Politics, et Cetera

A publication from The Political Forum, LLC

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Tuesday, November 3, 2015

They Said It:

“The way he talks is just silly sometimes — he sounds like a fourth-grader,” said Holly Martin, a freelance technology writer who recently moved, in search of a lower cost of living, from the suburbs of Washington to the exurban town of Winchester, Va.  But Martin, 59, attended a training session for Trump campaign volunteers recently because “he talks like a regular guy, and he actually loves this country.  He’s not afraid to say that we’ve lost our good character.”

Many Trump supporters interpret their candidate’s rough rhetoric not as anger, but as determination.  Without ever having seen Trump’s reality TV show, “The Apprentice,” Martin has come to think that he has a rare ability to get things done.  She was a Republican all her life — until her party regained the majority in Congress in 2014 and proceeded, she said, “to do nothing.  They did nothing on Obamacare, nothing on cutting spending, nothing on restoring honesty.  They hate us, so now I’m done with Republicans.  Trump is not one of them.  He doesn’t hate us.  He really believes we can make America great again, and I’m not an optimistic person, but I think he can, because he’s got a built-in ability to use the media, just like Obama.” [emphasis added]

Marc Fisher, “Seeking America’s ‘Lost’ Greatness and Finding Trump Most Appealing,” Washington Post, October 31, 2015.

 

THE STATE OF THE RACE, ONE YEAR OUT.

Three weeks ago, the Democrats held their first debate.  The GOP held its third just a few days ago.  Neither of them determined the outcome of the race, of course.  But together they clarified things a bit, exposing the motivations and concerns of the voters and candidates in both parties.  Going forward, both races will, we think, make a little more sense if you keep in mind the following thoughts.

First, the developing theme on the Democratic side is that this election is about survival.  It’s not about ideological purity.  It’s not about displeasure with the party establishment or unhappiness with either Obama or the Clintons.  There are, we’ll concede, elements of truth in the twin notions that Bernie Sanders’ popularity is a sign that the Democratic Party is radicalizing and that his campaign is analogous to Trump’s interparty revolution on the Right.  But the whole truth is a little more complicated.  Indeed, the course adjustment in the Democratic campaign, which Sanders appears to have led, was much more about preserving and protecting the status quo than a sign of any revolutionary fervor among the masses.

Recall that up until a few weeks ago, Bernie Sanders was a big deal to the folks in the mainstream press, an exciting addition to national politics at a time when the only other story in their seedy world had to do with Hillary Clinton’s ongoing ethical lapses.  Bernie served a dual purpose to the media, but most notably, he was there man of the hour, an unlikely hero who would nevertheless change the Democratic Party forever and for the better.  He was the Left’s “Great Collectivist Hope,” at least as long as Hillary was busy trying to explain how she knew her email sever was secure, even though she lacked the technical knowledge to make “smiley faces” (i.e. emojis) on her Blackberry.

But then Bernie debated Hillary.  And lost.  And then Hillary went up to Capitol Hill and stood up to those mean spirited, misogynistic bullies.  And then . . . well . . . and then, the press decided that Bernie was old news.  Of course, he still has an important role to play in their world.  After all, who is Hillary going to beat in the “Democratic Debates” if it is not this poor sap, one of the world’s last remaining souls who hasn’t figured out that Karl Marx was a wacko.  Indeed, nothing could be better than if he actually won the New Hampshire primary and thus “made a race out of it.”

Sanders’ problems – if that’s what you want to call them – began three weeks ago.  At the first Democratic debate (and the ONLY Democratic debate for 40% of the candidates on the stage that night), moderator Anderson Cooper asked Hillary about her illegal and national-security-compromising email server.  She gave a pat, instantly forgettable response, but in so doing, set the stage for the most memorable moment of the evening.  Echoing Clinton’s desire to “move on,” Sanders declared that what he was about to do might not be great politics, but that he had to do it.  And then, of course, he shouted (as he always does) that “the Secretary is right . . .  The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.”

