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“Washington Weasel-Wording”: After The Trump-Ryan ‘Summit’, Both Sides Can Pretend The Other Is Surrendering

As political theater, the “summit” between Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan was first-rate. By that I don’t refer to the street circus of protesters and counter-protesters and a thousand cameras. The “joint statement” the two men issued after a meeting in the presence of RNC chairman Reince Priebus was a quick espresso shot of nothingness topped with pious hopes for “unity.” It left everyone free to interpret it as they wish.

Like a truce between Roman generals and a barbarian chieftain in late antiquity, the “summit” will probably be regarded by each side as representing the first stage in the other’s surrender. For Trump, the very ritual of meetings with the RNC chairman, the House Speaker, the House leadership team, and (later today) the Senate leadership team connotes the conferral of respectability on a figure each and every one of these potentates has almost certainly disparaged in private as a buffoon, an overgrown juvenile delinquent, or a proto-fascist. And for said potentates, Trump’s day on Capitol Hill represents his coming domestication. This dance could go on for quite some time before any push comes to shove in a public disagreement. And by then Donald J. Trump and the Republican Party will be stuck with each other for the duration.

On Wednesday, Trump’s little-known top policy adviser, the former Iowa politician Sam Clovis, offered a good example of how easy it might be for Trump and Paul Ryan to blur their differences on even the most inflammatory issues. Pressed about whether “entitlement reform” was indeed off the table, as Trump himself seems to have said in debates and on the campaign trail, Clovis allowed as how a Trump administration might actually mosey over in that direction if fiscal circumstances so indicated. I’m sure Paul Ryan was pleased to hear that, and perhaps he was exactly the intended audience for that small but significant shift. Having spent much of the 2012 general election pretending to love Medicare more than life itself after issuing budget after budget proposing to gut it, Ryan knows how to blur his positions as well.

As Greg Sargent shrewdly observed, a lot of the distance between Trump and Beltway Republicans can be bridged by Washington weasel-wording. They’re off to a good start today.


By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, May 12, 2016

May 13, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, Reince Priebus, Republican National Committee | , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Will ‘Trumpism’ Take Over The GOP?”: Trump Is Exploiting A Rich And Very Real Vein Of Public Sentiment

In Thursday night’s 12th GOP candidate debate, somebody pulled a plug and the candidates turned in an amazingly muted performance, with none of the high-volume insults and attacks that characterized the last get-together in Detroit. That mostly made the event a nothing-burger — unless you are really interested in hearing GOP boilerplate on Social Security privatization or Obamacare — with one important exception. With the volume turned down, the emptiness and incoherence of Donald Trump’s approach to public-policy issues becomes especially clear. He’ll make good deals and will be lethally inclined toward America’s enemies (including, for the moment, global Islam, it seems). Even on the one topic where he seemed to have a new thought — supporting the deployment of ground troops to fight ISIS — no reason was given for the change in position, other than a sort of gut feeling it would be necessary to “destroy ISIS.”

Everyone understands that Trump is exploiting a rich and very real vein of public sentiment, centered in but not limited to white working-class folk who may have voted Republican in the past but never shared the economic and foreign-policy views of the business and movement-conservative elites who run the GOP. Some optimistically view this Trump constituency as an addition to the Republican coalition; I think it’s mostly elements of the existing coalition that are threatening to leave unless the party changes. Either way, does this all go away if Trump loses or gets bored and goes back to different modes of brand promotion?

You might think so, but a certain erudite if occasionally cranky polymath and thinker, New America’s Michael Lind, believes there’s something we can call Trumpism, and it’s the future of conservative politics. Here’s how Lind boils it down in a piece on Trump as “the perfect populist” at Politico:

It remains to be seen whether Trump can win the Republican nomination, much less the White House. But whatever becomes of his candidacy, it seems likely that his campaign will prove to be just one of many episodes in the gradual replacement of Buckley-Goldwater-Reagan conservatism by something more like European national populist movements, such as the National Front in France and the United Kingdom Independence Party in Britain. Unlike Goldwater, who spearheaded an already-existing alliance consisting of National Review, Modern Age, and Young Americans for Freedom, Trump has followers but no supportive structure of policy experts and journalists. But it seems likely that some Republican experts and editors, seeking to appeal to his voters in the future, will promote a Trump-like national populist synthesis of middle-class social insurance plus immigration restriction and foreign policy realpolitik,through conventional policy papers and op-eds rather than blustering speeches and tweets.

