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The Iowa caucuses

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It is morning in Paris, from where I write, and the middle of the night in the US. I’ve been reading the instant analyses of my favorite political columnists. Before going to bed last night I tweeted a piece by The Daily Beast’s Ana Marie Cox, “President Trump is now a possibility, and it’s terrifying,” in which she observed what had been pretty clear, which is that if Trump were to beat Cruz in Iowa he would necessarily go on to a smashing victory in New Hampshire before heading to South Carolina and other states down that way, where he’d blow everyone else out and ergo be unstoppable. He’d be the GOP nominee and not necessarily a 100% sure loser in November. But as Trump has not only lost Iowa but almost finished third, I won’t yet pronounce him dead—which looks to be conventional wisdom at this hour—but, as they say over here, la baudruche va se dégonfler (translation: the air is going to come out of that overinflated balloon). The cover of today’s NY Daily News nails it.

As for the veritable winner on the GOP side, Marco Rubio, the latest CW has him as the GOP Establishment’s new front-runner, who, in a mano-a-mano race with Ted Cruz, will certainly come out on top and be the party nominee. Just about everyone-Dem and Repub alike—think Rubio would be a formidable candidate against Hillary Clinton and an outright favorite against Bernie Sanders—i.e. that, for Dems, he’s the most dangerous GOPer out there—but I don’t buy it. He may be youthful, glib, a beau gosse, and with a politically sexy ethnic background but he’s a lightweight. In his presumptive area of expertise, foreign policy, I’ve shredded him myself. In a one-on-one debate, Hillary would clean his clock, j’en suis sûr. Mais on n’en est pas là.

As for the Dems, the race is going to be a slog for Hillary but I think she’ll win it. I’m among the legions of Dem voters in the “Like Bernie, voting Hillary” camp, who think Bernie’s candidacy is salutary—with his single-minded focus on the economy and that is tugging Hillary’s rhetoric to the left—but would be nervous about his chances in November. I shudder to think of what the Republican attack machine would do to him—Karl Rove & Co are no doubt salivating at the prospect—but with Bernie not having the Democratic establishment and all of its elected officials behind him nearly to the same extent as would Hillary—Bernie, pour mémoire, is an independent, not a Democrat—a point that Michael Tomasky stressed in a column last week. And, frankly, I just don’t see Bernie in the White House. I can’t see him dealing daily with the Washington establishment—an immovable Rock of Gibraltar—and going toe-to-toe with a GOP-controlled Congress. And I have an equally hard time imagining him in summit meetings with the likes of Vladimir Putin and Hu Jintao (not that he wouldn’t be à l’hauteur but foreign affairs just doesn’t seem to interest him; and I haven’t a clue as to who would constitute his foreign and defense policy team). Bernie may have spent the past twenty-five years in Congress but he’s a marginal figure there. He’s a relative outsider. My personal conviction: If Bernie were elected POTUS—which would not displease me at all, don’t get me wrong—he would accomplish little to nothing of what he’s set out to do. And he’d definitely be a one-term president, on account of age but also as he’d likely find himself in the same position as did Jimmy Carter in 1980.

But it is most unlikely he’ll get that far, as I also don’t see Bernie defeating Hillary, of him repeating Obama’s feat of ’08. Obama initially looked to be a long shot when he entered that race but he already had rock star status in the Democratic party, a slew of endorsements from elected and other party officials, and an army of young volunteers. Bernie also has the young people but doesn’t black voters, who were even more crucial to Obama’s victory. And while Bernie’s economic populism is the right message for this campaign, Obama’s in ’08—of reaching out to Republicans, “Yes We Can,” and all the “hopey-changey stuff” (dixit Sarah Palin)—was crafted to cast a wider net. Also, Obama was the most centrist of the Dem candidates in that campaign and had a clear strategy for winning the nomination, of racking up delegates in caucus states that the Hillary campaign had neglected. Obama’s ’08 campaign was the most perfectly run and executed in American political history. But though he locked up the nomination with the victory in the North Carolina primary, Hillary still ended up winning more primary and caucus votes in the end than he. Again, I don’t see Bernie pulling off what Obama did that year.

Bernie supporters—which include many friends, personal and on social media—will no doubt drop a ton of bricks on my head for this. I’m used to that from lefties. The Hillary-Bernie race will likely start to resemble not 2008 but 1988, when Jesse Jackson and his Rainbow Coalition gave Michael Dukakis a serious run for his money, and with the latter only pulling away after the Wisconsin primary in mid-April. Lefties—including numerous friends—all enthusiastically jumped on the Jesse bandwagon (though without the black vote that campaign would have amounted to nothing). Lefties didn’t care about Dukakis during the primary season, though they of course all voted for him in November. But they do care about Hillary right now and they loathe her. The Hillary hate I see every day on social media from lefties has to be as virulent as that on the right. A significant number of progressive Dem voters simply can’t stand her. Personally, I don’t understand it. A lot of it is visceral, i.e. irrational. Hillary is reproached for all sorts of heinous acts and deeds, e.g. voting for the Iraq war (though John Kerry did too, and this wasn’t held against him in ’04, at least not nearly to the same degree), of palling around with Goldman Sachs and other finance capitalists (an inevitability if one is or has been senator from New York), or making shitloads of money on the buckraking circuit (which, alas, is par for the course for all top-tier Democrats). What lefties forget is that Hillary was seen as a progressive when husband Bill ran for president in 1992, and definitely to his left. And this appreciation of her did not change during her eight years as First Lady. The negativity toward her dates from her subsequent eight years as senator, when she took positions that New York politicians tend to take. And, in point of fact, she is not markedly to the right of Bernie on most issues. La preuve: yesterday I took the quiz—well-conceived, IMO—”2016 Presidential Election: How do your beliefs align with the potential candidates?” The result: on the issues, I sided with Bernie 98% and Hillary 96% (details here). If there were a significant difference between the two, it stands to reason that there would have been a wider distance in my scores.

