Americans shouldn’t have to rely on the Brits for embarrassing news about the mood in America, but maybe those proper and civilized folks across the pond take a bit of smug satisfaction in their unruly cousins being crude and mindless jerks. The American news media seems to prefer to turn away – Americans are good and kind and thoughtful people and there’s no need to cover those few isolated jerks that ruin things for everyone else – but the Daily Mail reports that it happened again:
A violent melee broke out during a Donald Trump rally Monday night in New Hampshire, as a self-described ‘celebrity boxer’ attacked an anti-Trump protester.
Todd ‘The Punisher’ Poulton, who is best known for fighting former baseball star Jose Canseco and sparring with former heavyweight champion James ‘Bonecrusher’ Smith, leaped on the man, who had shouted that Trump was a ‘fascist.’
Poulton happened to be next to the man when he and a second activist made their presence known. In the scuffle, an elderly man was knocked over.
The Daily Mail provides stills and the video – “The Punisher” Poulton has a rather impressive swoopy Mike Tyson full-facial tattoo and a bulky body like Hulk Hogan, and he obviously seems to enjoy slamming people around – that’s what he does for a living – but this didn’t amount to much:
Trump spoke to hundreds in a middle school gymnasium. Many of his recent campaign appearances have been peppered with shouts from activists.
A recent Michigan speech drew more than a dozen separate outbursts, with Trump calling one man a ‘loser’ and asking security to be ‘gentle’ with another.
The unnamed protester who disrupted the event at Pennichuck Middle School on Monday was marched out of the gym by police and Secret Service agents, smiling, as Trump’s crowd shouted ‘USA! USA!’
“The Punisher” never got to land a punch. The unnamed protester did not get the crap beat out of him. He didn’t get the handy folding chair broken over his head – standard fare in “professional” wrestling – and Trump had no comment. He likes to say his crowds are enthusiastic, and that’s wonderful – but this sort of thing happens more and more often. This goes beyond telling his people to toss the reporter from Univision out of the room, and a bit beyond his crowd regularly roughing up and spitting on black and Hispanic protesters. It’s that “professional” wrestling thing. That sends a signal. American politics had already become dangerous, at least at the Trump rallies and actually in a fascist sort of way, and now it’s become both theatrical and absurd, if not somewhat ritualistic – with an attitude. Now we have Wrestle Mania. The Brits were not impressed.
They were also puzzled. In the London-based international edition of the Financial Times they turned to the Republican pollster and wordsmith Frank Luntz – the guy who advised the Republicans to talk about the Death Tax, not the Estate Tax, and to not say the Affordable Care Act but say the Total Takeover of All Healthcare by the Federal Government. Luntz wrote a column for the Financial Times, explaining that Donald Trump’s bile is a healing balm for spurned Americans – but that’s behind a firewall. Only subscribers to the Financial Times can read that.
That’s not quite so, because Section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976 allows others to cite parts of the Luntz column for discussion purposes, and someone did cite the key passage from the Luntz column:
The simple truth is, the more provocative his language, the deeper and more passionate his support. He is no dummy; there is a method to his proverbial madness. Mr Trump says – to the growing legions who will listen – what tens of millions of Americans are already thinking. Respect or revile him, the man has hit a vein.
I spent three hours in a deep dialogue focus group with 29 Trump supporters. The phenomenon of “The Donald” is rooted in a psyche far deeper and more consequential than next November’s presidential election. His support denotes an abiding distrust in – and disrespect for – the governing elite. These individuals do not like being told by Washington or Wall Street what is best for them, do not like the direction America is headed in, and disdain President Barack Obama and his (perceived) circle of self-righteous, tone-deaf governing partisans.
Trump voters are not just angry – they want revenge.
They’ve had it with blacks, Latinos, and gays – and abortion should be illegal, if not contraception, and women should know their place, and there should be mandatory Christian prayer in public schools, and as for our enemies, we kill them, we don’t talk to them. Once our enemies understand that, they’ll back down. America will be safe, and be great again. And the Trump folks want to exact revenge for all of this not being so, right now, as they think it once was so. They blame Obama, and they blame the “establishment” of their own party. But they mostly blame Obama.
