The Empire Strikes Back

Think of any political party, or this case our Republican Party, as a bit like that evil Galactic Empire in those Star Wars movies. Dick Cheney has been compared to Darth Vader often enough after all, and those movies are all about the Empire maintaining its authority. Get too uppity in a committee meeting and Darth Vader might “find your lack of faith disturbing” and crush your windpipe with his telepathic powers – and the Empire does strike back – big time. They’ll use that Death Star to blow up a planet or two, to keep everyone in line. Darth Vader keeps everyone in line. No one challenges his authority, which is the Empire’s authority. Do things his way or die. He’s a difficult boss. You don’t tell Darth Vader that he’s a fool, and stupid too – and Donald Trump shouldn’t go around saying that the current Republican Party is filled with stupid fools and he, alone, knows how to win the presidency this time around, because he’s not foolish at all, and he’s really smart, and he’s rich too. He can get the job done. The Empire blew the last two times.

That’s what he seems to be saying now, that he can do what they cannot:

In an interview with Yahoo News, one of Donald Trump’s top political advisors said that their campaign expects to win “100 percent” of the black vote.

Yahoo’s Hunter Walker spoke with Trump lawyer and advisor Michael Cohen about the campaign’s recent efforts to woo the black vote: “When asked how much of the African-American vote the campaign wants to win, Cohen had a perfectly Trumpian answer: All of it.”

“Our goal is 100 percent,” Cohen told Walker. But he then amended that statement to saying that they would be happy with only flipping the 93 percent who typically vote Democrat.

How is that going to happen? Cohen didn’t say. It just would, as would this:

Cohen told Yahoo that they needed the black vote, since Hispanics weren’t going to vote for him. “I am mindful of the fact that, you know, there are coalitions and I’m talking about now like Hispanic coalitions that will not support Trump. And that’s okay because the ones that don’t like Trump aren’t even here legally and they can’t vote…”

Got it? Trump will get one hundred percent of the Hispanic vote too, because those who despise him can’t vote, and they’ll be deported immediately anyway.

Hunter Walker does note this:

He’s called Mexican immigrants rapists and murderers, repeated stereotypes about Jews and money, and, this week, in the wake of the San Bernardino massacre, Trump ignited a national firestorm by calling for Muslims to be banned from entering the country. The more he’s alienated American ethnic groups and scandalized the political establishment, the more, it seems, the brash billionaire has pumped up his base.

Insults motivate the base, and he’s fixed the black thing:

This shift came after Trump met with a group that included prominent African-American pastors at his eponymous skyscraper headquarters in Manhattan on Nov. 30. Three people who attended the meeting told Yahoo that Trump was told to change the way he speaks about African-Americans, a group he has regularly referred to as “the blacks.” Members of the group left Trump Tower with the impression he would choose his words more carefully going forward.

See? All better and there’s this:

Facing harsh criticism for his proposal to temporarily halt Muslim immigration to the U.S., Donald Trump on Wednesday said he was acting in the Islamic community’s best interests.

“I’m doing good for the Muslims,” Trump told Don Lemon in an interview for CNN Tonight. “Many Muslim friends of mine are in agreement with me. They say, ‘Donald, you brought something up to the fore that is so brilliant and so fantastic.'”

Among those reaching out to thank him, the Republican front-runner said, was “one of the most important people in Middle East” – Trump didn’t reveal the name – who called on Wednesday to say, “Donald, you’re doing a great service.”

“I have many friends who are Muslims,” Trump told Lemon. “They’re phenomenal people. They are so happy at what I’m doing.”

The feeling, he said, is mutual.

That’s all better too. Trust him, and note this:

Trump was harshly critical of the President’s strategy for fighting ISIS.

“We have a president who is a stupid person,” Trump said, slamming Obama for making public his plans to send Special Forces to Kurdish-held territory in Syria near the Iraq border.

The White House announcement put a target “on their hearts,” he said. “If I win, I want to be unpredictable.”

That’s what worries the Republican establishment, but at least one thing is clear:

Asked by Lemon if he is bigoted or Islamophohbic, Trump replied with a firm no.

“I am the least racist person that you have ever met,” he said.

If simple assertion is total truth, how a seven-year-old explains that broken window – “I didn’t do it!” – then this is nonsense, but you trust him or you don’t. And why don’t you trust people? What’s wrong with you?

