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“Trump Drives Spike Into Culture War Politics”: Trump’s Second-Best Contribution To The Quality Of America’s Civic Life

Days before the Indiana primary, Ted Cruz paraded his two young daughters in matching pink dresses and spoke darkly of “putting little girls alone in a bathroom with grown men.”

This was a visual that, frankly, we could have done without. Thankfully, Donald Trump locked it in Ripley’s museum of the politically bizarre by trouncing Cruz in that conservative state’s primary.

It was Trump who had said that transgender people should use “whatever bathroom they feel is appropriate.” It was he who noted that there have been “very few problems” with transgender people using ladies’ rooms. Trump didn’t say — but could have — that men presenting themselves as women have been using women’s facilities for a long time, with the other occupants none the wiser or unconcerned.

So has Trump deep-sixed the culture war gambit in Republican politics? The formula is to draw votes by pounding on some controversy of little consequence to most people, preferably with a sex angle attached. The 2004 presidential election in Ohio was a textbook case. Placing a measure to ban gay marriage on the ballot probably gave George W. Bush — whose main game was tax cuts — a narrow victory.

Our friends the Koch brothers routinely give money to socially conservative groups to win over middle- or working-class followers otherwise not served by the family’s economic agenda. The brothers themselves have shrugged at gay marriage, saying they have no problem with it.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the working-class whites targeted by culture warriors don’t really care all that much about these issues — or care a lot less about them than they do about their falling incomes. Perhaps they’ve been voting all these years for an attitude, hitting back at the “liberal elites” who they feel rap them on the knuckles when they speak their mind. Trump’s magic potion involves adding attitude while subtracting threats to Social Security, Medicare and other government programs average folks depend on.

Trump has stomped on so many of the right wing’s most cherished wedge issues — while winning majorities among the Republican base — it gets you wondering how big that tide of moral umbrage really was. How much of it was a mirage pulled off with talk radio’s smoke and mirrors?

Abortion is a truly difficult issue. Your writer believes an abortion should be easy (and free) to obtain early in a pregnancy and limited later on. Others oppose abortion altogether, and it is this group’s genuine concerns that the right seeks to stoke.

As a result, it’s the rare Republican who will put in a good word for Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit that provides a variety of women’s health services in addition to abortions. But Trump praised the organization for doing the former without apology. And he won races in the heart of value-voter America — including the entire Deep South.

For liberals and moderates alike, Trump deserves gratitude for putting away Cruz. (Too bad about John Kasich, though.) It spared us from having to hear his running mate, Carly Fiorina, go on about Planned Parenthood’s harvesting “body parts” from a kicking fetus, a complete fiction.

Making things up happens to be a Trump specialty, so there’s some poetic justice in his volleying back some outright fabrications. His suggestion that Cruz’s father helped John Kennedy’s assassin is a classic of the genre.

Putting an end to culture warmongering as a political strategy — or at least dialing it back — could go down as Trump’s second-best contribution to the quality of America’s civic life. His best contribution would be to lose badly in November. Luckily, on getting himself not elected in the general, Trump has made a strong start.

 

By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, May 5, 2016

May 6, 2016 Posted by | Culture Wars, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Constraining Trump’s Erratic Impulses”: The Coming Struggle Over Policy Between Donald Trump And The GOP

Now that Donald Trump has nearly secured the GOP presidential nomination, Republicans everywhere have to start thinking seriously about how they’re going to deal with him and how having him as their party’s leader affects their own plans for the future. And here’s the basic challenge that will create for Republicans: How can they keep Trump from veering wildly from the straight and narrow path of conservatism?

It’s going to require constant work. For Republicans, the next six months will be a struggle to constrain Trump’s erratic impulses, and even if they’re mostly successful, it still might not diminish the damage Trump could to do the conservative project.

Some Republicans are already trying to downplay this challenge. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who is currently engaged in an effort to shape his party’s policy agenda for the next decade or two, said this morning that he and other Republicans who care about conservative ideology have nothing to worry about:

House Speaker Paul Ryan downplayed any conflict between his detailed policy proposals and those pushed by Donald Trump on Wednesday, hours after the front-runner sewed up five more states and marched ever closer to locking up his party’s nomination.