Ironically, Sanders was right about it being terrible politics, although he likely didn’t believe that himself at the time.  He apparently thought that he looked noble, wise, and magnanimous.  Of course, he knew that most Democratic voters care neither about the fact that she lied about the emails nor that she probably compromised national security.  He knew that they think the whole thing is a Republican plot and even if it is not, so what?  What he didn’t understand, however, was that none of that mattered.  The whole thing was a joke.  All that mattered was that by taking the emails off the table, he effectively delegitimized his sole appeal as a candidate.

As we said, Sanders was never the great ideological reformer or agent of “change.”  As the inimitable Glenn Reynolds (a.k.a. Instapundit) put it:  “Nothing says ‘real change’ like a septuagenarian pushing 1930s economics!”  Rather, Sanders was the closest thing that the Democrats could find to a news item at a time when one was needed, and a “backup plan” if one ever became needed.

In case you haven’t noticed, the Democratic bench is pretty thin.  Other than Sanders, some guy named Martin O’Malley is the only other candidate running for the Democratic nomination.  Worse yet, the Democrats actually considered – pondered long and hard – the idea that Joe Biden might actually be the best candidate they have to win the presidency.  Seriously.

All of which is to say that Democratic voters and operatives know full well that Hillary is . . . well . . . “flawed.”  They have always known it.  They know that she is unlikable, uninteresting, and generally untalented.  They know that she could, at any point in time, be marched away from a campaign stop in handcuffs.  Last week, we argued that the Democratic constituencies don’t really care about Hillary’s corruption and criminal behavior.  And they don’t, except in that it might cause them to lose the presidency.

Watching the Party dance around the idea of Hillary as their leader reminds one of Bertold Brecht’s comment upon hearing that Nikita Khrushchev had produced evidence in 1956 that confirmed the fact that Stalin was a mass murderer.  Brecht, who had just won the “Stalin Peace Prize” and had been a stooge for Stalinism since the end of World War II, allowed as how it made no difference to him what the papers revealed.  He explained his indifference this way.

I have a horse.  He is lame, mangy and he squints.  Someone comes along and says: but the horse squints, he is lame and, look here, he is mangy.  He is right, but what use is that to me?  I have no other horse.  There is no other.  The best thing, I think, is to think about his faults as little as possible.

You see, liberalism is facing a crisis, an Armageddon of sorts.  And like it or not, Hillary is the “girl at the door of the inn.”  Like Joan of Arc, she is called upon to save the day – not because the liberal ideology is no longer attractive to the masses, but because, as Lady Margaret Thatcher put it, the liberal elite are running out of other people’s money.

As we noted last week (and implied the week before), in 2016, the Democratic base will be fighting to maintain everything that it holds dear.  The bureaucratic base – government workers, public sector unions, teachers, police, firefighters, etc. – will be fighting to maintain “big government,” because that’s what pays their salaries, pays their health care, and provides them with the prehistoric remnant known as a “defined-benefit pension.”  The business/economic base will be fighting to maintain “big government” as well, largely because big business and big government make an incredibly powerful team; together they can do almost anything they wish and, moreover, can convince the masses that it’s in their “economic interest,” even when it is clearly not.  The various subsidy-dependent portions of the base – now including health insurance companies – will be fighting for “big government” too, because big government “takes care of them,” be it through Medicare or Medicaid or Social Security Disability payments or mandatory health insurance purchases or whatever.  And the Federal Reserve and its counterparts throughout the world will be desperately printing fiat money in order to keep alive “the system” of which they’ve become an integral part.

Back in 2012, when Mitt Romney inelegantly declared that the presidential election pit the “makers” against the “takers,” he could not have been more wrong.  It’s the makers and the takers against the rest of us.  And the makers and the takers want to win desperately so they can keep things exactly as they are.  And if that means putting a corrupt and amoral harridan in the White House, then so be it.

