Republican Poison

There are a few more primaries left – Indiana in early May, California in early June – but unless Hillary Clinton goes to jail or Donald Trump works himself up so much that he has a massive stroke, it will be Hillary versus The Donald in November. Ted Cruz cannot catch Donald Trump. The math is clear enough. Bernie Sanders cannot catch Hillary Clinton, for the same reason. And who is John Kasich again? Things have been settled. The actual campaign has begun, and Donald Trump has chosen his strategy:

“Today” show host Matt Lauer confronted Donald Trump over his recent comments on Hillary Clinton “playing the woman’s card,” asking on Thursday if he cares that most women in the US view him negatively.

Lauer suggested that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz might be trying to appeal to female voters by announcing former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina as his running mate if he were to win the Republican nomination for president.

“You, on the other hand, seem to continue to say things that alienate women voters,” Lauer said, citing Trump’s recent comments accusing Clinton, the all-but-certain Democratic nominee, of “playing the woman’s card” as she campaigns for her party’s presidential nomination.

“Seventy percent of women in this country say they have a negative view of you,” Lauer said, referring to a Gallup poll. “Do you even care?”

“Of course I care. Nobody respects women more than I do. And I wasn’t playing the woman’s card, it’s true,” Trump said.

He was saying that what was true was that Hillary Clinton was a total loser, compensating for her pathetic failure in life by saying people should vote for her anyway, only because she’s a woman. That will be his line of attack this fall, and anyway, there were exit polls showing him leading with female voters, even if only Republican women, so he’d win all the women’s vote. Women love him, and so on, but not quite:

Cohost Savannah Guthrie cut in and told Trump that him saying Clinton would get only 5% of the vote if she were a man suggests that the only thing she has going for her is that she’s a woman.

“Not that she was a former senator, a former secretary of state, and a lawyer,” Guthrie said. “Do you understand why some people find that to be kind of a demeaning comment?”

Trump responded by implying that “some people” were fools:

“No, I find it to be a true comment. I think that the only thing she’s got going is the fact that she’s a woman. She has done a terrible job in so many different ways. You look at Libya, you look at some of the things that she’s done are just absolutely disasters. Now I would say the primary thing that she has going is that she’s a woman and she is playing that card like I have never seen anybody play it before.”

He won’t be politically correct. No one gets any points simply for being a woman. Now if she had been a senator or secretary of state… no, wait. She was. She was just bad at it. Look at his record as a senator and secretary of state. No wait – never mind. But she is a woman. Remember, that counts for nothing!

This may cause him some trouble, as will this sort of thing on Morning Joe:

Donald Trump mused Wednesday he doesn’t like the way Hillary Clinton “shouts” her message about women’s issues, lamenting that he’ll “have to get used to a lot of that” over the course of the presidential race…

Co-host Mika Brzezinski mentioned Clinton’s strengths on women’s issues when Trump took issue with the way Clinton speaks.

“Well I haven’t quite recovered – it’s early in the morning – from her shouting that message,” Trump said.

Yes, women shouldn’t shout. No one likes a woman who shouts. He was saying that and proud to say that:

“I know a lot of people would say, ‘You can’t say that about a woman.’ Because of course a woman doesn’t shout, but the way she shouted that message was, uh, not, ooh, I just, that’s the way she said it and it’s, uh, I guess I’ll have to get used to a lot of that over the next four or five months,” he said.

He’ll have to put up with this bitch – a message he hopes will resonate with real men – but the danger in all this is covered by Tierney Sneed in a long item on how Trump’s numbers with women voters are even worse than anyone imagined:

Current polling shows Trump is turning off the subset of women voters who are typically up for grabs in elections and who in other cycles have swung races towards Republicans. He is even alienating the type of dependable Republican female voters who turned out for Romney the last time around. To make matters worse for him, Trump’s deficit among women is blunting some of the vulnerabilities Clinton would be facing if pitted against a less controversial Republican.

