November 9, 2015 by Thomas Hauber
Picking the establishment front-runners, Clinton v. Bush, as likely nominees early on was hardly sticking my neck out. Yet with everybody dumping on Hillary and the early fuss over Bernie Sanders, one needed to have faith she would prevail. It’s no surprise progressives still pick Hillary 2 -1 over Bernie. The call for Jeb Bush seemed to be a no-brainer what with the crowded field of clowns sure to self-destruct. Things are changing, at least on the Republican side.
The big surprise is establishment Republicans have lost control of their Party.
Smart people, like Robert Reich in notes on his book tour, are beginning to shed light on what is happening in the land of Red States. It is seeking to redefine itself and looking for an alternative form of leadership.
This writer agrees. Above all, people are deeply worried about the country’s direction. The growing American character is a confused blend of populism and libertarianism that rails against both big-government and big business but feels helpless to do anything about either. It desperately wants someone to lead them to some curious “freedom” place where no one will tell them what to do or how to live their lives. Bernie Sanders started something of a revolution, but the Democratic Party is too smug to notice it. The real upheaval is taking place in the Red States.
The Republican debates, besides being good entertainment, revealed unrest and confusion brewing in the Heartland. To Democrats, the field looked weak next to Bush. The debates changed all that. Jeb Bush didn’t even make the Varsity. Other candidates looked pitiful. Ted Cruz came across as a shameless demagogue and Marco Rubio as a bright boy but with too many Cold War grudges. Chris Christie’s Jersey tough guy thing didn’t cut it and Mike Huckabee (besides holding up the Bible) had almost nothing to say. Scott Walker’s campaign was DOA since declaring war on unionized America and Ben Carson, the soft-spoken surgeon could barely be heard. Donald Trump, however, solidified his credentials as a condescending, name-calling blowhard.
Trump huffed and puffed and bellowed his way into the limelight. Everybody picked on him and he in turn picked on everybody including Carly Fiorina, but he shouldn’t have, she might be his choice as Veep. On her own, Carly’s anti-Hillary campaign was going nowhere but for a few zingers that gave her a temporary bump. She did warn us all, “…character will be revealed of all the candidates over time and under pressure.” We shall see.
Early on, Trump’s brash racist and sexist comments, inappropriate or in just plain poor-taste, made him a hero with the angry white males that seem to be in charge. For every angry white male vote, there is another voter surely offended. Trump will have to survive his own monstrous ego and an errant tongue. The ranks of buried candidates with self-inflicted wounds is endless. Racial and sexist slurs, marriage infidelity, lurid bathroom tales, sessions with a shrink and blatant corruption have all sunk campaign ships for good.
Trump’s arrogant popularity has had positive effects for him, diverting attention away from the establishment candidates, mainly Jeb Bush. With the field occupied with Trump, Jeb thought he could stand tall and gubernatorial atop a mountain of cash, but his listless moderate stance sounded increasingly wimpy next to The Donald. About the only memorable comment Jeb made was not getting his economic policy from the Pope – a bad choice, a Catholic picking on the most popular pontiff since John 23rd. In another desperate move he openly attacked his prize student and fellow Floridian Marco Rubio. Big money donors are beginning to wonder if Jeb is Presidential timber. Who is for that matter? Is Trump?
One commentator remarked, He (Trump) still doesn’t know anything about anything, but his supporters don’t seem to care.
This begs the ultimate question. How much do expect our candidates to know? How much do we really know about them? And how much do we care? Not much, it seems, in any case. Politics in America is entertainment and Americans seem vote with their gut, not their brains. Do we need to worry about Trump? Yes we do.
What has happened to establishment Republican politicians is startling, the ones whose actual experience at governing should be a plus? Actual State Governors, Walker, Christie, Kasich, Bush, Jindal, Huckabee, Pataki… all get zero traction in the GOP. The new battle for the nomination is not among establishment pols, but among ideologue Senators, businessmen and doctors. What do Republican voters want?