In their bid to maintain the status quo, the Democrats know that the presidency is their only hope.  It is possible that they will win back control of the Senate in 2016, but it’s not necessarily likely.  As for the House, GOP control there remains a foregone conclusion.  Unless and until there is another “wave” election, the Republicans will keep the House and will rule it vigorously.  To make matters worse, the Republicans in the House are not exactly the sort of people most Democrats want making decisions.  Paul Ryan, for example, was just elected Speaker with (or in spite of) the explicit support of the mainstream press, the White House, and the House Democratic Caucus.

What this tells us is that the Left views Ryan as the least of all possible evils, the least radical of all the Congresscritters who could win the speakership.  And we remind you that this is the guy who TWICE wrote and passed out of the House bills ENDING Medicare as we know it.  Three years ago, Paul Ryan was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad man who wanted to become Vice President so he could throw Grandma off a cliff.  Today, he’s a “moderate.”  All of which means that the Democrats know that maintenance of the status quo hinges on the presidency.  A Republican president plus a Republican Senate plus a Paul-Ryan-led Republican House would likely spell the end of the New Deal.  And the Democrats know it.

That’s why they support Hillary almost unflinchingly.  And that’s why they support Bernie Sanders as an alternative – or at least why they used to support Sanders.  Between his declaration that he will not make an issue of Hillary’s manifest criminality and Hillary’s subsequent ability not to look like a completely unhinged hack in front of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, Bernie Sanders as much as conceded the nomination.

Now, that’s not to say that his candidacy is completely over.  He will win some votes here and there, and he may even win the New Hampshire primary.  Sanders is a very crafty politician, especially for an economic ignoramus, and he will push Hillary.  But as we said, he won’t be the nominee, or at least he won’t be unless Hillary shows up for one of the future debates wearing an orange jumpsuit and leg manacles.  If Hillary gets into trouble – with the House or the FBI – Sanders will rise again.  But not because he’s a socialist or a real Democrat or the voice of the future.  He is none of those things, and even if he were, the Democratic base wouldn’t care.  For a variety of reasons, the Democrats feel that they HAVE TO win in 2016.  And for a variety of other reasons – but mostly because of the Obama-inspired Democratic bloodbaths of 2010 and 2014 – they have exactly zero candidates who are capable of doing so other than Hillary.  And maybe Bernie in a pinch.

So like Yale or Harvard to a kid who has applied to the University of Kansas, Bernie is a last resort, a backup plan if the real deal falls through.  The Democrats are the status quo party, and to them, this is a status quo election.  And almost nothing says “status quo” like a tired, old hack whose been hanging around Washington and around the White House for a quarter century waiting for someone to tell her that she’s in charge at long last.

Of course, if there is something that says “status quo” like the aforementioned hack, it is a guy whose brother was president, whose father was president, whose grandad was a U.S. Senator, whose great-grandad was in charge of federal weapons contracts during World War I, and who has always just sort of assumed that the presidency was his for the taking.  All of which is to say that the Republican half of the presidential campaign has also changed over the past couple of weeks and has also exposed a problem related to the status quo.

The pundits will undoubtedly insist that the real change in the Republican primary race is the fact that Ben Carson has, all of a sudden, replaced Donald Trump at the top of the polls.  Carson, they believe, is the anti-Trump.  Where Trump is loud, Carson is quiet.  Where Trump is boastful, Carson is modest.  Where Trump is bold and brash and insolent, Carson is relaxed, calm, and polite.  All of this explains Carson’s rise against Trump, we suppose, but it doesn’t explain his rise against the rest of the field or the fact that he and Trump together now command the allegiance of fully half of the party’s voters, even though neither has ever served a day in elected office.  Which is to say that the pundits are missing the point.

