Tag Archives: Republican Party

Republicans and the media greet ‘the new normal’

There he is again. Photo (cc) 2015 by Matt Johnson.

There he is again. Photo (cc) 2015 by Matt Johnson.

Now that only the most literal-minded (or John Kasich) would call Donald Trump anything other than the presumptive nominee, the media are ready to turn to the next storyline in this bizarre, disturbingly dark campaign. Based on the morning-after chatter, the big question that’s emerging is whether Republicans will fall in line behind the demagogue or if, instead, the party will fracture.

Then, too, there’s the media’s responsibility in making sure that Trump is not treated like a normal candidate. This is a man who has hurled racist invective toward Latinos and Muslims, who has called for torture in the interrogation of suspected terrorists, and who has called for murdering the families of terrorists just to send a message.

Read the rest at WGBHNews.org.

No, the entire country has not gone Trump-crazy

J_mHu2z7iRo

Police photo of Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski grabbing reporter Michelle Fields’s arm.

At a time when it seems like the entire political world has gone mad, I offer some welcome perspective this morning from E.J. Dionne:

  • President Obama’s approval rate is currently 53 percent. At a similar point in George W. Bush’s presidency, his standing had fallen to 32 percent.
  • Donald Trump’s favorability rating is a minuscule 33 percent, and just 34 percent among independents. The vast majority of his support comes from Republicans, 64 percent of whom view him favorably.

Dionne writes:

Trumpism is not sweeping the nation. It has a strong foothold only in the Republican Party, and not even all of it….

We are allowing a wildly and destructively inaccurate portrait of us as a people to dominate our imaginations and debase our thinking.

We’ve got a long way to go between now and November. As Dionne notes, the successes of Trump and Bernie Sanders “reveal the discontent of Americans who have been left out in our return to prosperity.” (Needless to say, even though both Trump and Sanders have embraced economic populism, only Sanders has managed to do so without couching it in the language of racism and violence.)

But it’s wrong to think that the entire country has gone nuts. Just part of it. And I agree with Dionne that the media could do a far better job of making that clear.

Post a comment here or on Facebook.

Why I think Jeb Bush will win the Republican nomination

16687849565_79b4cf88f7_z

Jeb Bush at the 2015 CPAC conference in National Harbor, Maryland. Photo (cc) by Gage Skidmore.

I’ve already said this to a few people, and I want to put it out there so I’ll have a record of it in case it actually happens.

I predict that Jeb Bush will be the Republican nominee. Don’t ask me how, because I have no idea. At this point he seems utterly irrelevant, although the Armies of Lindsey Graham pledged this morning to line up behind him. Could a George Pataki endorsement be next?

Basically it’s just guesswork and the process of elimination. As James Pindell of The Boston Globe reminds us today, 65 percent of Republican-leaning poll respondents can’t stand frontrunner Donald Trump. It’s difficult to imagine Ted Cruz winning this, even though Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post considers him the most likely nominee. Richard Nixon supports John Kasich, who has some good qualities, but it’s hard to see that happening.

Chris Christie yells at everyone like the angry bully that he is; where’s the appeal? Rumor has it that Ben Carson is still running, though I have no independent verification of that. And Marco Rubio has dropped the baton that the Republican establishment has handed him maybe four or five times now. Even in a business not noted for its authenticity, Rubio comes across as a transparent phony.

By that logic, it’s Jeb, whose maturity and reasonable demeanor wear well over time, and who is certainly far enough to the right (despite his RINO image) that he should be able to pull together most of the Republican coalition.

Two repulsive moments should’ve defined Tuesday’s debate

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

Who won Tuesday night’s Republican debate in Las Vegas? More important, whom have the pundits anointed as the winners, thus helping to frame the race in the final weeks leading up to Iowa and New Hampshire?

I’ll get to that. But first I want to highlight two statements that were so repulsive, so nauseatingly immoral, that we shouldn’t let them go unmentioned. I’m referring to front-runner Donald Trump’s endorsement of US-led terrorist attacks on the families of terrorists and former front-runner Ben Carson’s blithe acceptance of the killing of children.

Trump was asked by Georgia Tech student Josh Jacob via Facebook about his recent statement that the United States must kill the families of ISIS members. Jacob knew whereof he spoke: according to Politico, Trump recently said exactly that, thus—er—trumping his call for banning Muslims in terms of sheer outrageousness. Here’s Trump two weeks ago:

It’s a horrible thing. They’re using them as shields. But we’re fighting a very politically correct war. And the other thing is with the terrorists, you have to take out their families. They, they care about their lives. Don’t kid yourself. But they say they don’t care about their lives. You have to take out their families.

