From A Position Of Strength”: Donald Trump Has The Republican Party In The Palm Of His Hand

On Thursday, Donald Trump signed a loyalty pledge to the Republican Party, stipulating that he would support whoever becomes the GOP’s presidential nominee and foreclose the option of mounting an independent or write-in or third-party candidacy. The purpose of the pledge was to bring Trump to heel. By announcing his decision publicly, and holding the signed pledge up to a thousand cameras, Trump gave the Republican party readymade and provocative attack ad material: In the event that he shirks the agreement, and mounts an independent candidacy at some point, Republicans can air footage that proves Trump broke his word.

There may be some solace in that, but the fact that he was willing to sign the pledge at all should alarm Republicans more than it soothes them. Trump wasn’t communicating to the party that its knock against him for threatening an independent run has been effective. To the contrary, it’s that he doesn’t think the threat is necessary anymore—that he’s now genuinely well-positioned to win the primary, rather than an insurgent threat who can be neutralized by party heavyweights.

This isn’t just a matter of polling—though the polling is consistent with it—but of the way Trump speaks about the pledge itself. He clearly doesn’t see it as an inviolable agreement, but rather as a way to keep the Republican Party from organizing to sabotage his candidacy.

“I really got nothing,” Trump said at a Thursday press conference in New York, speaking about his meeting with Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. “Absolutely nothing other than the assurance that I would be treated fairly…. I have no intention of changing my mind.”

He got nothing, in other words, aside from an all-purpose and unchallengeable exception, which will force party officials to constantly police one another to make sure they don’t give Trump the excuse he’ll need to launch an independent campaign.

Trump is now operating entirely from a position of strength.

As Slate’s Josh Voorhees noted, over the course of three months, the percentage of likely Iowa caucus goers who told survey takers for Bloomberg and the Des Moines Register that they would “never” support Trump collapsed, from 58 down to 29 percent. A nationwide Monmouth poll of Republican voters conducted a few days later found that Trump has completely reversed his dangerously low net favorables, from 20-55 in June to 59-29 today.

In head-to-head matches with nine other Republican candidates, Trump beats everybody except for Ben Carson. He trounces Jeb Bush 56-37, Marco Rubio, 52-38, and Scott Walker, 53-38, suggesting that as the field winnows, dark horse backers are more likely to migrate to Trump than to any of the establishment-friendly candidates.

This is in some ways no surprise. The right-wing vote has been a majority share of the primary electorate since the campaign began. But building a majority for an anti-establishment candidate seems easier than ever before. It can now be achieved, per Matt Bruenig, by combining the support of just three candidates: Trump, Carson, and Ted Cruz.

A few weeks ago, the best argument that Trump couldn’t win the nomination rested on the premise that his maximum support was too low, and that the party would array against him aggressively as the field narrowed. Trump has spoiled both premises. It is now easy to imagine Trump eclipsing 40 percent of the vote before the primaries begin, and ripping up that pledge if a panicky Republican Party responds by erecting obstacles to his victory. Right now, in the GOP primary campaign, the most pressing question has nothing to do with Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio or any of the people who were supposed to win. It’s whether Ben Carson can keep up the fight, or Donald Trump runs away with it.


By: Brian Beutler, Senior Editor, The New Republic, September 4, 2015

September 7, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Reince Priebus, Republican National Committee | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Way Institutions Work Is Irrelevant”: The Simple-Minded Populism That Controls The GOP

I’ve often been critical of “outsider” candidates who claim that their lack of experience in politics and government is precisely what will enable them to succeed in politics and government. Business-people seem particularly prone to believe that they can bring solutions that no one has ever contemplated before, and now Carly Fiorina is showing that she has some truly innovative policy ideas, after hearing from a veteran having trouble navigating the VA health system:

“Listen to that story,” Fiorina said. “How long has [VA] been a problem? Decades. How long have politicians been talking about it? Decades.”

Fiorina said she would gather 10 or 12 veterans in a room, including the gentleman from the third row, and ask what they want. Fiorina would then vet this plan via telephone poll, asking Americans to “press one for yes on your smartphone, two for no.”

“You know how to solve these problems,” she said, “so I’m going to ask you.”

I guess it took someone with Fiorina’s business savvy to come up with the idea to address complex policy challenges with a focus group followed by an “American Idol”-style telephone vote. If only we had thought of that before.

