The GOP “Script”

Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell wants Donald Trump to “get on script.”  By this, he of course means The Donald should quit saying the quiet parts out loud and get back to using the dog whistle.

McConnell and other conservatives don’t mind racism.  They happily appeal to racism and bigotry when they can use it to distract voters from the real source of their economic woes.  They just don’t want to change the official Republican Party brand from “family values for some families” to racism and bigotry.

Wait.  Maybe they already have that brand.

Social Media

#TrumpWillNeverBePresident II

A couple of takeaways from “Trump Orders Surrogates to Intensify Criticism of Judge and Journalists” at Bloomberg Politics:

@realDonaldTrump is a terrible leader and manager of staff.  He had no idea which staff member had sent the memo telling surrogates not to discuss the Trump University lawsuit.  Then he threw her under the bus, telling people on the call to “throw it out,” and asking if there were “any other stupid letters.”  “…you guys are getting sometimes stupid information from people that aren’t all that smart,” he told supporters (including Jan Brewer and Scott Brown) on the call.  He seems to forget that he’s the incompetent executive who hired “people who aren’t all that smart” in the first place.

@realDonaldTrump hasn’t the foggiest idea what it takes to run a Presidential campaign or to assemble a winning political coalition.  He has no idea how to build and run the organizations and teams necessary to win the Oval Office.  If someone constructed it for him he would jerk it out of their hands like a toy he covets and start throwing it at the ground just to watch pieces fly off.  He doesn’t understand who does what (communications, organizers, fundraisers) or how these people achieve success (data analysis, volunteer recruiting, media plans).  He apparently doesn’t realize that political campaigns are highly specialized endeavors with a handful of professional experts who know how it’s done.  He has no use for either a sound strategic plan or expert guidance for the detailed tactical work needed to identify and motivate supporters.

@realDonaldTrump doesn’t understand that bullying your way through the storm after saying something offensive won’t help him expand his universe of potential supporters.  He can’t seem to help categorizing and referring to people as members of groups (Muslim, “the blacks,” “the Hispanics,” Mexican).  People hear this as a claim that tribal membership is the most important quality people have – it drives their behavior.  This is, of course, the very definition of racism – and I believe his willingness to say some of these things out loud has driven his popularity among many Republican primary voters.  At this point, however, it’s begun to offend his now wider audience.  Rather than back off this rhetoric, he’s asking surrogates to emphasize it.  This, by the way, puts people like Jan Brewer and Scott Brown in a tough position – they want to elect a Republican President, but probably don’t want to earn reputations as racists in the process.

#TrumpWillNeverBePresident.  He’s a terrible leader and can’t manage subordinates except through fear.  He calls junior staff “stupid” in front of other senior people.  He hasn’t the smallest clue what it takes to put together the national political coalition needed to win the US Presidency and apparently believes he can win simply by saying silly things on television so people pay attention to him.  And when he says silly things on television and the people around him advise reticence, he lacks the temperament to realize he’s in over his head.

This is all very good news for Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party. #TrumpWillNeverBePresident.

Social Media

No, Voting for Trump Won’t Accelerate Progressive Change

Yves Smith (aka Susan Webber), a management consultant and principal at Aurora Advisors, writes at Politico that the “highly educated, high-income, finance-literate readers of my website, Naked Capitalism, don’t just overwhelmingly favor Bernie Sanders. They also say “Hell no!” to Hillary Clinton to the degree that many say they would even vote for Donald Trump over her.”

They (9 out of 10 Smith friends polled) developed their “conclusions” from “careful study of her record and her policy proposals,” and believe the Clintons represent a policy status quo of “crushing inequality, and an economy that is literally killing off the less fortunate.” And they think “the most powerful move they can take to foster change is to withhold their support.” Continue reading

Social Media

No, Sanders/Stein Does Not Stop Trump

This argument by Kevin Zeese and Patrick Walker at Salon goes in the category of wishful thinking if you ask me.  The core point they make is that by running for President on the Green Party ticket (Jill Stein has apparently agreed to this) Bernie Sanders would keep Donald Trump from expanding his coalition of voters at Hillary Clinton’s expense.  This is because voters see both Trump and Sanders as outsiders, with Sanders the “real” one.  They also worry that Trump could move to Clinton’s left on Wall Street and trade, “corporate trade agreements,” and militarism.  Finally, Zeese and Walker argue that independents will be the key to this race, and that third party campaign risks to Democratic candidates are overblown.  Well, let’s see. Continue reading

