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Trump (what else?)

(Credit: Ian Bremmer)

(Credit: Ian Bremmer)

[update below]

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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(photo credit: AP)

(photo credit: AP)

[update below]

The short answer: no. The long answer: no, he can’t, and he won’t. I’ve already laid out my argument on this, e.g. here, and am not going to do so again, except to make a couple of points—that I’ve been arguing on social media since yesterday—and link to good analyses and commentaries since Indiana for those who are interested. E.g. in one exchange yesterday on a third-party thread, I responded to a comment by a knowledgeable French observer, who submitted that both Trump and Cruz could possibly defeat Hillary, with this

I respectfully disagree… The polls have showed Clinton beating both Trump and Cruz by similar margins (the latest poll has HRC at +13 over Trump, +10 over Cruz). There is, in any case, no way Trump will win the election (or that Cruz could have had he stayed in the race and gone on to win the nomination). If one wishes to argue that these two Republicans could win in November, I’d like to hear how they do it: what 2012 Obama states they would flip to get over 270 EVs and what the demographics of their victorious coalition would be, i.e. what Obama voters they would attract? I’m sorry but I do not see it.

He replied by bringing up working class voters in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin. My rejoinder

So you think white working class voters in WI and PA who went for Obama in 2012 and ’08—and for Kerry and Gore against Bush, and for Bill Clinton both times—will, for some mysterious reason, suddenly defect to Trump in 2016? But why would this happen? Pour mémoire, PA has not voted Republican in a presidential election since 1988 and WI since ’84. There is, in any case, no polling data to suggest that Trump can flip these two states, or OH for that matter. It doesn’t make sense. As for IN, this is normally a Republican state (’08 was an aberration), but in which Hillary and Bernie together received more votes than did Trump yesterday (and I assure you, hardly any of those Bernie voters will go for Trump this November). And whatever new WC votes Trump picks up in November will be more than offset by moderate Republicans—and, above all, women—who will defect to Hillary.

In any case, the white WC vote is neither monolithic nor significant enough to move national election outcomes. And any white WC voters inclined to vote Trump have already been voting R for years now.

For more on this, see Nate Silver on “The mythology of Trump’s ‘working class’ support,” in which he informs us that “[Trump’s] voters are better off economically compared with most Americans.”

As for other good analyses and commentaries:

President Trump? Not likely,” by Drake University law professor Anthony J. Gaughan, in The Conversation. The lede: “The GOP nomination may be Trump’s, but the general election is another story.”

Donald Trump’s victory proves Republican voters want resentful nationalism, not principled conservatism,” by Vox’s Ezra Klein. Make sure to watch the six-minute video between nº 8 and 9, where Klein—who absolutely, totally nails it—explains why Trump cannot suddenly decide to become a “moderate”—and, ergo, why it is hard to take his chances in November seriously.

Republicans have a massive electoral map problem that has nothing to do with Donald Trump,” by WaPo’s Chris Cillizza. See also, from last August: “Electoral map: How Hispanic and Asian voters could change the Electoral College.”

The great Trump reshuffle,” by NYT contributor Thomas B. Edsall. The lede: “The 2016 election will deepen the division between those who support the social and cultural revolutions of the past five decades and those who remain in opposition.” Edsall, always sober in his analyses, offers this

The nomination of Donald Trump will sharpen and deepen the Republican Party’s core problems. Trump gains the party ground among declining segments of the population — less well educated, less well off whites — and loses ground with the growing constituencies: single women, well-educated men and women, minorities, the affluent and professionals.

Trump begins in a massive hole,” by Politico’s Steven Shepard. The lede: “The presumptive GOP nominee trails Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders by polling margins not seen in a generation.”

In the same vein: “Donald Trump isn’t going to be president,” by Slate’s Jamelle Bouie. The lede: He’d have to win unprecedented shares of the very kinds of voters who hate him: blacks, Latinos, and women.”

Also in this vein, see the remarkable post by the très conservateur blogger Erick Erickson, who is a major voice on that end of the political spectrum, “Indiana Republicans hand Hillary Clinton the White House.”

Another conservative blogger, Ben Howe, had a widely-remarked upon post on the hard-right Red State blog Tuesday night, slamming Trump and fellow conservatives who support him: “I lied to myself for years about who my allies were. No more.” He later followed up with this tweet to his 46K followers: #ImWithHer. Wow.

