The Unthinkable

The political rancor should subside as Christmas approaches. All the iterations of Scrooge on television, from Alastair Sim to Bill Murray, playing in a continual loop, should shame those running for president into publicly embracing something like peace on earth and goodwill toward men. They can fake that for a few days. One should not be a Scrooge at Christmas. It doesn’t poll well. Focus groups hate that – but that doesn’t change the underlying dynamic. Things have gotten nasty out there. Ted Cruz has done a pretty good job of channeling Joe McCarthy from the fifties, with an evangelical overlay – our enemies are everywhere, and they’ve infiltrated our government and the Republican Party too. On the Senate floor he did call his own party’s Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, a liar – so his fellow Republicans hate his guts, and he laughs and welcomes their hatred, saying he was right in forcing them to shut down the government to force the end of Obamacare. Sure, it didn’t work, but at least he wasn’t a squish, like them. He likes to call his fellow Republicans squishes. It’s his special insult. It’s a cool word. It makes him happy.

Cruz is selling contempt. He feels contempt for a wide range of targets. If you feel contempt, even generalized contempt, he’s your man, unless it’s Donald Trump, who seems to be trying to build an electoral coalition based on people who hate immigrants, Muslims, and politicians. Trump also likes to insult those he considers ugly – Rosie O’Donnell, Carley Fiorina, Hillary Clinton and others – and he likes to mock the disabled, like that New York Times reporter. He calls everyone but himself a total loser. He’s not. They are. If you hate losers and cripples, and immigrants, Muslims, and politicians too, he’s your man.

This is nasty stuff, and these two lead the Republican field, and now there’s evidence that this plays better than anyone expected:

Donald Trump leads the GOP presidential field in polls of Republican voters nationally and in most early-voting states, but some surveys may actually be understating his support, a new study suggests. The analysis, by Morning Consult, a polling and market research company, looked at an odd occurrence that has cropped up repeatedly this year: Trump generally has done better in online polls than in surveys done by phone.

No one had considered that:

The firm conducted an experiment aimed at understanding why that happens and which polls are more accurate – online surveys that have tended to show Trump with support of nearly four-in-10 GOP voters or the telephone surveys that have typically shown him with the backing of one-third or fewer.

Their results suggest that the higher figure probably provides the more accurate measure.

Something is up:

Some significant number of Trump supporters, especially those with college educations, are “less likely to say that they support him when they’re talking to a live human” than when they are in the “anonymous environment” of an online survey, said the firm’s polling director, Kyle Dropp.

The most likely explanation for that education gap, Dropp and his colleagues believe, is a well-known problem known as social-desirability bias – the tendency of people to not want to confess unpopular views to a pollster.

Blue-collar voters don’t feel embarrassed about supporting Trump, who is very popular in their communities, the pollsters suggested. But many college-educated Republicans may hesitate to admit their attraction to Trump, the experiment indicates.

The well-educated are embarrassed to admit, face to face, that they hate immigrants, Muslims, and politicians too, and maybe everyone does, but Bernie Sanders thinks that’s not quite the case:

Somebody like a Trump comes along and says, “I know the answers. The answer is that all of the Mexicans, they’re criminals and rapists; we’ve got to hate the Mexicans. Those are your enemies. We hate all the Muslims, because all of the Muslims are terrorists. We’ve got to hate the Muslims.” Meanwhile, the rich get richer.

It’s a ruse. Slate’s Jamelle Bouie cites Sanders’ words and adds this:

In Sanders’ narrative, Trump is channeling class anger into prejudice, and exploiting the result. And Sanders isn’t the only person who thinks this. In an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep, President Obama offered similar sentiments. “Particularly blue-collar men have had a lot of trouble in this new economy, where they are no longer getting the same bargain that they got when they were going to a factory and able to support their families on a single paycheck,” said Obama. “You combine those things, and it means that there is going to be potential anger, frustration, fear – some of it justified, but just misdirected,” he continued. “I think somebody like Mr. Trump is taking advantage of that. That’s what he’s exploiting during the course of his campaign.”

If so, then this:

If this is true – and Trump is capitalizing on the economic anxieties of working-class Americans – then the response is straightforward: Address the anxieties, and you neutralize his appeal. Building economic security for working- and middle-class Americans is – and has been – a long-term project, undermined by a constellation of forces from globalization and the rise of Wall Street to the collapse of unions and the move toward a smaller, less-durable safety net. But if Sanders and Obama are right, then all liberals and Democrats have to do to beat Trump – or more broadly, diminish Trumpism – is continue being liberals and Democrats, with continued calls for more social insurance, more programs for families, more rights for workers, and a greater role for the public in our politics.

But that may be getting things all wrong:

What if Trump’s racism attracts supporters? What if his bigotry is the point?

With the end of the 1960s and the rise of black electoral power, explicit racism fell out of political favor. It never disappeared – as late as the 1990s, prominent candidates were race-baiting their opponents – but it diminished, replaced by an era of “dog whistle politics” where politicians played on implicit bias with code words and innuendo. Richard Nixon had “law and order”; Ronald Reagan had “welfare queens”; and in a move toward the explicit, George H. W. Bush had “Willie Horton” and an ad campaign that tied crime together with primal racial fears in a devastating hit on Michael Dukakis. “No campaign ever turns on one issue,” observed historian Dan T. Carter, “but no one – no one – who followed the [1988] campaign believes George Bush had any more devastating ally than the homicidal black rapist Willie Horton.”

