Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Now dressed only in its scivvies, Republican Establishment still aims to hijack Republican party from its voters-NY Magazine, Frank Rich

3/20/16, "There Was no Republican Establishment After All," Frank Rich, NY Magazine

D. Koch, Ryan, C. Koch, McConnell, Murdoch


"In mid-July of 2015, a month after Donald Trump announced his presidential run, I joined a gaggle of political junkies in a clubby bar four blocks from the White House to hear a legendary campaign strategist expound on the race ahead. Our guest’s long résumé included service to Mitt Romney and two generations of Bushes. Not speaking for attribution, and not having signed on to any 2016 campaign, he could talk freely. The nomination was Jeb Bush’s to lose, he said. Scott Walker, the union-busting Wisconsin governor then considered something of a favorite, had no chance because he was just “too stupid.” And Trump? Please! Trump represented every ugly element that was dragging down the GOP in presidential elections. But our guy wasn’t fazed. The good thing about Trump, he said, is that he would finally “gather together all the people we want to lose” and march them off the Republican reservation — though to what location remained undisclosed.

That same week, I was at a similar gathering with John McCain, then in a mild fury that Trump had just appeared with the nativist Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio at a weekend rally in Phoenix. McCain worried that by activating “the crazies” — the same crazies, it politely went unmentioned, that he helped legitimize by putting Sarah Palin on his ticket in 2008 — Trump could jeopardize both the GOP in general and McCain’s own incumbency if challenged in a primary. The senator soon said the same in public, and not long after that, Trump retaliated by mocking his wartime bravery with the memorable insult “I like people who weren’t captured.”

And that, you may recall, was the end of Trump.

His “surge in the polls has followed the classic pattern of a media-driven surge,” wrote the analyst Nate Cohn in the “Upshot” column of the Times, speaking for nearly every prognosticator.Now it will follow the classic pattern of a party-backed collapse. Since “Republican campaigns and elites had quickly moved to condemn” Trump’s slam of McCain, his candidacy had “probably” reached the moment when it would tilt “from boom to bust.” How could it be otherwise? As Cohn reiterated a few weeks later, “the eventual nominee will need wide support from party elites.

The Republican Elites. The Establishment. The Party Elders. The Donor Class. The Mainstream. The Moderates. Whatever you choose to call them, they, at least, could be counted on to toss the party-­crashing bully out.

To say it didn’t turn out that way would be one of the great understatements of American political history. Even now, many Republican elites, hedging their bets and putting any principles in escrow, have yet to meaningfully condemn Trump. McCain says he would support him if he gets his party’s nomination. The Establishment campaign guru who figured the Trump problem would solve itself moved on to anti-Trump advocacy and is now seeking to unify the party behind Trump, waving the same white flag of surrender as Chris Christie. Every major party leader — Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Reince Priebus, Kevin McCarthy — has followed McCain’s example and vowed to line up behind whoever leads the ticket, Trump included. Even after the recurrent violence at Trump rallies boiled over into chaos in Chicago, none of his surviving presidential rivals would disown their own pledges to support him in November. Trump is not Hitler, but those who think he is, from Glenn Beck to Louis C.K., should note that his Vichy regime is already in place in Washington, D.C.

Since last summer, Trump, sometimes in unwitting tandem with Bernie Sanders, has embarrassed almost the entire American political ecosystem — pollsters, pundits, veteran political operatives and the talking heads who parrot their wisdom, focus-group entrepreneurs, super-pac strategists, number-crunching poll analysts at FiveThirtyEight and its imitators. But of all the emperors whom Trump has revealed to have few or no clothes, none have been more conspicuous or consequential than the GOP elites. He has smashed the illusion, one I harbored as much as anyone, that there’s still some center-right GOP Establishment that could restore old-school Republican order if the crazies took over the asylum.

The reverse has happened instead. The Establishment’s feckless effort to derail Trump has, if anything, sparked a pro-Trump backlash among the GOP’s base and, even more perversely, had the unintended consequence of boosting the far-right Ted Cruz, another authoritarian bomb-thrower who is hated by the Establishment as much as, if not more than, Trump is. (Not even Trump has called McConnell “a liar,” which Cruz did on the Senate floor.) The elites now find themselves trapped in a lose-lose cul-de-sac. Should they defeat Trump on a second or third ballot at a contested convention and install a regent more to their liking such as Ryan or John Kasich — or even try to do so — they will sow chaos, not reestablish order. In the Cleveland ’16 replay of Chicago ’68, enraged Trump and Cruz delegates, stoked by Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, Matt Drudge, et al., will go mano a mano with the party hierarchy inside the hall to the delectation of television viewers while Black Lives Matter demonstrators storm the gates outside.

