Selling Seriousness

Anyone can run for president – with sufficient funds or sufficient previously established name recognition, or, perhaps, a record of public service, although that seems less and less necessary now – but there’s still that first initial hurdle. The American people have to take that person seriously. Their ideas and policy positions and philosophy of governance, and really, their philosophy of life, won’t be considered until the first question is considered – is he (or she) serious? Does this person actually expect us to take them seriously? Total goofballs might have great ideas, but they’re still total goofballs.

Sarah Palin ran into this problem. John McCain decided she should be his running mate in 2008 – the vice presidency isn’t all that important – but even then he was an old fellow and that did matter a bit. She suddenly mattered. No one knew her and McCain asked us to take her seriously, so we gave it a try. America got to know her. America discovered that she really was a total goofball. Even if her ideas and policy positions lined up with the standard Republican stuff at the time she rambled into total incoherency far too often. America was unable to take her seriously. She was dangerous.

McCain and Palin went down in flames, because while no one really knew Barack Obama either, he was clear and coherent and thoughtful and careful and obviously smart as hell. America got to know him and he passed the “seriousness” test. He was the only real alternative. We don’t elect goofballs.

The Republicans wouldn’t make that mistake again. Four years later they ran Mitt Romney – wooden and oblivious and prone to saying exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time – but a serious person, a wealthy businessman whose father had run American Motors and has been a successful governor. His seriousness was a given, and he ran with Paul Ryan, the Republican budget nerd in Congress. Paul Krugman and many others pointed out that Ryan pretty much pulled his fancy numbers about taxes and growth and whatnot out of his ass, but Ryan had the patina of seriousness. He even looked thoughtful. Maybe he practiced that in front of a mirror, but it worked. The Republicans still lost, again, but at least they didn’t run Herman Cain, the rather goofy millionaire pizza magnate, or Rick “Oops” Perry, or Newt Gingrich, who was talking about making the moon the fifty-first state. They knew better.

But that didn’t work, did it? This time they’re about to run Donald Trump, the braggart and bully reality show star with his billions from his real estate empire, with its successes and multiple bankruptcies, and from his licensing deals – Trump Steaks and Trump University and other Trump enterprises that somehow seem to disappear after a year or two. Are we supposed to take him seriously?

Ted Cruz has been saying no, loudly, and he just made his last bid to be taken seriously:

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, desperate to alter the course of a presidential primary fight in which Donald J. Trump is closing in on victory, announced Wednesday that Carly Fiorina would be his running mate if he won the Republican nomination.

The move, a day after Mr. Trump scored unexpectedly wide victory margins in sweeping five East Coast states, amounted to the grandest diversionary tactic a presidential candidate can stage – or at least the grandest one available to a candidate trailing by about 400 delegates who failed to win more than 25 percent of the vote in any state on Tuesday.

Trump did crush it – and crush Cruz – in Pennsylvania, Maryland and three other northeastern states on Tuesday, making a Cruz nomination almost impossible now, so Trump must be taken seriously. But that’s not how Cruz sees it:

Mr. Cruz’s criteria for a pick, in his telling, seemed to be aimed squarely at Mr. Trump. “Do they think through decisions in a rash and impulsive way?” he asked. “Do they pop off the handle at whatever strikes them at any given moment?” He held up Mrs. Fiorina as someone who knows “where jobs come from.”

“Born in Texas,” he added, grinning, “The very first thing I liked about her.”

Mr. Cruz’s decision to rush out a vice-presidential pick before next week’s primary in Indiana, which is becoming make-or-break for his candidacy, was the political equivalent of a student pulling a fire alarm to avoid an exam: It was certain to draw attention and carried the possibility of meeting its immediate goal, but seemed unlikely to forestall the eventual reckoning.

That’s the New York Times reporters editorializing a bit, but that sums it up. It’s too late – and yes, she’s as nasty and sour and vindictive a person as he is, the woman who nearly destroyed Hewlett-Packard before the board of directors fired her to save the company – and that doesn’t matter either now. Cruz may be screaming that he’s the serious one here, not that other guy, but Donald Trump seems to have passed some threshold, at least with the Republican base. He’s serious enough for them. He’s not Sarah Palin. In fact, he’s stopped asking her to speak at his rallies and speak up for him to the media. He knows she’s poison.

It’s the seriousness thing, and now that he has the nomination pretty much locked up – barring something extraordinarily odd happening – the job is to convince the Republican “establishment” and then the general public, not just the angry old white straight evangelical militantly anti-intellectual Republican base, that he’s a serious person.

There are ways to do that. There’s the usual way. Donald Trump decided to give a major foreign policy speech:

Donald J. Trump, exuding confidence after his resounding primary victories in the East, promised a foreign policy on Wednesday that he said would put “America first.” He castigated President Obama and Hillary Clinton, a former secretary of state and a possible opponent in the general election, for what he described as a string of missteps that have disillusioned the nation’s allies and emboldened its rivals.

Mr. Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, pledged a major buildup of the military, the swift destruction of the Islamic State and the rejection of trade deals that he said tied the nation’s hands. But he also pointedly rejected the nation-building of the George W. Bush administration, reminding his audience that he had opposed the Iraq war.

“America is going to be strong again; America is going to be great again; it’s going to be a friend again,” Mr. Trump said. “We’re going to finally have a coherent foreign policy, based on American interests and the shared interests of our allies.”

“The world must know that we do not go abroad in search of enemies, that we are always happy when old enemies become friends and when old friends become allies,” he added. “That’s what we want: We want to bring peace to the world.”

Who doesn’t? But there was this:

There were paradoxes throughout Mr. Trump’s speech. He called for a return to the coherence of America’s foreign policy during the Cold War. Yet he was openly suspicious of the institutions that undergirded that era. He promised to eradicate the Islamic State, but said the campaign against extremism – or as he called it, “radical Islam” – was as much a philosophical struggle as a military one.

“Our friends and enemies must know that if I draw a line in the sand, I will enforce that line in the sand – believe me,” Mr. Trump said. “However, unlike other candidates for the presidency, foreign aggression will not be my first instinct.” He did not mention anyone by name, though his strongest Republican opponent, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, has threatened to carpet-bomb the Islamic State until the desert sand glows.

Mr. Trump’s speech drew negative reaction across the political spectrum. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, posted on Twitter that “Ronald Reagan must be rolling over in his grave.” Lanhee Chen, a fellow at the Hoover Institution who advised Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee, said “There was clearly an isolationist strain to the speech, but that runs into the reality of the world that we live in.”

The guy from the Hoover Institution favors reality (he probably didn’t like Sarah Palin way back when) and Josh Marshall explains the source of the problem:

There are many things you could say about Donald Trump’s foreign policy speech. At a minimum we can recognize that it is a restatement of Trump’s foreign policy ideas stripped of references to Mexican rapists and other shocking asides. But here’s the one thing I think is most salient.Trump is proposing making aggressive new demands of virtually every country in the world – whether that’s countries in Europe (who are part of NATO), China, Japan, Mexico, Russia, or in less high profile ways virtually every other country in the world. This might make sense for Russia, perhaps China, maybe Europe. It can’t make sense to do it with everyone at once.

This just wasn’t serious:

There’s no real strategy behind Trump’s arguments – no new set of alliances or regional focus, no emphasis on trade as opposed to military strength or vice versa. At least there is no strategy in terms foreign policy professionals would recognize (which, in fairness, is not necessarily a bad thing.) With basically every other country the demand is for respect and fairness because under the current rules we are humiliated and cheated.

This is precisely the same policy, posture and strategy Trump brings to America itself: white identity politics aimed at taking back what other rising or new groups in American society have taken away from the guys who used to be at the top of the heap. It is more or less the identical vision, only with the humiliated party looking to set things right transposed from within American society to the globe.

Trump seems to be stuck on that, which is not a serious position:

There are many people who think America has gotten shortchanged in global and bilateral trade agreements. But to the extent that this is true it is not a matter of poor US negotiation or weakness. It’s that the US has negotiated deals that benefit large corporations at the expense of the majority of Americans who’ve seen their wages stagnate for decades. Just how much of US trade policy has been about selling out US workers versus a pragmatic effort to adjust to a world that is dramatically different from the world of the mid-20th century is a complex question that I’ll leave aside for the moment. What is relevant for present purposes is that the US remains the dominant military power literally everywhere on the planet and far and away the world’s dominant economy. It’s not a big deal when weak countries see themselves as humiliated and abused. Often they are humiliated and abused. But even if they’re not, by definition, they are weak. So there’s little mischief they can do based on their distorted vision of their position in the world. It can be quite dangerous for all involved when a hugely powerful country, actually the most economically and militarily powerful country in the world, falls under the spell of these kinds of delusions.

That means Trump got stuck on stupid:

Seeing America as humiliated and abused by foreigners is no more healthy, productive or based in reality than the idea that middle aged whites are under the heel of minorities and millennials. It’s all of a piece. Most people will get tripped up by the scaffolding of foreign policy talk around this basic worldview. That’s mainly beside the point. Trumpism at abroad is basically identical to Trumpism at home. We shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that will be any less toxic abroad than it is at home.

Kevin Drum agrees and covers more ground:

America First. And that’s about it. Trump will do only things that are in America’s interest. He will destroy ISIS, crush Iran, wipe out the trade deficit with China, eradicate North Korea’s bomb program, and give Russia five minutes to cut a deal with us or face the consequences. Aside from that, Trump’s main theme seemed to be contradicting himself at every turn. We will crush our enemies and protect our friends – but only if our friends display suitable gratitude for everything we do for them. We will rebuild our military and our enemies will fear us – but “war and aggression will not be my first instinct.” We will be unpredictable – but also consistent so everyone knows they can trust us. He won’t tell ISIS how or when he’s going to wipe them out – but it will be very soon and with overwhelming force. He will support our friends – but he doesn’t really think much of international agreements like NATO.

Then there was the big mystery: his out-of-the-blue enthusiasm for 3-D printing, artificial intelligence, and cyberwar. Where did that come from? In any case, the Pentagon is obviously already working on all three of these things, so it’s not clear just what Trump has in mind. (Actually, it is clear: nothing. Somebody put these buzzwords in his speech and he read them. He doesn’t have the slightest idea what any of them mean.)

So what would Trump do about actual conflicts that are actually happening right now? Would he send troops to Ukraine? To Syria? To Libya? To Yemen? To Iraq? Naturally, he didn’t say. Gotta be unpredictable, after all.

But whatever else you take away, America will be strong under Donald Trump. We will be respected and feared. Our military will be ginormous. No one will laugh at us anymore. We will proudly defend the values of Western civilization. This all serves pretty much the same purpose in foreign policy that political correctness, Mexican walls, and Muslim bans serve in Trump’s domestic policy.

Yawn – but Slate’s Fred Kaplan wasn’t yawning:

Donald Trump’s “major foreign policy address” on Wednesday – a written speech, which he read off a teleprompter – was even more incoherent than his impromptu ramblings of the past several months. In fact, it may stand as the most senseless, self-contradicting foreign policy speech by any major party’s presidential nominee in modern history.

For example, he said that, because of President Obama’s policies, our friends and allies feel they can no longer depend on us – then said that a Trump administration would quit NATO and abandon our allies in Asia entirely unless they started spending more on defense.

He said that his No. 1 national-security goal would be to defeat ISIS – then said that he would work with other nations to do so only if they “appreciate what we’ve done for them,” because for us to be good to them, “they also have to be good to us.” (There’s something childish, even narcissistic, about this demand, which he recited in the tone of a desperately firm parent.)

This went on and on:

He said, as he has many times, that our trade deficit has severely weakened America and strengthened China – then said that we have enormous economic leverage over China and that we should use it to get China to rein in North Korea.

He said we should not help any country that isn’t our friend – then proposed easing tensions with Russia. (It’s possible to hold one view or the other, but not both.)

He said he would strengthen America’s economy in order to shrink the deficit – then said he would use the extra wealth to boost jobs, then said he would use it to increase the military budget, without the slightest recognition of possible trade-offs or the need to set priorities. …

And there were the bombastic pronouncements with no basis whatsoever. “The world is more dangerous than it has ever been.” (Think about that claim for one minute, and you’ll see how absurd it is.) About ISIS, he said, “They’re going to be gone if I’m elected president, and they’ll be gone very, very quickly.” (What does this mean? Is he going to scowl at them? Nuke them?) “No one knows how to reduce debt, but I do.” (One way he reduced debt in the private sector was to buy debt-ridden companies, then abandon the creditors or offer them dimes on the dollar or nothing. International debt doesn’t work this way.) He also said, as he has before, that he opposed the Iraq war because it would destabilize the Middle East – when, in fact, he supported the invasion not long before it took place.

And there’s the worst part:

Finally, he lent credence to the suspicion that he’s never read a history book. In what a cynic might interpret as an act of speechwriter’s sabotage, he embraced the tag “America First,” going so far as to say it will be “the overriding theme” of his foreign policy. He doesn’t seem to realize that this was the slogan of Charles Lindbergh – in his 1940 campaign against President Franklin D. Roosevelt – to remain neutral and isolationist during World War II. Is Lindbergh Trump’s witting role model?

This is not a serious man:

This was, I repeat, a prepared speech, not some rambling remarks by a candidate in over his head. I don’t know who wrote it, but it seems to confirm rumors that no prominent Republican national-security advisers are assisting Trump’s campaign. Clearly this is the speech of an unserious man who hasn’t read up on the issues or thought through his own instincts. The dangerous thing is not so much that he knows nothing about foreign policy; it’s that he doesn’t know just how much he doesn’t know.

Perhaps that doesn’t matter, as Jim Newell explains here:

This speech was almost assuredly one of those things that the new, “grown-up” Trump is doing at the behest of his freshly hired advisers, led by Republican lobbyist and operative Paul Manafort. The goal is not necessarily for Trump to become more “presidential” so much as it is to trick idiots in the media into swallowing the narrative that he is becoming more presidential.

This is simply what is done:

One of the most tiresome and successful rituals for tricking media suckers into believing a presidential candidate is legit is the spectacle of the Major Foreign Policy Address in which a candidate Lays Out His Foreign Policy Vision. This speech, usually delivered near the beginning of a presidential campaign but, in Trump’s case, delivered after he’s convinced primary voters to select him without demonstrating any knowledge whatsoever, does not have to be coherent. All it needs to do is toss a little Pentagon lingo and a few out-of-context numbers into a broth of wild threats and unearned projections of strength.

The setting for such an address is critical, too, and Trump’s team went with what you might call the Full Washington: a ballroom at the ornate Mayflower Hotel downtown stocked with white-haired old men in suits who’ve spent their careers musing pensively about whom to bomb next…

The address also brought out old Washington journalistic hands who might not be used to the Trump campaign’s strong-arming of reporters at events. Shortly before the speech began, for example, Washington Post legend Bob Woodward was instructed to move inside the designated press pen.

Everything about the setting was perfect, down to the smell of cigarette smoke (even though no one was smoking). Smoke in a D.C. room connotes seriousness; perhaps it was pumped in artificially.

And then the charade began:

This was Manafort making his candidate eat his broccoli. Trump read his prepared remarks briskly and woodenly, cheering up only during his ad-libbed flourishes. He checked off certain statistics about, say, the number of ships the Navy maintains. He said secondly and thirdly at various points in the speech, as a serious policy speaker does, even if it was unclear whether there had been a first plank or if he had even introduced a numbered list. He delivered the standard lines about how neither President Obama nor Hillary Clinton will say Radical Islam, how our allies no longer trust us to have their backs, how he will do whatever it takes to destroy ISIS. He bravely refused, however, to tell ISIS specifically how he intends to eliminate the terrorist group, because he believes it’s imperative to be “unpredictable” in foreign policy. (“We tell everything!” he ranted, off-script. “We’re sending troops, we tell them. We’re sending something else, we have a news conference.”)