Though I believe that Hillary would be a far stronger general election candidate than Bernie, I am indeed concerned about her high negatives (54% the last time I looked, which was a week ago). People think she’s “untrustworthy,” or just not “likable” (as if “likability” ever swung a presidential election in one direction or another). Looking at her polling history on this parameter, one observes that she was indeed popular—that her positives were higher than her negatives—until the email business broke last March. And one noted a spike in her popularity among Dems after her appearance before House Benghazi committee last October. In view of this history, it stands to reason that she can turn the numbers around in her favor—and that she will if she outlasts Bernie to win the nomination. Lefty haters will necessarily start liking her, cuz what are they gonna do? Sit out the election and watch Rubio win? Or Ted Cruz? Sure.

Here are good instant analyses I read this morning (it is now afternoon here), which say stuff better than I could:

John B. Judis, “Initial reflections: A better night for Republicans,” in TPM.

Josh Marshall, “A win for the GOP,” in TPM.

Ryan Lizza, “The Iowa caucuses and the birth of a new Republican party,” in The New Yorker. Lizza retweeted a most relevant NYer article of his from last September 18th, “Donald Trump may not have a second act.”

Jonathan Chait, “‘If you don’t want Cruz or Trump as the nominee, you better get onboard with Rubio’,” in New York magazine.

Jamelle Bouie, “Democrats won in Iowa: Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are energizing the party,” in Slate.

Matthew Yglesias, “The surprising success of Bernie Sanders’s insurgency should be a wake-up call to the Democratic establishment,” in Vox.

Ezra Klein, “Bernie Sanders’s tie should be the biggest story of the Iowa caucuses,” in Vox.

Joan Walsh, “Why Ted Cruz won—and Donald Trump lost,” in The Nation.

Amanda Marcotte (writing during the day yesterday), “Why I’m supporting Clinton over Sanders: Liberals don’t need a ‘savior’, but someone who can actually get things done in Washington,” in Salon.

Heather Digby Parton, “The GOP’s 3-way race from hell: Everything you need to know about last night’s Iowa caucuses,” in Salon.

David Corn, “After Iowa, both parties are facing hostile takeovers,” in Mother Jones.

À suivre.

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Syrian refugees in Greece near the border with Macedonia (Photo: Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)

Syrian refugees in Greece near the border with Macedonia
(Photo: Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)

[update below]

The headline story in last Friday’s Le Monde, which I am looking at on my desk as I write, is entitled “Après les attentats, Europe se referme” (After the attacks, Europe is closing the door), and with a big photo of refugees, presumably Syrian, in a dingy off the coast of Lesbos. The accompanying article, on “the return of fortress Europe,” quotes PM Manuel Valls—a member of the Socialist party and formally a man of the left (albeit its most rightist flank)—saying that Europe must make it clear that it cannot welcome as many migrants as it has up to now. And on the France 2 news yesterday evening was a report from Slovenia, which is putting up a barbed wire fence on its border with Croatia to keep migrants out, taking after Hungary, Slovakia, and other EU member countries sure to follow.

On some level I can comprehend the reflex of Slovenia et al (though not Manuel Valls; I don’t care if he’s prime minister but it is simply not acceptable for a leading personality of the French PS to talk the way he does on this issue). European states are indeed not prepared to confront the torrent of refugees and migrants flowing into the continent—even though Europe has successfully dealt with refugee/migrant flows of equal, indeed greater, importance in the recent past (Yugoslavia in the 1990s), not to mention after WWII. Hopefully the EU-Turkey agreement that’s being hammered out, which will presumably allow for an orderly processing of asylum requests of the refugees in Turkey, will work.

As for the bottom line—and there is no getting around this—the majority of Syrian refugees will eventually have to be settled in third countries, mostly in the West. The war in Syria will not end anytime soon and when/if it does, there will be nothing for Syrians who have left the country to go back to. Syria has been destroyed and is not likely to be rebuilt, at least not in the foreseeable future (e.g. see this report from Kobane). The destruction of Syria is not only physical—of cities (Aleppo, Homs) and towns—but also societal. Wars in Africa, Asia, and Latin America that have generated large cross border refugee flows have mainly involved rural people, who await the war’s end so they can return to their villages and farms and try to resume their lives. The great majority of Syrian refugees are urban and educated. Their livelihoods and social networks—not to mention extended families—are gone. And they can’t sit around in refugee camps in Lebanon, or live on handouts in Turkey, for years on end. They need to be able to work, continue with their education if they’re of that age, and rebuild their lives. Now. A few will be able to do so in the MENA region but the only part of the world where this can happen for most is the West (including Russia).

The United States could easily absorb a large number of Syrians—say, one hundred thousand, even more (why not?)—but obviously won’t in view of the current political climate. The post-Paris hysteria in the Republican party—leaders and base—over taking in any refugees leaves one speechless. As WaPo’s Alexandra Petri put it a couple of weeks ago, the reaction of Republicans is “past the point of parody.” The fear of Americans—mostly on the right—that even a tiny number of potential terrorists could be embedded in a refugee population is particularly puzzling in a country where just about anyone can legally constitute an arsenal of assault weapons and then carry out a massacre—in a movie theater, elementary school, college campus, family planning clinic, social services center, you name it—and with no reaction whatever from the political system—and precisely because those Americans who fear potential refugee terrorists are also the kind who are all for the unlimited right to acquire assault weapons and will vote against any candidate to elective office who thinks otherwise. Fearing jihadi terrorism in a country with practically no jihadis but where mass shootings happen every day of the week—and to which politicians respond with prayers and thoughts and that’s it—is, objectively speaking, irrational.

