Dying in Iowa

Things go to Iowa to die. February 3, 1959, was the day the music died – in a cornfield just outside Clear Lake. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson died in that plane crash. Don McLean wrote the saddest of lost youth and lost innocence songs about that. There’s that day you drive your Chevy to levee and the levee is dry – and since the refrain is Bye-Bye, Miss American Pie, this is also a song about an America that will never return. It all died that night in Iowa – and now Don McLean is an old man living in Maine and was just arrested and charged with domestic violence. He and his wife are working things out but the tour dates are being cancelled – he won’t be singing “American Pie” at any nostalgia fests anywhere, ever again. His music died too. It all started in Iowa.

And on Thursday, January 28, 2016, the Republican Party died in Iowa, in Des Moines, with the big debate where the Republican frontrunner refused to participate. Roger Ailes may have slowly and carefully built Fox News into the voice of the modern Republican Party – all seething resentment, all the time, and a place where many a candidate over the year had their own shows – like Mike Huckabee and John Kasich – or were well-paid commenters like Sarah Palin for a time – Karl Rove was a fixture in 2008 – but Donald Trump suddenly made Fox News insignificant, if not pathetic. He pretended they had been unfair to him in a previous debate they had hosted. Megyn Kelly had asked him a question that made him squirm, about things he had said about women over the years. They both knew it was a fair question, but this offered an opening – he could say he’d not participate in Fox’s Des Moines debate unless Ailes removed Kelly from the debate panel. Who did Roger Ailes think he was, anyway? Donald Trump is bigger than Fox News, right? Roger Ailes should probably fire the woman and then bow his head and ask Donald Trump who else he should fire and who he should keep, and what he should and should not ever say about Donald Trump.

Ailes didn’t remove Kelly from the debate panel. It was an epic alpha-male dominance battle which Ailes may have thought he won by standing firm. Trump simply held his own event and upstaged Fox News. Fox News didn’t matter anymore.

This was no surprise. Trump had been doing that to the other institutions of the Republican Party all along. Jeb Bush had early on raised over one hundred million dollars from the old guard of the Republican Party and ended up with about five percent of the likely vote. The old guard of the Republican Party didn’t matter anymore. The Koch brothers had pledged more than eight hundred million dollars to make sure their guy got the nomination and then won the presidency. Their guy was Scott Walker. The Koch brothers didn’t matter. Sheldon Adelson, with his billions he would use to make sure his guy – whoever would stand with Bibi Netanyahu and the Likud Party – didn’t matter either. There was no such guy. There was only Trump, and Ted Cruz. Almost every Republican in Washington despises the freshman senator from Texas. He engineered that government shutdown that made them all look like fools and didn’t work – Obama didn’t abandon Obamacare – and he led a revolt in the House against John Boehner, who knew the shutdown would be a disaster. Senators aren’t supposed to act as House Whips, and later Cruz would call his own party’s Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, a liar, right there on the floor of the Senate. The nominal Republican Party hates this guy. Trump and Cruz have more than sixty percent of the likely Republican caucus and primary vote. What everyone knew as the Republican Party is dead.

The Des Moines debate made that clear. Without the frontrunner on stage it was a bit pathetic, because it was those who don’t matter arguing with each other:

The Republican presidential candidates competed vigorously to fill the vacuum created by Donald J. Trump’s boycott of Thursday night’s debate, with Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida trading ferocious attacks on immigration and taking fire from rivals seeking advantage in the Iowa caucuses on Monday.

Mr. Cruz and Mr. Rubio, who are behind Mr. Trump in the Iowa polls and hoping for surprise finishes here, were repeatedly confronted with pointed questions about their views and Senate votes on providing citizenship or legal status to immigrants who are in the country illegally. But it was Mr. Cruz who was hit hardest on the issue, as Mr. Rubio teamed up with Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky to portray him as an opportunist.

“Everybody’s for amnesty except for Ted Cruz,” Mr. Paul said, turning Mr. Cruz’s favorite shibboleth against him as he denounced the “falseness” that he said Mr. Cruz perpetrated. “That’s an authenticity problem.”

Mr. Rubio was even harsher as he tries to upset Mr. Cruz here and finish in second place, which could strengthen his position against Mr. Trump in the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary.

“This is the lie that Ted’s campaign is built on,” Mr. Rubio said, seizing on a brutal compilation of video clips that the Fox News debate moderators had shown, highlighting Mr. Cruz’s apparent shifts on immigration.

Mr. Cruz struck back by getting nearly as personal with Mr. Rubio. “I like Marco,” he said, unconvincingly. “He’s very charming. He’s very smooth.” However, Mr. Cruz added, when Mr. Rubio came to the Senate, he backed off his hardline stance on immigration and supported an overhaul favored by the Republican Party’s “major donors because he thought it was politically advantageous.”

Does anyone care? But it had its moments with Cruz saying this:

Now, secondly, let me say I’m a maniac and everyone on this stage is stupid, fat, and ugly. And Ben, you’re a terrible surgeon. Now that we’ve gotten the Donald Trump portion out of the way…

Jeb Bush said this:

I kind of miss Donald Trump. He was a little teddy bear to me.

Chris Christie invented a magic chair:

What we need is someone on that stage who has been tested, who has been through it, who has made decisions, who will sit in the chair of consequence and can prosecute the case against Hillary Clinton on that stage.

Cruz moved back to Trump:

A debate is a policy issue, but I will say this: Gosh, if you guys ask one more mean question, I may have to leave the stage.

John Kasich blithered:

It’s best not to talk anymore about back door encryption. It will be solved, but it needs to be solved in the situation of the White House.

Marco Rubio got tired of it all and looked out the window:

Bernie Sanders is a good candidate for president… of Sweden.

Who? Josh Marshall tried to sum it up:

At the outset we had the round of questions and snarks about Donald Trump. And for the first half hour or more the debate had some of the feel of community access television. There was even some odd tone to the sound system, at least on my hearing. But mainly, I think it felt disjointed and a little odd because the major center of gravity in this battle, Donald Trump, wasn’t there. You had canned, awkward jokes and a lot of off-balance tension. But the big takeaway for me was that after a half hour or so of that, they were done talking about him.

Then they settled down:

Early on Cruz definitely tried to dominate the stage, making himself the one who would address Trump’s absence and try to wrangle control over the stage. But he quickly slid into his characteristic overweening style that Chris Wallace shot down in an early, extended exchange. He lacked the heft to dominate the exchange.

From there, there were really two and half engagements: Bush vs Rubio and Cruz vs Rubio with a bit Paul vs Cruz thrown in.

Rubio seemed too frenetic and hyped up to me. He’s had the same pat, smooth, paragraph length prose answers he’s used in every debate. But with time running out for him, he’s just reciting faster or more agitated or more pissed off than before. But more pissed off at ISIS or just how his campaign is going?

Does anyone care? But Marshall found one bright spot. The guy from Ohio really didn’t blither:

John Kasich, who I don’t think is really in this contest, just stood out to me for his decency and seriousness. His discussion of those suffering from chronic mental illness and drug addiction struck me as genuine and animated not by polling or a dodge about gun control but a real experience of government’s on-the-ground, practical need to address the suffering of those on the margins of our society. On top of that, it was clear Kasich, having been a policy guy in Congress for a generation and then Governor, has really concrete knowledge about the policy, bureaucratic and political moving parts that need to be brought together to address these issues. This is not a paean to Kasich. I don’t agree with him on much of anything. I will only say that he strikes me as a serious-minded elected official with some real knowledge of the issues he’s talking about and some realism about the complexities of addressing them. That stands out on a stage of men who are mainly clowns in terms of either cartoonishly hyperbolic rhetoric or rehearsed lines about things they’d never even thought about two or three years ago.

What, a serious-minded elected official with some real knowledge of the issues he’s talking about and some realism about the complexities of addressing them? That man is in the wrong political party, and the New York Times’ Frank Bruni saw this:

At the Republican debate here on Thursday night, Fox News didn’t put up an empty lectern. It didn’t need to. Trump was remembered. Trump was invoked. His ghost was there, because he’d reshaped his Republican rivals’ images, reconfigured the challenges in front of them, rewritten the rules of this extraordinary race.

“Let’s address the elephant not in the room tonight,” said Megyn Kelly at the very start, and there was no doubt that the tusked behemoth in question had an oddly shaped swirl of vaguely cantaloupe-colored hair. She then asked Ted Cruz what message Trump’s failure to attend the event sent to the voters of Iowa.

Cruz didn’t just discuss Trump. He imitated him.

Yeah, everyone on the stage was a maniac, and everyone on the stage is stupid, fat and ugly – but the joke paid homage to Trump in an odd way, because this was about him:

Shortly before the event began, Rupert Murdoch, the founder of Fox News, tweeted, “Republican candidates must be looking forward to tonight’s debate. Speaking without Donald getting all attention.”

Wishful thinking.

Trump got plenty of attention, because the drama offstage matched the drama onstage. For the two days leading up to the event, the main story – seemingly the only story – was his decision to skip it: Political suicide or stroke of genius?

In the hours before it, CNN could speak of almost nothing but Trump. It kept flashing footage of the fan-packed rally he had orchestrated just a couple of miles from the debate, to compete with it.

“There are thousands who have waited hours throughout the day,” the anchor Erin Burnett marveled.

When her colleague Anderson Cooper then interviewed a CNN correspondent at the debate itself, the first question he asked her was about how the debaters were likely to adjust to a Trump-less event.

“His shadow is looming large, even though he is not there,” Cooper said to the correspondent, then he turned to the network’s panel of political analysts, who talked about Trump, Trump, Trump.

And here I am, writing about Trump, Trump, Trump.

It’s impossible not to. It would be irresponsible not to, because believe it or not, hate it or love it, he’s the Republican campaign’s great and sobering lesson to the country, telling us things about its discontents that we didn’t properly understand. He’s the campaign’s undeniable force of gravity, exerting a pull on everyone and everything around him.

Bruni has examples of that, but he ends with this:

Bush was genuinely funny, as when he reintroduced Trump toward the end of the debate.

“I mentioned his name again just if anybody was missing him,” Bush said.

Missing him? Not really. I’d be glad to have him gone for good.

But he isn’t and he wasn’t, not on a night when the candidates molded their answers to the reality (and the reality show) that he’s created, not when they felt obliged to bring him up, not when he dominated the discussion without even taking part of it. Nifty trick, that.

This isn’t your father’s Republican Party, the one from the days of Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper, when Eisenhower was president, a serious-minded elected official with some real knowledge of the issues he’s talking about and some realism about the complexities of addressing them. Something changed. Rick Perlstein has covered that, in Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus (2001) and Nixonland (2008) and The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan (2014) – but now Perlstein is stumped. In an interview with Isaac Chotiner he admits that:

I had a very interesting experience this summer. I remember exactly when it was. It was when I was reading an article by Evan Osnos in the New Yorker about Trump. He happened to be covering the white nationalist movement, basically neo-Nazis. Coincidentally, it was right when Donald Trump burst onto the scene, and he wrote about how these guys were embracing Trump, as they never had embraced any Republican candidate before. The feeling I got was that this was the first time in a very long time that I’ve read anything about the Republican Party that I couldn’t assimilate into my normal categories. That was a very uncanny and uncomfortable feeling for me. I realized that I had to go back to the drawing board and rethink what was going on. This is something that’s very new, very strange, and very hard to assimilate into what we thought we knew about how the Republican Party worked.

His view of how the Republican Party works seems to have been superseded:

The whole of my intellectual project, which I have been working on for a good, solid 15 years now, has been the rise of a conservative infrastructure that has taken over the Republican Party and turned it into a vehicle for conservative policy. If there’s one thing that I thought I knew, it is that basically the ideas and the institutions that were born through the Goldwater movement were a backbone of this conservative takeover of the Republican Party. Donald Trump is perhaps most interesting in his lack of connections to that entire world. The first sign that something very different was happening was when he basically rejected Fox News, threw them over the side, and had no interest in kowtowing to them.

By the same token, things I’ve been tracing about conservatism and the conservative takeover of the Republican Party as a backlash against the forces of liberalism – and anger at perceived liberal elites and all of the racial entailments of that – are part of the Trump phenomenon, too. So, how these things mix together and how they produce the phenomenon we’re seeing now is something that’s been very humbling for me.

And this surprises him:

I think that people who base their political appeal on stirring up the latent anger of, let’s just say, for shorthand’s sake, what Richard Nixon called the “silent majority,” know that they’re riding a tiger. Whether it was Richard Nixon very explicitly, when he was charting his political comeback after the 1960 loss, rejecting the John Birch Society. Or whether it was Ronald Reagan in 1978 refusing to align himself with something called the Briggs Initiative in California, which was basically an initiative to ban gay people from teaching, at a time when gays were being attacked in the streets. Or whether it was George W. Bush saying that Islam is a religion of peace and going to a mosque the week after 9/11. These Republican leaders have always resisted the urge to go full demagogue. I think they understood that if they did so, it would have very scary consequences. There was always this boundary of responsibility, the kind of thing enforced by William F. Buckley when he was alive.

I think that Donald Trump is the first front-runner in the Republican Party to throw that kind of caution to the wind. As demagogic as so much of the conservative movement has been in the United States, and full of outrageous examples of demagoguery, there’s always been this kind of saving remnant, or fear of stirring up the full measure of anger that exists.

