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Broken Elephants, Part I: Donald Trump and the Triumph of the Conservative Media Machine

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I

Consider a simple and deceptively important question:

What exactly is the Republican Party, anyway?

One possible answer to this question — more commonly held than one might expect at first blush — is that the Republican Party is a group of people very loosely bound by little more than an arbitrary shopping list of personal preferences. Per this definition, the party is a quasi-random group of men and women who collectively wish to pay less in taxes and cut some current government programs they do not feel work well, while expanding others that they feel do. (The question of which programs and by how much is largely immaterial.) Also by this definition, the party may be merely a cultural marker of those joined by a dislike of liberals and/or the Democratic Party, though the extent and the reasons for that dislike cover a near-infinite spectrum, to the point of being a near-useless distinction: Party members are simply people who prefer to use totem words such as “freedom” to underscore any given point, whether it’s the “freedom” of an individual to proselytize for Christianity in a larger secular community despite that community’s wishes otherwise, or the “freedom” of a larger Christian community to forbid Muslims from building houses of worship in their neighborhoods or cities.

In short, using this definition of the GOP we see a Republican Party that differs little from Comic-Con attendees: A group of hobbyists only vaguely connected to one another, each skittering about after shiny objects with little interest in doing much but satisfying one momentary craving after the next, until it’s time to go home and wait for the next convention.

For the record, I do not subscribe to this definition.1

220px-Reince_Priebus_by_Gage_Skidmore_2A second possible answer is that the Republican Party is an alliance of political interest groups who work together in a carefully coordinated effort to shape the present and future, using both a collective regimen and centralized strategy to achieve those ends. Under this definition, the purpose of the party would be to choose which issues it will run with nationally, and which it will limit to particular targeted localities, in order to better craft public policy to its preference and favor. The party would also provide mentoring, advertising, public relations, and financial support to those individuals it believes have the best shot at forming a local, state, or national consensus in a way that achieves the long-term goals of the alliance. Perhaps most important, it provides a disciplined hand to ensure that its elected officials govern their constituents in a manner that positively reflects and promotes the party itself.

This is the definition of the Republican Party to which I subscribe. And by this definition, there is little doubt that today’s GOP is broken, perhaps irrevocably so.

Do not misunderstand. I distinguish Republicans from the Republican Party. Republicans still wield significant power. Republicans continue to win elections, though not national ones. Republicans still claim 23% of all registered voters, which in a country of over 300 million is no small thing. And in a media-soaked world where celebrity star-power trumps both substance and results, Republican luminaries are by no small measure the most visible and identifiable in all of politics. Republicans, therefore, remain a force to be reckoned with; Republicans are still relevant.

The Republican Party, however, is a very different story.

II

For those who doubt this, consider the current polls of likely Republican Primary voters. As we all know, Donald Trump leads the entire pack by a Clinton-esque margin.2 But to focus just on Trump, I would argue, obfuscates the larger and more important story.

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Three out of the only four candidates polling in double digits are Trump, Ted Cruz, and Ben Carson. Together, these three candidates represent slightly over 60% of all likely GOP voters. This is far more revolutionary than it seems at first blush, because these three conservatives share an unlikely (and historically unusual) common denominator: In addition to appealing to GOP voters’ hostility and distrust of the Democratic Party, these candidates have also catapulted to Republican Primary success in no small part by fanning the embers of hostility and distrust of the Republican Party.

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 11.31.21 AMMuch of Trump’s appeal with the base, in fact, has come from his willingness to belittle and besmirch the GOP, its leaders, and its pundits. The same is true of Carson, who, as we shall see in the next post of this series, has been remarkably upfront that he only became member or the Republican Party to run for office. He minces no words when describing the GOP as merely the lesser of two monstrous evils. Further, both Trump and Carson have recently threatened to bolt from the GOP; more important, they have done so from a position of power. This “I-just-might-turn-my-back-on-the-Party” rhetoric isn’t some sour grapes whining. It’s a calculated strategy to appeal to the members of the party they’re threatening to abandon. Make no mistake, that strategy is working. Indeed, the primary wellspring of their personal appeal to party members, quite astoundingly, seems to be their lack of any real connection to the GOP itself, even an ideological one.

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 11.32.05 AMThe mythic archetype of a Republican Caesar riding into Rome from the wilderness works considerably less well for Cruz, obviously, who has been the very definition of a “Washington insider” since the late 1990s. But he too has recently risen to prominence in a remarkably short period of time via a calculated thumbing of his nose at the GOP. That pretty much every Republican official in Washington and Texas can’t stand the guy is the GOP’s worst kept secret, and Cruz has shrewdly used that mutual disdain and distrust to his benefit. His much ballyhooed shutting down of the Federal government two years ago was just as much of a “Fish You” to the Party as it was the president, if not more so.

Now compare the poll results of Trump, Cruz and Carson to those candidates who entered the race as Republican Party banner-wavers: Jeb Bush, Rick Perry, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Lindsay Graham, Chris Christie, John Kasich, and George Pataki. Since July, conventional wisdom has held that the reason for Trump’s success is due to this subset of Party-hardiers being too large, that it is necessarily splitting up the field due to its bloated body count. But two of the three candidates most GOP insiders assumed would be front-runners just six months ago, Perry and Walker, have already been forced to withdraw. The rest of the remaining half-dozen “true” Republicans are polling at less than 22% — combined.3

If the only candidates willing to support rather than disparage their own political party can’t muster a quarter of that party’s potential votes, then that party is broken — period. Not necessarily broken permanently, but broken nonetheless. Arguments to the contrary are some combinations of smoke, mirrors, and wishful thinking.

III

So how did the country’s most powerful political party transform, in the space of a single decade, from the basis for a presumed “permanent majority” to a state of chaos, its leaders actively conspiring against their own candidates in hopes of said party not permanently imploding?

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 11.35.19 AMThe answer, I will ague here and in my next two posts, is that the GOP’s growing reliance on feeding a ratings-driven propaganda machine has led it to this state of disrepair, just as surely as that same relationship swept the GOP to power a decade-and-a-half ago. Further, I will argue that the current state of the Republican Party — a body that strategically chose to hang its hat on ratings over governance — was inevitable. So too was the nature and character of its current presidential forerunners.

Finally, I will argue that despite the fact that this Presidential campaign has likely already lost the GOP its 2016 White House bid, that defeat will matter little to the principal players.  Rather than being cast out into the wilderness — the fate of all political losers in generations past — these calculating rabble-rousers will be lucratively rewarded by the same Media Machine that created them. Indeed, they will likely be more venerated as losers than the past two actual Republican Presidents, and will be encouraged to continue to hog the Party spotlight.

And therein lies the rub: I have come to believe that the GOP’s upcoming 2016 White House loss will not be used as a cautionary tale to future conservative Presidential hopefuls. To the contrary, it will be used as a road map.

Let us take a quick, hopefully illuminating, jaunt down memory lane by way of an explanation.

IV

Consider the following words of joyful praise which were heaped upon our current president, Barack Hussein Obama. These words are not my praise, mind you — but praise nonetheless, from just a few years back:

The good news is that Obama seems to be well aware of [the problems facing America]. His comments have led me to believe that he understands how the economy works on a comprehensive level. He has also surrounded himself with very competent people, and that’s the mark of a strong leader…

The world looks at us [more positively] than they used to. [I] think he’s sort of a guy that just has a wonderful personality, a good speaker, somebody that people trust. And I also think that the comparison with his predecessor is so different — it’s so huge that it really has made a great impact on people… I think he’s doing a really good job. He’s totally a champion.

That there is some mighty high praise, perhaps to the point of sounding downright partisan. It might rightly surprise many Republicans, therefore, to learn that the statements above came not from Chris Matthews, nor George Clooney, nor Ellen DeGeneres. No, these statements came from one Donald J. Trump.4 The story of Trump’s journey from Obama-fawner to GOP frontrunner is an important one, one which I believe explains his appeal in a way the more traditional political narratives do not.

51hOB9KFYcL._SX345_BO1,204,203,200_If you felt a twinge of deja vu upon hearing Trump might throw his hat in the ring last year, know that you had good reason. Trump has been coyly suggesting a possible run for the nations’ highest office for almost three decades, though up until (possibly) now it has always been as a way to promote his brand and business interests.5 In fact, Trump’s hints were so consistent and so cynically delivered over such an extended period of time that by the 2000s the news media had long ceased taking them seriously.

I’ve been watching a lot of national Trump interviews over the past month, both past and present. It’s interesting to note that, prior to four years ago, they are all pretty much celebrity gossip affairs. Before March of 2011, Fox News in particular seemed to have almost no interest in him at all. Perhaps the most telling interview prior to 2011 is this one with Greta Van Susteren from 2010. It’s taped in Trump’s office, and Trump’s rambling non-answers to Van Susteren’s questions sound identical to his current stump speeches. Politicians are all stupid, he insists; they have no great ideas. They say they have ideas about creating jobs, but they never give specifics. Donald Trump always gives specifics — great, amazing specifics. Specifics that all the experts love. Everyone loves Donald Trump and his specifics.

Van Susteren initially presses him to give an example of such a specific — any specific — but Trump ignores her and barrels on with his unending bloviation. About halfway through the interview, when the camera is on Van Susteren, you can see her break from her “fascinated interviewer face” mask, and begin occasionally looking at her cameraman and producer with a look that says, “Can you believe the s**t this guy is selling?” As late as 2010, even Fox viewed The Donald as a spotlight-seeking know-nothing blowhard.

Trump’s ascendancy from Fox-dissed windbag to Fox-promoted Conservative Savior actually starts in 2011, when he was once again floating the idea of a presidential run during promotional tours for The Apprentice and his book Midas Touch: Why Some Entrepreneurs Get Rich – And Why Most Don’t. He seemed no more serious than he had when he’d floated a run to the press in every previous election, and so, once again, it was widely assumed by an eye-rolling press to be yet another publicity stunt.

And then, on March 23, 2011, Trump did a promotional stop in for The Apprentice on ABC’s The View and this happened:

Donald Trump On The View 03/23/2011 Trump Wants to See Obama's Birth Certificate

As video of the breakdown of decorum on The View went viral, conservative media booking agents took notice. Not only had Trump suggested that the President might be illegitimate on a major mainstream network, Trump went so far as to imply that Obama was a secret Muslim up to some nefarious scheme. Within days of his appearance on The View, Trump was invited on to Fox’s The O’Reilly Factor, and for the first time ever was treated as a serious presidential contender by the conservative cable news network. After all, Trump provided the free of charge, exactly the over-the-top, anti-Obama content Fox’s audience tuned in to hear.

Bill O'Reilly vs. Donald Trump (3/30/2011) (part 1)

Knowing what we know now, the O’Reilly interview is especially worth watching for two reasons. The first reason is see just how softball O’Reilly’s questions are. The second reason is that it’s a little hard to say for certain exactly who is answering the questions in the interview, Trump or O’Reilly.

At times it seems as if Trump might be straying from conservative dogma, and O’Reilly steps in and sort of redirects him. On the issues of both Obamacare and unions, for example, Trump initially seems to be very much for both of them, albeit it in a waffling sort of manner. O’Reilly actively gets Trump to focus on whatever parts of what Trump is saying that can best be turned into anti-Obamacare and anti-union soundbites. As soon as Trump does, O’Reilly declares the question answered to his satisfaction and moves on. Worse, as the interview goes on, O’Reilly steps in when Trump is missing the red-meat cues and actually begins to answer the questions for Trump, letting the Donald know in real time what the “correct” answers are.

