Regarding Deviancy

Every useful catchphrase has its origin:

Defining Deviancy Down was an expression coined by the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1993. Moynihan based his phrase on the theory of Emile Durkheim that there is a limit to the bad behavior that a society can tolerate before it has to start lowering its standards. In ’93, the senator applied his slogan to the “moral deregulation” that had eroded families, increased crime, and produced the mentally ill “homeless” population.

That same year columnist Charles Krauthammer expanded Moynihan’s point by proposing the reverse – that not only were we “normalizing what was once considered deviant” but we were also “finding deviant what was once considered normal.”

Charles Krauthammer is a sour person so of course he would find the worst possible corollary – arguing that some good behavior, on the right, was actually quite normal and not deviant at all (he is a commentator on Fox News, after all) – but the Moynihan point won the day. We always seem to be lowering our standards, and so, in a column on November 23, 2015, Jonathan Capehart stated the obvious:

Moynihan was talking about the tolerance of crime. But as the 2016 Republican presidential contest drags on, his diagnosis fit politics in general and the campaign of Donald Trump in particular. Just when you thought the Big Apple billionaire couldn’t sink any lower, he does. He gleefully dances through the nativist, racist, misogynistic slop as if he were Gene Kelly in “Singing in the Rain.” And to make matters worse, Trump is rewarded for it.

This was followed by a list of all that nativist, racist, misogynistic slop, to that date – there’s been much more since – and Capehart concludes with this:

No amount of condemnation of his divisive, racist rhetoric seems to halt his advance. What he is doing, what he is saying is not who we are as a country. What he is doing and saying is not just “defining deviancy down,” it’s destroying our country.

Now, all these months later, not only is our country still here, more or less, but Donald Trump has the Republican nomination pretty much locked up. Deviance was not only defined down, it was richly rewarded, although as Capehart’s colleagues at the Washington Post, Philip Rucker and Paul Kane and Robert Costa, report, some refuse to drop all standards that low:

In an extraordinary rebuke of the Republican Party’s presumptive presidential nominee, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.), the nation’s highest-ranking GOP official, said Thursday that he could not support Donald Trump until he changes his tone and demonstrates that he shares the party’s values.

While acknowledging that Trump has mobilized a powerful grass-roots movement and earned the nomination, Ryan said that Trump has not shown himself to be “a standard-bearer who bears our standard” – and he put the onus on the business mogul to recalibrate his campaign and offer a more inclusive vision.

Asked by CNN anchor Jake Tapper whether he backs Trump, Ryan responded: “I’m just not ready to do that at this point. I’m not there right now. And I hope to, though, and I want to. But I think what is required is that we unify the party. And I think the bulk of the burden on unifying the party will have to come from our presumptive nominee.”

“This is the party of Lincoln, of Reagan, of Jack Kemp. And we don’t always nominate a Lincoln and a Reagan every four years, but we hope that our nominee aspires to be Lincoln- and Reagan-esque,” Ryan said, adding that he hopes the candidate “advances the principles of our party and appeals to a wide, vast majority of Americans.”

He won’t sink as low as Trump. If Trump wants his support, Trump must rise to the occasion, and Ryan is not alone:

The GOP’s only two living presidents – George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush – said they would not endorse him, while its past two nominees – Mitt Romney and John McCain – said they did not plan to attend Trump’s nominating convention this summer in Cleveland. McCain, however, said he would support Trump and has offered to counsel him on foreign policy.

McCain wants to take this nasty guy aside and raise him up, but the nasty guy is having none of it:

Trump was defiant in his response to Ryan, offering a firm defense of his candidacy and asserting that he has a mandate from Republican voters. In a notable departure from his handling of previous feuds, Trump did not insult Ryan personally.

“I am not ready to support Speaker Ryan’s agenda,” Trump said in a statement. “Perhaps in the future we can work together and come to an agreement about what is best for the American people. They have been treated so badly for so long that it is about time for politicians to put them first!”

That may not have been an insult, but the message was clear. Get down here in the gutter with me. That’s what the American people want, you fool!

This will not go well:

Ryan’s remarks broke a previous pledge to support whoever becomes the GOP nominee. It also puts him at odds with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who offered tempered support for Trump on Wednesday, and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, a Ryan friend who has urged Republicans to unite behind Trump.

Priebus is trying to broker a Trump and Ryan meeting next week. Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck tweeted that the speaker would be “happy to attend.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), a Trump supporter and adviser, told reporters in Trenton that he would reach out to Ryan to discuss his concerns.

Other Republicans are swiftly coming around on Trump. Former Texas governor Rick Perry, who delivered the first vicious takedown of Trump last summer, told CNN that he now supports him and is open to being his running mate. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, whose family helped bankroll an anti-Trump super PAC, plans to endorse Trump on Friday at a rally in Omaha.

It’s hard to say how this will work out, because Ryan and Trump are worlds apart:

The tensions between Trump and Ryan go beyond temperament. They have philosophical differences about the size and scope of government. Ryan champions free-trade agreements, international military engagement, and sweeping overhauls of Social Security and Medicare, whereas Trump is an avowed opponent of recent trade deals, foreign interventions and proposed changes to entitlement programs. Furthermore, Ryan frames his politics in stark moral terms, while Trump’s manner was forged by his experiences in the Manhattan business and tabloid wars of the 1980s.

But which is deviant? And what is possible? That’s the real question:

Ryan shocked some leading Republicans, who expected he would dutifully line up behind the presumptive nominee. William J. Bennett, a former Reagan administration official and a mentor to Ryan, said he was “knocked out of my chair” as he watched Ryan on CNN.

“This is a slap at the people,” Bennett said. “He thinks he can nudge Trump in a certain direction, but it doesn’t make sense to expect Trump to have some kind of personality transformation. His approach was not conducive to unification, which is what the party needs.”

“His approach” seems to mean Ryan’s approach in the last sentence, but Josh Marshall states the obvious:

We know who Donald Trump is. You support him or you oppose him. But he’s not going to become a different person over the next few months. Even Marco Rubio could only keep up his “personality transplant” for a week. Trump might talk differently. He might become less damaging to Republicans or he might improve his chances to win. But he’s not going to change.

Note also that as far as I could tell Ryan was unable or unwilling to point to any specific policy or statement that Trump would need to change or recant to bring the Speaker on board.

Trump will not change. Why would he? And Anne Gearan reports on what may be Hillary Clinton’s wrong-headed strategy:

Far ahead in the Democratic race for president, Hillary Clinton has embarked on a first round of general-election campaigning against Donald Trump featuring a low-key focus on policy and her own experience, in addition to the daily volley of attack and retort that already defines their contest.

Hoping that the election will be waged on wider ground than her economics-centered primary battle against Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Clinton’s campaign is trying to present a contrast between someone who talks big – “a loose cannon,” as Clinton often labels Trump – and someone who listens and gets things done.

The strategy includes wonky appearances to discuss job creation, green energy and combating drug addiction – even in unfriendly states such as West Virginia, where Clinton spoke Monday in an effort to demonstrate, a senior aide said, that she would be a president “for everyone.”

That’s nice, but Trump has defined deviancy down:

It’s an open question whether Clinton can wrest control of an election conversation in which Trump has proved adept at placing himself at the center – and in which Republican primary voters have spurned the vast experience of Trump’s rivals in favor of his more bombastic rhetoric. …

“He makes these grand statements and grand accusations.” Clinton said in an interview on CNN. “At some point when you’re running for president, you actually have to put a little meat on the bones. You’ve got to tell people what it is you’re going to do and how he’s going do it.”

Trump is “a classic case of a blustering, bullying guy” who cowed and flummoxed his way past a large slate of rivals, Clinton said.

Yes, he is, and that’s worked just fine for him, and Heather Parton explains that no one seemed to get that:

The smart numbers crunchers like Nate Silver and the NY Times’ Nate Cohn dismissed Trump as a flash in the pan with Silver writing that “our emphatic prediction is simply that Trump will not win the nomination” and Cohn predicting that the comments about John McCain not being the kind of war hero Trump preferred was “the moment Trump’s campaign went from boom to bust.” Perhaps most famously, The Huffington Post covered Trump in its entertainment section rather than its political section as a way of making a statement both about the media’s obsession with Trump and about Trump himself. They unceremoniously moved their Trump coverage to its rightful place some time ago and both Silver and Cohn issued their explanations yesterday. And they were hardly alone.

Plenty of others made the same prediction. It was conventional wisdom at the time and for some good reasons, perhaps the most important being that the 2012 GOP primary race had featured an epic assortment of weirdos and misfits, some of whom were number one in the polls for a time, including the likes of Michele Bachman and Herman Cain. Right wing religious extremist Rick Santorum was the runner up in that race, after all. Conventional wisdom held that presidential primaries tend to have a bit of a freakshow quality in the beginning that usually peters out as people begin to pay more attention.

In fact, Ben Carson proved the point. For a time he was the frontrunner, collecting tons of money from small donors and dominating the coverage. But when he stumbled badly answering questions about his past and generally sounding ignorant about American foreign policy, he quickly sank in the polls. This had the effect of reinforcing the beltway conventional wisdom that this was the normal process and soon it would happen to Trump as well.

They didn’t realize what had changed:

One needs only to go slightly further back to 2008 to recall the spectacle of Sarah Palin being chosen to be the Vice Presidential nominee to recognize that the modern Republican Party has not been afraid to put one of their sideshow acts on the main stage. That should have tipped off the intelligentsia that Trump’s act could catch on with GOP voters. The base loved Palin and her crypto-white-nationalist paeans to Joe the Plumber. And they certainly didn’t mind that she was completely unprepared for the job. In fact it was a selling point. The similarities between her subsequent turn as a reality star and The Donald’s long stint on “The Apprentice” escaped the notice of most observers in the apparent belief that such an embarrassing career was a disqualifier when their fans saw it as a major plus.

And if people had been paying slightly closer attention they would have seen that despite all the breathless reporting about the GOP’s “deep bench” of astonishing political talent, the Republican race was already a clown car with the top tier candidates like Christie and Walker making fools of themselves overseas, Rubio making no impression whatsoever and Jeb Bush appearing to be sleepwalking. For all of their credentials and experience they were already bumbling their way through the primary by the time Trump threw his comb-over into the ring. But the PR push had been fierce going into 2016 with Republicans of all stripes convinced that between their young and vigorous candidates or their vastly experienced political hands their field was unbeatable. Even if the media had taken Trump more seriously the fact that the Republican establishment failed to do so would have tilted the coverage in another direction.

They made the same mistake as the media:

They assumed that Trump would implode the same way the other “outsider” candidate, Ben Carson imploded. But Trump defied all such expectations at every step of the way, making shocking comments nearly every day, none which managed to take him down. Instead, they kept him in first place. Nobody could believe that they were actually helping him by proving to his followers that he was confident enough and tough enough to say what they are all thinking right out loud. The more politically incorrect he is, the more they love him. 

Deviancy had not only been defined down, it was a good thing and what had been good was now bad: 

The problem is that many of the commentariat and the political establishment had fooled themselves into believing that the conservative movement has been inspired by ideological commitment to a set of constitutional principles, patriotic obligation and devotion to traditional values.

But it turns out that elaborate intellectual construct was never the primary motivation for many members of the GOP. What attracted them were the dogwhistles, the under-the-radar signals to Americans who feel betrayed by the social changes that have rocked our culture for the past forty years. And they are tired of listening to all that philosophical mumbo-jumbo as Republican politicians fail to deliver on their implicit promises to set things right. Trump is keeping it real.

They never understood that:

Why did the prognosticators get it so wrong? Because they never believed the dogwhistles were real. After all, none of the Republicans they know are racist throwbacks who want America to be start kicking ass and taking names.

That may be, or it may be more complicated than that, with real grievances, but if so E. J. Dionne pleads with the left to please not normalize Trump:

The fact that Trump draws opposition from the most ideological parts of the Republican Party heightens the temptation on the left to cheer his apparent victory. As someone who has argued that the right has long been on the wrong path, I understand this urge.

It’s certainly true that his feat vindicates much of what progressives have said about the conservative movement. Republican leaders have a lot to answer for, and not only the incompetence and timidity of their stop-Trump efforts.

They have spent years stoking the resentment and anger on the right end of their party that fueled Trump’s movement. They ignored the material interests of their struggling white working-class base and also popular exhaustion with foreign commitments fed by interventionist misadventures. Along with many Democrats, they underestimated the anger over trade agreements that accelerated the economic dislocation of the less well-off.

After this election, the GOP will need an extended period of self-examination. But no one on the left should applaud the rise of Trump as representing a friendly form of “populism” – let alone view him as the leader of a mass movement of the working class. He is no such thing. He is channeling the European far right, mixing intolerance, resentment and nationalism.

In short, he’s still a deviant, but David Roberts suggests that no one will be able to do much about that:

We find ourselves at the tail end of a brief period of clarity. For the past few months, virtually everyone outside of the forty percent of Republican primary voters who carried him to victory has agreed that Trump is not fit to be president.

Marco Rubio called him a “con man.” Mitt Romney called him “a phony, a fraud.” Cruz called him an “amoral pathological liar” and said if he is elected “this country could well plunge into the abyss.” Lindsey Graham said Trump would lead to “another 9/11.” David Brooks called him “epically unprepared to be president.” George Will said that “his running mate will be unqualified for high office because he or she will think Trump is qualified.” The house organ of conservatism, National Review, condemned him in florid terms. A Super PAC was created just to stop him.

And there is an alternative:

Hillary Clinton, for all her flaws, has demonstrated a basic level of competence. She understands how policy and government work. She’s not openly racist; she hasn’t encouraged street violence. There’s no risk that she would disrupt the international order or cause an economic crisis out of pique.

That’s a really, really low bar. But it’s the only bar she has to clear in this contest. Almost irrespective of what you think of Clinton’s politics or her policies, she is manifestly more prepared to run the federal government than Donald Trump.

But that may not matter:

The number of people who recognize this elemental fact about the election, however, has probably already reached and passed its peak. It will decline from here on out. The moment of clarity is already ending.

The moment of deviancy is beginning, because the concept of deviancy can no longer be sustained in our current political environment:

The US political ecosystem – media, consultants, power brokers, think tanks, foundations, officeholders, the whole thick network of institutions and individuals involved in national politics – cannot deal with a presidential election in which one candidate is obviously and uncontroversially the superior (if not sole acceptable) choice. The machine is simply not built to handle a race that’s over before it’s begun.

There are entire classes of professionals whose jobs are premised on the model of two roughly equal sides, clashing endlessly. The Dance of Two Parties sustains the consultants and activists.

That is what has been defined down:

Among all these classes of professionals – all these institutions, that whole superstructure of US politics built around two balanced sides – there will be a tidal pull to normalize this election, to make it Coca-Cola versus Pepsi instead of Coca-Cola versus sewer water.

The US political system knows how to play the former script; it doesn’t know how to play the latter. There’s a whole skein of practices, relationships, and money flows developed around the former. The latter would occasion a reappraisal of, well, everything… So there will be a push to lift Donald Trump up and bring Hillary Clinton down, until they are at least something approximating two equivalent choices…

It’s not a conspiracy; it won’t be coordinated. It doesn’t need to be. It’s just a process of institutions, centers of power and influence, responding to the incentive structure that’s evolved around them. The US political ecosystem needs this election to be competitive.

That’s Roberts’ thesis, and he extends it to the media:

The campaign press requires, for its ongoing health and advertising revenue, a real race. It needs controversies. “Donald Trump is not fit to be president” may be the accurate answer to pretty much every relevant question about the race, but it’s not an interesting answer. It’s too final, too settled. No one wants to click on it.

What’s more, the campaign media’s self-image is built on not being partisan, which precludes adjudicating political disputes. How does that even work if one side is offering up a flawed centrist and the other is offering up a vulgar xenophobic demagogue?