Did the pillars of the Establishment fail to turn back the Trump insurgency because they have no balls? Because they have no credibility? Because they have too little support from voters in their own party? Because they don’t even know who those voters are or how to speak their language? To some degree, all these explanations are true. Though the Republican Establishment is routinely referenced as a potential firewall in almost every media consideration of Trump’s unexpected rise, it increasingly looks like a myth, a rhetorical device, or, at best, a Potemkin village. It has little power to do anything beyond tardily raising stop-Trump money that it spends neither wisely nor well and generating an endless torrent of anti-Trump sermons for publications that most Trump voters don’t read. The Establishment’s prize creation, Marco Rubio — a bot candidate programmed with patriotic Reaganisms, unreconstructed Bush-Cheney foreign-policy truculence, a slick television vibe, and a dash of ethnicity — was the biggest product flop to be marketed by America’s Fortune 500 stratum since New Coke.

While it’s become a commonplace to characterize Trump’s blitzkrieg of the GOP as either a takeover or a hijacking, it is in reality the Establishment that is trying to hijack the party from those who actually do hold power: its own voters. The anti-Establishment insurgencies of Trump, Cruz, and Ben Carson collectively won the votes of more than 60 percent of the Republican-primary electorate from sea to shining sea both before and after the opposition thinned. If you crunch the candidates’ vote percentages in the five states that voted on March 15, after Carson’s exit, you’ll find that Trump and Cruz walked away with an average aggregate total of 67 percent. The next morning, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, the leading Establishment voice of anti-Trump conservatism, saw hope in Kasich’s “impressive” victory in Ohio and Trump’s failure to break 50 percent in any state. It failed to note that Kasich also fell short of 50 percent in the state where he is the popular sitting governor, or that his continuing presence in the race perpetuates Trump’s ability to divide and conquer.

It’s debatable who or what can be called the Republican Establishment at this point. Presumably it includes the party’s leadership on the Hill and in the Republican National Committee; its former presidents, presidential nominees, top-tier officeholders, and their extended political networks; hedge-fund and corporate one-percenters typified by Paul Singer, Kenneth Langone, and the Koch brothers, mostly based in the Northeast, who write the biggest campaign checks; and the conservative commentators who hold forth on the op-ed pages of the country’s major newspapers, conservative media outlets like Fox News, and conservative journals like National Review, which devoted an entire issue to its contributors’ “Dump Trump” diatribes well after his runaway train of a campaign had already left the station.

Once you get past the hyperventilation that Trump will destroy democracy, wreck the GOP, and make America unsafe, you’ll see that the objections of Trump’s Establishment critics have several common threads. Trump is a vulgarian (true). He has no fixed ideology or coherent policy portfolio (true). He repeatedly and brazenly makes things up (true). He wantonly changes his views (true). He is not recognizable as “a real Republican” (false).

It’s the members of the Establishment who have a tenuous hold on the term “real Republican.” Their center-right presidential candidates of choice (Jeb Bush, Chris Christie) were soundly rejected, and their further-right candidates (Rubio and Kasich) fared little better. The Republican-primary voters embracing Trump and Cruz have every right to say that they are the real Republicans, and after Cleveland, they could even claim to be the de facto new Establishment, if they believe in such a thing. The old center-right has not held in the GOP. Last fall, some 73 percent of Republicans told Pew that they support building a border wall, Trump’s signature campaign issue. A Washington Post–ABC News poll, published March 9, showed that Hillary Clinton would whip Trump, 50 to 41 percent, but that 75 percent of Republicans would vote for Trump. While it is constantly and accurately said that “millions of Republicans will never vote for Trump,” those millions are unambiguously in the party’s minority.

The charges that Trump is a “con man” and an ersatz Republican were particularly rich coming from Romney, who in typical regal fashion elected himself leader of the Establishment’s anti-Trump brigade. (His intervention failed to have any effect, even in his native state of Michigan.) Romney is a man who made up so many things in 2012 that his own pollster was moved to declare that “we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.” Much has been said about Romney’s hypocrisy in attacking as “a phony” and “a fraud” the man whose endorsement he brandished four years ago in an obsequious Las Vegas summit and whose business acumen he lavishly praised at the time. But no less phony is his holier-than-thou assault on Trump as a despoiler of the pure Republican faith given his own long history of political flip-flops and xenophobic hostility to immigrants.

As an unsuccessful Senate candidate in Massachusetts in the 1990s, Romney took stands well to the left of those in Trump’s past: He was a steadfast advocate for not only Planned Parenthood (his wife, Ann, made a contribution during campaign season) but abortion rights, and he promised to “provide more effective leadership” than his opponent, Ted Kennedy, in support of “equality for gays and lesbians.” As Massachusetts’s governor, Romney didn’t just endorse certain elements of government health care as Trump has; he pioneered what is now Obamacare. And as his policy gyrations match Trump’s, so, too, does his xenophobia. In 2012, he chastised his rivals Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich for expressing a few scintillas of humanity toward immigrants, reviled Rudy Giuliani with the bogus and racially loaded charge of turning New York into a “sanctuary city,” and coined the now-notorious term self-deportation. Romney’s nativism was all the more egregious given that his own father was an immigrant from Mexico, where he was born to American parents in a Mormon colony. (The legality of George Romney’s claim to qualify for the presidency as a “natural-born citizen,” like Cruz’s, went unresolved during his 1968 campaign.) If Trump is a counterfeit Republican, then Mitt is nothing if not the template for his forgery."...


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