Mostly clean sentences, a few statistics, vague threats, and an oversimplification of how easy it is to conduct foreign policy…

That was about it, and nothing more:

Another way of describing Trump’s foreign policy worldview: He doesn’t have one. He makes it all up minute by minute, and the words his aides made him read on television today were simply words his aides made him read on television. This speech was television; it was spectacle, just like the rest of his presidential campaign, which did not in any way begin a new, more serious phase today. Surely even the suckers in the media weren’t naive enough to take the “wow, this is some serious presidential stuff” bait today, right?

Newell goes on with example after example of how they took the bait, which was the whole point anyway. There is that minimal threshold after all. Does this person actually expect us to take them seriously? Donald Trump now expects us to take him seriously. He gave the Big Speech, didn’t he? What he said made no sense at all – but he managed the stage effects well. Like Paul Ryan, he generated and sustained that thin patina of seriousness.

Newell has only one thing to say to this – “We’re doomed.” Perhaps we are, seriously. Anyone can run for president.

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Pretty Much Settled

There’s one thing that America now doesn’t have to worry about:

Don’t expect to see Donald Trump give a humble concession speech if he loses the Republican presidential nomination.

During a Sunday rally in Maryland, the Republican presidential frontrunner mocked candidates who praise their opponents during concession speeches, saying that if he loses the contest, Americans will probably not hear much from him again.

“They fight like hell for six months, and they’re saying horrible things, the worst things you can imagine,” Trump said. “And then one of them loses, one of them wins. And the one who loses says, ‘I just want to congratulate my opponent. He is a brilliant man, he’ll be a great governor or president or whatever.'”

He continued: “I’m not sure you’re ever going to see me there. I don’t think I’m going to lose, but if I do, I don’t think you’re ever going to see me again, folks. I think I’ll go to Turnberry and play golf or something.”

He’s saying that he’s the one honest man in all this. He’ll congratulate no one who wins, if he ever loses to them, as unlikely as that seems (to him) – the winner will still be a joke, an “awful person” – and he’ll just go play golf – and we’ll all be sorry to see him go. That will be America’s loss. We’ll soon beg for him to come back. America knows that. America has to admit that.

That’s a curious notion, but now the matter is moot:

Donald J. Trump crushed his Republican opponents in Pennsylvania, Maryland and three other states on Tuesday, a sweep that put him considerably closer to capturing the party’s presidential nomination outright, while Hillary Clinton won Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland and Delaware and was battling to amass enough delegates to claim the Democratic nomination as early as mid-May.

Though Mr. Trump was widely expected to dominate the primaries, his margins of victory represented a breakthrough: He received 55 percent to 60 percent of the vote in some states, after months of winning many primaries with less than a majority.

Mr. Trump’s success intensified the aura of inevitability around his bid to lead the Republicans, and created urgent new challenges for his rivals. More significant, it increased his chances of avoiding a fight on the floor of the party’s convention in July and of claiming the nomination on the delegates’ first ballot.

“When the boxer knocks out the other boxer, you don’t have to wait around for a decision,” he said boastfully at an election-night appearance before supporters at Trump Tower in New York.

This is all but over:

The other Republican candidates, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, fared so poorly on Tuesday that they were likely to lose most of the 118 bound delegates up for grabs across the Northeast. Rhode Island, Connecticut and Delaware also went for Mr. Trump. Mr. Cruz is now under growing pressure to beat Mr. Trump in Indiana’s primary next week, perhaps the last real chance the stop-Trump forces have to halt his march to the nomination.

This New York Times article, like all the others, then goes into the arcane math and the even more arcane rules that govern how convention delegates are chosen, and the freedom they have or don’t have to vote for whoever tickles their fancy on each ballot, but it all comes down to the same thing. Cruz will have to do the impossible in the remaining primaries. Kasich will need divine intervention, and despite what all the angry white evangelicals say, there’s no real evidence that God is a Republican. But that’s not to say things will go well for him now:

The broad support for Mr. Trump spanned some of the dividing lines that have characterized the Republican race until now: He won among the affluent and college-educated as well as with blue-collar voters and those with no more than a high school education, according to exit polls.

But the unease about Mr. Trump’s candidacy in some quarters of the party persisted, a potential warning sign if he emerges as the nominee. About a quarter of Republican primary voters in Connecticut, Maryland and Pennsylvania said they would not support him if he were the party’s nominee. The resistance to Mr. Trump was greatest among Mr. Kasich’s supporters, who are more moderate-leaning: Six in 10 said they would not vote for Mr. Trump in November.

Well, no Democrat is going to vote for him, and not many Republican women, and no Hispanics and no Muslims and no blacks. The party’s nomination may be pretty well settled, but nothing else is. Still, in this matter, Josh Marshall says this is the beginning of the end:

Tonight’s Trump wins are so crushing that I suspect Republicans are going to take a look at these results, maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow and say, “Who are we kidding?”

Trump won by big margins in the South. He’s winning by massive margins in the Northeast and states like Pennsylvania which geographically and politically span into the Midwest. Each state tonight looks like it has Trump at or near 60%. How big does his margin need to be? Are we going to start talking about his 75% ceiling?

I’ve been saying for weeks or months that Trump is going to be far, far harder to deny than Republican insiders want to admit. These wins make the denial much harder. It’s not just that Kasich and Cruz have no conceivable path to a delegate win. These results tonight make Cruz and Kasich look, frankly, small and ridiculous.

Didn’t they already look small and ridiculous? No matter – Marshall also notes that Trump is pretty good at that himself:

Trump said it himself: “It’s over.” And he’s right. It is. He’s the nominee. But his victory speech and Q&A was deeply revealing – both in its power and its self-destructiveness.

Hillary Clinton set him off:

I cannot remember a presidential campaign in my lifetime and perhaps in more than a century where the two nominees not only differed so much on policy (we’ve had plenty of that) but tonally in the most basic way they exist as candidates and public people.

Listening to Trump he was brimming with confidence (even for him) and totally coherent. His emphasis was very different. Trade. Stagnating wages. Clinton “destroyed this country economically” with NAFTA. The wall came up but it was an afterthought. This is a powerful message, even if he may have no clear or plausible way to fix these problems. From anyone else, anyone without his mammoth negatives, this could be a potent center-right message.

But then at the end there it was. “I think the only card she has is the woman’s card. She’s got nothing else going. And frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5% of the vote. The only thing she’s got going is the woman’s card and the beautiful thing is women don’t like her, okay?”

You hear the first part and you think… well, maybe. And then… WOMP! No. The indiscipline and aggression is deep in the DNA.

Trump is a strange man, and Marshall says that’s kind of too bad:

It’s a bummer for Dems that they won’t get a shot at presidential nominee Ted Cruz. Don’t get me wrong: I think Trump will be a historically weak general election candidate. But Cruz would be the choice you’d want if you’re running the general election for the Democrats. Cruz is a conventional right wing candidate who would almost certainly go down to a crushing general election defeat. He is conventional and predictable. He’s a new version of Barry Goldwater, only Goldwater had some personal appeal.

Trump is not at all conventional. That introduces a lot of unpredictability into the equation.

I think there’s a good chance that Trump would lose even worse than Cruz. But he could also do substantially better. Do I think Trump will win the presidency? No. Let’s be clear: nominating Trump is an epic disaster for the GOP. I think he’s too unpopular with too many key segments of the electorate. But he has more upside potential than Cruz.

Trump could be dangerous, if only a little bit, but on the other side, we now know what we get:

Hillary Clinton all but secured the Democratic nomination Tuesday after a long and bruising primary fight against rival Sen. Bernie Sanders, scoring decisive victories in four of five East Coast states to cast ballots.

In the last big day of multiple contests before Democrats conclude their primary voting in June, Clinton won Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut and Delaware, and Sanders won in tiny Rhode Island, the only state where independents could vote in the Democratic contest.

Overall, Sanders picked up a fraction of the delegates awarded to Clinton.

While not mathematically eliminated, the liberal senator from Vermont, whose outsider campaign captured a current of Democratic discontent, remains far behind and now faces nearly impossible odds as the nominating contest draws to a close.

Clinton all but declared victory over Sanders on Tuesday…

This Washington Post item, like the one in the New York Times, then goes into the arcane state-by-state delegate math to prove their point – the sort of thing that makes your eyes glaze over – but the more important point is this:

Speaking to Sanders supporters, Clinton said she intends to unify the party. She appealed to their shared values, including reducing income inequality, college affordability and universal health coverage.

“Our campaign is about restoring people’s confidence in our ability to solve problems together,” Clinton said. “That’s why we’re setting bold progressive goals backed up by real plans.”

“After all, that is how progress is made,” she said. “We have to be both dreamers and doers,” Clinton said.

Yes, that would be just fine, but the New York Times’ Frank Bruni suggests a bit more situational awareness:

Bernie Sanders isn’t losing. Just ask many of his backers or listen to some of his own complaints. He’s being robbed, a victim of antiquated rules, voter suppression, shady arithmetic and a corrupt Democratic establishment. The swindle includes the South’s getting inordinate sway and the poor none at all. If Americans really had a voice, they would shout “Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!” until too hoarse to shout anymore.

Donald Trump isn’t winning. Just ask Ted Cruz, by whose strange and self-serving logic it is “the will of the people” (his actual words) that he and John Kasich collude to prevent Trump from amassing a majority of delegates so that some runner-up with less demonstrable support can leapfrog past him to become the Republican presidential nominee. Democracy in action!

I agree that Trump’s nomination would be frightening. I disagree that Cruz’s would be better. It certainly wouldn’t be more justified, but such rational thinking has gone missing in this year of losing gracelessly.

And in this era of irresolution all too often contests don’t yield accepted conclusions and a grudging acquiescence by those who didn’t get their way. They prompt accusations of thievery, cries of illegitimacy and a determination to neuter the victor, nullify the results or reverse them as soon as possible.

That’s our political world now, for better or worse, and mostly worse:

The Sanders camp is right to raise questions about voting irregularities in a few places, including New York, where there’s an investigation underway, and about the odd patchwork of closed and open primaries across the country.

But all of the candidates knew about that patchwork going in, and Clinton’s successful navigation of it – she has a multi-million-vote lead over Sanders – is more persuasive than any dark claims of dastardly tricks.

On the Republican side, Trump and Cruz have each bellowed about the other’s supposedly unfair advantages at a volume that’s hardly constructive. It’s self-promotion with a side of cynicism.

The graceless losing of 2016 owes something to this election’s particular characters. When you’re not just a man but a revolution (Sanders), you can never quit the fight or flee the front.

When you’re the Don Quixote of extreme conservatism (Cruz), you can never ditch your armor. And it’s easy to tell yourself – because it’s easy for all of us to tell ourselves – that surrendering to Trump is surrendering your patriotism.

But we asked for this:

The refusal to grant victors legitimacy bundles together so much about America today: the coarseness of our discourse; the blind tribalism coloring our debates; the elevation of individualism far above common purpose; the ethos that everybody should and can feel like a winner on every day.

Our culture is what it is, but Dana Milbank argues that Bernie Sanders is no fool:

Eight years ago, I spent an election night in a basement gymnasium in Manhattan, watching Hillary Clinton and her campaign advisers create an alternate reality.

It was June 3, 2008, and Barack Obama had just clinched the Democratic presidential nomination, making official a victory that had seemed inevitable for months. But Terry McAuliffe, then the campaign chairman and emcee of this Clinton “victory” party, recited a list of Clinton’s primary wins and introduced her as “the next president of the United States.”

Clinton, too, made no mention of her defeat, boasting that she had won “more votes than any primary candidate in history.”

Yet four days later, Clinton graciously bowed out of the race. In a concession speech at the National Building Museum in Washington, she said she and her supporters would “do all we can to help elect Barack Obama the next president of the United States.” Some in the hall booed but Clinton delivered her supporters to Obama in November.

Recalling this serene end to the bitter 2008 Democratic primary battle, I’m not inclined to join in all the hand-wringing about the damage Bernie Sanders is doing to Clinton’s chances in November by remaining in the race.

In fact, let him stay in and do the right thing:

It doesn’t matter if Sanders continues his candidacy until the last votes are cast in June. What matters is that he quits gracefully, and there should be every expectation he will, for a simple reason: Sanders is not a fool.

Sanders sounded like an extortionist Monday night when he answered a college student’s question about whether he would encourage his supporters to back Clinton if she secured the nomination. He said Clinton would have to earn their support by embracing single-payer health care, free college tuition and a carbon tax – all things Clinton rejected in her (successful) campaign against Sanders. “If Secretary Clinton wins it is incumbent upon her to [convince] millions of people who right now do not believe in establishment politics or establishment economics, who have serious misgivings about a candidate who has received millions of dollars from Wall Street,” he said.

But seconds later, the forum’s moderator, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, rephrased the question: “If it’s incumbent on her, what role do you have?” And Sanders gave a very different answer. “I will do everything in my power to make sure that no Republican gets into the White House in this election cycle,” he said.

But that may not have been a contradiction:

Sanders wants to exert maximum leverage to the very end to move Clinton toward his populist policies. But he is a practical man, and he certainly doesn’t wish to see a President Trump or President Cruz.

He is no fool, and even if he has suggested that Clinton was unqualified and in “Wall Street’s pocket” and so on, that hardly matters:

This just doesn’t qualify as ugly campaigning – particularly compared with a Republican race in which candidates have called each other liars and argued about genital size. Or compare it with the Obama-Clinton standoff of 2008 – a much closer contest than this one. At a May 31, 2008, meeting of the Democratic National Committee, the two campaigns clashed with accusations of cheating. There were hecklers, howls and foul language, and extra security had to be called in to keep order. At the time, Clinton aides, sounding much like this year’s Sanders aides, were threatening that Obama “has work to do” to convince Clinton backers to go his way.

But a week later, Clinton was out, and the party was on its way to unity.

And so it will happen this time. Sanders, when he quits the race, can justifiably declare victory in moving the debate – and Clinton – in his direction on trade, Wall Street, income inequality, campaign finance and energy. His campaign has exceeded all expectations, and he isn’t about to jeopardize his movement by handing the presidency to Trump.

Slate’s Jamelle Bouie extends that argument:

Team Sanders needs to give up on winning the nomination. That battle is over. But Sanders still has an unprecedented opportunity to leave a stamp on the Democratic Party. By fighting in remaining primaries and caucuses – by raising huge sums and drawing massive crowds – Sanders can show the extent to which his message resonates with millions of Democrats, including the young voters and activists poised to lead the party in the future. He shows, in other words, the extent to which the party belongs to his ideas, even if it doesn’t belong to him – a fact he can underscore with new polls showing a large leftward swing among millennial voters, and a similar swing among Democrats writ large.

He can now leave a legacy, if he tones things down: 

Sanders can shape the Democratic Party platform and win real concessions from the Clinton campaign, on everything from the shape and design of future primaries to actual policies.

But if Sanders wants to maximize that leverage, he needs to retool his message away from Hillary Clinton. As it stands, she’s still in his crosshairs. “This campaign is about taking on the entire establishment. The Democratic establishment, the financial establishment, and in Clinton’s campaign, the most powerful political organization in the United States of America,” said Sanders during a town hall interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes. Yes, Sanders plans to work against the Republican nominee for president, whoever he is. But in terms of his relationship with the Democratic Party, direct attacks on the standard-bearer – already bruised by a lengthy primary, and persistent questions of trustworthiness – don’t help. Indeed, for rank-and-file Democrats, they’re ammunition for the eventual Republican assault.

It may seem like useless theater to massage the feelings of the winning side, but it’s not. There’s strategy at work.

But it’s just a matter of being careful:

Any negotiations between Team Clinton and Team Sanders will be hard work, as the former tries to protect its turf and the latter tries to press its advantage. Sanders will come to the convention with strength, but as the loser, he’ll still be working from a position of weakness, not strength. Continued attacks on Clinton won’t change that. Instead, they’ll create enmity, and enmity is bad for negotiations. People dig in when they dislike each other. They don’t want to concede. Beyond that, Sanders’ leverage doesn’t come from his ability to criticize Hillary Clinton – anyone can do that – it comes from his ability to raise money and build enthusiasm. To paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt, he has a big stick in the form of his primary success. Now he needs to speak a little softly.