Glenn Greenwald—who, while often right, is invariably an insufferable jerk—has a self-satisfied piece, co-authored with Zaid Jilani, in which he gives his fellow journalists a hard time, “Beyond Schadenfreude, the spectacular pundit failure on Trump is worth remembering.” Indeed. Quant à moi, I went along with the pundit crowd—notably Nate Silver—in a post last August 9th, in which I dismissed Trump’s chances, but—following Norm Ornstein—changed my tune two weeks later, when I started to take Trump more seriously.

It really is quite stunning, isn’t it? Who could have possibly imagined that, as of May 2nd, Trump would be the only Republican candidate left standing? He’s vanquished them all. There will be no contested or brokered convention after all. C’est vraiment incroyable.

Any idea of who his Veep pick may be? I can’t imagine what fool would want to run that errand. Marco Rubio is one name that’s floating. If that happens, all I will say is ‘oy vey!’

Hillary’s attack ads have now begun. And the first one’s a good one. Bring it on! The more the merrier.

UPDATE: Bernie supporters on social media continue to harp on about Hillary’s putative vulnerabilities against Trump, with many suggesting that she could lose. But they do not consider “what a Republican attack on Bernie Sanders would look like,” as Michelle Goldberg speculates on in Slate (May 2nd), asserting, rightly so IMO, that “Sanders’ ‘superior electability’ is still a myth.” See also William Saletan’s Slate piece (April 26th), “Polls say Bernie is more electable than Hillary. Don’t believe them.”

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Clinton vs Trump projection_Screenshot by Ryan Witt

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update]

Nice-looking map, though is not for real—at least not yet. It’s a projection of the outcome of a hypothetical Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump general election match-up based on polls taken in May and June of last year, which were worth what they were worth. I’m dubious about some of it—e.g. I really don’t see Wyoming voting Democratic under any circumstances and it is not out of the question that Texas could go blue—but am nonetheless confident that this is pretty much how the map will look on the night of November 8th in the now likely event that we do get that Clinton-Trump contest.

Continuing from my post of yesterday, in which I touched on the eventual legacy of Bernie Sanders’s candidacy, a likely one—that one hopes for, at any rate—is that it will push the Democratic Party to the left on issues relating to economic inequality, with the Dems advocating increased government action to reduce this. Bernie supporters are quite certain that such will not happen with Hillary in the White House but blogger-political science professor Scott Lemieux begs to differ. In a piece in TNR (April 29th) he explains, convincingly IMO, “Why Hillary will govern more like Bernie than people think,” arguing that if the Dems as a whole move left, Hillary will too, as, “in the end, parties matter just as much as individuals.” If Hillary is to govern from the left, though, it will be important that Bernie’s supporters stay mobilized and work within the Democratic Party, so Markos Moulitsas—founder-editor of the Über-partisan Daily Kos—exhorted them to do in a commentary after last Tuesday’s primaries.

Foreign policy is sure to be an issue in the campaign, particularly in view of what Trump has had to say on the subject, notably in his speech last Wednesday, which analyst Fred Kaplan trenchantly called “the most senseless, self-contradicting foreign policy speech by any major party’s presidential nominee in modern history” and “even more incoherent than his impromptu ramblings.” The Donald’s speech, needless to say, got low marks across the political spectrum (the NYT editorial on the speech has this great line: “When one has a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And when one’s experience is limited to real estate deals, everything looks like a lease negotiation.”).

Hillary, ça va de soi, has no such credibility problem when it comes to foreign policy, though lefties have been denouncing her as a neocon warmonger for years. And more grist was added to the left’s Hillary hysteria mill with the NYT Magazine’s widely read article last week on “How Hillary Clinton became a hawk,” with author Mark Landler observing that “[t]hroughout her career [Hillary Clinton] has displayed instincts on foreign policy that are more aggressive than those of President Obama—and most Democrats.” Landler’s piece—an excerpt of his newly published book, which looks most interesting—quite literally struck terror into one well-known Hillary-hating Bernie Bro academic political science friend—otherwise a smart guy but who has a severe case of Clinton Derangement Syndrome—who asserted on social media that “I really do fear for what she would do as president.” He and other lefties have indeed been of the intimate conviction that Hillary, the day she takes office, will look around for a war to start, that she will order the Pentagon to attack some country, probably in the Middle East but maybe anywhere. And why will she do this? Because she likes war. And she’s Hillary Clinton. C’est tout.