The gender gap in a Trump v. Clinton match-up is different from the gender gap in previous elections, according to Margie Omero, a Democratic pollster and co-host of the podcast “The Pollsters.”

“Sometimes when you look at overall what is happening, people will say, ‘Well women think this and men think this,’ and sometimes it’s because of party rather than because of gender,” Omero told TPM. “When it comes to Trump it’s actually both. He’s got a gender problem even within his own party.”

This will not go well:

For decades, women have made up a majority of the electorate. Elections have featured a consistent gender gap where men lean Republican and women Democrat. Republicans can only be successful when their advantage among men is greater than their deficit among women.

Trump’s deficit among women is enormous and getting worse. Per Gallup’s tracking, 70 percent of women view him unfavorably, up from 58 percent last July. Trump’s problem looks even more dire when broken down by the subsets women that are typically in play or can depended on by Republicans.

The rest is that breakdown, subset by subset, devastating but dry stuff – not that it matters. Trump has his strategy – see Trump’s “woman’s card” comment escalates the campaign’s gender wars or Trump escalates his gender war for example, and then read Josh Marshall’s brief statement of the obvious:

There’s plenty of misogyny in our society and our politics. Women face various campaign or perception hurdles men do not. Is this female candidate tough enough to be president? Is she too tough (“angry”, “abrasive”) and therefore not likable? … But the simple fact is that if you are explicitly fighting a ‘gender war’ with a female candidate, you’re already losing and probably losing badly…

It comes down to a simple issue of the 19th Amendment: women can vote! And in addition to being able to vote, there are slightly more women than men and they actually vote a bit more. But it really comes down to: women can vote!

Trump may have fallen into a bad habit here:

If you are thematically invoking racial or gender stereotypes without doing so openly or explicitly you can mobilize societal prejudice in your favor – what we sometimes generically call ‘dog-whistling’. But if you’re attacking your opponent as a women – and yes, attacking her as only doing well because she’s a woman or ‘playing the woman card’ – that’s not a gender war. It’s a gender massacre and you’re the one being massacred.

What’s more, it’s contagious. Trump’s rhetoric is normalizing the public invocation of increasingly vulgar and rancid attacks on Clinton. A top Republican official in Florida is quoted in the Post this morning confidently predicting that “I think when Donald Trump debates Hillary Clinton she’s going to go down like Monica Lewinsky.”

Note that forced oral sex is not about sex. It’s about dominance. And women love being submissive, don’t they? If not, they can be forced to be submissive, as they should be – with soft-spoken words too, of course. That’s what is in the air now. That fellow in Florida just made that explicit. He understood what Trump was not quite saying.

Marshall sees this as poison:

I don’t want to be Pollyannaish about this. This is ugly stuff and it’s going to bring a lot of ugliness to the surface, just as Trump’s playing to white identity politics has in the primaries. But the numbers tell the story pretty clearly. If you are planning to fight a campaign explicitly on gender divisiveness, in this day and age and as long as the 19th Amendment isn’t repealed this summer… you’re toast.

It might not be wise to run on a platform of male dominance and appropriate female submissiveness, but with the Indiana primary coming up, Trump is now basking in the endorsement of Bobby Knight:

While at Indiana, Knight led his teams to three NCAA championships, one National Invitation Tournament (NIT) championship, and 11 Big Ten Conference championships. He received National Coach of the Year honors four times and Big Ten Coach of the Year honors eight times. In 1984, he coached the USA men’s Olympic team to a gold medal, becoming one of only three basketball coaches to win an NCAA title, NIT title, and an Olympic gold medal.

Knight was one of college basketball’s most successful and innovative coaches, having perfected and popularized the motion offense. He has also been praised for running clean programs (none of his teams were ever sanctioned by the NCAA for recruiting violations) and graduating most of his players. However, Knight has also attracted controversy; he famously threw a chair across the court during a game, was once arrested for assault, and regularly displayed a combative nature during encounters with members of the press.