What’s key is that there’s always been a portion of voters who are activated by racist appeals. And in an erstwhile Herrenvolk democracy, this shouldn’t be a surprise.

Herrenvolk democracy, by the way, is a governmental system in which the majority ethnic group has a say in the government, and has the right to partake in voting, while the minority races are disenfranchised – think new voter-ID laws these days – and think of Trump supporters:

They show up in surveys, polling, and research data as Americans who rank high on racial resentment or hold strong anti-black views. They respond favorably to racial demagoguery – whether from candidates or media or both – and exist throughout American politics, in the far-right margins as well as a voting group in the Republican Party.

In fact, their racism makes them more partisan; in a 2010 paper, political scientists Michael Tesler and David Sears found that for Republicans in the era of Obama, the higher their racial resentment, the stronger their attachment to the GOP.

Trump just pours it on:

There is no question that Trump has run the most unapologetically racist and nativist campaign since George Wallace made his first national play in 1964. And, like Wallace before him, it’s been successful, drawing tens of thousands of people to massive rallies across the country. Trump probes their fears, excites their passions, and gives them voice in a way they love and understand. “We have losers. We have people that are morally corrupt. We have people that are selling this country down the drain,” Trump declares.

And one thing leads to another:

On Monday, the Washington Post looked at the white supremacists and white nationalists who cheer Trump as an asset to their movement. Trump has opened “a door to conversation” and “electrified” some members of the movement, says one leader in the Ku Klux Klan. “I think a lot of what he says resonates with me,” says David Duke, a “Grand Wizard” in the Klan and former Louisiana politician.

In a similar piece for the New Yorker, writer Evan Osnos spoke to Jared Taylor, a prominent white nationalist who described the situation as such. “I’m sure he would repudiate any association with people like me,” said Taylor, “but his support comes from people who are more like me than he might like to admit.”

These voices are self-serving, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Trump has shot to the top, fueled by vicious rhetoric against Latino immigrants and Syrian refugees. He has shared racist memes about black Americans and called for a ban on Muslim travel to the United States. And each time, his support ticks higher.

This is nasty stuff, and self-limiting, and that worries the establishment Republicans. They know they cannot win with only angry white votes, and Jeff Greenfield examines their dilemma:

What happens to the party if he wins?

With Trump as its standard-bearer, the GOP would suddenly be asked to rally around a candidate who has been called by his once and former primary foes “a cancer on conservatism,” “unhinged,” “a drunk driver helping the enemy.” A prominent conservative national security expert, Max Boot, has flatly labeled him “a fascist.” And the rhetoric is even stronger in private conversations I’ve had recently with Republicans of moderate and conservative stripes.

They are worried:

This is not the usual rhetoric of intraparty battles, the kind of thing that gets resolved in handshakes under the convention banners. These are stake-in-the-ground positions, strongly suggesting that a Trump nomination would create a fissure within the party as deep and indivisible as any in American political history, driven both by ideology and by questions of personal character.

Indeed, it would be a fissure so deep that, if the operatives I talked with are right, Trump running as a Republican could well face a third-party run – from the Republicans themselves.

That’s a switch, but that may be necessary:

With Trump as the nominee, the Republican Party would face a threat to unity on several fronts. His victory would represent a triumph of an insurgent movement, or impulse, within the party. Historically speaking, this is exactly the kind of intraparty victory that guarantees political civil war.

And that’s never pretty:

In 1964, when Republican conservatives succeeded in nominating a divisive champion of their cause in Barry Goldwater, liberal Republicans (there were such things back then) like New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, Michigan Governor George Romney and others refused to endorse the nominee. More shockingly, the New York Herald-Tribune, the semi-official voice of the GOP establishment, endorsed Lyndon Johnson – the first Democrat it had supported, ever. With his party split, Goldwater went down in flames. Eight years later, when a deeply divided Democratic Party nominated anti-war hero George McGovern, George Meany led the AFL-CIO to a position of neutrality between McGovern and Richard Nixon – the first time labor had refused to back a Democrat for president. Prominent Democrats like former Texas Governor John Connelly openly backed Nixon, while countless others, disempowered by the emergence of “new Democrats,” simply sat on their hands. The divided Democrats lost in a landslide.

Would a Trump nomination be another example of such a power shift? Yes, although not a shift in an ideological sense. It would represent a more radical kind of shift, with power moving from party officials and office-holders to deeply alienated voters and to their media tribunes. (Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham have not exactly endorsed Trump, but they have been vocal in defending him and in assailing those who have branded Trump unacceptable.)