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 11.40.27 AMOver the next month, Trump found that the more he publicly questioned Obama’s citizenship, the more he was given free, positive publicity by conservative media outlets. He began to be touted on Fox in particular as a great leader worthy of serious respect and consideration. Dick Morris, in totally Dick-Morris fashion, declared repeatedly on multiple Fox and talk radio shows that Trump had a “good shot” at the nomination. Eventually, of course, the time came to trump or get off the pot, and The Donald withdrew his name from serious consideration for the White House. But the Media Machine knew dollar signs when it saw them, and for the next four years it tied its ratings to Trump’s obvious star power.

That’s when things went from merely silly to positively Dali-esque.

V

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 11.50.52 AMFox and conservative radio networks desperately wanted to have The Donald on to boost ratings, but without an ongoing Trump Presidential bid, how could they justify making him a regular guest? The answer, of course, was to simply declare him a “leading expert” on anything they happened to be talking about. The result was utterly fascinating: A veritable buffet of sycophantic Trump interviews, where the Media Machine presented Trump as a kind of real-life Buckaroo Banzai. Conservatives already knew Trump the Reality television star. Now they were being re-introduced to Trump as a leading expert on China, Afghanistan, sequesters, health care, race relations, U.S.-Russian relations, political predictions, Ebola, immigration, disaster relief, Egypt, the “link” between autism and vaccines, cyber-terrorism, and basically whatever happened to be in the news on whatever days anyone could book him.

Why do consumers of the Media Machine believe that Donald Trump is a serious candidate, a straight shooter, and an expert on a myriad of issues he so clearly is not? Because the Media Machine has spent the past half decade telling those same consumers on a near daily basis that that’s what Donald Trump is. To be clear: this was a tiger the GOP and its leadership were thrilled to ride. Confusing ratings and book sales with political outreach, they allowed the Media Machine to pour gas on the flames. By all appearances, it simply didn’t occur to them that they might just burn their own house down in the process.

Now, of course, that all-knowing-expert-on-everything is ravaging the Party’s White House dreams in exchange for the building of his own personal brand. Worse, others such as Cruz and Carson are climbing alongside for more of the same. The GOP leadership, after having spent the past decade and a half building an apparatus that favored symbolism and celebrity over governance and discipline, looks utterly stymied as to how even to begin to save itself.

Which isn’t to say the Republican Party and its leadership doesn’t have any consolation to help them swallow their bitter pill.

After all, their Media Machine’s ratings have never been higher.

VI

In subsequent posts, we will look at the ascendancy of two conservative media mainstays — Ben Carson and Frank Gaffney — and how the current GOP apparatus oddly favors those who harm the party for their own personal gain. Then, we will look Ted Cruz and how the current GOP pursues public policy in a manner that is primarily concerned with feeding content to conservative media outlets and at the expense of the health of the Republican Party itself.

As always, dear reader, your comments, feedback, and wisdom are most welcome.

 

[Images: Screenshot from CNN video of Trump imitating a reporter with a developmental disability, via YouTube. Teddy Roosevelt and a dead elephant, via Wikipedia. Aggregate Primary polling data via Real Clear Politics. Reince Priebus via Wikipedia. Ben Carson via Wikipedia. Ted Cruz via Wikipedia. Screenshot of Fox & Friends video, via YouTube. Cover of Trump: The America We Deserve, via Amazon.]


Notes:

  1. If you do, then it is likely that this post — and for that matter, the entire Sailing Away series — will seem quite baffling to you. []
  2. As I write this, his current collected polls numbers are better than the next two most popular candidates combined. In one recent poll, his 41% equals the total of next six most popular candidates combined. []
  3. Please note that, despite another line of common-wisdom reasoning, these numbers have little to nothing to do with the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. Two months ago the collective poll numbers of top-tier anti-GOP candidates vs traditional GOP candidates was about the same as it is today, roughly 60% to 22%. Candidates continue to rise and fall within their own subset, but the divide between the two sides has been fairly fixed for a while. []
  4. Perhaps you’ve heard of him. []
  5. In 1998 Trump floated a run to be Reagan’s successor. In 1999, he declared he would run for the Reform Party presidential primary, a campaign that looked surprising similar to the current one: Trump seemed more concerned with selling Trump books and merchandise than actually running, and within a few months Party Leaders were publicly trying to oust him. Immediately after his most current book hit the New York Times’ bestseller list, Trump quit and changed his party status from Reform to Democrat. In the intervening years, he would hint to the press on a semi-annual basis that he would either be running for President or Governor of New York. []

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Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also executive producer and host of the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre. He is  a regular contributor for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast. Follow him on Twitter. ...more →

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240 thoughts on “Broken Elephants, Part I: Donald Trump and the Triumph of the Conservative Media Machine

  1. There’s a certain irony here (well, lots of ironies, but I’m going to talk about one). It’s an evergreen staple of editorial pages that politicians ought to put higher priorities* ahead of petty politics, by which I think they mean the tireless quest to win elections. And in a way, these people seem to have finally got their wish: large subsets of the Republican party are motivated by things other than winning elections. Except what they value over electoral success are ratings and book deals, and the results are totally horrifying to the googoos and editorial boards of the world.

    *with “higher priorities” usually defined as a policy preference of the writer that is unpopular, especially if that preference is cutting social security benefits.

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    • I think editorial papers are talking about something different. A while ago, Matt Y wrote that Donald Trump is the perfect example of a “moderate” politician or “Independent.” Mainly he is Hawkish against Muslims, willing to Dog Whistle (barely) the hell out of things, but he is not anti-Social Security or Medicare.

      The type of “higher priorities” stressed by editoralism is more of Bloomberg’s highly unpopular independence. Bloomberg is more about increasing free trade and “entitlement reform.” This is only going to be popular with the ultra-rich basically. Look at how TPP played out among the Davos set and everyone else.

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      • Oh, they definitely are talking about something different. I just think there’s an element of Monkey’s Paw style irony here. You want politicians to ignore electoral incentives? Fine then, I hope you enjoy Trumpism.

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    • Editorial pages who argue that politicians should focus on “higher priorities” tend to get written by people who think the problem with politics are politicians. The first goal of most people interested in politics in a democratic country is to get elected. Whether your in it to pursue a particular ideology or anything else, your powerless if your not in office. Most politicians are also going to be emotionally needy people that like being at the center of attention. Your not going to be able to withstand the rigors of campaigning otherwise.

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  2. Um, so it really matters why nobody in Washington or Texas can stand Cruz.
    McCain was actively a hothead, prone to burning alliances simply because he was upset (I’ll bet at least one person could still stand him, though).
    Gingrich’s own staffers hated him (as his ego can outshine the sun), as did Snotty Walker’s campaign staff (that’s their nick, not mine!).

    So why can’t people stand Cruz? Is it the whole “Carter” thing again? Maybe the way nobody in the democratic party could stand the Lawn Gnome from Cleveland?

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    • My impression is that Cruz’s whole political strategy is to build himself up by making the rest of the party look like squishes. Other elected Republicans knew (and likely Cruz did as well) that the shutdown wouldn’t work, but Cruz engineered the situation such that those opposing his counterproductive strategy would get lambasted by fox news and talk radio. Nobody likes being put in a bind like that in order to advance a colleague’s career.

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      • Yes. Cruz engineered a potential disaster which could have damaged the GOP if it was allowed to become reality, took political credit with The Base to engineering it, and caused the preventers to lose credit with The Base.

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      • I think this is important. On the other end of the aisle, people within the Democratic Party disagree with Bernie Sanders policy proposals, but none of his colleagues within the Senator or previously the House thought he was an asshole. Same thing with other conservative stalwarts in the past – I mean, hell, Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond seems like more personable human beings than Cruz does.

        This isn’t a policy thing – the average GOPer believes 80-90% of the same things Cruz does. But, they want to punch Cruz in the face.

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          • I think Jesse may be right with the proviso that it’s the average GOP leader who feels that way. Interestingly in the current primary for competing for votes from the rank and file that could be a plus. However it does mean that unless Cruz can get an absolute majority of delegates (or a near commanding plurality of delegates) from the base themselves then the GOP leadership could hand the contest to someone else. Trumps impact is in that he represents someone/thing even more repulsive to the party leadership than a Cruz nomination.

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                • Agreed. He’s a tough & smart sonofa[nice lady, presumably]. Clearly underestimated as talent by the GOP (increasingly less so by Dems from what I read). The GOP is working overtime to keep down its IMO most talented, most conservative potential nominee.

                  Because GOP presidential politics – but not the Republican Party, Tod has that wrong – are most certainly broken.

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                  • I think you’re missing the larger point here.

                    You are right that there have been a ton of assholes in politics. But the path to the Oval Office is different from the path to a regional or local office. Or at least it has been since the rise of electronic media.

                    This right here, I have long believed, is where political junkies always get it wrong: They look at people on paper.

                    And when yu look at people on paper, you decide that, say, Rick Perry or John Kasich have a serious shot at being President. Or you say that the litmus-test stances of someone like Cruz (or for that matter, someone like Romney) mean that they have a good change of winning a national election, as if all people vote on is an excel spreadsheet of policy positions. But that isn’t how people vote.

                    Ted Cruz will never, ever, ever win a national election. It’s just to who he is, for both better and worse.

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                    • The larger point being that you’re just right about this and that’s that? I don’t see an argument here.

                      Look, I put a lot of stock in personal qualities determining who advances in politics. I just think it’s far more important, as you say, in the media era, how those qualities are perceived by the public than by elites. Obama was perceived as too inexperienced by elites in his own party, but went over their head with his phenomenal ability to come across as… whatever it was that people liked about him in the media. I don’t see Obama-level talent in Cruz, but I see significant talent there, and all I’m saying is that I’m a skeptic of this insiders-hate-him account of Cruz’s certain doom. (I also am largely talking about the nomination, and you’ll notice I didn’t claim he’s their best choice, just their most talented, most conservative one – so currently underrated given the views of folks like you). We’ll see if the insider thing comes through as the brick wall to the nomination that so many are describing it as. It could, I’m just skeptical.

                      Meanwhile, you and others voice the kind of certainty about that that many did about the late-autumn expiration date of the Trump view, and this time I don’t even see an argument attached. It’s just, “Oh you think about politics a lot (me?!), so I know better.”

                      I don’t even see an argument here. All I’m saying is that I’m skeptical.

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                      • I’m skeptical too. Going back a bit, party leadership could crush someone they disliked. He wouldn’t get decent committee assignments, or cosponsors for his per bills. And in a presidential campaign, none of the unpledged delegates would go near him. Nowadays little if any of that applies. Being in Congress is about making noise, not getting bills passed, and more and more the nominee is chosen by the voters, not the leadership. If Cruz does get the nomination, the leadership won’t sit on their hand and lose the White House again. So, except perhaps on the margins, I don’t see being an asshole hurting Cruz that much.