The university fired him sixteen years ago – choking his own players when he thought they were disrespectful of his total awesomeness was the final straw. He and Trump have been friends for years, for obvious reasons revolving around male dominance and appropriate submissiveness from the lesser folks, and here’s what Bobby Knight had to say in Evansville, Indiana about Donald Trump’s qualifications to be president and the question of whether his demeanor is “presidential” enough:

We gotta talk about this presidential crap just for a moment here. I’ll tell you who they said wasn’t presidential. I don’t even know what the hell presidential means, but they told him he wasn’t presidential. And that guy they told all these people that wanted to say, you’re not presidential, that guy was Harry Truman.

And Harry Truman, with what he did in dropping and having the guts to drop the bomb in 1944 saved, saved millions of American lives. And that’s what Harry Truman did. And he became one of the three great presidents of the United States. And here’s a man who would do the same thing, because he’s going to become one of the four great presidents of the United States.”

In short, Trump will be man enough to drop the bomb, anytime, anywhere. Now THAT is male dominance!

It should be noted that when Truman dropped the bomb in 1945 – two of them, actually – we were the only nuclear power, so who was going to do anything about it? That’s not the case now. Bad things happen when many other nations have the bomb and you drop a few to settle matters – bad things like global thermonuclear war. This is not like throwing a chair across the basketball court in the middle of a game. This is getting dangerous.

This has led half of the Republican Party to look for an alternative to Trump, who will go down in flames in November and lose them the Senate and House too. There’s no time to repeal the Nineteenth Amendment. There’s only the thin hope that Ted Cruz can save the party, but it seems that he’s poison too:

Former House Speaker John Boehner called Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz “Lucifer in the flesh,” in a withering interview at Stanford University published Thursday. In it, he repeated many of the same attacks he used last month while calling on his successor, Paul Ryan, to seek the Republican nomination.

“Lucifer in the flesh,” Boehner told Stanford’s David Kennedy, a history professor emeritus, according to the Stanford Daily. “I have Democrat friends and Republican friends. I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.”

Boehner also said he was “texting buddies” with GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump and friends with former House colleague and fellow Ohioan, John Kasich.

The account in the student newspaper is accurate, a source close to Boehner confirmed Thursday.

He’ll vote for Trump, not that it would do much good – he noted there just weren’t enough white males out there for him to win in November – but he’d never vote for that son of bitch Cruz. Cruz later told reporters Boehner “allowed his inner Trump to come out” and said “the interesting thing is I’ve never worked with John Boehner, I don’t know the man.”

That’s nonsense, but Ezra Klein argues that John Boehner just confirmed everything liberals suspected about the Republican Party:

It’s easy to laugh this off. After all, didn’t everyone kind of believe this is what Boehner would say after a couple of glasses of Merlot?

But don’t laugh it off. John Boehner was the Speaker of the House as recently as a single year ago. He is himself a conservative Republican. And he is saying, flatly, that the Republican Party has been captured by morons, goofballs, and “Lucifer.” He is saying that the party has moved so far to the right that Ronald Reagan wouldn’t recognize it.

Boehner is validating one of the most persistent and controversial critiques of the modern Republican Party. And he has the authority to do so.

This has been said before:

In 2012, the congressional scholars Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein wrote a column for the Washington Post diagnosing what they saw to be the central problem in modern American politics.

“The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics,” they wrote. “It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

“When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.”

The op-ed hit like a bomb. Mann and Ornstein were institutionalists with wide respect in both parties – Ornstein, in fact, worked (and still works) for the conservative American Enterprise Institute. For them to call out one party as “the core of the problem” in American governance was to violate all the rules of polite Washington society. Their diagnosis was controversial at the time, to put it lightly.

For the most part, Republicans dismissed the critique as motivated by the authors’ personal liberalism.