Social Media

#TrumpWillNeverBePresident

Writing at Salon, Anis Shivani predicted last week that Donald Trump’s campaign “will surely be victorious in the end,” because he appeals “to an elemental fear in the country, torn apart by the abstraction of the market, to which Clinton has not the faintest hope of responding.”  Trump, you see, “’builds’ things, literal buildings.”  People can actually visualize these buildings and the cities they were built in.  This contrasts with Clinton, according to Shivani, since her work with the Clinton Foundation and the State Department “represents…disembodiedness.”  “In this election,” claims Shivani, “abstraction will clearly lose and corporeality…will undoubtedly win.”

Another Salon writer, Musa al-Gharbi, doesn’t actually predict a Trump win, but he does seem to think the Donald has a path to victory.  He lays out three key reasons to think this: because Trump has more “opportunity to radically change public perception for the better” since voters don’t yet know Trump “as a politician,” because this election will turn on what voters think about both Obama and Bill Clinton, and because of something he calls “negative intersectionality.”  Al-Gharbi doesn’t define this very clearly, but he seems to be saying something about political correctness: that Trump’s bigotry and misogyny, “heard in the context of a fundamentally anti-white, anti-Christian culture war,” could actually make some voters see him more sympathetically.

These aren’t the only two writers working to outline a Trump path to the Oval Office.  These arguments mostly focus on three claims: both candidates have poor favorability ratings, Hillary Clinton is a bad candidate, and minority voters could shift to Trump. I challenge them below the fold. Continue reading

Social Media

Right Direction or Wrong Track?

Alex Castellanos couldn’t say it enough this morning on Meet the Press: 70% of Americans think the US is going in the wrong direction and want change.  To him this means Donald Trump has a chance to win the Presidency, since Hillary Clinton represents more of the same.

Americans have many reasons for answering “wrong track” on these kinds of surveys.  Castellanos conflates these reasons into a general annoyance with American government and its political leadership.  Let me suggest that much of the “wrong track” sentiment comes from disapproval of conservative social and economic policies and their obstructionist efforts to stop progressive changes people want.  This is true of both conservatives and liberals, but only on the conservative side does this translate to support for Trump.

Conservatives think the country is on the “wrong track” because they disapprove of tolerance for less traditional social, religious, and sexual norms, and wonder what the world is coming to when fewer people attend church, the coach cannot pray with the high school football team, homosexuals can marry and young women can have recreational sex without consequences.  They blame immigrants and minorities for their apparent loss of economic prosperity and political power and believe government does too much to help them.  They don’t like changes they see in their cities and neighborhoods as immigrants and people of color move in or cities encroach upon rural areas.  In fact, many people who say the US is going in the wrong direction actually want less change, and seek leaders that will finally put a stop to the madness.  These people reject the establishment GOP because they believe conservatives fecklessly promised to do so while knowing they would not or could not.

The only change they really do want is a shift from the “free markets can make everything work” that lead to wealth inequality and corporations moving their jobs overseas.  So they also reject the conservative governing establishment for failing to deliver the economic prosperity promised by Reagan and Americans for Tax Reform, and want US workers protected even if it means government action.   The core of Trump’s support comes from disaffected conservatives annoyed with change in American society, and seek restoration of traditional values and and a capitalism based on a balance between profits for shareholders and the needs of the nation and its workers. Continue reading

Social Media

Trump, Sanders, Populism, and the 2016 Election

I’m glad I ran across this Salon article challenging the notion that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders appeal to similar populist constituencies.  Don’t both Trump and Sanders “confront ‘establishment’ hegemony and voice small-fry ‘populism,’ plus condemn bad trade agreements, job losses, and Washington insiders?”  No, Becker says:

Sanders is not like Trump or vice versa: despite surface parallels, they are at heart more like polar opposites. In the end this measure emerges: the unassuming Sanders presents people-oriented messages that widen debate and insight. Trump’s proto-fascist, wealth-driven demagoguery kills debate with deceptive, irresponsible war cries that deter thinking and enlightenment.