Now, that’s a fascinating prospect, isn’t it? The entire conservative policy and messaging edifice, the product of hundreds of billions of dollars of investments and many years of development, employing God knows how many thinkers, researchers, gabbers, and writers, replaced by an infrastructure devoted to making Trumpism not just a brand or an epithet but a whole way of thinking about public life.

Where this would all come from is a mystery. The Trump campaign itself is a strange assortment of personal retainers, hired guns, and the occasional public figure reeking of brimstone after climbing aboard Trump’s bandwagon out of what appears to be sheer opportunism. When you look at a guy like Sam Clovis — the intellectually well-regarded Iowa “constitutional conservative” who abandoned Rick Perry’s sinking ship last summer and signed on with Trump as “senior policy adviser” — you see someone who’s probably winging it as much as the Donald himself. So the question abides: Does Trump represent anything larger than himself (not that he could imagine it!)? Is he the harbinger of some “national populist” movement that will kick conventional conservatism to the curb, or just (like many right-wing demagogues before him) the vehicle for the occasional rage that seizes people furious with change?

It’s hard to say. There was a similar moment in the mid-1970s when William Rusher, publisher of the conservative-movement beacon National Review, labored to create a “Producers Party” that would abandon the husk of the Republican Party to its desiccated Establishment and unite Reagan and Wallace supporters in furious opposition to the political elites of both parties and their alleged underclass clientele. Nothing much came of it, and instead Reagan supervised the capture of the GOP by Rusher’s friends and associates who remained within the party. If Trump is somehow elected president, the challenges of actual power may domesticate him and make him a real Republican. Without question, the prestige of the presidency and its vast patronage inside and outside government would stimulate the kind of interest in developing Trumpism that Michael Lind expects. If he wins the Republican nomination but then loses the general election, it’s far more likely the right will turn the whole Trump phenomenon into an object lesson about the consequences of irresponsibility and ideological laxity.

And if Trump can’t even make it to Cleveland and seize the nomination with all of the things working in his favor at present, he’ll become just another loser, and no more likely to become the founding father of a new ideology than Rick Santorum. So don’t hold your breath waiting for the development of Trumpism until and unless Trump takes the oath of office as president. But then we’d have more things to worry about than the future shape of center-right thinking, wouldn’t we?


By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, March 11, 2016

March 14, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, GOP | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Perry Gets Winnowed”: He Had No Distinct Identity In A Huge Field Dominated By People Who Were Going Medieval

The “winnowing” of the vast GOP presidential field proceeded apace this weekend, with Rick Perry “suspending” his campaign. Officially, that means there are 16 “real” candidates left. Unofficially, CNN excluded Jim Gilmore from even its Kiddie Table debate this week, so there are a mere 15 left.

Perry’s withdrawal has been widely predicted since he stopped paying his campaign staff last month. Even as Team Perry argued that his Super-PAC was flush and the not-paying-campaign- people thing was an accounting problem, he lost his prize Iowa backer Sam Clovis, and in general began to emit the aroma of political death. The rest has been denouement.

The thing is: Perry was running a significantly deeper campaign than he did in 2012, when he alternated between pointing at Texas’ jobs numbers as a self-validating argument for a give-corporations-everything-they-want “economic development strategy,” and raging right-wing gestures aimed at everybody in the GOP who wanted to go medieval on the godless liberals.

This time around Perry impressed even me by making a speech reminding Republicans they were the party of the Fourteenth Amendment. It didn’t catch on. Nor did his regular reminders that he was (along with Lindsey Graham) the rare candidate in a field of war-mongerers who had actually worn a uniform. The CW will suggest that Perry never overcame his 2012 missteps. I’d say he had no distinct identity in a huge field dominated by people who were going medieval just as he was trying to move along to the Renaissance.

