While We Were Sleeping

Living in Los Angeles provides perspective, or ironic distance. Everything important happened three hours earlier, back east in New York or Washington. Our only revenge is that the Oscars show starts at five in the afternoon out here, so all that is settled by early evening and we can get on with our lives sooner – but that’s only once a year. The rest of the time we’re behind the times. We often wake up to find the world has already changed in one more way – another terrorist attack, a new war somewhere or other, the European markets have crashed and the Dow is about to open five hundred points lower, or Donald Trump has won the big one and the Republican Party of our Californians, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, is now gone forever – it disappeared while we were sleeping.

Of course that Republican Party disappeared out here first – Pete Wilson killed it with Prop 187 in 1994 – no nothing for Hispanics – and Arnold Schwarzenegger, our last Republican governor, buried it. Never elect an Austrian bodybuilder turned action-hero actor to run things. No Republican holds any state-wide office out here now – they may never hold one again. We lost our appetite for spend-nothing-on-anything austerity and demonizing Hispanics – we have a lot of those out here – but that’s just us. The Republicans have been doing well everywhere else. We find that puzzling.

We find lots of things puzzling, from our distance. We get three hours to step back and see the ironies. So this is both geographic and temporal, and from that dual difference, the Los Angeles Times’ Steve Lopez looks at the presidential race at the moment:

A Jewish socialist candidate who is roughly the same age as Moses has locked up the youth vote. An African American candidate’s most lasting impression was a defense of his belief that the pyramids were actually grain elevators. The whitest male candidate, Jeb Bush, may speak better Spanish than the two Latino candidates, one of whom cooks bacon on the barrel of an AR-15. The only remaining female candidate is having trouble scoring points with women. And a candidate with a head like a Santa Ana wildfire has mocked a female opponent’s looks and insulted a former prisoner of war for getting captured.

That would be Donald Trump, who makes me fear terrorism more every time he talks about it. The Donald seems to be one or two debates short of threatening to deny visas to anyone who’s ever eaten a falafel.

Well, from a distance that is how things look, and there’s this, from a California perspective:

For years we’ve heard predictions from Republicans themselves that the GOP is doomed if it doesn’t stop alienating an increasingly diverse electorate and start reaching out to Latinos in particular. So what happens? Trump calls undocumented immigrants drug dealers and rapists, and the two Latino candidates – one of whom was born in Canada – are racing to the border to start building the fence promised by the guy who uses immigrant labor to build all those casinos and hotels named after him. Even if California had an early primary and the state was in play, Cruz and Rubio wouldn’t dare show up on our turf. If they did manage to sneak across the border, you’d want to check their papers.

These guys are Latinos?

No, they’re Cuban Latinos – the good ones in Republican circles – the kind we have few of out here – but there’s a larger irony at play:

How will it work when one of these people finally has to put a hand on the Bible and take the oath of office? How can we believe any of them?

“He is a lying guy,” Trump said of Ted Cruz, who in turn called Trump and Rubio liars, only to have Rubio go on and on about Cruz’s lies. And they’re all on the same team.

Don’t get off the couch, folks, because this thing is sure to get crazier as we head toward the Super Tuesday primaries. I’m laying 2-to-1 odds that one or more of the candidates will begin speaking in tongues by then.

They may not have to. Donald Trump seems to be running away with this. At Vox, Michelle Hackman gives the Sunday morning report of what happened Saturday night:

Donald Trump won the South Carolina primary last night, coming in over ten points ahead of second- and third-place finishers Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

The win spells probable doom for Cruz, whose campaign, staked on a strategy of winning over evangelical voters, fell flat in its first real test. Born-again Christians, who Cruz predicted would turn out in droves to propel him to victory, instead broke decisively for Trump, 33 percent to Cruz’s 27 percent.

And it was more than that:

That’s a coup for a larger-than-life candidate whose blustery rhetoric on immigration and terrorism seemed to make up for his apparent lack of religious credentials with these voters. It was perhaps the most important demographic victory for Trump, but certainly not the only one. Instead, exit polls from the Washington Post tell a larger story about how Trump has molded the views of Republican voters – and turned them in his favor with wild success.

All this should alarm party elites set on stopping Trump from sweeping the nomination. South Carolina’s population looks a lot like those of the seven southern states voting on March 1, and unless there is a major shift in the race, the advantages he has built himself will likely hold up.