That’s not possible now:

For a critique like this to really have bite, it would need to come from a true, dyed-in-the-wool Republican. Someone whose loyalty to the party couldn’t be questioned. Someone who clearly wanted Republicans to succeed and prosper. Someone like John Boehner.

That would be someone who ran out of patience:

In 2006, when House Republicans needed a leader after the fall of Tom DeLay, they turned to John Boehner. They kept him as their leader after the 2006 election, and after the 2008 election. They voted him speaker of the house after the 2010 election, and then again after the 2012 and 2014 elections.

And there was reason for that. By the time Boehner left office, he was, by definition, the establishment – you can’t be third in line for the presidency and still be seen as a political outsider. But he was also a conservative. He had been one of Newt Gingrich’s deputies amidst the 1994 Republican takeover, and he routinely racked up high marks from rightwing watchdogs like the American Conservative Union that tracked whether members of Congress voted in a routinely conservative fashion.

But then it all went south:

Boehner’s most vicious fights with his party’s right flank weren’t ideological. Like them, he wanted to repeal Obamacare, cut taxes, ban abortion, and voucherize Medicare. The fights, rather, were tactical. He recognized that, without the presidency, Republicans didn’t have the power to achieve those goals, and trying to force Obama’s hand by shutting down the government or breaching the debt ceiling was likely to backfire. If Republicans were going to get anything done, they would need to compromise with Democrats – and it was that belief, more than any other, that offended Boehner’s critics.

This is the core of Mann and Ornstein’s critique, too. They were not simply arguing that the Republican Party has become more conservative, though it clearly has. They were arguing that it had become tactically extreme in ways that were grinding the normal workings of government to a halt. “Rank-and-file GOP voters endorse the strategy that the party’s elites have adopted,” they wrote, “eschewing compromise to solve problems and insisting on principle, even if it leads to gridlock.”

They were dismissed at the time. But now Boehner is saying the same thing. And he has more than enough credibility on this point.

He does, and he let it rip:

Boehner was the Republican most responsible for managing the normal workings of the government. And he reserves his real venom for those who were contemptuous of those duties. Ted Cruz, specifically, is widely blamed for forcing the 2013 government shutdown – an absurd stratagem that didn’t lead to the defunding of Obamacare, as Cruz had hoped, but did lead to the Republican Party registering its lowest poll numbers in history.

So, Trump is one kind of poison, and Cruz another, and everyone dies:

Here is the condition of the modern Republican Party. Despite significant down-ballot strength, it has lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections, and it looks likely to lose this one, too. The party has completely lost control of its own nominating process, and its choice now is to either elect Donald Trump, a candidate who isn’t really a Republican and might be a historic disaster for the party, or risk a schism by trying to rip the nomination away from Trump amidst a contested convention. Meanwhile, John Boehner, the most powerful Republican elected official from 2008 to 2015, resigned in frustration last year and is now saying his party has been captured by idiots and zealots.

Other than that, Republicans are doing just fine, but Jack Shafer has some harsh words for Ted Cruz:

Ordinarily, decorum prevents politicians from making overt comments like this – even about the members of the opposing party. But Cruz has a way of producing the uncensored, blunt and ugly from his fellow party-members. This week, Complex collected some of the choice rips dealt to him by other Republicans. “If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you,” Sen. Lindsay Graham said in February. “Nobody likes him,” Bob Dole said in January. “Classless, tasteless and counterproductive,” said Rep. Tom Cole late last year. “I just don’t like the guy,” said former President George W. Bush in October.

“I hate Ted Cruz,” said Rep. Peter King, who isn’t exactly likable himself, recently. “I’ll take cyanide if he ever got the nomination.”

Of course, Cruz isn’t the first prick to inhabit politics. Lyndon Johnson, for example, famously enjoyed humiliating secretaries, senators and aides by summoning them into the bathroom for conversations while he was seated on the presidential throne. Richard Nixon could be nasty, too, but he resented the hatred his actions elicited. All would agree that Donald Trump is a wicked man, but he has his sensitive side, too, as proved by his emotional reaction to charges that he’s short-fingered.