                        Note that, of the men Cruz is being compared to, Nixon was chosen to run for Congress by the Party, faithfully did his job as Ike’s attack dog, and spent his timeout of politics between ’62 and ’68 doing favors and generally being helpful, so that he had the Party behind him in ’68. McCarthy never did anything for the Party, and when he was no longer useful, they washed their hands of him. But that was then, and this is now.

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              • I’d also add that “But we concede that it may not be a drag on him among voters so much!” is, like, a gaping concession when you think about it. But I’d hasten to then say that that’s not the extent of my skepticism. I certainly acknowledge that the elites hate him. I’m just a skeptic that that matters much at this level, when push comes to shove, and a guy has the pull to actually be in the shoving in the critical stages, which I think Cruz will. I’m not outright predicting it won’t/denying it will matter at all. But I’m a skeptic of how much.

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                • Well heck, I agree with you that Cruz plays to his bases voters well. That said I’d still rather fight him in the general than Rubio. Cruz plays well to his base but he’ll need a lot more than that to win the White House. Rubio will be perfectly find for his base AND he has that candy coating over the reeking turd policies that could potentially let him hornswoggly the low info middle voters too. I haven’t seen much evidence that Cruz has a lot of pull outside the base.

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                  • Again, I want to be clear, I’m not saying I think Cruz is their best choice in terms of beating HIllary. I am saying I think they (elites) are effectively underrating his ability and potential, since they are apparently dead-set on denying him the nomination, even almost at the cost of letting Trump have it if it comes to that. (At least, that’s how the description of insider’s feelings about Cruz have been coming across to me.) You couldn’t rate a guy much lower than that. And I think that’s an absurdly low evaluation of value for what I’m seeing out there on the trail, presuming that “more conservative” is generally a good thing all things being equal. (I.e. if you could certainly elect either a moderate conservative or an uber-conserative, you wouldn’t actually just choose the moderate conservative out of straight preference. Of course, from the perspective of many who so hate Cruz, that may not be the case.)

                    Basically, what I’m saying is if you want a guy who can bring some real talent to bear to the project of mounting a serious campaign for the presidency for a candidate who is very conservative and advances that message very effectively, you should be looking very closely at Ted Cruz. Opportunities like him don’t come along very often if you’re of that cast of mind. (In this sense to some extent I do look at thin somewhat in the light I saw Obama in in 2008 – just an unforeseen opportunity that a party had no choice but to take advantage of.)

                    OTOH, if you’re of the cast of mind that doesn’t even thing getting someone who’s very conservative into the oval Office is even desirable, but instead ideally wants to see a solid Republican with a set of, perhaps, social views that can be presented to the public and maybe kind of arguably moderate be nominated and elected, well, then Ted Cruz is not of much interest to you.

                    But remember what it means if those people are ultimately in a position to say that not a Trump and not a Cruz and not a Carson and not a Santorum and not a Huckabee will be nominated, but instead, only a Bush or a Rubio or a Christie will be. It means that in some ways, though there are more candidates, there’s not that much more of a primary going on in the GOP than there is with the Dems. You’re excluding a whole section of your party from the process if, ultimately, there is not anything, ever, they can do to nominate one of their own. And I think the aspiration to a veto power of that sort is what is really behind this claim that Cruz being so personally hated is what will hold him back. I don’t think this personal animosity is really the driver. It just doesn’t make sense given how massively interests have to drive what’s going on at this level of politics.

                    I actually think it’s a reflection of the fact that he’s maybe known to be by far the most capable person in the field at least in a political sense, but also a true believer (sone of a crusading televangelist and all). And they don’t have much of a way to stop him because they know the kind of talent they’re dealing with. They’re (GOP elites, again) are concerned about how effectively he’ll move the direction of the party somewhere that they don’t want it to go (real cultural conservatism in addition to hardcore business-interest protection). So they need an excuse to get together and spike his run before it achieves lift-off. But he really can be pretty convincing on the stump as a conservative champion. And they can’t just say, Look, Base, he’s too conservative, especially socially, so we just don’t want him. It’s actually more acceptable to the base to be able to claim that they just hate him, because he’s earned the hatred, so we’re taking him down out of spite. The base can probably understand that; in any case they’d rather hear that than that the guy is too conservative. That’s all they’ve wanted for cycles on cycles: a true conservative champion: they’re convinced not nominating those is what has caused them to lose four out five popular presidential votes!

                    The GOP elites don’t hate him. I mean, they do, but it’s not the operative factor. They certainly operate more calculatedly than that. They fear him – and they oppose him. This is not about personality, really. Sure, there’s plenty there for them to make the claim convincing. But if they didn’t oppose him in terms of ideological direction, but instead supported him on the substance of what he wants to do with the party and to the country, they wouldn’t fear him, but instead they’d think he was their greatest champion in years. And they wouldn’t “hate” him.

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          • Curiously, I just listened to Cruz get interviewed on the Adam Carolla podcast and I was actually surprised by how human and kinda normal he came across. He talked about Princess Bride being his favorite movie and didn’t have any of the bluster. Even if you hated his policy talking points (largely built around repealing Obamacare and instituting a flat tax), it was a very different Cruz than the one I’ve seen elsewhere. Curious.

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            • “Even if you hated his policy talking points (largely built around repealing Obamacare and instituting a flat tax), it was a very different Cruz than the one I’ve seen elsewhere. Curious.”

              In other words, perhaps: the Harvard Law School Grad and Senator Cruz knows how to make nice on the air, when it serves his interest.

              Also, not trying to be harsh here, but you’re ignoring what the man has done (and would do) to pay attention to the sweet nothings which he utters.

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  3. Yeah it’s broken and it’s richly deserved.

    After their run at the wheel of state in the aughts the GOP decided that rather than admitting “we scrwed up” and going into the wilderness to sort themselves out and play constructive opposition the party instead declared “we were betrayed” and went whole hog into frothing partisanship.
    This led to the nakedly cynical “Waterloo” strategy assumign that if they could paralyse the state as we careened into the great recession that Obama and his party would take the blame and be thrown from power. This manifested in their endless assertions that despite not commanding the majority in government that they could compell their opponents to enact the “eat your broccoli” policies they espoused (but never enacted when in power) simply by being determined enough.

    And to a degree it worked, they have shortcutted a stint in the wilderness into a return to power in swift order. What we’re seeing now, however, strikes me as the waiter politely coughing and presenting the bill. The corralary to all these mantras of “we can make this happen if we’re determined and conservative enough” is that since the things they claim the power to make happen haven’t happened then the GOP must be either insufficiently determined or conservative. The solution, if you accept that framework, is to elect more determined and conservative leadership. The tiger the GOP mounted is turning now and it’s hungry.

    And I’m gaining weight from all the popcorn I’m eating watching the spectacle. It couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch of guys.

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    • Going into frothing partnership made perfect sense for the Republicans in the American political system though. We can examine this through British political history. After getting trounced by Thatcher in the 1970s, the Labour Party stayed closed to their leftist principles for years. Mostly this was because the Party leadership and most of the rank and file members still believed in the classic Labour ideology included Clause Four even though most British people were no longer buying what Labour was selling. They didn’t want public ownership of key national industries. People in council housing wanted to buy their own home, something that Labour knew since the early 1970s and what the Labour Right wanted to implement but could never get their more Leftist members to go along with. This gave the Conservatives a popular piece of legislation to offer to the masses.

      The British political system renders the opposition party powerless and even Labour was in frothing opposition mode for nearly the entire 1980s, they couldn’t really do anything to stop the Conservatives from doing as they please. They eventually had to moderate to get back into power.

      Like Labour after Thatcher, it made perfect sense that most Republican politicians and rank and file would not give up deeply held belief. Unlike the British political system, the American political system gives the opposition a lot of opportunity to frustrate the majority if it wants to. The Republicans wanted to and it led to them retaking Congress in two years after Obama got elected President. They basically figured out the secret of American politics. Voters are more likely to blame the President than anybody else when something goes wrong and vote against the President in mid-terms. There was no need for Republicans to go into the wilderness in order to achieve power.

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      • Depends on how you define power. The power to stop people from enacting legislation you dislike? Yes, they had that power. The power to enact your own legislation? No they were powerless there. Worse their power to block policy change was limited as well.

        It would be like if the Democrats after Reagan had gone full bore obstructionist. They could have entirely paralized Bush Senior but they instead elected to moderate and regained the presidency under Clinton and laid the foundations for the current GOP’s crisis.

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        • They don’t have power nationally, but you could make the argument on why they hold a majority of power in state legislatures, local government, and the like is the fact they made life very difficult for Obama for the past seven years.

          So, it’s a trade off – if you’re a conservative firebrand, would you give up the abortion restrictions, gun rights expansion, cuts to the state level welfare state, and various privatization of things on the state and local level that wouldn’t have passed in the pre-Tea Party era for the ability to pass federal level legislation, some of which will have to be watered down to get votes from suburban Republican representatives?

          I understand what you’re saying, but I think it’s kind of a folly to underestimate the damage the GOP has been able to do, especially to those of minorities and women in red and purple states at the state and local level without much of a backlash at all.

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          • I feel you there, but I think that in time the consequences of their state level policies will make themselves felt as people vote both by ballots and their feet.

            That said, the Democratic Party and Liberals in general have some serious soul searching to do on the subject of local politics. I’d call their local politics hangup The defining question for the party and the left. What is going on there? Did we just have an especially bad run of local Democratic politicians or is something more fundamental wrong? The next couple elections should give us an idea of that.

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            • It’s a combination of multiple factors –

              1. A Black President finally killed off the Southern Democratic Party, unfortunately. Rural white Democrat’s, even after the hard days of the 90’s and 00’s used to be able to live by running away from the national party, but once you can put a black guy right next to that local legislator…yeah.

              2. Midterm election turnout and local turnout has always sucked. But, the suck used to even because the two parties coalitions weren’t so different. But, the older white voter is so much more Republican can the Presidential turnout it can seriously effect things. As a result, you get shifts like we did from 2008 to 2010.

              3. Some state parties are bad, and unfortunately, those bad state parties are in some big states – Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. Plus, 2010 allowed some aggressive gerrymanders on the state legislative level in those states (and yes, Democrats have gerrymandered too.)

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    • North :
      “Yeah it’s broken and it’s richly deserved.

      After their run at the wheel of state in the aughts the GOP decided that rather than admitting “we scrwed up” and going into the wilderness to sort themselves out and play constructive opposition the party instead declared “we were betrayed” and went whole hog into frothing partisanship.
      This led to the nakedly cynical “Waterloo” strategy assumign that if they could paralyse the state as we careened into the great recession that Obama and his party would take the blame and be thrown from power. This manifested in their endless assertions that despite not commanding the majority in government that they could compell their opponents to enact the “eat your broccoli” policies they espoused (but never enacted when in power) simply by being determined enough.”

      What they learned, IMHO correctly, was that the elites could loot and trash the country, and then cover for each other. When you think about it for a minute, it’s been amazingly successful. The GOP seriously trashed the country, was tossed ouf of power in ’08, and only two years later, while the financial crisis was still hurtng people, seized control of one branch back (and, of course, always had control of the SCOTUS).

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  4. Is this the culmination of the Tea Party movement? Tea Party types were vocal in their criticism of the status quo, their populist distrust of large institutions, their insistence of easily-understood and simple policies. Fiscal responsibility was a gloss on the agenda, quickly forgotten.