But now that seems an historical artifact:

For a lot of these people growing up, the experience of Europe, and World War II, and fascism, was a living memory. I think there was this kind of understanding that civilization can often be precarious. I think people knew that, and people saw that, and as ugly as some of these folks could be, whether it was Ronald Reagan going after welfare queens, or Richard Nixon calling anti-war protesters “bums,” or George W. Bush basically engineering a conspiracy to get us into a war in Iraq, there was a certain kind of disciplining, an internal disciplining. I think that anyone who plays the game of American politics at that level knows this can be a very ugly country – that a lot of anger courses barely beneath the surface.

Let me tell you a story about Barry Goldwater. One of the first big things to happen in America, after the Republican convention that nominated Barry Goldwater, in which he of course, famously said, “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice,” was the outbreak of a very frightening race riot in Harlem, in New York. As I wrote in my first book, people who were rioting in Harlem were rioting, of course, in response to the shooting of a black young person by a white cop. Barry Goldwater kind of stuck his finger in the air and said, “This is really frightening stuff.” He actually, in a meeting with Lyndon Johnson, literally said, “If my supporters start exploiting these riots and start exploiting racial turmoil in the United States to get me elected, I will withdraw from the presidential campaign.”

That’s a profound contrast to someone like Donald Trump, who literally began his campaign by proposing one of the most massive ethnic cleansings in the history of mankind. I mean, can you imagine what it would mean? People talk about Bernie Sanders’ program being radical and inconceivable. Can you imagine what would happen in the act of trying to deport 12 million human beings, if people start resisting?

This is scary, and Chotiner asks him the key question – “If Trump is defeated, do you think the Republican Party can right itself, or do you think Trump has opened up a permanent wound?”

And this is scary:

Let the record show that I’m speechless. I have no easy answers for this one. What would it mean to right the ship? You have some very profound and fundamental problems. You have every senator who has ever worked with Ted Cruz turning toward Donald Trump, because they can’t stand Cruz. You have much of the infrastructure of the conservative movement explicitly saying that Donald Trump is unacceptable. That’s a pretty profound breach, especially for liberals who are so used to seeing conservatives and Republicans as united strategic geniuses. Again, I have to end on that note of humility. Where was the original contradiction? Where did this come from? Is it, you know, really just this one guy with big hair? Is this situation the result of the failure of political economy as practiced by the Democrats and the Republicans? I don’t have any good answers, and anyone who does, I think, is being glib.

It’s a new world, and for the record, this interview took place a few days before the Des Moines debate. That’s even scarier, because, in Des Moines, the Republican Party that Perlstein had been chronicling for fifteen years finally did die. In that cornfield near Clear Lake there’s a curious monument marking the spot where the music died on that day in 1959 – at the crash site. Now there’s another crash site in Iowa. Things go to Iowa to die.

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Simple Dominance

Americans are eagerly anticipating the sporting event of the year, the ultimate display of sheer alpha-male dominance, and the forced humiliation and feminization of the pretender to dominance – that would be the Super Bowl of course. Denver has the wily old quarterback who has lost most of his skills, other than superb ability to read defenses and immediately find the one weak spot, over and over – Peyton Manning can humiliate the those big hulks and speeders on the other side – and Denver’s defense is the best in the league this year. They could shut down the immensely talented Charlotte offence led by their absurdly talented young quarterback, Cam Newton – full of life and fun and sheer happiness, and as entertaining as the young Muhammad Ali ever was in his deeply ironic brash boasting – and a nice guy too. He’s deeply cool and it’s not boasting if you can do it – so in a few weeks there will be two hours of giant grown men smashing into each other. Someone is going to be humiliated. The actual score won’t matter all the much. All of America will be watching to see who utterly dominates, to see who the ultimate alpha male really is – the wily old coot or the young guy winging it and having the time of his life – which is of course deeply symbolic. Damn, it’s the highly talented and articulate and intelligent and pleasant young black man versus the wily old white guy from another age, fading away – it’s Obama versus McCain – but the event is really about sheer dominance. That’s what people want to see, in its simplest form, played out on the largest stage possible.

Americans love that sort of thing. What the rest of the world calls football we call soccer – effete and boring and maybe a little girly. What we call football is brutal and basic – dominate or be humiliated. That’s about it – the game has little nuance. It’s the most American of all sports, but of course life isn’t like that. Maybe it should be like that, but simple dominance has its limits. Sometimes you end up just looking stupid:

As law enforcement officials surrounded the remaining protesters at an Oregon wildlife refuge Wednesday, an armed occupier urged supporters to join them and to kill any officer who tried to prevent their entry, according to a live stream that has been broadcast online from the site.

“There are no laws in this United States now! This is a free-for-all Armageddon!” a heavyset man holding a rifle yelled into a camera that was broadcast from the refuge Wednesday morning, adding that if “they stop you from getting here, kill them!”

A second man cooed to the camera in a singsong voice, “What you gonna do, what you gonna do when the militia comes after you, FBI?”

But on Wednesday afternoon, one of the group’s leaders arrested the day before, Ammon Bundy, urged the remaining occupiers to “stand down,” leave the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and “go home and hug your families.”

“This fight is ours for now – in the courts,” Bundy said in a statement read by his attorney outside the federal courthouse in Portland, where Bundy and several other defendants made their initial court appearances Wednesday afternoon. “Please go home.”

Their own leader told them to forget the free-for-all Armageddon heroic alpha-male stuff. This is a matter for the courts – perhaps they’ll rule that government land really in question really does belong to the people, not the government, because the government isn’t the people – except here, the people elect the government, so we have a government of the people and by the people and for the people and all that, so this federal land was “the people’s land” in the first place. This was a curious and arcane dispute from the start, but from the start it seemed more a display of male dominance that anything else, with guns – the Super Bowl for these guys.

The government refused to frame it that way, as Amanda Marcotte notes:

It’s clear that the militiamen expected the feds to rush the compound, causing a firefight in which they could be martyrs for the right wing cause… but that didn’t happen. Instead, the federal government seemingly didn’t do anything for many weeks, letting these guys get comfortable at the refuge and even go back and forth from it for grocery-shopping, media events, and whatever else their hearts desired. Only one occupier was arrested, for using a stolen vehicle to drive to the store.

There was no championship football game here, and Marcotte saw the disappointment:

This lack of interest in having a big ol’ shootout right away on government property didn’t just disappoint the militiamen. A number of liberal commentators were miffed that the feds seemed to be twiddling their thumbs, often arguing that if the occupiers were people of color, the shootout would have happened already. The criticism had some merit, of course, but the solution for such a double standard isn’t to have more shootouts, so much as it’s an argument against the quick-to-violence reactions law enforcement regrettably has when dealing with non-white suspects.

The occupation was expensive and disruptive, of course, leading the Democratic governor of Oregon to ask for the feds to step in. This only reinforced liberal suspicions that the feds were blowing this off and were not going to hold these yahoos accountable for their actions.

Ah, but there were other ways to do that, even if emotionally unsatisfying:

Those fears were proven most dramatically wrong Tuesday afternoon, when law enforcement confronted the militiamen on the open highway. A shootout did ensue, which was expected since these folks all have ridiculous martyr fantasies, and one person was killed. So far, there have been eight arrests, and the leaders of this fiasco are in custody. Now the feds have closed in on the refuge, closing roads and access. Without leadership or access to the outside, it won’t be surprising if the rest of the people inside just give up soon enough.

The worrywarts were getting all worked up over nothing. Despite all the hand-wringing over whether the feds were taking this seriously enough, in the end, it turns out that the feds were right and the worrywarts were wrong. Waiting this out a bit, while unfortunately disruptive to the area, ended up being a far more sensible way of dealing with this than trying to raid the wildlife refuge.

Sometimes it’s okay to be girly about such things:

Raiding the refuge was always a bad idea. For one thing it would give these wannabe martyrs exactly what they want, an opportunity to get hurt or die at government hands and become fuel for radical right wing propaganda. They even brought children onto the property to raise the stakes. In the past, federal raids under similar circumstances involving children – most notably in Waco – not only resulted in innocent lives being lost, but in providing right wing radicals even more justification to demonize federal authorities.

And while the occupation was disruptive and expensive, it would have been far more costly to give the militia the shootout at the refuge they wanted. These guys bragged about how they anticipated violence. They openly threatened that this would become another Waco. Rushing them at the compound would have caused extensive damage to the building, and possibly a fire if the militiamen made good on these threats. Repairing that would have cost a fortune and kept the refuge employees on leave even longer.

Instead, the feds let the militia get complacent and bored.

They did, and this is over. There was a lot of chest-thumping and walking around with big guns. The appropriate response turned out to be a shrug. They’d do something stupid. They did.

Not everyone thinks that way, which amazes an old hand at dealing with this sort of thing:

Robert Gates, a Republican stalwart and former US defense secretary who served under eight presidents, has derided the party’s election candidates for a grasp of national security issues that “would embarrass a middle schooler”.

An ex-CIA director who first joined the White House under Richard Nixon, Gates joked that if frontrunner Donald Trump wins the presidency, he would emigrate to Canada. He condemned the media for failing to challenge candidates from both parties on promises he believes are unaffordable, illegal or unconstitutional.

“The level of dialogue on national security issues would embarrass a middle schooler,” Gates said of the Republican contenders at a Politico Playbook event in Washington on Monday. “People are out there making threats and promises that are totally unrealistic, totally unattainable. Either they really believe what they’re saying or they’re cynical and opportunistic and, in a way, you hope it’s the latter, because God forbid they actually believe some of the things that they’re saying.”

But he did make a clarification:

The 72-year-old declined to comment on specific candidates but was pressed by interviewer Mike Allen on the prospect of Trump reaching the White House. After a pause, he replied: “Well, I live about 50 miles from Canada.”

As the audience erupted in laughter, Gates continued philosophically: “I’ve been around a long time. There are a lot of people who have run for president where people have said, ‘Oh my God, if he’s elected, it’s the end of the world!’ And the truth of the matter is, it wasn’t, and so I’m not prepared to be overly dramatic and believe me, the comment I just made was very sarcastic and humorous, not meant seriously. Somebody out there will write a story that I’m going to Canada. It’s totally not true; I intend to remain within the United States.”

But he’s still amazed:

“In some cases, the things they’re saying they’re going to do are unconstitutional or merely against the law and others are, from a budgetary standpoint, inconceivable, and so it seems to be that the press has not hammered hard enough and been relentless in saying, ‘How the hell are you going to do that?'”

And here’s a bit more detail from Christopher Dickey:

“I think that these guys, men and women, are making these broad pronouncements, and it’s clear they don’t know what they’re talking about,” Gates said, citing some of the more outrageous remarks about making “the sand glow,” “carpet bombing,” and “bombing the shit out of them,” which he attributed to “the leading candidate,” meaning Donald Trump.

“This is not a particularly sophisticated analysis of the challenge that we face,” Gates told the think tank’s audience, amid considerable laughter.

Dickey confirms that:

The view, it should be said, is not unique to Gates. As a longtime colleague of his at the CIA observed in private a couple of weeks ago, it may be wise to keep one’s adversaries off balance and guessing just how crazy you might be.

One remembers President Nixon’s famous and infamous “Madman Theory,” trying to convince the North Vietnamese in 1968 that he “might do anything to stop the war” that was raging in Southeast Asia.

In the 1980s the Russians really were unsure how far President Reagan would push them on land, at sea, in the air and, most important, in outer space.

President George W. Bush, one might argue, took the madman theory far too far, launching a war in Iraq that proved insanely destructive to U.S. interests.

Obama, on the other hand, is a “mature, measured, responsible individual,” as the veteran spook put it. “And Vladimir Putin, and Xi Jinping, and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – they don’t give a shit about mature, measured, and responsible.”

The guys heroically occupying the small birding station in the middle of the Oregon-nowhere didn’t give a shit about mature, measured, and responsible either, and look what happened to them, but Dickey gets Gates on the phone and gets Gates to talk about how things once were done:

Gates likes to cite the example of President Eisenhower, who was the commander of allied forces in Europe in World War II, then president of the United States from 1953 to 1961 in the potentially apocalyptic early days of the Cold War.

Gates rattled off his accomplishments: “Eisenhower, came in, faced a Russia that had just developed a thermonuclear weapon; China had just developed their own nuclear weapon for the first time. He faced a French war in Indochina where the Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously asked him to use nuclear weapons to help the French. He faced repeated crises with China over Taiwan and the Taiwan Strait. He faced a Middle East war involving our closest allies, and he got them to stop. He faced revolutions in East Germany, Poland, and Hungary, a revolution in Cuba. And yet between the time that he became president and signed the North Korean armistice in the middle of 1953 until he left office, not one American soldier was killed in combat.”

“I don’t think Dwight Eisenhower was a wimp,” said Gates, “and the funny thing was he did it all kind of effortlessly. Everybody thought all he did was go out and play golf on the White House lawn. And, you know, there wasn’t a lot of bluster or anything, he just got it done.”

That sounds like Obama, and there’s this:

So, getting back to the current campaign to choose the next president of the United States who does Gates favor?

He says there might be two or three among the candidates, “but only two or three,” who bring the skills needed, and he’s not naming them. One might surmise that Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush could, theoretically, be on the Gates short list. But it’s clear that Donald Trump is not.

And he mentions his new book:

“If you read the chapter on personal characteristics I require for successful leadership, you would find that he probably does not fill the bill on a number of those counts,” said Gates. “It’s just pure speculation, but the kind of people he would likely surround himself with: Are they going to be independent-minded? And is he going to welcome contrary points of view and consider those carefully, and try and build a team, and allow others to take credit?”

Does that mean you can’t be a bully and also a good leader?

“I don’t think so,” said Gates.