On Tuesday, Trump neither backed down from nor clarified his views. He mentioned the mother of San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook, and in the context of his earlier statement you might have wondered if he thought she should be dragged out of her home and executed in front of the neighbors. He repeated a longstanding falsehood that the family members of the 9/11 terrorists were flown out of the country after the attack on the World Trade Center.

“They knew what was going on,” Trump said (I am relying on a debate transcript published by The Washington Post). “They went home and they wanted to watch their boyfriends on television. I would be very, very firm with families. Frankly, that will make people think because they may not care much about their lives, but they do care, believe it or not, about their families’ lives.”

As Conor Friedersdorf put it in The Atlantic’s live blog:

Donald Trump frequently makes offensive statements, often transgressing against deeply held norms, so much so that we begin to ignore them. But the abhorrent statement that he would strike out at the family members of terrorists may well be a new low, even for him.

Carson’s remarks were less consequential given his fading importance in the Republican contest. But this is a man whose entire campaign is based on his self-promoted image as a good person and a deeply religious Christian. So when debate panelist Hugh Hewitt asked him about the inevitability that thousands of children would die in the carpet bombing of ISIS-held territory that Carson supports, Carson said nothing about trying to minimize civilian casualties. Instead, the neurosurgeon floated off into a reverie about brain tumors. Which led to this:

CARSON: Well, interestingly enough, you should see the eyes of some of those children when I say to them we’re going to have to open your head up and take out this tumor. They’re not happy about it, believe me. And they don’t like me very much at that point. But later on, they love me….

You know, later on, you know, they really realize what’s going on. And by the same token, you have to be able to look at the big picture and understand that it’s actually merciful if you go ahead and finish the job, rather than death by 1,000 pricks.

HEWITT: So you are OK with the deaths of thousands of innocent children and civilian? It’s like…

CARSON: You got it. You got it.

And how did the audience respond? Although I didn’t hear it, according to several accounts, including this one from Business Insider, Hewitt—not Carson—was booed. (Update: Business Insider has changed its item to say that Carson’s “You got it” was a response to the audience, not to Hewitt. I half-agree. I think it was clear that Carson was responding to both—affirming his position on civilian deaths and playing to the crowd.)

Now I realize I’m deep into my word count and I’ve barely mentioned how the dynamics of the Republican race may or may not have changed as a result of Tuesday night’s proceedings. My assessment: not by very much, though I do think a few interesting things took place on the margins.

I thought four serious candidates came out of the debate: Trump and Jeb Bush, who had his best night by going after Trump; and Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who, like Trump and Bush, clashed repeatedly in their own mini-debates. I don’t know that Bush really hurt Trump, who was at his confident, bullying, ignorant (as he was on the nuclear triad) best. But Bush got off some decent one-liners. I especially liked his calling Trump the “candidate of chaos,” since it conjured up images of Maxwell Smart and KAOS.

Rubio took Cruz to school when Cruz criticized him for supporting the toppling of brutal dictators like Muammar Gaddafi of Libya and, now, Bashar al-Assad of Syria. But Rubio seemed lost and unable to explain his position when Cruz accused him of being soft on immigration. And I agree with Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, who writes, “Rubio is polished but you can see in the split screens a guy who’s studied up but basically insecure and unsure of himself in debate.” Overall, it was not a great night for the Republican establishment’s preferred choice (assuming Bush can’t find his way back to relevance).

Did Chris Christie have a moment? I didn’t think so, but I may have missed something. Polling prodigy Nate Silver believes Christie may be in roughly the same position that John Kerry was in late 2003, when Howard Dean looked like the inevitable if unlikely nominee. (Thanks to old friend Al Giordano, who flagged that on Twitter.) Adds Taegan Goddard of Political Wire: “Christie, in particular, may have bought himself more time and could be a real threat to Rubio as the establishment choice.”

I don’t want to let Trump’s promise not to run as an independent go unmentioned. It was interesting mainly because Hewitt, the conservative commentator who asked the question, actually applauded Trump’s answer. If CNN had any journalistic standards (and it doesn’t), Hewitt would have instantly disqualified himself from participating in future debates. No cheering in the press box.