“The key for populism, Joe, as you well know because you practiced this, how do you take this populism and connect it to principle so that it’s populism tethered to good principles which give us good solutions, not unprincipled populism and that to me is our value added to this equation,” the Wisconsin Republican said in a segment on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Wednesday, referring to co-host Joe Scarborough’s time as a lawmaker representing Florida.

Though he did not mention Trump by name and has been magnanimous even in his policy criticisms of Trump in the past, Ryan signaled that no matter Republicans’ standard bearer in November, the party will be “comfortable” and unify around the platform that he is advocating in Congress.

He also described any differences with Trump and other candidates over Obamacare and tax reform as small obstacles, remarking that they share broader agreement on the issues.

It’s possible that Ryan could prove right about this. But the amount of vigilance that will be required from Republicans could itself prove a strain.

Perhaps the most important thing to understand about Trump’s relationship to the conservative policy agenda, and to any agenda at all, is that he just doesn’t care about policy in the least. He has some sincere opinions on some issues, but for the most part, not only has he never thought much about any policy issue one might present him with, there’s almost nothing he thinks about an issue that isn’t subject to revision.

That’s why we’ve seen a particular pattern repeat itself so often. Trump will get asked a question about an issue he obviously hasn’t considered before. He’ll give an answer that doesn’t line up with conservative orthodoxy, because he isn’t aware of precisely what conservative orthodoxy is. Then Republicans will get enraged, the controversy will blow up, and a day or two later — after he’s had a chance to learn what he’s supposed to say — he’ll come back and offer a revised version of his position.

This happened on abortion (where he said women should be punished for having abortions, then said they shouldn’t), on transgender people being forced by the government to use the wrong bathrooms (where he said they should use whatever bathrooms they want, then said the issue should be decided at the state and local level), and on Israel and the Palestinians (where he first said he wanted to be a neutral arbiter, then went to AIPAC and said “There is no moral equivalency” between Israel and the Palestinians).

That’s not to mention the positions on issues like abortion and guns that he changed before the race began. So if you’re a Republican, that’s about as much as you can hope for. He may not be with you already, but he’s responsive to pressure. Once you tell him that he has strayed, he comes back to the fold.

To be sure, whenever Trump comes out with a formal policy proposal, it’s right in line with conservative orthodoxy. So for instance, he has repeatedly said we should raise taxes on rich people, much to Republicans’ horror, but when he actually released a tax plan, it featured, guess what, a huge tax cut for the wealthy. The same thing happened on health care: he said some things suggesting there were parts of the Affordable Care Act he liked, but when he released his plan, it could have been lifted from the boilerplate on the issue you’ll find on any Republican candidate’s web site.

Today Trump is going to deliver an address on foreign policy, and while we don’t know what’s going to be in it, because this is a prepared speech — which means it was written for him by other people — I’m almost sure that there will be little if anything in there that Republicans will object to. It’ll talk about how Barack Obama is weak, our enemies don’t fear us, we need to increase military spending, we should tear up the Iran nuclear deal — all things ordinary Republicans say all the time.

This is all possible because, to repeat, Trump just doesn’t care about policy. That should make Republicans at least somewhat sanguine about what his presidency would be like. Paul Ryan can deliver him one bill after another written and passed by the GOP Congress, and Trump is likely to say, “Sure, whatever” and sign them.

And yet, there are some trouble spots for conservatives ahead, signaled by the areas where Trump has in fact gone against conservative orthodoxy. Trade is a big one — Trump seems to believe that if we increase tariffs on Chinese goods, then everyone in America will have a great job. There have been a few others, like his lack of enthusiasm for cutting Social Security. Then there’s his ban on Muslims entering the U.S., which (while Republican voters support it) GOP elites find vulgar and damaging to the party.