There was, however, one embarrassing setback:

GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump said Thursday that he is canceling his trip to Israel, one day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed his proposed ban on Muslims entering the U.S.

“I have decided to postpone my trip to Israel and to schedule my meeting with @Netanyahu at a later date after I become president of the U.S.,” he tweeted.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu joined international condemnation of Trump’s plan to halt Muslim travel to America.

The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin sees the problem here:

What do we learn from this?

First, Trump is entirely in over his head on foreign policy and does not understand the implications of his own rhetoric and appeals to bigotry. Far from acting as a friend of Israel who can repair ties with the Jewish state, he now is effectively a persona non grata there.

Second, Trump’s outrageous rhetoric and extreme positions may endear him to his core base of less- educated, poorer voters, but it is problematic with evangelicals, especially those who care deeply about Israel. Penny Nance, chief executive of Concerned Women for America, which has support for Israel as one of its core objectives, was outspoken yesterday (before the trip was canceled). “There is a balance here. I am also a defense hawk and believe in national security and national sovereignty. But when you single out one religion, it has crossed the line,” she said. “It breaks the principles of the founders.” She is not alone.

Salon’s Simon Maloy points out the difficulties the more conventional Republicans have with this:

At this point it feels like a frayed memory of a simpler, quainter time, but we were all once quite upset with Mr. Trump for stating in his announcement speech that immigrants coming into the U.S. from Mexico are criminals, drug traffickers and rapists. Well, most of us were, at any rate.

The conservative reaction to Trump’s “rapist” remarks was hugely fragmented, with some rallying unreservedly behind him and others arguing that he probably went a bit too far but was nonetheless kinda right. The latter response was best conveyed by National Review editor Rich Lowry, who wrote a Politico Op-Ed headlined “Sorry, but Donald Trump Has a Point.” Trump didn’t actually have a point, but Lowry’s column was instructive in that it showed the dilemma Trump posed for Republicans and conservatives: His rhetoric and extremism are abhorrent, but they’re not too far removed from what Republican politicians and their conservative backers believe and say.

Here we are a few months later, and Trump is drawing even more widespread condemnation for his proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the United States.

Maloy notes that the now reliably conservative Washington Post editorial board threw down the gauntlet:

As Mr. Trump’s fellow Republican candidates now acknowledge, there is a real-world cost to a campaign that gains traction by spewing hatred, bigotry and rage. Criticizing Mr. Trump is no longer sufficient. It is time to say clearly he is anathema to the Republican Party, and to the nation.

Toss him out of the Party! Maloy thinks not:

This is both a misstatement of the GOP’s Trump problem and a misdiagnosis of how to handle it. The Post is correct that most of Trump’s fellow Republican candidates have been reticent to directly challenge him or declare in unambiguous terms that Trump is not representative of their party. But that’s because Trump is most certainly not “anathema to the Republican Party.” That should be glaringly obvious by this point.

His lead among GOP voters nationally and in early primary states has been largely unassailable. His policy positions shock the sensibilities of people outside the Republican base, but they’ve done nothing to drive down his support.

Trump is not an aberration; he’s the end product of a years-long Republican political strategy that exploited white resentment and nurtured xenophobia. That’s why you see candidates like Ted Cruz shadowing Trump’s policy positions and pointedly refusing to criticize him – Cruz wants Trump’s votes, and he understands that his best chance for winning the primary is to be acceptable to the large pro-Trump bloc of the Republican Party.

But there’s more:

It’s also silly to think that condemnation from party elites will, at this point, be sufficient to neutralize the Trump threat. Even if they weren’t wary of alienating his base of support, Trump feeds off of the antagonism of the Republican establishment. When he signed the RNC’s loyalty pledge promising that he would support whoever becomes the GOP nominee, Trump made clear that he did so because the party pledged to treat him with “fairness.” If they turn on him now, Trump can just make himself the victim, arguing that he’s been betrayed for doing nothing more than speaking to the concerns of Republican voters.

And when it comes to banning Muslims, Trump is indeed speaking for a large chunk of the GOP electorate. Bloomberg conducted a snap poll that found close to two-thirds of Republican primary voters “favor Donald Trump’s call to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the U.S., while more than a third says it makes them more likely to vote for him.”