    Or is the mercenary drive for ratings, sales, and personal self-aggrandizement driving the articulation of political statements different than the conservative-versus-populist split fissuring the GOP these days? Do we only equate the two because they share an ultimate disinterest in policymaking and governance?

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    • Why must we distinguish the two? The hucksters hitched their wagon to the tea party almost immediately and are yet to unhitch, to the extent that its hard to distinguish between the two. Is Ben Carson a true believer or a businessman making money off the rubes? I think the smart money is on all of the above.

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      • Why must we distinguish the two?

        It’d be hard to in any event, what with dog-wagging-tails and incomplete information and all. But I Burt’s cleavage of causal accounts is perceptive because even if conservative media/pundit panderbabble ultimately infects even the purest of policy-based agendas (heh!), it seems to me the sentiment which gave rise to Tea Party 2.0 – and even 1.0, to a great extent – constitutes the causal political roots of Trumpism. So in that sense, I think Trumpism is the descendant of earlier rumblings in the Grand Old Party for a politics representative of the interests of the common conservative and common-sense policies (ie, policies that benefit the electorate rather than the “establshment”). As an example, from what I gather, every candidate’s tax reform included major effective tax reductions for the wealthiest Americans except for Trump’s. That’s no small thing, seems to me. There are others.

        On the flip side, the media and Establishment Player’s complete internalization of Cleek’s Law has created so much noise that real signals are increasingly hard to tease out, which leads to some convoluted weirdnesses in trying to tease out causes for various alignments. For one thing, complete subservience to that identity, created by the conservative “establishment”, has resulted in an untenable situation where candidates are politically rational only if they propose functionally insane policies. Trump is certainly not an exception, but buried somewhere in there is a real signal, not just noise, and I think it actually does derive from the Tea Party (2.0!) movement.

        {{I mean, there must be a real signal in there somewhere, yeah?}}

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        • {{I mean, there must be a real signal in there somewhere, yeah?}}

          Rodd Douthat would have us believe so, yes. If I sat down with a pencil and paper for a while I could probably try and hack one out. I don’t know, however, if it could resonate politically.

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          • I’m beginning to wonder if the appeal of Trump, just like the appeal of Palin before him, is based more on what he isn’t than what he is. Eg., that he isn’t a political insider, or an ivory encrusted elitist “smart guy”, and so on. That gives him credibility with a large part of the base right off the bat. And so long as his competitors in the primary continue to pander to the base with pie-eyed promises of impossible policies and fail to include their priorities into the mix, which seem to be the frustration driving Trumpism (if we assume for a moment that there are real signals here), Trump will continue to maintain support simply by not playing the “establishment” game.

            Eg., that from the pov of his supporters and a large part of the “base”, Trump is pissing off all the right people, both outside as well as inside the GOP.

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              • It’s a matter of degree, I think. Lots of conservative voters are genuinely hopped up about immigration issues, and irrespective of whether their concern derives from party-based Cleek-driven propaganda, or bigotry, or job loss, or whatever, the GOP has consistently (from their pov) pandered to them regarding the issue by promising reform that is never enacted. ALong comes Trump, with a clear plan addressing those (either manufactured or genuine but either way politically real concerns.

                What they see in Trump is someone putting those immigration cards on the table and not necessarily the “impossibility” of achieving them. So from their pov, he’s the rationaler choice.

                And actually, I don’t think Trump’s proposal is impossible. It’s probably impossible to deliver at the cost he predicts., tho. Also, I’m assuming that he’d have +/- unilateral control of implementing it under executive authority. That may not be the case, acourse.

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                • Adding one more thing, cuz I think this gets overlooked a lot: one pretty common view of immigration policy advanced by conservatives is that Dems in general but Obama in particular are actively transporting illegals into the country to pad Democratic voter totals. Compared to that – as well as the GOP’s demonstrated unwillingness to curb illegal immigration (for business reasons…) – Trumps proposal doesn’t seem that crazy. I mean, it’s crazy. Just less crazy when put in the context of GOP/conservative politics in general.

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      • Intent is important to me. A genuine populist I can credit with good faith entry into the political arena, a desire to make things better, even if I don’t agree with what the populist would do with the power to which she aspires.

        A creature like Trump, though, doesn’t get that benefit of the doubt. Nor does one such as Roger Ailes or his overlord Rupert Murdoch: political sentiment is for them a lever to be adjusted as necessary in the service of the accumulation of wealth. They don’t want to improve things and indeed, things going bad for others may well mean increased ratings for themselves. By way of direct analogy, W.R. Hearst sold more newspapers during the Spanish-American War than at any other time: we may debate the degree to which he instigated the war, but the involvement of his press machine in fomenting anti-Spanish sentiment is not questioned as a matter of existence.

        It’s not the tottering remnants of the Spanish Empire today, but it could be the distaff nations and movements of the Muslim world. Or Wall Street. While both of these targets of populist scorn are subject to significant criticism from my perspective, the “burn it all down” “solutions” the hucksters sell are, to understate politely, not actually intended to become policy and to the extent they are proffered as such, also match the definition of “fraud.”

        As you know, “fraud” is a very dirty word, one I do not use casually or without moral judgment.

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        • The difficulty is that the bad actors here will most likely not ever find themselves in the sorts of contexts (most notably courts of law) where intent is important. Perhaps those of us that do care about effective governance can more effectively convince the sincere kooks to abandon the frauds by effectively pointing out their hucksterism, but I doubt it. So intent may dictate exactly how unkindly you and I regard the Trumps and Carsons of the world, but the appropriate reaction will be to oppose them and all of their works regardless.

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            • Well the partial thesis of your post is that the GOP is malfunctioning in that too many people are turning it into a machine to extract money from a section of the electorate rather than to do that AND shift policy.

              Carson doesn’t appear to be trying to win to me, he appears to have found a nice and was enjoying the ride while the folks around him raked in the salaries. Past tense now because the wheels seem to be coming off his campaign.

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        • “Ben Carson is the rube. The burn rate is the grift.”

          When you look at his stellar *real* resume, the fact that he can’t refrain from lying about it is to me a sign that he’s a truly pathological liar and narcissist.

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    • “Tea Party types were vocal in their criticism of the status quo, their populist distrust of large institutions, their insistence of easily-understood and simple policies. Fiscal responsibility was a gloss on the agenda, quickly forgotten.”

      The Tea Party was very, very vocal on all sorts of things – after the second Tuesday in November, 2008.

      Before that, they didn’t say so much. My theory is that it’s hard to speak when your toungue is coated with Bush and Cheney’s shoe polish.

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          • I don’t either. Trump claims to be, and to always have been, anti-Iraq War, but Trump is also a liar. So who knows?

            The point of my comment is just to think less about who Clinton and Trump are as public personas and who they are as actual people and what their respective administrations might look like. I don’t think that Trump wants to be President, but if he found himself in that position my guess is that he would fill his administration with Washington insiders, leave the heavy policy lifting to them, and spend most of his time admiring the sound of his own voice.

            And Hilary is every bit as combative, boorish and sharp-elbowed as Trump purports to be (I am guessing this is a selling point for those who want a Democrat in the White House up to the challenge of doing battle with the Republican-controlled congress). Hilary just tries to obscure all of that in her public persona (sometimes in ways that are even more pandering than Trump: https://www.hillaryclinton.com/feed/8-ways-hillary-clinton-just-your-abuela/).

            To bring this back to the point of the post: personally, I think that Tod is right and that Trump is a metastasized growth springing from the tumor-ridden body that is the contemporary GOP. It’s just unclear how and to what degree a Trump administration would materially differ from a Clinton administration or from the previous two. There is a decent chance that Trump would end up being more moderate than any of the other three, and that is not to equate moderate with good.

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            • “It’s just unclear how and to what degree a Trump administration would materially differ from a Clinton administration or from the previous two.”

              There it is. ‘The D’s are just as bad.’ Uh huh.

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              • Lurker: “There it is. ‘The D’s are just as bad.’ Uh huh.”

                Well, when your position is really, really wrong, an examination base on reality is just what you don’t want.

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          • “Honestly, I have no idea. As far as I can tell, Trump is like a dog chasing a car; he has no plans for what to do if he catches it.”

            My honest belief about Dubya and Cheney is that after they recovered from the shock of 9/11, their overwhelming thought was that ‘now I can do whatever I want!’.

            Does anybody believe that Trump wouldn’t have had the same reaction?

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            • I agree. And it didn’t take them long to recover.

              On 9/12, Cheney was pushing for evidence of Saddam being behind 9/11. When the analysts told him that there wasn’t any evidence supporting that, he told them they’d better find some.

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        • I’m confused.

          I thought you were being critical that the site is nothing but BSDI. Now you’re being critical that people here are declaring the GOP far worse than the Dems.

          Was your original BSDI complaint based on a belief that you think we should be praising the GOP instead of hammering on them?

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          • It is obvious that many here are prone to a false equivalency between the GOP and the D’s. Trump drinks the blood of a baby he murdered on live TV and his poll numbers go up, but really Obama and the D’s are just as bad because he hasn’t rolled back the neocons foreign adventurism quickly enough yet his positions are tolerated (though controversial) by many D voters. Really, it doesn’t matter who you have in office: D or R. Competent though flawed governance or drinking blood from innocent babies.

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      • Brandon Berg

        “Okay, sure. If it means that much to you, we can pretend that your party is better.”

        Yes, it is. And we are using facts to make our case.

        You are at the point where you don’t have much in the way of facts, and have backed up to the ‘yeah, so are you’ argument.

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  5. “Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line” is the cliche that gets thrown about every year ’round election time.

    Republicans appear to have fallen in love this time.

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  6. I place the brokenness on the need to signal white cultural supremacy, while concealing it under plausible deniability.

    When Tea Partiers/ Trumpists shout that they “want their country back” they are just echoing the same white cultural backlash that propelled Reagan to power- that “their” America has been hijacked and usurped by Those People.

    Did anybody see that article the other day about Frank Luntz’s focus group? The one I picked up on was RedState’s take, titled “Revenge Replaces Hope And Change“.
    Essentially RedState is acknowledging that the Trumpists are all about revanchism, a restoration of the former order, and primarily about culture.

    None of this is new, except for the part where the free market leg of the conservative stool pries away from the White Identity part. That’s where the media comes in- it used to be that the house organs of conservatism- National Review and others- could keep order, and balance the feeding and maintenance of white ressentiment with the primacy of corporate control.

    Now Fox comes along and lets the tigers out of the cage.

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    • I agree there’s an element of that there but I think it oversimplifies matters to call it the main issue or even a major issue. Thing is that it’s become really hard to be a Republican compared to how it used to be. Blame the Soviets and the Democrats.

      I mean at its roots the GOP from Goldwater on has been an odd beast. The libertarian economic ideals of their economic intelligentsia and the low tax desires of their business backers ran flat out contrary to the interests of the vast majority of voters. The GOP used to square this circle by a number of methods; they’d put up with government spending; they’d obfuscate the issue with social issues and they’d dogwhistle on race issues. The first one was by far the most effective but also the one that the business wing hated the most; thing was the Democrats left wing got dewy eyed at founding a republic of the proletariat, confiscating all the businesses and hanging the businessmen up by their toes. That’s pretty easy to look better than. Then the communists went and discredited communism branch and root and the Democrats under Clinton went and became market supporting centrists* and brought most of the left along for the ride. Suddenly business didn’t have to toe the line. The GOP doubled down on social issues but now they’ve gone and lost on almost everything but abortion.

