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“It’s Part Of The Culture”: Carson’s Implosion Is A Reflection Of The Con Artistry That Has Overtaken The GOP

Ben Carson’s presidential campaign is imploding. One could argue that that’s the result of a candidate in freefall: things always get ugly when a campaign is losing ground in the polls, and staff shakeups are inevitable. But the way that Carson’s campaign has imploded is yet another window into the way the GOP has allowed itself to be run into the ground by charlatans of all kinds.

To begin with, as a politician Ben Carson himself is something of a fraud. By all accounts an eminently successful neurosurgeon, Carson parlayed his story of success into a grander overarching narrative that every person of color could overcome structural racism by sheer dint of hard work and determination, plus an abiding faith in God. His story became mythologized, played out on stage and on film as an example of the model minority.

But Carson, like many successful specialists, is not exactly well-rounded in his knowledge of life and the world. He drew the wrong political conclusions from his rise in the medical field, and grew to believe in his own hype–not just that he had a knack for neurosurgery, but that he was a genius in all respects and specially guided by the hand of God. Without even a political science undergraduate’s knowledge of either domestic or foreign policy, Carson decided that he was qualified to be President of the United States–and that his utter lack of policy ken or experience would be unimportant, irrelevant and undiscovered. And if he failed as a presidential candidate? There would always be a right-wing media circuit and book tour available.

In typical fashion for such a candidate, he allowed close friends and confidants to dominate his campaign instead of people who actually knew what they were doing. In particular, he trusted key decisions to Armstrong Williams, a media maven, radio jockey and advertising executive who has rather transparently been using the Carson campaign as his own vehicle for professional advancement. That in turn led to comically bad candidate preparation and campaign decision-making, with the direct result that Carson’s staff is engaged in a mass exodus.

But this shouldn’t surprise anyone. The libertarian-conservative ethic of “get rich any way you can” combined with a stubborn dismissal of objective fact makes political conservatism especially ripe for con artistry. It is no accident that Richard Viguerie was able to conduct his mail fundraising scams on the backs of GOP voters. It’s no accident that the tea party has been home to one grifter after another making a quick buck. American conservatism is the home of quack televangelists and secular Ayn Rand-spouting hucksters alike. Fox News itself is a long con perpetrated on fearful, older white Americans with the goal of making Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes rich while keeping Republican politicians in power. Donald Trump is merely the latest in a long line of egomaniacal scammers willing to play the same group of people for fools.

It should shock no one, then, that GOP presidential campaigns themselves are being waged by con artists, and themselves fall victim to media-hungry carnival barkers. It’s part of the culture.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 2, 2015

January 3, 2016 Posted by | Ben Carson, GOP Primaries, GOP Voters | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“It Never Pays To Give Bullies What They Want”: Will The Press Recognize The Existential Threat And Fight Back, Or Buckle Under?

It should astonish even the jaded that Republicans are calling CNBC, that stodgy home of supply-side Wall Street cheerleading, an agent of the left.

Still apoplectic at being asked some basic questions at the debate, Republican candidates are doubling down on their freakout.

Ted Cruz is flat-out calling CNBC debate moderators “left-wing operatives” and demanding that right-wing radio hosts moderate their debates, instead.

Donald Trump, who openly lied during the debate about what is on his own website, called debate moderator John Harwood a “dope” and a “fool.”

All of this after Republican candidates spewed forth one of the most embarrassing explosion of lies ever witnessed during a television presidential debate.

The press is facing an existential threat. With Republicans increasingly unashamed to tell grandiose lies and respond to any press criticism with derogatory insults and whines about media bias as well as blackmail threats to cancel appearances if the questions are too tough, the press must decide how to respond on two fronts. First, it must decide how to present an objective face while acknowledging that both sides do not, in fact, behave equally badly. Second, it must determine whether it will continue to ask the tough questions that need answers regardless of the threats made by the GOP, or whether it will meekly submit to the demands for kid-glove treatment.

If the press chooses to assuage and give comfort to the GOP, it will lose what little credibility it has left. The Republican base will never accept mainstream journalists as fair arbiters–but the rest of us will lose what little respect we still have for them. If the press stands up to the bullies and calls out GOP tactics and untruths for what they are, they will gain in respect what they lose from conservative hatemongers in the perceived objectivity department.

