Trump’s Base Think He’s the Right Kind of Republican

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Josh Marshall made an astute observation yesterday concerning a new PPP poll about Mitch McConnell’s approval rating in his home state of Kentucky, which is at a pitiful 18% approval and 74% disapproval (“Trump Is Killing McConnell,” Talking Points Memo, 8/21/2017):

McConnell appears to be getting hit badly on multiple fronts. He’s clearly taking a hit from those who opposed the effort to get rid of Kynect/Obamacare, a group which includes a lot of Republicans. But he’s also taking a big hit as the guy who failed to deliver repeal for Trump and the GOP. He’s getting it from both sides. The latter is intensified greatly by the fact that Trump has been repeatedly attacking McConnell and suggesting he should be replaced.

It’s also worth noting that many Trump supporters differentiate between Trump and the Republican party—they see Trump as the outsider come to Washington to set things straight, whereas the Republican party is part of the establishment they want Trump to “shake up.”  I think this in part explains why McConnell sits at a pathetic 18% approval while Trump is at 62.5% approval. And, as Marshall notes, McConnell’s inability to deliver on a big Trump promise—not only to repeal Obamacare (which was also a McConnell promise) but to replace it with “something terrific”—after seven years of nonstop talk about it makes McConnell look weak. Trump supporters are able to differentiate it because Trump proved his strength in winning an election he wasn’t supposed to win, so what’s wrong with McConnell that he can’t whip up fifty votes for repeal?

A more sinister observation is that the hardcore Trump base sees McConnell as part of a plot to, if not remove Trump from office, then at least make him look bad and stymie his agenda. Go to Breitbart, for example, and look at the reaction the far-right had to Jake Tapper’s interview with Paul Ryan last night. They don’t think that Ryan got suckered into talking about Trump’s Charlottesville comments again instead of discussing Trump’s non-strategy in Afghanistan, they think he’s in on it to discredit the president in front of the nation. Look at the way Trump’s base went after his primary opponents. Look at the way they go after mild conservative critics like those over at the National Review.

The old adage that “conservatism cannot fail; it can only be failed,” has taken on a new meaning in the Trump era. It’s Trump that cannot fail, no matter what he does or doesn’t do.

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A Question for Those in Right-Wing Media

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Because so many of you are willing to defend Trump’s statements on the Neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville (all three of them, two of which blamed ‘both sides’ and failed to mention white supremacists), I have a few simple questions for you:

Because you’re okay with the president apologizing for white supremacists and Neo-Nazis, would you have praised Trump if he had only made one statement in which he unequivocally denounced and placed blame on those Neo-Nazis for the violence in Charlottesville? More frighteningly, would you have praised Trump if he had only made one statement in which he blamed counterprotesters for the violence and made no mention of Neo-Nazis and white supremacists at all?

If your answer to Trump’s actual statements is the exact same as your answer to either of these hypothetical Trump statements, then this isn’t about what he said. This is about your blind obedience to Trump.

The Death of the Carrier Spectacle

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It seems that all those jobs saved at a Carrier in plant in Indiana weren’t so long-term after all:

More than 600 employees at a Carrier plant in Indianapolis are bracing for layoffs beginning next month, despite being told by President Trump that nearly all the jobs at the plant had been saved.

I wrote back in December that this deal was hot air; not substantive, but image-heavy enough to trick the right into thinking it was more real than the more abstract-looking job growth under Obama. Like the Syria strike and like Trump’s tweet insisting he’s actually doing things:

these were all spectacle. As one Carrier employee says:

“To me this was just political, to make it a victory within Trump’s campaign, in his eyes that he did something great,” said T. J. Bray, a 15-year Carrier employee who will keep his job due to seniority. “I’m very grateful that I get to keep my job, and many others, but I’m still disappointed that we’re losing a lot.”

Sounds about right.

The Truth as Republicans Create It

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Thomas Friedman thinks we’re moving into an era in which both side of the political divide can no longer agree on basic facts (“Where Did ‘We the People’ Go?” The New York Times, 6/21/2017):

[A] Canadian gentleman, trying to grasp what’s happening to America, asked me a simple question: “What do you fear most these days?”

I paused for a second, like a spectator waiting to see what would come out of my own mouth. Two things came out: “I fear we’re seeing the end of ‘truth’ — that we simply can’t agree any more on basic facts. And I fear that we’re becoming Sunnis and Shiites — we call them ‘Democrats’ and ‘Republicans.’

In set-ups such as these, the writer establishes the very old and very tired “both sides” argument, in which he or she acknowledges the indisputable fact that, yes, there are two major parties in the American political system, but it doesn’t follow that they’re both equally at fault for the current conflicts. And Friedman wastes no time making a wholly lopsided comparison:

When a liberal comedian poses with a mock severed head of Donald Trump, when the president’s own son, Eric Trump, says of his father’s Democratic opponents, “To me, they’re not even people,” you know that you are heading to a dark place.