People need to get a grip. Landler’s piece did indeed reveal Hillary’s deep respect for the men and women of the US military, her internationalism, and greater propensity than President Obama to advocate the use of force in situations where the option is seriously on the table. In this, she may be a little more hawkish than other establishment Democrats but, I would venture, no more so than her husband was, or than Al Gore or John Kerry likely would have been had they been elected POTUS. Her 2002 Iraq vote is a big stain—and that lefties do not forgive her for (though it wasn’t redhibitory for them in John Kerry’s case in ’04)—but would she have attacked Iraq had she been in the Oval Office at the time? I doubt it. Really.

Hillary is also being pilloried by lefties for the Libya intervention—for which she was the leading proponent in the administration—and particularly for the failure to adequately anticipate and deal with the aftermath. Personally, I thought Libya was a close call but tilted toward intervention; and once Obama made the decision, I was 100% gung-ho. As for the post-regime change planning, sure, this didn’t happen the way it should have, but it didn’t seem that way at the time. And I don’t recall any of today’s Monday morning Cassandra quarterbacks warning of it back then. Syria: Hillary was the most interventionist actor in the Obama administration through 2012. I didn’t share her viewpoint. But the Syria policy she advocated was not beyond the pale among Democrats—and was indeed that of certain Syria specialists whose analyses I respect. And Israel and her AIPAC speech? Ouf. So what? What difference does it make?

In short, Hillary is getting a bum rap from the left on foreign policy. In point of fact, she is an establishment Democrat and mainstream Hamiltonian—in the Walter Russell Mead sense—in her foreign policy positioning. Though I have largely sided with Obama in his foreign policy decisions, I don’t have a problem with Hillary in this domain. And Hillary’s “toughness”—how I hate that word—on foreign policy will likely draw Republican defectors in November—who will discount her progressive positions on domestic issues (banking on the GOP holding the House and thereby acting as a brake). And the more Republican defectors, the wider her margin of victory will be and, consequently, the better Democratic candidates down-ballot are likely to perform. So let’s keep our eyes on the big picture.

But “[i]s Hillary Clinton really the foreign policy super-hawk she is portrayed to be?” so asks Vox’s Max Fisher? Answer: it’s a complicated question but, in short, no, she is, in fact, not; and she is far more dovish than any of the remaining Republican candidates. And, pour mémoire, she wholeheartedly supported the Iran deal and secretly pushed for normalization with Cuba for years before it finally happened.

All this being said, though, I still feel more comfortable with Bernie’s foreign policy vision as spelled out by UMass Amherst political science professor and informal Bernie adviser Charli Carpenter, in a post (April 27th) on WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog.

On the subject of foreign policy, did one see Obama’s speech in Hannover last Monday, in which he spoke about Europe? If not, watch it here. He’s excellent, comme d’hab’.

Some have expressed concern about Hillary being indicted for the email business, which would put a serious crimp in her candidacy indeed. But in point of fact, she most likely won’t be indicted and shouldn’t be, as Richard O. Lempert—the Eric Stein Distinguished University Professor of Law and Sociology emeritus at the University of Michigan—explained in an “objective legal analysis” in The American Prospect (March 20th), asserting that “[t]here is no reason to think that Clinton committed any crimes with respect to the use of her email server.” And how likely is it that the Obama administration’s Justice Department will legally pursue Hillary over this?

As for the emails, The Guardian’s political columnist Jill Abramson read through them, leading her to assert (March 28th) that “[t]his may shock you: Hillary Clinton is fundamentally honest,” adding that “I investigated Hillary and know she likes a ‘zone of privacy’ around her[; t]his lack of transparency, rather than any actual corruption, is her greatest flaw.” And then, FWIW, there’s the témoignage by an anonymous activist, who wrote that “[she] was one of the most ardent Hillary haters on the planet…until [she] read her emails.”

And Hillary’s speeches at Goldman Sachs and her stonewalling on releasing the transcripts? MoJo’s Kevin Drum is pretty sure there’s nothing there—that, as an issue, it’s one big nothing—and that “[e]veryone knows why [she] won’t release her Goldman Sachs speeches.”

And then there was Charles Koch saying that he could just possibly vote for Hillary in November, which prompted an “aha!” from Hillary-hating gauchistes on social media (which I saw with my own eyes). But The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, who has written the most important book out there on the Koch brothers and their malevolent influence in the GOP—and in American politics more generally—dismissed that out of hand (April 26th), saying “Koch for Clinton? Not a chance.”