      The business/libertarian wing controls the party’s elites and intelligentsia (what else is there left for the GOP to stand on?) but you can’t get voters to the polls by telling them you’re going to take away their social security and let them die in the streets when they get sick. So you lie; you invent the Laffer curve and supply side economics, you tell your masses that you can both cut taxes AND pay for all the goodies. As a result they got deficits and no one really loves deficits.

      So it’s hard to be a Republican. The Democrats have gone and parked themselves in the perfectly reasonable center on economics and are never going to be outbid on social issues because the GOP’s social conservatives would never stand for it. What do they have left? War mongering and obfuscation. Meanwhile the base is cluing in that they’re old, dwindling and they’ve been conned for decades and they’re pissed. Enter Trump.

      *The Democrats have always predominantly been market centrists but their left most wing wasn’t. With communism dead dead dead as a threat that wing has become very small and very unimportant.

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      • “As a result they got deficits and no one really loves deficits.”

        The last two GOP presidents have seen them happily run up the deficit, and the base not giving a rat’s f*rt until a Democractic president took office.

        Then it was a crisis, and the Democratic president should inflict massive pain (on his own constituency).

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    • Maybe. The thing is I look at this from the point of view of visiting my mother in a week or so, at which time I’m sure all of this will come up. My mom has no problem with immigrants- for a year or two she was letting an illegal alien friend stay in our old house rent free because she felt bad for him and he was having trouble finding work and so forth. She doesn’t have any problem with gays because a cousin is gay. And I’m fairly certain she doesn’t give a damn about “Islamism” either. But she hates the government because it’s large and inefficient and wastes “her” money on stupid projects. She used to work for the company that was in charge of the health insurance database, it’s worth mentioning, and hated it.

      So, she’s a Fox News head. She likes that the Fox News anchors also say they hate the government. She thinks it makes them more honest. She believes she’s better informed than the rest of us. I have no idea how she feels about Donald the Trump, but it will be interesting to find out.

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      • Yes my relatives are very much like that as well.
        One reason I’m not fond of the word “racism” is that it obscures so much.

        It isn’t overt racism to “want your country back” any more than it is to want Law And Order, or Small Government.

        But the vision of Our Country that was so great, is a vision that sees the dominant culture as white, Christian, Midwestern, and patriarchal.

        The vision is broadminded and tolerant of others, provided they don’t challenge the hegemony. You can speak Spanish but don’t make me press 1 for English; Our office building will have a menorah in addition to a Christmas tree, but it will be smaller, off in a corner. You can be gay, just not flaming.
        And so on.
        Trumpistas see themselves as tolerant. But tolerance is what the dominant culture does, and what terrifies them is that they are going to be the minority.

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      • But she hates the government because it’s large and inefficient and wastes “her” money on stupid projects.

        This reminds me of the budget exercise we put new members of the General Assembly through when I worked on the state legislative budget staff. Essentially, we built up the General Fund budget by program: K-12 education, Medicaid, law enforcement (including courts and prisons), higher-ed, and other human services like child welfare that draw very large matching federal grants. At that point, a bit over 95% of all GF spending was accounted for. “Where,” we would ask politely, “would you like us to focus our attention on cutting or growing?”

        For the federal budget, it’s DoD, Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid/CHIP, a handful of safety-net programs, and interest on the debt. That’s on-budget spending; there’s also the DoD’s off-budget spending, which has been in the same ballpark as the entire food stamp (SNAP) program in recent years. If you’re going to make a dent in federal spending on a scale that people will notice their taxes going down as a result, you’ve got to cut the big programs. Letting the national forests burn by wiping out the fire-fighting expenditures — to choose an example that Paul Ryan came very close to proposing a few years back — is just noise.

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        • It’s also worth noting that she lives in the suburbs of DC where she sees plenty of government bureaucrats and dealt with more than a few in her last job. So, she’s somewhat cynical about the operations of all government programs more than their particular goals. It might not be much different from my mixed feelings about my union.

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        • And the solution is reduce military spending. The US doesn’t just have the largest military budget in the world, it has a military budget that is preposterously larger than any other country in the world.

          In 2014, the US spent $581 BILLION on its military. China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the UK, France, Japan, India, Germany, and South Korea – the nations with the next-largest military spending – spend $566 billion combined. And six of the nine countries in that list are America’s allies. (Other estimates differ, but are similar.)

          The US could easily half its military budget. It would have to choose some other industries to fund in order to provide the employment that military contracts currently provide, but after that it would still have a considerable anmount in pocket.

          But the Republicans are never going to do that – both because they’re hawks, and because they don’t care two bits for fiscal responsibility anyway (ref: Bush administration, Reagan administration).

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          • “The US doesn’t just have the largest military budget in the world, it has a military budget that is preposterously larger than any other country in the world.”

            Do you really believe that other countries tell the truth about their defense spending? Do you really think place like Russia and China tell the truth?

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            • she is charming in her gullibility, besides many powers need much of those forces to hold public order, China and Russia I’m speaking off, the Kingdom
              really can’t rely on their military as the campaign in Yemen proves, but it’s a neat talking point that Colbert and Maher agree on,

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            • If you have better numbers then show your work. The CIA and military also make these kind of estimates and i’ve never seen anything different. Are Russia and China straight forward about how much they spend: no. But are our number straight forward; no. Plenty of money that is defense spending gets called other things.

              You could look at number of aircraft carriers or soldiers or 5 th gen fighters or modern tanks or advanced nuke subs. We have the most powerful military in the world and we outsize others by almost every metric. Is that controversial?

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                • By budget, ours is far more than the other competitors combined. Is that preposterous? Well i guess that is a judgment call. But larger is a yeah and in some critical categories like carriers and nuke subs we have high numbers. We also have two big watery ditches to protect the mainland which is always nice. But arguing about what is “preposterous” seems like a diversion from the point.

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                    • Well that cuts it, you really must be a lawyer. Arguing over the meaning of “preposterous” is a diversion from her point about cutting spending. Cutting spending is what she was talking about. Pedantic quibbling about one word is a classic way of avoiding her larger point. If you want more spending then just say that. If you have better numbers then show them. If you want pissy arguments then keep talking about the whether preposterous is a reasonable word. In fact you could, if you so chose, to argue that our level of milatary spending is just nifty.

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                    • Previously and simultaneously, was the argument that we had too small a percentage of the population in the military, as if they would not have pushed to undermine a conscripted segment, just as readily,

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                  • greginak: But arguing about what is “preposterous” seems like a diversion from the point.

                    If it’s not “preposterous,” then there is an at least reasonable basis for discussion.

                    The discussion is inane, apart from positions on the desired role of the United States in the world, and then on the best way to achieve or secure it, if possible and practical.

                    As for the numbers game, by percentage of GDP devoted to military spending, by conventional accounting, the US comes in behind several other countries. In population per capita in military and paramilitary forces, the US is somewhere around 50th. When one considers a) the American role in the world security system, b) the American emphasis on high technology and an all-volunteer/professionalized force, and, c) relatedly, American unwillingness to absorb casualties as at an “average” rate, then the numbers begin to look very different. Of course, you can set out to alter these and other presumptions, but until you have done so, and considered the implications, then you’re just playing, at best.

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                    • If the US really needed to, it has the military resources to outfight the rest of the world and have a bunch to spare. Given that most of the world’s next-largest militaries are those of your allies, doesn’t that seem excessive? Especially given that China has no interest in fighting the US, because you’re it’s largest customer?

                      The US military at its current size exists for wars of choice and the maintenance of empire, not for self-defense. As I oppose empires and wars of choice, I see no need for it to be anywhere near its current size. Neocons and other hawks will obviously see things differently.

                      If any politician genuinely wants to trim the fat from the national budget without depriving people of health care, basic necessities, or their retirement, the military budget is the obvious place to look.

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                    • Well at least you have tried to discuss. What role we should play in the world is a good question that is at the heart of how much we should spend. It isn’t’ about defending the US it’s about how much power we can project.

                      Number of soldiers in the military is a pretty silly number to look at. Our military has been effective due to having a large enough number of soldiers that are highly trained. Adding hundreds of thousands more soldiers would dilute the training we could afford. Plenty of countries, now and in the past, have had large armies of poorly trained and motivated men that were mostly effective as bullet sponges. That isn’t our way of war.

                      GDP is nice but we have a huge GDP so even if our % is lower that doesn’t mean we don’t’ spend a huge amount. Sure some countries with much smaller GDP’s spend a smaller % for a much smaller militaries.

                      Average rate of casualties? Ummm huh. Don’t really know what that is supposed to mean. Our unwillingness to take high causalities is what? Is that bad? Or is a sign of not wanting to spend blood for things that aren’t vital. I dare say for truly vital interests we would be fine with spending our blood. But so many of our fights haven’t been vital. The countries that have been willing to poor gigantic tubs of their soldiers blood have typically been not very nice places to start with.

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                      • greginak: Our military has been effective due to having a large enough number of soldiers that are highly trained.

                        Which is very expensive. So, either we choose less bang or choose to get it in a way that costs fewer bucks.

                        says “[The US] has the military resources to outfight the rest of the world and have a bunch to spare.” She then goes on to assert that the purpose of this apparent excess is intervention and empire. Perhaps that’s what you meant by “how much power we can project,” or perhaps you have something less prejudicial in mind. However that may be, neither of you seems to have considered that the stated goal of US policy is not to “outfight the rest of the world,” but, rather, not to have to fight the rest of the world at all, in fact to maintain a level of superiority that dissuades anyone else from attempting a “fight” or viewing themselves as potential peer competitors. The presumption is that major interstate war in the age of technology is the worst of ills, and a true “existential threat,” even regardless of eventual outcome.

                        I’ll leave the argument there for now. I have a post I may put up on this subject sometime soon, and I think that the site might benefit from a symposium on the role of the US in the world – to begin to make up for the relative deficit of foreign policy posts over the last year or so, and also to correct what I see as a drift into a lazy “liberaltarianism.”

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                        • The biggest ticket items are high tech weapons. Our procurement process is highly wasteful….hugely wasteful. That is where most of our money goes, high tech and waste.

                          A further discussion is fine. The mainland ( the lower 48) is safe from conventional attack. We have the military we have to project power and fight regional wars outside of the US. Heck the Marines specialize in kicking in the door to fight in foreign lands: there maneuver units are Expeditionary forces. That isn’t’ defending Ohio from the dreaded armored divisions of ISIS.

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                    • For more stats: The United States has half of the world’s total aircraft carriers (11 out of 22), compared to China’s 1 and Russia’s 1. It has half of the world’s nuclear submarine (74 out of 149). It has nearly half of the world’s nukes (over 7,000 out of 15,000, a ridiculous and dangerous number; one-tenth of that wouldn’t reduce your security in any way and would make the world a safer place).

                      Yes, having as much military power as the rest of world combined, and accounting for over a third of the world’s entire military spending, is preposterous, especially given that most of the world’s other notable military powers are your allies.

