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Thursday, June 23, 2016

"How did we get here?" An essay on the state of Republican politics, Pt. 7

I, Trump
"If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency," Bornstein said in the statement released by Trump's campaign.
Dr. Harold Bornstein, his doctor since 1980, The Hill, December 14, 2015
“My fellow Republicans are running against me, they are losing bigly.”
Donald Trump, State of the Union, CNN, March 13, 2016
“I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things."
Donald Trump, on who he relied on for foreign policy advice, Morning Joe, MSNBC, March 14, 2016
"I hope it doesn't involve violence. I hope it doesn’t. I'm not suggesting that," Trump told reporters on Sunday here in Staten Island. “I hope it doesn’t involve violence, and I don’t think it will. But I will say this, it’s a rigged system, it’s a crooked system. It’s 100 percent corrupt.”
Donald Trump on the GOP convention denying him the nomination at a press conference in New York, The Washington Post, April 17, 2016
“You don’t learn anything from a tax return. I think nobody knows more about taxes than I do, maybe in the history of the world. Nobody knows more about taxes. You can learn very little from a tax return.”
Trump on why his tax returns, and effective tax rates, are nobody’s business, Good Morning America, ABC, May 13, 2016
“For example, I looked at The New York Times,” Hannity said. “Are they going to interview Juanita Broaddrick? Are they going to interview Paula Jones? Are they going to interview Kathleen Willey?" he said, listing women who have made allegations of sexual misconduct against Clinton.

“In one case, it's about exposure,” he continued. “In another case, it's about groping and fondling and touching against a woman's will.”

“And rape,” Trump responded.

“And rape,” Hannity said.
Donald Trump and Sean Hannity, Fox News, May 18, 2016, as reported by The Hill

At an event in Texas in mid-March, the President compared the GOP to Captain Renaud in Casablanca:
“How can you be shocked?” he asked to laughter from the crowd, according to a transcript. “This is the guy, remember, who was sure that I was born in Kenya — who just wouldn’t let it go. And all this same Republican establishment, they weren’t saying nothing. As long as it was directed at me, they were fine with it. They thought it was a hoot, wanted to get his endorsement. And then now, suddenly, we’re shocked that there’s gambling going on in this establishment.
Today the role of Captain Renaud- “I blow with the wind, and the prevailing wind if from Vichy”- is played by Reince Priebus, the RNC chair of whom The Washington Post’s editorial board wrote in February- the day before my friend asked me the question that prompts this essay:
ON SUNDAY, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus whether the party would back Donald Trump should he win the GOP nomination. “Yes, we will support the nominee,” the Republican chairman replied. “To me, it’s a no-brainer.” Mr. Stephanopoulos asked if a Trump nomination would split the party. “Winning is the antidote to a lot of things,” Mr. Priebus responded.
In June Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell- asked about Trump’s race-baiting a federal judge, shrugged and replied, "I think the party of Lincoln wants to win the White House.” Other senators have settled for committing verbicide:
Sen. Kelly Ayotte said Sunday night that presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s recent comments about a judge of Mexican heritage and Muslim judges are “offensive and wrong, and he should retract them.”

But Ayotte’s overall position on Trump has not changed. She still she plans to support the GOP presidential nominee, but as a candidate for re-election, she is not planning to endorse anyone for president.

Senator John McCain- his reputation still shredded by re-creating Bride of Frankenstein with his 2008 vice presidential selection- endured Donald Trump’s denigration of his five years in a POW camp, only to kneel in the end: he told the New York Times he worried that a theoretical President Trump would try to exceed his power under the Constitution. “McCain said, however, that he would still vote for the candidate despite those concerns.”

Writing for Esquire, Charlie Pierce did not share the media’s shock and dismay at the news:

There hasn't been a politician that has sacrificed integrity for expedience so enthusiastically as John McCain has ever since he realized he really wanted to be president.

He picked Princess Dumbass of the Northwoods to be one heartbeat away from the Go Codes, and he defended the choice as recently as this year. In 2008, he embraced some of the political hatchet men who'd slandered his child four years earlier. He ran away from his own reasonable immigration policy. ("Build the dang fence!") And this year, after his undeniable heroism had been mocked by a vulgar talking yam, McCain was unable to do anything except climb on the rickety support-but-not-endorse bandwagon that is proving to be the last refuge of political cowards. And now people are shocked that he's at risk from the crazies back home, whom he chose to appease by feeding them chunks of what's left of his soul.
The party has lost its soul, people mourn, even as they sell off their own pieces of their faith on eBay.