To win the most possible leverage, Sanders will have to return to his old rhetoric of ideas. And after years of official distance from the party, he will have to act like a loyal Democrat. This will be an uneasy posture for a lifelong gadfly. But the payoff – a Democratic Party bearing the Mark of the Bernie, with a full-on Sanders faction exerting pressure from the left – would be worth the price.

That’s how you create a lasting legacy in American politics.

In contrast, Salon’s Matthew Rozsa explains Trump’s legacy, with the seminal event that started all this:

It began almost exactly five years ago, at a moment when the most powerful people in the world literally laughed at him. Being humiliated on international television tends to become a defining moment, and for Trump it led to a personal quest that he prove himself not to be a joke. In his effort to do so, he has managed to drag much of the country down to his level.

The day was May 1, 2011. Halfway across the world, United States Navy SEALs were in the process of assassinating Osama bin Laden, but only a handful of the attendees at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner knew that. The politicians and celebrities had gathered at the so-called Nerd Prom to poke good-natured fun at the nation’s most powerful men and women – and, in particular, Donald Trump. Best known at that time as a self-promoting real estate mogul and reality TV star, Trump had briefly emerged as a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination by peddling a bizarre conspiracy theory that President Obama hadn’t been born in Hawaii. That night Obama responded to these claims by publicizing certified copies of his certificate of live birth (ironically accompanied by Rick Derringer’s “Real American”), then poked fun at Trump for everything from being a conspiracy theorist and his tacky tastes to hosting “Celebrity Apprentice.”

Trump smiled gamely at first, but by the time comedian Seth Meyers took over, his grin turned into a scowl. Meyers’ lobbed one grenade after another at Trump – his hair, his accent, his racism, his reputation as a vapid celebrity, nothing was spared. One particularly cruel line summed up the spirit of the evening: “Donald Trump has been saying he’ll run for president as a Republican, which is surprising, because I just thought he was running as a joke.”

That hurt, so Donald Trump methodically turned himself into a victim-hero, and sold that to a public that he told should feel victimized but were really heroes underneath it all:

Whereas the scandalized politicians of the past acted only on their own behalf, the derision to which Trump is subjected by its very nature extends to his supporters as well. That’s why they didn’t care that Meyers and Obama humiliated Trump five years ago, and why they won’t care what arrows the likes of John Oliver and Stephen Colbert can sling at him today.

The problem isn’t that the Americans who share Trump’s racism, sexism, xenophobia, and other prejudices don’t know that they are viewed as comical, but rather that they’ve responded by doubling-down on the qualities that cause them to be mocked. Thus the ease with which they’ve adopted Trump’s quest to be taken seriously as their own.

That worked like a charm, in the Hogwarts sense, where those “charmed” are suddenly befuddled, but that may have been a bad choice:

When Trump found himself a laughingstock in front of the world five years ago, he had a rare opportunity to reflect on his public persona and try, if he wanted, to become a better man. Instead he focused solely on his desire to be taken seriously. Certainly we should be able to agree that it’s dangerous to elect as president someone who can stoop to such depths in his thirst for validation. People get hurt when our culture deems it acceptable to promote racist conspiracy theories… or make generalizations about groups of people based on their gender, race, or religion. Just because every individual has a right to express these views, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be held socially accountable for doing so. When we laugh at those who peddle asininity and hate, we recognize that doing these things is a sign of poor character. Once the laughter stops – or, at least in this case, stops mattering – it will mean that we’ve become a dumber and more hateful society.

That too is a legacy – but things seem to be pretty much settled now. Hillary has this all but locked up. Bernie lost – but he will leave a legacy that will make things better for everyone. Trump has this all but locked up, and he has already left us a dumber and more hateful society, and then he will lose in November. Then he’ll go play golf at Turnberry – his fancy golf resort in Scotland – and wait for a desperate nation to beg him to return. He may wait a long time.

Posted in Hillary Locks Up Nomination, Trump Locks Up Nomination, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Final False Alarm

This is getting tiresome. On a quiet Sunday evening there was BIG NEWS in the mess that the Republican Party has become, and then, by noon on Monday, this turned out to be another false alarm:

The temporary alliance between Senator Ted Cruz and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, formed to deny Donald J. Trump the Republican presidential nomination, was already fraying almost to the point of irrelevance on Monday, only hours after it was announced to great fanfare.

With the pact, the two candidates agreed to cede forthcoming primary contests to each other. Mr. Kasich would, most crucially, stand down in Indiana’s primary on May 3 to give Mr. Cruz a better chance to defeat Mr. Trump there, while Mr. Cruz would leave Oregon and New Mexico to Mr. Kasich. It appeared to be a measure of last resort, but initially it seemed like a breakthrough.

Mr. Cruz trumpeted what he called the “big news” in Indiana, a state that appears pivotal to stopping Mr. Trump from winning a majority of delegates. “John Kasich has decided to pull out of Indiana to give us a head-to-head contest with Donald Trump,” he said.

But at his own campaign stop in Philadelphia on Monday, Mr. Kasich tamped down Mr. Cruz’s triumphalism. Voters in Indiana, Mr. Kasich said, “ought to vote for me,” even if he would not be campaigning publicly there. He added, “I don’t see this as any big deal.”

And that was that, because it was a dumb idea:

Under the best of circumstances, the arrangement between Mr. Cruz and Mr. Kasich would seem to be a long shot – more of an expedient to stop Mr. Trump from taking a big step toward winning the nomination next week in Indiana than a permanent joining of forces.

Far from forming any kind of unity ticket, Mr. Trump’s surviving challengers have both vowed to triumph in an open convention in Cleveland, and they remain irreconcilable on key matters of policy. Their agreement dealt only with three states, leaving an open question as to how directly they might compete with each other everywhere else.

But everywhere else was for later:

Even in Indiana, emerging as the most important state, the Cruz-Kasich pact appeared something less than decisive. While Mr. Kasich’s campaign canceled his public appearances in the state, the governor was still slated to visit Indianapolis on Tuesday for a fund-raising event at the Columbia Club. And he still had meetings scheduled with a series of Indiana Republicans, including Gov. Mike Pence, according to a leading Republican in the state.

Mr. Cruz’s campaign privately advised supporters on Sunday not to endorse tactical voting, whereby his supporters might switch their allegiance to Mr. Kasich in states where the Ohio governor is running stronger against Mr. Trump. “We never tell voters who to vote for,” read the suggested Cruz talking point. “We’re simply letting folks know where we will be focusing our time and resources.”

So what was this about? Who knew? The Donald pounced:

Mr. Trump, who has taunted his opponents throughout the race for their Keystone Cops approach to undermining his campaign, seemed to relish the continuing strain between his remaining rivals. On Twitter, he mocked “Lyin’ Ted Cruz” and “1 for 38 Kasich,” referring to the latter’s dismal winning record in the Republican race, for being unable to beat him on their own.

The Keystone Cops were those slapstick incompetent policemen featured in a long series of silent movies produced by Mack Sennett for his Keystone Film Company between 1912 and 1917 down the street here in Echo Park – some of the old studio is still there – and their slapstick spirit lives on:

Mr. Cruz said the agreement was aimed at empowering anti-Trump voters against the front-runner, denying that the effort to stop Mr. Trump was subverting the will of the people. “This is entirely about the will of the people,” he said. “This is about winning the votes of the Hoosier State.”

Mr. Kasich, in Pennsylvania, grew quickly agitated at the suggestion that his deal with Mr. Cruz reflected desperation.

“Me? No, I’m not desperate – are you?” he asked a reporter. “Are you desperate?”

And this isn’t a vaudeville act? It must be, but the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson sees something that might work:

I don’t know, maybe a hurricane will dishevel Trump’s comb-over and reveal his bald pate, causing such mortification that he quits the race. Or maybe there will be an earthquake next week in Indiana, affecting only precincts where Trump has a lead.

There’s that, but this particular lame-brain plan won’t work:

The Cruz-Kasich pact comes at the 13th hour. Its announcement Sunday seemed orchestrated to distract attention from the fact that Trump is expected to sweep five more primaries Tuesday – in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut and Rhode Island – making a contested GOP convention even less likely.

That Cruz and Kasich have joined forces merely illustrates what a paper tiger the “Never Trump” movement has been. Trump is right – I hate when I have to write those words – to call the arrangement an “act of desperation” by two candidates who are “mathematically dead” in the quest for a majority of delegates.

This whole thing is, in fact, mathematically dead:

Cruz and Kasich would like everyone to look past the five “Acela corridor” states that vote Tuesday. But a total of 172 delegates are at stake in those contests; for comparison, that’s the same number that will be up for grabs in California on June 7. If Trump performs as well this week as polls suggest, his path to the nomination begins to look more like a cruise than a scramble.

Not so fast, the Cruz camp claims. It all supposedly comes down to Indiana, which votes May 3 and will award 57 delegates. If Cruz can win all or most of them, he says, Trump will no longer be able to reach 1,237. The nomination would be decided on the convention floor, where Cruz’s superior inside game would win the day. …

But this scenario is full of holes. For one thing, the RealClearPolitics poll average gives Trump a solid lead over Cruz in Indiana, 39 percent to 33 percent. And a Fox News poll last week showed that even with Kasich out of the race, Trump would still have a narrow lead, 44 percent to 42 percent.

That can hardly be called great news for Cruz, who needs to win blowouts, not squeakers. And even if he managed to come away with almost all of Indiana’s delegates, Cruz still would not have a realistic path to a majority. Trump, by contrast, would.

And then there are California and New Jersey:

Cruz and Kasich would still be campaigning independently and presumably splitting the anti-Trump vote. This could change, I suppose – Cruz and Kasich could theoretically agree to target different congressional districts in California, for example. But come on. Both candidates have trouble getting across the message “Vote for me.” I seriously doubt they’ll do better with “You over here vote for me. You over there, vote for this other guy, even if you don’t want him to win.”

Yes, that is as absurd as it sounds, for good reason:

The whole “Never Trump” thing is more like “Pretty Please Not Trump.” Establishment Republicans wring their hands, beat their breasts and wail about how awful Trump is, how uncouth, how unacceptable as the presidential candidate of the party of Lincoln – and then, when pressed, meekly say they’ll support him if he’s the nominee.

What are voters to think? Perhaps that career politicians speak out of both sides of their mouths. Perhaps that Trump is right when he claims an effort is underway to “steal” a nomination he is winning fair and square.

Let’s be honest: So far, Trump has run circles around his more experienced rivals. Why does anyone think this will suddenly change?

Slate’s Jamelle Bouie agrees, with less snark:

The great weakness of this scheme is that it’s delusional, full stop. And the extent to which it’s delusional is easy to understand. If we’ve learned anything watching Republicans battle for their party nomination, it’s that many Republican voters support Trump, and most (or at least a large plurality) would accept him as standard-bearer for the party. Trump is poised for victory Tuesday in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island, as well as subsequent primaries in West Virginia, New Jersey, and California. More broadly, Trump has nearly 50-percent support among Republicans nationwide and is the second choice for voters in both the Cruz and Kasich camps. According to a national survey from Quinnipiac University conducted before the Wisconsin primary, Trump would win in a two-man race against either candidate.

That’s the whole point:

Technically, presidential primaries aren’t elections as much as they are intraparty deliberations: a complicated set of rules, procedures, and contests meant to help a party decide on a nominee. Democracy, or at least majoritarianism, isn’t the point.

At the same time, it has been decades since we haven’t had a majoritarian primary. For most people, that is how this works – the candidate with the most votes wins, like in any other election. It is why, when asked, more than 60 percent of Republican voters say that in the event that no candidate hits the threshold for delegates, the person with the most votes should be the nominee, rather than the person judged the best standard-bearer for the party. To do otherwise is to challenge a basic intuition about how the process works; it’s to ignore the public’s democratic faith. (It’s also why “superdelegates” were an object of controversy in the Democratic primary. Voters hated the idea that elites could choose a winner rather than leave the process to them.)

Cruz and Kasich might well outmaneuver Trump and keep him from his magic number with wins in Indiana, New Mexico, and Oregon, even as the bumbling start to their nonaggression pact has left them looking more like the Superior Foes of the Donald than actual competitors. But it won’t matter either way. Whether he gets to 1,237 or not Trump has an unbeatable advantage – democratic legitimacy. And if Republican leaders try to take the nomination from his hands, he’ll have a powerful rallying cry: They’re trying to steal your vote.

There are arcane party rules that allow that, but they don’t matter now:

To take the nomination from the candidate with the most votes is to tell ordinary Republicans that their ballots don’t matter – that the will of elites outweighs the will of the voters. That many of those elites are elected officials – and themselves accountable to voters – doesn’t matter; that they might make a good choice doesn’t matter, either. What matters is the widespread belief that votes count and that voters have the final say on the choice of nominee. Ignoring this belief wouldn’t just confirm every possible critique of “the establishment” – it would tear the party apart.

That’s because, obviously, the #NeverTrump people waited too long:

By waiting until Trump had won to unleash attacks and coordinate efforts, they also lost their shot to influence voters and amass the votes needed to challenge Trump at the convention with at least a patina of democratic legitimacy. That might have worked.

Instead, they’re left with the worst possible outcome. Trump holds all the cards – he’s all but the winner. Cruz and Kasich and GOP elites can play grab-ass as much as they’d like. The simple fact is that, now, the Republican Party belongs to Trump.

That may be so, and Matthew Yglesias argues that the Cruz-Kasich alliance can’t work because nobody will make the only anti-Trump argument that matters:

One good reason a Ted Cruz supporter might have for tactically voting Kasich in order to block Trump from securing the nomination would be that Trump is manifestly unfit to serve as president – he’s ignorant of policy, he flames racial resentment, and he’s given multiple indications that he would wield power in a violent and lawless manner.

This is a perfectly good basis for ideologically motivated Republicans to back an ideologically hostile figure in pursuit of the greater good of stopping Trump.

The problem is that it’s also a perfectly good reason for Republicans to back Hillary Clinton in November in pursuit of the greater good of stopping Trump.

And that’s the bridge nobody in the leadership of the Republican Party has yet been willing to cross.

If you really truly and honestly and sincerely believe Trump must be stopped, and you take even the most casual glance at the math, Hillary is your only hope, which they really should admit:

It’s completely understandable that people in GOP circles don’t want to say they will betray the party’s likely nominee in order to support a Democrat in the general election. But if you believe Trump is unfit for the presidency, that’s the only reasonable course of action. And belief that Trump is unfit for the presidency is, at this moment, the only viable basis for an anti-Trump coalition.

Their own logic traps them, but Amanda Marcotte argues that logic isn’t their strong suit:

The Cruz/Kasich plan is something that could only be hatched by people whose confidence in their own cleverness is completely unmoored from any real world evidence for it. The idea is that, at this late stage in the game, each of them will “throw” certain states to the other through the magic of not doing local campaigning for a week. Kasich promises not to campaign in Indiana anymore and Cruz will, in exchange, not campaign in Oregon and New Mexico.

And… that’s it. They aren’t withdrawing their names from the ballot. Nor are their campaigns sending out messages to voters to vote for the other guy. The hope is that by Kasich simply removing himself from the campaign trail in Indiana for a whole week, the voters who were planning to go for him will beat feet to Cruz, edging him over Trump, who is currently in the lead in the winner-takes-most state. Brilliant plan, guys. Really top notch. It will be a total surprise when voters, completely unaware or indifferent to this plan, just vote for who they want and Trump wins anyway.

Plus, the whole move shows that Kasich and Cruz have no understanding of the conservative base they’re trying to woo. These are folks who have heard for decades now that they are the victims of some great elite conspiracy to rob them of their right to control the country. Trump has already plugged himself into that narrative, telling Republican voters that there is a conspiracy to deprive him of the nomination and, through that, deprive the voters of their right to choose the nominee.

So Trump wins there:

This move shows he’s not paranoid at all, because there is, in fact, a conspiracy to deprive him of the nomination and, by virtue of that, deprive the voters of their right to pick the nominee through majority rule. Trump is already getting a poll boost from telling voters that the elites are out to get him. What’s going to happen now that the conspiracy has been proven real?