If this election is about maintenance of the status quo to the Democrats, then it is about the destruction of the status quo to the Republicans.  Countless analysts – ourselves included – have tried and tried and tried to explain Donald Trump over the past few months.  Most have concluded that Trump will never be the nominee, largely because he is something of a clown or because he is anything but a conservative.  But here’s the deal:  the Republican voters don’t care about either of those things right now.  What they care about is breaking the status quo and, naturally, finding a candidate who will permit them to do so.  Why Trump?  Because he is not one of “them.”  Why Carson?  Because he is not one of “them.”  Why Fiorina?  Because she is not one of “them.”  And so on.

The big change in the campaign over the last week or so is the solidification of this storyline.  For a long time, most observers assumed that the Trump phenomenon would wear off eventually and that GOP voters would eventually settle on a nominee who had the best chance of beating Hillary.  And that nominee would, of course, be Jeb Bush.  But a funny thing happened on the way to this nomination.  It turned out that Jeb hates the voters and the voters hate him right back.  To many Republican voters, Jeb is the very embodiment of the status quo.  And this is NOT just the fact that he is his brother’s brother. It’s also the fact that he is an insider who thinks like an insider and campaigns like an insider and therefore thinks of the electorate like insiders do.  Or, as we said, he hates them, and they hate him.

Now, to be fair, Jeb probably doesn’t know he hates the electorate.  In fact, if you suggested it to him, he would almost certainly be shocked and horrified at the suggestion.  Still, if you look at his campaign, at his demeanor, at his plans to unseat Trump and win the nomination, all of it nearly screams “I hate you people!”

Last Monday, Jeb let loose with his most energetic, animated, heartfelt diatribe of the campaign.  Unfortunately, the target of his rant was not Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton or even the entrenched bureaucracy that stifles innovation and breeds economic complacency.  No, Jeb was angry at and thus took aim at the real bad guys in this country, Republican voters.  To wit:

If this election is about how we’re going to fight to get nothing done, then . . . I don’t want any part of it.  I don’t want to be elected president to sit around and see gridlock just become so dominant that people literally are in decline in their lives.  That is not my motivation . . .

I’ve got a lot of really cool things I could do other than sit around, being miserable, listening to people demonize me and me feeling compelled to demonize them.  That is a joke.  Elect Trump if you want that.

You people are so stupid.  You want “gridlock,” which is to say that you don’t want government to do anything.  Well, let me tell you what!  Gridlock is yucky!  I have lots of great ideas that I could use to make government work better and help people.  But if you don’t want that, then you people continue to be stupid and elect Trump, who is also stupid!

Pardon us, but yikes!  Any time a candidate or elected official is reduced to blaming the electorate for not “getting” him or not wanting to sit around and let him explain to the dumb-dumbs what they don’t understand, then he or she is finished.  In this case, Jeb is unhappy with the voters because they don’t seem to understand his awesomeness.  And that, he’s convinced, is their problem, not his.

Unfortunately for Jeb, the week was just starting, and it would get worse, much worse.  On Wednesday night at the aforementioned GOP debate, Bush did and said nothing of any value.  He prattled on absent-mindedly about fantasy football, giving Chris Christie the chance to contrast himself to Jeb and look like a small-government guy.  He said that he’d give a “warm kiss” to any Democrat who would cut taxes or spending.  He also attacked his erstwhile friend and fellow Floridian Marco Rubio for missing Senate votes in order to campaign, much to Rubio’s amusement.  Worst of all, however, was what he and his campaign did before the debate, which tied in with the Rubio knock.  Bush’s campaign, apparently believing that the existence of a plan for victory would endear him to . . . somebody somewhere . . . “leaked” such a plan, the primary purpose of which was to tell the world that it hates Republican voters.

You see, according the Jeb and his campaign, the reason that he will win the nomination is because of two factors, repeated throughout the document.  First, he has money.  And second, voters have “ADD,” which, of course, is the acronym for Attention Deficit Disorder.  It’s not that voters prefer Trump to Bush or that they want someone whose last name isn’t the same as the last guy and the guy before the guy before that.  It’s that voters have “ADD.”  They’re not really smart enough to know what they really want, and so we have to explain to them – very slowly, using small words, and repeatedly, which is where all the money comes into play.  As countless conservative commentators have noted, this is really too bad, since Jeb is, or at least was, a solid conservative who managed a very large state very well.  But he just does not get it.