To the contrary. The party made a bargain, fair and square, and has gotten full value. They control most state legislatures and governorships; thanks to the innovations of former Congressman Tom Delay, they can gerrymander any time they like- why wait for the next census?
In North Carolina, they target bodies that frustrate their will: a county commission here; a school board there; a city council, a water district, designation of historic neighborhoods, removal of plaques and monuments, an airport.
Faced with a court order to redraw congressional lines set purely to privilege white voters, they rearranged them to privilege Republican ones. Never mind that one in five North Carolinians live in two counties, and half of the state’s population growth is in them.
In a state that votes roughly 50-50, they give themselves 75% of the congressional seats (in a nice twofer in Gerrymander ‘16: The Sequel, they so compacted a former black-majority district that its first-term incumbent, a black woman, found herself living seventy miles outside it. “Tough buns,” replied Rep. Bob Rucho, a Yankee-born dentist who, when not gazing, narcissus-like, at his own image in the state’s electoral maps, plays an outsized role in making its tax structure more regressive (this session, they are close to passing a bill to tax strapped homeowners for the phantom gains of a pre-foreclosure short sale).
Indeed, the reason the NCGOP can ignore the controversy over HB2- its legalized discrimination bill- is this:
One of the most disturbing facts to come out of the HB2 uproar is that 90 percent of the lawmakers who voted for HB2 either have no opponent this fall or won their last race by more than 10 percentage points. Opponents of the law essentially have no way to unseat lawmakers who back it.
That’s how Senator Tom Apodaca- Senate President Phil Berger’s enforcer in the General Assembly- called for adding HB2 to the state constitution in November. After delivering that chesty dictum, Apodaca- who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, referred a bill to repeal HB2 to the Appropriations Committee, then to the Committee on Ways & Means.
Apodaca chairs the Ways & Means Committee. It has three members: Apodaca; Andrew Brock, a Senate GOP whip; and one Democratic state senator.
The Ways & Means Committee meets at the call of the chair. It has not met in years.
The HB2 repeal bill has been sent there to die, along with fifteen public education bills,, one calling for independent redistricting; and two for historic preservation incentives.
The General Assembly leadership is playing a shrewd game: laying the groundwork for a fall campaign that denies Trump, yet whets the spite and bigotries of The Donald’s base, as the party’s establishment wrings its hands.
Even Rich Lowry, NR’s editor, can’t figure out how, in his tenure, his magazine has become irrelevant:
It was once thought that a Republican presidential candidate had to pay constant obeisance to Ronald Reagan and hew closely to certain rhetorical tropes and policy truisms. It turns out that the Republican Party — or at least a sizable element of it — isn’t that conservative, and even what were once thought to be the party’s most rigidly ideological guardians in talk radio aren’t really sticklers for conservative doctrine.
The GOP is saddled with The Donald precisely because of its addiction to racial politics and shell-game economics. Unlike the character in Brokeback Mountain, the party doesn’t wish it new how to quit them.
Nor does it want to. Considering Marco Rubio’s flameout as the shiny new face of a more diverse party in The Atlantic, Christopher Orr writes:
[N]one of these Rubio traits proved nearly so appealing to Republican voters, who are, by and large, older, white, and pessimistic about the future. Yes, Rubio was an attractive face for a Republican Party wishing to signal that it was moving forward into a new, multiethnic American era. But an awful lot of Republican voters view this new era with apprehension and even alarm. The very factors that appealed to cosmopolitan GOP elites may have made GOP primary voters wary: Who is this shiny young guy who seems so upbeat and upwardly mobile at exactly the moment that we feel ourselves slipping behind?