The only issue that all the GOP candidates agreed on was a strong military and a foreign policy based on isolating Iran, China and Russia, openly bashing Putin and bombing anyone else who didn’t show us the proper respect. After the first debate one wondered which of these button-pushing cowboys (and cowgirl) should we trust with the most powerful military on the planet. Only Rand Paul dissented, pointing out talking to world leaders before the shock and awe starts is probably a good idea. Paul gives pause to the group when he embarrassingly pointed out even Ronald Reagan negotiated with Gorbachev face to face. Needless to say, Rand Paul has since been eating at the kid’s table.
There is some mismatch of candidate’s positions with classic Conservative requirements, no more glaring than with Trump’s stances on campaign finances, taxes, Social Security and Medicare.
Its inconceivable that any candidate can survive without huge infusions of PAC money, yet Trump excoriates the PACs and correctly says they are ruining politics in America. He doesn’t want or need their money. Only the penultimate businessman can get away with bashing a few classic Tea Party’s issues like “free markets” a cover issue for unbridled, unregulated and exploitive corporate capitalism. Trump slams the Trans-Pacific trade agreement he says send jobs overseas and hurts American business. Trump doesn’t mind paying an increasing share of taxes either while criticizing certain Wall Street segments that don’t pay any.
Trump also supports Social Security and Medicare, programs every Conservative would love to dismantle. Trump informed Ben Carson Medicare was a program that “actually worked” and that he (Ben) was never going to get away with phasing it out with health savings accounts — Carson’s answer to health care in America. Yet Trump adamantly wants to repeal Obama care, like everybody else.
Conservatives abhor immigration reform, the cover issue for the “underserving poor” who pad Democrat voting registration rolls, yet both Bush and Rubio waffle on that issue. Jeb, whose spouse Columba was born in Mexico, supports a policy that is essentially the 2013 immigration reform bill with a path to citizenship and an end run around amnesty. Rubio waffles even more mightily, part of the bi-partisan team that put the Senate bill together and then surprisingly opposed his own bill. Eric Cantor lost his seat in 2014 over immigration reform, an incredibly complex issue that seems to be a trap for any Republican who touches it. Trump in predictable true populist blather simply calls illegals “rapists.”
On the cultural scene, all the leading Conservative candidates seem to be in lockstep over opposition to pro-choice and same-sex marriage. All but Trump, who waffles with the best of them. He “hates” abortion but has been pro-choice in the past, now a convert to pro-life with caveats — life of the mother, rape and incest. Same sex marriage, he says, is a states rights issue until the Supreme Court clears it all up.
For all his bluster, Trump has managed to both pander to and fracture the GOP’s establishment wing and expose a flaw in the Conservative agenda (and the Tea Party), what this writer has said all along is a big-money charade for manipulating the working-class into voting against its own interests. What Trump has done is tapped into a right-wing version of populism, a novel and classic belief that the people should have control over their own government. His version attacks how the very system works to manipulate American life
It is a good message; one that libertarian Rand Paul failed to deliver. It is one Jacksonian Jim Webb could not publically articulate and one Bernie Sanders hoped to derail the Clinton express over. For now Trump, if he can hone and polish his rough product, has the best gut-level populist issue ever — a rigged system with bought and paid for politicians in both parties.
Trump’s populism doesn’t go far enough. Whether you like it or not, over-reaching government, corporate capitalism and a questionable moral leadership seeks to manipulate and control every aspect of life in America from the cradle to the grave… and even before that. But this is the stuff of real revolution, the stuff of Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky. What Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley would get in a fist fight over. What Bernie Sanders only hints at, what third parties can’t spawn, what Ralph Nader and in his rumpled suit and Occupy in their wet tents can only dream about.
Is Trump the man who can sell his yet unformed bastardized version of political change? Populism by definition is anti-establishment and anti elite, but can we say either is true of The Donald? With the establishment GOP candidates in shambles the question is simply who will this disorganized party coalesce around? Is Trump already yesterday’s news? Can Ben Carson survive even the most basic vetting? Is Marco Rubio the future of the Party? Can anyone take the lizard-booted liar from Texas seriously?
Can anyone out-shout Trump? If he can successfully manage the cultural issues and continue to tap into the country’s own heretofore incorrectly defined populism and steer it in his direction, he could be the nominee. Don King would love that match, Clinton v. Trump. Stay tuned; primaries are three months away.