And he has his friends:

Erick Erickson praised it as “brilliant” politics even if it was flagrantly unconstitutional. National Review’s Andrew McCarthy said that Trump, his “rhetorical excesses aside,” has touched off a “badly needed discussion” about Muslim immigration. Rush Limbaugh warned Republican politicians that “you can condemn Trump all you want, but it is not going to buy you any love or respect or admiration from the Drive-By Media and the Democrats.” It also won’t help them with the GOP electorate, which, after years of encouragement from those same Republican politicians, sees itself in xenophobic demagogue Donald Trump.

The New York Times’ Ross Douthat sees that too:

To understand the bind in which Donald Trump’s fascistic forays have placed the Republican Party’s leaders, it’s useful to start with the specific fears that he’s exploiting.

It would make everyone’s lives easier if those fears were purely irrational, just a matter of bigotry and anxiety about a changing world. And some of them are. But some of them are understandable and reasonable, the kind of fears that politicians and political parties are supposed to address. …

On national security, it’s entirely reasonable for voters to be concerned about terrorism and radical Islam after a self-styled caliphate has surprised American policy makers by establishing itself in the Middle East and North Africa, and after an autumn in which that same Islamic State has either planned or inspired a global wave of attacks that have killed hundreds of people from Cairo to California.

And then it’s also reasonable for voters to be, not panicked, but at least concerned about how terrorism interacts with immigration policy – when Europe is struggling to cope with huge refugee flows from the Muslim world; when annual Muslim immigration to the United States has doubled since the 1990s and some of those immigrants are the explicit targets of Islamic State recruitment; and when the recent domestic terror attack in San Bernardino, Calif., was carried out thanks to a visa that the president of the United States could not even correctly identify in his attempt at a reassuring prime-time speech.

Douthat suggests what the other Republican candidates should say:

“Obama isn’t handling the Islamic State effectively, Obama can’t be trusted with border security, vote for us instead.”

That pitch would, in the normal course of things, effectively marginalize the kookery that Trump is serving up. You don’t need to torture terrorists’ families or set up some sort of religious database or ban all Muslims from entering the United States, Republicans would tell their voters; you just need to be tougher and smarter and harder-nosed than the current occupant of the White House.

Cool, but there are good reasons the voters in question wouldn’t buy that:

First, many of those voters lived through the George W. Bush presidency, when a Republican president combined an idealistic attempt to spread democracy in the Muslim world by force of arms with a firm repudiation of any suggestion that Islam writ large might be a problem. And they remember that this strategy did not exactly seem to reap the desired results.

Second, those voters know from long experience that whatever leading Republican politicians say about immigration and border security, many of them have similar views to, well, Barack Obama: They favor more immigration and less enforcement, and they privately (or not-so-privately) regard anyone who disagrees as a knuckle-dragging nativist. …

So then you combine those two issues in a presidential campaign, and your party’s leadership (the new speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, very much included) consists of figures who basically still believe in Bush’s approach to both national security and immigration, and the presidential candidates with the clearest support from the Republican establishment are either Marco Rubio (who sounds Bush-esque on foreign policy and tried to pass a comprehensive immigration bill with Chuck Schumer) or Jeb Bush (I repeat, Jeb Bush) … well, you can understand why at least some Republicans (the less ideologically committed, more disaffected sort, especially) feel like they’re being offered something they’ve seen tried already, and why the party’s promise to improve on Obama’s record seems less authoritative and more like another bill of goods.

Douthat seems to think the Party needs to find someone to play Richard Nixon to Trump’s George Wallace:

In theory, the Nixonian move – promising to address the legitimate fears Trumpism is exploiting, while disavowing the bigotry and crankery and proto-fascism – is both the right one and the one that the party badly needs.

But in the party as it currently exists, which prominent candidate has the credibility to play that part? When he made his law-and-order, peace-with-honor pitch in 1968, Nixon could rely on his association with the relative tranquility of the Eisenhower era. But which prominent Republican can say to anxious voters now, with the ring of authority, you can trust me not to just be an open-borders guy on immigration, and my anti-Islamic State strategy won’t just end up in the same ditch as our last ground war in the Middle East?

Well, there is one:

That’s close to Ted Cruz’s message, and it does seem to be helping him rise. But Cruz isn’t an experienced statesman, he isn’t an authority figure, he’s running his own kind of populist, “bomb ’em back to the Stone Age” campaign and riding Trump’s wake as he goes.

That won’t do:

Cruz seems content to wait for Republicans with more seniority and authority to tear down Donald Trump. Except that on the issues where Trump is making hay right now, no such authority exists.