Continuing to speak objectively, Syrian refugees are “not the problem,” as Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch asserted in a piece in Foreign Policy. Americans who do think that refugees are a problem tend, however, not to look at websites like Foreign Policy. Addressing Americans on that side of the political spectrum, my friend Claire Berlinski, who blogs at Ricochet—the tagline of which is “Conservative conversation and community”—has a good, well-argued post, dated November 24th, “What’s in it for us? Why we should accept Syrian refugees.” Glancing at the comments thread, it doesn’t look like she convinced too many of her numerous refugee-skeptical readers.

One group that has been excellent on the refugee question is the libertarians, with whom I otherwise disagree 100% on a whole range of issues (notably the economy and social policy). E.g. Dave Bier, the director of immigration policy at the Niskanen Center in D.C.—a new libertarian think tank—has a fine piece (November 16th) on the “Six reasons to welcome Syrian refugees after Paris.” See as well the analysis (November 18th) by the Cato Institute’s immigration specialist Alex Nowrasteh, “Syrian refugees don’t pose a serious security threat.”

If one needs further convincing on the question, don’t miss historian Josh Zeitz’s explanation in Politico Magazine (November 22nd), “Yes, it’s fair to compare the plight of the Syrians to the plight of the Jews [and] here’s why.” Voilà.

UPDATE: Regarding my comment above on “mass shootings” in the US, Mother Jones’s Mark Follman has an important clarification in the NYT op-ed page, “How many mass shootings are there, really?”

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In case one missed it, John Judis has an article on the National Journal website, dated October 2nd, “The Return of the Middle American Radical: An intellectual history of Trump supporters,” that is one of the best I’ve read on the Trump phenomenon. Judis’s analysis is inspired by a little-known 1976 book by the relatively little-known, now deceased sociologist Donald Warren, who coined the category “Middle American Radicals” (MARS) to designate the voters who supported George Wallace’s presidential candidacy in 1968 and ’72—the type of voters who, Judis says, supported Ross Perot and Patrick Buchanan in the 1990s, and are Donald Trump’s base today. Warren, in Judis’s words, described the 1970s MARS as

a group who de­fied the usu­al par­tis­an and ideo­lo­gic­al di­vi­sions. These voters were not col­lege edu­cated; their in­come fell some­where in the middle or lower-middle range; and they primar­ily held skilled and semi-skilled blue-col­lar jobs or sales and cler­ic­al white-col­lar jobs. At the time, they made up about a quarter of the elect­or­ate. What dis­tin­guished them was their ideo­logy: It was neither con­ven­tion­ally lib­er­al nor con­ven­tion­ally con­ser­vat­ive, but in­stead re­volved around an in­tense con­vic­tion that the middle class was un­der siege from above and be­low.

“MARS [were] dis­tinct in the depth of their feel­ing that the middle class has been ser­i­ously neg­lected, [seeing] gov­ern­ment as fa­vor­ing both the rich and the poor sim­ul­tan­eously.” Like many on the left, MARS were deeply sus­pi­cious of big busi­ness: Com­pared with the oth­er groups [Warren] sur­veyed—lower-in­come whites, middle-in­come whites who went to col­lege, and what War­ren called “af­flu­ents”—MARS were the most likely to be­lieve that cor­por­a­tions had “too much power,” “don’t pay at­ten­tion,” and were “too big.” MARS also backed many lib­er­al pro­grams: By a large per­cent­age, they favored gov­ern­ment guar­an­tee­ing jobs to every­one; and they sup­por­ted price con­trols, Medi­care, some kind of na­tion­al health in­sur­ance, fed­er­al aid to edu­ca­tion, and So­cial Se­cur­ity.

But if these positions were liberal-sounding, the MARS were very conservative on issues relating to poverty, race (i.e. they didn’t like black people; and today, Latino immigrants), and law-and-order. And they were strongly nationalistic (thus the present-day allergy to free trade and globalization). They were also the voting group the most distrustful of the federal government, though wanted a strongman in the White House. On this, Judis writes

[I]n subtle and not so subtle ways, [Wallace, Buchanan, Perot, and Trump] have also en­dorsed a more power­ful ex­ec­ut­ive at the top. Wal­lace, who had thor­oughly dom­in­ated Alabama’s polit­ics, was seen by crit­ics as a po­ten­tial “dic­tat­or.” Buchanan, who had served Richard Nix­on through Wa­ter­gate, touted the leg­acy of his former boss. Perot called for plebis­cites to de­term­ine key eco­nom­ic policies—which would have had the ef­fect of es­tab­lish­ing a dir­ect re­la­tion­ship between the people and the pres­id­ent, thereby by­passing Con­gress. For his part, Trump en­vis­ages the pres­id­ent act­ing as the “deal-maker in chief.” In a 1982 es­say, “Mes­sage from MARS,” Sam Fran­cis, who would later ad­vise Buchanan dur­ing his cam­paigns, called this out­look “Caesar­ism”; it is also re­min­is­cent of Lat­in Amer­ic­an pop­u­lists like Juan Per­on.

Caesarism, a.k.a. Bonapartism, as I titled my post on Trump early last month. And continuing with French analogies, the French equivalent of MARS is exactly, precisely the kind of voters who support the Front National (père and fille alike).