And so, in the general election, we may see examples of Republicans like Ryan struggling to pull Trump back into line: when his impulse takes him to a place that’s popular with the electorate, but it’s a place other Republicans don’t want to go. Then they’ll have a much harder time making the case to him that he needs to get back with the conservative program.

On the other hand, if Trump remains as dreadfully unpopular with the general electorate as he is now, and he goes down to a sweeping defeat, maybe Republicans would be better off if he proves to be an imperfect representative of GOP ideology. Though that may not be much comfort.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, April 27, 2016

May 1, 2016 Posted by | Conservatism, Donald Trump, GOP Establishment | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Distraction From The Issue Of Equal Rights”: The Long History Of The Conservative Fixation With Bathrooms

As LGBT Americans continue their fight for equality, the subject of bathrooms has taken center stage. You might remember how they were used in the argument against Houston’s Equal Right’s Ordinance.

On Tuesday, Houston voters rejected the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) in a low-turnout election where only slightly more than a quarter of the city’s voters actually cast a ballot. Those that did turn out got to decide the fate of a broad civil rights ordinance that targeted a wide range of discrimination, from race to religion to military status to sexual orientation and gender identity.

If you paid any attention to the campaign against this law, however, you probably knew it by another name — the “bathroom ordinance.”

Anti-LGBT groups fought HERO by claiming that it would enable “any man at any time” to “enter a women’s bathroom simply by claiming to be a woman that day.” Ads featured pedophiles locking themselves in bathroom stalls with young girls. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) summarized his case against HERO in five words — “No men in women’s bathrooms.”

More recently the conservative reaction to granting equal rights to transgender people has taken the form of laws like the one recently passed in North Carolina which requires everyone to use the bathroom correlating to the gender on their birth certificate. As one North Carolina Republican legislator put it – their intent was “to restore common sense bathroom and shower management policy.”

Over our history, the subject of bathrooms has often been the “go-to” argument for conservatives who fought against civil rights. During the Jim Crow days, Southerners went to elaborate lengths to provide separate bathrooms for white and “colored” people – even installing them in their own homes for The Help.

I’m old enough to remember the days when the Equal Rights Amendment was under discussion. Conservatives dubbed that one the “Common Toilet Law.” All of the ways that amendment would have granted equal rights to women were reduced to a fear of unisex bathrooms.

I suppose it would be possible for some social psychologist to explain the underlying issues that lead to this conservative fixation on bathrooms. It simply strikes me as a very unhealthy phenomenon. But more importantly, it is a huge distraction from the issue at hand…equal rights.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 26, 2016

April 28, 2016 Posted by | Civil Rights, Conservatives, LGBT, North Carolina Bathroom Bill | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“No Political Makeover Can Save Donald Trump”: Trump Will Never Be Able To Button It Up

Donald Trump is about to get a makeover.

Paul Manafort — who is effectively Trump’s new campaign manager — told a group of knob-turners at the Republican National Committee late last week that the version of Trump seen during the primary was just a cynical act. Now the act is going to change. “[W]hat’s important for you to understand: That he gets it, and that the part he’s been playing is evolving,” said Manafort.

Surely the very important people at this meeting had to be peeled from the back wall after hearing this. Blown away! An act? You mean that when Trump constantly tells audiences that he will change when he becomes the nominee, that he can become “politically correct” as president, he was… telling the truth? You mean to say that a guy who simultaneously promises an enormous border wall to repel Mexican rapists and a permissive touch-back amnesty might have been pulling a few legs along the way?

Still, as unsurprising as this is, don’t believe the supposed import of this makeover talk. Trump will never be able to button it up. Not totally. Even as Manafort was promising Republicans that Trump would come around with a much more establishment-friendly message and campaign, Trump himself was changing his position on questions of transgendered access to bathrooms. On Thursday morning, to the liberal press, he said transgendered people should be able to use whatever bathrooms they want. Later, talking to Sean Hannity on Fox News, he defaulted to a states-rights position on the issue. He still couldn’t help but add, “But they are losing business, and they are having people come out against.” In other words, hey North Carolina, you should have the right to do something I obviously think is stupid.