Seriously, this episode tells us a lot about the state of Republican populism these days.

It’s obviously important to understand the experience veterans have with the system if you’re going to determine where its biggest problems are. But the inane idea that that would be all you need to solve the problems of an enormous agency that spends billions of dollars and has thousands of employees is characteristic of a particular kind of conservative populism, one that seems to be expanding now that Donald Trump has taken control of the entire presidential race.

Both parties are drawn to populist appeals, but they come in different variants. The Democratic version tends to be both performative and substantive — they’ll rail against the top one percent, but also offer policy ideas like upper-income tax increases and minimum wage hikes that are intended to serve the interests of regular people. Democratic populism says that the problem is largely about power: who has it, who doesn’t, and on whose behalf it’s wielded.

Republican populism, on the other hand, is aimed against “elites” that are decidedly not economic. It’s the egghead professors, the Hollywood liberals, the government bureaucrats whom they tell their voters to resent and despise. And part of that argument is that despite what those know-it-all experts would have you believe, all our problems have simple and easy solutions. All you need is “common sense” to know how we should reform our health care system, fix the VA, or control undocumented immigration. Understanding how government works isn’t just unnecessary, it’s actually a hindrance to getting things done.

There may be no candidate who has ever sung this tune with quite the verve Trump does, but he’s following in a long tradition. Ronald Reagan used to say, “there are no easy answers, but there are simple answers” — all it takes is the courage to embrace them. George W. Bush trusted his gut more than his head, and saw a world where there are only good guys and bad guys; once you know who’s who, the path forward is clear and only a wuss would worry about the unintended consequences that might arise from things like invading foreign countries.

In its somewhat less extreme version, this belief in the simple truths that only regular folks can see is what drives the common belief that whatever’s wrong in Washington can be solved by bringing in someone from outside Washington. So Ted Cruz proudly trumpets the fact that all of his colleagues in the Senate think he’s a jerk. And Scott Walker criticizes his own party’s congressional leaders, saying, “We were told if Republicans got the majority there’d be a bill on the president’s desk to repeal ObamaCare. It is August. Where is that bill? Where was that vote?”

Well, the answer is that there’s this thing called a filibuster, which Democrats used to stop that bill from getting to the president’s desk, where it would have been vetoed anyway (the real problem is that those leaders promised their constituents something they knew they could never deliver). But in this particular populist critique, the way institutions work is irrelevant, and a straight-talking, straight-shooting Washington outsider can come in and clean the whole place up wielding nothing more than the force of his will, some common sense, and good old fashioned American gumption.

The real mystery is why voters would fall for this kind of claptrap again and again. If the Obama years have taught us anything, it’s that policy problems are — guess what — complicated. Understanding policy doesn’t get you all the way to solutions — you need a set of values that guides you and creativity in imagining change, among other things — but you can’t do without that understanding, at a minimum. Yet a significant chunk of voters continues to believe that everything is simple and easy, no matter how many times reality tells them otherwise.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, August 21, 2015

August 22, 2015 Posted by | Carly Fiorina, GOP, Populism | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Let ‘The Good Ones’ Return”: Why Donald Trump Is The Only GOP Presidential Hopeful Who Can Talk Straight On Immigration

Four years ago, deep within a process of convincing Republican primary voters that he was “severely conservative,” Mitt Romney declared that his solution for dealing with the millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States was “self-deportation” — in other words, making life so miserable for them that they’d prefer to return to the countries they fled from rather than stay here. The chairman of the Republican Party later called Romney’s words “horrific,” not so much out of some moral revulsion, but because they sent a clear message of hostility to Hispanic voters, the country’s largest minority group and one that is growing fast. Since then, most Republicans have acknowledged that they have to be careful about how they talk about those 11 million immigrants if they want to have any hope of winning the White House again.

Then along came Donald Trump, who isn’t careful about anything (other than that glorious and extremely delicate mane of hair). Barreling into the campaign, Trump said he’d deport all 11 million, then let “the good ones” return to the United States. How would the unfathomably complicated task of locating all those people, detaining them, and moving them back to their countries of origin be accomplished? “It’s feasible if you know how to manage,” he said. OK then.

Compared to Trump, the rest of the GOP candidates have been models of reason and thoughtfulness on this issue, and between them they’ve taken a couple of different positions on how to handle the undocumented. If comprehensive immigration reform ever happens, this will be one of its key components, so it’s important to know where they stand.