In her latest column, erstwhile beloved Bush-family friend Peggy Noonan argued that Jeb’s problem is that he “isn’t very good at this.  He’s not good at the merry aggression of national politics.”  There’s some truth in this, we suppose, but it misses the point – just like Jeb does.  So let us clarify:  both sides feel that this is a make or break election.  One side feels that the status quo must be preserved at all costs against a rag-tag band of crazies who want to destroy the bureaucratic/social welfare state.  And the other feels that the status quo is on pace to destroy the country and therefore must be broken.  Jeb Bush –whether he is good or bad at national politics – just happens to be on the side of this divide opposite from his electorate.  He is the status quo in an anti-status quo election.

Writing at National Review Online, Jim Geraghty says that Jeb is “a man fundamentally at odds with the mood and thinking of his party at this moment.”  That’s a nice way of saying that Jeb, who may well be a fine conservative and a lithe policy operator, also happens to be the Democrats’ ideal choice in a Republican nominee.  If they beat him, they win and keep the status quo.  But if he beats them, they still win and still keep the status quo.  He is, as unfair as this might sound, on their side in this election.

But he’s not the only one.  Two days after Jeb let loose and told the voters that he was too good to play their games and that they should go vote for Trump, Bush’s fellow cellar-dweller John Kasich stepped up to the mic and attacked his party’s voters even more sneeringly:

Do you know how crazy this election is?  Let me tell you something, I’ve about had it with these people.

And let me tell you why.  We’ve got one candidate that says we ought to abolish Medicaid and Medicare.  Have you ever heard of anything so crazy as that?  Telling our people in this country who are seniors, or about to be seniors, that we`re going to abolish Medicaid and Medicare?

We’ve got one person saying we ought to have a 10% flat tax that will drive up the deficit in this country by trillions of dollars that my daughters will spend the rest of their lives having to pay off.  You know what I say to them is why don’t we have no taxes, just get rid of them all, and then a chicken in every pot on top of it.

We’ve got one guy that says we ought to the take 10 million or 11 million people and pick them up – I don’t know if we’re going to go in their homes, their apartments? We’re going to pick them up and we’re going to take them to the border and scream at them to get out of our country?  Well that’s just crazy.  That is just crazy.

We’ve got people proposing health care reform that’ s going to leave, I believe, millions of people without adequate health insurance.  What has happened to our party?

As some of you may recall, we actually like John Kasich and think he might make a decent president.  But truth be told, the only thing “crazy” here is the candidate.  We hate to have to break it Governor Kasich, but Medicaid and Medicare are going to bankrupt the country – which is why the Republican House has passed a bill to “abolish” the latter program (as we know it) in each of the last two Congresses.  A flat tax might not be the ideal tax, but it’s a helluva lot better than the mess we have today.  Moreover, deficits that have been driven up “trillions of dollars” describes the current fiscal policy of the United States.  And as for “health care reform that’s going to leave millions of people without adequate health insurance,” we have that already.  It’s called Obamacare or, if you want to get technical, the Affordable Care Act.

As with Jeb Bush, John Kasich is on the opposite side of the status-quo-divide from Republican voters.  But rather than simply acknowledge this fact, he lashed out at the voters, throwing a fit about how dumb they are and how they’ve corrupted his beloved conservative movement.  In this election cycle, Republican voters are like Howard Beale in the movie “Network.”  They’re mad as hell and they’re not gonna take it anymore.  John Kasich and Jeb Bush are a little Beale-esque as well.  They too are mad as hell.  The only catch is that they’re mad as hell at the voters for not being smart enough to recognize their brilliance.