The choice is clear: stand strong and call out the lies as they are, or fall further into the abyss as the Republican Party ramps up its threats and insults. It never pays to give a bully what they want, unless the bully has absolute power over you. The GOP does not hold that sort of power over the press. Indeed, the GOP has far more to fear from the press than the other way around.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, November 1.2015

November 2, 2015 Posted by | GOP Primary Debates, Press, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Insufficiently Conservative”: It Doesn’t Matter Who The Next Speaker Is Because This Is A Permanent Conservative Rebellion

Many Republicans are looking at what’s happening in the House of Representatives right now with something between consternation and horror. The party is tearing itself apart, unable to pick a leader for one of its key institutional bases of power and riven by disagreements that seem unbridgeable.

But you want to know who isn’t upset about all this? The ultra-conservative members who are driving it, not to mention the conservative organizations and media figures who are cheering them on. They’re having a blast.

The most important thing to understand about what’s happening now is that this is a permanent rebellion. It has its demands, both substantive and procedural, but those demands aren’t the point, and if they were met, new ones would be forthcoming. For the people behind the chaos, rebellion itself is the point. It’s about the fight, not about the outcome of that fight. They will never stop rebelling.

That’s why it doesn’t really matter much who actually ends up in the Speaker’s chair. Whoever that Speaker is, he’ll be judged inadequate, not enough of a fighter, too willing to roll over. After all, no matter who he is or what he does (and yes, I’m assuming it will be a man, because there aren’t any viable female candidates at this point), he won’t successfully repeal Obamacare, or send all the illegals away, or slash taxes rates, or outlaw abortion, or pound his gavel until the thunderous vibrations reach down Pennsylvania Avenue and drive that usurper Barack Obama out of the White House and back to Chicago. In the eyes of the rebels, the next Speaker will fail, just like his predecessor did. And the rebellion will have to continue.

Speculation today centers around Paul Ryan, who commands a good deal of respect within the caucus. Though Ryan has said repeatedly that he isn’t interested in being Speaker — he’s now chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, a powerful position he sought for some time — he is coming under intense pressure from colleagues to accept the post. Here’s how Paul Kane and Robert Costa described the state of affairs this morning:

By mid-afternoon, outgoing speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) had spoken to Ryan at least twice, trying to convince the reluctant congressman that he was the only man who could save House Republicans from their self-created chaos.

By day’s end, after hunkering down for two hours in his ceremonial office a few steps from the House floor, after listening to pleas from friends to take the reins of the bitterly divided Republican caucus, he emerged, declining to explicitly state his plans…

As they voted on the House floor late Thursday, Ryan was besieged by his GOP colleagues. As the lawmakers huddled, Ryan aides canceled his fundraising and political events for the next 48 hours, a move interpreted by his friends as a signal that he had gone from a hard “no” to undecided after speaking with Boehner.

The latest statement from Ryan’s office reiterates: “Chairman Ryan appreciates the support he’s getting from his colleagues but is still not running for Speaker.” Of course, this could still change.

The assumption among many is that Ryan could be a unifying figure, the only one who could bring together the fractious caucus. But not only is there no particular reason to think that’s true, his potential candidacy for Speaker is already dividing the party.

Ryan is being promoted by establishment sources like the Wall Street Journal editorial page and the National Review, which in itself is being read by the rebels as a reason to reject him. Influential radio host Laura Ingraham tweeted: “Are they talking abt the same Paul Ryan who once lost a VP debate to JOE BIDEN?” She added, “Chaos? Only if you are bought and paid for by the Establishment. Cathartic for most.” “Paul Ryan Is The Absolute Worst Choice For Speaker,” says Brietbart.com, explaining that he’s really a weakling who’ll knuckle under just like John Boehner did.

The House Freedom Caucus, which has become the center of the rebellion, has a document outlining its current demands in the form of a questionnaire for any potential Speaker, which includes things like not raising the debt ceiling without “significant structural entitlement reforms” (i.e. cutting and restructuring Medicare and Social Security); shutting down the government unless they can defund Planned Parenthood, repeal Obamacare, invalidate the Iran deal, and more; and perhaps most importantly, a series of process “reforms” that would take power away from the Speaker to determine how legislation proceeds and distribute it around to all the members of the caucus. They seem to want to ensure not only that the next Speaker is someone disinclined to make compromises with the Senate or the White House, but that he won’t be able to even if he wanted to.