He’s got the nomination – ban Muslims from the United States – but mostly this was about fear of anyone who is The Other:

Trump’s two main focuses, immigrants and terrorists, have captured the minds of Republican voters. Fully 31 percent of voters rated terrorism the top issue in the race, with an additional 10 percent rating immigration a top concern. Among both groups, Trump wins handily. The advantage is particularly stark among voters citing immigration – 51 percent of those voters pick Trump, compared to 25 percent for Cruz and 11 percent for Rubio.

In the same vein, 44 percent of the electorate thinks “most illegal immigrants” should be deported – a clear echo of the unusually harsh tactics Trump has said he would use to purge America of over 11 million unauthorized immigrants. Among those voters, 47 percent cast ballots for Trump, compared with 24 percent for an equally adamant Ted Cruz and 15 percent for Rubio.

And of course Republican voters really want an outsider as their nominee, and that is only him:

Trump is not the only candidate to play the party outsider game – and it’s not an entirely new trope in Republican politics. But his strategy of broadcasting his lack of experience in public office seems to have undercut even Ted Cruz, who champions his status as the single-most loathed member of the US Senate.

Cruz doesn’t register as outsider enough for Republican voters, 48 percent of whom said they prioritized voting for someone who is “outside the establishment.” Of those voters, 69 percent voted for Trump; only 13 percent voted for Cruz.

Moreover, most Republicans in the state seemed unaffected by the endorsement of their governor, Nikki Haley, who sided with Rubio in the days leading up to the primary. Once a true bellwether of party support, Haley’s endorsement didn’t matter to fully 72 percent of Republicans this primary season – and of those who said they didn’t care about Haley’s endorsement, Trump had a 22-point advantage over Rubio.

This was, in fact, a sweep:

Looking at the age, sex, and educational breakdown of Trump voters, it seems that the candidate doesn’t have any one outstanding gap in support. Take his stronghold of voters with only a high school diploma. This demographic has long been called Trump’s base, and sure enough, fully 45 percent of those voters sided with Trump, compared with 27 percent for Cruz and 16 percent for Rubio. But college-educated Republicans – which, at 33 percent, make up a larger share of the electorate than voters with high school diplomas – still broke for Trump, if less decisively. He won 29 percent of those voters, compared to Rubio’s 24 percent.

Age doesn’t seem to be a major barrier, either. Though Trump won older Republicans handily – attracting 36 percent of voters ages 45 to 64 – he didn’t exactly fall behind among younger voters, either. Among the two youngest demographics polled, he ran about even with both Cruz and Rubio.

Men and women both also voted for Trump most often, though a larger percentage of men (36 percent) voted for him than women (29 percent) did. Women make up a smaller proportion of the Republican electorate than men do, which further neutralizes Trump’s slight gender deficit.

It’s all over but the shouting now, as they say, and this might literally be the case for a few weeks, as the Republican “establishment” howls. See John Podhoretz in the New York Post for a bit of that – and expect more, for all the good it will do.

It’s over. Jeb Bush dropped out, and the New York Times’ Michael Barbaro and Ashley Parker cover what that really signified:

In his emotional seven-minute farewell to a Republican Party that elevated his father and brother to the White House, there were two words that a choked-up Jeb Bush could not bring himself to utter: “Donald Trump.”

Mr. Bush, the former governor of Florida, had been soundly rejected by an electorate he no longer recognized, hobbling his campaign and leaving him little choice but to withdraw from the presidential race.

“The people of Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina have spoken,” Mr. Bush said, holding back tears. “And I really respect their decision.”

It was a stunning turn for the man who a year ago embodied all the qualities that his party’s elders imagined Republican voters wanted in a president: civility, experience, pedigree and tolerance.

They were wrong.

Everything just changed:

The party of Prescott Bush, George Bush and George W. Bush is, for the moment, the party of Donald J. Trump. For the past year, party leaders who had pleaded with Mr. Bush to run and armed his campaign with a record-shattering war chest of $100 million had consoled themselves with assurances that Mr. Trump’s popularity in the polls would never translate into victory at the ballot box. Mr. Trump, it turned out, knew their voters better than they did.

Mr. Trump’s commanding back-to-back primary wins in two disparate regions of the country have forcefully shaken the Republican firmament out of a prolonged state of self-denial.

“It’s an enormous moment,” said Steve Schmidt, a top Republican strategist on John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008 and George W Bush’s in 2004. Unless further rivals immediately quit the race, “it’s very difficult to see how he is stopped on his way to the nomination.”

They’ve really got nothing left:

With Mr. Bush’s exit, mainstream Republicans did not just lose a beloved would-be standard-bearer. They are now bereft of the single most forceful and outspoken detractor of Mr. Trump in the presidential campaign. In debate after debate, and rally after rally, Mr. Bush questioned Mr. Trump’s tactics, his qualifications, his judgment, his worldview and his very decency.