It would be profoundly out of character for reporters to spend the six months between now and the election writing, again and again, that one side’s candidate is a liar and a racist and an egomaniac. It would be uncomfortable, personally and professionally.

There’s only one way this can go:

Just as the media will need to elevate Trump, it will need to bring Clinton down. Going after Clinton will be journalists’ default strategy for proving that they’re not biased. They will need opportunities to be “tough” toward Clinton, or at least to engage in the kind of performative toughness valued in campaign journalism, to demonstrate their continued independence.

Trump will give them opportunities. And it’s not going to be through policy critique, a domain in which Clinton towers over him. It’s going to be through tawdry, nasty shit.

And yes, they will call that fair and balanced. Even MSNBC will call that fair and balanced, and Martin Longman adds this:

Partisans on both sides have been complaining for years that the “neutral” reporters are failing to accomplish this balance. Conservatives think the reporting class has such a fundamentally liberal worldview that it permeates all their coverage even when it is unintended. This was the rationale for Fox News, for example. Liberals think that a desire to be even-handed leads these “neutral” reporters to resort, time and time again, to a form of both-siderism, where no matter how atrociously a Republican behaves, some equivalency must be sought from a Democrat.

These criticisms both have a lot of merit, but we’re dealing with something in a different class with Trump. Even most responsible Republicans agree that he shouldn’t get within a country mile of the nuclear codes. There’s wide bipartisan consensus that he suffers from a narcissism disorder, that he’s ill-informed and prone to believe in conspiracy theories, that he’s a bully, that he’s built his political success on xenophobia and racism, and that he’s a misogynist.

Well, that’s just too bad:

If the reporters actually focus on this consensus, that doesn’t allow them to promote a traditional presidential race. They can’t find equivalent faults in Hillary Clinton even though they’ll do their best. They can’t just report everything as a he said/she said/you decide dispute. In truth, they can’t report on this campaign while being both objective and neutral. And they can’t report on it the way they are designed to report on national politics.

This is the argument that there’s an inherent structural reason that deviancy gets defined down, and Salon’s Simon Maloy adds this:

Already we tend to breeze past the fact that the policies Trump has proposed – banning Muslim immigration, building a giant wall – are motivated by insane bigotry and gross nativism. The fact that he’s won Republican primaries while espousing these positions gives them a flimsy patina of legitimacy. He tosses out racial conspiracy theories so frequently that one can become inured to the craziness. The story becomes “oh there goes Trump saying a nutty thing again” instead of “holy shit this guy is a god damn racist nut.” When we start treating Trump’s sexism and bigotry as campaign tactics instead of deep and irreparable character flaws, Trump is winning.

I worry about this, and I worry about the tendency to believe that Trump either doesn’t believe what he says or will find himself naturally restrained by the office of the presidency.

That, however, is a pipe dream, and a dangerous one:

It’s the sort of thinking that breeds complacency and indifference towards his toxic platform – if you think he’ll be too constrained to follow through on his bigoted and authoritarian policies, then you’re apt to write it off as mere posturing, something he said just to elicit a reaction. It serves to make Trump seem less threatening and less poisonous than he really is, and that works to his favor.

Already we’re seeing high-profile reporters and pundits who are grubbing for access to Trump by sugarcoating or rationalizing his belligerence and bigotry. The urge to provide Trump the same deference and treatment one would a mainstream politician will be strong. But that gives the Republican nominee more credit than he’s due, and it pushes to the background everything that makes Donald Trump the malignant political force that he is.

When that’s pushed to the background, it’s over. Trump wins in November, and finally, Daniel Patrick Moynihan is proven right. Deviance is always defined down. Then it disappears.

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That Slow Boat to China

In 1870 or so, it was best not to hang around the Boston House at the corner of Davis and Chambers streets near the waterfront in San Francisco. The place was run by James “Shanghai” Kelly and often the whiskey was free, and laced with opium. When you woke up you’d find you were a deckhand on a slow boat to China. You’d been shanghaied.

That’s where you’d be heading – Shanghai. Life would be hard for years and you’d probably never see home again. Kelly had a gift for supplying men to understaffed ships, no questions asked, but Congress passed the Shipping Commissioners Act of 1872 where a sailor had to sign on to a ship in the presence of a federal shipping commissioner, and finally there was the Seamen’s Act of 1915 that made this sort of thing a federal crime. No one would ever be shanghaied again.

Now the worst thing one can expect after a night of heavy drinking on the waterfront in San Francisco is to wake up with a massive tattoo you can’t explain, in an unfortunate location – but the term, shanghaied, is still useful. James Kelly was a clever businessman who made a fortune in seedy ways that were legal at the time. Donald Trump is a clever businessman who has made a fortune in seedy ways that were only sort of legal. After he built Trump World Tower the City of New York changed its zoning laws regarding air-rights so that would never happen again – and there’s Trump University of course – so Trump is a bit like Kelly. After all, he just shanghaied the Republican Party – without using whiskey laced with opium.

Philip Rucker with Robert Costa and Jose A. DelReal explain the basics:

Donald Trump assumed control of the Republican Party on Wednesday as its presumptive presidential nominee after Ohio Gov. John Kasich exited the race, moving swiftly to consider vice-presidential prospects and plan for what is expected to be a costly and vicious six-month battle for the White House against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Trump, who has proudly touted how he has self-funded his campaign, said he would begin actively seeking donations for his campaign and raise money for the national party, part of the arduous task of coalescing a party deeply divided over his toxic brand of politics.

That won’t be easy when half the party woke up to find they has been shanghaied:

Party leaders are scrambling to stave off a parade of prominent Republicans endorsing Clinton, but already there were notable defections. The two living Republican past presidents, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush, have no plans to endorse Trump, according to their spokesmen.

In the swing state of Nevada, Gov. Brian Sandoval, a moderate Republican and rising Latino star, said he plans to vote for Trump despite their disagreements on some issues. But Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) said that “I vehemently oppose our nominee” because he disparaged women, Hispanics and veterans – although Heller insisted he would not vote for Clinton.

It seems Heller won’t vote at all, but others are just giving up:

As some conservative commentators lit up social media with images of burning GOP registration cards, some party elders called for a healing process and sought to quiet talk of an independent protest candidacy.

“Life is a series of choices, and this choice looks like one between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton,” said Haley Barbour, a former Mississippi governor and national party chairman. “Anybody who proposes a third party is saying, ‘Let’s make sure Clinton wins.’ ”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) stood with Trump. “As the presumptive nominee, he now has the opportunity and the obligation to unite our party around our goals,” McConnell said in a statement.

 Good luck with that:

Trump said he was hardly fretting about whether leading Republicans, such as 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney, would eventually back him.

“I believe that the people are going to vote for the person,” Trump said in an interview. “They love their party, but until this year the party was going in the wrong direction… We’ve made the party much bigger.”

In that interview on the Today Show Trump did vow to unify the party, but in the next breath he basically told those who were griping to get lost:

In a shot at his critics, Trump added: “Those people can go away and maybe come back in eight years after we served two terms. Honestly, there are some people I really don’t want.”

Hey, it’s his party now, so he can tell anyone he wants to sit down and shut up, and Karen Tumulty and Robert Costa explain just what that means:

Donald Trump has demolished just about every pillar of Republican philosophy, leaving the party to grapple with an identity crisis deeper than anything it has seen in half a century. The GOP has chosen as its 2016 standard-bearer a candidate who has flouted a litany of its once-sacred conservative principles.

Trump is disdainful of free-trade agreements, leery of foreign intervention, less than strident on social issues and a champion of protecting entitlements. Trump has also shattered Republican efforts to appeal to minorities and women by taking extreme positions on building a wall along the Southern border and barring Muslims from entering the country – and offending women with a series of insulting comments.

And Trump has risen as the institutional powers of the party, from its congressional leadership to its thought leaders at think tanks and in the media, have seen their support and stature diminished and fragmented during the Obama era, leaving vulnerable both the party and the right overall.

“As this develops, he’ll help shape – at least for this year, and maybe for a long time after that – what it means to be a Republican,” said former New Jersey governor Thomas H. Kean (R).

Kean didn’t say that with a smile, and he’s not alone:

“I don’t believe Trump has any beliefs. What I sense happened is he saw an arbitrage opportunity, a huge disconnect of the rank and file from the elite on immigration and trade, and he just exploited that,” said Reihan Salam, a conservative intellectual and author. “He walked in, took advantage and recognized there is a constituency.”

He saw an opening and he took it:

Trump discerned that early, even as the GOP establishment was sifting through the rubble of 2012, trying to figure out why it had lost the popular vote in five out of the past six presidential elections. Their prescription for victory was to soften their party’s image by appealing to young people, Hispanics and women. Trump’s was the opposite.

Just six days after GOP nominee Mitt Romney conceded defeat to President Obama, Trump quietly filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for rights to the phrase that has become the signature line of his campaign: “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.”

“This has never been a campaign about ideology or policy per se, or a 14-point policy plan,” said former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele. “It’s been about sending a message about Washington and the direction of the country.”

On the GOP debate stage, Trump stood out in a field of former and current governors and senators as the ultimate outsider. He railed against failing institutions, political correctness and a world that seemed to be pushing this country around.

And he railed against them, leaving this:

Republicans have always put a premium on experience and had expected the cast of 2016 to be their most appealing in a generation. Instead, their voters turned to a figure with no government or military experience – the first nominee to lack either of those bona fides since Wendell Willkie in 1940 – and one who was best known to many Americans as the host of a reality television show.

They’ll just have to get used to that, although it won’t be easy:

“I absolutely do not want to take over the party,” Trump said in an interview. “I want to work with the party.”

But the two leaders of the GOP on Capitol Hill – House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) – barely know Trump and have had only occasional phone calls with him in recent months. On policy, Trump can appear to be worlds apart, such as with his opposition to the sweeping budget overhaul and trade pacts that have been the cornerstone of Ryan’s national career.

Unlike McConnell, who comes out of the trench warfare of partisan Kentucky politics, and Ryan, who is a scion of the supply-side conservative movement, Trump is a product of the New York real estate business and the city’s tabloid culture, a political agitator lacking an ideological project.

The main thing many Republican leaders want right now is reassurance that, despite polls to the contrary, Trump is not leading the GOP to a massive defeat in the fall that could wipe out candidates all the way down the ballot and possibly cost them their Senate majority.

It may be too late for that:

The most optimistic among Republicans hope that Trump has the capacity to bring in new voters and expand the party’s reach. But they realize that could ultimately come at the cost of their identity and the coherence of their worldview.

That’s not quite what Jonathan Bernstein sees:

It’s hard to imagine a bigger disaster for the Republican Party. It is left with a likely nominee who appears to be an awful – historically awful – general-election candidate and who is also the least committed to the Republican agenda in decades.

This leaves a terrible choice for GOP politicians and other party actors. Support Trump, and they’ll always be associated with him and they’ll be tarred with whatever irresponsible things he says. Oppose him, and he’ll be an even weaker general-election candidate who could bring down the entire Republican ticket in November, costing them not only the closely contested Senate but perhaps even the House and several state legislative chambers.

The identity and coherence of the party’s worldview don’t matter a lot if the party disappears, but Jennifer Rubin, who writes the Right Turn blog for the Washington Post, says identity and coherence are everything:

When former candidates like Bobby Jindal say they will vote for Trump (but not be happy about it) and when TV media entertainer Sean Hannity allows Trump without challenge to repeat his despicable lie about Cruz’s father, responsible Republicans must conclude that there needs to be a separation between those who put stock in personal character and truthfulness and those who do not; between those who babble inanities and those who insist on intellectual rigor; between those who lack simple decency and respect for fellow Americans and those who believe our political system must function without threat of violence, bigoted slurs and lies.

Well, he did take the lie back – Trump: Of Course I Don’t Think Cruz’s Dad Was Linked to JFK’s Assassinator – but then, he had put it out there for a day. Rubin wants nothing to do with that sort of thing, but Paul Waldman argues that this had to happen:

For decades, the GOP has built its identity on what I call the Four Pillars of Conservatism: small government, low taxes, strong defense, and traditional social values. They provide an easy-to-understand template for every Republican running for any office from dog catcher to president, they bind Republicans with different agendas in common cause, and their constant repetition cements the party’s image in voters’ minds. But Donald Trump, now the leader of this party, has shown only sporadic interest in any of them, with the possible exception of a strong defense. Instead, he has built his candidacy on ethno-nationalist appeals, scapegoating immigrants and Muslims and making it absolutely clear that he is leading a movement of, by, and for white people.

It isn’t that this is foreign to the GOP, just that it’s so blatant as to remove all plausible deniability. Trump takes the ugly appeals they used to make with dog whistles and euphemisms, and puts them right out in the open.

That’s what has people like Jennifer Rubin upset:

Among other things, that alienates moderates who don’t want to think that they’re voting for a reactionary party. That’s something Karl Rove and George W. Bush understood – when they created “compassionate conservatism” and had Bush take endless smiling photos with black and Hispanic people, the real target wasn’t minorities themselves but white moderates who wanted reassurance that they were voting for an open, inclusive party. 

Well, forget that: 

Trump likes to come out after a primary win and say how great he did among various demographic groups (even if much of the time he’s just making up results out of nowhere) – I won with women, I won with “the blacks,” I won with “the Hispanics”! But if the election were held right now, Trump would not just lose but likely lose by record margins among women, among African-Americans, among Hispanics, among Asian-Americans, among people with college educations – basically among every group except blue-collar white men.

So Trump takes what was a challenge for the party – their reliance on a diminishing portion of the population and their struggles appealing to all the portions of the population that are growing – and makes it dramatically worse.

This is rather like waking up and finding you’re now a deckhand on a slow boat to China and there’s not much you can do about it:

It might be that Trump will tarnish the GOP brand for a generation or more, particularly among voters just now coming of age. Republican candidates at all levels are going to be confronted with the question of not just whether they support Trump’s election, but whether they support anything he might do. Do you think Donald Trump should appoint the next Supreme Court justice? Do you think Donald Trump’s finger should be on the nuclear button? Do you think Donald Trump is a good role model for children?

If you’re a Republican running for any office, you might want to come up with answers for those questions. That’s why Democrats are now fantasizing about not just taking back the Senate, but the House as well, something that seemed impossible a few months ago.

There is, however, this alternative:

On the other hand, voters might see the ample number of Republicans criticizing Trump and conclude that as odious as he might be, he doesn’t actually represent his party. And it’s even possible that Trump’s inverse coattails (perhaps we should call them “exhaust fumes”) won’t have much effect on races below the presidential one. As Molly Ball points out, “A funny thing has happened to the Tea Party’s brand of anti-incumbent fervor in the age of Trump. In down-ballot primaries, antiestablishment conservatives have largely flopped… It is as if Trump had provided an outlet for all the primary electorate’s rage, leaving their local representatives unscathed.”

Something similar could happen in the general election: the broad electorate could express its disgust with the GOP by voting against its presidential nominee, but still re-elect most Republican members of Congress and state legislators.

That might happen, but that’s the best they can hope for now, and then there’s Mark Krikorian of the conservative Center for Immigration Studies:

Donald Trump is unfit to be president. He’s a braggart and a liar. And a serial adulterer. He’s behaved shamefully during the primary campaign. He wouldn’t recognize the Constitution if he tripped over it in the street. He doesn’t know even the Cliff Notes version of any policy issue. The idea that the party of Lincoln and Reagan, Coolidge and Eisenhower, Justice Harlan and Senator Taft has nominated Trump is appalling.

And I’m going to vote for him anyway.

Matthew Yglesias comments on that:

The reasons he gives are pretty simple. Presidents appoint people to important jobs. Krikorian specifically cites the Supreme Court, which would be on anyone’s list, and rather idiosyncratically names the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department as the other big one because “the division is Left’s most potent weapon in imposing its will on every city and town, every baker and florist, every church and synagogue in the nation.”