Trump is never going to stop being Trump. And his campaign cannot succeed by flip-flopping now. You may have noticed that throughout the primaries, Trump often seemed to be trying to have it both ways. He could demand the border fence one day, and then say “I love the Mexican people” the next. He could call America’s major trade deals bad, and then immediately say, “I believe in free trade.” To close observers, it just sounded incoherent. But nobody is going to forget his signature positions. Just because he’ll start saying “I love Mexicans” more doesn’t make the footage of him saying “Somebody is doing the raping” go away.

That footage — and plenty more — will be featured prominently in ads from Hillary Clinton and progressive super PACs. It will be used to make upwardly mobile suburban white people — the backbone of the Republican Party — deeply uncomfortable with Trump’s candidacy.

Oh, and then there will be the footage of him saying several years ago on national television that he’s “very pro-choice” and wouldn’t restrict abortion in any way.

Or that he is for gun control. Here’s Trump in 2000: “I support the ban on assault weapons and I support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun.”

Say goodbye to two of the major activist groups who dutifully fill up the treasuries of GOP-allied direct mail operations, and who volunteer to go door to door during election time.

In a way, Trump followed the exact opposite ethic of his former nemesis. Jeb Bush said that a Republican candidate should be willing to lose the Republican primary in order to win the general election. Dutifully, Bush lost the primary. Trump has done the opposite — he was willing to lose the general election to win the primary. He used every trick he had for generating free media, and whipping up the intense support of about one-third of the Republican electorate in the primary contests. It just so happens that he did this in a way that cost him the chance of ever winning over the enthusiastic support of the rest of the party apparatus, and any chance of winning a normal general election campaign.

Becoming an establishment creature now would dispirit many of Trump’s core supporters. It would wreck any momentum his candidacy had at renovating the Republican Party’s stale ideology. Trump will have worse problems than even Mitt Romney did in trying to explain the convenient evolution of his views. Trump’s unreliability extends even to his own stunts. Months ago he skipped a Fox News debate to raise $6 million for veterans. They haven’t seen the money.

Trump cannot succeed in a general election without an unforeseeable intervention from beyond our normal politics — think a sudden economic crash, a terrorist attack, or the likelihood of war. A little campaign makeover certainly won’t change what is now the most well-defined and lustily disliked campaign in modern memory. The Trump reboot will not make Trump viable. It just makes his new campaign manager viable. This is nothing more than another layer of orange-hued makeup on an orange-hued corpse of a campaign.

 

By: Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Week, April 25, 2016

April 26, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Establishment, Political Correctness | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Trump Upends Coalition”: How The Bathroom Controversy Exposes Rifts In The Increasingly Fragile Republican Coalition

It wouldn’t be an election without a good dose of culture-war sexual politics, and now Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are arguing about bathrooms. Specifically, the question of the law that North Carolina passed — mandating that transgender people use not the bathroom of their identity but of the sex written on their birth certificate — is now a part of the presidential campaign. When Trump was asked about it yesterday, he gave a perfectly sensible answer — but it was the wrong one. And in doing so, he highlighted just how fragile his impending nomination makes the complicated Republican coalition.

Here’s how it went down:

Trump said there was little controversy before the law was passed, and the measure has done nothing but hurt North Carolina economically. Businesses including American Airlines, Facebook and Google have condemned the measure, and the National Basketball Association hinted it might relocate next year’s all-star game from Charlotte.

“You leave it the way it is. There have been very few complaints the way it is. People go, they use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate. There has been so little trouble,” Trump said on NBC’s “Today” show Thursday. “And the problem with what happened in North Carolina is the strife and the economic. … I mean, the economic punishment they’re taking.”

Trump’s comments were met with fierce opposition from Cruz, who defended the law last week.

Cruz seems positively giddy to be able to talk about this issue. He describes the idea of transgender women using women’s rooms as, “Men should be able to go into the girls’ bathroom if they want to.” You’ll notice the contrast of “men” and “girls,” used so that you’ll think this is some sort of issue about pedophiles preying on children. To emphasize the point, he concludes, “Grown adult men — strangers — should not be alone in a bathroom with little girls.”