In short, this is a Mack Sennett clown show:

Trump is not a brilliant politician. He’s not a savant whose genius instincts stomp all over any effort by experienced politician to stop him. He’s a man who got really, really lucky, in that he made a run for president against a field that was so overstuffed with incompetents that he looks like a genius in comparison. This latest brilliant plan from Kasich and Cruz highlights that. He’s not so much winning anymore as these fools are losing.

Moreover, the whole thing is a symptom of what is a deeper problem for the Republicans, which is a total inability to get competent people into the upper echelons of leadership. It’s comical to consider all the chatter last summer about the “deep bench” the party had to offer in the Republican nomination contest, as the over a dozen people who threw their hat into the ring turned out to be an embarrassment. The Republican Party is stuffed to the gills with people who think they are smart and capable, sure, but is mostly empty when it comes to those who have accurate self-assessment.

Marcotte then argues that this extends beyond, or below, those Republicans who are running for president: 

It wasn’t that long ago that the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives hit a crisis point because they were so incapable of securing a speaker of the house that had some capacity to do the actual job. John Boehner wasn’t anyone’s idea of an effective leader, but compared to those who were on offer to replace him, he seemed downright adequate.

Things have gotten so bad on that front that Paul Ryan, who had failed at his state of the union response and in his vice presidential run, got the red carpet treatment when he finally stepped into the role.

She then points to Ed Kilgore explaining how that worked out – “He famously cannot get a budget resolution passed. He’s done nothing on the list of priorities he announced when he took up the gavel. But beyond those failures, he can’t even deal with emergencies, including the Puerto Rico debt crisis, the Zika crisis, the Flint water-poisoning disaster, and the opioid epidemic.”


This isn’t about Ryan having different ideological views or priorities that liberals would prefer. This is just a matter of competence, and Ryan does not have it – which isn’t too surprising, since he’s in the same party that is literally treating Cruz, a man who is so bad at being a politician he has managed to offend nearly everyone who should be his ally in D.C., like he’s the professional alternative to Trump. The Republicans would do better offering a bag of rice as the #NeverTrump alternative. It may not be much to look at but it’s white and it’s not as creepy as Cruz, giving it a better shot at winning conservative voters over.

But they asked for it:

This competence problem in leadership for the Republicans is a direct result of the many decades the party has spent prioritizing right wing radicalism. The minimum entrance requirements to be a powerful Republican have become increasingly incompatible with the skills needed to be an effective leader. Republicans are expected to be right wing ideologues of the most hardcore sort, which means believing in global warming denialist conspiracy theories, regarding Ayn Rand as a great intellectual, and arguing that the best way to fight poverty is embrace policies that exacerbate income inequality – which isn’t to say that conservatives are stupid – that’s trite and essentially meaningless.

No, the real problem is that conservatives have made a rejection of reality a basic requirement to hold office as a Republican, especially high up offices that have significant amounts of power. Being good at denying reality, alas, isn’t very compatible with dealing with reality.

That’s a bit harsh, but no more harsh than what Bruce Bartlett, a former official in the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations, has to say. Simon Maloy interviews him, and asks him why the hell he voted for Donald Trump in the Virginia primary, and Bartlett says that was a strategic decision:

I think the Republican Party is sick. It’s dying, it just doesn’t know it. And I think anything that speeds up its demise is to the good, because then it can reinvent itself and return as something healthy. Or you could use an addiction metaphor, where people have to hit bottom so that they can reach out and ask for help before they can cure themselves. I think that Trump is a symptom of a disease of rampant stupidity, pandering to morons and bigots and racists and all the sort of stuff that defines today’s Republican coalition. And I just think it’s awful. It’s terrible for the country in a great many ways that I don’t need to tell you. And I think that we need to have a healthy two-party system. We need to have a sane, functioning conservative party and a sane, functioning liberal party. And I think that half of that equation, at least, is not working, and it affects the other half.

So I think it’s just bad for the country. So I think that giving Trump the nomination is the surest path to complete and total destruction of the Republican Party as we know it. And I look forward to him getting the nomination for that reason. I think he will have a historic loss. I think he may well bring in a Democratic Senate. But more importantly, my hope is, at least, that he will lead to a really serious assessment of the problems of the Republican Party, and lead to some opening of thought, opening of discussion, conversation among groups that have been sidelined for quite a long time – mainly moderates and people of that sort who have been just pushed to the sidelines in favor of ever more rabid, nonsensical, right-wing authoritarianism.

Are there any of those left? Bartlett thinks so:

Party loyalty and tribal loyalty are very, very intense inside the Republican coalition, and I think what you’ll get is a lot of pro-forma endorsements of Trump. But very, very few people will actually do any work to help him get elected. You’re not going to see people going around knocking on doors and putting up signs and bumper stickers and stuff like that that is very important in terms of turnout on Election Day.

I think the regular Republican Party machine will do everything it can to help its House and Senate candidates. Mitch McConnell has already told Republican senators that they are free to run anti-Trump ads if they think that’s what will help them survive. And I think they’ll simply concentrate all their efforts on keeping the House and Senate, and maybe that will be enough. I don’t know.

One can hope. As for the Cruz-Kasich alliance, abandon hope. This was just one more false alarm. Perhaps it was the last false alarm. Even Mack Sennett stopped making Keystone Cops movies when he ran out of nutty ideas – or when the audience got bored by it all.

Posted in Cruz-Kasich Alliance, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

In the Land of Smug

It’s good to know you were right all along. You don’t have to say anything. Just smile. Those who mocked you will fall silent and just slink away, in shame of course. In March 2003, on Good Morning America, Bill O’Reilly said this about those weapons of mass destruction in Iraq – “If the Americans go in and overthrow Saddam Hussein and it’s clean, he has nothing, I will apologize to the nation, and I will not trust the Bush administration again.”

Cool. And a year after the invasion that led to this:

O’Reilly, who has the top-rated political talk show on cable news, was confronted on ABC’s “Good Morning America” about his statement before the Iraq war that if Saddam Hussein is overthrown and there were no such weapons found, he’d apologize to the nation.

“Well, my analysis was wrong and I’m sorry,” O’Reilly said.

“I am much more skeptical of the Bush administration now than I was at the time,” he added…

“I don’t think there’s any doubt about that George W. Bush wanted to remove Saddam,” he said. “And in history, I believe that will be a good thing … But I think every American should be very concerned, for their families and themselves, that our intelligence isn’t as good as it should be.”

Ah, this was not the fault of George Bush per se – it was the damned intelligence community – but he was pressed on what he had said about an apology to the nation. What’s this stuff about Bush being fooled by the dastardly intelligence community? Was he apologizing to America, as he promised, or wasn’t he? And that’s when he got really angry:

“I just said it,” he told [the host Charles] Gibson. “What do you want me to do? Go over and kiss the camera?”

Well yes, Bill, we do. Many of us were told we’d be awfully embarrassed when the United States found those weapons of mass destruction, which were obviously there. We’d been mocked – or told we were French, or worse – we were on the side of the terrorists, which made us terrorists too. Yeah, right – kiss the camera, Bill. He had been so smug. Now it was our turn. And it was sweet.

Moments like that don’t come along often, but another one just came along:

Charles Koch says he won’t “put a penny” into trying to stop Donald Trump, that there are “terrible role models” among the remaining Republican presidential candidates, and that his massive political network may decide to sit out of the presidential race entirely.

“These personal attacks and pitting one person against the other – that’s the message you’re sending the country,” Koch said in an exclusive interview with ABC News that aired Sunday. “You’re role models and you’re terrible role models. So how – I don’t know how we could support ’em.”

The billionaire CEO of Koch Industries and one of the most powerful and controversial figures in politics said he and his brother David Koch have also turned down pleas to join the “Never Trump” movement, which aims to deny the real estate mogul the nomination.

Instead Koch said he and his brother plan to stay out of the party’s nomination fight.

The two men who have bankrolled the Republican takeover of more than half of all state governments and the House and Senate just said that the only two men who now can possibly be the Republican nominee for president are, well, just awful people:

Koch, author of the book “Good Profit,” said he would only consider contributing to either Trump or Cruz if they backtrack on some of their most controversial promises. That includes one of Cruz’s favorite lines of his campaign stump speech – to carpet bomb ISIS in the Middle East and “make the sand glow.”

“That’s gotta be hyperbole, but I mean that a candidate – whether they believe it or not – would think that appeals to the American people,” Koch said. “This is frightening.”

Koch also slammed Trump’s rhetoric towards Muslims, saying his proposal of a temporary travel ban was “antithetical.”

“What was worse was this ‘we’ll have them all registered,'” Koch said. “That’s reminiscent of Nazi Germany. I mean – that’s monstrous as I said at the time.”

One calls for indiscriminate genocide and the other is a Nazi – that won’t do – and then there was this:

Koch went so far as to say the GOP nightmare of another Clinton presidency might be a better alternative to the remaining Republican candidates at this point.

“It’s possible,” he said.

No one expected that. The Koch brothers just said that Hillary Clinton would be far better than Trump or Cruz, the only two alternatives the Republicans have left to offer us now, and said that on national television? It seems so, which created another smug told-ya-so moment for the left, when such moments are few and far between. Cool. It’s good to know you were right all along, and then the woman they’d reluctantly trust with the country rubbed their noses in it:

Hillary Clinton may make a better president than any of the Republicans vying for the job, according to billionaire Charles Koch, but the Democrat wasn’t thrilled that she could be a new favorite of the conservative mega-donor.

“Not interested in endorsements from people who deny climate science and try to make it harder for people to vote,” Clinton said on Twitter after Koch’s comment…

Why make it easy on them? Charlie Gibson didn’t make it easy on Bill O’Reilly all those years ago, but there’s a danger in this. No one’s mind is really changed. Things don’t work that way. Those who think that Donald Trump is wonderful will continue to think he’s wonderful, and at The Fix, Callum Borchers explains why:

The billionaire has said things no politician would say about his fidelity and repeatedly betrayed his lack of understanding on subjects ranging from federal spending to the nuclear triad. This is all well-documented. But his supporters are unfazed by the same kind of media coverage that dooms other candidates. There must be something about why Trump lovers mistrust the media that makes them react to negative reports differently than voters typically do.

Here’s a theory: Trump backers feel personally offended by coverage that suggests they must be stupid to support him. Insulted, they refuse to accept information presented by media outlets that disrespect them.

Think about it: When someone calls you an idiot, then tells you what to do (or not do), do you listen? Even if the instructions are sound, your wounded brain is inclined to tune them out and go the opposite direction.

Borchers says that can be documented:

A study published this week by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the American Press Institute suggests that insulting news consumers is indeed a major problem. In a survey of more than 2,000 people, 38 percent said “yes” when asked, “Have you ever had an experience with a news-and-information source that made you trust it less for any reason?”

What were the reasons? Factual errors and perceived biases were the top answers. No surprise there. But the third-biggest cause of diminished trust – cited by 24 percent of those who have had a bad experience – was finding “something about the content personally offensive.”

People are less receptive to new information when they are offended. That was one of the key findings of a 2013 study by communication scientists at the University of Wisconsin. Researchers tested the effect of “uncivil” reader comments appended to online articles – remarks like, “You must be dumb if you think X.”

“The results were both surprising and disturbing,” study co-authors Dominique Brossard and Dietram A. Scheufele wrote in a summary published by the New York Times. “Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.”

They called this phenomenon the “nasty effect.”

Borchers explains how that works:

Now, for the most part, news outlets don’t explicitly say Trump supporters are morons. (Though the Huffington Post recently diagnosed a new “syndrome” known as STUPID: Support for Trump’s Unreal Policies Infecting the Dumb. But that was an exception. And it was a joke. I think.)

More common are stories that cite the low education levels of many Trump backers. As I’ve noted before, such articles have referred to Trump voters as “downscale,” “relatively ignorant” and “uninformed.”

There are subtle digs, too. Reports that characterize Trump as a “con artist” – one of Marco Rubio’s favorite labels for the real estate magnate – also imply something about his fans. After all, who falls for a con? Gullible dopes, of course.

And how many times have journalists (including this one) written some variation of this sentence? “Trump’s latest misstep should erode his base of support, but it probably won’t.”

What we mean is that Trump defies the laws of political gravity, leading polls and winning primaries despite conduct that would sink other candidates. It’s impressive – and a big reason he’s such an interesting figure. But it’s easy to see how such statements could be interpreted differently…

And now the Koch brothers are implicitly calling these folks morons or, at best, gullible fools. Why would what those two say, about Trump and Cruz being so obviously awful, make any difference to them at all? Everyone hates a smug bastard, or in this case two of them, but there’s smugness all around – more than enough for everyone – and there really may be more smugness on the left.

That’s what Emmett Rensin explores in The Smug Style in American Liberalism:

By the 1990s the better part of the working class wanted nothing to do with the word liberal. What remained of the American progressive elite was left to puzzle: What happened to our coalition? Why did they abandon us?

The smug style arose to answer these questions. It provided an answer so simple and so emotionally satisfying that its success was perhaps inevitable… The trouble is that stupid hicks don’t know what’s good for them. They’re getting conned by right-wingers and tent revivalists until they believe all the lies that’ve made them so wrong. They don’t know any better. That’s why they’re voting against their own self-interest…

It began in humor, and culminated for a time in The Daily Show, a program that more than any other thing advanced the idea that liberal orthodoxy was a kind of educated savvy… The internet only made it worse. Today, a liberal who finds himself troubled by the currents of contemporary political life need look no further than his Facebook newsfeed to find the explanation…

NPR listeners are best informed of all. He likes that…

Liberals aren’t just better informed. They’re smarter…

They’ve got better grammar. They know more words…

Liberals are better able to process new information; they’re less biased like that. They’ve got different brains. Better ones. Why? Evolution. They’ve got better brains, top-notch amygdalae, science finds…

Yep, all that stuff gets passed around by like-minded people on Facebook, but there are lots of smug jerks out there. Still, something is going on. But Slate’s Jamelle Bouie is not impressed:

Where does it come from? Rensin ties it to a demographic shift. Where once the Democrats were a working-class party they’re now dominated by the professional and academic classes – “A movement once fleshed out in union halls and little magazines shifted into universities and major press, from the center of the country to its cities and elite enclaves,” writes Rensin. And he suggests that the smug style is one reason the working class, and the white one in particular, has kept its distance from the Democratic Party: “Finding comfort in the notion that their former allies were disdainful, hapless rubes, smug liberals created a culture animated by that contempt. The rubes noticed and replied in kind.”

It’s a comprehensive case. It’s a full-throated case. And it’s informed by a tradition of intra-left criticism of liberal elites, much of it fair and often needed. But it’s wrong.

 The argument has fatal flaws:

The first is just history. That liberal smugness might deter the white working class from the Democratic Party seems reasonable, if unfalsifiable. But to suggest that it is a prime mover in their alienation from the party is to ignore the actual dynamics at work. The driving reason working-class whites abandoned the Democratic Party is race. The New Deal coalition Rensin describes was devoured by its own contradictions, chiefly, the racism needed to secure white allegiance even as the party tried to appeal to blacks.

Pressed by those blacks, Democrats tried to make good on their commitments, and when they did, whites bolted. The Democratic Party’s alliance with nonwhites is what drove those whites away, not the sniffing of comedians on cable television. And, looking at the politics of the last seven years, it’s still keeping them away. (It’s worth noting that, up until left-leaning whites and minorities elected Barack Obama president, Democrats suffered little loss with working-class whites outside of the South.)

But of course smug liberals do exist:

It’s incontestable. (I’ve complained about them myself.) But Rensin doesn’t argue for the mere existence of liberals who are smug about their beliefs and ideology. He argues that smugness is the key to contemporary liberalism. That it’s all but a plank of today’s Democratic Party.

But his evidence is lacking. “The smug style in American liberalism” is defined entirely through media and social media. It is The Daily Show, it is liberal Twitter, it is Gawker… But these are small portions – fractions – of the Democratic Party. And they’re far from representative of American liberals.

