Never underestimate troublemakers. It’s been two weeks since Donald Trump announced that he was running for president – and everyone smiled. This was a joke. He was a joke. At the time, Sean Davis offered this:
This man doesn’t need a presidential campaign; he needs a hug. Look, Donald. We know you’re rich. Everybody knows you’re rich. Congratulations. You’re rich. We’re all very proud of how rich you are.
But you’re never going to be president. That’s okay. It doesn’t make you any less of a success or any less of a person.
Presidential hopeful Donald Trump has rocketed to second place in a recent national poll and in the early nominating states of Iowa and New Hampshire. That has Democrats cheering.
With Trump, a Republican, enmeshed in controversy over his inflammatory comments about Mexican immigrants, Hillary Clinton and other Democrats are eager to make Trump the face of the GOP. As the Washington Post writes, the Republican field has no clear front-runner, and for Democrats, Trump is a kind of divine intervention.
“I am a person of faith – and the Donald’s entry into this race can only be attributed to the fact that the good Lord is a Democrat with a sense of humor,” said Paul Begala, a veteran Democratic strategist and adviser to Priorities USA Action, a super PAC boosting Clinton’s candidacy.
Clinton herself has been calling out Trump’s comments about Mexicans on the campaign trail.
The issue is what Trump said in his announcement:
When do we beat Mexico at the border? They’re laughing at us, at our stupidity. And now they are beating us economically. They are not our friend, believe me. But they’re killing us economically.
Thank you. It’s true, and these are the best and the finest. When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
But that’s only an assumption – he’s not really sure any of them are good people – and now he’s closing in on Jeb Bush. All the other Republicans who are running have been left in the dust, and the party, sensing trouble, as they will need at least a few Hispanic votes to have any chance of winning the White House in 2016, are trying to save the party:
“Donald Trump’s comments are hurtful for the cause of Republicans who want to reach out not just to Latinos but across many different ethnic barriers,” said Ben Domenech, founder of The Federalist who co-authored a 2012 guide for Republicans on Hispanic outreach. “The problem with those comments is made worse by the fact that people will continue to confuse Trump with a Republican, which he is not, as opposed to thinking of him as an entertainer, which he is.”
That had to be said:
Since losing the 2012 presidential election, Republicans have emphasized efforts to bring Latino voters into the fold. As a whole, the rapidly-growing group supported President Barack Obama over Republican Mitt Romney 71% to 27%, according to the Pew Research Center. The Republican National Committee pledged to spend $10 million on minority outreach after the election and made some in-roads during last year’s mid-term races 2014, Pew found. …
Earlier this week, RNC chairman Reince Priebus, who initiated the party’s multi-million outreach program called Trump’s comments “not helpful,” according to The Washington Post.
Conservative groups unaffiliated with the official party that coordinate Latino outreach efforts are speaking out against Trump’s characterization of immigrants.
“He’s just wrong on policy. Flat-out. It’s unkind and it mischaracterizes the contributions of the entire immigrant community,” said Daniel Garza, executive director of the Libre Initiative. “They’ve brought wealth to America and ingenuity and innovation. The fact that Donald Trump is wrong both on sentiment and policy has allowed the Latino left to pile on. And there’s something valid about what they’re saying, that this is wrong in both contents – style and policy.”
Trump has refused to back down or walk back his remarks of course:
“If you look at the statistics of people coming, you look at the statistics on rape, on crime, on everything coming in illegally into this country, it’s mind-boggling!” Trump told CNN’s Don Lemon in an interview Wednesday. “Somebody’s doing the raping, Don! I mean somebody’s doing it! Who’s doing the raping?”
He’s going all-out on this, and the other Republican presidential candidates are starting to edge away from this:
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who delivered a speech at the National Press Club in which he called on minority voters to give Republicans a chance to make their case, said: “I don’t think Donald Trump’s remarks reflect the Republican Party.”
And Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said last week that candidates “will be held accountable by the voters for what they say.”
“I can tell you what I believe, particularly about Mexican-Americans: they are a community that has contributed greatly to this country, they work extremely hard, they’ve been very productive citizens of our country, and I think that’s true of many ethnic groups in this country,” he said.
Those are not thundering denunciations, but the angry base of the party must be considered, as they are the ones who vote in the primaries. A tut-tut or two is as far as anyone will go, and there are the thoughtful conservatives to consider, like Rich Lowry, the editor of the National Review, with this:
As for his instantly notorious Mexico comments, they did more to insult than to illuminate, yet there was a kernel in them that hit on an important truth that typical politicians either don’t know or simply fear to speak. “When Mexico sends its people,” Trump said, “they’re not sending their best.”
This is obviously correct. We aren’t raiding the top 1 percent of Mexicans and importing them to this country. Instead, we are getting representative Mexicans, who – through no fault of their own, of course – come from a poorly educated country at a time when education is essential to success in an advanced economy.
In short, maybe they’re not all rapists and murderers, but they’re all total losers, every single one of them. Someone had to say it. Trump just said it badly, but that may be a good thing:
Trump’s new enemies are doing him an enormous political favor, at least in the short term. There are few things that benefit a Republican candidate in the current environment of left-wing bullying more than getting fired and boycotted for something he’s said. And Trump’s smash-mouth response – oh, yeah, I’m going to sue Univision for a cool $500 million – will be even more endearing to primary voters.
Jonathan Chait is not impressed:
Lowry’s method here is to ignore the truly inflammatory portions of Trump’s remarks, the portion about Mexican immigrants disproportionately consisting of violent criminals. He merely quotes the line about “not being the best,” and proceeds to interpret this to mean, in Lowry’s words, “we are getting representative Mexicans, who – through no fault of their own, of course – come from a poorly educated country at a time when education is essential to success in an advanced economy.” This is an argumentative method that could be used to identify a kernel of truth in anything whatsoever. The controversy over Trump’s remarks centers on his claim of mass criminality among Mexican immigrants. Pretending he was merely bemoaning their low socioeconomic status is an evasion.
If conservatives feel frustrated that they can’t question immigration levels without being tarred as racist, that is understandable. But when they’re defending the likes of actual racists like Trump, they have only themselves to blame.
No one else is defending him, and Rob Garver reports on the mess Trump has created for himself:
Late Wednesday, Serta, the mattress company, announced that it would stop selling the Trump Home line of mattresses in response to remarks the real estate mogul and vanity presidential candidate made calling immigrants crossing the Southern U.S. border “rapists” and criminals.
According to Bloomberg News, Serta, the largest mattress company in the U.S., announced the decision in an email that said, in part, “Serta values diversity and does not agree with nor endorse the recent statements made by Mr. Trump.” The company said it is “in the process of unwinding our relationship.”
Serta joins a movement launched by Spanish-language television giant Univision, which announced last week that it would no longer carry the Miss Universe pageant, which Trump partially owns. Trump rewarded Univision with a $500 million lawsuit and a stream of public abuse on social media. The NBC television network was next to cut ties with the self-promoting businessman once described by Spy Magazine as a “short-fingered vulgarian,” and then, it was as though a dam had broken.
On Wednesday morning, Macy’s announced that it would stop selling its Trump-branded clothing line, joining a rapidly growing list of companies, celebrities, sports associations and minor celebrities in the mad stampede to cut ties with Trump.
In his own inimitable way, Trump has tried to do damage control, blasting the companies in a headlong rush to get away from the toxic cloud surrounding him as “weak” and “foolish.” He has also highlighted the business connections who, he says, continue to stand by him.
In an interview with the Golf Channel, Tuesday, Trump said, “I’ve had tremendous support from the golf world, because they all know I’m right.”