Well, maybe you can win football games instead, but David Axelrod, the former senior strategist for Barack Obama, says we should have seen this coming:

As the 2008 campaign began, many Americans and most Democrats saw Mr. Bush as rash, bellicose, divisive – oblivious to the demands and opportunities of a rapidly changing world. His presidency had come to be defined by the momentous decision to invade Iraq, which became a quagmire.

Senator Obama had publicly opposed the war from the start, which separated him from most of the Democratic field. But more than that, his profile, temperament and approach offered the sharpest departure from those of the embattled, retiring president he would ultimately replace. For those who found President Bush wanting, Senator Obama was the most obvious remedy.

And now he’s not:

The Republican base is infuriated by Mr. Obama’s activist view of government and progressive initiatives, from health care reform to immigration, gay rights to climate change.

Beyond specific issues, however, many Republicans view dimly the very qualities that played so well for Mr. Obama in 2008. Deliberation is seen as hesitancy; patience as weakness. His call for tolerance and passionate embrace of America’s growing diversity inflame many in the Republican base, who view with suspicion and anger the rapidly changing demographics of America. The president’s emphasis on diplomacy is viewed as appeasement.

That made Trump inevitable:

His bombast allows no room for nuance or complexity. He proudly extols his intolerance as an assault against “political correctness,” and he vows to bring the world to heel, from Mexico to China to Syria and Iraq.

Mr. Trump has found an audience with Americans disgruntled by the rapid, disorderly change they associate with national decline and their own uncertain prospects. Policies be damned, who better to set things right than the defiant strong man who promises by sheer force of will to make America great again?

In short, it’s all about dominance again. Imagine Donald Trump at that birding station in remote Oregon, strutting around with an AR-15 threatening to shoot any federal dude who drops by, to make America Great Again. Imagine Donald Trump as the giant linebacker who busts through to sack the far too talented and far too well-liked and far too happy young uppity black quarterback, and then taunts him with some choice trash talk, to make America Great Again. Gates and Axelrod suspect Trump would only make America grate again. Someone should put that on a bumper sticker.

And imagine Donald Trump destroying modern conservatism, because, as Heather Parton notes, that is what he did:

If there’s one thing that Donald Trump has done for the leaders of the conservative movement, the Christian Right and the Republican Party it’s that he’s teaching them a necessary lesson in reality: It turns out that a large number of their supporters don’t really care about ideology, morality or even their supposedly mutual loathing of the hippie Democrats on the other side. Their concerns run to something much more primitive.

Sure they all called themselves Republicans and/or conservatives. For decades they played on the same team. But all that stuff about “family values” and “drowning the government in the bathtub” and “constitutional conservativism” were just slogans they chanted for their team. They meant no more to them than “rah, rah, sis boom bah.”

National Review slowly came around to the knowledge that something terrible had happened to their movement and last week put out their ineffectual “Against Trump” issue. They realized too late that all the movement propaganda meant nothing to a whole lot of right wing voters. In fact it looks as though the constitution itself means nothing. And the conservative movement of activists, writers and grassroots organizations has suddenly awakened to the fact that a good many of those they considered true believers are completely oblivious to conservative ideology.

They simply want to dominate:

The Republican establishment is under a tremendous amount of stress right now. Donald Trump has the party functionaries running around like his personal factotums and the elected officials are all figuring out the angles to ensure they come out on the Donald’s good side. It’s possible it may not survive in the form we’ve come to know it.

But the conservative movement is equally under pressure. They thought their years of carefully growing and indoctrinating the right wing of the Republican Party had resulted in a common belief in a certain conservative ideology, strategic vision and commitment to a specific agenda. It turns out that a good number of the people they thought had signed on to their program just wanted someone to stick it to ethnic and racial minorities and make sure America is the biggest bad ass on the planet – authoritarian, white nationalism. If you’ve got a man who will deliver that you don’t need ideology.

And so all of life becomes like the Super Bowl – brutal and basic – dominate or be humiliated. Things were better when baseball was the national pastime, as George Carlin once explained:

Baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game.

Football is a twentieth-century technological struggle. …

Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life.

Football begins in the fall, when everything’s dying.

In football you wear a helmet.

In baseball you wear a cap. …

In football you receive a penalty.

In baseball you make an error.

In football the specialist comes in to kick.

In baseball the specialist comes in to relieve somebody.

Football has hitting, clipping, spearing, piling on, personal fouls, late-hitting and unnecessary roughness.

Baseball has the sacrifice.

Carlin also notes that the objectives of the two games are completely different:

In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line.

In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe!

Oh well.

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Trumping the Press

Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg – everyone shortens his name – caused no end of trouble. Before the fifteenth century was even halfway over he invented movable type and the printing press – and a way to mass-produce moveable type and use oil-based ink – for printing books. Scribes went out of business. There’d be books for anyone who could read, lots of them, and literacy suddenly became important. Everyone wanted to know everything, without being told what was what, like little children – and now they could – but when everyone can read their own handy copy of the Bible, they get ideas. Gutenberg made the Reformation inevitable – perhaps the Catholic Church had gotten a few things wrong. You could now look it up, and soon enough there were competing translations of the Bible popping up too. In January 1604, James I convened the Hampton Court Conference where a new English version was commissioned in response to problems in earlier translations – there were things the Puritans, at the time a faction within the Church of England, didn’t like at all – and the King James Bible was completed in 1611 – the definitive Bible still, at least for Protestant Christians. Gutenberg made that possible. Everything was unlocked – so the Enlightenment was inevitable too. Ideas of all sorts could be printed and widely distributed. Hey, think about this! Argue back if you’d like – print your own thoughts in a book, or a tract, or something or other – and we can figure out how the world works, in public. Let’s reason! All of modern science followed too, inevitably – a process of publishing careful observations and pointing out their implications. Others critiqued those, in print, until everyone agreed on the implications, more or less.

Mankind was on a roll and by the late eighteenth century the political implications of all this had become obvious. In 1651, when Charles II was in exile in France, Thomas Hobbes published The Leviathan – life is mean, nasty, brutish and short, and that means we need a strong central government run by a king with near-absolute power, to keep us from killing each other. When Charles II returned to the throne in 1660 he could point to this well-argued book and say see, told ya so, folks – you really shouldn’t have beheaded the old man, Charles I, eighteen years earlier – but by the late eighteenth century, John Locke and so many others were writing, and publishing, something entirely different. Kings might not be necessary. Reasonable men could work things out amongst themselves and a run a fine government on their own – they could reason and they also had “certain inalienable rights” that were their own, not the King’s. Locke said so. Our Founding Fathers said so. Thomas Paine wrote dozens of fiery tracts that said so. And all this was said in print. The American Revolution was driven by Gutenberg’s movable type.

That’s why freedom of the press is guaranteed in the First Amendment – “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Everyone gets to think for themselves, and print what they want – with the exception of defamation and incitement to riot and other mayhem – you can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater. The state can also keep secrets – you can’t publish those – national security does take precedence – but there things get tricky. Edward Snowden is still in exile, but Richard Nixon couldn’t stop the publication of the Pentagon Papers. The injunction failed. There was a compelling public interest involved, and Nixon’s attempt to prosecute Daniel Ellsberg fell apart – breaking into his psychiatrist’s office to find something to smear him was a bit too much. The Supreme Court tossed out the case against Ellsberg. There are limits on what you can do when you hate that someone published this or that.

Nixon had a problem with that. What the Washington Post had been publishing about Watergate – all true and verified through multiple sources – infuriated Nixon. He banned Washington Post reporters and photographers from the White House – they couldn’t even cover the annual Christmas party – but Nixon couldn’t shut down the Washington Post. One of the first rules we set up was freedom of the press – we would not have had a country without that – and sometimes the press will be a pain in the ass. They criticize those in power. They sometimes suggest that they’re devious, or lying. They bring up stuff that those in power never wanted anyone to bring up. Sure, it doesn’t seem fair, but that’s what they’re supposed to do. Tom Paine was supposed to piss off King George. That king’s feelings didn’t matter – and Nixon knew he couldn’t send a CIA team to assassinate Bernstein and Woodward. We don’t do that sort of thing.

We leave that to others:

President Vladimir Putin probably approved a 2006 Russian intelligence operation to murder ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko with radioactive polonium-210 in London, a British inquiry concluded on Thursday, prompting a row with Moscow.

Russia, which had declined to cooperate in the inquiry, cautioned pointedly that it could “poison” relations. Britain accused the Kremlin of uncivilized behavior but did not immediately signal it would take any stronger action.

Litvinenko, 43, an outspoken critic of Putin who fled Russia for Britain six years to the day before he was poisoned, died after drinking green tea laced with the rare and very potent radioactive isotope at London’s Millennium Hotel.

That’s one way to deal with pesky critics, but then there was this:

During a Friday-morning interview with Donald Trump, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough was baffled by the Republican front-runner’s embrace of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Sure, when people call you ‘brilliant’ it’s always good. Especially when the person heads up Russia,” Trump told cohost Mika Brzezinski when asked about Putin praising him as “very talented” the day before.

Scarborough pointed to Putin’s status as a notorious strongman.

“Well, I mean, it’s also a person who kills journalists, political opponents, and invades countries. Obviously that would be a concern, would it not?” Scarborough asked.

That might be going too far, but Trump didn’t see it:

“He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader,” Trump replied. “Unlike what we have in this country.”

“But again: He kills journalists that don’t agree with him,” Scarborough said.

The Republican presidential front-runner said there was “a lot of killing going on” around the world and then suggested that Scarborough had asked him a different question.

“I think our country does plenty of killing, also, Joe, so, you know,” Trump replied. “There’s a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, Joe. A lot of killing going on. A lot of stupidity. And that’s the way it is.”

Trump would later joke at rallies that journalists are awful people – liars, every one of them – so it was tempting – but no – just kidding, folks – he wouldn’t have them killed – but it was tempting. It became a standard part of his routine that always got roaring approval, and now there’s this:

Real-estate mogul Donald Trump said in a new interview that it would be hasty to judge Vladimir Putin in the face of a British public inquiry’s allegation that the Russian president “probably approved” of a 2006 killing on British soil.

“Have they found him guilty? I don’t think they’ve found him guilty,” Trump said in a Tuesday interview with Fox Business Network anchor Maria Bartiromo. “They say a lot of things about me that are untrue, too.”

Trump still likes the guy. Maybe you shouldn’t assassinate your critics, but strong leaders don’t take crap from anyone, and that led to this:

Donald J. Trump and Fox News, the candidate who has reordered the Republican presidential race and the cable network of choice for many of the party’s voters, stared each other down on Tuesday over his demand that the news anchor Megyn Kelly be dumped from moderating Thursday’s debate, the last before Monday’s caucuses.

The network did not blink. So Mr. Trump walked.

Mr. Trump’s announcement here that he would “probably,” or would “most likely,” or was “pretty close to” irrevocably planning to skip the debate – an aide put it more directly – created a gaping uncertainty at the center of the Republican nominating contest just as it was formally about to begin in Iowa.

That’s what Trump is counting on, but that has its limits:

“Let’s see how much money Fox is going to make on the debate without me,” he said at a news conference here.

Fox News said Mr. Trump’s refusal to debate his rivals was “near unprecedented.”

“This is rooted in one thing – Megyn Kelly, whom he has viciously attacked since August and has now spent four days demanding be removed from the debate stage,” the network said in a statement.

On her program Tuesday night, Ms. Kelly observed that “what’s interesting here is Trump is not used to not controlling things, as the chief executive of a large organization.”

“But the truth is, he doesn’t get to control the media,” she added.

Even Richard Nixon knew that, and this is far more petty than any of the Nixon stuff:

Mr. Trump’s animus toward Ms. Kelly dates to August, in the first presidential primary debate, when she questioned him about his past comments denigrating women. Afterward, he suggested that Ms. Kelly had been angry at him, so much so that she had blood pouring out of her “wherever” – a remark many saw as a reference to menstruation.

In the months since, Mr. Trump has repeatedly criticized Ms. Kelly as a “third-rate” reporter. And as Thursday’s debate approached, Mr. Trump began disparaging Ms. Kelly as if he were a prizefighter promoting a rematch. He called her dishonest, accused her of bias and a conflict of interest, and said flat-out that he did not like her.

On Monday, Fox News responded to Mr. Trump, tauntingly saying it was “surprised he’s willing to show that much fear” about being questioned by Ms. Kelly. And on Tuesday, after the network’s president, Roger Ailes, declared that Ms. Kelly would “absolutely be on the debate stage,” the network issued yet another taunting statement, this one mocking two of Mr. Trump’s go-to rhetorical crutches.

“We learned from a secret back channel,” the statement said, “that the Ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president – a nefarious source tells us that Trump has his own secret plan to replace the cabinet with his Twitter followers to see if he should even go to those meetings.”

Yes, Trump put out a Twitter questionnaire. Should he walk away from the debate if Fox News stands by Megyn Kelly? But Trump had had enough of Fox News, no matter how the questionnaire turned out, and sent this:

“With me, they’re dealing with somebody that’s a little bit different,” he said of Fox. “They can’t toy with me like they toy with everybody else. So let them have their debate, and let’s see how they do with the ratings.”

He won’t take crap from anyone, not even Fox News, and the Republican Party was caught flatfooted:

“Obviously we would love all of the candidates to participate,” said Sean Spicer, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, “but each campaign ultimately makes their own decision what’s in their best interest.”

The tepid response was the latest instance in which the party has tried not to antagonize Mr. Trump, even as he engages in behavior that many Republican donors and operatives and some committee members consider destructive.

