Everyone’s seen his Cinco de Mayo tweet of last Thursday. Looking at it slightly agape, I proceed to do something I had heretofore not done, which was to go through The Donald’s Twitter feed. It’s a spectacle to behold. If you haven’t seen it, you must. Click here, scroll down, and then keep scrolling. One is simply amazed that these are the public words of the presumptive presidential nominee of one of the two major parties—that a hypothetical president of the United States can trash talk this way and with political impunity—but one is riveted to them nonetheless. There’s something brilliant about the way Trump has mastered the new media platforms (not to mention older ones, like television). I shudder to imagine what Jean-Marie Le Pen would have done with Twitter and other social media has these existed in the 1980s and ’90s.
On the Cinco de Mayo tweet, Mother Jones’s Kevin Drum thought everyone was “badly misinterpreting” it; it was, Drum insisted, “really a genius tweet,” showing that “Trump is playing this game at a higher level than most of his critics.”
One critic who looks to be playing the game at Trump’s level is Elizabeth Warren, who’s been tweetstorming him back, giving as good as she gets. Way to go, Madame la Sénatrice!
Vox’s Andrew Prokop has a must-read interview (May 6th) with Norm Ornstein, “[t]he political scientist who saw Trump’s rise coming.” As I mentioned in the preceding post, I began to take Trump seriously after reading Ornstein last August. Lots of good stuff in the interview, e.g. this response to Prokop’s question on where Ornstein thinks the anger within the Republican Party electorate has come from and why it’s so powerful
When you look at populism over the longer course of both American history and other countries that have suffered economic traumas as a result of financial collapse, you’re gonna get the emergence of some leaders who exploit nativism, protectionism, and isolationism. They’re components — sometimes greater, sometimes lesser — that are baked into the process. So you’ve got a bit of that.
But if you forced me to pick one factor explaining what’s happened, I would say this is a self-inflicted wound by Republican leaders.
Over many years, they’ve adopted strategies that have trivialized and delegitimized government. They were willing to play to a nativist element. And they tried to use, instead of stand up to, the apocalyptic visions and extremism of some cable television, talk radio, and other media outlets on the right.
And add to that, they’ve delegitimized President Obama, but they’ve failed to succeed with any of the promises they’ve made to their rank and file voters, or Tea Party adherents. So when I looked at that, my view was, “what makes you think, after all of these failures, that you’re going to have a group of compliant people who are just going to fall in line behind an establishment figure?”
Trump clearly had a brilliant capacity to channel that discontent among Republican voters — to figure out the issues that’ll work, like immigration, and the ways in which populist anger and partisan tribalism can be exploited. So of course, to me, he became a logical contender.
On how the Republican Party has gotten to where it is today, with Trump as its presumptive nominee
Back in 1978, when I first came to AEI, Tom Mann and I set up a series of small, off the record dinners with some new members of Congress. And one of them, Newt Gingrich, stood out right away. As a brand new member of the House, he had a full-blown theory of how Republicans could break out of their seemingly permanent minority, and build a majority.
And over the next 16 years, he put that plan into action. He delegitimized the Congress and the Democratic leadership, convincing people that they were arrogant and corrupt and that the process was so bad that anything would be better than this. He tribalized the political process. He went out and recruited the candidates, and gave them the language to use about how disgusting and despicable and horrible and immoral and unpatriotic the Democrats were. That swept in the Republican majority in 1994.
The problem is that all the people he recruited to come in really believed that shit. They all came in believing that Washington was a cesspool. So what followed has been a very deliberate attempt to blow up and delegitimize government, not just the president but the actions of government itself in Washington.
And Republican leaders, like Mitch McConnell and Eric Cantor, were complicit in this. I think when Republicans had their stunning victory in 2010, Cantor et al thought they could now co-opt these people. Instead, they were co-opted themselves.
As for Trump’s chances in the general election, the temperamentally prudent Ornstein offers this
I think if we’re laying the odds here, I still think it is more like 80/20 that he loses. There are a lot of reasons to think that he is not gonna be able to expand this message to a much larger group of people once you move beyond trying to impress a Republican Party audience.
(…) Having said that, I would not discount entirely the possibility that he could win, for the following set of reasons.
One, tribalism is still a dominant force. We do know that straight-ticket voting has increased dramatically. This to me suggests we’re not gonna have a 45-state blowout like Goldwater faced, or a 49-state one like Mondale or McGovern had. You’re gonna start with some states and you’re gonna start with 45 percent of the votes. Most Republicans are gonna come back into the fold.
And then, what if Brexit happens and you get turmoil in the global economy? And it affects the US? What if ISIS decides that a Trump presidency would be wonderful, so let’s stage a couple of showy, Paris-type attacks in the US in October?
When you have an election and history is not to be completely discounted, we know that elections that occur after eight years of a two-term president focus around how much change you want. And Hillary Clinton still has that hurdle to overcome that she’s not exactly a candidate of change. And if events occur that create more of a desire for change, then people might roll the dice with Trump.
So I don’t discount it entirely. And I think 20 percent sounds like not much, but is quite tangible.
Correct. In my reckoning, the probability of Trump defeating Hillary in November is roughly that of Marine Le Pen winning the French presidential election next May, which is not going to happen. Except that one can come up with not totally outlandish scenarios in which it does…
To read the Ornstein interview in its entirety—which is well worth the while—go here.