That’s not what they say and Garver lists others:
Even B-list celebrities who host the Trump-owned Miss Universe pageant and populate its panel of judges – former NFL running back Emmitt Smith, HGTV “Property Brothers” star Jonathan Scott, and others – have been jumping ship. Hip hop artist Flo Rida and a handful of other scheduled performers have announced that they will not appear at the pageant which is scheduled for July 12 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Heck, even beauty queens themselves are bailing on The Donald. Costa Rica on Wednesday became the latest Latino country to refuse to send a representative to the contest. And Miss Mexico, Wendolly Esparza, told media in her home country that she would not participate either, adding, “The biggest crown for Mexico is its dignity.”
What are the Republicans going to say? That’s Donald Trump, not us? We love and respect those people? Who is going to believe that? Look at the polls.
Slate’s Jamelle Bouie explains the problem:
There’s no world in which Donald Trump is a serious candidate for president. Republican elites don’t want him, Republican donors don’t want him, and if – through some cosmic fluke – he managed to win a major primary, every strategist and activist in the Republican Party would turn their aim toward him and his candidacy.
But just because Trump is an unqualified vanity candidate doesn’t mean he’s unimportant in the story of the 2016 GOP presidential primary. Unlike Chris Christie or Mike Huckabee – two vastly more legitimate candidates – Trump is popular with Republican voters.
Trump has grabbed the base, for good reason:
Unlike the professional politicians in the race, Trump is – from his views on immigration to the “issue” of Obama’s citizenship – one of them. That’s not to say that more serious candidates like Ted Cruz or Bobby Jindal are insincere. They are reliable conservatives with strong, right-wing beliefs and positions. But they’re also elected officials: They legislate, they build coalitions, and they compromise between what they want and what is possible… They can appease the Republican base with harsh attacks on the other side, but they can’t endorse every crazy idea, lest they hurt their goals and priorities.
A political free radical, Trump doesn’t have this problem. He doesn’t have to collect endorsements, or persuade reluctant fundraisers (he’s self-financing), or build a team of party professionals. He doesn’t have to do anything other than put himself on a debate stage and get publicity. And so, he says what he thinks.
The last time he entered the fray, in the run-up to the 2012 primaries, this meant “birtherism,” the belief that Barack Obama was foreign-born and thus ineligible for the White House. For this round, it means casual xenophobia.
That will do, even as all his business deals, mostly licensing his name, fall apart:
Through all of this, actual Republican voters not only weren’t bothered, they actually seemed supportive, as evidenced by Trump’s rise to near the top of the heap. The reason is clear. While Trump was out-of-bounds of mainstream conversation, he was well in the bounds of Republican Party politics and the kinds of rhetoric used there about Mexican and Latin American immigrants.
His complaints about “drugs,” “crime,” and “rapists,” for example, echo those from influential Iowa Rep. Steve King, the all-but-official leader of the GOP’s anti-immigration wing. In 2013, criticizing the Dream Act, he told conservative website Newsmax that “For every [undocumented immigrant] who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that – they weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”
Likewise, in response to the child migrant crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, conservative journalists and Republican politicians spread fear of immigrant-borne disease. Fox News personality Marc Siegel warned that dengue fever is “emerging in Texas because of the immigration crisis”; radio host Laura Ingraham declared that “The government spreads the illegal immigrants across the country, and the disease is spread across the country”; and, in a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, then–Georgia Rep. Phil Gingrey referenced “Reports of illegal immigrants carrying deadly diseases such as swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus, and tuberculosis.”
Trump also sounds like Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, who – in the last month of his 2014 campaign against Democrat Mark Pryor – warned that terrorists were working with cartels to send fighters into the United States.
All of these claims – from drugs and disease to ISIS – were insane. But they reflected (and encouraged) a climate of anti-immigrant hostility in the Republican Party, underscored by the huge backlash to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s plan for comprehensive immigration reform in 2013. And those beliefs persist. Earlier this year, the Pew Research Center asked Americans about the impact of immigrants on the United States. Sixty-two percent of Democrats and 57 percent of self-identified independents said that immigrants “strengthen the country through hard work and talents.” By contrast, 63 percent of Republicans said they “burden the country by taking jobs, housing, and health care.”