I won’t even bother refuting that rancid fear-mongering, except to say that the legislators in North Carolina were unable to cite a single case where a transgender woman assaulted someone in a bathroom in North Carolina, let alone any “little girls.”

But now Trump is gingerly walking back his statement, saying that the question should be decided at the local level, which is the best he can do to make Republican culture warriors less suspicious of him. And that’s where we get to the nature of the GOP coalition, which Trump doesn’t quite seem to grasp.

There was always an implicit bargain within that coalition, one that said that even if various kinds of conservatives had different priorities, they would sign on to each other’s agendas. The supply-siders would say that unfettered gun rights are deeply important, even if most of them don’t actually own guns. The antiabortion crusaders would say that military spending should always be increased. The neoconservatives would praise tax cuts for the wealthy. It’s a circle of interdependence and common cause, and to a great degree, they all came to believe in each other’s positions, even if they didn’t agree on what the top priority for the party should be.

But Trump has upended this bargain, partly because he has nothing resembling a coherent ideology, but also because he doesn’t appreciate the need to keep the coalition together. There are some issues, such as guns, where Trump has adopted the standard Republican position (without a trace of evident sincerity). But on others, he has been willing to anger parts of the Republican coalition. Perhaps it’s because of a careful calculation about what will play well in the general election, but I suspect it’s more impulsive — since Trump didn’t rise through Republican politics, he doesn’t have an intuitive sense of what’s important to which conservatives and what will make them angry.

So when a question he hasn’t thought about comes up, he just gives an answer that seems right for him at that moment. Then what often happens is that people who understand what Republicans think about that issue — reporters and Republicans themselves — say, “What?!?,” somebody clues Trump in to why his allies are mad, and within a day or two he comes back and clarifies what he meant to say, which winds up being something more palatable to the party. This has happened multiple times.

On issues that touch on sex, Trump’s impulses often seem basically libertarian (there are those New York values!), and as he tries to shift them so they can work within the GOP, he winds up ticking people off and going through multiple iterations before he can come up with the appropriate answer. So he says the wrong thing on transgender people, and he says that women should be punished for having abortions (which runs counter to the “We’re taking away your reproductive rights for your own good because you just don’t know any better” stance of the pro-life movement) but also says that there should be exceptions for rape and incest, which the hard-core pro-lifers don’t like either.

The bathroom issue highlights how Red America and Blue America are moving farther and farther apart. If you live in a state controlled by Republicans, your state legislature and your governor will ensure that gay people aren’t protected from discrimination, make abortions almost impossible to obtain, slash social services, undermine unions, make sure you can take your gun to church and generally do what they can to turn your state into a paradise of “traditional” values and right-wing economics. If you live in a Democratic state, your representatives are probably busy raising the minimum wage, legalizing marijuana, expanding government-provided health care and child care, protecting people from discrimination and generally doing all the things the people in red states find horrifying.

Presidential candidates from either party can come from either kind of state, but if you cross over — if you’re a blue-state Republican or a red-state Democrat — you have to assure your voters that you believe deep in your heart that their kind of state embodies all the proper values. Trump doesn’t do that, or at least he doesn’t do it often enough.

For those who are already behind him, it doesn’t really matter. His supporters don’t have specific issues that are absolute deal-breakers, in large part because his campaign is built on personality. Cruz, on the other hand, has a campaign built on ideology. And when there’s a chance to pick up a culture-war baton like this one, he isn’t going to let it pass.

Does that mean that once Trump is the nominee, the social conservatives who really care about the culture war aren’t going to vote for him? Might they just sit the election out? We don’t know yet. What we do know is that they’re the ones who are most likely to get the short end of the stick from the GOP nominee, even as Republicans at the state level work like mad to advance the right’s social agenda.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, April 22, 2016

April 26, 2016 Posted by | Culture Wars, Donald Trump, GOP Primaries | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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