Judis puts the MARS at some 20% of the American electorate and 30-35% of the GOP’s. It has been my conviction—and I’m hardly alone on this—that Trump’s poll numbers will decline as the campaign progresses and that he won’t go the distance. But who knows? I don’t dare hazard predictions on the GOP race. If Trump does fade or drop out at some point—which is no sure thing—I have been assuming that many of his supporters will shift to Ted Cruz. But in view of the Warren/Judis profile of the MARS, this assumption needs revising. In point of fact, if one looks at what the exit polls said about Perot’s vote in ’92 and ’96—and, in France, of the behavior of Le Pen voters in the second rounds of presidential elections since 1988—a certain number of MARS voters—a fifth to a third—would (or did) end up voting for the candidate of the liberal-left (US Democrat, French Socialist) if their champion was not on the ballot, and with a sizable portion—up to a third—staying home. So if Trump were to leave the race, his supporters would likely disperse in several directions, including abstention.

Also in the National Journal is a commentary, dated October 19th, by its editorial director, Richard Brownstein, that continues in Judis’s vein, “Donald Trump’s Lead Explained in Two Sentences.” Brownstein begins

The blue-col­lar wing of the Re­pub­lic­an primary elect­or­ate has con­sol­id­ated around one can­did­ate.

The party’s white-col­lar wing re­mains frag­men­ted.

That may be the most con­cise ex­plan­a­tion of the dy­nam­ic that has pro­pelled Don­ald Trump to a con­sist­ent and some­times com­mand­ing lead in the early stages of the GOP pres­id­en­tial nom­in­a­tion con­test.

Both na­tion­al and state polls show Trump open­ing a sub­stan­tial lead among Re­pub­lic­an voters without a col­lege edu­ca­tion al­most every­where. And in al­most all cases, Trump is win­ning more sup­port from non­col­lege Re­pub­lic­ans than any can­did­ate is at­tract­ing from Re­pub­lic­an voters with at least a four-year edu­ca­tion. “It’s a chal­lenge to Re­pub­lic­ans that nobody has con­sol­id­ated the col­lege-gradu­ate vote against Trump,” says Glen Bol­ger, a long­time GOP poll­ster skep­tic­al of the front-run­ner.

In oth­er words, Trump is ce­ment­ing a strong blue-col­lar base, while the white-col­lar voters re­l­at­ively more res­ist­ant to him have yet to uni­fy around any single al­tern­at­ive. That dis­par­ity is crit­ic­al be­cause in both the 2008 and 2012 GOP nom­in­a­tion fights, voters with and without a four-year col­lege de­gree each cast al­most ex­actly half of the total primary votes, ac­cord­ing to cu­mu­lat­ive ana­lyses of exit poll res­ults by ABC poll­ster Gary Langer. With the two wings evenly matched in size, Trump’s great­er suc­cess at con­sol­id­at­ing his “brack­et” ex­plains much of his ad­vant­age in the polls.

The incarnation of the GOP white-collar candidate, Jeb Bush, is the subject of a comment Elizabeth Drew posted on the NYRB’s blog, “The Big Bush Question” (October 21st). When it became clear last spring that Jeb would be entering the race, I peremptorily proclaimed him the near-certain GOP nominee for ’16. How silly of me.

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In Las Vegas, October 13th (photo: Matt Baron/Rex Shutterstock)

In Las Vegas, October 13th (photo: Matt Baron/Rex Shutterstock)

[update below]

This is not a post on last Tuesday’s Democratic presidential debate, which is old news by now. I’ve tweeted numerous analyses/commentaries of it over the past five days that I thought were on target and/or interesting, so one knows—if one read them, of course—that I agree with the MSM pundits that Hillary Clinton was very good and Bernie Sanders too. It was a fine debate. I’ve been nervous about Hillary—in view of her high negatives in the polls and the visceral dislike of her by many Democratic voters (and notably on the left; I see gauchiste Hillary hate every day on social media)—but am now less so. I’m confident she’ll be a good candidate in the general election—and barring stunning new scandal or major, game-changing revelation in the email business, she will be the Dems’ nominee—and if voters turn out on Nov. 8th ’16 in the same proportions as they did in ’12 and ’08, she will most certainly win (yep, I just said it). As for Bernie, I like him and am glad he’s running—to pull the debate to the left and energize young people—but he ain’t gonna be the Dem nominee. Not a chance. O’Malley and Webb: I hope they raise their profiles and do respectably in the early primaries and caucuses, so as to position themselves as plausible running mates for Hillary (and particularly O’Malley; I can’t see a Hillary-Bernie ticket and for a variety of reasons). Before the debate I was hoping that Biden would enter the race—mainly out of Hillary nervousness—but now think it would probably be better if he didn’t.

One moment in the debate that attracted attention was Bernie saying that America “should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people.” Of course. America should naturally look to the experiences of the Scandinavian countries—and to France, Germany, and other advanced democracies—to see what can be learned from them (and what should not be learned). And vice-versa. Politicians and policy-makers should always study other countries.