Yglesias sees what he’s up to:

Krikorian is articulating a perfectly sensible point about appointments in general. In the voting booth, you pick a president. In reality, you are picking a whole presidential administration. A Hillary Clinton administration will be staffed by reliable Democratic Party figures. Trump is enough of a weirdo to cast some doubt on the proposition that he will staff his administration with reliable Republican Party figures, but it still seems like he probably will. And the further you go down the food chain – not the attorney general but the assistant attorney general for civil rights – the more likely you are to find generic party figures in jobs.

Since most issues are obscure most of the time, in a day-to-day sense these staffing decisions tend to matter more than the question of what the president “really believes” or even knows anything about. So for most people, a pretty blind partisan vote ends up seeming compelling no matter what.

That is to say, this particular Republican president will stink, but the stench will remain at the top. Lower down, the “original” party will run things, really, as they should. It’s then okay to hold your nose and vote for Trump. The real work goes on elsewhere.

That’s not a bad rationalization, but Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir returns to the basic problem here:

Everybody following this election has made the same observation, but it bears repeating: For forty years or more, the dark political wizards of the Republican Party have bred and nurtured the Trump demographic, and now they’re shocked that it’s grown up into a carnivorous flower that has snaked its way to the rear to bite them in the capacious collective ass.

Pat Buchanan and Lee Atwater and Karl Rove and the Koch brothers have poured billions of dollars and volumes’ worth of Voldemort-level evil lore into convincing disgruntled and downwardly mobile white Americans to vote against their own economic interests over and over again. They fed them a catechism of resentment directed at a long list of nefarious foes – culminating in Barack Hussein Obama, the Kenyan-commie-gay usurper – and promised them a return to an imaginary America that never existed in the first place and definitely couldn’t exist now (and that in any case the Republican leadership absolutely did not want).

But those guys had a blind spot: They never imagined that someone could come along and steal the whole circus from under their noses, promising those voters the same infantile fantasy, freed of the irritating ideological baggage – all the jingoism and crude misogyny and empty tough talk you could want, with fewer pointless overseas wars and no mystifying asides about free trade or Medicare Part B or bigger tax cuts for the people who already have all the money.

The prose is a bit purple, but that seems about right, as does this:

People like me in the educated coastal classes typically view Trump’s voters as stupid, ignorant and dangerous, but that’s no better than two-thirds correct. They may want impossible things, and they may be dug into hardened bunkers of magical thinking. But they eventually noticed that the Republican leadership and its anointed candidates viewed them with contempt and played them for suckers. Maybe they’re not so dumb after all.

Anyone who gets conned is in on the con at an unconscious level, or so psychologists and David Mamet characters say. Trump’s electorate is in on the con at pretty nearly a conscious level, I would say. Many of his supporters understand he probably can’t win the election, and couldn’t build his stupid wall even if he did. Trump and his wall are signifiers of incoherent rage, focal points for unfocused resentment. His voters are less interested in governing the country than in ventilating their rage and “fucking shit up,” to use the vernacular. They have succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

And that leaves few alternatives:

Many elected officials and party apparatchiks will uneasily gather behind Trump at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, perhaps the most appropriately named venue in political history. Others will stay home and sulk; a few will actually jump ship and support Hillary Clinton. (Who is, and I’ll say this just once, closer to being a conventional Republican than Trump is.) All of them will try to forget the whole thing as rapidly as possible after November.

That’s because Trump will lose, which may be a good thing:

For the Republican Party, the Trump coup-d’état followed by a November wipeout would be catastrophic. First the party’s leadership and its funders have been comprehensively rejected by the electoral base, and then the riled-up base is (presumably) rejected by the general public. But that catastrophe contains the seeds of possible renewal, or at least it would if there were any Republicans with the wit and imagination to seize them.

That, however, requires a lot of imagination:

In its 21st-century incarnation, the GOP has become the party of rejectionism and nihilism and total whiteness. If there was a turning point – and, really, there were dozens – it came with the shocking primary defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in 2014, a rising conservative star in a safe Republican seat dethroned by a hard-right upstart. The center-right party of suburban businessmen and ladies who lunched and small-town Protestant ministers, which once had room for Dwight Eisenhower and Fiorello La Guardia (not to mention Edward Brooke, the first elected African-American senator, and Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman to serve in both houses of Congress) has tethered itself to the most resentful and most alienated elements of the exurban white underclass.

That demographic is declining, in relative terms. But it still comprises many, many people, and it’s both heartless and inaccurate to suggest those people are dying out or disappearing. Despite our stereotypes about race and poverty, Census Bureau numbers suggest that of the 47 million or so Americans who live below the poverty line, roughly 20 million are white. Millions more working-class whites outside the big cities live above the poverty line under precarious paycheck-to-paycheck circumstances, amid a pervasive atmosphere of downward mobility and lost opportunity. If those people feel abused or ignored, and believe they lack effective advocates, it’s because they have been and they do.

Whether those people can ever be persuaded to fight for their actual economic interests, in the poisoned climate of American politics, is a question with no evident answer. But in 2016 the toxic marriage between the Republican Party and working-class white America has finally hit the rocks…

So I guess the Republican brain trust can decide to follow Donald Trump and his true believers down the sewer drain of permanent white resentment. I mean, that’s the way they’ve been going anyway. They’ve still got plenty of money and nice offices, and they’ve baited the Democrats into a pattern of ideological retreat that has won the GOP a hefty share of power in Congress and clear across the middle of the country. That’s all in doubt now, but it’s not like it’s going to vanish overnight.

Or the Republicans could untether themselves from racism and xenophobia and a reflexive hatred of government, and build for the future as a moderate pro-business party with vaguely libertarian social policies and an internationalist foreign policy that tries to balance flag-waving machismo with pragmatism. Kasich and Bush would be leading candidates in that party, while Trump and Cruz wouldn’t even be in the picture.

That’s vaguely possible, but consider this:

That party could win elections, but there’s no visible path for today’s doomed Republicans that leads from here to there. For one thing, that party already exists, or very nearly does. It’s about to nominate Hillary Clinton.

Ah, there you have it. Hillary Clinton is the Republican in this election. And Bernie Sanders is the Democrat. And Donald Trump slipped the Republican Party some whiskey laced with opium and they woke, their heads aching, to find themselves on a slow boat to China, or somewhere even more remote. They were shanghaied by a clever businessman. These things still happen in America.

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The Unexpected Inevitable

Well, that was unexpected, and inevitable, and the Washington Post summed it up nicely:

Donald Trump, the celebrity mogul whose brash and unorthodox presidential bid was counted out time and again, became the de facto Republican nominee Tuesday night after a runaway victory in Indiana’s primary forced his chief rival, Ted Cruz, to quit the race.

Trump overcame a spirited last stand by Cruz – and a patchwork movement of Republicans working desperately to derail him in fear that his polarizing politics could doom the party – to gallop to the nomination. Indiana’s results positioned him to easily accumulate the 1,237 delegates required to avert a contested convention.

Even as Ohio Gov. John Kasich vowed to continue his long-shot campaign, Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus declared Trump the “presumptive nominee” and urged all Republicans to unite behind him.

Ted Cruz gave up and that was that, and on the other side it was this:

On the Democratic side, Indiana proved a surprising aberration as Bernie Sanders scored an upset victory over Hillary Clinton, giving the Vermont senator a needed psychological boost and a fresh rationale to soldier on against increasingly difficult odds.

But Sanders’s success did not change the overall trajectory of the Democratic race, which remains strongly in the former secretary of state’s favor. Clinton holds what her campaign and many analysts argue is an irreversible lead in total delegates. Although she has not clinched the nomination, she has shifted her focus to a likely general election campaign against Trump.

That one is over too. No one really expected anything else, although this was a bit unexpected:

As Trump claimed the mantle of GOP standard-bearer on Tuesday night, he was uncharacteristically measured. He remarked on his unlikely journey – “It’s been some unbelievable day and evening and year… a beautiful thing to behold” – and promised Republicans that he would not let them down. “We’re going to win big league, believe me,” he said at Trump Tower in New York. “We’re going after Hillary Clinton. She will not be a great president. She will not be a good president. She will be a poor president.”

That was an unfortunate use of the future-perfect tense – he meant to say she won’t be president, not that she will be, but he’s not a careful man with language – unless that was a Freudian slip and he really doesn’t want to be president, because he would rather snipe at her from the sidelines, in the safety of having no real responsibilities, which is his usual way of dealing with the world. He was not in his comfort zone:

As Trump savored what his family members described as a shocking evening, he strived to be magnanimous in his remarks and singled out Cruz for praise. “Ted Cruz – I don’t know if he likes me or he doesn’t like me, but he is one hell of a competitor,” Trump said. “He is a tough, smart guy. And he has got an amazing future.”

Perhaps that was magnanimous. He wasn’t calling him Lying Ted – but Ted doesn’t like him:

Moments earlier, Cruz gave an emotional concession speech in Indianapolis. Flanked by his family and running mate Carly Fiorina, he said: “We left it all on the field in Indiana. We gave it everything we’ve got. But the voters chose another path. And so with a heavy heart but with boundless optimism for the long-term future of our nation, we are suspending our campaign.”

He didn’t mention Trump. He didn’t say that now it was time for all good Republicans to rally around their party’s actual nominee and go after Hillary Clinton. He let all that slide, for obvious reasons:

Anti-Donald Trump Republicans are starting to consider whether their opposition to a Trump presidency is so strong that they would be prepared to fight him in the general election – even if that means helping put an avowed enemy, Hillary Clinton, in the Oval Office.

One strategy under discussion is to focus on helping down-ballot GOP candidates while sitting out the presidential race under the belief that Trump will lose to Clinton no matter what. A more drastic and difficult option: rallying support for a third-party candidate who could uphold traditional Republican positions but would almost certainly steal votes from Trump.

“You have to bet on sanity,” said GOP strategist Stuart Stevens, who helped lead the campaign of 2012 nominee Mitt Romney. “If this is one of those moments in history where for various reasons the party has to play out nominating someone who is completely unelectable… so be it.”

But it’s more than the guy being unelectable:

The difficulty of the GOP’s path forward was clear in the hours before and after the voting here. Even as Trump has tried to assert himself as the presumptive GOP nominee, he allowed his already bitter rivalry with Cruz to darken further. Trump on Tuesday invoked a National Enquirer report alleging that Cruz’s father had been spotted with Lee Harvey Oswald around the time of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Cruz called Trump a “pathological liar” and refuted his claim.

Cruz announced hours later that he was suspending his campaign. But the continued nastiness prompted some anti-Trump Republicans to look toward a once-unthinkable prospect – under­cutting the GOP nominee in ways that could make way for a Clinton presidency.

“The GOP is going to nominate for President a guy who reads the National Enquirer and thinks it’s on the level,” tweeted Mark Salter, a former aide to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Then he added a Clinton campaign slogan: “I’m with her.”

There will be more and more “Republicans for Hillary” soon enough, and Jonathan Chait addresses that:

It is fitting that Donald Trump has essentially locked up the Republican presidential nomination on the same day he made yet another bizarre and senseless (that is, lacking any discernible purpose) comment by accusing Ted Cruz’s father of having conspired to kill President Kennedy. The accusation, which originated from the pro-Trump National Enquirer, neatly encapsulates his peculiarity. There are a number of lunatic theories professed by most Republicans: the theory of anthropogenic global warming is a conspiracy concocted by scientists worldwide; the Reagan and Bush tax cuts caused revenue to increase; George W. Bush kept us safe from terrorism. But Trump advocates an entirely different set of crackpot beliefs that lie outside conservative ideology, and every attempt by his rivals to expose them has failed spectacularly.

This was never about conservative ideology:

The most surreal and characteristic moment of Trump’s presidential campaign may have taken place two months ago. That week, Mitt Romney had mocked Trump’s business acumen, highlighting his many failed ventures, including Trump Steaks, in a well-regarded and highly publicized speech that articulated both the horror with which Republican elites regarded Trump and their strategy for preventing him from capturing the nomination. A few days later, having won a series of victories, Trump appeared in his Mar-a-Lago resort to insist Trump Steaks were indeed a going concern. “Do we have steaks? We have Trump steaks. He said the steak company, and we have Trump steaks. And by the way, if you want to take one, we’ll charge you about, what, 50 bucks a steak?” It was not only a blatant lie, but a lie that required no sophistication at all to see through. One did not need a grasp of economics or public policy to understand that Trump Steaks is a no-longer-extant product. There are no advertisements for these steaks. They are not available for purchase anywhere. They do not exist. Trump simply had his staff purchase a bunch of steaks at a supermarket and display them on a table, and call them “Trump Steaks.” But – and here is the most incredible detail of all, the one that reveals just how blunt the Trump con is – his campaign did not even bother to completely remove the wrappers from the steaks they purchased. The steaks still had the labels from the local butcher from which they were purchased.

That should have ended it:

Most of America, including a significant minority of Republicans, have seen Trump’s candidacy exactly for the con it is. Trump for President is a category error. He is, as his rivals have described him, a charlatan, a con artist, a congenital liar, a man self-evidently unfit for office at any level, and especially the presidency. As George Will has argued, his unfitness is so manifest that it applies to anybody who considers him suitable for the office; a person is “unqualified for high office because he or she will think Trump is qualified.”

But what Chait calls “fulfilling the basic threshold duty of a functioning party, ensuring its presidential nomination had remained in the hands of a reasonably well-informed and indisputably sane person – not a giant, not a Lincoln, but at least one of the 10 or 20 million most qualified people in America, or at minimum, a certifiable non-sociopath” just wasn’t to be:

Actual Republican voters have not seen things this way at all. Indeed, as the campaign has gone on, they have seen things this way less and less. Watching this happen has been astonishing. The GOP’s efforts to impose normalcy, or some facsimile thereof, have not only failed but backfired. Cruz and John Kasich finally split up the remaining territory in an attempt to jointly deny Trump a majority. Cruz also announced a joint ticket with Carly Fiorina, an effective performer who had avoided any attacks on fellow Republicans in the course of auditioning for a spot on the ticket. This was supposed to cast a vision of a broad-based, anybody-but-Trump ticket behind which a wide array of non-Trump Republicans could rally. The opposite occurred. In a recent poll, a mere 8 percent of Republican voters described themselves as “enthusiastic” about the ticket, and another 20 percent “comfortable”; a staggering 70 percent said it made them “uncomfortable” or “angry.” Republicans across the country have watched Cruz take the fight to Trump, and concluded that they really disliked… Cruz. The Texas senator has seen his favorable ratings plummet, while Trump’s have spiked upward…

The premise of the anti-Trump campaign – that his personality and moral character fundamentally make him unfit the presidency – has crumbled. It is not that Trump had disproved these criticisms. Far from it. Rather, more and more Republicans could not bring themselves to make this case.

Most of them just gave up:

Virtually the entire Republican apparatus will follow Trump sooner or later, because without the voters, they have no power. And those voters have revealed things about the nature of the party that many Republicans prefer to deny. Whatever abstract arguments for conservative policy – and these arguments exist, and a great many people subscribe to them earnestly – on the ground Republican politics boils down to ethno-nationalistic passions ungoverned by reason. Once a figure has been accepted as a friendly member of their tribe, there is no level of absurdity to which he can stoop that would discredit him. And since reason cannot penetrate the crude tribalism that animates Republicans, it follows that nothing President Obama could have proposed on economic stimulus, health care, or deficits could have avoided the paroxysms of rage that faced him.

The paranoid mendacity of Joe McCarthy, the racial pandering of Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, and George Bush, the jingoism and anti-intellectualism of Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Sarah Palin – all these forces have embodied the essence of American conservative politics as it is actually practiced – rather than as conservative intellectuals like to imagine it.