On his way out of the campaign, Mr. Bush – in a line that seemed squarely directed at Mr. Trump’s divisive brand of politics – declared that a president must tend for all corners of the country and all kinds of people.

“I have put forth a vision for America that includes all,” Mr. Bush said, “because our country deserves a president for everyone.”

Now, with Mr. Bush’s exit, the Republican establishment confronts an urgent decision: Either destroy Mr. Trump or embrace him.

They might try the former first, as Barbaro and Parker do think that Trump is vulnerable.

Even as he won in South Carolina, Mr. Trump seemed to overstay his welcome, revealing a tendency to test voters’ patience. In South Carolina, late-deciding voters made up 45 percent of the Republican electorate, and they uniformly scorned Mr. Trump. And surveys suggest that even some Republicans find him unlikable and lacking in compassion.

What’s more, so much of Mr. Trump’s campaign and his conduct remain startlingly unpredictable, from his spats with the pope to his shifting memories of his previous positions on momentous issues, such as his opposition (then later support, then opposition again) for the American-led invasion of Iraq.

And Mr. Trump will soon lose a feature of the 2016 race that has disproportionately benefited his candidacy: a large and unwieldy field of rivals that carved up much of the Republican electorate into small slivers.

Yes, he will soon be unable to count on the train wreck behind him, but he may be bulletproof:

In South Carolina, he prevailed even after a brutal and deflating week, in which he was loudly and repeatedly booed on stage during a Republican debate; was denounced by the global head of the Catholic Church; praised Saddam Hussein as an effective fighter of terrorism; and declared that torture “works.”

Disconsolate Republican operatives spent much of Saturday night in dismay, over the death of the Bush dynasty and the success of Mr. Trump. Even in the face of polling that documented Mr. Trump’s appeal, and even after his win in New Hampshire, they privately doubted that he could sustain his momentum.

“It’s bad for the party and bad for the country,” said Stuart Stevens, the chief strategist for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign four years ago. “I don’t think there is anything good about it.”

Yeah, but what does that matter? He’s walking away with this. They made a mistake in underestimating him in the first place:

The party’s collective shrug over Mr. Trump since he entered the presidential race last summer, and its stubborn unwillingness to treat him as a serious threat, is reflected by the paltry sum that both campaigns and outside groups have devoting to undermining him. In a presidential campaign during which “super PACs” spent $215 million, just $9.2 million, or around 4 percent, was dedicated to attacking Mr. Trump, even as he dominated the polls for months.

But now they’ll spend the money, because they have to, even if it probably won’t fix things now:

At stake for the Republican Party is whether it embraces a new generation of conservatism, as embodied by Mr. Rubio and Mr. Cruz, the children of Cuban immigrants, or hitches its wagon to a deeply unorthodox, anti-immigrant and politically promiscuous figure like Mr. Trump.

In the fast-fading world of Bush-era figures, who are mystified that even the appearance of a once adored former president and two former first ladies failed to sway voters last week, some are quietly saying it is time to accept a new reality: that Mr. Trump is the face of the Republican Party.

“We’re just going to have to come to terms with it,” Trent Lott, the former Republican Senate majority leader under George W. Bush, told lawmakers on a recent visit to Capitol Hill. “He might just be the nominee.”

That’s a bitter pill to swallow, but Andy Borowitz has a bit of fun with that:

Conspiracy theorists believe that the Republican Party did not die from natural causes but was instead the target of an elaborately planned killing, a leading conspiracy theorist has confirmed. Harland Dorrinson, whose basement walls are covered with photos of suspects in the killing of the GOP, has spent countless hours connecting those photos with different colors of yarn in the hopes that a larger pattern would emerge.

It’s very simple, really:

While some conspiracy theorists have focused on the billionaire Donald J. Trump as the most likely suspect in the death of the Republican Party, Dorrinson favors a “two-killer” theory that involves Arizona Senator John McCain and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

“McCain tapped Palin to be his running mate, and that led directly to people like Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Donald Trump being considered credible candidates,” he said. “There is no logical reason why McCain would have chosen Palin unless he wanted to kill the Republican Party.”

In addition to the McCain-Palin cabal, Dorrinson is considering a host of other suspects, including the industrialists David and Charles Koch, the Fox News chairman Roger Ailes, and the novelist Ayn Rand.

“The only suspect I have definitively ruled out is Mitch McConnell,” he said. “No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t imagine a scenario where he accomplished something.”