Finally, a word about Rand Paul. While John Kasich and Carly Fiorina have outlasted their usefulness, Paul—who has as much chance of winning the nomination as George Pataki—comes across in debate after debate as knowledgeable, principled, and able to bring something to the table that the others can’t.

Paul’s strong libertarian views, and especially his non-interventionist approach to foreign policy, are completely out of step with today’s Republican Party. CNN apparently had to ignore its own rules to include Paul in the debate.

Paul’s continued participation is a little like inviting Bernie Sanders onto the stage to offer running commentary. But it’s also a welcome respite from the death and destruction promised by the rest of the field.

Conservative pundits spurn Kasich’s strong performance

John Kasich in New Hampshire earlier this year. Photo (cc) by Michael Vadon.

John Kasich in New Hampshire earlier this year. Photo (cc) by Michael Vadon.

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

Tuesday night’s Republican presidential debate was a useful reminder — as if I needed one — that these events are not being staged for my benefit.

Late in the proceedings, John Kasich put the finishing touches on what I thought was a strong performance by name-checking the conservative Catholic theologian Michael Novak in arguing that the free-enterprise system needs to be “underlaid with values.” No, I haven’t read Novak, but I was intrigued. Earlier, Kasich had what I thought was an effective exchange with Donald Trump over immigration. (The Washington Post has published a transcript here.)

To check in with the conservative media today, though, is to learn that some on the right think Kasich all but disqualified himself.

“Kasich espoused positions that can charitably be called compassionate conservatism, less kindly mini-liberalism of the sort that he says he practiced so successfully in Ohio when ‘people need help,’” writes the economist Irwin M. Stelzer at The Weekly Standard. Adds Paul Mirengoff of Powerline: “John Kasich annoyingly kept demanding speaking time. He used some of it to remind everyone that he’s the least conservative candidate in the field.”

A neutral analyst, Boston Globe political reporter James Pindell, thinks Chris Christie’s strong showing in the unwatched (by me, anyway) undercard makes him a good bet to replace Kasich in future debates. Kasich, Pindell notes, “backed increasing the minimum wage, bailing out big banks, and allowing 11 million illegal immigrants to stay in the country. It is hard to see how many Republicans will go along with the sentiment.”

Clearly Kasich — a top lieutenant in Newt Gingrich’s conservative revolution of the mid-1990s — has been recast as a hopeless RINO. And the notion that he might be the most appealing candidate the Republicans could put up against Hillary Clinton is apparently not nearly as interesting to conservative stalwarts as his heterodox views, summarized by the PBS NewsHour.

As the debate opened, all eyes were on the moderators. Would they manage to avoid the anti-media controversies that befell the CNBC panelists a couple of weeks ago while still managing to maintain a firm hand? My answer is that they partially succeeded. They avoided the snarky, disrespectful tone of the CNBC debate, and the candidates responded with a substantive discussion of the issues.

But on several occasions the panelists were just too soft. One example was Neil Cavuto’s exchange with Ben Carson in which he tried to press Carson on questions that have been raised about his truthfulness. Carson didn’t really answer, and before you knew it he was off and running about Benghazi.

Cavuto’s follow-up: “Thank you, Dr. Carson.”

Then there was the rather amazing question Maria Bartiromo asked Rubio toward the end of the debate, which I thought was well described by Max Fisher of Vox:

Who won? After each of these encounters, the pundits keep telling us that Rubio is on the move. And yes, the Florida senator has risen in the polls, though he’s still well behind Trump (who informed us that he and Vladimir Putin are “stablemates”) and Carson.

But Rubio’s over-rehearsed demeanor may not wear well. I thought his weakest moment on Tuesday came when Rand Paul challenged him on military spending. The audience liked Rubio’s militaristic response. Paul, though, appeared to be at ease as he offered facts and figures, while Rubio just seemed to be sputtering talking points.

As for Jeb Bush, well, the consensus is that he did better than he had previously, but not enough to make a difference. “He may have stopped the free fall,” writes Jennifer Rubin, The Washington Post’s conservative blogger, “but he was outshone once again by competitors.” The questions about Bush’s continued viabililty will continue.

Carly Fiorina turned in another in a series of strong performances. But they don’t seem to be helping her much in the polls, and there was nothing that happened Tuesday night to make me think that’s going to change.