They’re not going to get all that from the next Speaker, which they surely know. But deep down that’s probably okay with them, because in a way, not getting what they want is exactly what they want. They didn’t come to Washington to write legislation and craft policy. They came to fight — to fight Barack Obama, and just as important (if not more so), to fight their own party’s leadership. Many of them won their seats in the first place by either challenging incumbent Republicans who were deemed insufficiently conservative and confrontational, or besting a field of primary contenders by proving they would fight the establishment with more vigor and venom than anyone else. Every defeat only makes them more sure that the answer is to fight harder. This is their purpose. Fighting is energizing, exciting, and inspiring, much more than sitting in some boring subcommittee hearing.

There’s a reason old rebels keep talking about “the revolution” years and decades after they came out of the jungle and stormed the capital. Nothing about the work of governing can match the righteous thrill of the battle against the oppressors. The innovation the tea partiers brought to Washington was that you could get power, but then not bother to figure out how to use it to achieve the policy goals you claim to hold. Instead, you could just keep fighting, so the rebellion never ends. It’s obvious now that’s precisely what they intend to do, no matter who the next Speaker of the House is.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, October 9, 2015

October 10, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, House Freedom Caucus, Paul Ryan, Speaker of The House | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Cleaning Up The Last Bush/Cheney Mess”: There Is Almost Never A Way To Do So That Pleases Everyone

One of the sad realities of the Obama presidency is that he and his administration have had to spend so much of their time cleaning up messes that were left by Bush and Cheney. I won’t try to capture all of them, but two wars in the Middle East, an economy careening towards a second Great Depression and exploding federal deficits are the three big ones. When President Obama titled his 2015 State of the Union Address “Turning the Page,” a lot of what he was saying is that his administration was finally ready to move on from most of that.

But one intransigent mess lingers on…the prison Bush/Cheney built in Guantanamo, Cuba. President Obama is determined to close Gitmo before his term ends and the White House has been clear that they are drafting a plan to do so.

This week right wing media sites have gone a bit berserk over the fact that two more detainees have been released. The first was the man who was reported to be Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard.

The former detainee, Abdul Rahman Shalabi, 39, is from Saudi Arabia, and he was one of 32 Middle Eastern men who were captured by the Pakistani military along the Afghanistan border in December 2001 and turned over to the United States. He was among the first batch of detainees taken to the prison when it opened at the American naval station in Cuba on Jan. 11, 2002.

Second was the last of several British residents and citizens who have been held at Gitmo.

The Obama administration has notified Congress of its intent to send Shaker Aamer, a suspected al-Qaeda plotter held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for more than 13 years, back to Britain, yielding to a lengthy campaign to secure the British resident’s release, officials said Friday.

For a status update on where things stand with closing Gitmo, the New York Times has some helpful graphs. Of the 771 detainees who have been held there, 657 have been released and 114 remain. Of the 53 who have been cleared for release but are still there, 43 are from Yemen. The Obama administration has been reluctant to repatriate detainees to Yemen due to the chaos that currently exists in that country. Ten detainees have either been convicted or await trial. Finally, as a testament to how badly the Bush/Cheney administration handled all this, the remaining 51 have been recommended for indefinite detention without a trail – mostly due to the fact that evidence has been tainted by their treatment (read: torture).

In December of last year, Pope Francis offered to help the Obama administration in their efforts to close Gitmo. This is very likely one of the topics he and the President discussed in their one-on-one meeting this week. I would assume that the Vatican might be most helpful in working with countries to provide alternatives for the 53 who have been cleared for release. No matter how controversial plans for that might be, you can be sure that whatever President Obama proposes to do with the remaining detainees (10 convicted/awaiting trail and 51 to be indefinitely detained), there will be howls from both sides of the political spectrum. The left will suggest that they shouldn’t be held at all and the right will complain because President Obama’s likely solution will be to move them to a maximum security prison(s) in the United States.

I will simply say that one of the problems that is endemic to cleaning up your predecessors messes is that there is almost never a way to do so that pleases everyone. Nothing more ably demonstrates that than Gitmo. Perhaps the one thing that everyone can agree with is that President Obama deserves some credit for his determination to not leave this one to the next president.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, September 27, 2015

September 30, 2015 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, Congress, GITMO | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“From Deep Inside The Fold”: Donald Trump Isn’t A Republican Traitor; He’s Giving Primary Voters Exactly What They Want

As panic sets in among Republicans at the prospect of Donald Trump either winning the GOP nomination, dividing the right by bolting the party to run as an independent, or merely trashing the rest of the field without restraint for the next six months before imploding, a narrative is taking hold among conservatives that’s equal parts self-protective and self-pitying. Trump, in this telling, isn’t really a Republican at all. He’s some extra-partisan saboteur who’s looking to blow up the GOP for his own purposes.