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                    • The countries the U.S. Is behind are, with the exception of Russia and Israel, of the once-called third world, many in active military conflict, most in the Middle East or North Africa. For a developed nation, the U.S. is pretty much number 3, with Israel basically in a constant state of war, and Russia being, well, Russia.

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                  • This. What the US buys that the next ten or so don’t is a conventionally-armed “Department of Offense”. If Iraq starts sinking tankers in the Strait of Hormuz and declares it closed, the US could force it open in weeks rather than months/years. Similarly for Egypt and the Suez Canal, or Panama and its canal, or South Africa flying missions to take pot shots at cargo vessels rounding the Cape of Good Hope.

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                    • So it’s for wars of choice in service of your economic interests. Wars which make the world less safe. The last 15 years of your “Department of Offence” have successfully created ISIS by destabilizing Iraq.

                      Stop shooting yourselves in the foot, and maybe you’d spend less.

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                      • So was Afghanistan a war of choice, that has been our longest expedition going on 14 years now, Haiti was longer at 19 years, but that wasn’t really a combat operation, but it extended into a minor brushfire,

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                        • Of course Afghanistan was a war of choice. We didn’t’ have to go in. We had a good reason to, that is for sure, getting OBL was justifiable. But we didn’t have to get him. Even is going in was a good choice, staying there was very much a choice. It still is a choice.

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                          • So what would you have done in that circumstance, suppose UBL had launched a second and third and fourth attack on not just New York or Washington, but Los Angeles, Chicago, et al,

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                            • I was for going into Afgan to get OBL. But it was a choice, the right one, but still a choice. It was also a choice to stay there to nation build which was always likely to fail for a number of reasons.

                              As for Notme’s assertion about OBL that is silly even for him. The country has been united in getting OBL which we did and good for that. Was he an existential threat? No of course not. Terrorism cannot destroy us. Terrorism a tactic and one of the weak. AQ and ISIS and all the other terror groups in the past would prefer to be flying squadrons of advanced fighters and bombers off aircraft carriers at us, not strapping explosives to gullible fanatical dufuses. Groups resort to terrorism primarily when they are far over matched in conventional arms.

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                              • yes it only took 19 men to kill 3,000, the numbers were smaller in paris, just a few months ago, but that was because they stopped one bomber, the stadium could have become 10,000 dead, there was no second wave, because we nabbed KSM, the best they could do was a London or a Madrid situation, it was never about one man, but an organization that can wreak this kind of havoc,

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                                • Yes….they can cause us pain….yes yes and yes. Has anybody denied that? No. But that does not mean they are threat to take us over after defeating us militarily. We should fight them, like we have been doing for all these years. We have been bombing with planes and drones in many countries that never hits the news. You have to pay attention. We have been fighting and attacking at all sorts of groups thorough out this admin. We haven’t let up. But, again, they aren’t a threat to destroy us.

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                        • Yes, Afghanistan was a war of choice. It was waged primarily to go after bin Laden, but in the end that wasn’t something that required or involved the military force in Afghanistan.

                          The war has been a waste of life and resources, and a recruiting and training tool for Islamist radicals.

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  7. I’m interested and will wait for your perception of Gaffney. He’s a loon’s loon, and I know has the ear of certain campaigns, but he doesn’t nearly have the media presence of The Mustache John “Michael’s Not the Worst” Bolton. (And to be fair to Bolton, he’s just wrong about a lot of things, he isn’t crazynutz like Gaffney)

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  8. You say it at the end of V – the most important thing to keep in mind is that the Media Machine’s interests are orthogonal to the Republican party’s, and may even be opposed. Roger Ailes wants to see Republicans elected, but I’m not sure if Murdoch feels as strongly about that, and the talk radio sphere will likely do better with Hillary in the White House than any Republican – just like the last time she was in there.

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  9. I just remember when we were all saying this because of the Tea Party. And then, before that, because of Sarah Palin. And then, before that, because Bush was still in office. And what point do things get better for the GOP? Or is what looks like broken from the outside what looks like functional from the inside?

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  10. One thing I’d note regarding some of the claims made in this post is that the GOP is not in danger of imploding, and is certainly not, in any sense of the word, “losing ground”. It maintains control of the US House and Senate, holds a 2:1 lead in state governorships, and controls over 2/3s of state legislative houses:

    The GOP now controls 68 out of 98 partisan state legislative chambers — the highest number in the history of the party. Republicans currently hold the governorship and both houses of the legislature in 23 states (24 if Sean Parnell wins re-election in Alaska), while Democrats have that level of control in only seven. (From Real Clear Politics)

    Where the GOP exposes itself as fundamentally a joke recently is only at the level of Presidential politics, seems to me. And why that’s the case is certainly something I am unable to figure out. It could be that the various strains of conservatism which attain representation at the local or regional level don’t translate into a coherent platform at the Presidential level, so the only strategy which presents itself is to go all in on Radical Cleek!!!. making a mockery of both The GOP as well as the individuals who shill that garbage.

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    • That there are a lot of Republicans, lapping up the advantages of state-level gerrymandering at the state legislative level, is very true. That project, which began in the late 1990’s, has borne fruit exactly as intended and the Republicans got out in front of the Democrats on it, so bully to them.

      The OP concedes as much, in the peroration to Part I of the essay.

      What’s going on, though, may be an unintended side effect of that numerical success, especially at the less-visible, smaller-constituency level of state legislatures: there appears to be a schism brewing between Establishment/mainline conservatives and populists. The OP’s point in Part II about how the primary polling numbers seem to indicate two sets of the primary electorate — one anti-Establishment and one pro-Establishment — and different sets of candidates trading support amongst themselves, answers this issue.

      Schisms within parties have happened before. Witness the pre-Civil War Democratic party; its factions fissured into different Presidential tickets. The Democratic-Republican party, after it achieved complete dominance in the Age of Good Feelings, schismed into the Adams and Jackson factions, who might as well have been from different parties and soon enough the Whigs organized to fill that gap and eventually became Republicans. The “Dixiecrats” in the 1950’s and 1960’s were a partial fissure that got reconciled by the Great Realignment of 1968. Along the way, Strom Thurmond Electoral got votes for President. Back-room gamesmanship by at the ’68 convention and Nixon learning how to speak in code wound up resolving that fissure by Dixiecrats voting and later in life registering Republican.

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      • What’s going on, though, may be an unintended side effect of that numerical success, especially at the less-visible, smaller-constituency level of state legislatures: there appears to be a schism brewing between Establishment/mainline conservatives and populists.

        Oh, there’s a schism all right, and it’s occurring on two levels, seems to me. One is between the base and the media; the other is between the base and the establishment. They converge, it seems to me, in that the media’s hyperventilating exuberance in defining national politics exclusively in terms of Cleek’s Law and random other conspiracy theories and etc is being exposed as serving the interests of the establishment rather than a significant part of the conservative electorate. I’m not sure I understand Tod’s thesis up there regarding Trump, but in my tentative view Trump is not the creation or direct result of the media machine. He’s (perceived as) the antidote to it.

        In rough outline, here’s how it seems to me (tho Marchmaine would undoubtedly have more insight into this than I do): The media machine has driven the GOP (at least at the national level) to its current state of incoherence and insanity, expressed by every candidate running this year (save Kasich) and every candidate last cycle (save Romney), and which has demonstrated time and again that it can’t get anything to improve the lives of the base, so Trump is viewed as the “rational” candidate/choice in a sea of Cleek-driven pandering establishment-based lunatics.

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      • I wonder how much of that significant gerrymandering advantage is playing into the issues that OP (fairly) attributes to Fox News.

        If you have a safe seat, after all, your fear is a challenge from the right. So you have no incentive not to sprint rightwards. The same is true for liberals, but we have far fewer safe seats (and no comparable news front)

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    • The question is how long that electoral success will last. That could change in any of the next few elections. If it doesn’t, however, the Democratic Party and Liberalism will have some serious self examination to do on the subject of local and state level politics.

      At the moment it’s not clear on whether the GOP’s current successes are merely holdovers from their redistricing advantages and the tiger they bestrode with the Tea Party manuver or whether there’s something fundamentally wrong at the local level for liberalism.

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      • The next census is 2020, so hopefully that which is gerrymandered can be cleaned up (and not simply reverse-gerrymandered. Non-partisan committees/judges are creating good templates as we speak, so it’s not a complete pipe dream.

        Of course, the Senate is a whole different issue since those gerrymanders are permanent. Hopefully having a white democratic president will somewhat quell the derangement that has cost a lot of moderate liberals their senate seats.

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              • I can see how the two things correlate, but not why they are required. Is there no direct vote option in these places?

                That said, if there are states where you need control to determine redistricting methods then the Democrats in those states should just focus on the first step first.

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              • I have to guess that situations that lead to bipartisan moves toward nonpartisan districting like that in Arizona just are not much like the current one, where one party won huge majorities in a redistricting year, and the other is openly look to claw back losses. It’s just an openly partisan arrangement. R’s aren’t going to give back what they got by acceding to nonpartisan districting in the situation thy’re currently in. If Dems want to redistrict legislative districts less in R’s favor in the round of redistricting after 2020, they’re just going to have to win seats between now and then. It’s that simple. Which is why I’m trying to talk about a plan.

                “Local Dems should focus on winning local seats” isn’t a plan. That’s their raison d’etre. It’s what thy’re trying to do by definition. But it’s not a plan for how to get it done.

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                • “Local Dems should focus on winning local seats” isn’t a plan. That’s their raison d’etre.

                  But I’m saying it shouldn’t necessarily be. If I could pick between winning local seats and implementing non-partisan redistricting in any state that doesn’t currently have the latter, I’d pick redistricting because its the better investment in the future success of the party.

                  If there are states where the only path to redistricting goes through the legislature, then (of course) I’d pick winning local seats.

                  As far as HOW to win local seats, I don’t think that’s something two guys on a blog can really hash out. Certainly allowing Blue Dogs to affiliate with the party (rather than seeking to eradicate RINOs) is a start, but a lot of it is going to be idiosyncratic. There’s the stuff the party should be doing no matter what (building a war chest, developing GOTV support, etc.) but “do that stuff better” doesn’t really count as helpful advice.

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                  • I’m in favor of non-partisan redistricting: I voted for it here in CA, and it seem to have had an overall marginally positive effect in Iowa, where there is AFAIK the most stick time of any state. Iowa may be a poor example of how non-partisan redistricting scales in that Iowa doesn’t have much ethnic/racial heterogeneity, and thus Section 2 of the VRA doesn’t enter into the districting calculations.

                    But I tend to doubt that a True Neutral (not Chaotic Good :) redistricting applied nationwide would have that much effect, assuming that the same voters turn out and vote the same way that they do now. ISTR some analyses indicating for example that it would have made a net difference of fewer than ten Congressbeings in the last election: you still have all the inefficient distribution issues of present Democratic voters, somewhat exacerbated by Section 2 districts. I dunno if anybody has done any nationwide level modelling of how non-partisan redistricting would affect state house control; I know the academic literature on Iowa is far from any consensus.

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                  • You know how they talk about a false choice in the sense of “They say you have to choose between these, but really you don’t.”?