So a comedian holding Trump’s severed head (I guess we’re not allowed to bring up “musician” Ted Nugent’s threats against Barack Obama) is comparable to the son of the President of the United States of America calling Democratic opponents non-people. Which of those two individuals do you think has access to nearly-unfettered amounts of power?

One reason Republicans are able to get away with anything and everything is that they are able to act to an extreme in any certain amount (take, for example, the Republican senate’s complete lockstep on blocking all hearings on Merrick Garland) if they can find even a minute example of Democrats doing it at any point in the history of the republic (take Biden’s suggestion in 1992 that the senate wait until after the election to appoint a new Supreme Court judge—spoiler alert, they didn’t).

That’s why hacks like Friedman can have the one example of Kathy Griffin being despicable and equate it with the president and the people he surrounds himself with (his idiot sons, Seb Gorka, Steve Bannon). It allows Republicans to continue to lie about how the ACA was drafted and passed as an excuse for their utter lack of transparency. If you’re worried about an inability to agree on the truth, Tom, then start asking that Republicans recognize it. There’s zero reason anyone should have to meet them between the truth and their warped sense of reality.

No, Ann Coulter Turning on Trump Won’t Fracture the Base

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Ken Meyer has a quick report about Ann Coulter’s frustration with Trump (“Coulter on Trump: ‘This Jackass is Really Ticking Me Off,'” Mediaite, 6/16/2017). Saith Coulter:

It was a whole series today! This jackass is really ticking me off. And today…Cuba? F*cking Cuba? If he’d run a campaign promising to do everything he’s done in the last 6 months, he’d never have been elected.

And Meyer makes this quick observation:

It’s safe to say that if Coulter ever officially dropped Trump, it would represent a seismic crack in the base which powered his victory.

It’s not that big a deal. Nobody actually likes Coulter. For all her media presence, she couldn’t even get her book on Trump to move. It currently is sitting at around #16,000 in books at Amazon. She’s just a useful, Trumpish voice that was Pissing Off Liberals™ long before Trump was, and any derivation from supporting the president won’t precipitate an exodus of supporters—they’ll just turn on Coulter.

Congressional Republicans Need Trump More Than He Needs Them, At Least for Now

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David Leonhardt has a bizarre idea of why Trump is now beholden to the Republican-controlled congress (“Weak Trump, Strong Paul Ryan,” The New York Times, 6/12/2017):

The biggest priority for today’s Congressional Republicans is shrinking the size of government so they can cut taxes for the wealthy.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, managed to win the presidency on an agenda that promised robust government programs in health care, retirement and other areas.

But as we know of Trump, his position on just about anything will change. He also won on a promise to put Hillary Clinton in jail, ban Muslims from entering the country, and courting the white nationalist underbelly of America.

Anyway, Leonhardt’s idea is that Trump’s noncommitment to any ideology other than the furtherance of himself made it questionable just how far ideologues like Paul Ryan could pull him to sign Republican legislation, especially because the proposed health care bill is the exact opposite of the lower premiums and universal coverage Trump pledged during his campaign. Leonhardt thinks the bubbling Russia scandal gives the Republican congress an edge. He quotes Paul Starr, a sociologist:

Donald Trump is now totally dependent on congressional Republicans to avoid impeachment and therefore has no choice but to be a cheerleader for their policies and to sign whatever legislation they send him.

But because, as Leondhardt admits, Trump is only interested in “winning” and has zero interest in assisting in crafting policy, there was never any reason to doubt Trump would sign whatever piece of garbage the Republican congress sent to him. As I wrote back in January:

Any legislation they (the Republican congress) want they can put in front of Trump, and chances are he’ll sign it.

And February:

And [McCain will] vote affirmatively for Trump’s other picks. And he, along with the Republican-controlled congress and soon-to-be conservative-controlled Supreme Court, will ram through their ultraconservative agenda, doing their best to dangle shiny objects in front of Trump long enough to get him to sign the bills he hasn’t read that are put in front of him.

We know Trump has signed executive orders without actually reading them, and that was before the majority of his scandals happened or started heating up. Trump was on board with the initial draft of the health care bill and lambasted the Freedom Caucus when they announced their opposition to it, causing Ryan to cancel a vote. He’s on board with this draft, too. That’s because Trump doesn’t care what’s in the bill; he only cares that it looks like he’s doing something. How any of the actual legislation he winds up signing actually affects people he doesn’t care about, and he would have wound up agreeing with whatever Paul Ryan put in front of him regardless of however many scandals he did or didn’t have. He’s that much of a simpleton.

Maybe that will change should the Russia scandal become completely unmanageable and evermore damning, but in that case Trump will be at the mercy of the Republican congress to not impeach him—Trump still would sign their legislation regardless, if they can ever manage to hand him some.

A Quick Word on Pete Buttigieg

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I’m still not officially “back,” at least not for a few more days. But in the interval I wanted to make a quick note. Several months back I started writing a piece about the election of the Chair of the Democratic National Committee. Ultimately I didn’t because I didn’t have anything useful to say; it was either going to be Tom Perez or Keith Ellison, neither of whom I found interesting or particularly capable of the job.