The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus puts that this way:

The party has lost the popular vote in five of the past six presidential elections. Given Democrats’ inherent Electoral College advantage and Trump’s unpopularity, Republicans appear headed to lose the White House again, along, perhaps, with control of the Senate. The party faces fundamental, interconnected decisions about what ideological path to embrace, how to attract voters in a changing America and how to manage the angry, populist, anti-establishment forces unleashed by Trump.

To look back at the GOP’s post-2012 autopsy report is to conclude that Democrats read the document and sent Trump as a Manchurian candidate to further alienate voters.

“Public perception of the Party is at record lows,” the report concluded. “Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the Party represents, and many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country.”

Trump makes that bad situation worse, but he is not a cause of the party’s problems; he is a symptom of them.

This really was the unexpected inevitable, but now there’s a bigger problem:

The risk embedded in a Trump nomination – assuming a Trump loss in the general election – is that Republicans will derive the wrong lesson. The party’s most conservative members will argue that Trump’s failure was a matter of insufficient orthodoxy, and that the one true path to electoral success would have been to nominate a Ted Cruz-like true believer.

If Republicans were doomed – or, more accurately, doomed themselves – to lose in 2016, it would have been better for them to lose with Cruz, who dropped out on Tuesday night. That would at least have had the cleansing, Goldwateresque effect of proving the conservative argument wrong and returning power to the suppressed voices of reason within the party. Now, that fight seems destined to be rerun in 2020.

Josh Barro at Business Insider says dream on:

Trump is the candidate who finally figured out how to exploit the fact that much of the Republican voter base does not share the policy preferences of the Republican donor class, and that it is therefore possible to win the nomination without being saddled with their unpopular policy preferences.

He will not be the last candidate to understand this.

Future candidates will seek to rebuild Trump’s coalition, and they will follow in his footsteps by opposing free trade, promising to protect entitlements from cuts, questioning the value of America’s commitment to military alliances, and shrugging at social changes like the growing acceptance of transgender people.

All three of the supposed “legs” of the Republican coalition stool – libertarian economics, social conservatism, and militarism – are at risk from Trump and the populist-imitator candidates he will spawn.

That’s what comes next, but the New York Times’ Frank Bruni looks at the deeply flawed champion of conservative principle this time around:

As we bid Cruz adieu, we should give him his due: He took a mien and manner spectacularly ill-suited to the art of seducing voters about as far as they could go. He outlasted the likes of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. He outperformed Rick Santorum in 2012 and Mike Huckabee in 2008.

Like him, Santorum and Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses and built from there, courting the religious right with particular fervor. But they lacked the intensity of Cruz’s professed disdain for Washington, which was his other big sales pitch, made at its moment of maximum potency. He peddled extravagant piety and extreme contempt in equal measure.

If that sounds paradoxical, it is, and the tension between contradictory Cruzes is what ultimately did him in.

He spoke out of both sides of his scowl, itching to be the voice of the common man but equally eager to demonstrate what a highfalutin, Harvard-trained intellect he possessed. He wed a populist message to a plummy vocabulary. And while the line separating smart and smart aleck isn’t all that thin or blurry, he never could stay on the winning side of it.

He wore cowboy boots, but his favorites are made of ostrich.

This particular champion of conservative principle really was a piece of work:

Trump somehow saw fit to bring up a National Enquirer story linking Cruz’s father to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Cruz exploded, branding Trump a “pathological liar” and “serial philanderer.” He also brought up an interview from many years ago in which Trump told Howard Stern that his effort to steer clear of sexually transmitted diseases was his “personal Vietnam.”

Where was this rant six months ago, when the Republican field was crowded and Cruz played footsie with Trump? Back then he was wagering that Trump would fade, and he wanted to be in a friendly position to inherit the billionaire’s supporters.

But by Tuesday, Trump was the main obstacle between Cruz and the Republican presidential nomination, and Cruz has just one true compass: his own advancement.

Well, Cruz is who he is:

The nakedness of his vanity and transparency of his ambition were always his biggest problem. He routinely excoriated other politicians for self-centeredness while repeatedly hogging center stage, his remarks interminable – after his Iowa victory, for example, or when he presumptuously introduced Carly Fiorina as his running mate – and his pauses so theatrically drawn out that you could watch the entirety of “The Revenant” during some of them.

He trashed “the establishment” and wore its rejection of him as a badge of honor only until it stopped rejecting him and its help was his best hope to wrest the nomination away from Trump. At that point he did dizzy cartwheels over every prominent endorsement that came his way. …

And where was the humility that a Christian faith as frequently proclaimed as his should encompass? It wasn’t evident when he stormed into the Senate in early 2013, an upstart intent on upstaging the veterans.

So no one should have been surprised by his concession speech:

He left Trump out of his remarks. There were no congratulations. There was no indication of whether he’d publicly back Trump in the months to come. There was nothing to purge the memory of what he’d said earlier Tuesday, when he described Trump as “a narcissist at a level I don’t think this country has ever seen.” Yes, we have, and so has he, every day, in the mirror.

The Republican nomination process this cycle was more of a mess than it usually is, but Slate’s Isaac Chotiner argues that this time it was far more than a mess:

When people look back at tonight’s results a generation from now, our larger cultural response – at least as seen through our television media – will seem incomprehensible. On TV Tuesday night, there was hardly a whimper. CNN, MSNBC, and Fox contented themselves with bright chatter about Ted Cruz’s hurt feelings, about Donald Trump’s political skill, about the feckless, pathetic Republican establishment. None of the commentators I saw mentioned the import of what was happening. Large chunks of the media have spent so long domesticating Trump that his victory no longer appeared momentous. He is the new normal.

“We will be listening very closely to the tone Trump and Cruz take,” Wolf Blitzer told his audience, as we waited for the two men – the triumphant winner and the insincere loser – to speak to their respective supporters. “The fact is, he tapped into a zeitgeist,” David Axelrod said. “Donald Trump has a phenomenal sense of his audience.” “It’s stunning, and it’s historic,” Gloria Borger finally said on CNN. But she didn’t mention anything stunning or historic, merely noting Trump’s ability to “tap into something.” It was as if CNN had decided to cover 9/11 as a story about real estate in Lower Manhattan.

On MSNBC and Fox, the talk was similar. Would Trump debate Clinton? Could he win over female voters? By the time Cruz announced, less than two hours after the polls had closed in Indiana, that he was dropping out of the race, it had begun to seem like something out of a dream. This was really happening. But television’s acknowledgment that this indeed was happening did not affect anyone’s analysis of what “this” was.

They all missed the point:

There was little talk of ideology, or racism, or bigotry, or fascist appeals. Instead, the conversation was about process; Trump had been fit into the usual rhythms of an election season. The closest thing I heard to open-mouthed shock came from Rachel Maddow, who wondered, correctly, why out of 330 million people the Republican Party had chosen this particular reality television star.

Chotiner argues that THIS is what happened:

The Republican Party is now a white nationalist party, or at least a party with a white nationalist as its figurehead. The one attribute of our politics that used to make it slightly more palatable than much of European politics is no more. We’ve had our Dick Cheney and our Donald Rumsfeld and even our Richard Nixon. But we could always take pride in the way our redoubtable two-party system prevented quasi-fascists from getting close to real power. We’ve never had someone so untethered both from reality and from any sort of institutional check or balance come so close to the most powerful office on earth.

That was the unexpected inevitable. Andrew Sullivan recently explained the problem:

The emergence of the first black president – unimaginable before our more inclusive democracy – is miraculous, a strengthening, rather than weakening, of the system. The days when party machines just fixed things or rigged elections are mercifully done with. The way in which outsider candidates, from Obama to Trump and Sanders, have brought millions of new people into the electoral process is an unmitigated advance. The inclusion of previously excluded voices helps, rather than impedes, our public deliberation. But it is precisely because of the great accomplishments of our democracy that we should be vigilant about its specific, unique vulnerability: its susceptibility, in stressful times, to the appeal of a shameless demagogue…

This is an age in which a woman might succeed a black man as president, but also one in which a member of the white working class has declining options to make a decent living. This is a time when gay people can be married in 50 states, even as working-class families are hanging by a thread. It’s a period in which we have become far more aware of the historic injustices that still haunt African-Americans and yet we treat the desperate plight of today’s white working ­class as an afterthought. And so late-stage capitalism is creating a righteous, revolutionary anger that late-stage democracy has precious little ability to moderate or constrain – and has actually helped exacerbate.

And that gives us Donald Trump, the big surprise that was inevitable. Now what?

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The Silent Woman

Donald Trump has a problem with women, but this sort of thing has been going on a long time. In 1609, Ben Jonson gave us Epicœne, or The Silent Woman – a mistaken-identity comedy about a wealthy old man with an obsessive hatred of noise who decides he must marry a silent woman – the ideal woman. He’s set up. His new silent wife, Epicœne, turns out to be a young boy. It’s a lot more complicated than that, but the running joke is that there’s no such thing as a silent woman.

The wealthy old man, Morose, really was a fool, and that was amusing in all sorts of ways, but the play was a flop. Shakespeare was writing better stuff at the time. Jonson’s play was a hit later, in the Restoration, starting in 1660 when the British decided all those years without a king, when Oliver Cromwell and his Puritans ran the place and banned all theater, because it undermined public morals, had been a miserable time. They brought Charles II back from exile in France. It was time once again for sexually ambiguous farce. Jonson had been dead for years, since 1637, but he sort of got his revenge. People should loosen up – especially about women.

People haven’t loosened up, and women have paid the price ever since. Marilyn Monroe paid the price. She was America’s sexy-as-hell little bit of provocative fluff, without a thought in her pretty little head, implicitly compliant and essentially silent. What did she know about anything? Who cared? But that was the image that paid the bills. She read everything in sight, from Plato to Sartre. She sat down with puzzled intellectuals. She even married the famous playwright Arthur Miller. She wanted to be taken seriously, and she probably should have been taken seriously, but that wasn’t to be. She couldn’t escape being trapped in the body of what seemed to be the ultimate woman. Her suicide wasn’t all that surprising.

Marilyn Monroe longed to be epicene – not the character in the Jonson play but what that word means as an adjective – of and pertaining to both sexes. That’s a longing to be taken seriously, and that longing may be what determines the election in November – assuming it will be Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton. Trump refuses to take her seriously – on principle – because she’s a woman.

There may be no other way to read this:

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump on Sunday stood by his claim that Hillary Clinton is using the “woman’s card” to win the Democratic nomination, saying “she wouldn’t even be in this race” if she weren’t a woman.

“It is the woman’s card, and she plays it – and I’ll let you know in about six months whether or not she plays it well,” Trump said during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” referencing how he believes the general election will be a fight between him and Clinton.

“But I don’t think she’ll play it well,” the billionaire businessman and former Atlantic City casino magnate continued. “I don’t think she’ll play it well at all. And it’s true: If she were not a woman, she wouldn’t even be in this race.”

The comments came days after Trump sparked criticism by saying Clinton, the former U.S. secretary of state, is benefiting from playing “the woman’s card.”

“Frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she would get 5 percent of the vote,” the real estate mogul said Tuesday night during his victory speech after winning five northeastern primaries.

Okay, he’s not backing down from that. He’s all in, and he wouldn’t take the out he was offered:

“Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace told Trump that “strategists in both parties say if you consciously went about it, if you specifically planned, you couldn’t have said anything that would drive your numbers among women even lower.”

“Really? Okay,” Trump replied. “Well, I’m my own strategist and I like that – what I said and it’s true. I only tell the truth, and that’s why people voted for me.”

“To say if she were a man, she’d get 5 percent – isn’t that kind of dismissive?” Wallace asked.

Trump responded how Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s challenger for the Democratic nomination, “said a lot worse than that” when he recently questioned her qualifications to be president.

Though Sanders later walked those comments back, Trump said he’s “going to use that.”

“We’ll have that teed up,” he said. “It’s a sound bite.”

“So, look, she’s a strong person,” Trump added. “She’s going to have to be able to take it. The fact is: The only card she has is the woman’s card. She’s done a lousy job in so many ways, and even women don’t like her. They don’t like her.”

How does he know? An Associated Press item adds perspective:

She has no stamina. She shouts. She has nothing going for her but being a woman. Donald Trump, after toying with gender politics off and on during the campaign, is all in on a mission to undercut Hillary Clinton’s credentials by syncing up his say-anything campaign strategy with his alpha-male persona.

The same Republican presidential candidate who mocked “little” Marco Rubio, dismissed “low-energy” Jeb Bush, and promises, as president, to “cherish” and “protect” women is dismissing the former senator, secretary of state and first lady as little more than a token female who’s playing the “woman’s card.”

“Frankly, all I’m doing is stating the obvious,” Trump insisted, when pressed about whether his latest Clinton takedowns were sexist.

Perhaps so, but there may be more to it:

“It’s a very simplistic notion of gender,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. She said Trump is “putting out there a notion of masculinity” that fits with popular images of the presidency. “He is playing the gender card but not connecting it to policy, instead connecting it to his own macho image and his bravado.”

Trump’s messages about women represent a tangle of views, said Stanley Renshon, a political psychologist at the City University of New York.

There’s the Trump who has no qualms about advancing women within his business enterprises, the Trump who disparages women just because “I can say whatever comes to mind,” and the retrograde Trump who never outgrew an adolescent fixation with desirable and beautiful women, Renshon said.

“I don’t think he knows how to talk about them in a modern-sensibility way,” said Renshon, adding that the billionaire businessman is not used to having his utterances corrected by anyone.

That’s too bad, because there are issues:

He has mocked the face of onetime GOP rival Carly Fiorina, now Cruz’s running mate. He has retweeted an unflattering image of Heidi Cruz, the Texas senator’s wife, juxtaposed with a glamorous photo of his wife, Melania. He engaged in a long-running dispute with Megyn Kelly of Fox News in which he dismissed her as a “lightweight” and “bimbo,” and described her at one point as having “blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”

He was just as unfiltered in his thoughts about women and their appearances before entering politics. In 1996, Trump reportedly described a Miss Universe who had gained weight as “an eating machine.” He described Rosie O’Donnell as “my nice fat little Rosie” in a 2006 spat. In 2012, he tweeted that Huffington Post editor Arianna Huffington was “unattractive both inside and out.”

None of this has seemed to bother Trump’s loyal followers in the GOP primaries. But it could be a different matter in the general election, when Republican candidates typically suffer from a gender gap. In every presidential election since 1980, a greater proportion of women than men preferred the Democratic candidate.

“The challenge for Republican candidates has been trying to make some inroads into that women’s vote,” Walsh said. “And it’s hard to imagine that Donald Trump, as of right now, is well positioned to be the Republican candidate to make those inroads, given the things that he’s said.”

That is just stating the obvious too, and Salon’s Amanda Marcotte goes much further:

“Well, I’m my own strategist and I like that – what I said and it’s true,” Trump said. “I only tell the truth and that’s why people voted for me.”

The audacity of it is stunning, of course. If he hadn’t been born a white man in a wealthy family, Trump would be a used car salesman in Des Moines who spends his weekends on desultory Match.com dates with divorcees who never call him again. Meanwhile, a huge amount of Clinton’s appeal is that she’s a smart and talented woman who has overcome a huge amount of sexist abuse in order to get as far as she has.

But Trump’s bleating about the “woman card” epitomizes the appeal he has to his supporters, even as he manages to alienate everyone else in the country.

And that’s the problem:

There’s a certain logic to his argument if you believe, as most conservatives do, that sexism is a thing of the past and that feminists are just making up stories to “play the victim” and earn the sweet, sweet cash they supposedly get from saying sexism still exists.

The problem with the “sexism is over” argument is that women in this country are still not equal. There’s a persistent pay gap. Women are underrepresented in congress and no woman has ever been the president. While women graduate from college at greater rates than men, they are less likely to get plum jobs and promotions.

Something is amiss here:

Looking over the statistics, there’s really only two ways to explain the inequities: Either women are being treated unfairly or women are simply inferior to men. Feminists stand by the first argument, pointing out multiple studies that show that sexist beliefs about women and systematic discrimination holds women back.