                    What you’re offering here is a false choice in an even truer sense. It’s not false to say that they have to choose, but instead it’s false in this instance to say that there is any choice between these. I may be guilty of not thinking out beyond the 2020 redistricting right now, but I think it is a completely false hope to think that paths to the enactment of nonpartisan districting run through anything but winning more seats for Dems in any significant number of states.

                    But fair enough, you’re saying that, per se, winning local seats shouldn’t be prioritized over nonpartisan districting among local Democratic parties. That where could set priorities, you’d choose pursuing nonpartisan redistricting as an end for the local party in itself.

                    Well, you’re wrong in every step of your analysis.

                    #1, you’re wrong in trying to remove winning seats as the raison d’être of these organizations. These are not good-government public-interest groups looking to enact fair representation. These are power-seeking political organizations. The reason they’d prioritize

                    #2, you’re now also presenting that more traditional form of a false choice. Sure, as a strategy to help win seats, Dem party affiliates need to recognize the importance of not being swept by hostile (GOP) redistricting moves – and indeed to control this as much as they can themselves. But the point of that from their perspective is to win seats (that really is their raison d’être), and you would never fully sacrifice the election-contesting-efficacy-building function of your operation to an all-out effort to focus on districting, or even significantly at all. You just simply are doing both at all times. You’re confused on this because you are operating under an odd view that there are often really viable paths to controlling districting that go around winning majorities in legislatures. That’s an outlier situation. Legislatures draw legislative maps. Win, and you draw the maps, with X amount of minority control.

                    #3 But even if this were a situation where a choice either was forced, or it made sense to choose one priority substantially over the other, you’re choosing the wrong priority. Districting is important. But if you’re going to sacrifice one of them, you’d sacrifice it over maintaining efforts to remain an effective election-contensting organization that’s in apposition to help candidates win elections. If you don’t maintain that capacity, it doesn’t matter what districts look like, before long you won’t be in the position to influence elections outcomes regardless. Maybe you’ll have created (temporarily) a few more safe districts, and made a few more swing districts a bit more inclined to swing your way. But if you can’t execute in election years, that is all going to be basically for naught. You don’t have to choose, and you never let districting out of your sights, but if for some reason you had to choose one, you keep on working on being an effective contester of sections (and message crafting entity, etc. etc.), and contest the ground that exists as well as you can.

                    Lastly, “As far as HOW to win local seats,” I mean, you want to throw your hands up, but that’s all I’ve been trying to get to tho whole time here! As North says, they need to figure out just how crucial the districting thing is to the doldrums they’re in. But even if it’s a big part, and even if you can fix it, you still need a strategy for winning elections. (All the more so, since fixing districts in 202 only happens with more local Dem wins between now and then.)

                    Yes, there are such thing as national strategies for winning seats in legislatures. Yes, in legislatures below the level of Congress, too. Of course the local embodiments of those strategies are idiosyncratic and vary (and aren’t even universally adopted even in their variety), but that doesn’t mean that strategies for fostering local success can’t be crafted at the national level in hopes of aiding local parties. And again, my contention is that more local victories have to happen for there to be any hope of

                    Maybe guys on blogs can’t come up with anything useful in that vein, but I don’t think we know that. But that’s beside the point anyway. My point isn’t so much that we, here, need to come up with those answers. My point is that those with the knowledge & whose job it is to do this had better know that now’s the time. Because, again, 2020 is fast approaching, and there’s not a way out of potentially having the districting hole the party is in further deepened in the 2020 round, that doesn’t involve increasing the rate at which Dems are winning local elections. Fast. And those victories aren’t going to be aided by any redistricting on a timeline even shorter than that either. Whether we can come up with the right answers here is not the point. (Though we could noodle around a bit and see what we come up with; that’s just a question of what we like to do with our spare time; no one’s paying any attention here anyway.) The point is that the national party (and the local parties) need be on this like white on rice. It’s their job. (Maybe that’s roughly what you said in terms of the specifics, but you were saying it in an almost dismissive, nonchalant way; I’m saying it’s really all that matters right now. Moreover, I’m more than willing to entertain the notion that we could indeed productively use our own minds to try to help inspire those effort if it were the case that, somehow, our help wold be useful. Whereas your attitude seems to be, eh, more important is to focus on finding ways to move district lines back in Dems’ favor without having to actually win any elections. AFAICT that’s a pipe dream on the now-to-2020 timeframe, which is a timeframe that really matters quite a lot of district-line placement is a concern at all, which it should be for every Democrat.

                    (Tbh I’m a little worried that you are operating from a total fantasy here, nevermoor, and don’t quite realize the urgency of the situation or the trends for Dem legislative holdings nationwide. But, you know, whatevs.)

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                    • You asked about priorities. I’d rather fix a persistent structural disadvantage than try to get short term benefits while facing it. (I’d, of course, rather do both)

                      I get that you’re trying to talk about priorities, but I sure as hell don’t know how to pick the blue dog that can win in Montana, or how to help him (presumably!) get elected. I very much doubt it’s going to be anything that Hillary or DWS or Pelosi says that gets the job done. It may, however, be that the money coming from the national party allows him to get his message to the voters.

                      But I also suspect that the way a democrat can win a house seat in Montana is different from Utah is different from (non-racially-packed) Mississippi etc. etc. I’m not sure how I (knowing nothing about facts on the ground in any of those places) can contribute anything other than money to that effort.

                      I also don’t understand why you continue to take it as an irrefutable truth that the only path to redistricting fixes is democratic votes in statehouses. That’s not how it happened in my state, and I haven’t seen you show your work on why similar means can’t work elsewhere. After all, if you’re facing a brick wall, sometimes there are better options than simply trying to walk through it.

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                  • …Sorry, under #1, “The reason they’d prioritize…”

                    …non-partisan redistricting (as you sort of allude to) is because they believed/hoped it would lead in time to better Democratic holdings in legislatures in those states and among CoDels. The raison d’être of the parties remains winning elections.

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                    • Ok, sure. But if the question is what do you spend 2016 money on (to the extent you have to choose), then my answer is redistricting and your answer seems to be 2016 seats.

                      Obviously I want redistricting because I see a long term electoral benefit (and because it’s good government generally) to back out of heavily gerrymandered states. In that way its no different than my support for national popular vote legislation (i.e. where states commit to pool EVs for the national vote winner as soon as the EV pool is enough to swing the election). Or my support for ranked-choice voting.

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        • Yeah I was thinking more specifically of state level politics. If the GOP holds their current level of statehouse/governorship control for say, four more years then I’d say someone needs to break the glass and pull the fire alarm in both the Democratic Party and Liberal headquarters.

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          • I think we should be pulling the fire alarm either way. It’s just a question of where we should direct the fire department.

            I’d rather fix the problem (gerrymandering) than bandage the symptom (disproportionate GOP control), particularly as the first option can help both at the state and federal levels.

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      • Why wait? It’s bad now; might as well get to work.

        To me, the first order of business is determining if this primarily a district-shape problem, in which case 2020 needs to be an all-out priority, primarily a problem of issue selection at the national level (current activists obviously won’t like that view, except to the extent it pushes toward further-left positions, which it… doesn’t), or primarily a problem of party/campaigning infrastructure at the local (or national, for that matter) level. Obviously you’re always trying to work on all of them, but I think a diagnosis of primary problems and prescriptions needs to be agreed upon.

        A big question will be, will HRC (please) replace her deputy Debbie Wasserman-Schultz at the DNC? Obviously it will be by promotion, or appearance of one, if it happens. But that’s okay, she can surely be put somewhere where she can’t screw up anything else as important as all the things she’s screwed up at the DNC.

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        • No need to wait, now is the time to fight to de-politicize the districting process which has several advantages: it’s objectively good governance; it will be popular for democratic voters in a way it may not be unpopular for GOP voters; and it will help the democratic party going forward (because things are so far from neutral now).

          Outreach and issue-creation is nice, but there’s only so much the former can do independent of other things, and the latter is always going to hair-splitting (marijuana legalization is great, but are you going to motivate more pot heads to support or more evangelicals to oppose; etc. etc.)

          I was very unimpressed by the way DWS handled the recent data leak drama, but otherwise I’m not sure that the main critiques against her are issues that would be cured by replacing her with another person willing to do the work she does.

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          • It’s not so much about a cure as about getting someone in there with a vision of how Dems can change their non-presidential electoral fortunes. Not just a vision, but a beautiful, classy, yooge vision that they know how to implement, and wil implement – powerfully.

            It’s not about whether DWS is grossly incompetent or basically adequate. She might be basically adequate. It’s about getting someone in there with some real brilliance and supreme ability to do shit, because just electing to go with adequacy is leaving growth on the table. And big, fast, classy growth at the down-ballot level is what this party needs. It’s a crisis.

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            • No major party should have a sitting elected representative as its chair. There’s not enough time to do both jobs (getting other people elected and getting yourself relected) and too many potential conflicts of interest. DWS is the first such person of either party in decades (cept for a few on an interim basis but that’s just it they were interim)

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            • Who is that person?

              DWS has strengths (e.g. she’s kept a lot of Jewish support in the party, and (though this one is way easier) kept women’s advocacy groups on side). That stuff matters since the Democrats threw away a lot of (for example) Wall Street money when they did their best to regulate that industry’s worst excesses. It also takes hard work, which she does without a ton of gaffes (other than her inability to hide her preference for Hillary, even when expressing it hurts Hillary on the margins)

              Someone else may well be better at finding the right moderates to run in the Great Plains and west. But those moderates would still need money.

              Note that none of this is to say that DWS is the Fearless Leader ™ of my dreams, or that there aren’t better people out there. I just think she’s easy to scapegoat and don’t know who the better people would be.

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          • Not aware that I suggested reexamining core priorities is necessary. The fix doesn’t need to transcend politics as usual, I don’t think. But politics as usual can win, and it can lose. You want it to win. That’s it.

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            • Yeah the crux of my initial response to Stillwater was basically “We don’t know yet if Dem weakness at the state/local level is because of a fundamental core problem or if the GOP just had the stars align for them on those levels.”
              I’m earnestly hoping you’re right and it’s just an emphasis, management, tactics, strategy issue.

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                • I think it comes down to all politics being local.

                  I’ve been thinking about that alot lately, actually. I think it’s never been truer (I mean, it’s always true, ya know?) than right now, and in this sense: I’m beginning to suspect that the sorta blanket rejection of Democrats we’re seeing in increasing numbers at the state- and municipal-level is a result of Democratic and liberal politics being, in general, not local. Not even regional. If I had to describe them, I’d use words like “impersonal”, “universal” and such. There’s not a lot of local control permitted, especially in contrast with what conservatives are advocating. And in some cases that’s a very good thing, and in other cases it may be not so good. But either way, I think it’s driving the anything-but-the-Democrats identity adopted by so many conservatives and independents. I think the Dems need to make some serious changes to gain more local support, myself, but given current political dynamics I have a hard time seeing what new directions they can move in.

                  As for conservatives, they’re definitely gobbling up the local political market, but I have no idea why they’re so abysmal at the national level. The absence of localness might have something to do with it, tho. (Not that *that* would explain why the majority of their proposals are so effing insane…)

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              • Yeah, that was my crux (to bear?) as well. I then just kind of listed the possibilities as I see them. My only point in response to you was, there’s no reasn to wait & see if they lose more. They’ve lost plenty. There are problems. Work on ’em.