Douthat spoke too soon:

Republican officials and leading figures in the party’s establishment are preparing for the possibility of a brokered convention as businessman Donald Trump continues to sit atop the polls in the GOP presidential race.

More than 20 of them convened Monday near the Capitol for a dinner held by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, and the prospect of Trump nearing next year’s nominating convention in Cleveland with a significant number of delegates dominated the discussion, according to five people familiar with the meeting.

Weighing in on that scenario as Priebus and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) listened, several longtime Republican power brokers argued that if the controversial billionaire storms through the primaries, the party’s establishment must lay the groundwork for a floor fight in which the GOP’s mainstream wing could coalesce around an alternative, the people said.

Ah, the Empire strikes back! Well, they’re talking about it:

Because of the sensitivity of the topic – and because they are wary of saying something that, if leaked, would provoke Trump to bolt the party and mount an independent bid – Priebus and McConnell were mostly quiet during the back-and-forth. They did not signal support for an overt anti-Trump effort.

But near the end, McConnell and Priebus acknowledged to the group that a deadlocked convention is something the party should prepare for, both institutionally within the RNC and politically at all levels in the coming months.

Okay, they’re setting up the possibility of striking back – as far as they’ll go now – in secret, with appropriate leaks – but Matt Bai thinks they need to face facts:

There’s no hard and fast rule in politics to help you know when you’ve crossed over from mere extremism into some dark borderland of reckless ignorance. Generally speaking, though, when you find yourself defending the wisdom of the Japanese-American internment, you have probably left that boundary behind a few miles back. …

The interesting question is what happens from here, because the way I see it, the cold war between Trump and the Republican governing establishment, which everyone hoped throughout the summer and fall might just resolve itself, has now become a zero-sum contest. And Republicans find themselves faced with an existential threat that has no parallel for either party in my lifetime.

Either Trump or the Republican Party as we’ve known it can come out of this election without having been politically destroyed but almost certainly not both.

It’s too late for anything else:

I still wouldn’t be shocked if the unsinkable Trump, contrary to his own declarations, ended up taking his box of hats and going home before a single primary vote is cast, if the polls weren’t going his way. In Trumpland, there’s nothing worse than being a Loser.

But what if he just refuses to go away?

Even in a losing cause, Trump might well garner enough delegates to fight on through the spring, if he feels like it, and maybe even through the convention in Cleveland. He might warm to a role as hero to the party’s disaffected, less educated, working-class voters, guaranteeing him visibility through the election, at least.

Or, as Trump himself threatened yet again this week, he might decide to run as an independent, a notion with which he’s long flirted. We’ve had some consequential independent candidacies before, of course – George Wallace, Ross Perot, Ralph Nader. But we’ve seen nothing on that score like Trump, with his outsize persona, his wealth, his genius for intuiting and manipulating emotion.

That means there would be only one winner:

Trump’s persistence would almost certainly hand the election to Hillary Clinton (assuming she’s the other nominee) and doom the party’s Senate candidates in states like New Hampshire and Ohio, too. It would cleave the party in a way it hasn’t seen since at least 1976 – except that this time the meltdown might not be followed by a disastrous presidency to make Republicans viable again, and there would be no Ronald Reagan to reunify the party.

And that leaves this:

Most of the Washington Republicans with whom I’ve talked say the party would adopt the same strategy as it did in 1964, when a renegade conservative senator named Barry Goldwater bested the party establishment. Republicans then effectively stepped back, said as little as possible and let Goldwater drive the party off a cliff, by which time they were already making plans to regain control four years later.

But Goldwater’s was an ideological and regional insurgency, the inevitable clash of Western libertarianism and Eastern money. Cruz is more the modern analogue to Goldwater; should he win the nomination, you can absolutely see how other elected Republicans might drain the brake fluid, hand him the keys and leave the rest to fate.

Trump’s campaign, on the other hand, isn’t about ideology so much as pure narcissism, fused with neo-nativist rhetoric and an outright contempt for public service. It’s not clear that a lot of governing Republicans could stomach that kind of nominee, and even if they could, they would effectively be allowing one man to dismantle the entire Republican establishment.

So, the Empire has to strike back – but they’ve already lost their empire. Trump has captured it. They need to start building a new one, one without the frightened and angry white nationalists. But who do they have left, the Club for Growth and the Chamber of Commerce and a few evangelicals? They’re not going to like how this movie turns out.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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