John Dickerson of Slate, who is also the host of CBS News’ Face the Nation, seems to believe the race will ultimately come down to Rubio’s mainstream conservatism and the much-harder-edged version offered by Ted Cruz, who once again showed he’s a skilled debater.

If that’s the case, let’s get on with it. Tuesday night’s event featured eight candidates — a bit more manageable than the previous three debates, but still too large to sustain a coherent line of thought. (What was that about Michael Novak again, Governor Kasich?)

For that to happen, though, Trump and Carson are going to have to fade. And despite months of predictions (including some by me) that their support would collapse, they remain at the top of the heap. As long as that’s the case, Rubio versus Cruz means precisely nothing.

“The Democrats are laughing,” Cruz said at one point in response to a question about immigration. In fact, the Republicans have given their rivals plenty of comedic material during in 2015. The question is whether that will change in 2016 — or if Hillary Clinton will be laughing all the way to Election Day.

Live-blogging tonight’s Republican presidential debate

CTfk7dvXIAASug4.jpg-large

11:19. Well, I thought Kasich won by a lot, though if past performance is any guide, Republican viewers will disagree. Rubio was OK but over-rehearsed. Bush did little to help himself. Trump was pretty good — and a lot better than Carson. And that’s a wrap.

11:11. OK. Closing statements.

11:07. I’ve zoned out.

11:02. So what’s going on? “That was fun. Let’s have a third hour”?

11:00. Maria Bartiromo tosses a softball: How can any of you match up with Clinton’s experience?

Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 11.03.33 PM

10:55. What do you mean “More questions coming up”? We’ve only got five minutes to go, and we’re heading into a commercial.

10:54. You get in an argument with Cruz, you look good. So Kasich looks good. Fiorina: Socialism!

10:50. You know, I would have liked to hear five or six minutes from Kasich on the notion of ethics and values on Wall Street. He cites the Catholic theologian Michael Novak, who’s written a book called “The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.” Might be the most important thing anyone has said all night, and it’s said in passing, with the debate clock ticking.

10:45. Dodd-Frank blah blah blah price of soap this is an outrage. Bleah!

10:42. Rather than talking about ordinary people, Bush talks about his deep empathy for bankers. Community bankers rather than mega-bankers. But bankers.

10:40. You know who else has disappeared? Carson.

10:37. Kasich finally gets to talk, and he’s rambling, trying to hit every foreign-policy point that’s been brought up in the last 20 minutes. Worst answer I’ve heard from him. Make one coherent argument that viewers might remember.

10:34. Opposing views.

Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 10.33.37 PM

10:32. Paul: If we enforce a no-fly zone, we’re going to shoot down Russian planes, and you’ll be sending our sons and daughters to the Middle East. Reminds everyone that he opposed the war in Iraq. Trump gets booed when he criticizes Fiorina for interrupting Paul. Rubio calls Putin “a gangster.”

10:28. Fiorina knows them all.

10:27. Trump is asked if he’ll stand up to Putin. His answer, essentially, is that he and Putin are buddies, and that Russia is useful in the war against ISIS. Bush jumps on him. Trump comes back with a semi-coherent response about not wanting to help Syrian rebels when we don’t know who they are.

10:16. The Bush Campaign Death Watch is only going to become more intense after tonight. If he were otherwise a good candidate, it would be one thing. But he’s been less than compelling on the stump, he doesn’t have a particularly compelling story to tell about his years as governor of Florida, and the Bush brand is pretty badly tarnished.

If Republican voters decide to go with one of the extremists, Bush gets frozen out. If they go with a mainstream conservative, Kasich and Rubio seem like far better bets at this point. It is very difficult to see how Bush can get back into the race.

10:08. Every answer that comes out of Rubio’s mouth sounds totally rehearsed. Rand Paul — remember him? — scores some points by going after Rubio’s tax plan and sounding like he can actually think on his feet. Paul: “Can you be conservative and be liberal on military spending?” Now Cruz jumps in to talk about sugar subsidies, of all things. Fiorina is talking about zero-based budgeting and a three-page tax code (definitely shorter than the Bible).

Bush has disappeared.

10:01. Did Clinton really say we’re going to have to live with 2 percent annual growth, as Bush just claimed?

9:57. Cruz: “There are more words in the federal tax code than there are in the Bible.” A very telling point because — uh — what?

9:56. This popcorn is good.