But there’s more:

A battle over ideology or influence, however, explains only one kind of defection from party ranks. The other – one that would hold particular peril for Trump-as-Republican-nominee – arises from a belief that a chosen candidate is simply unfit, by character or temperament, to hold office. …

If you want to see the most sulfurous assaults on Trump, don’t look to the editorial pages of the New York Times or the comments of MSNBC personalities; look instead to the most prominent media voices in the conservative world: National Review, The Weekly Standard, Commentary and the columns of George Will and others. In part, they deplore his deviations from the conservative canon; deviations that former Reagan aide and onetime FCC Chairman Dennis Patrick summarizes this way: “Many of my colleagues from the Reagan administration would have a hard time pulling the lever for Trump. We weren’t just Republicans, we were conservatives. It is very difficult to square any principled theory of conservative governance with much of what Trump says.”

But there’s more:

It’s the vulgarity, the fusion of ignorance and arrogance, the narcissism, the dissembling on matters great and small. The composite portrait of Trump painted by these outlets – leavened only by a grudging acknowledgment that he’s touched on legitimate concerns about immigration and terror – makes the idea of handing over the nuclear codes to Trump unsettling. And it makes the idea of embracing him as the alternative to Hillary Clinton somewhere between a reach and a lunge.

What a Trump nomination represents, then, is a victory that leaves significant slices of the party unwilling or unable to accept the outcome. Whether he’s seen as an ideological heretic for his views on trade, taxes and government power or as a demagogue whose clownish bluster and casual bigotry make him temperamentally unfit for office, the odds on massive defections are very high.

Those defections are being discussed:

Dan Schnur spent a lifetime in the vineyards of the Republican Party, working in the Reagan and Bush presidential campaigns and serving as communications director for the California Republican Party. He’s now an independent and heads the Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. He argues “a Trump nomination would virtually guarantee a third-party campaign from a more traditional Republican candidate.”

Why a Republican? The short answer is to save the party over the long term. “It’s impossible to conceive that Republican leaders would simply forfeit their party to him,” he says. “Even without the formal party apparatus, they’d need to fly their flag behind an alternative, if only to keep the GOP brand somewhat viable for the future. Otherwise, it would be toxic for a long, long time.”

Romney strategist Stu Stevens, who still believes Trump will fade – indeed, that “he will not win a single primary” – nonetheless agrees that a Trump nomination would trigger a “very strong third-party effort.” And Rob Stutzman, another veteran of California Republican politics – he helped spearhead the 2003 recall that put Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Governor’s Mansion – foresees a third party emerging, both as a safe harbor for disaffected GOP voters and to help other Republican candidates.

Serious folks are thinking the unthinkable, in spite of the difficulties:

Any candidate attempting a third-party bid would confront serious obstacles, such as getting on state ballots late in the election calendar. As for down-ballot campaigns, most state laws prohibit candidates from running on multiple lines; so a Senate or congressional candidate who wanted to avoid association with Trump would have to abandon the GOP line to re-run with an independent presidential contender.

Oops, but this is happening:

The very fact that serious political thinkers are contemplating such a possibility demonstrates that when Republicans look at the perils posed by a third-party bid from Donald Trump, they may be looking in the wrong direction. It’s not Trump the Defector that could trigger the biggest threat to the party, but Trump the Nominee.

On the other hand, the former Tea Party congressman Joe Walsh addressed a meeting of young conservative activist and suggested this:

“I think that we’ve begun a third American Revolution,” Walsh told TheBlaze in an exclusive interview over the weekend. “I think people who recoil against both parties and believe in freedom are finally rising up. They’re angry – I mean, look at [Republican frontrunner Donald] Trump – and they want to do something about it. I think we’re at the beginning of this, and I think you’re going to see it play out in the Republican Party because there could be a split in the Republican Party.”

According to Walsh, the first step for “revolutionaries” – or, conservatives, Tea Partiers and grassroots activists – is to “clean out the Republican Party.” If that does not work, he said, a new political party or movement could be on the horizon.”

“It’s hard to say, ‘don’t’ be afraid of it,’ because we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Walsh, 53, said. “Remember, revolution is a scary term. It implies violence; it implies open rebellion. People shouldn’t be afraid because initially we’re going to use the political system in this revolt to try to fight back.”

“It’s not going to get violent at first, but look, the two prior revolutions we had got violent – the American Revolution and the Civil War,” the one-term congressman continued.

“Our founders believed that it may take violence to take back our country every now and then.”

“You, God bless you, were brought into this world and brought into this country, I would argue, right now, at this point in time, right now at the dawn of the third American Revolution to fight,” Walsh told the students who had traveled to West Palm Beach, Florida from all around the country.

Heather Parton comments:

Walsh is a fringe character talk radio host now, but he used to be in Congress. He’s always been way out there. I just bring this up to show how casually the right is now talking about violence. This was not always the case. They alluded to it, they dog-whistled it with talk of “tyranny”. But you rarely heard anyone in the modern era telling young college kids it was inevitable that we would have a violent uprising within the US – at least outside secret militia and white supremacy meetings.

That, however, is simply an alternative way to establish a third party – clean out the current Republican Party at gunpoint, and shoot those who resist. Practice the politics of contempt and these solutions will occur to those who have been freed to sneer at everything.

Things really are getting nasty out there, and Christmas isn’t really going to help. That’s only one day.

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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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