But first, what about the public? Gallup just released a survey that sheds some light on this question, showing both why Trump is getting support and why most of the other candidates are taking a different tack. Asked whether the government should “deport all illegal immigrants back to their home country, allow illegal immigrants to remain in the United States in order to work, but only for a limited amount of time, or allow illegal immigrants to remain in the United States and become U.S. citizens, but only if they meet certain requirements over a period of time,” a full 65 percent said they should be allowed to become citizens, and only 19 percent said they should be deported.

But right now, the GOP candidates aren’t seeking the support of the whole country, they’re going after the Republicans who might vote in upcoming primaries. Among Republicans, the numbers are different — but not as much as you might expect. Fifty percent of Republicans said there should be a path to citizenship, while 31 percent said they should be deported.

Thirty-one percent isn’t a majority, but it’s still a lot — and you could say the same about Trump’s support in the polls. Right now he’s averaging around 24 percent, and while there are certainly people supporting him who don’t agree with him on immigration (and those opposing him who do), if you want the candidate taking the clearest anti-immigrant stance, your choice is pretty clear.

So where do the other candidates come down? When you ask them about a path to citizenship you’ll inevitably get a complicated answer, but most of them say one of two things: either they support a path to citizenship, or they support a path to some other kind of legal status, but not citizenship itself.

Interestingly enough, among the candidates who take the latter position — the more conservative one — are the son of a Cuban immigrant and the husband of a Mexican immigrant. Ted Cruz may be the farthest to the right (other than Trump) — he spends a lot of time decrying “amnesty” — but if pressed will say that he’s open to some kind of restrictive work permit that would allow undocumented immigrants to stay in the country. Jeb Bush talks about a “path to legal status,” but pointedly says that the path does not end in citizenship, but rather in something that resembles a green card, allowing the immigrant to work and live in the U.S., but not be an American citizen. (Bush used to support a path to citizenship, but not anymore.)

Others have taken the same position. Carly Fiorina says that some legal status might be acceptable, but not citizenship. Rick Santorum not only opposes a path to citizenship, but wants to drastically curtail legal immigration as well. Chris Christie used to support a path to citizenship, but has since changed his mind. Rick Perry is also opposed to a path to citizenship, but doesn’t seem to have answered a specific question about the undocumented in some time.

Whenever any of them describes their path, whether to citizenship or some kind of guest worker status, it contains some key features. It winds over many years, involves paying fines and any back taxes, and also involves proving that the immigrant speaks English. The truth is that this last provision is completely unnecessary — this wave of immigrants is learning English no slower than previous waves did — but it’s actually an important way for voters with complex feelings about immigration to feel less threatened and be reassured that the immigrants will become American.

For most of the candidates, the end of the long process is indeed citizenship. Scott Walker, after a bunch of incoherent and seemingly contradictory statements, finally said that he could eventually foresee a path to citizenship, once the border is secure (more on that in a moment). Marco Rubio will describe for you an intricate process that ends in citizenship, even if he seems reluctant to say so (Rubio was essentially cast out of the Tea Party temple after he proposed a comprehensive reform bill, which he has since dropped). Rand Paul has essentially the same position — he describes a path to citizenship, but doesn’t like using the word. Bobby Jindal also supports a path to citizenship, as does Mike Huckabee, and John Kasich, and George Pataki, and Lindsey Graham, who has even said that he would veto any immigration reform bill that didn’t contain a path to citizenship for the undocumented. Ben Carson has been vague on the subject, and as far as I can tell no one has asked Jim Gilmore.

But don’t get the idea that any of these candidates are all that eager to move undocumented immigrants down that path too quickly. All of them say we need to “secure the border” before we even begin talking about how undocumented immigrants might eventually become citizens. And they seldom elaborate on what “securing” the border would mean. Would it mean not a single person could sneak over? If not, then what? In practice, they could always say that we can’t get started on laying that path to citizenship because the border is not yet secure.