On the Republicans, just four points. First, though I am not displeased by the prospect of Trump’s nomination—in view of the debacle it will bring about for the GOP in November—I nonetheless adhere to Slate columnist Jamelle Bouie’s sentiment (April 27th) on Trump’s apparent triumph, which is “Don’t ever get used to it: This is unprecedented and terrifying.” Second, in case one missed it, read Paul Krugman’s April 25th column on the “The 8 A.M. Call,” on how we would really not want to have Trump or Ted Cruz at the helm in the event of a sudden global financial meltdown. Third, Trumpism is the likely future of the Republican Party—and Clintonism of the Democrats—as Michael Lind argued (April 16th) in the NYT. Fourth, as Politico reports (April 29th), both Dem and GOP insiders are convinced that “Clinton [will] crush Trump in November.” Voilà.

UPDATE: There have actually been a few analyses of Trump’s foreign policy speech by serious persons that have been less dismissive of it than those of most mainstream commentators. E.g. Jacob Heillbrun—editor of The National Interest—explained in Politico (April 27th) “Why [he] hosted Trump’s foreign policy speech.” Writing in TPM (April 28th), John Judis asserted that “Trump’s foreign policy speech should be discussed not dismissed.” Salon’s foreign affairs columnist Patrick L. Smith submitted (April 28th) that “Trump opposed Iraq, Hillary voted for war: Let’s take his foreign policy vision seriously,” further opining that “Trump gets some things very wrong, but [the] speech was still daring, spot on and [an] important contrast with Hillary.” And the Financial Times’s Edward Luce weighed in on the speech in a column (May 1st) entitled “Donald Trump’s war with best and brightest,” in which he asserted that “[Trump’s] confused foreign policy still offers a legitimate contrast to Clinton’s.”

John Judis has another column on Trump in TPM (May 1st), BTW, this on his economic vision: “Trumponomics explained – sort of.”

2nd UPDATE: NYT columnist Ross Douthat has had a couple of good pieces of late. One, “The idea of Trump’s electability,” examines the intriguing question of why Republican primary voters are about to deliver the nomination to a candidate who is manifestly one of the most unelectable of the 22 or however many it was who entered the race, when electability has always been an important criteria for voters in primaries. In the other, “Give us a king!,” Douthat discusses the increasing support in the American electorate for a strong presidency, or what he calls “executive branch Caesarism.” Money quote: “That clamor [for a strong executive] is loudest from the Trumpistas and their dear leader. Donald Trump is clearly running to be an American caudillo, not the president of a constitutional republic, and his entire campaign is a cult of personality in the style of (the pro-Trump) Vladimir Putin.”

3rd UPDATE: University of Nebraska political science profs John R. Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse have a must-read post (May 2nd) on WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog, “A surprising number of Americans dislike how messy democracy is. They like Trump.” According to their data, the “surprising number of Americans [who] feel dismissive about such core features of democratic government as deliberation, compromise and decision-making by elected, accountable officials” are far more Republican than Democrat.

In this vein, Andrew Sullivan has a pessimistic, almost alarmist article in the May 2nd issue of New York magazine on—what else?—the Trump phenomenon: “Democracies end when they are too democratic: And right now, America is a breeding ground for tyranny.” Money quote (one among a number):

And so those Democrats who are gleefully predicting a Clinton landslide in November need to both check their complacency and understand that the Trump question really isn’t a cause for partisan Schadenfreude anymore. It’s much more dangerous than that. Those still backing the demagogue of the left, Bernie Sanders, might want to reflect that their critique of Clinton’s experience and expertise — and their facile conflation of that with corruption — is only playing into Trump’s hands. That it will fall to Clinton to temper her party’s ambitions will be uncomfortable to watch, since her willingness to compromise and equivocate is precisely what many Americans find so distrustful. And yet she may soon be all we have left to counter the threat. She needs to grasp the lethality of her foe, moderate the kind of identity politics that unwittingly empowers him, make an unapologetic case that experience and moderation are not vices, address much more directly the anxieties of the white working class—and Democrats must listen.

And the concluding paragraph

For Trump is not just a wacky politician of the far right, or a riveting television spectacle, or a Twitter phenom and bizarre working-class hero. He is not just another candidate to be parsed and analyzed by TV pundits in the same breath as all the others. In terms of our liberal democracy and constitutional order, Trump is an extinction-level event. It’s long past time we started treating him as such.