That would mean Trump is exactly where he should be in the polls:
Trump doesn’t just represent the Republican base on immigration. He is the Republican base on immigration. His anxieties are their anxieties. And his rhetoric – a revanchist stew of foreign policy belligerence, small government ideology, anti-elite agitation, and raw bigotry – reflects and appeals to a meaningful part of the Republican electorate.
All that Bouie can offer is this:
The good news is that this meaningful part is still a small minority of the Republican Party. The right-wing of American populism might be ugly and angry, but it’s not powerful. The bad news, on the other hand, is that you don’t have to be a majority to be influential. You just have to grab the right influence at the right time.
Trump did that. And if he’s a troublemaker he’s no more a troublemaker than a big chunk of the Republican Party – he just represents them – well.
The same thing is happening on the Democratic side:
Bernie Sanders has been running for president for two months, but Wednesday night in Madison, Wisconsin, his long-shot campaign got real. When Sanders walked on stage at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, he was greeted by a raucous, howling crowd of 9,600 people, according to Sanders’ campaign aides and arena staff.
A clearly energized Sanders, who late last year was speaking to crowds of 50 people in Iowa classrooms, appeared taken aback by the reception he received.
“Whoa,” he said. “In case you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of people here.” …
“Tonight we have made a little bit of history,” he said. “You may know that some 25 candidates are running for president of the United States, but tonight we have more people at a meeting for a candidate for president of the United States than any other candidate has.”
And then he did his thing:
Sanders delivered what amounted to his standard stump speech – a liberal message that pledges to fight for universal health care, to break up the biggest banks in the United States, and to redistribute wealth from the richest Americans to the middle class and poor.
“What I would like to ask of you: Please think big, not small,” Sanders said, referring to the audience as his “brothers and sisters.”
Calling for a “political revolution,” Sanders added, “There is nothing that we cannot accomplish.”
Sanders, who is rising in the primary polls and trails only Hillary Clinton, only mentioned the former secretary of state once in his speech.
“This campaign is not about Bernie Sanders, it is not about Hillary Clinton, it is not about anyone else, it is about you,” Sanders said to sustained applause.
And then he did this:
Sanders worked the rope line after the event – something the Vermont senator rarely does. “The message is resonating, not just in Wisconsin, but all over America,” Sanders told CNN. “The people are sick and tired of establishment politics, establishment economics. They want real change.”
Rich Rubino explains this other kind of troublemaker:
Insurrectionist candidates like Sanders often make a splash on the national radar by excoriating “the elites.” On the Democratic side of the ledger, the elites are the “billionaire class” from Wall Street and multinational corporations. They are portrayed as having what Sanders calls: “unquenchable greed,” and exerting too much influence over policy makers. Sanders told CNBC: “What I think is obscene, and what frightens me, is again when you have the top one-tenth of one percent owning as much as the bottom ninety.”
He thinks Hillary Clinton should say more about that, although he never says that directly, and he knows his party:
The left has a perpetual angst toward Wall Street and the concentration of wealth in the few. Populist insurgent candidates like Sanders exploit that enmity. As far back as 1892, James B. Weaver, the nominee of the liberal Greenback Party, fueled his populist candidacy by pitting working class Americans against the powerful. Like Sanders, he called for Federal Government action to narrow the economic disparity. Weaver bemoaned: “Our government has chartered thousands of corporations, turned them loose upon us and now permits them to commit from year to year… outrages upon our people.”