Conservatives, however, reject the notion that sexism is still a thing, forcing them to argue that women fall behind because they’re simply not as good as men. There are a lot of euphemisms for this argument – they usually say it’s because of women’s “choices” instead of bluntly claiming that women are inferior – but the gist is there: It’s not sexism; it’s that women aren’t good/smart/ambitious enough.

Once you buy into the argument that women’s inequality is due to women’s inferiority, it’s not much of a leap to start assuming that any woman who does go far must be getting some unfair advantage.

So, Trump leaped, but he does that sort of thing:

For Trump and the sexist men who support him, it’s easier to believe that Clinton’s success is due to a feminist conspiracy to promote women over more deserving men than to admit that there are women out there that are smarter and more capable than they are. It’s the same mentality that led Trump and the folks who support him to embrace “birther” theories about Barack Obama. It was easier to believe he was installed by a shadowy cabal than accept the possibility that an African-American man could be a legitimately elected official.

Insecurity is the problem here, as are the rationalizations:

Trump’s simplistic sexism has become déclassé in mainstream conservative circles. Instead, the trend has been to accept some women into leadership positions, as long as they remain firmly in the minority and don’t ever rise to the tippy-top positions reserved for men. This simultaneously props up the argument that conservatives aren’t sexist while maintaining a belief in female inferiority. The gist of things is that while a small handful of exceptional women are good enough to compete with men, most are not. And even those who are smart enough will never be quite as good as the men at the top.

Ted Cruz’s selection of Carly Fiorina as his running mate is a perfect illustration of the delicate dance that conservatives are performing with gender politics. On one hand, he’s trying to show off how non-sexist he supposedly is by picking a woman. On the other hand, he went out of his way to pick someone who isn’t as smart as he is, as evidenced by her long history of professional and political failures. The pick allows him to appear to respect women while reinforcing conservative beliefs that women aren’t quite as capable as men. If anything, by picking someone who isn’t very good, Cruz is subtly reaffirming the belief that women in leadership are incompetents who get a leg up not because of talent but because of “political correctness.”

John McCain did the same thing in 2008 with his selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate.

And how did that work out? But Trump might pull this off:

Under the circumstances, it’s easy to see why so many voters prefer Trump. He doesn’t play these complicated games of pretending to respect women while rejecting the possibility that women really can be equal to men. His belief systems are far more straightforward: He doesn’t think women are smart and any woman’s success that challenges him will be waved away as a gimme handed to her because of “political correctness.” For those who are sick of pretending to believe things they don’t want to believe, such as in the possibility that women can be smart, the Trump method is far more appealing than the elaborate systems of B.S. that other conservatives have built.

That, plus it’s always thrilling to misogynists to hear that, simply by virtue of being male, they are better than a woman who was her class valedictorian, an accomplished lawyer, a senator and the secretary of state.

Trump is making that argument:

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump argued Monday that he had more foreign policy experience than “virtually anybody” seeking the presidency in response to a couple jokes President Obama made at Trump’s expense.

Obama took a few jabs at the GOP frontrunner at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner this weekend, joking that Trump would be good at foreign policy because he had met with “Miss Sweden” and “Miss Argentina.” Trump himself opted to not attend the dinner, but his children did go.

“Right now, we have hundreds of deals being negotiated all over the world by my company, and I deal with presidents, and I deal with prime ministers. I deal with everybody,” Trump said on CNN. “I probably have more experience than virtually anybody looking at this office. And I make money. I’ve made a lot of money doing it.”

Sure, Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, but did she make a lot of money for us all, and for herself, while doing that? Women! Case closed.

All of this seems like political suicide, but Paul Waldman has a theory about what is going on here:

Here’s my hypothesis: Trump is trying to execute a version of a strategy Karl Rove used so effectively throughout his career. That strategy says that you don’t go after your opponent’s weakness, you go after her strength. The most well-known case was that of John Kerry, where Republicans took the fact that Kerry was a war hero with multiple citations for bravery during his service in Vietnam, and convinced voters that not only wasn’t Kerry a hero at all, he was almost a traitor. In another colorful example from earlier in Rove’s career, he had a client opposing a candidate known for his volunteer work with children, so he spread rumors that the opponent was a pedophile. Suddenly, pictures of the candidate with kids he was helping took on a different meaning.

If this is what Trump is trying to do, it starts from an accurate premise: Clinton’s gender may indeed be one of her greatest strengths. She enters the general election with plenty of weaknesses, particularly since she’s been embroiled in an endless string of controversies over her quarter-century as a national figure. Yet her election as the first woman president would be truly historic, and the closer we get to the election, the more salient that fact may become to women voters (and many men as well). And Clinton isn’t hamstrung by many of the unfair questions that many female candidates have to endure. She’s viewed as strong and competent, and since her daughter is grown, no one is asking why she isn’t at home taking care of her family (a question female candidates with children get, but male candidates never do). There has been a significant gender gap in recent presidential elections, but this election could see the widest one in history, particularly if Democrats can succeed in turning out single women, one of the groups they perform best with.

That is her strength, but Waldman argues that Trump can’t pull this off:

If Trump is trying to undermine Clinton’s ability to use her gender to her advantage, he’s going about it in exactly the wrong way. Instead of arguing that a Clinton presidency would actually be bad for women, he’s actually using sexist tropes against her, tropes that women voters find all too familiar. When he says she’s not qualified, every woman who’s ever held a job will be reminded of how she had to work twice as hard to be taken seriously as her male colleagues. They’ll also laugh at the idea that being a woman confers some kind of unfair advantage, in politics or anywhere else. And we’re talking about someone who was a senator and secretary of state, whatever else you might think of her. Trump has never worked a day in government and doesn’t understand the first thing about policy, but she’s the unqualified one? It’s as though the 2004 Bush campaign, instead of “swift boating” John Kerry to convince voters he was no war hero, instead said, “Sure, John Kerry is a war hero, but bravery and service are stupid and military experience should disqualify you from the presidency.” You can imagine how well that would have gone over.

Now all that Clinton has to do is be careful:

Her initial response – “If fighting for women’s health care and paid family leave and equal pay is playing the woman card, then deal me in!” – was her way of saying that there’s a substantive basis to this argument, that it’s about more than just rudeness – but she needs to keep women motivated to vote against Trump for emotional reasons, too. In the best scenario for her, women are so disgusted by Trump that they register and vote in unusually high numbers. And as some early political science research shows, there’s a wrong way to do it: celebrity endorsements touting Clinton as a strong, accomplished woman have little effect, while a recitation of Trump’s vulgar statements about women move voters powerfully against him.

On the other hand, Waldman has an alternative theory of all this:

Of course, it’s also possible that Trump doesn’t have any Rovian strategy in mind when he tells voters that the only reason anyone supports Hillary Clinton is that she’s a woman. It could be that Trump is just a misogynistic jerk who can’t help himself, and isn’t following any strategy at all.

That is possible too, but there may be another calculation here. Trump may be appealing to every man whose wife wins an argument by being right about something he thought was just so, when it seems it wasn’t, and to every man whose working wife suddenly makes more money than he makes, and to every man whose wife is actually a better driver – and certainly to any man whose boss is a woman, of all things. Just as the Chinese and Mexicans are taking our jobs, and the Muslims are taking away our safety, and the gays are taking away our nation’s deep connection to Jesus, who wasn’t a simpering wimp, damn it, and just as those stupid poor people are taking away all our money that we worked so hard to earn, so women are taking away our manhood. The message is rather simple. Women should be silent. They should be ornamental, at best – and Hillary Clinton certainly isn’t even ornamental – and Donald Trump certainly won’t be pussy whipped. Men, you shouldn’t be either. Vote for Trump.

That might work, if it mobilizes enough men, who realize that women are taking away their manhood, and come to see that Hillary Clinton is taking away America’s manhood, to overwhelm the votes of most women in America. Someone in the Trump camp may have worked out the math on how that could work, maybe. It would be an uprising to put women in their place. It’s theoretically possible.

It’s also unlikely. In that Silent Woman play, Ben Jonson named the guy who liked that idea Morose – and he was the fool in the play. Things haven’t changed since then.

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Too Much Democracy

Sometimes Donald Trump is right. The 2016 Republican National Convention will be held in Cleveland at the Quicken Loans Arena in July, July 18-21 to be exact, but once again it will be no more than an extended political infomercial. May opened with Donald Trump saying what had to be said:

Front-runner Donald Trump said on Sunday that he will have essentially sealed the Republican U.S. presidential nomination if he wins Tuesday’s contest in Indiana, where he holds a big lead over chief rival Ted Cruz.

A new NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist opinion poll showed Trump with a wide lead in Indiana, 49 percent to 34 percent for Cruz and 13 percent for a third candidate, Ohio Governor John Kasich.

Trump, a 69-year-old billionaire real estate developer, sounded confident in an interview on “Fox News Sunday” when asked whether Indiana would basically end the long-running Republican race in his favor.

“Yes, it’s over,” Trump said. “It’s already over.”

The last stand of the Never Trump army will be a General Custer thing. Their general, Ted Cruz, like Custer, is in a fight where he never quite understood the odds he was facing, or how his clever but conventional tactics really didn’t matter a whole lot. Tactics may not matter at all, even if Cruz has them:

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Cruz, 45, was asked several times whether he would support Trump if the New York businessman was the Republican nominee. Cruz evaded the question each time and turned the questions into an attack on broadcast media.

“I recognize that many in the media would love to see me surrender to Donald Trump because that means that Hillary wins. The media has given $2 billion in free advertising to Donald Trump,” Cruz said.

Cruz said he has momentum in Indiana based on his choice of former candidate Carly Fiorina for his vice president and Friday’s endorsement by Indiana Governor Mike Pence.

That’s it? That’s it. That’s boring and that cannot overcome this:

At a rally in Terre Haute, Indiana, Trump urged Republicans to join his “movement” and turn out for him in big numbers.

“The more we can win by in Indiana is so important. It’s a mandate… a really important mandate. It’s a mandate for change, but not Obama change. Real change. It’s a mandate for genius,” he said.

And he’s the genius, although some disagree:

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a leading Republican critic of Trump, called him the “most unelectable person” the party could nominate. Graham had sought the nomination himself.

“Keep fighting Ted,” Graham told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Why? The numbers don’t lie, and Trump may be electable after all. The previous Tuesday, when Trump swept five northeastern primaries in landslides, and on the other side Hillary Clinton ran away with four of the five, Josh Marshall, watching the victory speeches, noted this:

It’s been a consistent feature of recent US presidential elections that they are less about persuasion than mobilization of relatively stable political coalitions. There is a thin segment of up-or-grab voters but it tends to be as little as five percent and seldom more than ten percent of electorate, and only those in a handful of swing states really drive the campaigns’ attention. Because of this, the campaigns are largely talking past each; and that is by design.

Each side really does know that electability has nothing to do with persuasion, so Trump was Trump:

He was brimming with confidence, on point. His message about bad trade deals and stagnating wages and NAFTA fit together like a nicely ordered package with strong appeal to the people who now actually make up the Republican coalition, as opposed to the people who did in the 1980s. The border wall, while mentioned, had receded to the background. It made me go back to what I started wondering months ago about whether Trump might have significantly more crossover appeal than people realize. Then he came back with the demeaning and crass attacks on Hillary as little more than a gender affirmative action candidate. “Frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5% of the vote. The only thing she’s got going is the woman’s card.”

When your top surrogate’s Republican wife visibly grimaces at your remark you know it’s bad news for a wide swath of the electorate.

Yes, Chris Christie’s wife winced at that, but she doesn’t get it:

These two candidates aren’t just appealing to different demographics or voting coalitions. They’re operating in what almost amounts to two different political universes…. I guarantee you that everyone who has voted for Trump in any primary so far loved those remarks. They hate Hillary. They hate ‘political correctness’. More than anything else they love provocation itself. But this kind of talk, while a single instance itself, reminds us that Trump has already all but disqualified himself with huge swaths of the electorate. It’s like a long fingernail drag over the chalkboard for a significant majority of voters. Trump has a 70%+ disapproval rating among women; roughly 80% disapproval among Hispanics; and the list goes on and on. At the moment he’s even doing fairly poorly among whites! But we should expect those numbers to rise significantly as Republican partisans unify around Trump.

Meanwhile Clinton is talking about opportunity, inclusion across racial groups and the gender divide. It is a message framed around inclusion for rising groups, young people and incremental improvements in the safety net and wages for those just hanging on in the 21st century economy. It really amounts to a simple continuity message with the Obama presidency. What he did.

My point isn’t to pump this agenda. This is an ideologically agnostic point. It is to point out how it is virtually incomprehensible in the Trump universe. Gibberish or nonsense in a worldview based on reclaiming things your supporters believe were or are being taken away from them by others, and a powerful leader reclaiming what you lost from domestic newcomers and foreign adversaries. They’re just categorically different, not just in policy terms, but in language, manner of acting in public, concept of leadership. Everything. They’re mutually incomprehensible, seemingly indifferent to what folks on the other side of the divide even think.

If so, Clinton wins, but not on the merits:

What worries Republicans profoundly and has Democrats what I would call cautiously ecstatic is that if both candidates are doubling down on these portions of the population, Clinton’s chunk looks significantly larger than Trump’s. The biggest driver in November may turn out to be gender. But seen through a racial prism, which seems more likely: that Trump will significantly drive up the white vote or that Clinton will significantly drive up the minority vote? Trump seems dramatically less popular with Hispanic voters than Romney and it is difficult to see him making up much of that ground. Remember too that there are fewer white voters in 2016 than there were in 2012.

This is all about the demographics:

They give advantages, sometimes profound advantages. But you still need a politics to win elections. Trump, though, is fencing himself into a demographic playing field that may for once make that important political wisdom meaningless. Unless you manage turnout levels of white men at significantly over 100%, it is very hard to win a national election with just those voters, if you make everyone else hate you.

It may be hard to win that way, but it is possible. Something is different this year, and Andrew Sullivan, no longer blogging and now on the staff of New York magazine, devotes 7,596 words to the subject, suggesting we now face the problem of too much democracy:

As this dystopian election campaign has unfolded, my mind keeps being tugged by a passage in Plato’s Republic. It has unsettled – even surprised – me from the moment I first read it in graduate school. The passage is from the part of the dialogue where Socrates and his friends are talking about the nature of different political systems, how they change over time, and how one can slowly evolve into another. And Socrates seemed pretty clear on one sobering point: that “tyranny is probably established out of no other regime than democracy.”

What did Plato mean by that? Democracy, for him, I discovered, was a political system of maximal freedom and equality, where every lifestyle is allowed and public offices are filled by a lottery. And the longer a democracy lasted, Plato argued, the more democratic it would become. Its freedoms would multiply; its equality spread. Deference to any sort of authority would wither; tolerance of any kind of inequality would come under intense threat; and multiculturalism and sexual freedom would create a city or a country like “a many-colored cloak decorated in all hues.”

That’s wonderful, except for deference to any sort of authority withering. That’s the problem. That means chaos:

The very rich come under attack, as inequality becomes increasingly intolerable. Patriarchy is also dismantled: “We almost forgot to mention the extent of the law of equality and of freedom in the relations of women with men and men with women.” Family hierarchies are inverted: “A father habituates himself to be like his child and fear his sons, and a son habituates himself to be like his father and to have no shame before or fear of his parents.” In classrooms, “as the teacher… is frightened of the pupils and fawns on them, so the students make light of their teachers.” Animals are regarded as equal to humans; the rich mingle freely with the poor in the streets and try to blend in. The foreigner is equal to the citizen.

And it is when a democracy has ripened as fully as this, Plato argues, that a would-be tyrant will often seize his moment.