Sullivan’s article is long—almost 8,000 words—but is worth the read.

4th UPDATE: Bruce Bartlett has reposted on his Facebook page his thoughts (here) on Trump’s candidacy dated last August 30th. They were prescient and worth rereading today.

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The state of the race

cruz kasich trump clinton sanders

I vowed to myself earlier this month that I wouldn’t do another blog post on the US election campaign until the conventions in July, or unless something really big and important happened before then, as it has been clear since Super Tuesday III six weeks ago that Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic party nominee and that, for the GOP, we probably wouldn’t know until Cleveland. But in the wake of the Acela primaries—and as various friends, fans, and family are asking what I think—an état des lieux is in order.

On the Democratic side, which is my principal interest, even hardline Bernie Bros now know that it will be Hillary. Good. I’ve been liking Bernie Sanders comme tout le monde but his act was beginning to wear thin. He was not wearing well. And I have not been alone in my sentiment on this. A number of initially well-disposed liberal-lefties have indeed modified their attitude toward him, one being lawyer-blogger Robin Alperstein, who laid it out in an overly long, occasionally excessive but nonetheless well-argued essay dated April 17th on how and why she was becoming anti-Bernie. And Mother Jones’s Kevin Drum, in a post yesterday, explained why he “never warmed up to Bernie Sanders.” He begins

With the Democratic primary basically over, I want to step back a bit and explain the big-picture reason that I never warmed up to Bernie Sanders. It’s not so much that he’s all that far to my left, nor that he’s been pretty skimpy on details about all the programs he proposes. That’s hardly uncommon in presidential campaigns. Rather, it’s the fact that I think he’s basically running a con, and one with the potential to cause distinct damage to the progressive cause.

I mean this as a provocation—but I also mean it. So if you’re provoked, mission accomplished! Here’s my argument.

And here Drum’s argument is.

However valid the critiques, Bernie’s candidacy, it must be said, has been important and salutary. On this, the smart and insightful Duke University law professor Jedediah Purdy laid out the argument in an essay in Dissent dated April 21st, “A World to Make: Eleven Theses for the Bernie Sanders Generation.” The introduction:

The Sanders campaign has always been about more than Bernie Sanders. It has also been about more than winning states and delegates (although it has turned out to be a serious and remarkably effective effort at exactly that). The larger potential of the campaign is that a rising political generation has come to see it as a vehicle for doing something that, a few years ago, seemed impossible: advancing a vision of democratic political and economic life much more radical than that advanced by the Democratic Party of the 1990s and perhaps as expansive as the programs of the 1930s.

As for Purdy’s Eleven Theses for the Bernie Generation, they are

1. The economy is about power
2. Expertise is not legitimacy
3. You’re allowed to want economic security
4. You are more than human capital
5. Solidarity is different from hope
6. Democracy is more than voting
7. Not everything has to be earned
8. Equal treatment is not enough
9. We need a fight to make peace with the planet
10. We have in common what we decide to have in common
11. We have a world to make

Purdy elaborates on each thesis in the essay, with the last one being short and to the point:

Previous Democratic political campaigns have worked to navigate this world of inequality, insecurity, and so-called meritocracy, and to humanize it around the edges. The point, however, is to change it.

Some of us call that point democratic socialism.

Nice.

One of Bernie’s signature issues—which seems like radical pie-in-the-sky—is single-payer health insurance. But while there is no chance single-payer will be enacted in the US anytime soon—if ever—certain components of it can, so argues journalist Jonathan Cohn—who has written extensively on health care policy—in the Huff Post a week ago, and that Bernie and his movement—if it lasts—should focus on this after the election.

The imperative of radically reforming the existing order, not just humanizing it around the edges, is the implicit takeaway from two important articles in The New York Times, both dated April 27th. In one, “How the other fifth lives,” Thomas B. Edsall examines how “the self-segregation of a privileged fifth of the population is changing the American social order and the American political system.” The other article, by journalist Annie Lowrey, (rhetorically) asks “Where did the government jobs go?” Public sector employment has been the entrée into stable middle class life for large numbers of Americans—and particularly Afro-Americans—since the 1930s but, with privatization and budget slashing, those jobs have been disappearing, and with the consequence that increasing numbers of Americans—mainly Afro—have been tumbling out of the middle class. If that sizable slice of the population is to regain middle class status, those public sector jobs will have to come back, as the private sector is not going to do it.