Take The Daily Show. Under Jon Stewart, the show hit its ratings peak in 2012 during the presidential election. Its viewership in the last quarter of the year? Roughly 1.7 million viewers per episode. By the time Stewart left, The Daily Show pulled daily numbers of 1.15 to 3 million viewers. As Harry Enten notes for FiveThirtyEight, even if you include online viewers, you have a modest total of 1.5 million viewers daily. By contrast, Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show was seen by an average of 3.7 million people in the last quarter of 2014.

Who are The Daily Show’s viewers? According to a 2012 study, 40 percent held college degrees, compared with 25 percent of all news consumers. Similarly, 40 percent made more than $75,000 a year, compared with 26 percent of all news consumers.

Maybe this represents an important liberal constituency – an integral part of the Democratic Party. Or maybe it’s a minor and unrepresentative group of affluent people, likely clustered in a few major cities like New York City and Los Angeles. You can say the same for liberal users on Twitter (just a small minority of people use Twitter to talk about politics) and Gawker readers and perhaps even people who write for websites like Vox and Slate.

Rensin seems to know this. He even tries to address it. “The Daily Show, as it happens, is not the private entertainment of elites blowing off some steam. It is broadcast on national television,” he writes. “Twitter isn’t private. Not that anybody with the sickest burn to accompany the smartest chart would want it to be.”

This isn’t persuasive. The Daily Show might punch above its weight but it’s still at base a late-night comedy and talk show. It influences “the conversation” but doesn’t constitute it.

That may be nitpicking, but there’s also this:

Affluent, college-educated liberals are just part of the Democratic Party. A substantial plurality of the party comprises nonwhites, spread throughout the country, and integral to its national and regional political victories (those liberals can’t win without them). Even if you limit this to the nonwhites who voted for Barack Obama in 2012, it dwarfs the number of people who could possibly participate in the smug liberal culture Rensin describes. Many of them – middle-aged and working-class – likely aren’t even aware it exists.

Rensin tries to deal with this fact. At the beginning of the essay, he acknowledges minority voters as part of the Democratic coalition but asserts that “bereft of the material and social capital required to dominate elite decision making, they were largely excluded from an agenda driven by the New Democratic core: the educated, the coastal, and the professional.”

Later, he writes, “The Democratic coalition in the 21st century is bifurcated: It has the postgraduates, but it has the disenfranchised urban poor as well, a group better defined by race and immigration status than by class.” This is supposed to be a rejoinder – “Elite liberalism, and the Democratic Party by extension cannot hate poor people, they say!” he writes – but it’s not.

Rensin doesn’t seem aware, for instance, of the partnerships between black and white Democrats in the South that delivered a measure of investment in public goods through the 1970s, ’80s, and early ’90s – until racial resentment helped kill the white Southern Democrat as a political figure. He seems blind to the ways in which Hispanics of all classes became a powerful force in California, shaping the state’s politics in profound ways. Somehow, he’s missed the extent to which nonwhite voters in the Obama era have become premier coalition members, moving Obama on everything from criminal justice reform to immigration. It is too much to say that nonwhite Democrats fully shape the party’s agenda. But a quick survey of recent history shows, clearly, that they’re prime partners in power.

Missing from his description of the supposedly “bifurcated” Democratic coalition are the millions of blacks, Latinos, and Asian Americans – the large majority of each group, in fact – that aren’t the “disenfranchised urban poor.” Somehow, Latino military families in Hampton Roads, Virginia, black suburbanites in Atlanta, and Asian American entrepreneurs in Seattle have vanished – subsumed instead in a single, teeming, and undifferentiated mass.

Too many folks are left out, so finally there’s this:

Rensin wants to condemn “elite liberalism” and the Democratic Party as an institution. But he misses the huge degree to which his vantage point on American liberalism isn’t the vantage point. Depending on where and who you are, liberalism looks different, both as politics and culture.

This is blinkered. And the result is an essay that doesn’t criticize “liberalism” so much as it positions Rensin against other members of his cultural cohort. It’s what you might write if you’ve mistaken the consumption habits and shibboleths of your tribe for a politics that drives one of two major political parties in a democracy of over 300 million people, if you’re convinced of your own centrality to the currents in American history. I can think of a word for that.

Yeah, Bouie may be a bit defensive here, but Rensin is one smug bastard here too, and Kevin Drum thinks Rensin is using the wrong term:

There’s some smugness in there, sure, but I’d call it plain old condescension. We’re convinced that conservatives, especially working class conservatives, are just dumb. Smug suggests only a supreme confidence that we’re right – but conservative elites also believe they’re right, and they believe it as much as we do. The difference is that, generally speaking, they’re less condescending about it.

Everyone, however, thinks they’re right:

This isn’t smugness. It’s outrage, or hypocrisy, or standard issue partisanship. And as plenty of people have pointed out, outrage sells on the right, but for some reason, not on the left. We prefer mockery. So they get Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly, while we get Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart.

So on one side you get this:

You can find a good example in conservative criticism of political correctness on college campuses: trigger warnings, safe spaces, shouting down speakers, etc. They’re infuriated by this. They think college kids are cosseted by their administrations; can’t stand to be disagreed with; and have no respect for the First Amendment. But they’re not usually smug or condescending about it – most of the time they’re scornful and outraged.

Generally speaking, elite conservatives think liberals are ignorant of basic truths: Econ 101; the work-sapping impact of welfare dependence; the value of traditional culture; the obvious dangers of the world that surrounds us. For working-class conservatives it’s worse: they’re just baffled by it all. They’re made to feel guilty about everything that’s any fun: college football for exploiting kids; pro football for maiming its players; SUVs for destroying the climate; living in the suburbs for being implicitly racist. If they try to argue, they’re accused of mansplaining or straightsplaining or whitesplaining. If they put a wrong word out of place, they’re slut shaming or fat shaming. Who the hell talks like that? They think it’s just crazy. Why do they have to put up with all this condescending gibberish from twenty-something liberals? What’s wrong with the values they grew up with?

So liberals and conservatives have different styles.

And that may be the real problem here:

Outrage doesn’t persuade liberals and mockery doesn’t persuade conservatives. If you’re writing something for your own side, as I am here most of the time, there’s no harm done. The problem is that mass media – and the internet in particular – makes it very hard to tailor our messages. Conservative outrage and liberal snark are heard by everyone, including the persuadable centrist types that we might actually want to persuade.

So no one is persuaded. Everyone gets to be smug. Bill O’Reilly gives a smug apology he doesn’t even mean. Thirteen years later the Koch brothers throw up their hands and, by default, endorse Hillary Clinton, and every left-liberal-progressive-Democrat feels justifiably smug – except that won’t make any difference at all. Those who love Trump are smug in their support of him – they don’t need the rich and “thoughtful” to tell them they’re morons. Implicit insults only anger them. Everyone is locked in. Everyone is locked in the land of smug. And, as they say, that’s why we can’t have nice things.

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The Two Hollywoods

Strange things happen out here in Hollywood. We’re used to that. Walk down Hollywood Boulevard – you’ll see – but Rory Carroll reports something even stranger, as it seems a secretive group of Hollywood conservatives suddenly dissolved:

The Friends of Abe has acted as a clandestine club for Hollywood conservatives for more than a decade, hosting secret events where they could vent rightwing views and hear speeches from visiting Tea Party luminaries.

But on Thursday the organisation – which counts Jon Voight, Jerry Bruckheimer and Kelsey Grammer among its 1,500 members – made an abrupt announcement: it was dissolving.

No one expected that, not even these Friends of Abe, but it had to happen:

The announcement caught members by surprise and fueled speculation that infighting over Donald Trump’s candidacy, among other factors, had drained commitment. Others said the group had been losing steam for years.

Instead of electrifying the organisation, California’s 7 June primary, a final and potentially decisive showdown between Trump and his GOP rivals Ted Cruz and John Kasich, appeared to frazzle it.

Lionel Chetwynd, a producer and screenwriter and co-founder of the FOA, recently spoke of the primary campaign causing a “civil war in slow motion”, which fractured friendships and shredded solidarity.

These guys know that Donald Trump is a buffoon and Ted Cruz is a mean little self-righteous evangelical with a vindictive streak, who organized the last government shutdown that turned the whole nation against the Republicans and accomplished nothing at all, so they were running out of options:

Formed in 2005, high-profile supporters include Clint Eastwood, Gary Sinise and Patricia Heaton, who played Debra Barone in the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond. The group, named after Abraham Lincoln, swore members to secrecy by adopting a line from the film Fight Club: the first rule of the Friends of Abe is you do not talk about the Friends of Abe.

In addition to Trump and Cruz, the group hosted the likes of Antonin Scalia, Dick Cheney, John Boehner and Rush Limbaugh at venues around Los Angeles, including the Reagan library, the Luxe Hotel and the Bistro Garden.

It became more widely known – and a rallying point for Republicans – when news leaked in 2014 that the Internal Revenue Service was investigating the group in connection with its application for tax-exempt status. The IRS subsequently granted the status.

They finally did get their tax-exempt status, which was way cool, but now Scalia is dead, and John Boehner was ousted as House speaker and has quit congress to do whatever retired people do in southern Ohio, and Dick Cheney a has-been, and that leaves Trump and Cruz and Limbaugh. No, thanks anyway – which the blogger BooMan puts this way – “What’s really happened is that every excuse has been stripped away, and people can’t look themselves in the mirror anymore.”

There’s no fixing this, except in the other town named Hollywood, the one in Florida, there was a fix in the works, according to the Associated Press:

Donald Trump’s chief lieutenants told skeptical Republican leaders Thursday that the GOP front-runner has been “projecting an image” so far in the 2016 primary season and “the part that he’s been playing is now evolving” in a way that will improve his standing among general election voters.

The message, delivered behind closed doors in a private briefing, is part of the campaign’s intensifying effort to convince party leaders Trump will moderate his tone in the coming months to help deliver big electoral gains this fall…

That item was also picked up by the New York Times:

Donald J. Trump’s newly installed campaign chief sought to assure members of the Republican National Committee on Thursday night that Mr. Trump recognized the need to reshape his persona and that his campaign would begin working with the political establishment that he has scorned to great effect.

This Hollywood makeover was also reported by the Washington Post:

Trump’s chief strategist Paul Manafort told members of the Republican National Committee in a closed-door briefing here Thursday afternoon that his candidate has been playing a “part” on the campaign trail, but is starting to pivot toward presenting a more businesslike and presidential “persona.”

“He gets it,” Manafort told RNC members.

The folks in the Hollywood out here should feel comforted. The guy was only playing a part – that’s what people do out here for a living. And now he’ll simply play another part, which is how Bloomberg News puts it:

Outsider candidate Donald Trump sent emissaries to soothe tensions with the GOP’s pre-eminent insiders Thursday, and tried to convince them that his bombastic demeanor is merely stagecraft, that his high negatives in the polls can be overcome, and that if he’s the nominee, he’ll raise money for the party and help the Republicans locally and nationally to win elections.

The key word is stagecraft, which is also how this was staged – “The Associated Press obtained a recording of the closed-door exchange.” They got a scoop! Well, maybe they didn’t – “Mr. Manafort’s comments were made behind closed doors, which were guarded by security. But a person in attendance taped the speech and shared the recording with The New York Times.”

That’s very clever, like a scene from Citizen Kane or something, and Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog thinks he sees the clever strategy:

There’s some skepticism in these reports, but the message is that everything will be fine and dandy and just be politics as usual if Trump is the nominee, so the press doesn’t haven’t to do hand-wringing coverage about the hijacking of the Republican Party by a dangerous barbarian. (Even after all these months of Trump, much of the press still hasn’t been able to bring itself to say that the rot is within the GOP and conservative movement, but never mind.)

Trump’s new Main Man played the press like a fiddle, but then he didn’t fool the hyper-conservative Erick Erickson – “This is an admission against interest that Trump has been lying to the American people and his supporters.”

He also didn’t fool Legal Insurrection’s William Jacobson:

Trump is playing his core supporters, knows he can’t win a national election with his current message, and is planning to change characters mid-play to soothe the GOP elites he rails against to get you worked up… Those of us who are not blinded by the light have tried to warn you.

On the left, Esquire’s Charlie Pierce also wasn’t fooled:

This will now be the pattern. He, Trump will campaign thuggishly. It will work. Then he will accept victory less thuggishly, and he will be congratulated for it. Then it all will start again, over and over, all the way to November.

And then, on the surprisingly pleasant New York victory speech from Trump, there’s Heather Parton:

Since his victory speech didn’t include any crude epithets or mentions of his manly member, the media seemed to be under the impression that he’s a restrained and dignified statesman worthy of the presidency…

But the big rally in Indiana yesterday showed no changes in Trump’s usual meandering lunacy punctuated by cries of “build that wall” and “get ’em out!” He was back to “Lyin’ Ted” and “Crooked Hillary” and rambling bizarrely about General Patton getting rid of ISIS in three days. At times he was completely unhinged, going on about how he “loves” waterboarding and wants to kill oil truck drivers in Iraq. Everyone can rest easy…

In other words, Trump is still Trump.

Trump really wasn’t cut out for Hollywood. He can’t act a part, assuming a character and then “inhabiting the character” as they say out here. Somewhat like Clint Eastwood, he can only play himself, as Josh Marshall explains here:

Donald Trump’s new campaign chief Paul Manafort made a presentation to Republican insiders in Florida yesterday with a pretty stunning set of claims. Members of the RNC shouldn’t be worried, he told them: Trump’s not against the party or the people who run it. He’s just been putting on an act, playing a part to win the nomination. He’ll now shift gears to playing a different, more congenial role (a new ‘persona’) that party regulars will be more comfortable with. In his new role, his historic unfavorable ratings will also fall rapidly.

This is all a fairly striking thing to say out loud – or, technically, in private setting but meant for public consumption – since it amounts to saying that Trump has just been playing his supporters for rubes and he’s really a friend of the insiders after all. But the audaciousness of the claim and even the improbability of Trump’s ability to sell a dramatically different version of himself aren’t even the biggest issues.

The more salient question in my mind is whether Trump can even make the attempt. Remember, this is the second or third time that Trump or those around Trump have tried for the pivot to the center. The last time he tried things immediately lurched into the series of violent incidents at rallies and the protests in Chicago.

He couldn’t help himself:

At the time, what seemed most telling is that it was clearly in Trump’s interest to shift gears and he’d signaled he wanted to shift gears. This is when he started saying he could be the presidentialist guy around. Just everyone watch! Trump may have wanted to leave the primaries behind. But the primaries followed him. He’d kicked up or rather given voice to too many electoral demons. Beyond that, there were and are things within Trump that made the transition hard and quite possibly impossible. At some basic level, it’s really not an act.

That’s the real problem, because you can’t quit the act when it isn’t one:

Manafort’s argument about why Trump’s ‘persona’ switcheroo will work is close to comical. It amounts to ‘Trump’s negatives are a perception problem; Hillary’s just a bad person.’ Maybe Hillary’s awful. But this is just wishful thinking, something that no one who’s actually run campaigns is going to buy unless they’re paid to, or need to do so to block out thoughts of an electoral disaster.

We’ve seen this movie before. Even if it’s the sequel or another production from the same script, I’m very, very dubious that Trump can pull this off. Set aside for the moment that we’re living in the age of videotape and the implausibility of what Byron York memorably called a ‘personality transplant.’ His personality, his relationship with his supporters who have brought him this far, make it very unlikely he’ll even be to make the attempt. Trump may be full of it. He may be BSing on the margins. But at a basic level, it’s not an act. He can’t control it.

Slate’s Jim Newell puts that this way:

There is personality, as in the construction one presents to the public, and there is character, as in the sort of person one really is. Manafort would have us believe that the personality – that of a pig, which appeals to a requisite number of white males to win the Republican presidential nomination – is just a lie; the character, meanwhile – to be unveiled in the general election! – is more akin to, say, Abraham Lincoln, or some other really terrific guy.

Newell thinks that is nonsense for a number of reasons:

The first would be that a person willing to project a total lie of a personality for personal gain is axiomatically a lousy character. But we don’t even get that far. Because there’s no reason to believe that the personality Trump has presented in his campaign is anything other than an extension of his truest self, which is a pig.