They will have revenge, and Donald Trump is the instrument of that revenge:
Mr Trump has adroitly filled the vacuum of vitriol, establishing himself as the bold, brash, take-no-prisoners megaphone for the frustrated masses. They see him as the antidote to all that Mr Obama has made wrong with America. So to understand why millions love Mr Trump so much, you have to take a step back and listen to why they hate Mr Obama so much.
Dan Spencer of RedState puts it this way:
They seek vengeance for Obama’s fundamental transformation of America. These Trumpeteers see the Donald as the antidote for all that Obama has made wrong with America. Trump’s bombastic attacks on the Republican establishment, the mainstream media and his critics are cathartic for the millions who feel “silenced, ignored and even scorned by the governing and media elite.”
According to Luntz, to understand why Trump is so popular, you have to listen to why his supporters hate Obama so much.
Spencer then covers all the Luntz focus groups in detail – the anger is overwhelming – but that anger and demand for revenge may go nowhere. Donald Trump has effectively blown up their one means to regain power and reset everything to 1953 or so – an effective political party. Donald Trump blew up the Republican Party. That is what Eugene Robinson argues here:
History will remember 2015 as the year when The Republican Party as We Knew It was destroyed by Donald Trump. An entity called the GOP will survive – but can never be the same.
Am I overstating Trump’s impact, given that not a single vote has been cast? Hardly. I’m not sure it’s possible to exaggerate how the Trump phenomenon has torn the party apart, revealing a chasm between establishment and base that is far too wide to bridge with stale Reagan-era rhetoric. Can you picture the Trump legions meekly falling in line behind Jeb Bush or Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.)? I can’t either.
Of course he had help:
Trump didn’t blow up the party on his own. He had help from a field of presidential contenders that was touted as deep and talented but proved shallow and wanting. Bush raised shock-and-awe money but turns out to lack his father and brother’s skill at performing on the national stage; he seems to want to be crowned, not elected. Rubio is like the teacher’s pet who speaks eloquently in class but doesn’t do his homework. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was slow off the mark, perhaps having been stuck in traffic on the George Washington Bridge.
Who else would be acceptable to the GOP establishment? Certainly not Sen. Rand Paul, Santorum, Mike Huckabee and Ohio Gov. John Kasich all had their glory days in the last century. Carly Fiorina has never held elective office. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Rick Perry, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Sen. Lindsey Graham have come and gone.
At year’s end, the campaign is dominated by three candidates who appeal over the heads of the establishment and straight to the unruly base: Sen. Ted Cruz, who negates the fact that he is a sitting senator by waging all-out war against the party leadership; Ben Carson, a distinguished neurosurgeon who seems increasingly out of his depth; and Trump, the undeniable front-runner.
That’s odd, but what Robinson finds really odd is that the party didn’t see this coming:
What Trump has done is call out the establishment on years of dishonest rhetoric. Progressives often asked why so many working-class whites went against their own economic interests by supporting the GOP. The answer is that Republicans appealed to these voters on cultural grounds, subtly exploiting their resentments and fears.
The nation’s demographics are changing, with a rapidly growing Latino population – and an African American in the White House. Globalization has hollowed out the middle class. The country is vulnerable to terrorism, and there is no way to impose a Pax Americana on today’s multipolar world.
The Republican Party promised – with nods, winks and dog-whistle toots – to change all of this and make everything the way it used to be. In practice, however, party leaders were compelled to deal with the world as it actually is – hence, for example, the establishment view a couple of years ago in favor of comprehensive immigration reform.
That made The Donald inevitable:
Enter Trump, who has the temerity to point out that the party establishment says one thing but does another. He launched his campaign by calling the GOP’s bluff on immigration: If the 11 million people here without documents are really “illegal,” as the party loudly proclaims, then send them home. Other candidates were put in the position of having to explain why, after claiming that President Obama was somehow “soft” on immigration, their position on allowing the undocumented to stay is basically the same.
Similarly, many leading Republicans were careful not to offend the “birthers” who denied Obama’s legitimacy as president. An unabashed birther long before he was a candidate, Trump still refuses to say whether he accepts the proven fact that Obama was born in the United States.