Is that satire or reporting? It doesn’t matter. Things changed, and as for bitter pills to swallow, Jeb Bush had the bitterest. Slate’s Seth Stevenson reports on that last afternoon when his brother campaigned for him:

George praised his little bro’s “humility” and “quiet conviction.” He reminded us that “the strongest person usually isn’t the loudest in the room.” As introductions go, it was nigh apologetic – like Eeyore was about to step to the lectern. …

It sure felt like a last stand. Not just for Jeb Bush’s campaign, but maybe for Jeb Bush’s basic dignity as a human being. For the tattered legacy of the Bush family. For the remnants of an embattled GOP faction. Even, one might argue, for the quaint notion of civility in public life.

Anyway, none of it worked. I saw people leaving once Dubya was done, and after it became clear that Laura Bush, also sitting on stage, wouldn’t be speaking. They stepped on discarded “Jeb!” placards as they headed for the exits.

By Wednesday afternoon, after this desperate kick for the surface, Jeb’s campaign was sinking to previously uncharted depths. Around the same moment that popular South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley was endorsing Marco Rubio, Jeb was addressing a modest gathering inside a gazebo at the Summerville Country Club, a little inland from Charleston. Things quickly went to a very sad place. By the time the event was over, multiple attendees had expressed their sympathy for Jeb – how sorry they were that he’d failed to stop Donald Trump from stealing his lunch money.

“I loved your brother. Can you be in that category?” inquired an older man, rather doubtfully. “Can you be a sumbitch?”

“I will be tough. I will be resolute. I will be firm. I will be clear. I will be determined,” Jeb answered. He rattled it off with that low-key affect of his, standing about 30 yards from the tee box on the sixth hole of a golf course. It was the least sumbitchy thing you ever saw in your life.

At one point, Jeb unleashed a bitter rant. “It’s all been decided, apparently,” he said. “The pundits have decided. We don’t have to go vote, I guess. I should just stop campaigning, maybe?”

And he did, and Stevenson was oddly moved:

I never expected to like Jeb. Boarding school toff. Political scion. Staunch pro-lifer. NRA favorite. Oh, and ugh, the Terri Schiavo stuff. Still, I couldn’t help but warm to him as the campaign wore on. And then even pull for him, a little. It was partly the pathos. Jeb felt somehow more human than other candidates. Vulnerable, struggling, unable to conceal flashes of fear and melancholy. …

But what sealed it for me was Jeb’s backbone. You heard me right: Poor, sweet, pitiful Jeb was the one guy with spine. The only GOP candidate who made it a point to denounce Trump’s worst barbarities. I watched him do it again and again on the trail. “He’s entertaining,” he’d say of Trump, “unless you’re a woman, or Hispanic, or a disabled person. But it’s not so entertaining when you get disparaged.” Or: “It’s not strong to denigrate people. It’s a sign of weakness.”

Of course, those should be obvious sentiments. Any good-hearted fourth-grader knows as much. And yet Jeb stood alone among his colleagues, shouting, “You can’t insult your way to the nomination!” into a pitiless void. The other guys allowed – and continue to allow – Trump’s vile hate to go unchallenged. “The country is angry,” they say. They ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Not that that matters now:

The albatross of his family aside, this was never going to be Jeb’s election cycle. He’s far too temperate. His stump speech promised a “steady hand” at a time when there’s zero demand for steady hands. To get traction in 2016, you gotta pledge to burn the whole mofo down.

Even within the “establishment lane,” Jeb was especially ill-suited to our moment. Go ahead, feast your eyes on Rubio and Haley – a pair of attractive, multiculti 44-year-olds who resemble a Benetton commercial. Now direct your gaze to pasty, 63-year-old Jeb – campaigning not with Nikki Haley but with Lindsey Graham and a couple of wrinkled Navy admirals. Jeb was saddled with a surname, a team of advisers, and a policy slate that all smelled like yesterday’s fish.

But there’s also this:

I spotted Jeb as a fellow introvert right from the start. Shy recognize shy. It must have been a singular torture to campaign for president with this personality suite. Jeb can’t saber-rattle like his brother. He can’t cornpone like Lindsey Graham. His battle with Trump was a classic clash of phlegmatic versus choleric – never a winning matchup for the quiet guy.