I guess I agree as far as it goes: the contrast between Sanders’ intellectual and Trump’s demagogic arguments are…wait for it…yuuuuge.  But I see a much more important difference: Donald Trump sells himself as the best player of the Capitalism game.  Bernie Sanders makes a case that the game itself is rigged, and the rules need to change. Continue reading

Social Media

Sunday Morning Coffee

A few articles I’m reading over coffee this morning (Trump Will Never be President Edition):

Now that Clinton and Trump have more or less locked up their respective party’s nominations, the horse-race coverage will turn to the general election contest.  Since the media has an incentive to make it look like a close one, get ready for the “Donald Trump can win” and “Trump’s path to the Presidency” articles.  We’ll hear more about what an awful candidate Clinton is and all the baggage she’ll bring to the campaign.  Trump can pivot back to the center, they’ll say, and look more “Presidential” (whatever that means).  Much will be made of his record number of GOP primary votes. Continue reading

Social Media

Elections as Popularity Contests

I just read this post at Bearing Drift and posted a comment.  The author, Brian Shoeneman, is a Virginia GOP activist who has run for local office on old-school conservative policies.  He comes across to me as an establishment conservative who reveres the past and finds himself annoyed that Donald Trump, Tea Party activists, and other extremists have hijacked his Republican Party.  In the old joke about how many Virginians it takes to change a light bulb, Brian Shoeneman is the one holding the ladder and waxing eloquently about how great the old light bulb was.

Here Shoeneman complains that elections come down to popularity contests, and rational voters, who “make decisions based on things like policy, ideology, and electability” don’t exist.  As examples he uses Trump of course, but also Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.  To be sure, he has named three popular politicians (though I would say that Trump appeals to a much more limited constituency), but he says nothing about the reason why people like them so much.  Charisma matters, but I point out in my comment that policy matters as well.

Since the comment is rather long and makes what I think is an important point about why some Americans seem to like Donald Trump so much I thought I would repost my comment here:

This is an interesting, but in my view rather superficial, take on the election campaigns so far. A couple of thoughts.

First, let me challenge your assertion that voters don’t “make decisions based on things like policy, ideology, and electability.” For starters, the chief hermeneutic voters use to select a candidate is party identification. Those without the free time to spend conducting detailed research start by assuming that Republicans and Democrats differ in certain fundamental ways. This is why the core attack made on Trump is that he’s not really a Republican, and he’s not a “conservative.” His opponents try to tell voters not to apply this hermeneutic to Donald Trump. So yes, ideology makes a lot of difference.

I would also respectfully suggest that your Clinton and Obama examples do not support your claim. Bill Clinton won the Presidency on some very specific policy proposals – raise taxes on the wealthy to fix the budget and health care system, energy conservation and environmental protection to name two – against a very popular incumbent President. Barack Obama also ran on a specific policy platform that included higher taxes on the wealthy to pay for economic stimulus and ensuring better access to health care and ending needless war in the Middle East, among other ideas. To the extent these elections were “popularity contests” it’s because the policies these candidates proposed made them…popular.

Donald Trump is popular for another reason: he has tapped into residual white (especially male) anger at changes in American society that threaten their power. He appeals to the Warmac9999s of the world by suggesting that American is no longer great because we’ve let in too many brown people and given to much voice to women. These people are pissed because they can no longer express racist, bigoted, and sexist opinions without someone calling them out. This explains the emphasis on “political correctness” and the fact that evangelicals support Trump – note that a key reason his supporters like him is that he “speaks the truth.”

Conservatives have spent the last 45 years demonizing government and any effort to create an egalitarian society. They did this mostly in the service of corporations by enlisting religious leaders and disaffected white men using dog-whistle messages (e.g., “welfare queens”). As wealth inequality has grown, women assert themselves more, and the country becomes demographically more diverse these disaffected white men seek a hero. Donald Trump is popular with this constituency not because he’s famous. He’s popular with them because the believe he agrees with them that Mexicans cause their economic woes, Muslims cause their security fears, and no one can say the truth about this because “political correctness.” Warmac9999 and his ilk like Trump because they think he’ll “make American great again” by giving them the specific policies they want: a wall to keep Mexicans out, deportation of Muslims, and government support for rhetoric that accepts racist and sexist attacks on people they don’t like. He’s not popular because he’s famous and on television a lot. He’s popular because he gives angry white Americans license to express their racism and bigotry openly.

Social Media