So what? Trump wants respect, and cash:

It was not the first time that Mr. Trump, who holds a wide lead in national polls and a slender one in Iowa, has threatened to sit out a debate. At one point he demanded that CNN donate $5 million to aid wounded veterans in return for his participation. His logic then was the same as now: The ratings stem from his presence. But CNN officials declined, essentially calling Mr. Trump’s bluff, and he participated.

This time, though, his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, said there would be no backing down Instead of attending the debate, he said, Mr. Trump would hold a fund-raiser in Iowa for wounded war veterans.

Mr. Lewandowski did not respond to a message asking the chances that his boss would change his mind.

And Ted Cruz pounced:

Cruz said on Mark Levin’s radio show: “If Donald is afraid to defend his record, that speaks volumes. If he thinks Megyn Kelly is so scary, what does he think he’ll do with [Russian President] Vladimir Putin?”

Cruz challenged Trump to a one-on-one debate sometime over the next week.

“I’m happy to go an hour and a half mano-a-mano – me and Donald with no moderators, any time before the Iowa caucuses,” he said.

At an event Tuesday night, Cruz said: “Donald is a fragile soul. You know, if she asks him mean questions, I mean his hair might stand on end.” He likened it to skipping a job interview.

This is a bit absurd, but Chris Cillizza has already shared a little secret – “Trump isn’t a great debater. Well, here’s another little secret: He knows it.”

Cillizza knows what he saw last time:

Quick, tell me Donald Trump’s best moment in the first five Republican presidential debates.

Chances are, you can’t. Which is sort of remarkable, right? After all, Trump is the guy in this race who makes news. He says things about policy (we need to temporarily ban Muslims from coming to the U.S.) and about people (Jeb Bush is “low energy”) that always make him the story.

Except at debates.

Here’s how the arc of Debate Donald usually goes. Positioned in the center of the stage — it’s where he’s been in almost every debate — Trump is active, if not overwhelmingly aggressive, in the first 30-45 minutes. When answering question during that time, Trump tends to avoid any policy details and has, on occasion, shown a remarkable lack of knowledge on issues. (He had no clue what the “nuclear triad” was in the fifth debate, for example.)

But then, Trump – and I can’t believe I am writing this – tends to fade into the background. He answers the questions asked of him and hits back when someone attacks him. Beyond that, however, he tends to look somewhere between disinterested and sleepy. He does very little to inject himself into the conversation. He is, rather transparently, just waiting for the whole thing to be over.

And that may be appropriate:

He might be good, he might be bad – he’s much more often the latter in debates – but the people who are for him don’t care. Or Trump is able to convince them – using his megaphone via social media and cable television – that he actually won the debate no matter what the “pundits” say.

Trump has created his own reality for much of this race, never more so than in insisting how “everyone” says he won “every” debate. He hasn’t. But it hasn’t mattered.

So this is no loss for Trump, and Callum Borchers adds this:

With less than a week remaining before the Iowa caucuses, Trump appeared be giving himself cover by crying foul before Thursday’s debate even began. But when Fox News refused to replace his least-favorite referee, Trump took his ball and went home.

But he didn’t have her assassinated. On the other hand, he didn’t get Roger Ailes to fire the woman and then bow his head and ask Donald Trump who else he should fire and who he should keep, and what he should and should not ever say about Donald Trump. Ailes didn’t even remove Kelly from the debate panel. It’s almost as if Fox News believes in freedom of the press. Ailes was Ben Bradlee standing by Bernstein and Woodward. Go figure, or read their statement:

As many of our viewers know, FOX News is hosting a sanctioned debate in Des Moines, Iowa on Thursday night, three days before the first votes of the 2016 election are cast in the Iowa Caucus. Donald Trump is refusing to debate seven of his fellow presidential candidates on stage that night, which is near unprecedented. We’re not sure how Iowans are going to feel about him walking away from them at the last minute, but it should be clear to the American public by now that this is rooted in one thing – Megyn Kelly, whom he has viciously attacked since August and has now spent four days demanding be removed from the debate stage.

Capitulating to politicians’ ultimatums about a debate moderator violates all journalistic standards, as do threats, including the one leveled by Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski toward Megyn Kelly. In a call on Saturday with a Fox News executive, Lewandowski stated that Megyn had a “rough couple of days after that last debate” and he “would hate to have her go through that again.”

Lewandowski was warned not to level any more threats, but he continued to do so. We can’t give in to terrorizations toward any of our employees. Trump is still welcome at Thursday night’s debate and will be treated fairly, just as he has been during his 132 appearances on FOX News and FOX Business, but he can’t dictate the moderators or the questions.

But the Trump campaign released this:

As someone who wrote one of the best-selling business books of all time, The Art of the Deal, who has built an incredible company, including some of the most valuable and iconic assets in the world, and as someone who has a personal net worth of many billions of dollars, Mr. Trump knows a bad deal when he sees one. FOX News is making tens of millions of dollars on debates, and setting ratings records (the highest in history) whereas in previous years they were low-rated afterthoughts.

Unlike the very stupid, highly incompetent people running our country into the ground, Mr. Trump knows when to walk away. Roger Ailes and FOX News think they can toy with him, but Mr. Trump doesn’t play games. There have already been six debates, and according to all online debate polls including Drudge, Slate, Time Magazine, and many others, Mr. Trump has won all of them, in particular the last one. Whereas he has always been a job creator and not a debater, he nevertheless truly enjoys the debating process – and it has been very good for him, both in polls and popularity.

He will not be participating in the FOX News debate and will instead host an event in Iowa to raise money for the Veterans and Wounded Warriors, who have been treated so horribly by our all talk, no action politicians. Like running for office as an extremely successful person, this takes guts and it is the kind of mentality our country needs in order to Make America Great Again.

Did he mention he’s very, very rich? Yes he did. Bow before him, but Erik Wemple adds this:

The ironies here are circular. Over the years, Fox News has boosted its own ratings by frequently airing accusations of media bias. Now its ratings – at least for Thursday night’s debate – stand to suffer over just such an accusation. Everyone tunes in to see just how Trump will bring out the worst in those who surround him. And the National Review got tossed from hosting a February debate because it dared to exercise its prerogative as an opinion journal to editorialize against Trump.

Fox News, of course, will be fine; it has ruled cable news ratings for the last decade and a half and will continue doing so. Trump, of course, will be fine; he has money and insouciance and ignorance. Media criticism, though, may need a round or two of therapy.

Yeah, Roger Ailes is the good guy here – but if Trump were to become president things would get interesting, even if not in a Putin sort of way. Would he shut down certain newspapers? No president can do that, but could he demand that certain reporters never darken his door again? Nixon tried that. It didn’t do him much good – but the man does joke about assassinating reporters. It’s only a joke, folks – just kidding – but the massive crowds love it. Maybe he can reverse what Gutenberg started.

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Should Have Seen This Coming

Yeah, she said this:

You guys are sounding angry is we’re hearing from the establishment. They stomp on our neck and tell us to chill. Just relax. Well, look, we are mad and we’ve been had. They need to get used to it. This election is more than just your basic ABCs: Anybody but Clinton. It’s more than that this go around. When we’re talking about a nation without borders, and bankruptcies and our federal government, debt our children and grandchildren will never be able to pay off.

When we’re talking about the power that comes from strength, power through strength, well then we’re talking about our very existence. No, we’re not going to chill. It’s time to drill, baby, drill down and hold these folks accountable and we need to stop the self-sabotage and elect a candidate that represents that and America first, finally. Pro-Constitution. Common-sense solutions he brings to the table. Yes, the status quo has got to go. With their failed agenda, it can’t be salvaged, it must be savaged and Donald Trump is the one to do that. Are you ready for new and are you ready for the leader who will let you make America great again? It’s going to take a whole team.

That was Sarah Palin endorsing Donald Trump – make of it what you will, or can – and of course, the following Saturday night, on Saturday Night Live, Tina Fey was back and, in the exact same flashy outfit that Sarah Palin wore, brought back her amazing Sarah Palin impression – but this time much of it was direct quotes. What do they say? You can’t make this stuff up? There was no need to. As Sharan Shetty says at the link – “Palin is somewhat parody-proof: There’s virtually no difference between Fey’s caricature and the politician’s actual persona. Like Trump, the former governor is always one step ahead of the satire.”

Well, she’s back – they’re both back. Tina Fey does a wonderful Sarah Palin, but Julianne Moore did a far better Sarah Palin in the 2012 HBO movie Game Change – a Palin that was surprisingly nuanced and sympathetic. There was no question of the woman’s good intentions or her sincerity, just her capabilities. Moore won every acting award available that year, for humanizing Palin, for moving beyond easy parody, but there were others. Woody Harrelson played Steve Schmidt, John McCain’s senior campaign strategist – he was really at the center of things – it was his story of dealing with a mistake as best he could. Harrelson captured the agony of that, and Sarah Paulson played Nicolle Wallace, the campaign’s director of communications, assigned by Schmidt to help Palin navigate the interviews and public appearances. What Palin said and did were supposed to reinforce McCain’s efforts, but that wasn’t possible. Palin was a bit of a wild-child. She likes to wing it, to be authentic – that had, after all, gotten her far. Nicolle Wallace did what she could – but then there was that Katy Couric interview. Palin thought Nicolle Wallace had set her up to fail. Wallace told Palin she never listened to anyone – Couric had been fair. Wallace told Schmidt to find someone else – she never wanted to work with that woman again, and so on and so forth. It was very dramatic. It was also what actually happened. The movie was based on the 2010 book of the same name by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. They’re careful reporters. They verify by multiple sources. They don’t report what didn’t happen. All this happened.

And now Nicolle Wallace is back. Some stories never end, and now Wallace offers this:

Donald J. Trump has made a shrewd bet. For the first time since he descended an escalator in Trump Tower last June to announce that this time, he really was running for president, he ceded control of his campaign message. He handed the Trump-bedecked podium over to Sarah Palin.

Mr. Trump’s bet: When the politician most fluent in American rage roars, the movement she gave voice to in the fall of 2008 will roar back today.

In fact, some stories never end:

With his call to deport illegal immigrants, especially because Mexico sends us its “bad ones,” his proposal to bar Muslims from entering the country, his emphasis on the threats to lawful gun ownership and his promise to protect American goods and workers from China, Mr. Trump is riding the wave of anxiety that Ms. Palin first gave voice to as Senator John McCain’s running mate. Mr. Trump has now usurped and vastly expanded upon Ms. Palin’s constituency, but the connection between the two movements is undeniable.

Trump is, then, only doing what John McCain did, but McCain didn’t quite get it:

Despite her shortcomings, she brought out the largest crowds that we’d seen since the campaign started. Voters stood for hours on the rope line to meet her. Her legacy lies in her innate ability to wrap herself in the anger that those voters felt. While Senator McCain seemed slightly unnerved by the intensity of their discontent, Ms. Palin basked in it.

I stood backstage at a rally in Minnesota in October 2008 where Senator McCain took the microphone from a woman in the crowd who spoke about her fears, including that Barack Obama was “an Arab.” Senator McCain said, “No, ma’am,” and explained that Mr. Obama was a good and decent family man and an American with whom he simply disagreed on policy matters. This interaction will go down as one of the finest moments from one of the country’s finest men. But it was also an early warning that the Republican base was profoundly agitated.

Trump gets what no one else got:

To some in the news media, voter anger seems like a new phenomenon. But they attended the same Palin rallies I did – we all should have seen this coming. The Alaska governor whipped the crowds into a frenzy with her fiery attacks on the media and the establishment politicians that she had gleefully upended in the Alaska statehouse. When her rally-goers shouted crude comments from the stands, as the woman at the Minnesota rally had done, there was no confrontation between Ms. Palin and the offender. When the press started to report on the angry rhetoric coming from those Palin crowds, I remember Senator McCain’s concern. The growing furor in the Republican Party was something that we, as a campaign, failed to address, but to the crowds, Sarah Palin proved the more satisfying politician on the ticket because of it.

Trump certainly gets that, and gets her importance:

Ms. Palin owned the resentment voters in the Republican Party. They became her cause. And when the campaign concluded, she became the poster politician for the Tea Party movement. She was its first star, and hers became a coveted endorsement. Ms. Palin typically picks candidates who are trying to unseat incumbents and more experienced politicians, an ironic development considering that she was selected as a running mate to reinforce Mr. McCain’s brand as a “maverick” – but a maverick who worked within the Senate and the Republican Party.

She has now turned the institutions in which he has proudly served into liabilities for the candidates running against her mama-grizzly-approved outsiders. The party bears some responsibility for her success. Our base has grown increasingly exasperated with Washington Republicans who, despite historic victories in the midterm elections of 2010 and 2014, seem incapable of reversing President Obama’s legislative agenda or asserting themselves in the country’s foreign policy debates.

Mr. Trump improves upon Ms. Palin’s jagged attempts at a post-2008 message with a vision for reclaiming American greatness by promising better trade deals, improved care for veterans, a more successful foreign policy based on his personal strength and immigration reform that is based mostly on building a wall. His proposals are, at best, vague and of questionable legal soundness, but they’ve propelled his candidacy by inflaming voter concern that America has lost ground.

That’s obvious, but also dangerous:

That he would refine and recalibrate his proclamations in a general election or as president is a widely held assumption among the Republican establishment. It’s possible that this is the kind of false comfort that people on a sinking ship murmur to one another about how death by drowning really isn’t a bad way to go.

Nicolle Wallace now realizes what had actually been going on back in 2008, and it scares her, because Donald Trump is even better at this sort of thing.