He is usually of the elite but has a nature in tune with the time – given over to random pleasures and whims, feasting on plenty of food and sex, and reveling in the nonjudgment that is democracy’s civil religion. He makes his move by “taking over a particularly obedient mob” and attacking his wealthy peers as corrupt. If not stopped quickly, his appetite for attacking the rich on behalf of the people swells further. He is a traitor to his class – and soon, his elite enemies, shorn of popular legitimacy, find a way to appease him or are forced to flee. Eventually, he stands alone, promising to cut through the paralysis of democratic incoherence. It’s as if he were offering the addled, distracted, and self-indulgent citizens a kind of relief from democracy’s endless choices and insecurities.

That would be Donald Trump. Plato knew he would come along, sort of, and we once knew better:

Part of American democracy’s stability is owed to the fact that the Founding Fathers had read their Plato. To guard our democracy from the tyranny of the majority and the passions of the mob, they constructed large, hefty barriers between the popular will and the exercise of power. Voting rights were tightly circumscribed. The president and vice-president were not to be popularly elected but selected by an Electoral College, whose representatives were selected by the various states, often through state legislatures. The Senate’s structure (with two members from every state) was designed to temper the power of the more populous states, and its term of office (six years, compared with two for the House) was designed to cool and restrain temporary populist passions. The Supreme Court, picked by the president and confirmed by the Senate, was the final bulwark against any democratic furies that might percolate up from the House and threaten the Constitution. This separation of powers was designed precisely to create sturdy firewalls against democratic wildfires.

That wasn’t going to last in a democracy:

The franchise has been extended far beyond propertied white men. The presidency is now effectively elected through popular vote, with the Electoral College almost always reflecting the national democratic will. And these formal democratic advances were accompanied by informal ones, as the culture of democracy slowly took deeper root. For a very long time, only the elites of the political parties came to select their candidates at their quadrennial conventions, with the vote largely restricted to party officials from the various states (and often decided in, yes, smoke-filled rooms in large hotel suites). Beginning in the early 1900’s, however, the parties began experimenting with primaries, and after the chaos of the 1968 Democratic convention, today’s far more democratic system became the norm.

Direct democracy didn’t just elect Congress and the president anymore; it expanded the notion of who might be qualified for public office. Once, candidates built a career through experience in elected or cabinet positions or as military commanders; they were effectively selected by peer review. That elitist sorting mechanism has slowly imploded. In 1940, Wendell Willkie, a businessman with no previous political office, won the Republican nomination for president, pledging to keep America out of war and boasting that his personal wealth inoculated him against corruption: “I will be under obligation to nobody except the people.” He lost badly to Franklin D. Roosevelt, but nonetheless, since then, nonpolitical candidates have proliferated, from Ross Perot and Jesse Jackson, to Steve Forbes and Herman Cain, to this year’s crop of Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and, of course, Donald J. Trump. This further widening of our democracy – our increased openness to being led by anyone; indeed, our accelerating preference for outsiders – is now almost complete.

We wanted that democratic inclusiveness, but now we’re paying the price:

None of this is necessarily cause for alarm, even though it would be giving the Founding Fathers palpitations. The emergence of the first black president – unimaginable before our more inclusive democracy – is miraculous, a strengthening, rather than weakening, of the system. The days when party machines just fixed things or rigged elections are mercifully done with. The way in which outsider candidates, from Obama to Trump and Sanders, have brought millions of new people into the electoral process is an unmitigated advance. The inclusion of previously excluded voices helps, rather than impedes, our public deliberation. But it is precisely because of the great accomplishments of our democracy that we should be vigilant about its specific, unique vulnerability: its susceptibility, in stressful times, to the appeal of a shameless demagogue.

That’s the gist of Sullivan’s argument, but there are some telling details:

What the 21st century added to this picture, it’s now blindingly obvious, was media democracy – in a truly revolutionary form. If late-stage political democracy has taken two centuries to ripen, the media equivalent took around two decades, swiftly erasing almost any elite moderation or control of our democratic discourse. The process had its origins in partisan talk radio at the end of the past century. The rise of the internet – an event so swift and pervasive its political effect is only now beginning to be understood – further democratized every source of information, dramatically expanded each outlet’s readership, and gave everyone a platform. All the old barriers to entry – the cost of print and paper and distribution – crumbled.

This was good, and bad:

Fusty old-media institutions, grown fat and lazy, deserved a drubbing. The early independent blogosphere corrected facts, exposed bias, earned scoops. And as the medium matured, and as Facebook and Twitter took hold, everyone became a kind of blogger. In ways no 20th-century journalist would have believed, we all now have our own virtual newspapers on our Facebook newsfeeds and Twitter timelines – picking stories from countless sources and creating a peer-to-peer media almost completely free of editing or interference by elites. This was bound to make politics more fluid. Political organizing – calling a meeting, fomenting a rally to advance a cause – used to be extremely laborious. Now you could bring together a virtual mass movement with a single webpage. It would take you a few seconds.

The web was also uniquely capable of absorbing other forms of media, conflating genres and categories in ways never seen before. The distinction between politics and entertainment became fuzzier; election coverage became even more modeled on sportscasting… The web’s algorithms all but removed any editorial judgment, and the effect soon had cable news abandoning even the pretense of asking “Is this relevant?” or “Do we really need to cover this live?” in the rush toward ratings bonanzas. In the end, all these categories were reduced to one thing: traffic, measured far more accurately than any other medium had ever done before.

And what mainly fuels this is precisely what the Founders feared about democratic culture: feeling, emotion, and narcissism, rather than reason, empiricism, and public-spiritedness. Online debates become personal, emotional, and irresolvable almost as soon as they begin. Godwin’s Law – it’s only a matter of time before a comments section brings up Hitler – is a reflection of the collapse of the reasoned deliberation the Founders saw as indispensable to a functioning republic.

That seems about right, as does this:

Politically, we lucked out at first. Obama would never have been nominated for the presidency, let alone elected, if he hadn’t harnessed the power of the web and the charisma of his media celebrity. But he was also, paradoxically, a very elite figure, a former state and U.S. senator, a product of Harvard Law School, and, as it turned out, blessed with a preternaturally rational and calm disposition. So he has masked, temporarily, the real risks in the system that his pioneering campaign revealed. Hence many Democrats’ frustration with him. Those who saw in his campaign the seeds of revolutionary change, who were drawn to him by their own messianic delusions, came to be bitterly disappointed by his governing moderation and pragmatism.

The climate Obama thrived in, however, was also ripe for far less restrained opportunists. In 2008, Sarah Palin emerged as proof that an ardent Republican, branded as an outsider, tailor-made for reality TV, proud of her own ignorance about the world, and reaching an audience directly through online media, could also triumph in this new era. She was, it turned out, a John the Baptist for the true messiah of conservative populism, waiting patiently and strategically for his time to come.

Yeah, him, the guy who understood this populism:

This is an age in which a woman might succeed a black man as president, but also one in which a member of the white working class has declining options to make a decent living. This is a time when gay people can be married in 50 states, even as working-class families are hanging by a thread. It’s a period in which we have become far more aware of the historic injustices that still haunt African-Americans and yet we treat the desperate plight of today’s white working ­class as an afterthought. And so late-stage capitalism is creating a righteous, revolutionary anger that late-stage democracy has precious little ability to moderate or constrain – and has actually helped exacerbate.

For the white working class, having had their morals roundly mocked, their religion deemed primitive, and their economic prospects decimated, now find their very gender and race, indeed the very way they talk about reality, described as a kind of problem for the nation to overcome. This is just one aspect of what Trump has masterfully signaled as “political correctness” run amok, or what might be better described as the newly rigid progressive passion for racial and sexual equality of outcome, rather than the liberal aspiration to mere equality of opportunity.

And the left played into this:

Much of the newly energized left has come to see the white working class not as allies but primarily as bigots, misogynists, racists, and homophobes, thereby condemning those often at the near-bottom rung of the economy to the bottom rung of the culture as well. A struggling white man in the heartland is now told to “check his privilege” by students at Ivy League colleges. Even if you agree that the privilege exists, it’s hard not to empathize with the object of this disdain. These working-class communities, already alienated, hear – how can they not? – the glib and easy dismissals of “white straight men” as the ultimate source of all our woes. They smell the condescension and the broad generalizations about them – all of which would be repellent if directed at racial minorities…

And so they wait, and they steam, and they lash out. This was part of the emotional force of the tea party: not just the advancement of racial minorities, gays, and women but the simultaneous demonization of the white working-class world, its culture and way of life. Obama never intended this, but he became a symbol to many of this cultural marginalization.

The rest was inevitable:

Trump launched his campaign by calling undocumented Mexican immigrants a population largely of rapists and murderers. He moved on to Muslims, both at home and abroad. He has now added to these enemies – with sly brilliance – the Republican Establishment itself. And what makes Trump uniquely dangerous in the history of American politics – with far broader national appeal than, say, Huey Long or George Wallace – is his response to all three enemies. It’s the threat of blunt coercion and dominance.

Well, there is that:

After demonizing most undocumented Mexican immigrants, he then vowed to round up and deport all 11 million of them by force. “They have to go” was the typically blunt phrase he used – and somehow people didn’t immediately recognize the monstrous historical echoes. The sheer scale of the police and military operation that this policy would entail boggles the mind. Worse, he emphasized, after the mass murder in San Bernardino, that even the Muslim-Americans you know intimately may turn around and massacre you at any juncture. “There’s something going on,” he declaimed ominously, giving legitimacy to the most hysterical and ugly of human impulses.

To call this fascism doesn’t do justice to fascism. Fascism had, in some measure, an ideology and occasional coherence that Trump utterly lacks. But his movement is clearly fascistic in its demonization of foreigners, its hyping of a threat by a domestic minority (Muslims and Mexicans are the new Jews), its focus on a single supreme leader of what can only be called a cult, and its deep belief in violence and coercion in a democracy that has heretofore relied on debate and persuasion. … And what’s notable about Trump’s supporters is precisely what one would expect from members of a mass movement: their intense loyalty.

Andrew Sullivan is none too happy with all this, and these are just a few excerpts from a much longer closely-argued conservative plea for some common sense here. Sullivan is one of those old-fashioned Edmund Burke conservatives, which he once explained this way:

I view conservatism as the practical engagement with policy and political institutions to adapt modestly and incrementally to social and economic change with the goal of maintaining the coherence and stability of a polity and a culture. It is a philosophy of moderation and balance, constantly alert to the manifold ways in which societies can, over time, lose their equilibrium. It is defined, along Burke’s foundational lines, as an opposition to ideological and theological politics in every form. And so it is a perfectly admirable conservative idea to respond to capitalism’s modern mercilessness by trying to support, encourage and help the traditional family structure and traditional religious practice. The point is a pragmatic response to contingent events that threaten social coherence.

That was from 2012, when Sullivan was arguing that you should vote for Obama, the true conservative, not Mitt Romney, the fake one. Now, Donald Trump is the fake conservative, but now Sullivan sees the larger problem. Plato was right. Tyranny is probably established out of no other regime than democracy. Be increasingly inclusive. Let everyone have their say, excluding no one, and one day there will be no firewalls against democratic wildfires. Everything will burn down. “Yes, it’s over,” Trump said. “It’s already over.”

Sometimes Donald Trump is right.

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Reflexive Cynicism

There are all sorts of hyphenated Americans who really are just Americans – like the Irish-Americans who get their own parades in all our cities each March. Everyone’s Irish that day, but it wasn’t always that way for them. These things take time. Mexican-Americans may have to wait a few more generations for their parades, where everyone’s a Mexican for that one day. Passions run too high – there’s Donald Trump – and of course there will never be a day when everyone’s Czech for a day. Even those of us who are third-generation Czech-Americans know that we don’t exactly fit in. It’s that Middle European fatalism you might expect, but mixed with playful cynicism, with a dash of comic irreverence. We’re not all doom and gloom like the Scandinavians, or all Strum und Drang like the Germans, or mean drunks like the Russians, or scholarly fatalists like Spinoza and those guys. We’re the pranksters. Long before Joseph Heller gave the world Catch-22 and Yossarian the Czechs gave us Good Soldier Švejk – the unfinished satirical novel by Jaroslav Hašek.

That novel is slyly cynical. Its hero, so to speak, is a smart guy, or sly guy – you never quite know which – who just follows orders, to the letter, and lets everyone else show themselves to be idiots. Those with firm, fixed ideas, and precise rules for just how things should be, rules that simply must be followed, are the butt of the joke. Nothing is as effective in showing what idiots those in charge of things really are more than being the Good Solider. Do exactly what they say, and let it play out. The absurdity will be evident to all. And those in charge can hardly blame you when everything turns out ridiculously and comically wrong. You did what they told you to do. You walk away with your medal. And maybe, just maybe, you meant them no harm at all. Maybe you weren’t sly and all hyper-intelligent and clever. Maybe you were just an innocent idiot. But they’ll never know. That’s part of the joke too.

The tale is one for our times of course. Everyone these days, mostly on the right, and particularly on the religious right, is telling us what to do – there are those precise rules that simply must be followed – and what to think. There are absolutes – about the murder of unborn potential hypothetical children, or tissue samples related to them, and about being tolerant of gays and minorities and folks with disgustingly weird religions or no religion at all (don’t even think about tolerating any of them) and rules forbidding you to think that people getting together to solve problems – what they call government – is ever a good idea. All that sort of thing is hammered home every day, and now it’s the new absolute rules on who gets to use which bathroom.

It’s easy to get angry about all this, but perhaps the best revenge is to take these folks seriously and let it all play out. Let them have their bathroom police. They’ll look like fools, and who knows? Maybe folks will start reading Franz Kafka and Milan Kundera again. Playful cynicism and comic irreverence – in the service of ironic and sly intelligent resistance to smug righteous nagging – bubbles up at such times. And it works – you can have a revolution to create a new humane and effective nation led by a man who wrote absurdist plays and was a personal friend of Frank Zappa. It’s a Czech thing.

That probably won’t happen here. We won’t have an ironic revolution. There are those with precise rules and absolute positions, which they take far too seriously, and you can tell them to loosen up and relax – not that that ever works. It enrages them further and produces more righteousness. They feel they are being attacked, and their values are being attacked, as is, finally, their whole belief system. One must be careful there – urging people to loosen up and have some fun can get you killed. Of course you can say, hey, we’re all in this together so let’s drop the demands, on all sides, and see if we can work things out. But there you run up against the real problem. We are basically being told we are not in this together, not at all.

That’s frustrating but the left has its rigid rules too. Intolerance will not be tolerated – there are forbidden symbols that cause too much pain, like the Confederate flag, and there are sexist and racist jokes that cannot be told, and so on and so forth. They too say it’s time to choose sides, and this year, it’s time to choose a subset of their side – the side of Bernie Sanders and what’s right, or Hillary Clinton and what’s close enough to right but at least doable in this mess of a world.

That’s it. You know what to do. Feel the Bern or get the hell out of the way. There’s no room for Czech ironic distance. Playful cynicism is not allowed.

It is lonely being Czech – Czech-American that is – but some of us are just not joiners. No Czechs are. Czechs step back. Ironic distance is valuable, and maybe Mother Jones’ principle blogger, Kevin Drum, is secretly Czech, because he now admits that he never warmed up to Bernie Sanders:

It’s not so much that he’s all that far to my left or that he’s been pretty skimpy on details about all the programs he proposes. That’s hardly uncommon in presidential campaigns. Rather, it’s the fact that I think he’s basically running a con, and one with the potential to cause distinct damage to the progressive cause.

I mean this as a provocation – but I also mean it. So if you’re provoked, mission accomplished! Here’s my argument.

Bernie’s explanation for everything he wants to do – his theory of change, or theory of governing, take your pick – is that we need a revolution in this country. The rich own everything. Income inequality is skyrocketing. The middle class is stagnating. The finance industry is out of control. Washington, DC, is paralyzed.