Both these articles are highly recommended, particularly for certain friends who, blindsided by the Trump and Sanders phenomena, have confessed to having a “Pauline Kael moment” and admitted to living in a “Belmont bubble.” Pas moi.

To be continued (as there’s more)…

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(photo credit: Ross D. Franklin/AP)

(photo credit: Ross D. Franklin/AP)

He’s not a fascist ideologically—as he has no ideology—but after reading this breathtaking piece in Politico (March 29th) by Trump biographer Michael d’Antonio, “The men who gave Trump his brutal worldview,” it is more than obvious—if one hadn’t picked up on it by now—that he is a fascist personally and temperamentally.

Pour mémoire, Trump is the Republican party front-runner for the presidential nomination. Crazy.

On the Republicans being crazy, another piece I just read is Jonathan Chait’s latest column (March 31st) in New York magazine, “New Antarctic melting study confirms voting Republican would trigger worldwide catastrophe.” Chait concludes with a thought I had while reading him here:

It sounds partisan to say, but it remains true: The fate of humanity rests to a very large degree on keeping the Republican Party out of power for as long as possible.

If anyone wishes to disagree with this—and defend the prevailing Republican party position on climate change while s/he is at it—I would like to hear his or her arguments. C’est tout c’que j’ai à dire.

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[update below]

Of the many reasons why there is no chance—none whatever—that Donald Trump will be elected president of the United States, this is a big one. Even Republicans agree. Tons have been written on this subject over the past several months, of course, but the piece by Franklin Foer in Slate (March 24th), in case one missed it, “Donald Trump hates women: It’s the one position he’s never changed,” brings it all together. See also Michelle Goldberg’s March 24th Slate piece, “Trump’s attack on Heidi Cruz is the scummy low of a scummy campaign,” plus her March 11th “If Michelle Fields isn’t safe from Trump’s smear machine, no woman is.”

If one believes Trump to be an outlier in the Republican party in his general attitude toward women, see Amanda Marcotte’s post (March 25th) in Salon, “Rush loves catcalling: Limbaugh’s defense of street harassment shows why Donald Trump’s political rise was inevitable.” The lede: “Limbaugh bitterly defends sexual harassment, and shows why so many conservatives love Trump in doing so.”

Rush Limbaugh, as one knows, has been one of the most influential, high-profile personalities on the American right over the past twenty-five years, with Republican politicians lining up to kiss his ring and apologizing profusely after imprudently speaking out of turn and upsetting him. Now I have a question to those Republicans who consider Donald Trump to be some kind of space alien who has come out of nowhere to hijack their party: Please explain how Rush Limbaugh’s attitude toward women—and his grossness and vulgarity more generally—differs in any way, shape, or form from that of Trump? Just asking.

UPDATE: The subject of the latest column (March 25th) by the NYT’s Gail Collins is “Trump, Cruz, Kasich and the ladies.” Reagan, Bush 41, and Jack Kemp adviser Bruce Bartlett’s sobriquet for the GOP, “the wanker party,” is more apt than ever.

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Can Bernie beat Trump?

(Image credit: Fivethirtyeight.com)

(Image credit: Fivethirtyeight.com)

[update below] [2nd update below]

I originally wrote this as an update to my previous post but am posting it separately. There was somewhat of a contradiction in my argument on Hillary and Trump—which I was well aware of while writing it and that the zealous Hillary-hater I quoted in the first paragraph indeed picked up on, expressing it in a comment on social media—which was my asserting that there is no way Donald Trump can possibly be elected president, period, but then going on to argue that Hillary would be the stronger candidate against him than Bernie. Well, if Trump’s a sure-fire loser, then it stands to reason, one may retort, that Bernie would also beat him handily, no? To push this further, one could argue that any Democratic candidate this November would beat any Republican, as in a high turnout election—i.e. high for America, meaning some 60% of the eligible electorate (≈140 million voters) going to the polls—which is almost certain this year, the Democrat will win, period, and which lucid conservatives understand; on this, see writer-pundit Mark Steyn’s analysis of the GOP’s predicament in presidential elections, “The Math and the Map.”