There’s nothing else there:

Trump has been successful in his brief political career, which has taken place totally within the context of a Republican presidential primary. Within whatever context, the politicians who are usually most successful run campaigns that are extensions of their personalities – i.e. ones that can project “authentic” versions of themselves rather than total constructs, which leads to easily sniffed-out phoniness. It confuses some observers as to how Trump’s fans can really believe that he’s “authentic” or “honest,” which they all really do believe, because on the policy level he’s changed his mind so many times in his career that the rank opportunism of it all is unmistakable. But it makes sense – he’s put together the package that clicks! The piggish positions and piggish postures he’s adopted strike just about everyone as the honest and authentic extension of Donald Trump, pig.

That’s in the details:

Trump politicks like a real estate developer. He doesn’t want a whole bunch of poor people spilling over onto his property and disturbing the members. So of course he wants a wall around the perimeter. The idea of a wall lights up a mind like Donald Trump’s with euphoria. And then there are Muslims. Muslims: bad, scary, not a good look, bad for property values – don’t let them in. Trump believes that a woman’s worth directly correlates with her looks and that a man’s worth directly correlates with the eye candy on his arm. A former associate, for example, said that he did not want to be seen in public eating lunch with a woman he deemed ugly. When Trump couldn’t believe people would consider voting for a “face” like Carly Fiorina’s, or when he retweeted a side-by-side photo of his wife, Melania, and Heidi Cruz, this was not an act, put on to get the rubes interested. That was Donald Trump, all right, and if he captures the nomination, it won’t matter what pressure Paul Manafort or Rick Wiley or Reince Priebus puts on him: The over-under on how long it takes him to call Hillary Clinton a “bitch” during a general-election prime-time press conference will be two weeks. Thirty percent of the country will love it. Seventy percent will not.


He can’t change who he is, and he can’t shed the baggage he’s accumulated as a result of being who he is – which is a pig.

But we’re told that’s all an act! His team says so, so Kevin Drum tries to figure out what’s really going on:

This is basically being taken as an admission that Trump has just been conning his followers so far, and he’ll turn on a dime when he needs to. But that’s not how I take it.

First, I doubt that this recording was leaked. Rather, it was “leaked.” The Trump campaign wanted it to become public. Sure, it will inspire some mockery from liberals and campaign reporters, but that’s never done Trump any harm. And since leaks are usually taken as a glimpse into the real behind-the-scenes truth, this is the most effective way to get his message out to the public in a credible way.

And how will the public respond? Unlike us hyper-engaged folks, they’ll just take it as an assurance that Trump can act like an adult when he wants to. More subtly, his current fans will also take it as a hint that his adult persona will be meant primarily not to con them, but to con centrist Republicans. With a wink and a nod, he’s telling them he’ll do what he has to do in order to appeal to the corrupt establishment folks, but not to take it too seriously.

That’s damned clever:

And if Trump can pull it off, it might very well work: the establishment folks will start to fall in line, impressed by the “new” Donald. They’re so certain that only yokels can be conned, it will never occur to them that they’re the real marks.

It’s a double-reverse, which is confusing enough, but we understand such things out here. There’s that pleasant 1991 Disney film The Rocketeer – set in 1938 Los Angeles and Hollywood. The famous vaguely British swashbuckling actor Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton) – secretly a Nazi agent – hires a gang to steal a prototype rocket pack from Howard Hughes (Terry O’Quinn) – but they screw up and a handsome young down-on-his-luck pilot finds it, straps it on, and becomes a bit of a mysterious superhero for a time. Conveniently, his aspiring actress girlfriend Jenny Blake (Jennifer Connelly) has a bit part in the latest Neville Sinclair film – and Sinclair kidnaps her and says he’ll kill her unless the young fellow hands over the thing – Hitler wants his massive army of flying soldiers. It’s all stupid stuff, but as Sinclair takes the rocket pack and straps it on, ready to fly off, there is this exchange:

Jenny: Everything about you is a lie.

Neville Sinclair: It wasn’t lies, Jenny. It was acting.

Donald Trump can use that line. Sure, our hero tweaked the rocket pack so it explodes, killing Sinclair, but it’s still a great line – but in Trump’s case it won’t work. As Kyle Cheney reports in Politico, his folks don’t believe he’s acting:

First it was an email warning Steve House, the Colorado GOP chairman, to hide his family members and “pray you make it to Cleveland.” Then there was the angry man who called his cellphone and told him to put a gun down his throat.

“He said, ‘I’ll call back in two minutes, and if you’re still there, I’ll come over and help you,'” House recalled.

Since Donald Trump came up empty in his quest for delegates at the Republican state assembly in Colorado Springs nearly two weeks ago, his angry supporters have responded to Trump’s own claims of a “rigged” nomination process by lashing out at Republican National Committee delegates that they believe won’t support Trump at the party’s convention – including House.

The mild-mannered chairman estimates he’s gotten between 4,000 and 5,000 calls on his cellphone. Many, he says, have ended with productive conversations. He’s referred the more threatening, violent calls to police. His cellphone is still buzzing this week, as he attends the RNC quarterly meetings in Florida, and he’s not the only one.

In hotel hallways and across dinner tables, many party leaders attending this week’s meetings shared similar stories. One party chairman says a Trump supporter recently got in his face and promised “bloodshed” if Trump doesn’t win the GOP presidential nomination. An Indiana delegate who criticized Trump received a note warning against “traditional burial” that ended with, “We are watching you.”

That’s what they were discussing this week in Hollywood, Florida:

Although the harassers are typically anonymous, many party leaders on the receiving end of these threats hold Trump himself at least partly responsible, viewing the intimidation efforts as a natural and obvious outgrowth of the candidate’s incendiary rhetoric.

And they know why this has escalated:

It’s a noticeable shift away from the slash-and-burn approach of Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who some party insiders blame for cultivating, or at least enabling, Trump’s brasher tendencies. One state party leader, who requested anonymity, described the intimidation tactics coming from Trump supporters as part of “Corey culture.”

For months, Trump’s campaign has played a recording before the start of its rallies, encouraging attendees not to physically harm protesters but simply to shout them down with chants of “Trump! Trump! Trump!” But one operative close to the campaign, an ally of Manafort, also blames the old regime for not doing more to rein in the violence that has occurred at some rallies and the threats many people continue to make.

“That only happens when somebody is not driving the bus,” the operative said. “That’s all going to settle down now that Paul is in charge.”

But even if Manafort is able to nudge Trump toward a more traditional presidential bearing, the hostile energy his campaign has already whipped up among some supporters has left a trail of anger and intimidation that is likely to linger when the convention comes in July.

Trump can say it was only acting, but “true conservatives” like Aaron Goldstein, writing in American Spectator, are quite outraged:

Trump thugs are basically giving the Republican delegates the choice of Trump or Death. There is no room for violence or threats of violence because delegates to the Republican National Convention dare to support someone other than Donald Trump. The only room for such people is the inside of a prison cell. And so long as Trump refuses to admonish his supporters for their behavior he is just as guilty of threatening violence as they are. Should Donald Trump have fewer than 1,237 delegates at the time of the GOP Convention, Republicans must refuse to be intimidated and ensure his defeat for the good of life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and the very existence of the Republican Party as a home for conservatives.

This Hollywood East meeting did not go well, as Tierney Sneed reports here:

As the planning for the Republican National Convention continues, some party figures are expressing concerns about bringing their families to the Cleveland confab after facing threats from Donald Trump supporters who accused them of trying to “steal” the election.

Louisiana GOP chairman Roger Villere told Politico the concerns were brought up to RNC chair Reince Priebus at the party’s spring meeting in Florida this week. Louisiana became the subject of ire from Trump and his supporters after Sen. Ted Cruz’s campaign was able to work the delegate system to get more Cruz loyalists into the delegation.

“A lot of us bring our wives and children. Do we really want to? That’s one of the things that were asked,” Villere told Politico. “They assured us that we would be protected.”

It wasn’t lies, Jenny. It was acting. Now Donald Trump has to say that to a good number of his very, very angry followers, after he told them over and over to be very, very angry. Was he just acting then? Is he just acting now? Is he a terrible actor either way? And why is there a Hollywood, Florida, anyway?

So, out here in the real Hollywood, the Friends of Abe has disbanded. They know hopelessly bad acting when they see it. This will not end well. There will be no Hollywood happy ending.

Posted in Donald Trump, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sweating the Smallest Stuff

As any married person knows, and as any formerly married person knows all too well, the nastiest arguments, the ones that cannot ever be resolved, are over the small stuff – who walks the dog – that sort of thing. The issues are proxy issues for what’s really going on – anger and fear and loathing, and resentment over what is too dangerous to deal with directly. “Does this dress make me look fat?” Don’t answer that question. That question is not about the dress – but there’s no way not to answer that question. Whether you like it or not, you’re going to get drawn into arguing about something that doesn’t matter at all, as a proxy for something that matters a whole lot. You’ll just never quite know what that is. The next thing you know, you’re in divorce court. These things happen.

They happen in politics too. A woman, who was formerly a man – a rare enough thing – needs to take a leak – but where? In North Carolina she cannot use the women’s room. In North Carolina she’s still a man – or she might have been a man all along, one who cleverly wants to molest little girls in public restrooms. This has never happened. It is theoretically possible but really, the argument is about nothing real, and that led to the day’s argument about ESPN:

According to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), ESPN made the wrong decision by dismissing baseball analyst Curt Schilling after he argued that transgender individuals should use bathrooms that conform to their birth sex.

“ESPN fired Curt Schilling for making the rather obvious point that we shouldn’t allow grown male adult strangers alone in a bathroom with little girls,” the Texas senator said in a Thursday interview on Glenn Beck’s radio show. “That’s a point anyone who is rational should understand.”

Schilling was fired Wednesday night, days after sharing a meme on Facebook that showed a man wearing a wig and tight women’s clothing, with the caption: “Let him in! To the restroom with your daughter or else you’re a narrow minded, judgmental, unloving, racist bigot who needs to die!!!”

Curt Schilling was a great pitcher, but he’s a bit of a jerk, and of course this is about something else:

Like Schilling, Cruz sees opposition to this meme and to so-called “bathroom bills” as a result of unchecked “political correctness.”

The evangelical Texas senator warned that allowing transgender people to use the public restroom of their choice could allow “repulsive perverts and criminals” to enter bathrooms with “little girls.”

Beck enthusiastically agreed, saying that if the “bathroom bills” can “save one little girl from being molested by a heterosexual pervert, we should do it.”

What do these guys know about heterosexual perverts? Perhaps they know their own urges all too well, but they’re not alone:

Sarah Palin lamented ESPN’s decision to fire baseball analyst Curt Schilling for sharing several memes offensive to transgender people in a Thursday morning Facebook post.

“ESPN continues to screw up,” the former Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential nominee wrote, along with a link to a Hollywood Reporter article on Schilling’s termination.

Palin also shared a meme along the lines of those that led to Schilling’s dismissal. In the left panel, a white man labeled a “victim” complains about homophobic people intruding on his “safe space,” while the right panel features a young girl who is labeled a “bigot” for complaining about a “40-year-old man wearing a dress in the girl’s restroom.”

And add this:

Palin has come to the conservative sports commentator’s defense before. After he was suspended from ESPN last baseball season for sharing a meme comparing Nazis to Muslims, Palin accused the network of buying into “the propaganda of ISIS.”

The anger and fear and loathing, and resentment over what is too dangerous to deal with directly, is all there. The bathroom is a proxy for many things, and so this was inevitable:

The American Family Association on Thursday called for a boycott of Target stores after the company announced that transgender employees and customers should use the bathroom of their choice.

“Corporate America must stop bullying people who disagree with the radical left agenda to remake society into their progressive image,” AFA President Tim Wildmon said in a statement. “Target’s harmful policy poses a danger to women and children. We think many customers will agree.”

Wildmon said that while the conservative group “does not believe the transgender community poses this danger to the wider public,” they are concerned that Target’s policy “provides a possible gateway for predators that are out there.”

“When Target claims that ‘everyone deserves to feel like they belong,’ did they ask customers who don’t want to use a bathroom with an opposite-sex stranger?” he continued in the statement. “Why doesn’t ‘everyone’ actually mean everyone at Target?”

The American Family Association suggested that Target provide single-use unisex bathrooms to accommodate transgender individuals.

This seems like minor stuff, but that minor stuff is a proxy for remaking society into a progressive society – we cannot have that – so they do what they can:

The conservative group also stopped using PayPal after the company halted plans to open up an operations center in North Carolina in protest of the state’s sweeping anti-LGBT law.

It’s likely no one will pay any attention to their boycotts. The threat of dirty old men dressing up as transgender women to get at little girls is beyond remote – dirty old men are a bit more direct than that. Offer candy, or a puppy. That’s worked forever. They’re just not going to dress up like mannish women. Why go to all the trouble? That’s just absurd.

At least Donald Trump is pragmatic about this:

Donald Trump on Thursday morning came out against the new anti-LGBT law in North Carolina, pointing out the state has seen intense backlash from businesses.

“North Carolina did something [that] was very strong. And they’re paying a big price and there’s a lot of problems,” Trump said during an NBC town hall when asked about the new law. “One of the best answers I heard was from a commentator yesterday saying, leave it the way it is right now. There have been very few problems. Leave it the way it is.”

He’s saying there never was problem in the first place, but now there’s a different one:

“North Carolina, what they are going through with all of the business that’s leaving and all of the strife – and that’s on both sides. You leave it the way it is. There have been very few complaints the way it is,” he continued. “People go; they use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate. There has been so little trouble, and the problem with what happened in North Carolina is the strife and the economic punishment that they are taking.”

When asked whether he would let Caitlyn Jenner use the bathroom of her choice at Trump Tower, Trump said he would.

This is not a big deal:

The Republican presidential candidate then also said he had a problem with the push to create single-use bathrooms to accommodate transgender people.

“There’s a big move to create new bathrooms,” he said. “First of all, I think that would be discriminatory in a certain way. It would be unbelievably expensive for businesses and for the country. Leave it the way it is.”

At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum notes the obvious:

At a guess, Trump’s supporters are mostly people who think the North Carolina law is a good idea. Or at least, they used to. But now that Trump has come out against it, will the rights of transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice become the latest rallying cry of the angry working class? Perhaps we’re about to find out just how much influence Trump really has with his supporters.

We’re also about to find out if the bathroom is a proxy for much larger issues. Donald Trump may not know what’s really going on here – he seems to think this is actually about bathrooms. Ted Cruz knows better, and Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog adds this:

Cruz doesn’t do very well in the East, where Republicans are far less likely to be evangelical Christians, and so he’s looking at defeats in five eastern states this coming Tuesday. But it’s my sense from watching the right that rank-and-file conservatives, secular as well as religious, have worked themselves up into a frenzy over transgendered bathroom rights. They are as certain that accommodating trans people in public restrooms leads to rape as they are that massive voter fraud is taking place – i.e., they don’t care what the facts say because it just feels true.

So Cruz should probably run an all-toilet campaign from now on.

No, it won’t endear him to the business-oriented Republican muckamucks he’ll need at the convention, but he can tell them he doesn’t really mean what he’s saying – remember, he’s the guy who’s out there promising to deal with the “crisis” of gay marriage while hitting up rich gay businessmen for cash and quietly telling other wealthy donors that fighting marriage equality wouldn’t be “a top-three priority” in a Cruz administration.

So go for it, Ted. Trump is out-hating you on so many issues. This is your chance to out-hate him for once. I think this could really drive Trump’s poll numbers down, even in the East, unless he walks it back.

He may need to. Andrew Lewis at FiveThirtyEight covers the anger and fear and loathing and resentment out there with these data points:

Many of Donald Trump’s supporters are intolerant – racist, sexist and xenophobic. Indeed, some high-profile work has highlighted Trump’s populism and his appeal to less-educated authoritarians – a potent witch’s brew challenging democratic norms. And other analyses have focused on the specific targets of Trump supporters’ anti-democratic attitudes – especially, but not solely, Muslims, immigrants and black Americans.