Others are looking back too, and being a bit upset. One of them is David Axelrod, the former senior strategist for Barack Obama, who offers this:

It was so obvious. I’m embarrassed I missed it. Like most of the other talking heads on TV, I was haughtily dismissive of Donald Trump’s candidacy. “It’s apparently open mike day in the Republican campaign for president,” I tweeted last June, after Mr. Trump barged into a relatively placid Republican race with a rambling, riotous speech.

Even as he climbed to the top of polls, I confidently predicted that the outrageous Mr. Trump, as transfixing and ubiquitous as he was, was merely a summer fling. He would fade in the fall, when Republican voters got serious about making a long-term commitment.

Seven months later, Mr. Trump has broken just about every rule of conventional campaigning. Short on policy prescriptions and long on provocation, he has serially – and joyfully – insulted Mexicans, women, Muslims, POWs, people with disabilities and virtually all of his opponents. Yet a week before caucusing begins in Iowa, he still reigns supreme atop the Republican field.

Axelrod, too, made a mistake:

The galling thing is, if I had only reread my own words, written nine years ago to another aspiring candidate, I would have taken the Trump candidacy more seriously from the start. In late 2006, when Barack Obama was a first-term senator pondering a long-shot race for the presidency, he asked me to write a strategic memo exploring his prospects. My bullish analysis was predicated on several factors, but rooted in a theory I had developed over decades as a political writer and campaign consultant.

Here’s the gist. 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.

The examples are obvious:

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.”

As the 2008 campaign began, many Americans and most Democrats saw Mr. Bush as rash, bellicose, divisive – oblivious to the demands and opportunities of a rapidly changing world. His presidency had come to be defined by the momentous decision to invade Iraq, which became a quagmire.

Senator Obama had publicly opposed the war from the start, which separated him from most of the Democratic field. But more than that, his profile, temperament and approach offered the sharpest departure from those of the embattled, retiring president he would ultimately replace. For those who found President Bush wanting, Senator Obama was the most obvious remedy.

Ah, so now Axelrod realizes his mistake:

The Republican base is infuriated by Mr. Obama’s activist view of government and progressive initiatives, from health care reform to immigration, gay rights to climate change.

Beyond specific issues, however, many Republicans view dimly the very qualities that played so well for Mr. Obama in 2008. Deliberation is seen as hesitancy; patience as weakness. His call for tolerance and passionate embrace of America’s growing diversity inflame many in the Republican base, who view with suspicion and anger the rapidly changing demographics of America. The president’s emphasis on diplomacy is viewed as appeasement.

So who among the Republicans is more the antithesis of Mr. Obama than the trash-talking, authoritarian, give-no-quarter Mr. Trump?

His bombast allows no room for nuance or complexity. He proudly extols his intolerance as an assault against “political correctness,” and he vows to bring the world to heel, from Mexico to China to Syria and Iraq.

Mr. Trump has found an audience with Americans disgruntled by the rapid, disorderly change they associate with national decline and their own uncertain prospects. Policies be damned, who better to set things right than the defiant strong man who promises by sheer force of will to make America great again?

Trump is simply not “like” Obama and that’s enough, or actually, the whole game here:

The robust condemnations Mr. Trump has received from media and political elites have only intensified the enthusiasm of his supporters, many of whom feel disdained and forgotten by the very same people who regularly mock and chide their man for his boorishness. To his base, he’s a truth-teller, thumbing his nose at conventional politicians, whether they are liberal or conservative. Rebukes from fact checkers and purveyors of civil discourse? They’re just so much establishment claptrap.

Relentlessly edgy, confrontational and contemptuous of the niceties of governance and policy making, Mr. Trump is the perfect counterpoint to a president whose preternatural cool and deliberate nature drive his critics mad.

That is, however, not to say Trump has this wrapped up, for some obvious reasons:

Unlike in 2008, when Mr. Obama’s appeal reached a majority of independents and even some Republicans, polling suggests that if he were nominated, Mr. Trump would face a steep uphill battle in a general election. As of today, he has the lowest standing, by far, of any major Republican candidate among Democrats and independent voters. His nativist rants have walled him off from the growing Hispanic vote, which could hold the key to several important swing states this fall.

But one never knows. Axelrod is rethinking all this, but if he’s right, Ted Cruz should be a shoe-in. He’s a nasty fellow, and Kevin Drum has a quiz about him. Some of these statements are true:

  1. Did one of Ted’s former pastors say that “he pretty much memorized the Bible, but I think he did it mostly so that he could humiliate kids who got quotes wrong”?
  2. Did a veteran of the 2000 George Bush campaign say that “the quickest way for a meeting to end would be for Ted to come in”?
  3. Did Ted’s wife once admit that Ted “can be a bit of a jackass sometimes, but at least you know where he’s coming from”?
  4. Did Bob Dole say that Ted “doesn’t have any friends in Congress”?
  5. Did Mitch McConnell respond that “I’m pretty sure Dole is wrong, but I can’t figure out who his one friend is”?
  6. Did a John McCain advisor say that his boss “fucking hates Cruz”?
  7. Did President Obama once get overheard asking Joe Biden “what in God’s name is that asshole’s problem, anyway”?
  8. Did Rep. Peter King say about a possible Ted Cruz nomination, “I hope that day never comes; I will jump off that bridge when we come to it”?
  9. Did John Boehner quip that Ted was “a great American resource; when we threatened to deport him back to Canada, they suddenly agreed to drop their softwood lumber subsidies”?
  10. Did Lindsey Graham say the choice between Trump and Cruz was like having to choose between “death by being shot or poisoning”?
  11. Did a former high school teacher just shake his head and close his door when a reporter knocked and asked what he remembered about Ted?
  12. Did a former law school acquaintance say that when she agreed to carpool with Ted, “We hadn’t left Manhattan before he asked my IQ”?
  13. Did Ted’s torts professor remark that “I don’t think there was a single question I asked the entire year where Ted didn’t instantly raise his hand and practically wet his pants pleading to be called on”?
  14. Did his Princeton freshman roommate call Ted “a nightmare of a human being” and claim he would get invited to parties hosted by seniors because the upperclassmen pitied him?
  15. Did a college girlfriend of Ted’s say “he was pretty smart, but sex with him once was enough – if you can call it sex”?
  16. Is it true that in interviews with four of Ted’s college acquaintances, “four independently offered the word ‘creepy'”?

Drum offers this – “All statements whose ordinal number takes the integer form 2n+1 or 2n-1 have been invented. The rest are real.” Yeah, well, many of them are true. Drum suggests you read Tim Murphy and David Corn making the case that Ted Cruz “is really one of the all-time huge pricks” here – it’s thorough and definitive – or if you like irony there’s this:

GOP front-runner Donald Trump says establishment Republicans are warming up to his presidential bid because they’re terrified of Ted Cruz being the party’s nominee.

“I think the establishment actually is against me but really coming on line because they see me as opposed to Cruz, who is a nasty guy who can’t get along with anybody,” Trump said in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Monday.

“Look, at a certain point, we got to make deals,” Trump continued. “We can’t have a guy who stands in the middle of the Senate floor and every other senator thinks he’s a whack job. You have to make deals, you have to get along, that’s the purpose of what our founders created, and Ted cannot get along with anybody. He’s a nasty person.”

Breaking news! Pot calls kettle black! Saturday Night Live will surely cover this, but like Sarah Palin, Donald Trump is always one step ahead of the satire. You can’t make this stuff up, but maybe that’s the problem. Both Nicolle Wallace and David Axelrod realize now they should have seen this coming – but if so, now what?

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The Replacements

Big changes are coming soon. At this time next year we’ll have a new president – Inauguration Day is Friday, January 20, 2017 – Barack Obama will be gone. He’ll have to find something useful to do with his time, although, given the last eight difficult years – the Republicans screamed about everything he tried, even what was their idea in the first place – some downtime would be understandable. Sip some scotch. Stare at the sky. Hit a good restaurant. Catch a movie. Take long naps. When the phone rings, answer any questions the new president has – if that’s a Democrat. The Republican won’t call. Or start a foundation – that’s what Bill Clinton did. Or build houses for the poor – that’s what Jimmy Carter did. Or disappear – that’s what George W. Bush did. But what’s done is done – the Affordable Care Act and the deal with Iran that stopped their nuclear weapons program, normalized relations with Cuba, the end of the war in Iraq and all the rest – and none of that can really be undone. Give it a rest. Your replacement will handle things. That’s not your worry.

That’s our worry. At the moment, one week out from the Iowa caucuses, to be followed in a week or two by the New Hampshire primary, the replacements seem a sorry lot. They just don’t seem presidential, at least on the Republican side. The Bush campaign just released an online video ad – Barbara Bush says her son Jeb is a “hard worker” with a big heart – “Of all the people running, he seems to be the one who could solve the problems. I think he’ll be a great president.”

That seems innocuous enough, but Donald Trump had a tweet for that:

Just watched Jeb’s ad where he desperately needed mommy to help him. Jeb – mom can’t help you with ISIS, the Chinese or with Putin.

That was a taunt. Look, little Jeb is running home to mommy! This wasn’t exactly elevated political discourse about policy. It was grade-school playground nonsense, but then there was this:

During a Saturday rally in Iowa, Donald Trump said he wouldn’t lose any support in the presidential race from voters even if he shot someone.

“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay?” Trump said, according to video from NBC News. “It’s, like, incredible.”

That’s an odd boast, but Trump explained it this way:

“I have the most loyal people,” he said after citing his wide lead in the polls.

He said that support for his Republican rivals is “soft.” Trump said that when people learned that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was born in Canada, he lost supporters.

Maybe he’ll shoot someone to prove that, but this was just another taunt. All the “politically correct” people would be outraged. They get all upset about guns and shooting people, but people shoot people all the time. He knew they’d be outraged, and he was sort of inviting his “loyal people” to laugh at them for being weeping wimps. After all, after the mass shooting near the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 2014 – a lot of dad college kids – Joe the Plumber said this – “Your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights.”

Donald Trump knows his loyal people. He can talk about casually shooting people. Rights are rights – but this comment was mostly meant to piss off the people he wanted to piss off. In 1966, John Lennon said this of the Beatles – “We’re more popular than Jesus now. I don’t know which will go first, rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary.”

At the time, the hot mess that was the sixties, the God-people were outraged. The Beatles “loyal people” were not, and laughed at them. It’s the same sort of thing. The target-people will sputter in outrage and look foolish. Your people will laugh at them and love you all the more, and there’s a lot of this going around:

Republican presidential candidate and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Sunday that rival Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)’s comment about the winter storm showed “a real immaturity.”

The Blaze had reported that Rubio joked about the blizzard saying that the winter storm was good because it had prevented agencies from issuing new regulations.

Christie took the bait:

“Well, that’s a difference between a United States senator who has never been responsible for anything and a governor who is responsible for everything that goes on in your state. Fourteen people died across the country,” Christie said. “And that shows a real immaturity from Senator Rubio to be joking as families were freezing in the cold, losing power, and some of them losing their loved ones.”

Well, that only proves that prissy and politically correct Chris Christie can’t take a joke. He overreacted to an idle comment. He loses that one, although Rubio seems a pale imitation of Trump. In fact, the Des Moines Register editorial board announced on Saturday that it would endorse Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary and Marco Rubio in the Republican primary, so one view in Iowa is this:

The presidency is not an entry-level position. Whoever is sworn into office next January must demonstrate not only a deep understanding of the issues facing America, but also possess the diplomatic skills that enable presidents to forge alliances to get things done.

By that measure, Democrats have one outstanding candidate deserving of their support: Hillary Clinton. No other candidate can match the depth or breadth of her knowledge and experience.

And of Rubio the Register wrote that it “values the executive experience, pragmatism and thoughtful policies of John Kasich, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush,” but admitted that Republican voters are not “interested in rewarding a long resume this year.”

On the Republican side, being presidential doesn’t seem to matter this year, which distress many Republicans, and everyone seems to have a theory about how you’d really beat Trump. No one has figured that out yet, but here’s Ross Douthat’s theory: 

Think back to that misty time, two years gone, when one of Trump’s current rivals – Chris Christie, that’s the one – was seen as the presumptive Republican front-runner. What was the basis of Christie’s appeal? Simply this: He was a jerk, but he was your jerk. He was rude – but to people who deserved it. He was an SOB – the SOB the country needed.

Then think about why the “Bridgegate” scandal was devastating to his image… it devastated Christie because it flipped his brand. Instead of the jerk who looks out for the average guy, he became the jerk whose allies had stuck it to commuters. Instead of the tough guy fighting for you, he became the tough guy whose goons would mire their constituents in traffic for a pointless little feud.

Use that on Trump:

To attack him effectively, you have to go after the things that people like about him. You have to flip his brand.

That would go like this: 

Tell people about all his cratered companies. Then find people who suffered from those fiascos – workers laid off following his bankruptcies, homeowners who bought through Trump Mortgage, people who ponied up for sham degrees from Trump University….

Find the people hurt by Trump’s attempts to exploit eminent domain: The widow whose boarding house he wanted to demolish to make room for a limo parking lot, the small businessmen whose livelihoods he wanted to redevelop out of existence.

It’s a theory, but Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog considers it a stupid theory:

Most of that is out there. It’s been out there since Trump rose to the top of the polls. His voters don’t care. His voters don’t care about anything he said or did before he seemed to become “their SOB.”

That’s because Douthat is mistaken about what brought Christie down in the eyes of national Republican voters. It wasn’t that he had come to be regarded as an SOB for the wrong side – that may have been what Jersey voters thought, but that wasn’t his problem with Republicans nationwide. Christie’s problem with Republican voters across the country was that he had stopped seeming like an SOB at all.