Bernie’s Denmark comment provoked the inevitable snarky reactions on the right, e.g. this one by the National Review’s Kevin Williamson, which misses Bernie’s point; it is, as we say here, à côté de la plaque. There has, however, been one reaction from that side of the spectrum—and which inspired this post—that I find most interesting, “Double-edged Denmark,” by Will Wilkinson, who is vice-president for policy at the Niskanen Center, a  libertarian think tank in Washington founded last year. Wilkinson seconds the observation by Williamson and other rightists that Denmark, despite its robust welfare state, has embarked on major free market reforms to the point where it is now more “capitalistic” than the US (a development Williamson suggests that Bernie ignores, which is nonsense). This is well-understood by anyone with a cursory knowledge of that country’s politics, including in France, where the Danish “flexicurity” model has been studied by policy intellectuals and politicians, with its applicability to the French context provoking debate, notably on the left (e.g. in the pages of Le Monde, Alternatives Économiques, and other such publications). But Wilkinson sees a symbiotic relationship between Denmark’s free market reforms and its strong social safety net that other conservatives miss. Money quotes

Right-leaning arguments about the free-market marvel that is Denmark cut both ways. Denmark shows us that a much larger public sector and a much more robust social-insurance system need not come at the expense of a dynamic market economy. In other words, Denmark shows us that capitalism and a large welfare state are perfectly compatible and possibly complementary. (…)

The lesson free-marketeers need to learn is that Denmark may be beating the U.S. in terms of economic freedom because it’s easier to get people to buy in to capitalism when they’re well-insured against its downside risks. That’s the flipside irony of free-market “socialism.” (…)

The possibility that generous social insurance can bolster support for capitalism is worth taking seriously, not only because the truth (whatever it is) is important in its own right, but because the truth of the matter could have profound implications for other libertarian policy priorities. (…)

So if one wants a bona fide neoliberal free market economy, Wilkinson suggests, the trade-off—in an advanced democracy at least—is a strong social safety net. It’s not every day one gets such insights from a libertarian—though Friedrich Hayek, who did not object to state-organized social insurance schemes, would possibly say much the same thing if he were around today.

Vox’s Matthew Yglesias—who is no libertarian—has also weighed in on the Danish model (October 16th), in answering “9 questions about Denmark, Bernie Sanders’s favorite socialist utopia.”

UPDATE: Paul Krugman’s NYT column today (October 19th) is on Denmark.

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Mobile, Alabama, August 21st (photo credit: Brynn Anderson/Associated Press)

Mobile, Alabama, August 21st (photo credit: Brynn Anderson/Associated Press)

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

I had intended, until a few weeks ago, not to have a single post on the US presidential campaign before the new year, as whatever happens prior to the Iowa caucuses is invariably overtaken by events, neither here nor there, and soon forgotten. I may be a political junkie but only up to a point. But then there was Donald Trump. Whatever one may say about The Donald, he’s certainly made this presidential campaign—at this early stage, at least—the most interesting in as long as I can remember—and it is, BTW, far more interesting than anything happening politically in France these days (not even this compares)—not to mention highly revealing about the Republican party base.

À propos of this, Michael Lind has a spot-on article in Politico Magazine (September 3rd) on “How Trump exposed the Tea Party.” The lede: “The proof is in: the GOP base isn’t small-government libertarian; it’s old-fashioned populist.” Money quote

The success of Trump’s campaign has, if nothing else, exposed the Tea Party [which Trump has galvanized] for what it really is; Trump’s popularity is, in effect, final proof of what some of us have been arguing for years: that the Tea Party is less a libertarian movement than a right-wing version of populism. Think William Jennings Bryan or Huey Long, not Ayn Rand. Tea Partiers are less upset about the size of government overall than they are that so much of it is going to other people, especially immigrants and nonwhites. They are for government for them[selves] and against government for Not-Them[selves].

Pour mémoire, Lind’s argument was made four years ago by Harvard social scientists Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson, in their (excellent) book on the Tea Party phenomenon.

Conclusion: The “small government” discourse of the GOP is a lot of hokum. It’s eyewash; as I wrote in my last Trump post, Republican voters, including Tea Partiers, don’t care about the size of government, as rightist pollster Frank Luntz said himself 2½ years back. They just don’t want government benefits going to the “wrong” people.

On the GOP’s Trump conundrum not being Trump himself but rather those Republicans who support him, see MoJo’s David Corn (September 3rd), “The GOP’s problem is not Donald Trump: It’s their voters.” See as well NYT contributing op-ed writer Thomas B. Edsall examine “What Trump understands about Republicans.” Edsall thus begins

Donald Trump’s success is no surprise. The public and the press have focused on his defiant rejection of mannerly rhetoric, his putting into words of what others think privately. But the more important truth is that a half-century of Republican policies on race and immigration have made the party the home of an often angry and resentful white constituency — a constituency that is now politically mobilized in the face of demographic upheaval. (…)

Trump is going directly after those Republican voters who seek to protect what some scholars call “compositional amenities” – the comfort of a common religion and language, mutually shared traditions, and the minimization of cultural conflict.

The territory Trump has ventured onto is fertile ground for his brand of demagoguery. (…)

Transfer this to France and you have the hardcore base of Nicolas Sarkozy’s Les Républicains party down to a tee: a base that has been pulling France’s mainstream conservative party further to the right for the past decade and that Sarkozy strives to flatter and indulge… And then there’s Marine Le Pen, whom Sarkozy strives to mimic…

The Trump phenomenon is not only a hard right one, though. Christopher Caldwell, the unhackish senior editor of the otherwise Republican party hack rag TWS, has an interesting report (September 7th issue) from the campaign trail in Iowa, in which he asks “What’s the deal with the Trump?” Entre autres, Caldwell observes that a certain number of those who have attended Trump rallies and otherwise shown an interest in his candidacy are independents and even Democratic party voters, c’est-à-dire, Trump is not only attracting support from the Tea Party/hard right GOP base. His appeal goes well beyond that.