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                • Yup. Agreed on that. I think we’re at “switch drivers, change the route, refill the gas, rearrange who sits where in the car.” stage of work rather than the “reconsider who we are, what we want and what our destination is” stage yet.

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  11. In Colorado Springs (five military bases, hundreds of Christian organizations), the Republicans pretty much run stuff and the interesting arguments happen at the primary level rather than the regular election level. (This has changed somewhat in the last decade, but, for the most part, it’s accurate.)

    This means that the Democrats in town have the elbow room to be weird. The hippies from Manitou, the Colorado College students, the various special interest groups… they have let their freak flags fly. (Though we went to the local Pridefest a few years back with some friends from out of town and they snickered at how we had the most demure and reserved Pridefest they’d ever seen.)

    This creates positive feedback loops. Folks on the fence get to watch the debates between the boring conservative folks who, for the most part, keep the trains running (though the pothole issue really came to a head this year) and the weirdos who fly their freak flags.

    Is this how it works in always blue, never gonna not be blue, areas? The democrats are boring Chamber of Commerce types and the republicans scream about how Todd Akin was right?

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    • Depends. We had a decent bloke a few elections ago running as the republican candidate for mayor. (He had a socialist on staff, and was pretty vocal about “I’ll work with anyone”)
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_DeSantis_(businessman)

      The last election, we had a crazy weirdo Republican who left for Russia in the middle of the election because the voices in his head told him to. (I think he may have actually lost residency, as he sold his home…).

      The Vast Rightwing Conspiracy donated frequently to Democrats around here…

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    • Not in my limited experience.

      In undergrad (overwhelmingly liberal), the conservatives had real trouble not speaking with one voice, because they were already so marginalized that any split would basically create parties of one.

      In San Francisco, the liberal party is so big that there is room for significant debate between (for example) green partiers and democrats. Everyone who actually wants a partisan position is going to align with a liberal party, so it creates a ton of space for individual issues to come forward, so long as those issues are not part of a national debate (you can have a position on, for example, public wifi or renovating SF’s jails, but you damn well better be pro-choice).

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  12. “Our government may choose to do many things, such as giving poor children Head Starts, but the much smaller list of things any government must do includes defending the nation’s borders and sovereignty, protecting its citizens, and intimidating its enemies. That 21st-century American government seems neither particularly good at these tasks, nor particularly abashed by its failures, bolsters the Trump campaign’s central message, as distilled by the Atlantic’s David Frum: “We are governed by idiots.”

    This assessment may be objectively false, but if it were preposterous—or if the government worked zealously to render it preposterous—the Trump campaign would be the irrelevant sideshow every analyst predicted when the 2016 race began. The problem, in any case, is not so much that we are governed by idiots as that we are governed by idealists, who proudly follow the Kennedy brothers’ exhortation to disdain seeing things as they are in favor of dreaming dreams that never were. Because no such dream would incorporate a nightmare like ISIS, idealists have preferred to dwell on more congenial matters.

    Adding insult to injury, we are governed by idealists who think we’re idiots for not appreciating the bang-up job they’re doing. The New York Times website recently, briefly, informed readers that President Obama had indicated to reporters “that he did not see enough cable television to fully appreciate the anxiety after the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino.” The paper quickly decided that all the news that’s fit to print did not include this revelation about the president’s detachment, keeping it out of print editions and removing it from the website. Presumably, if more people turned off cable news in favor of reading the Times they would share the president’s sanguine assessment of the situation.

    Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, according to the Declaration. The clerisy that governs modern policy and discourse is, however, dangerously prone to claim legitimacy on the basis of its own expertise and lofty ideals. The Trump insurrection is, like the Tea Party, a Jacksonian rebuke in the spirit of William Buckley’s famous preference to be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston telephone directory over devolving all power on the 2,000 members of the Harvard faculty. Common sense is not, today’s Jacksonians believe, a sufficient condition for successfully governing in the modern, complicated world … but it is a necessary one, and also shockingly uncommon in the ranks of our well trained, highly credentialed mandarins.

    Demagoguery flourishes when democracy falters. A disreputable, irresponsible figure like Donald Trump gets a hearing when the reputable, responsible people in charge of things turn out to be self-satisfied and self-deluded. The best way to fortify Trump’s presidential campaign is to insist his followers’ grievances are simply illegitimate, bigoted, and ignorant. The best way to defeat it is to argue that their justified demands for competent, serious governance deserve a statesman, not a showman.”

    Tod, you have been writting this same article for several years now, meanwhile the R’s have taken the house, the Senate and a majority of governerships. And while I am not a Trump supporter, neither am I a Clinton supporter, whom I consider every single bit as bad. And further, a political party that seeks to limit the amount of time a prefered candidate appears in debates to determine its presidential candidate and then holds those debates on nights with the least viewership, we truely see a broken party and its disdain for democracy.

    Smoke and mirrors indeed.

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    • Wow! Who knew that the Dems holding debates on nights with low viewership and the NYT editing out a comment from Obama was conclusive evidence that The Democrats Suck and there’s no consent of the governed. Now I feel foolish for not seeing it right off.

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    • Man, Aaron, this comment is just so…Trumpish.
      Trump becomes the Rorshach negative image of everything you dislike about the government, even though it can easily be shown that Trump himself is the very example of the things you crticize.

      I mean just for starters, his proposed massive government dragnet to round up 12 million immigrants would require a police state of staggering size, grounded in a faith in the efficacy of government that would make a New Dealer blush.

      The idea that Trumps supporters are rising up against a large and incompetent goverment is risible. They love government, they want much more of it. They just want to turn it’s benefit to themselves and it’s fury on others.

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      • Indeed, the fact that the Republicans have lost their collective minds is of course Obama’s fault, just as the the fact that in 2000 they nominated a lazy drunk whose only talent was for giving the same speech hundreds of times without ever seeming bored with it was Clinton’s.

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            • well there’s a whole host of issues that came before that denoument, like the ignored Choicepoint scrub lists, that arose out a particularly fraud ridden local election, the idiocy of Palm Beach County voters, the dishonest public relations campaign, Bob Wexler used to muddy the waters, the fact how the State was called while votes were still being counted, disenfranchising the panhandle,
              similar to what happened to military absentee voters,

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          • I trust the free market. Why don’t you? Gore won more votes than Bush in Florida that year. There was enough money riding on the election that they did a decent count. Not that the Supreme Court didn’t make the political decision….

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        • One reason I hesitate to pick up the Great Cases project again is the inevitability of taking on Bush v. Gore.

          The main reason is time. But when I look past the amount of time I devote to each historic explainer, I see the landscape leading to that massive turd on the lawn of Constitutional jurisprudence and my stomach churns uncomfortably.

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          • Didn’t that thing come out of SCOTUS with a “Please Do Not Apply This Reasoning To Any Other Case” sticker on it?

            That seems to be a sign.

            Seriously, I betcha Bush v. Gore stays in the history books a long, long time.

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  13. Gosh I really do appreciate your concern, for the GOP, as the highlander would tell you, I have had tactical and problematic objections with Trump then as now, I prefer Cruz, who is as credentialed and as brilliant as our current fearless leader, has been reputed to be, Currently the party had consented to the the hudna with the mullahs, however that lasts, a Trade pact that reduces the copyright on US pharmaceuticals,another compact that keeps the ‘machinery of death’ grinding along, that funds the resettlements of all aliens from whichever continent, that entrusts the IRS with determining passport eligibilty, they would never abuse that power,

    jackalope, you mean like the then candidate, who waved a middle finger at not one but two female candidates in the same cycle, who hired staff to spread all sorts of unwarranted slander against one,
    who told one town hall participant that his elderly mother should just take the pill, rather than be eligible for treatment, whose plan procludes the likelyhood of effective diagnosis and treatment of prostate and breast cancer, now what’s the word for that,

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  14. the word I would use, is unavailable in English, the cable tv pretext is just that, there has been little inspection of the Tabligh network, which nurtures cells like the San Bernardino and likeminded organizations across the Pond, where the Cameron cabinet seems to be garnering a semblance of a clue,

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  15. the Party Establishment, which I’ve dubbed the Top Men, having failed to rally four million working class voters, last time, having allowed the incumbent to get away with the ‘you can keep your plan’ and AQ is on the run’ folderall, did try to embrace the amnesty proposals, that would just ensure the Democratic majority in perpetuity, much as the Labour Party admitted it’s goal was to prevent another Thatcher,

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  16. There has been so much burning of straw men, like our fearless leader, on this thread, it should be declared a firehazard, a short answer is a party should be effective enough to put it’s platform into effect, the Democrat has done so, with the exceptions of say closing Gitmo and a few minor points,

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    • This isn’t an insult, I’m just curious — is English your native language? I’m asking because your use of commas instead of periods throughout is not a usual mistake from a native English writer. (Your use of commas is also wrong in places, putting weird pauses in some statements. That’s after I mentally replaced commas with periods for what seemed like complete sentences). There’s some awkward phrasing I usually don’t see as a typical writing mistake from native speakers too.

      It’s impinging readability and makes your posts seem stream-of-consciousness, even somewhat like word salad, to native writers (the incorrect punctuation especially). I think that’s throwing people reading your posts.

      End sentences with a “.” instead of a “,” and that will help a ton with readability right there.

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  17. How many different ways are there to be Conservative? (Either on a local, state, or national level?)

    How many different ways are there to be Liberal? (Either on a local, state, or national level?)

    Off the top of my head, it seems to me that the former question has a handful of answers. The three legs of the stool, maybe the cousins of the three legs… maybe a couple of more groups for good measure… but it’s countable and, more than that, the list looks pretty much like the list we made in 1995 and we can probably bet money on how 2025’s list won’t be appreciably different.

    The latter, however, seems like it’s a bit more fluid. We’d be able to say “oh, and these guys/gals/entities” for a while longer than we needed for the conservatives. And I’m not sure how the list would stack up to the 1995 list. And I have no idea what entries would make it onto the 2025 list that aren’t on there now (but only that there will be new entries on there that aren’t on there now).

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  18. As a general rule, I would consider a political party’s voters having more influence than that party’s structure and leadership to be a good thing.

    The problem here is that, unlike what the party’s less radical backers have been claiming, the problem isn’t that most of the party’s leadership are of their rockers (although they are). The problem is that the party’s rank-and-file members are also off their rockers.

    I continue to be bewildered by the insistence that America has a conservative party and a liberal party. America has a completely-nuts party (Republicans) and a moderate-conservative party (Democrats).

    It’s easy for political junkies when you can just claim that there are some bad eggs within a party. It’s harder to admit that a sizable proportion of Americans – and the ones who are currently driving the Republican party – are actively hostile to anyone who’s not a white guy. Conor Friedersdorf wrote what’s probably the best article on the Trump candidacy that I’ve seen: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/12/donald-trump-assumes-that-a-majority-of-gop-voters-are-bigots/419328/ . Fomenting hatred of Muslims and Hispanic people isn’t Trump’s pre-campaign attitude: it’s something he adopted to appeal to Republicans, and he succeeded. That needs to prompt some serious reflection about who the Republican party membership are.

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  19. Pingback: Broken Elephants, Part II: Ben Carson, Frank Gaffney, and The Way to Make Your Mark in Today’s GOP | Ordinary Times

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