First he embraced President Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Then, after Bridgegate, he was apologetic (or at least he apologized for what he was shocked, shocked, to learn his staffers had done). When you saw him on TV, he wasn’t yelling at a union teacher – instead, his political survival was being discussed by Rachel Maddow, or Joe ‘n’ Mika. He’d been brought low. He was no longer the guy who put his enemies on the defensive.

Then he compounded the problem by spending a year as the head of the Republican Governors Association. No longer was he the video bullyboy you saw on Fox News every couple of weeks. He was too busy roaming the country doing favors for influential Republicans, in the hope that they’d help him in the presidential race.

Trump seems to understand that:

Republican voters may not know about the ordinary Americans who’ve been victimized by Donald Trump, but they’ve seen him attack people – Megyn Kelly and Ted Cruz – people they like. It hasn’t bothered them. They’ve seen him attack John McCain on the one aspect of McCain’s career they still respect, his military service. It hasn’t upset them. In New Hampshire, Jeb Bush is running ads in which the father of a child with cerebral palsy expresses disgust at Trump’s attack on a disabled reporter. Trump voters don’t care.

Why? Because attacks like this reaffirm the impression that Trump is an SOB. As long as he seems to be primarily an SOB on the voters’ side, they don’t care if he’s an SOB toward anyone else.

That’s not very presidential, but the weekend brought another attack – Glenn Beck on Saturday formally endorsed Ted Cruz because Ted Cruz isn’t Donald Trump:

“The other guy has said he hasn’t done anything in his life that actually makes him feel like he should ask forgiveness from God,” he said of Trump. “The hubris of that is astonishing, as if for the last eight years we have watched a narcissist in the Oval Office and it has meant nothing to us.”

Beck said Trump owed America an apology for supporting the Wall Street bailout during the financial crisis.

“It’s up to him to ask God’s forgiveness, but I would like to suggest to you that the man owes America an apology, and he should ask conservatives for America for forgiveness for supporting billions of dollars of bailouts, for pulling for the nationalization of our banks,” he said.

And then the big surprise:

He said he even prefers Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a self-proclaimed “democratic socialist” running in the Democratic presidential primary, to Trump.

“Honesty, faith and truth are basic requirements. And quite honestly, I have to tell you, this probably isn’t going to go over very well, that’s why I like Bernie Sanders,” he said. “Bernie Sanders is like, ‘Yep, I’m a socialist.'”

“I can actually sit at a table with a man who says, ‘Yes, I’m a socialist, and yes, I don’t like what we are doing, we should be more like Denmark,’ ” he added.

“What we really need in America is enough of these politicians who are telling us what we want to hear, hiding behind fancy language, and actually have a debate between a constitutionalist like Ted Cruz and a socialist like Bernie Sanders.”

Beck was on fire, but that only gives the Trumpeteers, as they’re called, one more fool to laugh at. That’s what winners do – they get your goat and you end up all red-faced, looking foolish, although Beck has sort of made a career of that. What Beck says really doesn’t matter.

These are Obama’s potential replacements? Paul Krugman, from his perch at the New York Times, is fed up with Trump and the rest, and considers the Democratic replacements:

There are still quite a few pundits determined to pretend that America’s two great parties are symmetric – equally unwilling to face reality, equally pushed into extreme positions by special interests and rabid partisans. It’s nonsense, of course. Planned Parenthood isn’t the same thing as the Koch brothers, nor is Bernie Sanders the moral equivalent of Ted Cruz. And there’s no Democratic counterpart whatsoever to Donald Trump.

Moreover, when self-proclaimed centrist pundits get concrete about the policies they want, they have to tie themselves in knots to avoid admitting that what they’re describing are basically the positions of a guy named Barack Obama.

Still, there are some currents in our political life that do run through both parties. And one of them is the persistent delusion that a hidden majority of American voters either supports or can be persuaded to support radical policies, if only the right person were to make the case with sufficient fervor.

People will be foolish:

You see this on the right among hardline conservatives, who insist that only the cowardice of Republican leaders has prevented the rollback of every progressive program instituted in the past couple of generations. Actually, you also see a version of this tendency among genteel, country-club-type Republicans, who continue to imagine that they represent the party’s mainstream even as polls show that almost two-thirds of likely primary voters support Mr. Trump, Mr. Cruz or Ben Carson.

Meanwhile, on the left there is always a contingent of idealistic voters eager to believe that a sufficiently high-minded leader can conjure up the better angels of America’s nature and persuade the broad public to support a radical overhaul of our institutions. In 2008 that contingent rallied behind Mr. Obama; now they’re backing Mr. Sanders, who has adopted such a purist stance that the other day he dismissed Planned Parenthood (which has endorsed Hillary Clinton) as part of the “establishment.”

That’s not how things work, and Obama’s eight years proves that:

That’s not to say that he’s a failure. On the contrary, he’s been an extremely consequential president, doing more to advance the progressive agenda than anyone since LBJ. Yet his achievements have depended at every stage on accepting half loaves as being better than none: health reform that leaves the system largely private, financial reform that seriously restricts Wall Street’s abuses without fully breaking its power, higher taxes on the rich but no full-scale assault on inequality.

So we have this:

Mr. Sanders is the heir to candidate Obama, but Mrs. Clinton is the heir to President Obama. (In fact, the health reform we got was basically her proposal, not his.)

But either way, the replacement should know what limits are there, given Obama’s seven years so far:

Maybe he could have done more at the margins. But the truth is that he was elected under the most favorable circumstances possible, a financial crisis that utterly discredited his predecessor – and still faced scorched-earth opposition from Day 1.

And the question Sanders supporters should ask is, when has their theory of change ever worked? Even FDR, who rode the depths of the Great Depression to a huge majority, had to be politically pragmatic, working not just with special interest groups but also with Southern racists.

Remember, too, that the institutions FDR created were add-ons, not replacements: Social Security didn’t replace private pensions, unlike the Sanders proposal to replace private health insurance with single-payer. Oh, and Social Security originally covered only half the work force, and as a result largely excluded African-Americans.

It might be wise to consider what the job is actually like:

The point is that while idealism is fine and essential – you have to dream of a better world – it’s not a virtue unless it goes along with hardheaded realism about the means that might achieve your ends. That’s true even when, like FDR, you ride a political tidal wave into office. It’s even more true for a modern Democrat, who will be lucky if his or her party controls even one house of Congress at any point this decade.

Sorry, but there’s nothing noble about seeing your values defeated because you preferred happy dreams to hard thinking about means and ends. Don’t let idealism veer into destructive self-indulgence.

That may be overstating things. Sanders said in a Vox interview how he would realize his goals:

The real way that change takes place – and that’s always been the case in this country – is when people on the bottom begin to stand up and say enough is enough. That’s true of the civil rights movement, it is true of the women’s movement. It’s true of the environmental movement, of the gay movement. Millions of people begin to stand up and say, ‘We need change. Current situations are intolerable.’ That is when change takes place…

The United States Congress is going to start listening to us and not to a handful of wealthy campaign contributors.

But then Sanders also said this:

The major political, strategic difference I have with Obama is it’s too late to do anything inside the Beltway. You gotta take your case to the American people, mobilize them, and organize them at the grassroots level in a way that we have never done before.

Wait – Trump sort of says the same thing, but without any real policy proposals of course, but then there’s Marshall Ganz:

Abandoning the “transformational” model of his presidential campaign, Obama has tried to govern as a “transactional” leader. These terms were coined by political scientist James MacGregor Burns 30 years ago. “Transformational” leadership engages followers in the risky and often exhilarating work of changing the world, work that often changes the activists themselves. Its sources are shared values that become wellsprings of the courage, creativity and hope needed to open new pathways to success. “Transactional” leadership, on the other hand, is about horse-trading, operating within the routine, and it is practiced to maintain, rather than change, the status quo.

Nancy LeTourneau cites that and adds this:

When Sanders reminds us of things like the civil rights and women’s rights movements, it is helpful to remember that those battles were also long. For example, from the Montgomery Bus Boycott until passage of the Civil Rights Act, there were nine long years of struggle. It’s clearly not as simple as “elect me and you’re done.”

But I think it is also worth asking whether or not a president of the United States can actually lead a revolution.

Should Obama’s replacement lead a revolution? That might be in the job description, and LeTourneau adds this:

Sanders’ approach is to lead a revolution in which millions of Americans rise up to combat the influence of big money that he sees as the obstacle to change. For a lot of people, that is reminiscent of Barack Obama’s “hope and change” campaign in 2008. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton is cast as the competent pragmatic incrementalist.

That may be the actual job, but John Cassidy says Bernie Sanders isn’t crazy:

Sanders’s proposal to break up the big banks invokes the old trust-busting tradition of progressivism, and it has the support of some, although not all, academics. His plan to make tuition free at state colleges mimics what California did for much of the early history of its public-education system, when it was the envy of the country, and he would finance it with a so-called “Tobin tax” on financial transactions, a measure that has widespread support among left-leaning economists. Sanders’ proposal to strengthen the Social Security system and expand benefits by raising the contribution cap on high-income earners is also eminently defensible. It barely needs saying that all of these polices are popular among progressives.

So Sanders isn’t crazy at all:

Sanders’ main goal is changing what it is considered possible. A more orthodox candidate might well indicate some flexibility at this point in his campaign, saying that his immediate priority as President would be raising the minimum wage, or providing free college tuition, or breaking up the banks, and relegating an ambitious health-care overhaul to the status of future goal. Sanders, however, didn’t get to where he is now by embracing political orthodoxy.

He might do as a replacement – changing what it is considered possible is possible. Getting anything done after that is another matter, but it would then be possible, perhaps – or perhaps not. Not that it matters. Bernie Sanders is not a likely replacement for Obama. Hillary Clinton is, or Donald Trump. Those seem to be the choices. Some of us will miss Barack Obama. Replacements are never quite as good as the real thing.

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The Tweeter

Things are getting strange out there. Everyone running for president is out there shaking hands and making speeches, and granting interviews to every cable news show that will have them, and doing radio interviews in small markets with obscure and eccentric hosts, and doing their best in the periodic party debates. Donald Trump is doing some of that – the speeches and the interviews – he kind of wings it at the debates – but he’s actually running a Twitter-based campaign. It’s more immediate, it’s almost stream-of-consciousness, and it seems more personal, perhaps because the Tweets seem impulsive – and that makes all the other candidates seem calculating and perhaps a bit slow. They cannot keep up. He’s in real-time and they’re not. He gives America his immediate reaction. They think about things, chat with their advisers, do a bit of poll-testing, and then react in a way that offends the most people the least. They’re filtered. He’s not. He’s real. They’re not.

This has worked brilliantly for him, and he doesn’t have to shake hands. He has a thing about germs – “A self-confessed germaphobe, Trump doesn’t even like to push a ground floor elevator button because it’s been tapped by so many people.” Imagine how he feels about kissing babies – he doesn’t even willingly shake hands – but the “personal touch” is necessary in politics.

Twitter solves that problem. Twitter is incredibly personal, without the germs. What Donald Trump thinks, as he thinks it, he tweets. Whatever catches his eye he retweets – Hey, look at this! Cool!

Do that ten or twenty times a day and you really get to know the guy. It’s all impulse – but that can come back and bite you in the ass. That just happened – Donald Trump just retweeted a Photoshopped image of Jeb Bush as a scruffy homeless man holding up a cardboard “Vote Trump” sign in front of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue. This was a lame joke that amused Trump – Jeb was a total loser who would vote for Donald Trump anyway – but Trump didn’t notice the source – @WhiteGenocideTM – which was a bit odd.

Benjy Sarlin at MSNBC did some digging:

Recent tweets and retweets from the account include anti-Semitic imagery, quotes from Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels and tweets deriding Martin Luther King Jr. The profile also listed a link to a website promoting a biographical documentary of Adolf Hitler, including a section that casts doubt on whether the Holocaust actually occurred.

The Twitter handle had hinted at something like that, but this isn’t the first time this sort of thing has happened. Sarlin notes that Trump retweeted a graphic in November that made the claim that 81 percent of white murder victims are killed by black people – actually, 82 percent of white people murdered in 2014 were killed by other whites. That graphic was first posted on Twitter by a user whose avatar was a swastika.

Oops. Trump claimed he doesn’t have time to check the details of everything he sees. How was he to know that this fellow had reversed the data, much less that he was a neo-Nazi? He just found the stats interesting, wouldn’t you? This time, with the “homeless” Jeb Bush, he liked that Photoshopped image. It made him laugh. He passed it along. So he didn’t notice the source? What’s the big deal?

Perhaps this isn’t a big deal. From this it would be hard to argue that Donald Trump is a stone-cold neo-Nazi anti-Semitic white-supremacist racist. He’s just impulsive and careless. That’s what makes him more “real” to voters – the term is “authentic” of course – but that impulsive carelessness can lead to dark places:

Republican presidential contender Donald Trump may see all press as good press, but a new pro-Trump robocalling campaign with ties to a white supremacist group is putting that strategy to the test.

The call features a statement by Jared Taylor, an active spokesperson for the Council of Conservative Citizens, which was cited by Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof as inspiration for the mass murder he committed in June.

In the call, Taylor says: “I urge you to vote for Donald Trump because he is the one candidate who points out that we should accept immigrants who are good for America. We don’t need Muslims. We need smart, well-educated white people who will assimilate to our culture. Vote Trump.” The call ends with a statement clarifying that it is not authorized by Trump.