If not the first prick, what is Cruz? He’s the first American politician who strives to be despised.

That is his strategy, which is odd:

Perhaps only in the annals of psychiatry can you find anybody in possession of a masochistic narcissist profile like Cruz’s. But those people are crazy. Cruz is not crazy. He might actually be a member of an advanced but not yet recognized species that has determined that spending effort on getting people to like you is a mug’s game. From the view from inside Cruz’s skull, once you get people to like you, your job has only begun. Additional acts of kindness, consideration and fairness must be extended or your likability will fade into the background. But hatred is a much more efficient use of emotional energy. Often, a single dose of malice can seal the impression among most people that you’re a terminal prick. By acquiring as his enemies the Washington political establishment, Cruz figures he can inherit their enemies, and the 2016 campaign has proved him right. Nobody until Cruz had the stomach to build his political foundation on a bedrock of loathing.

This is essentially the view of the Atlantic’s Molly Ball, who in January wrote that Cruz deliberately offends and insults his Republican colleagues so as to appear to his tea party allies as the only authentic conservative in the arena.

 Then add this:

What makes Cruz’s jihad against Washington appear sincere is his willingness to fight a two-theater war – one against the Democrats and the other against his own party – to the death if necessary. His hatred is pure and honest.

And that leads Salon’s Sean Illing to make this assessment:

As objectionable as Donald Trump is, it’s worth remembering that Ted Cruz is worse. Trump is a huckster and a clown and a hundred other things you don’t want in a president, but he is at least a deal-maker, someone who won’t cling to shopworn orthodoxies in the name of purity.

To be clear: a Trump administration would be an international embarrassment and an abject disaster for the country. However, there’s reason to believe he would compromise and perhaps even allow people who know what they’re doing to handle the important stuff. We don’t really know what he’d do, but he appears flexible if nothing else.

Cruz, on the other hand, is another animal altogether. If his history suggests anything at all, it’s that he’ll burn everything down before he bends even a little. He’s an intractable ideologue on nearly every issue of consequence. And his relentless pandering to theocrats ought to terrify anyone remotely interested preserving what cultural progress we’ve made in the last twenty years.

Cruz, then, is the poisonous one:

It’s revealing that almost no one who knows Ted Cruz professionally likes him. Cruz has worked hard to be this hated. One of the biggest problems in Washington right now is the near-total inability for anyone to accomplish anything of note. The gridlock, the brinkmanship, the partisanship – it’s made the country ungovernable for the better part of a decade. Cruz exemplifies every regressive, anti-government instinct at work in Washington.

We should thank Mr. Boehner for reminding us of that.

David Frum, however, seems to think the poison is more than that:

Donald Trump has done a lot to change the times. A shrewd friend, active in the Republican donor community, described Trump as the political equivalent of a chemical accelerant, hastening events that were likely to happen anyway. The plutocratic cast of Republican politics since 2009 was unsustainable in a country where the rewards of economic growth seem to bypass so many people. It was predictable, too, that the former ethnic majority would resist further demographic changes that reduced its political power and threatened to redistribute public resources to its detriment. If the former Republican leadership had been more responsive to the needs of its voters and less swayed by the demands of its donors, the party might have changed from within. Now it’s the target of a hostile takeover that will stamp the TRUMP brand as indelibly upon it as it was once stamped upon the cityscape of Atlantic City. That branding ended in ruin for Atlantic City, and the GOP is unlikely to fare better.

In short, there was going to be a Donald Trump sooner or later. The Trump poison was already in the system – the piggish misogyny is just a bonus feature this year. And when the Tea Party burst onto the scene in 2010, there was going to be a Ted Cruz sooner or later. That poison was injected into the system long ago. Now it’s pick-your-poison or vote for Hillary and hope for the best – or stay home this time and don’t vote at all. Poison kills. Wait for the next political party. The Democrats will keep things humming along while you wait.

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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