Almost exactly five years ago, in our last piece before the midterm election that returned the Republicans to the majority in the House, we noted that the election revolved around the question of “who would rule?”  The Democrats thought that they should rule and take good care of their delicate-flower-citizens, while the Tea Party and the resurgent conservatives thought that the people should rule, as you might expect in a democratic republic.  Specifically, we put it this way:

This election is not about policy.  It is not about any specific decision that the president took or did not take.  It’s not about any policy proposition that was shepherded through the Congress by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and translated into law.  It is not about any of the traditional factors that are generally suspected to motivate voters to punish the majority party.

No, this election is about all of those policies cumulatively, and, more important, about the single common factor that binds them all together.  This election is, in short, about the will of the people and the ruling party’s contempt for that will.  As the sub-head on the pollster Scott Rasmussen’s final pre-election analysis put it: “Voters don’t want to be governed from the left, right or center.  They want Washington to recognize that Americans want to govern themselves.”

For Republican voters, this demand – to govern themselves, as the Founders intended – remains unmet.  The status quo denies them the ability to govern themselves, and the maintenance of that status quo will ensure even less liberty in the near future.  And so they want the status quo demolished.  The fact that the people they sent to Washington five years ago have been unable to accomplish this task and have, instead, become part of the problem rather than part of the solution explains in large part why voters are willing to consider and support outsiders this time.  Ultimately, we think that Republican voters will settle for an insider, but probably the most outsider-y of those insiders, which is to say that we’re starting to think that this might be Ted Cruz’s year.

Interestingly, we concluded the aforementioned 2010 midterm prediction piece on a sour note, arguing that the new Republican majority would represent a positive first step, but that we never expected the second step to be taken.

The real question now is whether the conservative coalition elected this time will be able to resist the siren’s song of federal power.  Will this Republican majority remain faithful to the values that its supporters so desperately hope to see incorporated into federal governance?  Or will they too be corrupted by power, stifled by myopia, and tempted into believing that a central federal authority can and should be all things to all people?

Anyone who has read our work for more than a couple of weeks undoubtedly knows that we are dubious about the ability of this collection of Republicans to remain faithful to its constituents and their animating values.  We fully expect that the powers that be in the Republican establishment will work long and hard to do the wrong thing and to further alienate both the public at large and the remaining few conservatives in Congress.  There may be considerable new blood in the Republican Party this year, and it may mix well with that small percentage of old blood that remains dedicated to liberty.  But the fact remains that the leaders of the party and the entrenched elites are still those who are more concerned with the exercise of power than with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Given this, we predicted then that the party would, in time, face a very real and a very serious rebellion against its ruling elites.  We hate to rub it in to Jeb Bush and John Kasich, but. . .we told you so.  Republican voters do not want elected officials who will go to Washington and carry on with business as usual.  That’s what Democratic voters want.  Republican voters HATE business as usual.  They want business as usual to end.  And in the meantime, they’ll settle for Jeb Bush’s and John Kasich’s campaigns ending.

This is shaping up to be an election about the status quo.  The Democrats have found their champion in Hillary Clinton and will settle for no one else – unless they have to, which is why they keep Bernie around.  The Republicans, by contrast, have not settled on a champion.  What they have done, however, is declare loudly and clearly that will settle for nothing short of total dedication to the idea that Washington must be stopped.  Anyone who doesn’t get that, doesn’t get anything about the party anymore.  Last week, John Kasich complained that he doesn’t know “what happened to our party?”  And he’s absolutely right about that.  He doesn’t have a clue.  And neither does Jeb.

Copyright 2015. The Political Forum. 8563 Senedo Road, Mt. Jackson, Virginia 22842, tel. 402-261-3175, fax 402-261-3175. All rights reserved. Information contained herein is based on data obtained from recognized services, issuer reports or communications, or other sources believed to be reliable. However, such information has not been verified by us, and we do not make any representations as to its accuracy or completeness, and we are not responsible for typographical errors. Any statements nonfactual in nature constitute only current opinions which are subject to change without notice.