9:55. Purely from a performance point of view, Fiorina is turning in yet another strong debate performance. Yet despite predictions by analysts that she will start to move up in the polls, she’s stuck within the ranks of the also-rans.

I think the reason is that Fiorina has made a conscious decision to compete for the large share of the Republican electorate that wants and expects to be lied to — the abortion video she’s seen that doesn’t exist, her alternative history of her time at the top of Hewlett-Packard, her demagoguing on the Affordable Care Act. The problem with that strategy is that the free market (as she might put it) has decided, and they’re going with Trump and Carson.

9:46. Fiorina makes a brazen pitch for all those Scott Walker supporters out there.

9:42. “If Republicans join the Democrats as the party of amnesty, we will lose,” says Ted Cruz before making some truly tortured analogies about bankers and journalists. “We’re tired of being told we’re anti-immigrant. It’s offensive.” Of course, it’s also true.

9:38. Kasich and Trump both looked good on the exchange on immigration. Trump was a little more controlled than he usually is, but Kasich nevertheless exposed him as a charlatan (as he’s done before). Bush makes a point that’s both reasonable and instantly forgettable.

9:34. Trump likes Ike.

9:33. Neil Cavuto hits Carson with the first tough question of the night — his trustworthiness regarding his life story. “What I do have a problem with is being lied about,” Carson says. And then, without answering any of the questions about him, he goes after Hillary Clinton for lying about coming under attack in the former Yugoslavia. (As if that wasn’t a huge story in 2008.) “People who know me know I’m an honest person.” Cavuto: “Thank you, Dr. Carson.”

So the panelists are handling themselves with considerably more dignity than the CNBC folks did a couple of weeks ago. But “Thank you, Dr. Carson” is not an adequate follow-up. There has to be a midpoint between the snark and disrespect shown by the CNBC panelists and the failure to press the issue that Cavuto just showed.

9:28. This shingles commercial is disgusting.

9:27. If you’re just checking in, welcome to our steam-powered vintage live blog. If you’re not accustomed to old media, remember that you need to hit refresh every so often to see new content.

9:22. OK, let’s find this mother Carly Fiorina claims she talked with. There’s a pattern here.

9:21. Let’s repeal all of Barack Obama’s rules, Bush says. Among other things, he would repeal net neutrality. And he casts regulation as contributing to poverty and lack of opportunity.

9:18. Bush is whining.

9:16. John Kasich has a shambling, friendly-uncle style that I find appealing. He’s very conservative, but he comes across as less ideological and less hard-edged than some of the other candidates, as well as less prepped than Rubio. I’ve thought for some time that he would be the Republicans’ best bet in a general election. But in the current environment, he’s been cast as a hopeless RINO.

9:12. Nativist Trump opens by saying we can’t have higher wages if we want to compete with other countries. Wonder how that will play with his America First supporters. Carson says a higher minimum wage would hurt African-Americans trying to enter the job market. Marco Rubio says a higher minimum wage “would make people more expensive than a machine.”

“Welders make more money than philosophers,” Rubio says. “We need more welders and less philosophers.” Thus combining populism and anti-intellectualism, which are kissing cousins in any case.

8:58. Stephen Hayes says the most pressure is on Jeb Bush and Donald Trump. My suspicion is that the pundits are poised to say two hours from now that Bush had a good night — as long as he gives them something to hang their hats on.

8:47. What I’ll be looking for tonight: Can the Fox Business Channel rise above the very low bar set by CNBC? Will Ben Carson hold up under what is likely to be a heavy barrage over his tales of dubious truthfulness (West Point, Yale, the belt buckle) and just plain dubiousness (Muslims, the Holocaust, pyramids)? If Carson crumples, can Donald Trump reassert his dominance? Can Jeb Bush get back into the race?

***

I’ll be live-blogging tonight’s Republican presidential debate on the Fox Business Channel. Why? I’m finding that live-tweeting is more and more dissatisfying, as it becomes a contest to see who can be the most clever and snarky and thus generate the most traffic.

Besides, I’ll be writing something up for WGBHNews.org tomorrow morning, and it seems to me that blogging is more likely than tweeting to yield useful notes. So tune in here at 9. And feel free to weigh in with your comments — using your real name, of course.

Donald Trump as the face of white nationalism

Compelling analysis in The Washington Post. According to Danielle Allen, Trump made himself the face of white nationalism, which has been with us for quite some time. Trump = Le Pen.