But the problem is that the revolution that Bernie called for was nothing much, and Drum cites Bill Scher on that:

By any measure, the Bernie Sanders campaign has vastly outperformed expectations of what a self-described democratic socialist could accomplish at the presidential level in 2016. After 35 states, he has won 16. He forced Hillary Clinton to adopt several of his positions. A fundraising juggernaut, he has outspent his opponent since January. National polling shows him roughly tied with Clinton among Democrats and besting all three Republican candidates in November.

And yet, the “revolution” that Sanders called for didn’t show up. Clinton’s 16-point New York win is simply the exclamation point. First, electorally, Sanders hasn’t been able to win any states on Clinton’s natural turf, while she picked off states like blue-collar Ohio and quintessentially liberal Massachusetts. Eleven of his 16 state wins were in low-turnout caucus states, while she has dominated well-populated primary states. He struggled to win the votes of older voters and whiffed with Southern African-Americans.

But on a more important level, Sanders has also failed to substantially change the Democratic Party at its core: its acceptance of big-dollar fundraising and incremental policy advancement.

And this is most important:

Sanders didn’t help matters by coming up short time and again with genuine specifics on how he would change things.

Drum runs with that:

We were never going to get a revolution, and Bernie knew it all along. Think about it: has there ever been an economic revolution in the United States? Stretching things a bit, I can think of two: the destruction of the Southern slave economy following the Civil War and the New Deal.

The first of these was 50+ years in the making and, in the end, required a bloody, four-year war to bring to a conclusion. The second happened only after an utter collapse of the economy, with banks closing, businesses failing, wages plummeting, and unemployment at 25 percent. That’s what it takes to bring about a revolution, or even something close to it.

We’re simply not there:

We’re light years away from that right now. Unemployment? Yes, 2 or 3 percent of the working-age population has dropped out of the labor force, but the headline unemployment rate is 5 percent. Wages? They’ve been stagnant since the turn of the century, but the average family still makes close to $70,000, more than nearly any other country in the world. Health care? Our system is a mess, but 90 percent of the country has insurance coverage. Dissatisfaction with the system? According to Gallup, even among those with incomes under $30,000, only 27 percent are dissatisfied with their personal lives.

Like it or not, you don’t build a revolution on top of an economy like this. Period. If you want to get anything done, you’re going to have to do it the old-fashioned way: through the slow boring of hard wood.

Drum wants all of us to step back:

Why do I care about this? Because if you want to make a difference in this country, you need to be prepared for a very long, very frustrating slog. You have to buy off interest groups, compromise your ideals, and settle for half loaves – all the things that Bernie disdains as part of the corrupt mainstream establishment. In place of this he promises his followers we can get everything we want via a revolution that’s never going to happen. And when that revolution inevitably fails, where do all his impressionable young followers go? Do they join up with the corrupt establishment and commit themselves to the slow boring of hard wood? Or do they give up?

I don’t know, but my fear is that some of them will do the latter. And that’s a damn shame. They’ve been conned by a guy who should know better, the same way dieters get conned by late-night miracle diets. When it doesn’t work, they throw in the towel.

Most likely Bernie will have no lasting effect, and his followers will scatter in the usual way, with some doubling down on practical politics and others leaving for different callings. But there’s a decent chance that Bernie’s failure will result in a net increase of cynicism about politics, and that’s the last thing we need. I hate the idea that we might lose even a few talented future leaders because they fell for Bernie’s spiel and then got discouraged when it didn’t pan out.

I’ll grant that my pitch – and Hillary’s and Barack Obama’s – isn’t very inspiring. Work your fingers to the bone for 30 years and you might get one or two significant pieces of legislation passed. Obviously you need inspiration too. But if you don’t want your followers to give up in disgust, your inspiration needs to be in the service of goals that are at least attainable. By offering a chimera instead, Bernie has done the progressive movement no favors.

That’s a bit brutal – when the dust settles, as it will, all we get is a net increase of cynicism about politics – but Salon’s Sean Illing is even more brutal:

Lost in the discussions about Bernie Sanders’s “socialism” is an obvious and important fact: What he’s actually proposing is not only not radical it’s mainstream. Sanders decided not to dodge the “socialist” label and instead own it by contextualizing it in the broader American tradition. He even gave a sweeping speech in which he grounded his philosophy in the tradition of FDR:

“Almost everything he [FDR] proposed was called ‘socialist.’ Social Security, which transformed life for the elderly in this country, was ‘socialist.’ The concept of ‘minimum wage’ was seen as a radical intrusion into the marketplace and was described as ‘socialist.’ Unemployment insurance, abolishing child labor, the 40-hour work week, collective bargaining, strong banking regulations, deposit insurance, and job programs that put millions of people to work were all described, in one way or another, as ‘socialist.’ Yet these programs have become the fabric of our nation and the foundation of the middle class.”

All Sanders has done is challenge the gospel of neoliberalism, which has systematically gutted our country’s public institutions.

America’s economy has been steadily deregulated since the 1980s, when President Reagan first surrendered to the privatization scheme of neoliberalism. What we’re left with now, as Sanders pointed out in that speech, is a system “which during the 1990s allowed Wall Street to spend $5 billion in lobbying and campaign contributions to get deregulated. Then, ten years later, after the greed, recklessness, and illegal behavior of Wall Street led to their collapse, it is a system which provided trillions in government aid to bail them out.”

In other words, we now have socialism for the rich and free market capitalism for everyone else. This is a perverse inversion of the historical norm, and Sanders is right to attack it.

Sure, but it’s no revolution. Illing notes that Noam Chomsky said so when he said this about Sanders:

He’s considered radical and extremist, which is a pretty interesting characterization, because he’s basically a mainstream New Deal Democrat. His positions would not have surprised President Eisenhower, who said, in fact, that anyone who does not accept New Deal programs doesn’t belong in the American political system. That’s now considered very radical.

Illing:

This point can’t be made enough. For all his talk of a “revolution,” Sanders’s proposals are far too modest to be called revolutionary. He’s merely demanding a return to the midcentury norm, to the nation of FDR and Eisenhower and Johnson.

Another critical point is how aligned with public opinion Sanders’s policies are. If you cut through the rhetoric and the white noise, you find that most Americans support what are undeniably socialist programs, like Social Security and Medicaid and Medicare. These programs aren’t understood popularly as “socialist,” but that’s what they are.

Illing notes that Chomsky says that too:

The other interesting aspect of Sanders’s positions is that they’re quite strongly supported by the general public, and have been for a long time. That’s true on taxes. It’s true on healthcare… His proposal for a national healthcare system, meaning the kind of system that just about every other developed country has, at half the per capita cost of the United States and comparable or better outcomes, that’s considered very radical. But it’s been the position of the majority of the American population for a long time. So, you go back, say, to Reagan – right now, for example, latest polls, about 60 percent of the population favor it… You go back earlier to the Reagan years, about 70 percent of the population thought that national healthcare should be in the Constitution, because it’s such an obvious right.

That causes Illing to call for a little ironic distance here:

And yet we’re told, repeatedly, that Sanders is the outlier, the extremist. This is patently false, and the result of media-driven confusion about our history and the term “socialism.” The only radical movement in this country the last several decades has been led by the Republican Party, which has shifted our discourse so far to the right that what was once a bipartisan mainstream position is now radical by comparison.

Illing may be Czech too – our world is full of absurd posturing that does need to be laid bare, and laughed at, even if in a cynical way.

On the other hand, with Bernie Sanders, perhaps cynical laughter isn’t entirely appropriate. That’s what Joanna Slater reports in the Globe and Mail (warning, a Canadian newspaper and thus polite and sensible) with this:

Absent a political miracle or catastrophe, Mr. Sanders will not be the Democratic nominee for president. After a string of defeats in recent primaries, including in four of the five states that voted this week, Mr. Sanders finds himself well behind former secretary of state Hillary Clinton in the race for the nomination.

However, his impact on the Democratic Party – and the country’s broader political alignment – is only just beginning. It may not be much consolation for his most fervent fans, but Mr. Sanders could turn out to be one of the most consequential losers ever in American politics.

A self-described socialist, Mr. Sanders has turned out to be a far more vigorous opponent than Ms. Clinton expected. He has built a tremendous following among millennial voters and a fundraising machine powered by small donors that is broader than anything assembled by any previous candidate, including President Barack Obama. Along the way, Mr. Sanders has exposed fault lines within the Democratic Party. While such rifts are not as explosive as those dividing Republicans, they reveal a strong desire for change among some Democrats.

And that’s what is happening:

Earlier this week, the Institute of Politics at Harvard University released its biannual survey of voters under the age of 30. Its results were remarkable: Over the past year, their overall preference for a Democrat in the White House doubled. Their support for government action to curb poverty and climate change jumped, as did the popularity of the idea that health care is a basic human right.

Mr. Sanders has helped “crystallize their thoughts in terms of the role of government and their priorities,” said John Della Volpe, the polling director at the institute. “He has had more of an impact than any other losing candidate that I can recall in a generation or two in terms of shaping the dialogue and ideology not just of the party, but of a generation.”

For Mr. Sanders’s army of young workers and volunteers, his campaign is a formative experience, which could, in some cases, shape their careers. “There is a future president and there are a ton of future members of Congress where the first thing they ever did in politics was feel the Bern,” said Joe Trippi, a Democratic political consultant.

That may count as a revolution, and it may be self-sustaining:

Some of Mr. Sanders’s supporters are organizing a “People’s Summit” in Chicago in June after the last primary votes are cast, an initiative independent of the campaign. “This is that moment where groups come together and say, ‘What do we want to do?'” said Charles Lenchner, co-founder of People for Bernie, a grassroots outfit participating in the summit. “It’s different from the mold of waiting for Bernie to decide what he wants to do.”…

For Mr. Sanders’s supporters, it’s clear that the road does not end at the Democratic convention in July or even with the presidential election in November. Carla Bellamy, a 44-year-old professor at a public university in New York, has been a registered Democrat her entire life but had never volunteered for a campaign until Mr. Sanders came along.

Prof. Bellamy said that the campaign has led her to question whether broader change is best achieved within the Democratic Party or via some kind of alternative, like a multiparty system. But in the short run, she’s proud of what Mr. Sanders has accomplished.

“I don’t think we can have an election any more where people don’t ask hard questions about super PACs and money and who you’re really working for,” she said. “That’s really important progress.”

Well, that’s something, and so Greg Sargent argues that Kevin Drum and others should stop sneering at Bernie Sanders:

In one narrow sense, I agree with Drum. Sanders has offered an oversimplified indictment of the Obama years, by arguing that Obama-era reform fell woefully short of the scale of our challenges precisely because Democrats remained in thrall to plutocratic money and failed to rally the grassroots to break GOP Congressional opposition. This gives short shrift to what was achieved and risks misleading people about the structural constraints built into our system – and about the obstacles the GOP’s structural and ideological entrenchment pose to progressive change.

But has Sanders crossed over into running an outright con that risks leaving his “impressionable” supporters disillusioned and ultimately hurting the progressive movement, by articulating unflinchingly ambitious social democratic reform goals for the future?

Sargent doesn’t think so:

I don’t see why Sanders’s candidacy represents a “con,” or why all of this is destined to play out the way Drum suggests it might. In fact, it may be more likely that the opposite proves true.

For one thing, it’s not really clear whether Sanders is the one indoctrinating his young supporters, or whether he’s speaking effectively to a set of ideals that were already taking shape among them (it could obviously be a combination of the two). …

Sanders has been far more forceful in giving voice to the idea that society has an overarching moral imperative to do more, a lot more, to boost minimum standards of living and break open channels of economic mobility and opportunity – not just incrementally, but in profound and far reaching ways. Sanders’s basic case is that the rules of our economic and political systems have been hijacked and perverted over the decades to bake in deep inequities at every level of society. This, and the colossal scale of the future challenges we face, require a fundamental re-imagining of the American social contract. Sanders’s candidacy is part of a broader rethinking underway on the left about how our political economy really works, and how badly it’s screwing over working people and the country’s future.

Does Sanders overstate the case? Is Sanders basically peddling a bill of goods, in that the scale of his goals, and his proposed means for accomplishing them, are far-fetched? I’d argue his candidacy is better seen as a very ambitious effort to deliver a dramatic upward jolt to our accepted baseline on what constitutes a just society. …

Perhaps the movement will dissipate; perhaps his supporters will scatter in disillusionment and despair. But it’s also easy to envision it having a largely positive influence, perhaps for years to come.

Perhaps that Czech playful cynicism, with a dash of comic irreverence, isn’t appropriate after all, but for some of us that’s a reflex. Let’s see how this plays out. Some of us prefer to remain spectators. We never did fit in here. We’ll keep our ironic distance. It’s a Czech thing.

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Republican Poison

There are a few more primaries left – Indiana in early May, California in early June – but unless Hillary Clinton goes to jail or Donald Trump works himself up so much that he has a massive stroke, it will be Hillary versus The Donald in November. Ted Cruz cannot catch Donald Trump. The math is clear enough. Bernie Sanders cannot catch Hillary Clinton, for the same reason. And who is John Kasich again? Things have been settled. The actual campaign has begun, and Donald Trump has chosen his strategy:

“Today” show host Matt Lauer confronted Donald Trump over his recent comments on Hillary Clinton “playing the woman’s card,” asking on Thursday if he cares that most women in the US view him negatively.

Lauer suggested that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz might be trying to appeal to female voters by announcing former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina as his running mate if he were to win the Republican nomination for president.

“You, on the other hand, seem to continue to say things that alienate women voters,” Lauer said, citing Trump’s recent comments accusing Clinton, the all-but-certain Democratic nominee, of “playing the woman’s card” as she campaigns for her party’s presidential nomination.

“Seventy percent of women in this country say they have a negative view of you,” Lauer said, referring to a Gallup poll. “Do you even care?”

“Of course I care. Nobody respects women more than I do. And I wasn’t playing the woman’s card, it’s true,” Trump said.

He was saying that what was true was that Hillary Clinton was a total loser, compensating for her pathetic failure in life by saying people should vote for her anyway, only because she’s a woman. That will be his line of attack this fall, and anyway, there were exit polls showing him leading with female voters, even if only Republican women, so he’d win all the women’s vote. Women love him, and so on, but not quite:

Cohost Savannah Guthrie cut in and told Trump that him saying Clinton would get only 5% of the vote if she were a man suggests that the only thing she has going for her is that she’s a woman.

“Not that she was a former senator, a former secretary of state, and a lawyer,” Guthrie said. “Do you understand why some people find that to be kind of a demeaning comment?”

Trump responded by implying that “some people” were fools:

“No, I find it to be a true comment. I think that the only thing she’s got going is the fact that she’s a woman. She has done a terrible job in so many different ways. You look at Libya, you look at some of the things that she’s done are just absolutely disasters. Now I would say the primary thing that she has going is that she’s a woman and she is playing that card like I have never seen anybody play it before.”

He won’t be politically correct. No one gets any points simply for being a woman. Now if she had been a senator or secretary of state… no, wait. She was. She was just bad at it. Look at his record as a senator and secretary of state. No wait – never mind. But she is a woman. Remember, that counts for nothing!

This may cause him some trouble, as will this sort of thing on Morning Joe:

Donald Trump mused Wednesday he doesn’t like the way Hillary Clinton “shouts” her message about women’s issues, lamenting that he’ll “have to get used to a lot of that” over the course of the presidential race…

Co-host Mika Brzezinski mentioned Clinton’s strengths on women’s issues when Trump took issue with the way Clinton speaks.

“Well I haven’t quite recovered – it’s early in the morning – from her shouting that message,” Trump said.

Yes, women shouldn’t shout. No one likes a woman who shouts. He was saying that and proud to say that:

“I know a lot of people would say, ‘You can’t say that about a woman.’ Because of course a woman doesn’t shout, but the way she shouted that message was, uh, not, ooh, I just, that’s the way she said it and it’s, uh, I guess I’ll have to get used to a lot of that over the next four or five months,” he said.