What all this makes clear is that you have to pay very close attention to understand what most of the candidates actually want to do, and even then you might not be completely sure. And even if there are plenty of Republican voters who would like to see a path to citizenship, at this point their voices are far quieter than the ones complaining about the invading horde. So if a Republican gets elected next fall, I wouldn’t expect him to be in too much of a hurry to create a way for undocumented immigrants to eventually become Americans under the law.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, August 17, 2015

August 18, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, Immigration | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“An Outdated Reference”: Millennials Don’t Really Remember Ronald Reagan, And That’s A Problem For The Reagan-Loving GOP

In the summer of 2004, when I was 16, Ronald Reagan died. Washington, D.C., was within driving distance of our home, so when my mom proposed we go see the former president lying in state in the Capitol, I was game.

But that experience is about the extent to which he features in my political consciousness. Since then, I’ve become more and more interested in politics and less and less interested in Ronald Reagan. It’s not that I’m anti-Gipper — though I have been known to make a few Zombie Reagan jokes with each passing election cycle. It’s just that fealty to Reagan is not the measuring stick I naturally reach for when evaluating a candidate.

I don’t think this Reagan apathy is unique to me. I’m a decade older than 2016’s first-time voters, who were born in — oh geez — 1998. When I was visiting the Capitol, they were getting ready to graduate from kindergarten. So if Ronald Reagan appears but dimly in my political consciousness, he’s almost on par with Millard Fillmore for them.

At best, Reagan might be a George Washington-type figure for some millennials: He’s got some good quotes and we may have vaguely positive feelings about him, but when it comes to concrete policy decisions, Reagan fades into the background, eclipsed by more recent figures and considerations.

This may be due to the way high school history is taught, with minimal attention given to everything post-Marshall Plan. (I left an Advanced Placement history class with no idea who or what an Iran-Contra was.) But I suspect a more significant factor is simply the passage of time: Reagan left the White House 10 years before this election’s new voters were born. At 18, that’s more than half a lifetime. Add to that the breakneck pace at which the modern news cycle moves and you have a perfect recipe for Reagan’s near irrelevance to the bulk of the younger generation.

No one at Republican headquarters seems to have really absorbed this fact yet, even though the voters who can remember Reagan are not the ones the GOP needs to worry about attracting.

Indeed, for Republican presidential candidates, appeals to Reagan’s legacy are de rigueur. Donald Trump, Bobby Jindal, and Ted Cruz are all eager to cite Reagan as the greatest president in recent history — even when that’s not the question they were asked. Carly Fiorina published an effusive blog post praising Reagan on his birthday during her 2010 Senate campaign; Rick Perry echoes his speeches; Rubio quotes Reagan quoting obscure quotes. Rand Paul mentions Reagan often on topics ranging from taxes to Iran, though he has been willing to call out Reagan’s intemperate fiscal policy.

Jeb Bush, to his credit, said in 2009 that Republicans should abandon the Reagan nostalgia for a more forward-thinking message. But so far his campaign isn’t living up to that hype — Bush has even hired numerous Reagan advisers to his own team. Similarly, Mike Huckabee argued in 2011 that Reagan would not be elected by the modern GOP, only to announce a “Reagan, Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II Tour” tour for pastors from early primary states. And Rick Santorum pointed out last year that Reagan is an outdated reference, but just two months earlier he’d all but claimed the Reagan mantle for himself.

And that’s the heart of the problem: that there exists such an idea as the “Reagan mantle,” and that it’s desired even by Republicans who seem to get that Reagan may not be the best campaign icon in 2015.

This is bad marketing for an aging party that struggles to appeal to young people, but it’s even worse for policy innovation. As Jim Antle has ably argued at The American Conservative, appeals to the idealized Reagan of the Republican establishment’s memory have led to an excessively hawkish, unthoughtful GOP that values economic freedom while discounting civil liberties (a defining issue for millennials, who aren’t exactly on board with Reagan’s acceleration of the drug war, either).

Of course, political movements need motivational figures, and conservatives are particularly inclined to be inspired by and committed to the past.

But the invocation of Reagan in the Republican Party today is a malleable shorthand for “things we like,” as the real Reagan’s legacy is reduced to a myth of low taxes and aggressive foreign policy. As Richard Gamble writes, it is difficult to “point to any concrete evidence that the Reagan Revolution fundamentally altered the nation’s trajectory toward bloated, centralized, interventionist government,” and keeping Reagan around as a tired symbol of small government makes it similarly difficult to progress toward that goal — or capture the interest of the next generation.


By: Bonnie Kristian, The Week, June 2, 2015

June 3, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Millennnials, Ronald Reagan | , , , , | 1 Comment

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