Caldwell makes a number of valid points, one of them this

One might compare Trump’s rise to the anti-immigrant populisms on the rise in Europe, but the parallel is deceptive. European immigration, unlike American, appears to be turning into an outright military threat [AWAV: this is nonsense]. The parties that focus on it often are suspicious of the European Union and have ideological affinities with old right-wing movements. Whatever one thinks of Trump, he is not an ideologue. (“I’m fine with affirmative action,” he recently told the Los Angeles Times.) The European radicals he most resembles are those freelances who combined (or combine) truth-telling and piss-taking: the Dutch firebrand Pim Fortuyn, assassinated on the eve of the 2002 elections, the radio host and UKIP leader Robert Kilroy-Silk, who rose and quickly fell two years later, the Italian comedian Beppe Grillo, who still leads the Five-Star Movement.

In French terms, I’ve said it before and will say it again: Trump is a mix of Nicolas Sarkozy (for the brutality of his political persona, rank demagoguery, absence of core principles or morality, and careening all over the right side of the political spectrum in changing his positions on a dime), Jean-Marie Le Pen (for his flamboyant, megalomaniacal macho showmanship and oratory, brutal personal style, and general demagoguery, particularly on immigration), and Bernard Tapie (the brash, flamboyant businessman and TV entertainer dabbling in politics—from center-left to center-right—to further his ego and personal interest, and who, like his pal Sarkozy, is devoid of principles and morality).

Continuing with French parallels, the Trump phenomenon may perhaps be viewed as less Tea Partyish or reactionary than a sort of downmarket Bonapartism à l’américaine: a providential, nationalist, charismatic strongman leader who is generically conservative but devoid of ideology—there’s no fascism here or doctrinal rupture with the existing order—whose positions can lurch from the far-right to the almost center-left, and whose appeal consists entirely of his outsized persona and promise to uphold or restore national grandeur (the Bonapartist strain on the French right was, in the 20th century, incarnated by Charles de Gaulle but I won’t insult the great general’s memory by equating Trump with him). And there’s not a shred of libertarianism or “small government” blather in it.

MoJo blogger Kevin Drum has a post (September 5th) telling conservatives “Sorry…you deserve Donald Trump” and in which he links to a lament-rant by the National Review’s Jonah Goldberg against Trump and his Republican trumpenproletariat (great neologism) supporters. Goldberg’s jeremiad, “No movement that embraces Trump can call itself conservative,” is a doozy. This bit is particularly noteworthy

If you want a really good sense of the damage Donald Trump is doing to conservatism, consider the fact that for the last five years no issue has united the Right more than opposition to Obamacare. Opposition to socialized medicine in general has been a core tenet of American conservatism from Day One. Yet, when Republicans were told that Donald Trump favors single-payer health care, support for single-payer health care jumped from 16 percent to 44 percent.

Wow, that’s awesome! No wonder conservative ideologues are so disoriented and distraught at the Trump phenomenon. It is hardly surprising that some are even darkly suspecting that Trump may be, as National Review columnist John Fund wonders, “a double agent for the left.” E.g.

Indeed, all that hanging around Democrats really rubbed off on him. In a 2000 book, he declared “we must have universal health care” and said it should look a lot like Canada’s system: “Doctors might be paid less than they are now, as is the case in Canada, but they would be able to treat more patients because of the reduction in their paperwork.” As recently as last year, Trump was still praising single-payer medical systems overseas.

At the same time that he was plumping for single-payer health care in 2000, Trump called for a one-time 14.25 percent net-worth tax on individuals and trusts with a net worth of over $10 million. He has also called for a 20 percent tax on importing goods. All this has led talk-show host Glenn Beck to declare: “Donald Trump is a progressive. He’s not a conservative.”

A progressive or, rather, a moderate Republican, as the NYT’s Josh Barro suggested in a post last month on the NYT’s The Upshot blog? Whatever the case, the bottom line—and it’s kind of scary—was laid out by journalist Conor Lynch in Salon three days ago: “The shocking truth about Donald Trump: He’s actually the least terrifying GOP candidate.” Ex-GOPer Bruce Bartlett said much the same thing in a social media comment today: “Honest to God, if forced to vote for one of the wankers now running, I would vote for Trump in a minute.” Personally speaking, if I were ordered to choose among the candidates in the large GOP field, it would be a toss-up between John Kasich and Trump. Scary and shocking indeed.

UPDATE: Paul Krugman, in his Labor Day column, says that “Trump is right on economics.”

2nd UPDATE: Differing with Krugman, Wall Street executive and contributing NYT opinion writer Steven Rattner, in his August 14th column, laid waste to “Trump’s economic muddle.

3rd UPDATE: Michael Tomasky has a review essay in the September 24th issue of the NYRB—and that is well worth the read—of Donald Trump’s 2012 book Time to Get Tough: Make America Great Again!

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American Zeitgeist

Mobile, Alabama, August 21st (photo credit: Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images)

Mobile, Alabama, August 21st (photo credit: Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images)

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

The above photo, of Donald Trump’s rally in Mobile on Friday, is making the rounds on social media. It’s a breathtaking image. Laleh Khalili of the University of London-SOAS, sharing the photo on Facebook, thus commented: “I pray to god that this picture is real, not pieced together, as it needs to hang in a gallery for conveying an utterly horrifying mood, a moment of terror, in these super-saturated colours and its manic absurdity.” Laurie King of Georgetown U. added: “If Norman Rockwell came back from the dead, smoked some crack, and had some Southern Comfort on the rocks with Coca Cola, this is what he’d paint.”

