Monday, December 14, 2015

Two views of why and how the Republican party came to own Donald Trump

Both Paul Krugman and John Nichols agree: Republican elites are responsible for Trump's success.

Paul Krugman (NY Times)

Krugman considers the sources of the support for right-wing politicians in France and the U. S. Following snippets are focused on the U. S. and Donald Trump.

... why are these [right-wing, racist] voters making themselves heard so loudly now? Have they become much more numerous? Maybe, but it’s not clear. More important, I’d argue, is the way the strategies elites have traditionally used to keep a lid on those angry voters have finally broken down.

... in America, ... the Republican Party hasn’t tried to freeze out the kind of people who vote National Front in France. Instead, it has tried to exploit them, mobilizing their resentment via dog whistles to win elections. This was the essence of Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy,” and explains why the G.O.P. gets the overwhelming majority of Southern white votes.

But there is a strong element of bait-and-switch to this strategy. Whatever dog whistles get sent during the campaign, once in power the G.O.P. has made serving the interests of a small, wealthy economic elite, especially through big tax cuts, its main priority — a priority that remains intact, as you can see if you look at the tax plans of the establishment presidential candidates this cycle.

Sooner or later the angry whites who make up a large fraction, maybe even a majority, of the G.O.P. base were bound to rebel — especially because these days much of the party’s leadership seems inbred and out of touch. They seem, for example, to imagine that the base supports cuts to Social Security and Medicare, an elite priority that has nothing to do with the reasons working-class whites vote Republican.

So along comes Donald Trump, saying bluntly the things establishment candidates try to convey in coded, deniable hints, and sounding as if he really means them. And he shoots to the top of the polls. Shocking, yes, but hardly surprising.

Just to be clear: In offering these explanations of the rise of Mr. Trump and Ms. Le Pen [in France], I am not making excuses for what they say, which remains surpassingly ugly and very much at odds with the values of two great democratic nations.

... this ugliness has been empowered by the very establishments that now act so horrified at the seemingly sudden turn of events. In Europe the problem is the arrogance and rigidity of elite figures who refuse to learn from economic failure; in the U.S. it’s the cynicism of Republicans who summoned up prejudice to support their electoral prospects. And now both are facing the monsters they helped create.

John Nichols (The Nation)

Nichols charges the Republican elites with cowardice and ineptitude with respect to their handling of Trump. Here are snippets.

If the Republican establishment had set out to confirm every criticism Donald Trump has made of them, they could not have done a better job of it. Since Trump declared on Monday that he would bar Muslims from entering the United States, Republican presidential candidates and leaders have dutifully trooped to the microphones to say they disagree with Trump but would still accept him as their party’s nominee.

Yet, behind the scenes, they have been scrambling to avert his nomination.

Of course, in the fever swamps of contemporary politics, where loyalty is a catchphrase, not a reality, and where alliances are so strained that it is impossible even to know who is gaming who at any particular moment, there is no “behind the scenes.”

On Thursday, The Washington Post reported that Priebus, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, and roughly 20 other Wall Street mandarins gathered for a “prix fixe three-course meal at the Source, an Asian fusion restaurant near the Capitol.” The supposedly secret talk was of trumping Trump.

The party establishment was finally recognizing it has a problem. But it was still failing to recognize why it has a problem.

With respect to the idea of a brokered GOP convention:

... the party establishment is searching for an out. And the thinking appears to be that they can somehow find it at a “brokered convention” next summer in Cleveland.

This just shows how completely out of touch Republican leaders have grown—with the mess of a party they have created, and with American politics.

Brokered conventions were once a thing, back in the days of Warren Harding. But that was when grassroots voters had little or no say in the nominating process. There were few primaries or caucuses—and even the ones that existed were “preference primaries” devoid of meaning. The brokers were party bosses, not the candidates or their supporters.

... what is really being discussed in DC by the party establishment is a strategy to unite all the delegates who are not Trump backers behind an alternative candidate. Under this theory, Trump might arrive with 49 percent of the delegates and get beat by some united-front alternative like Jeb Bush or Chris Christie or Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney.

Good luck with that.

If there is any brokering to be done, Trump is likely to do it.

Trump understands “the art of the deal,” and no one should rule off the prospect that he might cut a deal with Cruz or some other candidate who controls a block of delegates. Imagine a Trump-Cruz ticket, and you get the picture.

The bottom line, spoken by other observers as well as Nichols is this.

The question now is whether Republican leaders will make it clear that they do not, and will not, back Trump as their nominee. Until they do so publicly, without calculation or apology, their every move aids and abets Donald Trump.

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