Also, the party has long sought to capitalize on fear of terrorism by haranguing the president for not using the exact phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” (as if semantics could bring peace to Syria). So when, after the attack in San Bernardino, Trump called for banning Muslims from entering the country, much of the Republican base was receptive. Other candidates had to backpedal and remind voters that George W. Bush made clear his “war on terror” was not a war against Islam.
Trump has given voice to the ugliness and anger that the party spent years encouraging and exploiting. He let the cat out of the bag, and it’s hungry.
The party now might nominate Trump, and then no one will be in charge of the party, and it may disappear. And if party leaders do somehow find a way to defeat him they will lose the allegiance of party’s base. There will be no unified Republican Party left, in our two-party system. That has actually already happened, and Donald Trump did it – he destroyed one of our two political parties. It will be Democrats forever, or at least for a few more years, or maybe more. Someone should have told these Trump folks that revenge is never sweet.
Paul Waldman sees the whole thing from a slightly different perspective:
Believe it or not, the Iowa caucuses are just over a month away. And Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) – establishment darling and the cognoscenti’s assumed front-runner – is heading to Iowa for a bus tour, bringing along a shiny new endorsement from Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, head of the special committee on Benghazi. Can you feel the excitement?
Probably not, which is why this is an excellent demonstration of Rubio’s problem, and the problem the GOP is facing as the actual voting approaches. While everyone waits for the voters to finally figure out that they ought to be supporting Rubio, the only candidate who at the moment looks like he might be able to defeat Donald Trump is Ted Cruz. From the perspective of the party’s fortunes in the general election, that would be sort of like being cured of your electoral syphilis by contracting gonorrhea.
Cruz is no better for the party than Trump, but Rubio is hopeless:
On one hand, it’s understandable that the Rubio campaign would try to make a big deal out of Gowdy’s support, since Republican politicians have been stingy with endorsements this year and Gowdy is well-liked among his colleagues on Capitol Hill. But when Trump dismissed the endorsement by saying that Gowdy’s Benghazi hearings were “a total disaster,” you could almost hear Republican voters nodding in agreement. The special committee was just one more iteration of the pattern that has Republican voters so disgusted with their Washington leadership: touted as the vehicle to bring down Hillary Clinton, it ended up backfiring and doing nothing but make Republicans look foolish. So once again, Capitol Hill Republicans overpromised and showed their constituents that they’re ineffectual. It’s hard to imagine that too many base voters, in Iowa or anywhere else, are going to say, “Well, if Trey Gowdy likes Marco Rubio, that’s good enough for me.”
For a contrast, look at the Iowa endorsements Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) has gotten. There’s Rep. Steve King, who’s an embarrassment to the national party but is also perhaps the single most anti-immigrant member of Congress, a good thing to be right now (particularly given that immigration is Rubio’s area of greatest vulnerability among primary voters). There’s Bob Vander Plaats of the Family Leader, probably the state’s most influential evangelical activist. And there’s Steve Deace, the state’s most important conservative talk radio host. It’s an anti-establishment triumvirate, each with a genuine ability to bring voters along with them, all backing Cruz.
Of course, as much of a boost as a candidate can get from winning Iowa, it doesn’t guarantee anything, as Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, the winners of the last two caucuses, can attest. (Little-known fact: both Huckabee and Santorum are running for president this year.) But unlike them, Cruz has laid a foundation in money and organization to take advantage of all the attention a win in Iowa would produce.
And the young senator from Florida has no idea there’s no Republican Party, as he knew it, left:
If you’re a Rubio supporter, you’re probably frustrated with the fact that your party’s base seems stubbornly unwilling to recognize Rubio’s obvious advantages for the general election. By now, a vigorous debate about electability should have been in full swing, with Republican voters trying to determine which candidate would have the greatest appeal to independent voters and do best against Hillary Clinton. But that discussion has been pretty quiet, for the simple reason that the voters don’t seem to care very much. They’re angry about the state of the country and they’re fed up with their party’s leadership, so telling them that Rubio has more crossover potential than Cruz isn’t going to be all that persuasive.