The robocalling campaign targets voters in Iowa, where Trump is running a close race with fellow Republican primary candidate Ted Cruz.

Yes, the calls were not authorized by Trump, and he says he’s no white supremacist – but he always adds that Americans are angry. They’ll do what they do. He understands that, everyone should understand that, and he has proclaimed himself “the least racist person on earth” – so he’s not responsible for any of this. He’s impulsive and enthusiastic. That’s what people love about him. He has no idea where this racist crap is coming from.

Maybe it runs in the family:

Woody Guthrie, folk singer supreme, is known for the magisterial portraits he painted of Dust Bowl America and his sweeping indictments of social injustice. What’s not there in the beautiful imagery of his song “This Land Is Your Land” – the ribbon of highway, the endless skyway, the diamond deserts – is right there in the slogan often affixed to his guitar: “This machine kills fascists.”

But artists who traffic in grand themes are also allowed to get specific. In one of the strangest stories yet to emerge from Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, it appears that, more than half a century ago, Woody Guthrie penned lyrics condemning the candidate’s father, Fred Trump, for racism.

“Donald did inherit his father’s racism, and was probably actively coached in his father’s racism and worked with his father to perpetuate it,” argued Will Kaufman, the professor of American literature and culture at Britain’s University of Central Lancashire who unearthed the scoop, said in a telephone interview with The Washington Post. “He picked up the mantle and ran with it with his father at his side. That’s why people are interested in this I think.”

That’s a stretch, but here are the lyrics about the Trump housing project back then:

I suppose
Old Man Trump knows
Just how much
Racial Hate
he stirred up
In the bloodpot of human hearts
When he drawed
That color line
Here at his
Eighteen hundred family project

Did the multimillionaire real estate magnate teach his son, the multibillionaire real estate magnate, how to keep the riff-raff out? That seems unlikely – all you need to buy a nice two-bedroom at Trump Tower is five or ten million dollars up front, cash. You can be black. Hell, you can be plaid. This is a bullshit story, or it isn’t. David Boaz, the executive vice president of the libertarian Cato Institute, has written this:

Today I join some 20 other writers in making the case against Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy. The venerable National Review, founded by William F. Buckley, Jr., assembled a group of diverse critics to argue that Trump is not a conservative, not an advocate of limited government, but rather (as the editorial asserts) “a philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones.”

And one big problem is this:

Not since George Wallace has there been a presidential candidate who made racial and religious scapegoating so central to his campaign. Trump launched his campaign talking about Mexican rapists and has gone on to rant about mass deportation, bans on Muslim immigration, shutting down mosques, and building a wall around America. America is an exceptional nation in large part because we’ve aspired to rise above such prejudices and guarantee life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to everyone.

The other big problem is this:

Equally troubling is his idea of the presidency – his promise that he’s the guy, the man on a white horse, who can ride into Washington, fire the stupid people, hire the best people, and fix everything. He doesn’t talk about policy or working with Congress. He’s effectively vowing to be an American Mussolini, concentrating power in the Trump White House and governing by fiat. It’s a vision to make the last 16 years of executive abuse of power seem modest.

And then there was the Twitter storm:

The National Review symposium was posted last night at 10 p.m., and I took note of it on Facebook and Twitter. It drew a lot of reaction. And I must say, I was surprised by how many of the responses, especially on Twitter, were openly racist and anti-Semitic.

Why was David Boaz surprised? This was a long time coming. Donald Trump was inevitable. Ronald Brownstein of The National Journal has been focusing on American demographics and how and why they’re breaking things. In September of 2013 he wrote Bad Bet: Why Republicans Can’t Win with Whites Alone – Obama had easily won reelection with the smallest share of white voters of any presidential candidate in history. That was odd, and ominous:

Few decisions may carry greater consequences for the Republican Party in 2016 than how it interprets these facts. The key question facing the GOP is whether Obama’s 2012 performance represents a structural Democratic decline among whites that could deepen even further in the years ahead – or a floor from which the next Democratic nominee is likely to improve.

In recent months, a chorus of conservative analysts has bet on the first option. They insist that Republicans, by improving both turnout and already gaping margins among whites, can recapture the White House in 2016 without reformulating their agenda to attract more minority voters – most prominently by passing immigration reform legislation that includes a pathway to citizenship for those here illegally.

On the other side is an array of Republican strategists who view minority outreach and immigration reform as critical to restoring the party’s competitiveness – and consider it suicidal for the GOP to bet its future on the prospect that it can squeeze even larger advantages out of the diminishing pool of white voters. Karl Rove, the chief strategist for George W. Bush’s two presidential victories, has noted that relying entirely on whites would soon require Republicans to regularly match the towering advantage Reagan recorded among them when he lost only a single state in his 1984 reelection. “It’s unreasonable to expect Republicans to routinely pull numbers that last occurred in a 49 state sweep,” Rove said at the Aspen Ideas Festival this summer.

Heather Parton comments:

As much as the establishment may have wanted them to vote for a young Hispanic senator or an elder statesman married to a Mexican American in the hopes of boosting their share of the Latino vote, they are having none of it. In fact, the front-runner of the party for six months now is a man whose candidacy has made it abundantly clear that many Republicans loathe and despise foreigners and ethnic and racial minorities. They’re going with the 1984 strategy.

As this campaign has unfolded, Brownstein’s been looking at both parties’ coalitions to try to suss out what’s really driving the delusional impulse among the rank and file to circle the wagons. Looking through the crosstabs of various polls he has found that the Trump vote is a very specific subset of Republican voters: working class whites without a college education, even those who identify as evangelicals.

Brownstein now has the data on that and Parton adds that it’s possible that a lot of these white conservative working class types identify as evangelical as much for tribal reasons as religious commitment, and cites studies that show something odd – church attendance among this group has fallen dramatically over the past four decades:

Monthly church attendance by moderately educated whites – defined as those with high school diplomas and maybe some college – has declined to 37 percent from 50 percent, according to the study co-authored by sociologists W. Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia and Andrew Cherlin of Johns Hopkins University. Church attendance by the least educated whites – defined as those lacking high school diplomas – fell to 23 percent from 38 percent.

“My assumption going into this research was that Middle America was more religious and conservative than more educated America,” said Wilcox, in an interview with MSNBC. “But what is surprising about this is that, when it comes to religion as well as marriage, we find that the college-educated are more conventional in their lifestyle than Middle Americans.”


This would explain why so many Trump voters don’t care about his “New York values.” And they agree wholeheartedly with The Donald about the root cause of the problem: immigrants, Muslims, racial minorities and elites who “don’t know what the hell they’re doing.”

Brownstein explains that leads to the idea of a lost paradise of conservative values and culture:

Today, the two parties represent not only different sections of the country, but also, in effect, different editions of the country. Along many key measures, the Republican coalition mirrors what all of American society looked like decades ago. Across those same measures, the Democratic coalition represents what America might become in decades ahead. The parties’ ever escalating conflict represents not only an ideological and partisan stalemate. It also encapsulates our collective failure to find common cause between what America has been, and what it is becoming.

The two different Americas embodied by the parties are outlined by race.


Of course they are. He points out that in 2012 whites accounted for 90 percent of the GOP primary and general election vote and the last time whites were 90 percent of the country was in 1960. Those were good times for white men, for sure. For everyone else, not so much. Today people of color equal just over 37 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans and are on track to be a majority in the next 15 years.

White Christians (whether sincere or not) make up 69 percent of Republicans. There haven’t been that many white Christians in America since 1984, the year they ran the table with 49 states and which Karl Rove pointed out they have to repeat if they fail to attract anything but white voters. They represent just 46 percent of the population these days.

Brownstein sees what’s happening:

Republicans represent a coalition of restoration centered on the groups most unsettled by the changes (primarily older, non­college, rural, and religiously devout whites). Democrats mobilize a coalition of transform­a­tion that revolves around the heavily urbanized groups (millennials, people of color, and college-educated, single, and secular whites, especially women) most comfortable with these trends.

Parton also sees what’s happening, and why we have Donald Trump:

Nobody is telling these Republicans they can’t be married or Christian or own guns. But they are having to share the culture with people who don’t have those same values and they don’t like it. The ones who like it least are obviously the Trump voters, those non-college educated, less devout white people who are mad as hell about all this. They want action – deportations, walls, closed borders, law and order. They want to make American white again.

And now they have Donald Trump, endlessly tweeting whatever occurs to him, and a bit careless about its racist implications. That’s fine with them. They can run with that, but Parton notes that there’s no way to make America white again:

These demographic changes are irrevocable and the social progress that’s been made is not going backwards. We are not going back to 1960 or 1984 or 1997. But that does not mean that the cultural traditions and values that conservatives hold dear will disappear. As Brownstein says, “At its best, the U.S. has always reformulated both its public policies and social mores to refresh its oldest traditions with its contemporary realities.”

But it looks as though we’re in for a bumpy ride. The way the parties are divided means that for the moment, neither is able to build an enduring dominant governing faction and the Republicans are so lost in their nostalgia for the old days that they cannot compromise or cooperate.

There are only two alternatives:

Until the diverse Democratic Party achieves majority status or the Republicans accept the future and realize that tolerance for differences among their fellow citizens does not mean they must give up their own values, this battle is going to continue.

This battle is going to continue and Donald Trump will tweet every moment of it, and forward other random tweets he finds amusing, in his impulsive and careless but not quite racist way, and somehow seem the engaged “real” person in all this. White American won’t be coming back, but he’ll keep tweeting. Tweets? Where’s Woody Guthrie when you need him? Someone needs to actually get real here.

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Standing Athwart History Again

William F. Buckley once said that a conservative is “someone who stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.” That was the core idea of the mission statement in the first issue of the National Review – the seminal conservative magazine he founded back in 1955. He meant those words to be heroic and defiant, but history being what it is, this notion seems rather silly. Things change. This was like Peter Pan screaming that he wouldn’t grow up, he just wouldn’t. This was petulance, but since Buckley led such a fascinating life and was so preposterously well-educated and absurdly cosmopolitan, people cut him some slack. Back in the day many of us watched his show Firing Line just to improve our vocabularies. Buckley may have spouted nonsense, but it sounded impressive and you could use those new and quite odd erudite terms to end any argument. No one would understand what you just said, and they’d feel shame that they didn’t, and they’d just shut up.

That was cool, but then Buckley appeared in a series of televised debates with Gore Vidal during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, where Vidal ended up calling Buckley a crypto-Nazi, which actually seemed quite appropriate at the time, so one must be careful. You might run into someone equally preposterously well-educated, and then you’re in trouble.

The real problem, however, was history, which won’t stop. In 1954, Buckley wrote a book with Brent Bozell defending Senator Joseph McCarthy as a patriotic crusader against communism. McCarthyism was “a movement around which men of good will and stern morality can close ranks” – but Joe McCarthy turned out to be a drunken thug who got most everything wrong and ruined many good lives. Oops. Then, in the August 24, 1957, issue of the National Review, there was Buckley’s editorial “Why the South Must Prevail” – explicitly arguing the case for white supremacy, at least in the South. He argued that “the central question that emerges is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas where it does not predominate numerically.”

The answer was yes – “The White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race.” That’s just the way it is – so stop this civil rights nonsense – but he later changed his mind and said it was a mistake for his National Review to have opposed all that civil rights legislation in 1964 and 1965. It seems he had been on the wrong side of history – so then started yelling Stop at other folks. He pretty much tossed the John Birch Society out of the conservative movement – they weren’t serious people – and he dismissed Ayn Rand as a shallow fool – and then he faded away. He was no longer standing athwart history yelling anything at all. He left that to a new generation. The National Review would live on. He didn’t. He died in 2008, the year America elected Barack Obama. History hadn’t stopped after all.

The National Review, however, is still yelling Stop. Matthew Yglesias just picked up a copy:

Conservative intellectuals remain unimpressed with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign notwithstanding his continued dominance of the polls. And tonight, the longtime flagship magazine of conservative thought, National Review, is planting its flag firmly against the GOP frontrunner.

“Against Trump” are the two big words on the cover, and that’s what every item inside is about:

The main editorial opens with the line “Trump is a philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones.”

The overall package features a very broad spectrum of conservative writers ranging from old Reagan-era warhorses like Ed Meese and Thomas Sowell to relative new kids on the block like Ben Domenech and Erick Erickson. This group is also a good representation of the range of conservative ideology. You’ve got libertarian David Boaz, neoconservative Bill Kristol, social conservative Brent Bozell, reformer Yuval Levin, and whatever it is that Glenn Beck is.

Yglesias is not impressed:

Thus far, the 2016 campaign has offered zero evidence that either Trump or his supporters among the GOP rank and file care even slightly about the content of conservative ideological theory as opposed to the general sentiments of nationalism, white ethnocentricity, and disdain for America’s current political leaders. But who knows, maybe this will be the magazine cover package that finally does Trump in.

Yglesias is being sarcastic, but Jeff Black at Bloomberg Business reports on the Trump Fear at Davos:

The prospect of Trump in the White House is ratcheting up anxiety among the 2,500 business and political leaders gathered at the Swiss ski resort for the annual World Economic Forum. With less than two weeks before voting in primaries gets under way and Trump in the Republican Party lead, those who fear a rise in protectionism and economic mismanagement are speaking out against the billionaire property developer.

“Unfortunately I do think that if there were to be a Trump administration the casualty would likely be trade,” said Eric Cantor, a former Republican House Majority Leader and now vice chairman of Moelis & Company. “That’s a very serious prospect for the world.”