As we know, Trump has no chance whatever of being the GOP nominee, let alone POTUS. Of course not. No way. But then, crazier things have happened in the history of the world… Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, who incarnates a serious, level-headed, centrist/center-right leaning sensibility that has all but disappeared from the Republican party (it’s striking he’s still at AEI), has a piece in The Atlantic (August 21st) in which he wonders if “Maybe this time is really different.” The lede: “Historical precedents augur against Donald Trump—but perhaps the old rules no longer apply.” Ornstein knows American politics—and particularly the US Congress—better than just about anyone, so his analyses are to be taken seriously. Money quote

…I am more skeptical of the usual historical skepticism [in regard to the staying power of insurgent populist candidacies like Trump’s] than I have been in a long time. A part of my skepticism flows from my decades inside the belly of the congressional beast. I have seen the Republican Party go from being a center-right party, with a solid minority of true centrists, to a right-right party, with a dwindling share of center-rightists, to a right-radical party, with no centrists in the House and a handful in the Senate. There is a party center that two decades ago would have been considered the bedrock right, and a new right that is off the old charts. And I have seen a GOP Congress in which the establishment, itself very conservative, has lost the battle to co-opt the Tea Party radicals, and itself has been largely co-opted or, at minimum, cowed by them.

As the congressional party has transformed, so has the activist component of the party outside Washington. In state legislatures, state party apparatuses, and state party platforms, there are regular statements or positions that make the most extreme lawmakers in Washington seem mild.

Egged on by talk radio, cable news, right-wing blogs, and social media, the activist voters who make up the primary and caucus electorates have become angrier and angrier, not just at the Kenyan Socialist president but also at their own leaders. Promised that Obamacare would be repealed, the government would be radically reduced, immigration would be halted, and illegals punished, they see themselves as euchred and scorned by politicians of all stripes, especially on their own side of the aisle.

Of course, this phenomenon is not new in 2015. It was there in 1964, building over decades in which insurgent conservative forces led by Robert Taft were repeatedly thwarted by moderates like Tom Dewey and Wendell Wilkie, until they prevailed behind the banner of Barry Goldwater. It was present in 1976, when insurgent conservative Ronald Reagan almost knocked off Gerald Ford before prevailing in 1980 (and then governing more as a pragmatist than an ideologue). It built to 1994, when Newt Gingrich led a huge class of insurgents to victory in mid-term elections, but then they had to accept pragmatist-establishment leader Bob Dole as their presidential candidate in 1996. And while John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 were establishment figures, each had to veer sharply to the radical right side to win nominations; McCain, facing a possible revolt at his nominating convention if he went with his first choice for running mate, Joe Lieberman, instead bowed to the new right and picked Sarah Palin.

So is anything really different this time? I think so. (…)

To read Ornstein’s analysis—in which he does not exclude the possibility that Trump could make it to the GOP convention in Cleveland next July and with a sizable contingent of delegates—go here.

This is neither here nor there but Maureen Dowd, whose perspectives I give rather less weight to than Norm Ornstein’s, has a column in today’s NYT on (surprise!) Trump, in which (surprise!) she takes note of his full head of presumably natural blond hair. This immediately brought to mind this well-known blond French politico—whom Trump resembles in a number of respects, politically and personally—who, like Trump, remained a (presumably) natural blond into his 70s. Just saying.

Some GOP politicians and right-wing commentators have tried to establish a symmetry between Trump and Bernie Sanders, with the latter being the Democratic party mirror image of the former, if not even more of a political outlier on account of his self-proclaimed “socialism.” I’m sorry but that won’t fly. Bernie’s attachment to the socialist label is folklore, signifying nothing in concrete reality. Bernie’s “socialism” is Western European/Canadian-style social democracy; in America he’s on the left-wing of the Democratic party (though with some exceptions, notably on gun control; and, pour mémoire, he has always run for office as an independent and not a Democrat, which is one reason, among others, as to why he has zero chance of being the Democratic party’s presidential nominee). In his rhetoric, Bernie has been eminently sensible. And his announcement last week that he will introduce legislation to abolish privately owned prisons is the smartest, most sensible policy proposal I’ve heard during this campaign season. When it comes to policy and general seriousness, between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders il n’y a pas photo…

UPDATE: Two articles on Trump’s supporters, one in the NYT (August 22nd), “Why Donald Trump won’t fold: Polls and people speak,” another on Reuters’ The Great Debate blog (August 23rd), “Strange bedfellows: Donald Trump and the white working class,” this one by George Mason U. public policy prof Justin Gest. It is striking how the Trump base, as it were, is almost identical to that of Jean-Marie Le Pen and the Front National over the years, politically and sociologically.

Politico reporter Ben Schreckinger has a “A tale of two rallies: My summer with Bernie and Trump” (August 23rd). The lede: “One is a political revolution with a mellow vibe. The other feels more like a professional wrestling match.” No need to say which is which. The Bernie and Trump phenomenons, though reflecting a similar frustration of many voters with established politicians, are quite different, as are the two candidates, obviously.

2nd UPDATE: Reinforcing the parallel of Trump, Le Pen, and their respective supporters is Evan Osnos’s lengthy, must-read article in the August 31st issue of The New Yorker, “The fearful and the frustrated.” The lede: “Donald Trump’s nationalist coalition takes shape—for now.”