It’s true that Trump’s issue matrix (very far right on immigration, more centrist or pragmatic on entitlements and taxes, hawkish on foreign policy while denouncing the Iraq debacle without hedging) is not one that’s typically embraced by Republican presidential contenders. Yet conservatives are being too easy on themselves when they treat Trump as some force of nature that came out of nowhere or an anti-Republican conspiracy hatched in cahoots with the Clintons.

Trump may not precisely endorse the constellation of policies favored by either the GOP establishment or its reformist wing. But he’s not an ideological apostate arbitrarily endorsing idiosyncratic positions with no plausible connection to the conservative movement. On the contrary, he’s pushing a program that amounts to a distinctively Republican heresy.

Let’s start with immigration. It’s easy for members of the Republican establishment to see Trump’s position as anathema on this issue because they tend to oppose immigration restrictions — because they’re cosmopolitan elites, because they think the party desperately needs Hispanic votes to remain competitive, and because they’re beholden to a donor class that overwhelmingly favors allowing low-wage workers into the country.

But a party is nothing without voters, and the GOP’s overwhelmingly white and disproportionately rural voters — the actual foot soldiers of the party — take a polar opposite view on the issue. It was their revolt that sank immigration reform after the 2012 election, and it’s their support that is buoying Trump’s campaign. The establishment might not like it, but the fact is that Trump is never more in line with Republican voters than when he rails against undocumented immigrants and their ”anchor babies.”

Trump is exploiting another tension between the GOP elite and the grassroots on issues of tax cuts and government spending on entitlements. The Republican establishment is relatively consistent in its hostility to big government, preferring to cut taxes along with spending, with the latter ideally accomplished by such reforms as partial privatization of Social Security and the transformation of Medicaid into a program that hands out block grants.

The Republican base is far less consistent. It wants to cut taxes, and it likes speeches that rail against government spending. But when it comes to making real-world spending cuts, GOP voters (who tend to be older than Democrats and therefore more dependent on government programs that aid the elderly) agree with the person who famously (and absurdly) declared, ”Keep your government hands off my Medicare!” The grassroots want a free lunch, in other words, which is one important reason why the federal budget deficit has soared under every Republican president since Ronald Reagan.

Add in a growing willingness on the right to see the rich pay more in taxes, and Trump’s seemingly off-sides positioning begins to make sense in Republican terms. Yes, the mix of support for tax cuts and hikes, spending cuts and entitlement protections that one finds in the GOP base is contradictory, even incoherent. But it’s where conservative voters are, and Trump is the one candidate promising to give them exactly what they want.

Then there’s Trump’s blustery approach to foreign policy and trade relations: ”Elect me,” he seems to be saying, ”and I’ll be the toughest negotiator you’ve ever seen. I’ll get my way by sheer force of indefatigable will.” But of course, the Republican toughness fetish set in a long time before Trump. Ever since the Sept. 11 attacks and George W. Bush’s cowboy swagger and “Dead or Alive” threats to Osama bin Laden, the GOP has been obsessed with projecting strength — and assuming that the U.S. is bound to get its way if only the president unapologetically drives the hardest bargain at every moment. Trump is merely proving to be marginally more convincing than his rivals on this score because he’s been cultivating an omniconfident image in the public eye for decades.

Finally, we have Trump’s campaign slogan: ”Make America Great Again!” Calling the country ”great” is as American as apple pie, of course, but it was given new force in the late 1990s by the second-generation neocons, who championed an ideology they called National Greatness Conservatism. By now, nothing could be more commonplace than for a Republican to praise America’s super-duper, better-than-everyone-else exceptionalism.

Trump’s only modest innovation is to add the word ”again,” which grows out of the discontent with Barack Obama that’s laced through every speech Ted Cruz has ever given. Turn on right-wing talk radio any day of the year and you’ll hear hosts railing against American decline, which (as Charles Krauthammer put it during Obama’s first term) is a deliberate ”choice” that the current president is actively, even enthusiastically, pursuing. The amazing thing is that no one else thought to grab (and trademark) this GOP cliché for a campaign slogan before now.

Donald Trump might scramble the pieces of the Republican coalition and emphasize different policies than the party’s leadership would prefer, but he’s not a traitor to the GOP. He’s a heretic — one whose heterodoxy comes from deep inside the Republican fold.

 

By: Damon Linker, The Week, September 1, 2015

September 3, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, GOP Base | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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