Add the gay folks too, but the ban on Muslims is his key proxy now:

Notably, those favoring a ban disproportionately supported Trump, with the exception of voters in Texas, where a plurality supported Ted Cruz. In Ohio, for instance, of those who wanted to temporarily ban all Muslims from entering the U.S., 48 percent threw their support behind Trump.

The same pattern holds when you look at GOP support for Trump’s statements and position on immigrants, especially those from south of the U.S. border. A majority of Republican primary voters don’t support his call to deport all of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., but of those who do support that position, most favor Trump.

This parallels other data:

Pew Research Center found that 17 percent of Trump supporters said diversity makes America worse, a higher share than among either Cruz or John Kasich’s backers. Pew also found that 69 percent of Trump voters agreed that immigrants are a burden on the country.

An ABC News/Washington Post survey showed that among respondents who said that white Americans are losing out because of preferential treatment for Latinos and blacks, 43 percent backed Trump – higher than the 34 percent of Republican respondents who supported Trump overall.

Trump also performs well among those who dislike African-Americans and evaluate whites at higher levels than minorities.

Trump may have blundered here. His base of less-educated authoritarians will hate what he said about bathrooms, because that’s about something else entirely. They are angry, and they can choose anything as a proxy, as Matthew Yglesias explains here:

Harriet Tubman is going to be on the $20 bill, with former president Andrew Jackson demoted to the back. This will make, obviously, no practical difference in anyone’s life, but you may have heard or read a lot about it anyway.

This is precisely because it’s a purely symbolic question rather than a pragmatic one – it touches some of the deepest nerves in American politics. Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren calls it “dividing the country” while Donald Trump has denounced the move as “pure political correctness.”

That’s because something else is going on here:

The demographic face of the United States of America is changing, rapidly. The Democratic Party is fitfully and at times awkwardly embracing that change, while the Republican Party is to an extent being torn asunder by it, with one faction hoping to repackage traditional conservative movement politics for a multicultural audience while another faction wants to create a less ideologically rigid movement that stands foursquare against the declining social privilege of white men.

That is what this seems to be about:

On April 20, 2016, the Treasury Department leaked that they had decided to go in this direction. A woman – specifically Tubman – would go on the $20.

That news was immediately celebrated by most progressives. Taking an iconic figure of 19th-century white supremacy off of money to replace him with a courageous African-American woman who fought for freedom would make a powerful statement about American identity. It turns out, however, that the plan is not to remove Jackson from the money but instead to do a split with Tubman on one side and Jackson on the other.

This turns out to be one of those compromises that angers everybody. It puts Tubman on the money, but seemingly as a second-class citizen compared to the white men celebrated on other notes. But it also marks a formal recognition that the American pantheon is being revised in a way that reduces white male domination.

This, of course, requires a deep dive into American political history:

The process by which American liberals came to clamor for the replacement of Jackson – but not Hamilton – with Tubman is, essentially, the entire political history of the United States since its founding.

For the bulk of its history, the Democratic Party has understood itself to have been dually founded by Thomas Jefferson (in opposition to Hamilton’s Federalists) and Jackson (in opposition to the Whigs of Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams). And the modern day Democratic Party is very much the institutional descendent of Jackson’s party, while the Republican Party founded in the 1850s had very clear ideological links to the Whigs.

But during the middle of the 20th century, a complicated series of events caused the parties to “realign” on the question of racial equality.

And thereby hangs a tale:

Northern African Americans were brought into the Democratic coalition by the welfare state programs of the New Deal, and Northern urban machines began to incorporate their interests. Liberal ideologues and progressive labor unions joined African Americans in pushing for a civil rights agenda, and Southern white supremacists began fitful efforts to bolt the Democratic Party.

As the civil rights agenda progressed to include more demands for government regulation of private business and more affirmative provision of government services, the conservative ideology of Midwestern Republicans came more into line with the ideas of the white South.

The new, multiracial Democratic coalition has led to a historiographical revolution in American history that features skepticism of iconic Progressive-era president Woodrow Wilson and new respect for the left-wing credentials of figures like Hamilton, both Adamses, and Clay.

This manifests itself both in scholarly works (Daniel Walker Howe’s What Hath God Wrought), popular biographies (Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton), pop culture (Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton but also the 1997 movie Amistad and the John Adams HBO miniseries), and punditry (Ta-Nehisi Coates’s series of posts celebrating Ulysses S. Grant).

The upshot is that the exact same intellectual currents in American society that were most likely to be enthusiastic about the idea of putting a black woman on American currency were least likely to be invested in the old Jefferson-Jackson tradition of the Democratic Party.

Everything got reversed:

There’s no hardcore Andrew Jackson constituency left in American politics, but the currency revision comes at a time when the Republican Party is being roiled by the surging support for Donald Trump. Trump has a tenuous connection to the GOP’s philosophical commitment to small government, and no personal investment in the kind of Evangelical Christianity that has powered much of grassroots conservatism. Instead, he advances a form of populist ethnic nationalism similar to what you see in many growing European “far right” political parties.

And while neither Trump nor Trumpism has much support among conservative intellectuals, both Trump and Trumpism have considerable support in the more commercialized segments of the conservative media world – talk radio, Fox News, and the tabloid press.

The $20 is a perfect incident to prompt this divide precisely because it has very little real content. There’s nothing in Tubman’s life or legacy that contradicts any points of modern-day conservative ideology or Republican Party policy ideas. But the very idea of going back through history and finding white male heroes to demote in favor of black female heroes rubs some people the wrong way. …

Trump himself denounced the move as “pure political correctness,” a term that has little specific content but that allows Trump to affiliate himself with the view – shared by most Republicans but not by most Americans overall – that anti-white discrimination is as big of a problem in America as anti-black discrimination.

Dylan Matthews then offers a summary of the record of Andrew Jackson as one of the very worst presidents in American history, because of that “Trail of Tears” ethnic cleansing he oversaw:

Jackson is even worse than his horrifyingly brutal record with regard to Native Americans indicates. Indian removal was not just a crime against humanity, it was a crime against humanity intended to abet another crime against humanity: By clearing the Cherokee from the American South, Jackson hoped to open up more land for cultivation by slave plantations.

There is that, and this:

It’s genuinely bizarre that some modern liberals, like Sean Wilentz and Arthur Schlesinger, have claimed Jackson for liberalism, ostensibly for his embrace of “populism” (read: rejection of northern anti-slavery white men in favor of Southern pro-slavery white men). In reality, Jackson’s economic policy views were almost cartoonishly right wing.

Context is important here. Jackson was succeeding John Quincy Adams, a truly great, scandalously underrated president who was an enthusiastic supporter of government intervention to build necessary infrastructure (“internal improvements”) and fuel economic development. Adams believed that “taxing and being taxed were essential to responsible self-government; the country required a modern, national, and regulated banking system … and the federal government had an important role to play regarding the ‘general welfare’ in the creation of educational, scientific, and artistic institutions, such as the Smithsonian Museum, the national parks, the service academies, and land grant universities,” according to recent biographer Fred Kaplan.

Jackson believed none of that. He believed government was a threat to be contained, that national banks like the one originated by Alexander Hamilton were abominations and threats to freedom, and that the federal government’s role in building infrastructure should be limited. He vetoed a bill to run a road in Kentucky, arguing that federal funding of such infrastructure projects was unconstitutional.

Jackson was Grover Norquist before there was a Grover Norquist, and Scott Lemieux adds this:

If there’s a link between the New Deal and the Jackson administration, it’s that the Jacksonian element in American politics made New Deal programs substantially worse as the price of enacting them and then withdrew their support almost entirely after the 1938 midterms. The idea that Jacksonianism was the precursor to the activist and progressive elements of the New Deal is an almost precise inversion of the truth. The Great Society required the defeat of Jackson’s political descendants, not their support.

The battle here was never about Harriet Tubman at all. It was about our first white nationalist libertarian Tea Party guy, although at National Review Online, Jim Geraghty tries to turn the tables on America’s overly tolerant lefties:

Perhaps some of the voices calling for Tubman on the $20 just wanted any prominent African-American woman to replace one of the white males on our currency. If it was political correctness that drove this decision, who cares? The Obama administration has inadvertently given Tubman fans of all political stripes an opportunity to tell the story of a deeply-religious, gun-toting Republican who fought for freedom in defiance of the laws of a government that refused to recognize her rights.

Kevin Drum mocks him:

Yeah. That’s the ticket. All those folks in the Obama administration had no idea who Harriet Tubman really was. They were all like check this out, Jack – black, female, helped slaves, done. Boxes checked. Identity politics satisfied. Put her on the twenty.

The poor fools. She was religious! She carried a gun while helping slaves escape! She was a Republican! She fought for freedom against a tyrannical government! If you think about it, she’s basically the poster child of the modern-day Tea Party. And none of those idiots in the White House had a clue.

Seriously. That seems to be what they think. Next they’re going to remind us that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican too.

Well he was – pretty much the first one – way back when the party was the opposite of what it is now. Jonathan Chait explained that last summer in The Party of Andrew Jackson vs. the Party of Obama:

Republicans have revived what they call “Constitutional conservatism,” which reprises the Jacksonian belief that the Constitution prevents economic intervention by the government. Tea-party activists in particular have sounded deeply Jacksonian themes in their populist attacks on TARP, and then Obama’s programs, as giveaways to powerful insiders. As a writer for the right-wing Breitbart News argued several months ago, “Jackson’s views on federalism and economics should be more carefully studied today.”

This combination of views on the Constitution, race, activist government, intellectual elites, and foreign policy all clump together geographically and ideologically. They also share a certain personality style – Jackson’s visceral style anticipates figures like George W. Bush and Sarah Palin. As the political fault lines of Rooseveltian America have grown increasingly distant in recent years, those of Jacksonian America have grown more recognizable. American history is returning full circle.

Yes, something else is going on here. The picture on the money was never the real issue, and Salon’s Amanda Marcotte unloads on what’s really going on here:

The strategy that modern conservative propaganda uses when called upon to rationalize overt racism and sexism is to get conservative women and people of color to express the sentiments. It’s a cheap and obvious but unfortunately effective ploy, and one that was immediately employed by the folks at Fox News to appeal to their audience members who want to hear why they aren’t bigots, even though they revolt at women and black people on money.

Greta Van Susteren played her part to the hilt on Fox Wednesday night, even going so far as to say that she’s “a feminist”, before offering an opinion that disproved this contention.

“Rather than dividing the country between those who happen to like the tradition of our currency and want President Andrew Jackson to stay put and those who want to put a woman on a bill,” she argued.

Denying women the vote, keeping women from working, putting women in the stocks for having a sharp tongue, treating women as subhuman property of men are also “traditions,” you know. The whole point of being a feminist is refusing to accept that tradition trumps a woman’s right to equality. But beyond just that, appeals to tradition are considered a logical fallacy for a good reason. The idea that we should keep doing a stupid and harmful thing because we have done it that way in the past isn’t a grand and noble idea. It’s refusing to learn from experience.

Of course, no one actually buys this argument, not really. The folks waxing poetic about the impropriety of change when it comes to the currency probably aren’t writing their sentiments on parchment paper with quill pens. The only time they cling to tradition is if the tradition flatters their prejudices, in this case the prejudicial belief that only white men can be great Americans.

It was always about that:

That there’s so much tantrum-throwing over what is ultimately just a symbolic gesture says a lot about the current state of American politics. The left gets criticized a lot for “identity politics,” but nothing the left does can even come close to touching the petty identity politics that lead one to demand that money be reserved for white men only, because your fragile sense of self is so violated by the idea that anyone else could have made contributions worth honoring.

One thing is for certain, the reaction to this proves feminists right. Feminists have long argued that better representation matters, and while symbolic gestures like putting women and people of color on money may not do anything in the immediate future to improve people’s lives, the psychological effect of saying, “These people matter, too,” can gradually help lessen prejudice. The panicked reaction from the right suggests that they agree, even though what feminists are hoping is true is what conservatives fear is true.

All that anger and fear and loathing and resentment has to go somewhere. Now it’s directed at the proxy small stuff, the smallest of stuff – North Carolina public restrooms – whose picture is on the money your ATM spits out at you. But then the smallest of stuff has destroyed many a marriage – and if America is one big marriage of all sorts of people, it could destroy that marriage too.

Posted in Uncategorized, Harriet Tubman, North Carolina Bathroom Bill | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The What Next

Bernie Sanders is a mensch – “a person of integrity and honor” – a person of “character, rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, and decorous” and so on. There’s no one-word equivalent in Standard English for that Yiddish term – so we borrow that word – and even those who disagree with everything Bernie says, or has ever said, admit that he’s basically a good guy. He’s a decent man, which is something no one has ever said about Ted Cruz.

Cruz is a nasty fellow, both calculating and dismissive, and smart as a whip, and vindictive. He sneers a lot and asks us to sneer along with him, which has propelled his campaign along. Sneering at others is fun – it feels so good – and unlike Joe McCarthy in the fifties, to whom he has been compared, because he looks just like him, Cruz is focused and disciplined in his nasty destructiveness. Unlike Joe McCarthy, he doesn’t drink – he’s a pious and proudly self-righteous evangelical – and he’s thoroughly unpleasant. No one wants to be in the room with him. His fellow Republican senators think he’s a total asshole, and there’s this:

Rep. Pete King (R-NY) went on a tear against the Republican presidential frontrunners in a blistering Tuesday interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” joking that he would commit suicide if Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) earns the nomination. “I’m not endorsing Ted Cruz, in case anyone is confused,” King said. “I think I’ll take cyanide if he got the nomination…”

There’s no Yiddish term for that – but that same evening, in the New York primary, Cruz got clobbered. He came in a distant third, as Donald Trump cleaned up. Cruz didn’t get even one of the ninety-five available delegates. Bernie Sanders got clobbered too – Hillary Clinton won almost two thirds of the vote. Cruz vowed to fight on, even if he now cannot win the nomination on the first ballot at that Cleveland convention. He’ll figure something out, something tricky and nasty and something vaguely within the rules – you don’t mess with him. He was back on the campaign trail the next day – but the mensch wasn’t. Bernie Sanders went back to Vermont to take a few days off and think about things. He’s been pretty much mathematically eliminated too, but he doesn’t want to be an asshole about this. Once a mensch, always a mensch – so maybe he should do the right thing, whatever that is.

That’s the problem. What’s the right thing to do? In the Washington Post, John Wagner and Dan Balz discuss the nature of that problem:

Hillary Clinton’s victory in the New York primary Tuesday has brought Sen. Bernie Sanders one step closer to a series of difficult decisions that can be summed up in one simple question: What does Bernie want?

How he answers that question will have a direct bearing on how united Democrats will be heading into the fall campaign – and whether Sanders will be able to leverage his success this year into lasting power and influence.

His campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination has been more successful than almost anyone had predicted. He has generated a sizable and enthusiastic following, including an outpouring among young people and a gusher of small donations that more than matched the mighty Clinton financial network. His bold agenda has pushed Clinton to the left, a testament to the strength of the party’s grass-roots progressive wing, which has made him its hero.

But as Clinton extends her lead in pledged delegates, Sanders must now confront the reality that he has almost no chance of becoming the Democratic nominee. Instead he must decide what he will do with what he has built – starting with how he conducts his campaign over the next two months, how he navigates the party’s national convention in July, what role he plays in the general election and, perhaps most important, what happens after the November results have been tallied.

Doing the right thing here isn’t as simple as it seems, although it might be:

His wife, Jane, offered a preview of the candidate’s thinking in an interview with The Washington Post just before New Yorkers went to the polls.

“If he’s president, he wants to keep this movement going,” she said. “If he’s not president, he’ll have to keep this movement going for a lot more reasons, because nobody else wants to accomplish what has ignited the interest of the voters.”

Asked what that might look like, she said: “We’ll figure that out, if and when… Honestly, we will continue no matter what. There are enough people that will continue it. We’ll keep that vision out there. I mean, he will not sit idly by. There’s no doubt about that.”