“Introverts grind. They set goals,” said Jeb at a town hall in Columbia Thursday night, when asked if his ailment had a silver lining. “Introverts like to listen,” he added. Every profile of Jeb notes how comfortable he is in smaller settings, soaking up information, diving into nitty-gritty details. A voter in the audience at the Summerville event – a disabled veteran – stood up and described a meeting he had with Jeb and other wounded vets a few years ago. “I was so impressed,” he said, with evident gratitude, “because you took out a pen and notebook and just listened for three hours. I don’t think any other candidate would do that.”

You can’t deny his rigor. He produced a 47-page policy pamphlet that he called “the short version.” He could discuss “recourse debt” and “forbearance rates” when asked about student loans. When one voter mentioned that she had a special-needs child, Jeb spoke with tremendous passion and fluency about educational solutions for developmentally disabled kids.

Please recall that Trump mocked a disabled man by making gimpy arm motions.

Jeb Bush hadn’t run for office in more than a decade. He woke up to find that everything had changed while he was sleeping. Lots of us woke up too, and Stevenson isn’t happy with the dawn:

Given that the president serves as an avatar for our nation – the face we show the world, the mirror that reflects who we are – integrity in a candidate is no small thing. Earnest attention to detail is to be applauded. Willingness to listen is a mark of solid judgment. Empathy for the afflicted bespeaks good character.

Shit matters, is I guess what I’m saying. The Republican race snipped its strongest tether to decency when Jeb Bush bowed out Saturday night.

Yeah, that happened while we were sleeping. Out here in California, where our Republican Party pretty much walked up its own asshole and disappeared a few years ago, this was no surprise – but we have our own special ironic distance from things. So that’s what happened back east? Cool. But it’s not cool. We once elected an Austrian bodybuilder turned action-hero actor to run things. Donald Trump isn’t all that different. Try waking up to that.

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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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One Response to While We Were Sleeping

  1. Rick says:

    I really liked reading Seth Stevenson in Slate, about hanging around the Jeb Bush campaign last Monday, the day Jeb invited his brother, “W”, to introduce him at his rally in Charleston:

    I saw people leaving once Dubya was done, and after it became clear that Laura Bush, also sitting on stage, wouldn’t be speaking. They stepped on discarded “Jeb!” placards as they headed for the exits.

    And so two days later, after “addressing a modest gathering inside a gazebo” at a country club — inside a gazebo! — someone approached him:

    “I loved your brother. Can you be in that category?” inquired an older man, rather doubtfully. “Can you be a sumbitch?”

    “I will be tough. I will be resolute. I will be firm. I will be clear. I will be determined,” Jeb answered. … It was the least sumbitchy thing you ever saw in your life.

    Oh, that’s great.

    So it turns out, after all, that the real problem with Jeb Bush isn’t that he would end up being his brother, it’s that he wouldn’t!

    To further understand what I’m about to say, you may want to read David Axelrod’s “The Obama Theory of Trump” in the New York Times in late January, about what he told Barack Obama back in 2006 about why Obama just might win if he ran for president:

    Open-seat presidential elections are shaped by perceptions of the style and personality of the outgoing incumbent. Voters rarely seek the replica of what they have. They almost always seek the remedy, the candidate who has the personal qualities the public finds lacking in the departing executive.

    A young, energetic John F. Kennedy succeeded the grandfatherly, somnolent Dwight D. Eisenhower, promising “a new generation of leadership.” In a slight variation, a puritanical Jimmy Carter, offering “a government as good as its people,” defeated the unelected incumbent Gerald R. Ford, who bore the burden of the morally bankrupt Nixon era.

    Even George H.W. Bush, running to succeed the popular and larger-than-life Ronald Reagan, subtly made a virtue of his own lack of charisma and edge.

    The pattern followed in 2008, as Mr. Bush’s son completed his final term in office.

    “The most influential politician in 2008 won’t be on the ballot,” I wrote to Senator Obama in 2006. “His name is George W. Bush.”

    So, in fact, Stevenson may have struck on that secret formula we’ve all been looking for, which is an understanding of what the Republican base voter is looking for.

    He’s not looking for an outsider or some way to shake up Washington, he’s looking for the exact opposite of Barack Obama — someone who’s not too bright; someone without actual ideas, nor a wonky bone in his body; someone not at all gracious or nice or adept at diplomacy; and someone who doesn’t give a shit what any person or group or organization or country thinks or says about him being totally incompetent at doing absolutely anything useful for the planet.

    To sum it up — for lack of a better term — they’re simply looking for a sumbitch! And the bigger the sumbitch, the better!

    This antichrist will probably get the Republican nomination, and whoever the Democrats choose to run against him in the general election will look, in contrast, like the second coming of Jesus Christ.

    Rick

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