While the Populist Party dissolved, many planks in their platform became enveloped in the Democratic Party. In 1896, the Party nominated William Jennings Bryan, who moved the message of the Democratic Party to the left, supporting a graduated income tax, an increase in social spending, and taking the nation off of the Gold Standard. Bryan branded himself as “The Great Commoner” and took on his own party and its relationship with Wall Street. He avowed: “Our party should not defer to Wall Street and big business.” Bryan’s nomination forced establishment Democrats with close ties to Wall Street, including President Grover Cleveland, to support the third party candidacy of John M. Palmer.
U.S. Senator Huey Long (D-LA 1932-1935) became a cult figure for his declamations excoriating the influence of Wall Street on the political process. Like Bryan and Sanders, Long viewed both parties as beholden to the moneyed elites. … Before his assassination in 1935, Long was preparing for a primary challenge to Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who he viewed as too close to Wall Street. Long drew elephantine crowds from around the country. Roosevelt came to fear a potential challenge in his re-nomination bid in 1936 and his campaign commissioned the first ever nationwide poll, which showed that Long would garner about six million votes against Roosevelt.
And so on and so forth. There’s a tradition here, and then, as Bill Moyers notes, there’s Hillary Clinton:
Between 2009 and 2014, Clinton’s list of top 20 donors starts out with Citigroup and includes JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, whose chief Lloyd Blankfein has invested in Clinton’s son-in-law’s boutique hedge fund. These donors are, as the website Truthout’s William Rivers Pitt notes, “the ones who gamed the system by buying politicians like her and then proceeded to burn the economy down to dust and ash while making a financial killing in the process.”
They’re also among the deep-pocket outfits that paid for speeches and appearances by Hillary or Bill Clinton to the tune of more than $125 million since they left the White House in 2001.
And don’t get him started on the Clinton Foundation:
The question is whether she can carry the mantle of a reformer. Can she really stand above the cesspool that is Washington – filled not with criminals but with decent people inside a corrupted system trying to do what they think is good – and say, this system must change. And does she really see the change that’s needed, when for the last 15 years, she has apparently lived a life that seems all but oblivious to exactly Washington’s problem.
We see “exactly Washington’s problem” in how, during the 1990s, Bill Clinton became the willing agent of Wall Street’s push to deregulate, a collaboration that enriched the bankers but eventually cost millions of Americans their homes, jobs, and pensions.
Thanks to documents that came to light last year (one even has a handwritten note attached that reads: “Please eat this paper after you have read this.”), we understand more clearly how a small coterie of insiders maneuvered to get President Clinton to support repeal of the New Deal-era Glass-Steagall Act that had long protected depositors from being victimized by bank speculators gambling with their savings. Repeal led to a wave of Wall Street mergers.
Moyers seems to think she’s lost her way:
Hillary Clinton, as a young Methodist growing up in Park Ridge, Illinois, was weaned on the social ethics of John Wesley, a founder of Methodism and a courageous champion of the poor and needy; we have her word for it and the witness of others. “Do all the good you can,” the Methodist saying goes, “in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”
But over time, Hillary Clinton achieved superstar status among Washington’s acculturated class – that swollen colony of permanent denizens of our capital who may have come from the hinterlands but can hardly resist the seductive ways of a new and different culture in which the prevailing mindset is: It’s important to do good but more important to do well.
Lawrence Lessig believes she is an unlikely reformer – “which is precisely why she might be a particularly effective one.” But her way of life has marinated for a long time now in the culture of wealth, influence, and power – and a way of thinking engrained deeply in our political ethos, one in which one’s own power in democracy is more important than democracy itself.
It will take a conversion worthy of John Wesley to wrest free of that mindset…
That seems unlikely. The base is turning to Bernie Sanders as an alternative. He is the Democratic base on these matters. His anxieties are their anxieties, and he represents them – well. And he’s a troublemaker. If nominated, he could cost his party the White House. The rest of the country isn’t quite where the Democratic base is on these issues. But they clearly aren’t where the Republican base is on immigration either.
Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Each party will somehow take care of its troublemakers, making sure they go away, or co-opting them. It will be Jeb versus Hillary – not the right people, but close enough, or close enough for government work.