The two of them will figure out what that looks like later, but there’s this:

Former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell (D), a Clinton supporter, praised Sanders for what he has accomplished, calling it “an incredible feat” – but he said the time is coming when Sanders will have to tone done his attacks on Clinton for the good of the party. But Rendell also said he understands how hard that can be.

“He has candidate-itis, which we all who have run for office have had at one time or another,” Rendell said. “You look at the crowds, you think: ‘They love me. I’m going to win.’ You get the feedback from the crowds and you really think you’re going to win.”

But you’re not going to win – face it and step aside. That’s what Lara Brown, an associate professor and a program director in the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University, says here:

Bernie Sanders’s surprisingly successful presidential candidacy has achieved its ideological purpose. It’s also helped Hillary Clinton sharpen her admittedly “unnatural” political abilities and prevent the Democratic nomination from resembling a coronation. But it’s now time for Sanders to depart from the contest and provide Clinton a few months to win over his supporters before the convention in July.

Do the right thing for the party:

Bitter presidential nomination contests usually divide political parties, unless that political party has been out of power for a while. The voters whose party has been defeated most recently are often hungrier to win, which makes them more likely to rally around a candidate they aren’t excited by.

The question of who controls the presidency is salient in terms of gauging the potential damage wrought by bitter nomination contests. The out-parties – hungrier for the presidency than in-parties – tend to have a higher tolerance for ugly primary battles. On the other hand, incumbent presidents or heirs apparent (in this case, Clinton) who face stiff intra-party competition are more likely to lose. Senator Ted Kennedy’s challenge of President Jimmy Carter in 1980 and Republican Pat Buchanan’s challenge of President George H. W. Bush are but two examples of when the parties divided themselves to their own detriment since the modern nominating system got underway in 1972.

Consider history, and a possible Trump presidency, and be satisfied with a job well done:

Bernie Sanders has done all he can do and more than he was ever expected to accomplish. It’s time that he show that he cares about the Democratic Party, for whose nomination he has been running, but whose affiliation he has never claimed. Clinton needs to not only unify, but also excite the liberal coalition before the convention. She needs the next three months. Sanders should give them to her.

D. D. Guttenplan, an editor at The Nation, thinks that’s nonsense:

Now is no time for him or those inspired by his message to leave the field.

Yet while the struggle continues, the goal has changed. Winning the White House was a thrilling dream. Winning power – durable power, the kind that makes laws and holds elected officials to account – is a longer, more grueling fight. That, however, is the task we face now. In the coming weeks, Sanders and his supporters will need to make clear exactly what he’s fighting for, both inside the Democratic Party and beyond. As his campaign officials rightly point out, Sanders’s support keeps growing. He may well win more states, and will arrive at the convention with enough delegates to push not just for a progressive platform but for procedural changes – such as an end to superdelegates or a ban on PAC money in primaries – that could level the playing field for the next generation of insurgents. He could also demand the appointment of party officials less addicted to corporate cash. In the meantime, he could direct a lot more of his attention and money to candidates down the ticket who share his politics.

In short, keep the pressure on, and Matthew Yglesias argues that Bernie Sanders is (still) the future of the Democratic Party:

Sanders is the overwhelming choice of young voters, scoring 67 percent of voters under 30 in New York even while losing overall amidst a set of election rules that were highly unfavorable to his cause. National Reuters polls now show him with a large 56-38 edge over Clinton with voters below the age of 40.

The votes of old people count just as much, of course, but any young and ambitious Democrat looking at the demographics of the party and the demographics of Sanders supporters has to conclude that his brand of politics is extremely promising for the future. There are racial and demographic gaps between Clinton and Sanders supporters, but the overwhelming reality is that for all groups, the young people are feeling the Bern.

Whether the first Sanders-style nominee is Sanders himself or Elizabeth Warren or someone like a Tammy Baldwin or a Keith Ellison doesn’t matter. What’s clear is that there’s robust demand among Democrats – especially the next generation of Democrats – to remake the party along more ideological, more social democratic lines, and party leaders are going to have to answer that demand or get steamrolled.

Do the Democrats really want to be the party of old farts? And there’s this:

Though Democrats are certainly the more left-wing of the two parties – the party of labor unions and environment groups and feminist organizations and the civil rights movement – they’re not an ideologically left-wing party in the same way that Republicans are an ideological conservative one. Instead, they behave more like a centrist, interest group brokerage party that seeks to mediate between the claims and concerns of left-wing activists groups and those of important members of the business community – especially industries like finance, Hollywood, and tech that are based in liberal coastal states and whose executives generally espouse a progressive outlook on cultural change.

Sanders’s core proposition, separate from the details of the political revolution, is that for progressives to win they need to first organize and dominate an ideologically left-wing political party that is counterpoised to the ideological right-wing Republican Party.

In short, stand for something. The Republicans do, and also don’t worry about losing:

Especially in the context of the 2016 election, there remains the small problem that most experts think Sanders would be a weak general election candidate. Younger Democrats are hungry for a more left-wing, more ideologically rigorous Democratic Party, but after eight years of Obama the general public is not. This is a problem, and one the Sanders campaign hasn’t yet offered a particularly compelling or detailed response to.

But the more you think about the long term, the less compelling it seems.

After all, mainstream Democrats have no real plan to win Congress or state offices, so in terms of big schemes for change it’s a choice between two different flavors of wishful thinking, not between realism and impracticality.

And there’s this:

More fundamentally, the Sanders contention is that if liberals want to change America in fundamental ways, they need to start by creating an ideologically liberal political party. Once you have control of a party, the chance that your Reagan-in-1980 moment may arrive is always lurking out there in the mysterious world of unpredictable events. But if you don’t have control of a party, then you are guaranteed to fail.

Sanders may or may not be the right person for the job, and 2016 may or may not be the year it happens. But it looks clear that the rising generation of Democrats want to try to build that party, and that the future belongs to politicians who’ll promise to build it with them.

Don’t walk away from the future – that’s the idea here – and Salon’s Ben Norton carries that further, arguing that Bernie Sanders is not a Democrat and Hillary represents the very worst of the party:

A new strategy has emerged in the Hillary Clinton camp: No longer even try to match Bernie Sanders’ left-wing politics – which the Wall Street-backed multimillionaire war hawk Clinton is fundamentally incapable of doing. Instead, appeal to authority and accuse the democratic socialist of disloyalty to the corrupt Democratic Party.

Clinton’s campaign did just that this week, condemning Sanders for “trying to convince the next generation of progressives that the Democratic Party is corrupt.”

The notion that Sanders had to try to convince progressives of this in the first place is ludicrous. The warmongering, corporate-funded, pro-privatization Democratic Party leadership has long made it loud and clear that it is thoroughly corrupt and reactionary.

Yet Clinton and her supporters happen to be correct about one thing; they are just right for the wrong reasons.

Bernie Sanders is not a Democrat. And this is a good thing.

Yes, Ben Norton is one angry fellow, who is angry at his party:

Since the rise of the Clintonian “New Democrat” almost three decades ago, the party has moved so far to the right it has little in common with the base it purports to represent.

President Obama campaigned on the promise of change, but, in many ways, his presidency – particularly in the first term – was George W. Bush lite.

The Obama administration barely even slapped the banks and financial elites responsible for the Great Recession on the wrist. Not a single Wall Street executive went to jail while, today, the very banks responsible pose just as much of a systemic risk as they did in 2008.

The Obama administration killed thousands of people, including an unknown number of civilians, with its secretive drone war. It expanded the war in Afghanistan – twice – dragged its feet on Guantánamo, backed a right-wing military coup that overthrew Honduras’ democratically elected left-wing government and dropped 23,400 bombs on six Muslim-majority countries in 2015.

The Obama administration waged a McCarthyite crackdown on whistleblowers, using the World War I-era Espionage Act to clampdown on more than all previous presidential administrations combined, while drastically expanding the surveillance state.

This is the Democratic Party Americans have grown up with in the past nearly 30 years, since the rise of the Clintonism. And, in these same decades, wages have stagnated, poverty has increased and people have become more and more dissatisfied with the way things are.

Well, even if you missed that Honduras thing, that’s quite a list, and Hillary will, presumably, make that list longer:

Hillary Clinton, a figure greatly admired by neoconservatives (who are overwhelmingly backing her over Trump), represents a continuation of this status quo – a status quo millions upon millions of Americans have said they refuse to tolerate anymore.

Americans are desperate for actual change, and Sanders has offered a new path. Clinton has flatly insisted that Americans cannot have basic things that much of the world takes for granted – single-payer health care, free public higher education, environmental policies that don’t rely on fossil fuel corporations that destroy the planet. Bernie Sanders says otherwise.

Norton goes on and on for many more paragraphs, and then settles here:

The fact that a 74-year-old, bald and frankly unattractive man, a Vermont senator with a Brooklyn accent whom most Americans had never heard of until this year, has been doing so incredibly well is a testament to just how popular – and one might even say correct – his socialist ideas are.

Amanda Marcotte disagrees, because the Sanders campaign has stopped being about winning and is now mostly about whining:

Things have been getting sour for Team Sanders for weeks now, but, in the past week, the campaign took a decisive turn away from positive campaigning and actually trying to win towards focusing a baffling amount of energy on a futile narrative about how his losses don’t really count.

I wish it were otherwise, but there’s simply no nice way to put this. The Sanders camp has decided to focus on stoking half-baked complaints about process, complaints that don’t serve to win a single vote to their side. Instead, it seems about Sanders and his supporters insinuating that Clinton is winning by cheating. The behavior is not the behavior of people trying to win. It’s the behavior of someone who lost a hand of poker and is throwing his cards in his opponent’s face and screaming about how unfair it is that the other guy drew a better hand.

She goes over all the mind-numbing details of what Hillary did that Bernie didn’t like – the list is long – and settles here:

The Sanders campaign did a lot of good for a long time, pushing Clinton to the left and drawing attention away from the Republican campaign. But now all he’s doing is sowing pointless animosity. If he can’t get back to productive work, it’s time for him to retire this campaign.

That’s what he’s probably mulling over in Vermont. A mensch doesn’t sow pointless animosity. That’s Ted Cruz’s job. He has a gift for it, and Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir considers them both:

Both political parties are going through intense internal turmoil, not to mention a refusal to acknowledge their own increasing irrelevance. Independents have been a larger group than either Democrats or Republicans for most of the last 25 years – and the day when they outnumber both parties put together is not far away. Both parties have now picked their nominees, in effect if not in fact, but that will do nothing to resolve their internal struggles.

If the conflict between Republican leaders and the party’s electoral base is more obvious at the moment, a similar split among Democrats is not far behind. Bernie Sanders will not be the Democratic nominee (in large part because he isn’t a Democrat), but he has exposed an immense generational and ideological gulf within the left-liberal coalition, and has channeled or galvanized a reborn activist consciousness that is fundamentally opposed to the Hillary Clinton model of top-down, incremental, organization-based politics.

On the other side of the ledger, we see a funhouse mirror image: Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee, in large part because he isn’t a Republican – which might be all we need to say about that party’s confusion and dysfunction. After decades of luring the white working class with trumped-up cultural issues (ha ha!) and thinly veiled racism, only to deliver trickle-down, CEO-friendly economics that drove those people further into poverty, the GOP’s Georgetown leadership caste has encountered one of the great karmic laws of the universe: Payback’s a bitch.

Yes, we should have seen this coming:

Clinton and Trump remain on course for first-ballot victories at their respective conventions. All other scenarios require an elaborately constructed alternate universe worthy of Philip K. Dick. Both frontrunners hold big leads over their opponents both in terms of pledged delegates and popular votes. There is no longer any plausible pathway in which either Sanders or Ted Cruz can overtake his party’s frontrunner in pledged delegates before the convention. No such pathway existed even before the New York votes were counted, and now its last traces have been obliterated. There is no example in modern political history of an underdog staging a come-from-behind victory late in a primary campaign. This isn’t a baseball pennant race, where a team might unexpectedly reel off a dozen wins in a row. The mysterious commodity known as “momentum,” in this case, is a matter of media perceptions and mass psychology, both of which are firmly cemented at this point.

So on one side there’s this:

Sanders’ brain trust may wish to claim, as of Wednesday, that they knew all along they probably wouldn’t win New York, and always thought the Pennsylvania primary next week was more important. Evidence suggests otherwise. New York was Sanders’ last chance to turn the tide, and his last chance to prove that he could win a closed-primary state where only registered Democrats vote. He fought hard, and didn’t even come close.

Sanders held numerous large and enthusiastic rallies from Buffalo to Brooklyn; over the course of the past week he drew his two biggest crowds of the entire campaign, first in Washington Square Park and then in Prospect Park. If primary elections were decided by fervor, he’d have won easily. In the end, he failed to make significant inroads in the African-American community and lost badly in New York City. A statistical tie or near-miss, in the mode of Iowa, Nevada and Missouri, would at least have been spin-worthy, and might have sustained his apparent momentum a few more weeks. Instead, Clinton won roughly 58 percent of the Democratic vote, and the long, strange trip of the Sanders candidacy is just about over.

On the other side there’s this:

Ted Cruz never thought he could beat Trump in New York, and John Kasich didn’t either. But they both got obliterated, and even the moral victory that Kasich was hoping to score among affluent suburbanites in Westchester County and Long Island didn’t materialize. Cruz has now pretty well run through all the states where he can win, having been revealed as a Bible-Belt candidate with an exceedingly narrow demographic. Kasich never won any states in the first place, except the one where he happens to be governor. His story is one of the most bizarre in this year of bizarre events: Polls suggest that if the whole country were voting Kasich could beat Trump or Cruz or Clinton easily, but he has no shot at the Republican nomination. (Sanders, who polls by far the best among all five people still running for president, faces a similar predicament.)

That leaves Sanders with this:

We don’t know what the Bernie Sanders endgame will look like, or what it might hope to accomplish – either in terms of short-term strategic gains or long-term political objectives. There was a moment, a few weeks ago, when Sanders could have withdrawn from the race and forged some sort of backstage political alliance with Hillary Clinton, dragging her a bit further to the left and extracting some more or less meaningless promises about cabinet officers or specific policy proposals or whatever. I’m not suggesting that would have been a great idea then, and there’s surely no advantage to either of them now that the race is effectively over.

In the immediate aftermath of the New York blowout, Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver and strategist Tad Devine are still insisting they’ll push on to the convention, in hopes they can deny Clinton enough delegates for a first-ballot victory. After next week’s primaries in Maryland and Pennsylvania, they may have to shelve that dubious theory, but it’s probably not the real goal. Beyond giving Bernie one last chance to speak on national TV before he goes back to the Senate, and offering his supporters a chance to blow off some steam in public, what’s the point?

That, then, leaves this:

If you can show the world that the forces of Clintonism may have won this battle, but in the fullness of time may yet lose the war, then you’re making a statement that goes beyond symbolism or political vanity. For that matter, as symbolism and political vanity go, offering Bernie Sanders a big sendoff in what will surely be his final moment in the national spotlight seems worth doing. Even in this extraordinary year, it’s been clear from the outset to anyone who can count that Sanders had virtually no shot at the Democratic nomination. I have argued all along that the central question was his legacy: What becomes of the Bernie Sanders movement after Bernie Sanders is defeated?

The usual answer, at least in American politics, is that nothing happens: The insurgency dissipates and the Democratic Party gets back to business, i.e., shining the shoes of the rich, apologizing for endless war and endless surveillance, recoiling in horror from any talk of class-based economic justice and, of course, losing every possible election from coast to coast except the quadrennial White House tournament.

That’s depressing. What’s a mensch supposed to do, fight on with intensity and decency, as well as the two can be managed together – to fight the long losing battle, because sometimes the only battles worth fighting are losing battles – to dream the impossible dream?

That sounds familiar. In 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella tossed all the Jews out of Spain, the same year they sent Christopher Columbus our way, but later, in 1605, Cervantes gave us Don Quixote, a real mensch – a good, decent man, doing the right thing, no matter how absurdly hopeless. Perhaps Bernie Sanders becomes our Don Quixote – the Jewish one, from Brooklyn. There may be no other alternative now.

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