For more on this aspect of the Trump story, see the article in the NYT (May 7th), “Republican Party unravels over Donald Trump’s takeover,” by Patrick Healy and Jonathan Martin. Money quote
[Trump] has amplified his independent, outsider message in real time, using social media and cable news interviews — and his own celebrity and highly attuned ear for what resonates — to rally voters to his side, using communication strategies similar to those deployed in the Arab Spring uprising or in the attempts by liberals and students to foment a similar revolution in Iran.
“Trump leveraged a perfect storm,” said Steve Case, the founder of AOL, in an email message. “A combo of social media (big following), brand (celebrity figure), creativity (pithy tweets), speed/timeliness (dominating news cycles).”
Mr. Trump is an unlikely spokesman for the grievances of financially struggling, alienated Americans: a high-living Manhattan billionaire who erects skyscrapers for the wealthy and can easily get politicians on the phone. But as a shrewd business tactician, he understood the Republican Party’s customers better than its leaders did and sensed that his brand of populist, pugilistic, anti-establishment politics would meet their needs.
After seething at Washington for so long, hundreds or thousands of miles from the capital, many of these voters now see Mr. Trump as a kind of savior. Even if he does not detail his policies, even if his language strikes them as harsh sometimes, his supporters thrill more to his plain-spoken slogans like “Make America Great Again” than to what they see as the cautious and poll-tested policy speeches of Mr. Ryan and other Washington Republicans.
On Hillary Clinton and whether or not she should now move to the center—to attract moderate Republicans—or tack left to win over skeptical Bernie supporters, David Frum, writing in The Atlantic, not surprisingly argues for the former. Vox’s Matthew Yglesias rightly counters, however, that “Hillary Clinton doesn’t need to choose between a reassuring campaign and progressive policies.”
Check out this anti-Trump ad currently airing in Arkansas, which is “a preview of Democratic attacks to come.”
So how many self-identified Republican voters will decline to vote for Trump in November? With all the dissension and tumult in the GOP, it’s hard to see him getting anywhere near the 93% who voted Romney in 2012 (whereas one does not imagine Hillary getting much less than the 92% of Democrats who voted Obama). One voter who will definitely not be casting his ballot for Trump is the NYT’s moderate rightist intello columnist Ross Douthat, who laid out yesterday “The conservative case against Trump.” And then there’s a Trumpophobic right-of-center friend of mine, who categorically informed me in an email today
I’ll probably vote for Hillary or vote Libertarian unless the GOP manages to choke out a reasonable Third Party candidate. It’s important that the Trump wing not only lose, but be savagely thrashed, to the point that Trumpism is comprehensively discredited. Sadly, I don’t know if even a devastating loss in the election will achieve that. To eradicate that political impulse in Germany, the place had to be firebombed, leveled, occupied, and divided for half a century — and the surviving leaders of the movement had to be hanged.
On the bright side, Trump has united my friends on both sides of the political spectrum. Like Pauline Kael, I don’t know anyone who’s going to vote for him.
I somehow doubt that my friend will reconsider her position as the campaign moves into the summer and fall…
On the matter of an anti-Trump, conservative-compatible third party candidate, historian Josh Zeitz, harking back to Jimmy Carter’s insurgent 1976 candidacy, writes in Politico (May 3rd) that this is “The worst way to stop a front-runner,” explaining what the #NeverTrump people can learn from the establishment Democratic Party’s last-ditch “Anybody But Carter” effort forty years back (was it that long ago?! that was my first presidential election as a voter…).
For a spot on commentary, see Paul Krugman’s column in today’s NYT, “The making of an ignoramus.” The lede: “Trump’s bad ideas are largely a bombastic version of what many in his party have been saying.”
In case one missed it, social scientists Stefan Pfattheicher and Simon Schindler have a research article entitled “Misperceiving bullshit as profound is associated with favorable views of Cruz, Rubio, Trump and conservatism,” published April 29th in the peer-reviewed open access scientific journal PLoS ONE. I thought at first that this was a parody à la Alan Sokal but ascertained that it was indeed legit, as Messrs Pfattheicher and Schindler are veritable legit professors, at Universität Ulm and Universität Kassel respectively. Asheley R. Landrum—Howard Deshong Postdoctoral Fellow at the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania—was, however, not impressed with their argument or use of data, riposting on her blog (May 5th), “When studies studying bullshit are themselves bullshit...” She begins
We have a problem with PLoS publishing bullshit studies.
One has no doubt not missed the two recent profiles of hypothetical future First Lady Melania Trump, one by Julia Ioffe in GQ—which earned her a torrent of abuse from Trumpistas focusing on her ethno-confessional identity—the other by Lauren Collins in The New Yorker. Michelle she’s not, ça c’est sûr.
À suivre, évidemment.
UPDATE: Political scientist Shadi Hamid, who is based at the Brookings Institution, has an excellent, must-read article (May 6th) in The Atlantic, “Donald Trump and the authoritarian temptation.” The lede: “The candidate has exposed the tension between democracy and liberal values—just like the Arab Spring did.”
Also see the piece (May 3rd) by political analyst Cliston Brown in the New York Observer, “No amount of working-class whites can win Trump the White House.” The lede: “Here’s the truth: There just aren’t enough ‘angry white men’.” As it happens, the publisher of the Observer, Jared Kushner, is Donald Trump’s son-in-law.
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