The Tea Party ended his political career, so this might be sour grapes, but the worry is pervasive over there:

Cantor said he doesn’t think Trump will make it through the primaries, a common theme among Davos attendees who nevertheless are still talking about him. Trump’s positions – like a “temporary” ban on Muslims entering the country and the building of a wall on the Mexican border – are earning him opprobrium in the mountain resort.

He has also railed at the loss of U.S. jobs to overseas competitors, and on Tuesday he said that as president he would “get Apple to start building their damn computers and things” in the U.S., instead of China. A Trump administration would be a “disaster,” according to Beth Brooke-Marciniak, global vice chair of public policy at Ernst & Young LLP and a former adviser to the U.S. Treasury in the Clinton administration.

You don’t shut down international trade and distributed manufacturing, unless you want to shut down the world’s economy. What is this guy thinking? He must be stopped.

Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog is reminded of last year at Davos:

Remember when rich people suddenly started telling us that they feared they’d be the targets of angry radical mobs if nothing was done about economic inequality?

There was the billionaire Jeff Greene:

“This is my fear, and it’s a real, legitimate fear,” Greene says, revving up the engine. “You have this huge, huge class of people who are impoverished. If we keep doing what we’re doing, we will build a class of poor people that will take over this country, and the country will not look like what it does today. It will be a different economy, rights, all that stuff will be different.”…

“There are all these people in this country who are just not participating in the American Dream at all,” he says. This makes him uncomfortable, not least because they might try to take a piece of his. “Right now, for some bizarre reason, a lot of these people are supporting Republicans who want to cut taxes on the wealthy,” he says. “At some point, if we keep doing this, their numbers are going to keep swelling, and it won’t be an Obama or a Romney…”

And there was this:

The billionaire hedge funder Paul Tudor Jones is scared. “My friend Ken Langone, a founder of the Home Depot, is scared. So are many other chief executives. Not of Al Qaeda, or the vicious Islamic State or some other evolving radical group from the Middle East, Africa or Asia. We are afraid where income inequality will lead.”

“If inequality is not addressed, the income gap will most likely be resolved in one of two ways: by major social unrest or through oppressive taxes, such as the 80 percent tax rate on income over $500,000 suggested by Thomas Piketty, the French economist and author of the best-selling book Capital in the Twenty-First Century.”

“We are creating a caste system from which it’s almost impossible to escape…”

Steve M:

I’m sure you guys thought the mobs were coming from the direction of Zuccotti Park and headed straight for you with murder in their eyes. But the energy of that movement has dissipated, or been channeled into the Bernie Sanders campaign, where its most violent manifestation is condescending tweets aimed at Hillary supporters.

The real mob you guys feared – the real mass movement – is the Trump campaign. Trump fans are angry. Their anger is, as you predicted, class-based. But guess what? They’re not coming to burn your Hamptons mansion to the ground. Their leader is a fellow billionaire. And if they start killing people, the victims will probably be carrying Qur’ans, or maybe Spanish-English dictionaries that got damaged in a middle-of-the-night border crossing.

Yes, revolt is brewing. But you guys – as usual – are going to be just fine.

They don’t feel that way, and over here, the alternative to Trump doesn’t seem so hot either. At CNN, Manu Raju reports on that:

Republican Party leaders and prominent senators are sharpening their knives against Ted Cruz, expressing growing alarm over his candidacy as he continues to mount a serious threat in Iowa.

In interviews with CNN, a growing number of Republicans are beginning to echo remarks made by the likes of former Sen. Bob Dole and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, warning that the party would suffer deep losses down the ticket and risk electing a Democratic president if the Texas senator wins the nomination.

“I think we’ll lose if he’s our nominee,” said Orrin Hatch, the most senior Republican in the Senate.

“There are a lot of people who don’t feel he can appeal to people across the board,” Hatch said. “For us to win, we have to appeal to the moderates and independents. We can’t just act like that only one point of view is the only way to go. That’s where Ted is going to have some trouble.”

No one is happy:

It’s not just Jeb Bush supporters like Hatch who are speaking out more aggressively. A large number of GOP senators say Cruz’s divisive tactics, which have included describing his colleagues as part of a corrupt “Washington cartel,” will make it hard – if not impossible – to get behind him if he’s the nominee.

“It would be a major challenge because of the wounds that are deep,” said Indiana Sen. Dan Coats, who is neutral in the race so far.

Ah, but then Ted Cruz twisted the knife:

Cruz’s campaign is pushing back against the growing criticism from the party leaders, saying it’s a concerted effort to back Trump.

“Of course D.C. establishment politicians are abandoning Marco Rubio and running to Trump, because they want a candidate who will cut deals to keep them in power,” said Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier.

“And that’s perfectly fine, because Americans aren’t looking for a dealmaker who will compromise; they are looking for a leader who will break up the Washington cartel and restore our nation’s safety and prosperity,” Frazier added.

In short, if they think Donald Trump is a dangerous buffoon, they don’t know danger standing right in front of them – that would be Ted Cruz. He’ll destroy them.

They finally got the message:

Indeed, some in the party establishment do believe that Trump would have cross-over appeal, despite his incendiary comments.

“I’ve come around a little bit on Trump,” Hatch said Thursday. “I’m not so sure we’d lose if he’s our nominee because he’s appealing to people who a lot of the Republican candidates have not appealed to in the past.”

And as for Cruz:

“His ability to grow the vote of the Republican Party is almost zero,” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who dropped out of the presidential race and is now backing Bush, said of Cruz. “He’ll easily be portrayed as ideological to a fault.”

Asked if he’d prefer Trump over Cruz, Graham said: “It’s a lot like being shot or poisoned: I think you get the same result.”

This is no choice at all:

Graham, for instance, said that Trump was “crazy” with an “insane” foreign policy and Cruz was a “rigid ideologue,” both of which would be problematic against Hillary Clinton, even if voters view her as a “dishonest” candidate, he said.

“Dishonest beats crazy,” said Graham, who dropped his bid for the GOP nomination last month. “Dishonest loses to normal. Just pick somebody normal. Pick somebody out of the phone book and we win.”

They’ll have to pick somebody out of the phone book. They’re out of normal people. The base of the party doesn’t like normal people anyway, and Heather Parton adds this:

Hatch has a point though. Trump is appealing to some new potential voters out there. Stormfront Nazis weren’t all that keen on Romney and McCain but they’re doing robocalls for Trump.

Pick your poison. Trump is now campaigning with reliably incoherent Sarah Palin. Ted Cruz is now campaigning with the master of eccentric conspiracies, Glenn Beck. And the New York Times’ resident intellectual conservative, Ross Douthat, offers an odd column about how he once loved Sarah Palin because he believed she represented something new, but could pull off what the party really needed:

As a political journalist, you never forget the first time you stop just covering a politician and start identifying with her. The first time you wed your high-minded vision of what politics should be to a real candidate’s perishable breath.

My first time arrived in 2008. It lasted only a short while. Her name was Sarah Palin.

No, really:

That spring, in between the Republican primary and the fall campaign, my friend Reihan Salam and I had published a book called “Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream.”

As the title suggests, we were calling for the GOP to change, but not to moderate in the way that a lot of centrist pundits favored, returning to a Rockefeller-Republican model of fiscally prudent social liberalism. Rather, we thought the party’s opportunity (and the country’s) lay in a kind of socially conservative populism, which would link the family-values language of the religious right to an economic agenda more favorable to the working class than what the Republicans usually had offered.

That was a pipe dream:

Trump and Palin together on a stage is the closest American politics has come to offering the populist grand new party that Salam and I called for two presidential campaigns ago. Except that it isn’t what we called for, because we wanted a populism with substance – one that actually offered policy solutions to stagnant wages and rising health care costs, one that could help Republicans reach out to upwardly mobile blacks and Hispanics as well as whites, and so on down an optimistic wish list.

Whereas Trump-era populism, while it plays very effectively on economic anxiety, mostly offers braggadocio rather than solutions, and white identity politics rather than any kind of one-nation conservatism.

I would like to tell you that this is all the fault of the Republican leadership – that had they been more receptive to populist ideas in 2008 or 2012, they wouldn’t be facing a Trumpian revolt today.

That’s roughly the argument that David Frum makes in this month’s Atlantic, in a sweeping essay on the roots of Trumpism. And he makes a strong case.

But he’s wrong:

A critique that stops with GOP elites might let the voting public off the hook, because it’s also possible that Trumpism, in all its boastful, lord-of-misrule meretriciousness, is what many struggling Americans actually want.

That is, at a certain point, disillusionment with the system becomes so strong that no wonkish policy proposal is likely to resonate anymore. So you can talk all you want (as Marco Rubio’s water-treading campaign has tried to do) about improving vocational education or increasing the child-tax credit, and people will tune you out: They want someone who will arm-wrestle the Chinese, make Mexico pay for the wall, smite our enemies and generally stand in solidarity with their resentments, regardless of the policy results.

Since this is a recipe for American-style Putinism, it’s not exactly a good sign for the republic that it seems to be resonating. But those of us who want a better, saner and more decent populism than what Donald Trump is selling need to reckon with the implications of his indubitable appeal.

Heather Parton then adds this:

No kidding. But it’s still missing the point. Trumpism is right wing populism. Nativism, racism and resentment are baked in the cake for a certain kind of person and the only way to make it work is to roll with it. And as Douthat points out, mix in a little nationalist fervor and where that leads is authoritarianism.

Maybe somebody will be able to figure out a way to thread this needle differently but I’m going to guess that this might be beyond the scope of today’s Republican Party. They can’t even handle the Tea Party.

Both Douthat and the National Review want to yell STOP to nativism and racism and resentment, but it’s too late for that now. Ask Peter Beinart about that:

In endorsing Donald Trump, Sarah Palin faced a challenge. How does a woman who has built her brand on hating cultural elites endorse a billionaire, Manhattan TV star? Her answer: by turning Trump into a victim.

Yes, that is exactly what she did:

She began by reasserting her own victimhood. When considering endorsing Trump, Palin said she was “told left and right, ‘you are going to get so clobbered in the press. You are just going to get beat up, and chewed up, and spit out.'” But she wasn’t fazed because the media has been trying to do “that every day since that night in ’08, when I was on stage nominated for VP.” Then she connected her own victimhood to the crowd’s, declaring that, nonetheless, “like you all, I’m still standing.” And she linked both back to Trump: “So those of us who’ve kind of gone through the wringer as Mr. Trump has, makes me respect you even more.”

This was a perfect circle, and then she widened it:

After that, Palin expanded the circle of victimhood to include American sailors who were made to “suffer and be humiliated” by Iran, forced to “kowtow” and “apologize” and “bend over and say, ‘Thank you, enemy.'” And she added workers who suffer so the “campaign donor class” can have “cheap labor” by ensuring that “the borders are kept open” and who lose their jobs when those rich donors endorse “lousy trade deals that gut our industry.”

What ties these people to Trump? They’re victims of a bipartisan system designed to screw them. And whom do the people running that bipartisan system fear most? Who is “really ticking people off”? Donald Trump. “He’s been able to tear the veil off this idea of the system,” and as a result, “Our own GOP machine, the establishment… they’re attacking their own frontrunner.” The same people who screwed Palin, and who screw American troops and workers, the people who “stomp our neck and tell us to chill,” are now savaging Donald Trump as well.

But he alone, perhaps because he is a billionaire and from their elite world, may be able to stand up to them and strike a blow on behalf of the little people.

That does make an odd sort of sense, if you’re a fan of circular logic, but Beinart goes further:

Listening to Palin’s tribute to Trump reminded me of Toni Morrison’s famous 1998 essay in The New Yorker, in which she argued that impeachment had made Bill Clinton black. Yes, he had championed the death penalty. Yes, he had signed welfare reform. But when African Americans saw him “metaphorically seized and body-searched,” turned into an “always and already guilty ‘perp'” by the Republicans and Kenneth Starr, black America adopted him. He became a fellow victim.

This is the same sort of thing:

White, straight, conservative Christians, who consider themselves the last group in America that can be victimized with impunity, have now embraced Trump for the same reason. If the same purveyors of political correctness who call them bigots call him one, then he must be doing something right.

In Clinton’s impeachment, African Americans saw their own suffering. In Trump’s campaign, Palin and company see their supposed suffering too. The difference is that Trump’s supporters remember a day, before “political correctness,” when they were on top. And so they see Trump as more than just the manifestation of their victimhood. They seem him as the instrument of their revenge.

The next day Palin went on to say that her son’s problems with domestic violence were the result of PTSD and were therefore caused by President Obama – that pissed off almost every veteran in America but Donald Trump had no problem at all with it – and Nancy LeTourneau adds this:

In Palin’s world view, both she and anyone she finds common cause with are the victims. We’re seeing that a lot these days as the whole populist movement is fueled by those who are “aggrieved.” The role of the oppressor is primarily played by President Obama. But in other formulations it becomes the “liberal elite” or even (to borrow Ted Cruz’ language), the Republican cartel. For Palin, all of this was a set-up to define Donald Trump as the rescuer who could “make America great again.”

The reason this kind of formulation is so dangerous in politics is that it not only fuels the fear-mongering of the oppressor that we’ve seen so much of from Republicans lately, it sets the stage for the authoritarianism (or even fascism) of the rescuer… a world view is set up to absolve everyone of any personal responsibility.

What could be more seductive than that? Palin offers absolution. Trump offers absolution. Cruz offers absolution. And each will be an instrument of revenge. You’ll love it.

Maybe this sort of thing cannot be stopped. Standing athwart history and yelling STOP never does work.

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