His withdrawal rebuts the idea that anybody with a Super-PAC can stay in the race right up until the convention, and will provide an interesting test of what happens to leftover Super-PAC money, as the New York Times‘ Jonathan Martin notes:

The super PACs backing Mr. Perry, collectively known as Freedom and Opportunity, had a raised more than $17 million as of earlier this summer, mostly from a handful of wealthy Texas families, dwarfing the amount raised by his campaign, which was limited by law to raising only $2,700 from each donor. Mr. Perry’s advisers were uncertain what would happen with the super PAC money, but noted that much of it came from a pair of Dallas executives, Kelcy Warren and Darwin Deason, and that they would be consulted.

Presumably, since Super-PACs are supposed to be “independent,” this one can do any damn thing it wants, other than covering the back pay Perry staffers are owed. They, of course, will be scrambling for a new gig, and despite this tiny “winnowing,” it remains a seller’s market for GOP political talent.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, September 14, 2015

September 14, 2015 Posted by | GOP Campaign Donors, GOP Presidential Candidates, Rick Perry | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Candidate In Name Only?”: What if Trump Becomes A Real Presidential Candidate?

When Donald Trump kicked off his Republican presidential campaign, he was officially a candidate, but he wasn’t a real candidate, at least not in every sense of the word. The New York developer had a skeleton staff, little support in the polls, no field offices, no organization in early nominating states, no endorsements, and no national campaign infrastructure.

As of mid-June, Trump was effectively a candidate in name only. He had an escalator, some animosity towards immigrants, and little else. By some accounts, the GOP contender had to pay people to show up at his campaign kick-off.

It didn’t matter. The former reality-show host quickly found a following, which grew at an unexpected rate. Media attention soon followed. Trump didn’t spend much time on the campaign trail – he’s largely forgone the usual candidate-like activities – but he’s nevertheless dominating, at least for now.

All of which raises the question: if Trump can rocket to the front of the Republican pack without the backing of a real national campaign, what happens when the GOP candidate starts trying?

We’re about to find out. Iowa’s Sam Clovis, a prominent Republican activist and media figure in Iowa, had served for months as the state chairman of Rick Perry’s presidential campaign, until this week, when Clovis gave up on the former Texas governor and joined Team Trump.

Rachel noted on the show last night that Clovis isn’t the only one, and the Washington Monthly’s Ed Kilgore took a look this morning at the operation Clovis is going to help lead – featuring activists one might not expect to see backing Trump.

[Trump’s] national campaign chairman, Corey Lewandowski, made his bones with the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity outfit (and its predecessor group, Citizens for a Sound Economy). Along with Clovis, Trump yesterday announced another eye-catching hire for his South Carolina campaign: Nancy Mace, the first woman to graduate from The Citadel, and an unsuccessful challenger to Lindsey Graham last year.

They join Matt Ciepielowski, Trump’s New Hampshire director, “another AFP alumnus who spent the 2012 cycle with Youth for Ron Paul.”

Kilgore’s point is that these aides weren’t obvious choices for Team Trump, and though they may have been wooed by “Trump’s nose-thumbing at the Republican Establishment,” they should also probably prepare themselves for the possibility that their candidate will “get bored with politics and bow out before things get serious.”

In a year like this, anything’s possible. But I’m also struck by a related thought: those are actual campaign officials, taking on actual campaign responsibilities.

It’s a bizarre dynamic on its face – usually a candidate builds a team, starts campaigning, and climbs in the polls, in that order. With Trump, he climbed in the polls, started campaigning, and then built a team.

What I’ll be eager to see is whether this helps or hurts his aspirations. The moment Trump makes the transition from “outlandish personality” to “legitimate Republican contender,” do his followers lose interest? Does Trump?

If the candidate reached the top in part by being non-traditional, does the magic disappear when a proper campaign organization takes shape?


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 26, 2015

August 27, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments


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