So Marco Rubio can have Trey Gowdy vouch for him, but at this moment, and for the purposes of the election’s first contest, it probably won’t do any good. That isn’t to say that things won’t change – it never hurts to remind ourselves that the voting hasn’t started yet, and there will almost certainly be a few twists and turns before the party picks its nominee. But the anger of the Republican base at the party’s leadership has all along been the driving force of this campaign, and that’s one thing that probably isn’t going to change.
They want their revenge. Young Marco is simply out of luck, as Pat Buchanan argued to Michael Smerconish on CNN a few days before Christmas Day:
“I will say this, the Republican Party is under a death sentence,” Buchanan said. “There is no doubt about it. And I urged them back in 1990. Look, let’s halt immigration, a moratorium on all immigration, assimilate, Americanize the folks who have come here who are poor as they come up and go through the working class, in middle class, lo and behold just like the Irish and the Italians, and the Jewish folks and the Polish folks. Suddenly under Nixon back in the mid ’60s, we moved them all right into the Republican Party and Nixon won 49 states that hugely popular fall, Michael, 49 states. Now, unless you have a time out on immigration and even for a long period, I think the Republican Party is under a sentence of death.”
That’s only one issue and John Podhoretz takes the opposing view:
Tuesday morning, the political-action committee supporting Jeb Bush released an extraordinarily nasty – and inaccurate – ad bashing Marco Rubio for missing key intelligence briefings on the Paris and San Bernardino terrorist attacks. At the same time, Chris Christie called on Rubio to resign from the Senate since he misses so many Senate votes – this from a man who literally spent half the year outside of New Jersey on the campaign trail.
All this comes a few weeks after Ted Cruz followed Rand Paul in slamming Rubio for being a warmonger. Rubio responded by calling Cruz an isolationist whose opposition to collecting metadata is making us vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
Cruz bashed Rubio as a supporter of immigration amnesty. Rubio went after Cruz for his inconsistency on immigration legalization.
Democrats are gleeful at the eruption of this war of all against all, while many professional Republicans are despondent.
Podhoretz thinks this is nonsense:
This is all to the good. With 34 days left to go until the first votes are tabulated in the Iowa caucuses, it’s time for the gloves to come off.
Last summer, Donald Trump stunned the political class and his fellow candidates by successfully combining policy-free proclamations about making America great again with astoundingly ad hominem nastiness. Since his rivals believed Trump’s ugliness would doom him, they went nice. For the most part, they said they weren’t in the race to criticize other Republicans because they all shared a common purpose – ensuring a GOP victory over Hillary Clinton in November 2016.
They were wrong. And in truth, they might have done better to take up the cudgels against each other – and Trump – in the fall to prevent him from sucking up all the oxygen in the race. You have to make news, and be the news, if you want to be president.
Now they’re making news, and in the right way – by airing out their differences when it comes to policy.
Podhoretz is fine with that:
This will have positive consequences. First, it will allow voters to differentiate between the candidates just as they begin to pay very close attention to the race. If you think the key problem facing the country is terrorism, then the dispute between Rubio and Cruz is the central one.
Cruz says ISIS can be defeated from the air. Rubio says the only way to destroy ISIS is to seize the territory it has occupied. Cruz says the use of metadata to monitor phone traffic is unnecessary. Rubio says it is crucial. These are maybe the two smartest men in American politics right now, and the argument they are having and will continue to have will help shape the election even if neither wins the nomination.
The same is true on immigration. If it’s your central concern, Rubio probably makes you uneasy. But he has said he was wrong to push for a massive immigration-reform package, and says he continues to favor a path to legalization. Cruz says he opposes legalization – but is being cagey and slippery when it comes to his past support for it.
And so on and so forth, and then, as if by magic, Trump goes away:
Having a real argument about issues will reveal the hollowness of Trump’s candidacy at exactly the right moment – when Republican voters cease seeing the GOP contest as a reality-TV show and instead view their ballot as among the most important they will ever cast.
Cool – but what if these people simply want revenge, and Trump continues to offer that? Who can refuse? It feels so good, even if it does no good. No wonder the Brits are puzzled by us.