My response: Sure, Bernie would no doubt defeat Trump—this is what the polls, for what they’re worth at this stage, have been saying all along—but here’s my thing: A general election pitting Bernie Sanders—a self-proclaimed socialist—against a Donald Trump is so improbable, so beyond any understanding I have of American politics and history, that I cannot intellectually wrap my head around the prospect. It would be one thing to have one of the two major political parties appropriated or hijacked by an insurgent candidate who has not historically been identified with that party, but for such to happen to both parties in the same cycle just seems crazy to me. Not that I’m equating Bernie and Trump, don’t get me wrong; there is no comparison whatever between the two in terms of what they represent or on anything. But the fact is, Bernie is not a Democrat and enjoys even less institutional support in that party than Trump does in the GOP (though it is indeed the case that there is far more alarm over Trump and rejection of him inside the GOP than there is toward Sanders in the Democratic party).

Institutional support is important. Now Bernie has been in Congress for twenty-five years and, aligning with the Democratic party caucus, has made a reputation for himself as an active legislator, and who has productively worked with Republicans on issues of common concern, as the NYT’s Jennifer Steinhauer and Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi wrote this week. When it comes to political experience and accomplishments, Bernie is ten thousand times more qualified than Trump to be president of the United States. But still, the fact that he’s been an independent—not a Democrat—for his entire political career means that he knows few Democratic office holders and party officials outside Congress and his home state (the 49th most populous). As Michael Tomasky argued in a column back in January, the fact that Bernie has no roots in the party under whose label he is running—and which he is doing for reasons of pure opportunity (as one can go so much further as a Democrat than an independent)—could be a serious liability in the general election campaign, and particularly if he were to run into difficulty, as the party would not go to the mat for him. He would be bereft of institutional support. And this is not a minor matter. Facing a crazy demagogue like Trump would be one thing. But if Bernie were to arrive at the convention in Philadelphia with the nomination locked up but the Republicans in Cleveland the previous week having brokered Paul Ryan as their candidate, I would be exceedingly nervous, even anxiety-ridden, about the general election campaign in the fall. When I said in my previous post that a Bernie general election candidacy would be risky, this is what I had  in mind.

And then there’s the not minor matter of the seriousness of Bernie’s candidacy—of his pretensions of actually trying to win the Democratic party nomination and being the person to square off against the Republican in November—which, I am sorry to say, I have a hard time taking seriously (I know I’ll be dragged through the mud for this and otherwise drawn and quartered, but so be it). Pour moi, Bernie is a protest candidate, who is running to make a point and influence the debate, not to actually be nominated and then elected POTUS. Bernie Sanders in the White House? I’m sorry but I simply do not see it. Hillary Clinton? Yes, I do. Totally. On this, see the column dated January 18th by The Boston Globe’s Michael A. Cohen, who expresses my qualms about Bernie better than I can.

But don’t get me wrong here. I do like Bernie, as I’ve said countless times, think his candidacy is salutary, and that he should stay in the race for as long as his money holds out, as the Hillary campaign needs his presence, so that she is not tempted to tack right in her discourse or choice of running mate. That’s Bernie’s function, IMO, and I wish him well in it.

To those who say it’s not over, that Bernie could still overtake Hillary: Yes, this is mathematically possible but is most unlikely at this point. Voilà.

UPDATE: Peter Dreier, who teaches politics at Occidental College, has an article (March 17th) in The American Prospect, “Paul Ryan: The GOP’s Next Presidential Nominee?” The lede: “The House speaker has said he’s not interested in the presidency, but he’s united his bickering party once before, and may do so again.”

I say that Ryan will do so again. To repeat: If Trump does not have a majority of delegates going in to Cleveland, he won’t get the nomination. Ryan will be the man. And the nature of the race will change. If it’s Clinton-Ryan, Clinton will very likely win. But if it’s Sanders-Ryan, I don’t know. I don’t want to contemplate it. It could end in disaster for the Dems, even if Trump launches an independent candidacy (which he may or may not do). The hugely funded Republican attack machine would shred Bernie into pieces and, for reasons spelled out above and in the previous post, it is doubtful he would respond in kind (even if he had the means to do so, which he won’t). So let’s not go there.

2nd UPDATE: Paul Ryan has declared (April 12th) that he will not accept the GOP nomination if offered. His announcement sounds categorical and definitive. This makes sense, one supposes, as accepting the nomination in a chaotic, brokered convention would be a fool’s errand and likely tarnish his reputation among many Republicans. He is likely counting on the GOP holding the House even with a landslide Trump defeat and has thus decided to bide his time for 2020. Voilà.

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