But something I wished I had said was that I wish the seat had gone to Pete Buttigieg, a 35-year-old mayor from Indiana who attended Harvard and served in Afghanistan. I learned about Buttigieg from an interview he did with Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, and where I’d largely tuned out to the repetitive and typical “we’ve got to organize” BS from Ellison and Perez (without any real, substantive plan as to how that would happen), my ears perked up at certain things Buttigieg said. Listen for yourself:

Long story short, normal Democrats aren’t good at sloganeering and rhetoric, so it was unwise to choose Perez (and by extension, it probably would have been unwise to choose Ellison, too). Buttigieg actually had a strategy, and he was able to articulate many of the weaknesses of the Democratic party and provide actual solutions. This is the kind of person we need in the Democratic party.

If It Took You Until Trump to Realize the Republican Party Was Rotten, You Haven’t Been Paying Attention

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Here’s a hot take by John J. Pitney, Jr that I’m sure will only become more popular with time (“I was a Republican until Donald Trump hijacked my party,” USA Today, 5/23/2017).

Already there’s a problem with the title. Donald Trump didn’t “hijack” the party—unless winning the party’s nomination according to its own rules is considered “hijacking”—regular Republicans showed up and voted for him in the primaries, again and again and again. And once he got the nomination, Reince Preibus and Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and other Republican stalwarts endorsed Trump and helped shepherd him to victory. A plane can’t get hijacked if the passengers encourage the hijacker to do it and the pilots willingly show him how to fly the plane. So enough of this “hijacking” nonsense.

Because Pitney isn’t able to admit this small but significant fact and instead wants to act as though Trump’s ascension was a hostile takeover, it’s not surprising that he never quite explains what it is about Trump that he doesn’t like:

From the start of the campaign, i knew I could never vote for such a person. Trump is a mashup of all the sorriest parts of Republican history: Herbert Hoover’s trade policy, Warren Harding’s incompetence, Charles Lindbergh’s dictator worship, and Joseph McCarthy’s dishonesty.

So Pitney opposes Trump because he’s the embodiment of standard Republican politician traits (and wouldn’t you know, Pitney doesn’t make a peep about Republicans and the Civil Rights Movement). He opposes Trump because of his stance on NAFTA and for firing James Comey. He opposes Trump because he doesn’t believe in American Exceptionalism:

During an interview, Bill O’Reilly pointed out that Vladimir Putin is a killer. “There are a lot of killers,” Trump replied. “You think our country’s so innocent?”

Which is something I actually agree with Trump about, though context is everything: I condemn Putin and his dictatorial moves and simultaneously acknowledge and condemn the military muscle the United States has flung around the world against innocent people. Trump, on the other hand, wanted to create a reason by which his admiration of Putin was justified; Putin kills people, but so do we, so where do we get off being moral arbiters? I know Trump’s thought process wasn’t that sophisticated, but the point remains.

All this, though, makes me wonder whether Pitney would have written this column had any other Republican won the election, even if that Republican expressed the same ideas as Trump, because with few exceptions Trump didn’t much deviate from the standard Republican party line—he was just brasher and louder and dumber and more open about it than any of those other stooges were willing to be. The only reason Trump was able to rise and take control of the party is because the politicians within that party and the right-wing media that accompanies them in blasting their base constituents with nonsense for decades created an atmosphere from which a swamp thing like Trump would inevitably emerge. I didn’t think it’d come this quickly, but here it is.

Infuriating, too, is how Pitney says he registered as an independent the day after the election. Instead of being even the least bit curious about how his party ended up where it is now and what role people like him and his enthusiastic support for the party for the better party of a century played in bringing the party to its current dire straits, he bails and says he’s going to vote Democratic. Which is fine, I guess; I’d rather have a reluctant Republican vote for Dems than hold their nose and vote Republican because they still believe they’re the better choice no matter how bad they get. But I’d also like to have Republicans who can acknowledge their complicity and demand that the party start acting sane again. His abandonment of Republicans does not absolve him for his small part in the party becoming what it is today. Worst of all, the way he writes in his editorial:

I started volunteering for the party nearly a half century ago, handing out Nixon pamphlets in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., at the age of 13. I went on to work for Republican politicians in the New York State Legislature and both houses of Congress. And for a couple of years, I served in the research department of the Republican National Committee.

But early in the morning of Nov. 9, shortly after Trump claimed victory in the presidential election, I took out my laptop and changed my registration to independent.

It’s as if he wouldn’t have noticed anything were wrong had Donald Trump not been the nominee.

In that very perverse way, Pitney should actually be thanking Trump, because Trump has exposed without the possibility of nuance or abstraction to Pitney something that liberals have known for a long time but that conservatives such as Pitney were somehow unable to see: that the GOP is comprised of unprincipled opportunists who will do almost anything to attain and retain power.