3rd UPDATE: Cas Mudde of the University of Georgia, who specializes in European populist movements, has a post (August 26th) on WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog on “The Trump phenomenon and the European populist radical right.” Mudde notes the American specificities of Trump as politician—of some differences between The Donald and European right-wing populist personalities—but observes, as do I, the close similarities of their respective political bases

Contrary to the man (Trump) and the ideology (Trumpism), the supporter of Trump (the Trumpista) is almost identical to the populist radical right voter in (Western) Europe. First studies show that Trump is particularly popular among young, lower educated, white males. This is exactly the same group that constitutes the core of the electorate of populist radical right parties in Western Europe. The gender gap is particularly striking. Just as European populist radical right parties have a much larger gender gap than mainstream right-wing parties, attracting roughly two men for every one woman, Trump has the largest gender gap among the GOP candidates, particularly among likely Republican primary voters.

A clarification on one thing Mudde says

However, [Trump’s] general views on immigration and integration are much more in line with U.S. conservatives than with European far right. For instance, Trump singles out illegal immigration and does not attack the status of the U.S. as a multicultural immigration country. And while he has been speaking about “the Muslim problem” at least since 2011, he is much more nuanced in his views of Islam and Muslims than people like Marine Le Pen and, certainly, Geert Wilders. In fact, his views on Muslims really don’t stand out much from many other prominent Republicans – a majority of the main candidates in the 2012 GOP primary made Islamophobic statements.

Setting the record straight in regard to the French FN, its anti-Islam rhetoric is a recent phenomenon, dating from Marine Le Pen’s assumption of the party leadership in 2011. Jean-Marie Le Pen never targeted Islam or Muslims qua Muslims in his discourse. His fire was aimed at immigration from the former colonies, in particular the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa. The Islamophobia in the FN in the 1980s and ’90s came specifically from the Mégret group, which quit the FN in the party’s 1998 split, forming the MNR (now moribund). As it happens, Marine LP’s anti-Islam rhetoric coincides with the reintegration of a certain number of Mégretistes into the FN (and in Marine’s inner circle).

4th UPDATE: Vox’s Matthew Yglesias has a spot on piece (August 28th) on how “The conservative establishment is in deep denial about Donald Trump’s appeal.” In a nutshell, the Trump phenomenon is showing up an important disconnect between the GOP elite and the party’s donor class, on the one hand, and the GOP rank-and-file, on the other. The latter is further to the right than the former on immigration but well to its left on the economy, notably on social insurance programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and even Medicaid. In short, regular Republican voters don’t care about the size of government.

There is a similar disconnect in the Democratic party, BTW, but that’s for another post.

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#BlackLivesMatter

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Van Jones, the founder/president of Dream Corps and Rebuild the Dream—and President Barack Obama’s green jobs adviser in 2009—has an important commentary on the CNN website on the Black Lives Matter movement and the “5 lessons” Democrats should draw from the recent disruptions of Bernie Sanders’s rallies. Now I had a negative reaction to the spectacle of the two BLM women disrupting Bernie’s Seattle event last Saturday—I hate hecklers and in almost all circumstances, as I wrote some four years ago—though Van Jones specifies that BLM is a decentralized, unstructured movement and that not all actions of those claiming its name—who may, in fact, have nothing to do with BLM—are to be defended. Regardless of what happened in Seattle, though, there are primordial issues for Black Americans—specific ills that require specific remedies—that are not being adequately addressed by liberal Democrats and their progressive economic agenda—issues that national Democrats would prefer not to dwell on, as these have to do with the police and the functioning of the criminal justice system. But, as Jones writes, “[i]n case anyone missed the memo after Ferguson, Baltimore and Charleston, here it is: the Obama era of black silence on issues that matter to us is over.” And the Dems must address these issues head on.

One issue, e.g., is the subject of an article by Mother Jones contributing writer Jack Hitt in the September-October 2015 issue, “Police shootings won’t stop unless we also stop shaking down black people,” on the dependence of many municipalities with poor populations—and thus a low local tax base—on fines in order to finance city government—and particularly police departments—thus turning the police into predatory extortion rackets.

A case in point is Ferguson MO, which criminology professors Richard Wright and Richard Rosenfeld—respectively of Georgia State U. and the U. of Missouri-St. Louis—explain in a piece (August 11th) on “Why Ferguson erupts,” on the website/blog The Conversation: Academic Rigor, Journalistic Flair. Money quote

Today, many of these [poor] municipalities [in St. Louis county] rely heavily on traffic fines and court fees to stay afloat.

This patchwork of speed traps is a bad joke among more affluent inhabitants of St Louis County.

But it is no joke for those who accumulate traffic fines they cannot afford to pay, miss court dates and are jailed on outstanding arrest warrants. As the Washington Post’s Radley Balko has documented, that is an all-too-frequent experience for the county’s disadvantaged black residents, convinced they are harassed by the police and abused by uncaring white prosecutors.

Another issue is the subject of an article by freelance journalist Nick Pinto, “The bail trap,” in the latest NYT Magazine. The lede: “Every year, thousands of innocent people [in their great majority black and brown] are sent to jail only because they can’t afford to post bail, putting them at risk of losing their jobs, custody of their children — even their lives.”

Van Jones, in his article, reminds the Democrats that their presidential candidate will need 90 to 95% of the black vote in order to win next year. But not only will blacks need to vote in this percentage range for the Democrat—which is near certain—but, more importantly, they’ll need to vote in the same proportion as whites, which they did for the first time ever in 2008, and then again in 2012. If black turnout drops next year and relative to that of whites, the Dems will have a tougher road to victory. For this reason alone, it is essential that the Democrats address the issues raised by Black Lives Matter, elaborate concrete policy responses, and pledge to act on them.

BTW, on The Conversation blog is an interesting comment (August 10th) by U. of Washington political science professors Christopher Parker and Megan Ming Francis, “Why the silence of moderate conservatives is dangerous for race relations.”

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