He’ll have to put up with this bitch – a message he hopes will resonate with real men – but the danger in all this is covered by Tierney Sneed in a long item on how Trump’s numbers with women voters are even worse than anyone imagined:

Current polling shows Trump is turning off the subset of women voters who are typically up for grabs in elections and who in other cycles have swung races towards Republicans. He is even alienating the type of dependable Republican female voters who turned out for Romney the last time around. To make matters worse for him, Trump’s deficit among women is blunting some of the vulnerabilities Clinton would be facing if pitted against a less controversial Republican.

The gender gap in a Trump v. Clinton match-up is different from the gender gap in previous elections, according to Margie Omero, a Democratic pollster and co-host of the podcast “The Pollsters.”

“Sometimes when you look at overall what is happening, people will say, ‘Well women think this and men think this,’ and sometimes it’s because of party rather than because of gender,” Omero told TPM. “When it comes to Trump it’s actually both. He’s got a gender problem even within his own party.”

This will not go well:

For decades, women have made up a majority of the electorate. Elections have featured a consistent gender gap where men lean Republican and women Democrat. Republicans can only be successful when their advantage among men is greater than their deficit among women.

Trump’s deficit among women is enormous and getting worse. Per Gallup’s tracking, 70 percent of women view him unfavorably, up from 58 percent last July. Trump’s problem looks even more dire when broken down by the subsets women that are typically in play or can depended on by Republicans.

The rest is that breakdown, subset by subset, devastating but dry stuff – not that it matters. Trump has his strategy – see Trump’s “woman’s card” comment escalates the campaign’s gender wars or Trump escalates his gender war for example, and then read Josh Marshall’s brief statement of the obvious:

There’s plenty of misogyny in our society and our politics. Women face various campaign or perception hurdles men do not. Is this female candidate tough enough to be president? Is she too tough (“angry”, “abrasive”) and therefore not likable? … But the simple fact is that if you are explicitly fighting a ‘gender war’ with a female candidate, you’re already losing and probably losing badly…

It comes down to a simple issue of the 19th Amendment: women can vote! And in addition to being able to vote, there are slightly more women than men and they actually vote a bit more. But it really comes down to: women can vote!

Trump may have fallen into a bad habit here:

If you are thematically invoking racial or gender stereotypes without doing so openly or explicitly you can mobilize societal prejudice in your favor – what we sometimes generically call ‘dog-whistling’. But if you’re attacking your opponent as a women – and yes, attacking her as only doing well because she’s a woman or ‘playing the woman card’ – that’s not a gender war. It’s a gender massacre and you’re the one being massacred.

What’s more, it’s contagious. Trump’s rhetoric is normalizing the public invocation of increasingly vulgar and rancid attacks on Clinton. A top Republican official in Florida is quoted in the Post this morning confidently predicting that “I think when Donald Trump debates Hillary Clinton she’s going to go down like Monica Lewinsky.”

Note that forced oral sex is not about sex. It’s about dominance. And women love being submissive, don’t they? If not, they can be forced to be submissive, as they should be – with soft-spoken words too, of course. That’s what is in the air now. That fellow in Florida just made that explicit. He understood what Trump was not quite saying.

Marshall sees this as poison:

I don’t want to be Pollyannaish about this. This is ugly stuff and it’s going to bring a lot of ugliness to the surface, just as Trump’s playing to white identity politics has in the primaries. But the numbers tell the story pretty clearly. If you are planning to fight a campaign explicitly on gender divisiveness, in this day and age and as long as the 19th Amendment isn’t repealed this summer… you’re toast.

It might not be wise to run on a platform of male dominance and appropriate female submissiveness, but with the Indiana primary coming up, Trump is now basking in the endorsement of Bobby Knight:

While at Indiana, Knight led his teams to three NCAA championships, one National Invitation Tournament (NIT) championship, and 11 Big Ten Conference championships. He received National Coach of the Year honors four times and Big Ten Coach of the Year honors eight times. In 1984, he coached the USA men’s Olympic team to a gold medal, becoming one of only three basketball coaches to win an NCAA title, NIT title, and an Olympic gold medal.

Knight was one of college basketball’s most successful and innovative coaches, having perfected and popularized the motion offense. He has also been praised for running clean programs (none of his teams were ever sanctioned by the NCAA for recruiting violations) and graduating most of his players. However, Knight has also attracted controversy; he famously threw a chair across the court during a game, was once arrested for assault, and regularly displayed a combative nature during encounters with members of the press.

The university fired him sixteen years ago – choking his own players when he thought they were disrespectful of his total awesomeness was the final straw. He and Trump have been friends for years, for obvious reasons revolving around male dominance and appropriate submissiveness from the lesser folks, and here’s what Bobby Knight had to say in Evansville, Indiana about Donald Trump’s qualifications to be president and the question of whether his demeanor is “presidential” enough:

We gotta talk about this presidential crap just for a moment here. I’ll tell you who they said wasn’t presidential. I don’t even know what the hell presidential means, but they told him he wasn’t presidential. And that guy they told all these people that wanted to say, you’re not presidential, that guy was Harry Truman.

And Harry Truman, with what he did in dropping and having the guts to drop the bomb in 1944 saved, saved millions of American lives. And that’s what Harry Truman did. And he became one of the three great presidents of the United States. And here’s a man who would do the same thing, because he’s going to become one of the four great presidents of the United States.”

In short, Trump will be man enough to drop the bomb, anytime, anywhere. Now THAT is male dominance!

It should be noted that when Truman dropped the bomb in 1945 – two of them, actually – we were the only nuclear power, so who was going to do anything about it? That’s not the case now. Bad things happen when many other nations have the bomb and you drop a few to settle matters – bad things like global thermonuclear war. This is not like throwing a chair across the basketball court in the middle of a game. This is getting dangerous.

This has led half of the Republican Party to look for an alternative to Trump, who will go down in flames in November and lose them the Senate and House too. There’s no time to repeal the Nineteenth Amendment. There’s only the thin hope that Ted Cruz can save the party, but it seems that he’s poison too:

Former House Speaker John Boehner called Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz “Lucifer in the flesh,” in a withering interview at Stanford University published Thursday. In it, he repeated many of the same attacks he used last month while calling on his successor, Paul Ryan, to seek the Republican nomination.

“Lucifer in the flesh,” Boehner told Stanford’s David Kennedy, a history professor emeritus, according to the Stanford Daily. “I have Democrat friends and Republican friends. I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.”

Boehner also said he was “texting buddies” with GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump and friends with former House colleague and fellow Ohioan, John Kasich.

The account in the student newspaper is accurate, a source close to Boehner confirmed Thursday.

He’ll vote for Trump, not that it would do much good – he noted there just weren’t enough white males out there for him to win in November – but he’d never vote for that son of bitch Cruz. Cruz later told reporters Boehner “allowed his inner Trump to come out” and said “the interesting thing is I’ve never worked with John Boehner, I don’t know the man.”

That’s nonsense, but Ezra Klein argues that John Boehner just confirmed everything liberals suspected about the Republican Party:

It’s easy to laugh this off. After all, didn’t everyone kind of believe this is what Boehner would say after a couple of glasses of Merlot?

But don’t laugh it off. John Boehner was the Speaker of the House as recently as a single year ago. He is himself a conservative Republican. And he is saying, flatly, that the Republican Party has been captured by morons, goofballs, and “Lucifer.” He is saying that the party has moved so far to the right that Ronald Reagan wouldn’t recognize it.

Boehner is validating one of the most persistent and controversial critiques of the modern Republican Party. And he has the authority to do so.

This has been said before:

In 2012, the congressional scholars Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein wrote a column for the Washington Post diagnosing what they saw to be the central problem in modern American politics.

“The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics,” they wrote. “It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

“When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.”

The op-ed hit like a bomb. Mann and Ornstein were institutionalists with wide respect in both parties – Ornstein, in fact, worked (and still works) for the conservative American Enterprise Institute. For them to call out one party as “the core of the problem” in American governance was to violate all the rules of polite Washington society. Their diagnosis was controversial at the time, to put it lightly.

For the most part, Republicans dismissed the critique as motivated by the authors’ personal liberalism.

That’s not possible now:

For a critique like this to really have bite, it would need to come from a true, dyed-in-the-wool Republican. Someone whose loyalty to the party couldn’t be questioned. Someone who clearly wanted Republicans to succeed and prosper. Someone like John Boehner.

That would be someone who ran out of patience:

In 2006, when House Republicans needed a leader after the fall of Tom DeLay, they turned to John Boehner. They kept him as their leader after the 2006 election, and after the 2008 election. They voted him speaker of the house after the 2010 election, and then again after the 2012 and 2014 elections.

And there was reason for that. By the time Boehner left office, he was, by definition, the establishment – you can’t be third in line for the presidency and still be seen as a political outsider. But he was also a conservative. He had been one of Newt Gingrich’s deputies amidst the 1994 Republican takeover, and he routinely racked up high marks from rightwing watchdogs like the American Conservative Union that tracked whether members of Congress voted in a routinely conservative fashion.

But then it all went south:

Boehner’s most vicious fights with his party’s right flank weren’t ideological. Like them, he wanted to repeal Obamacare, cut taxes, ban abortion, and voucherize Medicare. The fights, rather, were tactical. He recognized that, without the presidency, Republicans didn’t have the power to achieve those goals, and trying to force Obama’s hand by shutting down the government or breaching the debt ceiling was likely to backfire. If Republicans were going to get anything done, they would need to compromise with Democrats – and it was that belief, more than any other, that offended Boehner’s critics.

This is the core of Mann and Ornstein’s critique, too. They were not simply arguing that the Republican Party has become more conservative, though it clearly has. They were arguing that it had become tactically extreme in ways that were grinding the normal workings of government to a halt. “Rank-and-file GOP voters endorse the strategy that the party’s elites have adopted,” they wrote, “eschewing compromise to solve problems and insisting on principle, even if it leads to gridlock.”

They were dismissed at the time. But now Boehner is saying the same thing. And he has more than enough credibility on this point.

He does, and he let it rip:

Boehner was the Republican most responsible for managing the normal workings of the government. And he reserves his real venom for those who were contemptuous of those duties. Ted Cruz, specifically, is widely blamed for forcing the 2013 government shutdown – an absurd stratagem that didn’t lead to the defunding of Obamacare, as Cruz had hoped, but did lead to the Republican Party registering its lowest poll numbers in history.

So, Trump is one kind of poison, and Cruz another, and everyone dies:

Here is the condition of the modern Republican Party. Despite significant down-ballot strength, it has lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections, and it looks likely to lose this one, too. The party has completely lost control of its own nominating process, and its choice now is to either elect Donald Trump, a candidate who isn’t really a Republican and might be a historic disaster for the party, or risk a schism by trying to rip the nomination away from Trump amidst a contested convention. Meanwhile, John Boehner, the most powerful Republican elected official from 2008 to 2015, resigned in frustration last year and is now saying his party has been captured by idiots and zealots.

Other than that, Republicans are doing just fine, but Jack Shafer has some harsh words for Ted Cruz:

Ordinarily, decorum prevents politicians from making overt comments like this – even about the members of the opposing party. But Cruz has a way of producing the uncensored, blunt and ugly from his fellow party-members. This week, Complex collected some of the choice rips dealt to him by other Republicans. “If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you,” Sen. Lindsay Graham said in February. “Nobody likes him,” Bob Dole said in January. “Classless, tasteless and counterproductive,” said Rep. Tom Cole late last year. “I just don’t like the guy,” said former President George W. Bush in October.

“I hate Ted Cruz,” said Rep. Peter King, who isn’t exactly likable himself, recently. “I’ll take cyanide if he ever got the nomination.”

Of course, Cruz isn’t the first prick to inhabit politics. Lyndon Johnson, for example, famously enjoyed humiliating secretaries, senators and aides by summoning them into the bathroom for conversations while he was seated on the presidential throne. Richard Nixon could be nasty, too, but he resented the hatred his actions elicited. All would agree that Donald Trump is a wicked man, but he has his sensitive side, too, as proved by his emotional reaction to charges that he’s short-fingered.

If not the first prick, what is Cruz? He’s the first American politician who strives to be despised.

That is his strategy, which is odd:

Perhaps only in the annals of psychiatry can you find anybody in possession of a masochistic narcissist profile like Cruz’s. But those people are crazy. Cruz is not crazy. He might actually be a member of an advanced but not yet recognized species that has determined that spending effort on getting people to like you is a mug’s game. From the view from inside Cruz’s skull, once you get people to like you, your job has only begun. Additional acts of kindness, consideration and fairness must be extended or your likability will fade into the background. But hatred is a much more efficient use of emotional energy. Often, a single dose of malice can seal the impression among most people that you’re a terminal prick. By acquiring as his enemies the Washington political establishment, Cruz figures he can inherit their enemies, and the 2016 campaign has proved him right. Nobody until Cruz had the stomach to build his political foundation on a bedrock of loathing.

This is essentially the view of the Atlantic’s Molly Ball, who in January wrote that Cruz deliberately offends and insults his Republican colleagues so as to appear to his tea party allies as the only authentic conservative in the arena.

 Then add this:

What makes Cruz’s jihad against Washington appear sincere is his willingness to fight a two-theater war – one against the Democrats and the other against his own party – to the death if necessary. His hatred is pure and honest.

And that leads Salon’s Sean Illing to make this assessment:

As objectionable as Donald Trump is, it’s worth remembering that Ted Cruz is worse. Trump is a huckster and a clown and a hundred other things you don’t want in a president, but he is at least a deal-maker, someone who won’t cling to shopworn orthodoxies in the name of purity.

To be clear: a Trump administration would be an international embarrassment and an abject disaster for the country. However, there’s reason to believe he would compromise and perhaps even allow people who know what they’re doing to handle the important stuff. We don’t really know what he’d do, but he appears flexible if nothing else.

Cruz, on the other hand, is another animal altogether. If his history suggests anything at all, it’s that he’ll burn everything down before he bends even a little. He’s an intractable ideologue on nearly every issue of consequence. And his relentless pandering to theocrats ought to terrify anyone remotely interested preserving what cultural progress we’ve made in the last twenty years.

Cruz, then, is the poisonous one:

It’s revealing that almost no one who knows Ted Cruz professionally likes him. Cruz has worked hard to be this hated. One of the biggest problems in Washington right now is the near-total inability for anyone to accomplish anything of note. The gridlock, the brinkmanship, the partisanship – it’s made the country ungovernable for the better part of a decade. Cruz exemplifies every regressive, anti-government instinct at work in Washington.

We should thank Mr. Boehner for reminding us of that.

David Frum, however, seems to think the poison is more than that:

Donald Trump has done a lot to change the times. A shrewd friend, active in the Republican donor community, described Trump as the political equivalent of a chemical accelerant, hastening events that were likely to happen anyway. The plutocratic cast of Republican politics since 2009 was unsustainable in a country where the rewards of economic growth seem to bypass so many people. It was predictable, too, that the former ethnic majority would resist further demographic changes that reduced its political power and threatened to redistribute public resources to its detriment. If the former Republican leadership had been more responsive to the needs of its voters and less swayed by the demands of its donors, the party might have changed from within. Now it’s the target of a hostile takeover that will stamp the TRUMP brand as indelibly upon it as it was once stamped upon the cityscape of Atlantic City. That branding ended in ruin for Atlantic City, and the GOP is unlikely to fare better.

In short, there was going to be a Donald Trump sooner or later. The Trump poison was already in the system – the piggish misogyny is just a bonus feature this year. And when the Tea Party burst onto the scene in 2010, there was going to be a Ted Cruz sooner or later. That poison was injected into the system long ago. Now it’s pick-your-poison or vote for Hillary and hope for the best – or stay home this time and don’t vote at all. Poison kills. Wait for the next political party. The Democrats will keep things humming along while you wait.

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