Moreover, this is not the first time that Republican elites have made precisely this mistake. It’s easy to forget now—in part because Mitt Romney ran a largely race-free campaign in 2012—but in the latter months of the 2008 general election, a distinct (and now all too familiar) element of white-grievance politics emerged, to the extent that John McCain ultimately had to intervene when shouts of “kill him” (i.e., Obama) took place at more than one of his rallies. At the time, I wrote that this ugly, racial element was unlikely to bode well for the presidential prospects of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, another smart, young, “post-racial” Republican who was then the favorite of many thoughtful conservatives to win the GOP nomination in 2012:

Though rarely explicit (and certainly not exclusive) a large portion of the GOP's closing argument this cycle has been to stoke white, working class fear and suspicion of the Other. The dark-skinned man with the foreign-sounding name may be a Muslim, or a socialist, or a friend of terrorists, or a racial huckster, or a fake U.S. citizen, or some other vague kind of "radical." You may never be sure which he is (maybe all of the above), but in your gut you simply don't "know" him the way you know the other candidates. This is not, to put it mildly, a message likely to benefit Bobby Jindal…. The GOP isn't going to be looking for its own Obama; it's going to be looking for an anti-Obama.

Ross Douthat and Daniel Larison responded by calling me “completely wrong;” David Weigel opted for “exactly wrong.” All three are extremely sharp analysts, and they sit at substantially different points on the ideological spectrum. And indeed there are plenty of explanations for Jindal’s failure to become the GOP presidential frontrunner that many predicted, beginning with his disastrous response to Obama’s State of the Union in 2009. But candidates with latent appeal have recovered from far worse.

The similarities between Jindal’s (largely illusory) presidential hopes and Rubio’s (real but disappointing) ones seem more than merely coincidental. Both were frequently described as a “Republican Obama.” And while candidates with similar profiles—notably South Carolina’s Nikki Haley and Tim Scott—have had success on the state level, comparable results have proven elusive on the national stage. The black and Latino candidates who have drawn the most GOP enthusiasm over the last two cycles have been Herman Cain, Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz—all of whom have run in direct opposition to the forward-looking GOP elites who pine for a unifying, post-racial candidate.

Like Douthat, Weigel, and Larison, I sincerely wish that this were not the case. But the available evidence—including, most dramatically, Rubio’s flameout—suggests that the Republican electorate still isn’t looking for its own Obama. One day in the not-too-distant future, perhaps it will. But for now it is still looking for its anti-Obama. And however the GOP primaries ultimately play out, it has clearly found one—worse, I think, than any of us ever anticipated—in Donald Trump.

Another National Review contributor, the Manhattan Institute’s Craig Winship, resorted to this tortured paragraph to sum up the base of Trump’s support:

For a non-negligible subset of Trump voters, anti-immigration sentiment is about racism and nativism, plain and simple. Many more are uneasy about rapid cultural change and do not bring to their concern the ugliness of prejudice.

Kevin Williamson, still another NR writer, says the Trumpeters have brought it all on themselves. Never mind the rhetorical flourishes. They just need to get up off their asses and be virtuous and hardworking again:

The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. Forget all your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap. Forget your sanctimony about struggling Rust Belt factory towns and your conspiracy theories about the wily Orientals stealing our jobs. Forget your goddamned gypsum, and, if he has a problem with that, forget Ed Burke, too. The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin. What they need isn’t analgesics, literal or political. They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul.
Donald Trump simple walked in and Pied Pipered-away the Republican base: first, the bottom 35%, then the upmarket opportunists, the B- and C- listers who see a chance to vault over the usual GOP presidential appointments bench.

After decades of watching the conservative media develop a mass audience  of angry voters constantly hopped-up on negative messages feeding envy, spite and grievance, Trump just asked, “Had enough yet?”

As the co-author of a study of sharply reduced life expectancy in rural Southern counties wrote, “They may be privileged by the color of their skin, but that is the only way in their lives they’ve ever been privileged.” Even the lowliest of Southerner has always known there were still others he could look down on. A 2016 North Carolina Policy Watch report gives a telling example of how the GOP has played a major portion of its base:

In October 2011, just a few months after the end of the first General Assembly session controlled by Republicans in more than a hundred years, House Speaker Thom Tillis told a small group of GOP faithful in Mars Hill that one of his goals was to “divide and conquer” people on public assistance.

Tillis, now a U.S. senator, explained that he wanted to get people with disabilities to “look down” at others on public assistance, low-income families whom he deemed unworthy of public support.
Their marks having cottoned onto the party’s shell games, Republican intellectuals now treat the Trump insurgency like a peasants revolt. They now speak of poor white voters in terms reserved for decades for African-Americans. For them, it is time for another purge. The mouth-breathers have outstayed their welcome. Counterintuitively, they bellow for more.

A new combination of old fantasies is needed, stat: greater ideological rigidity; more, and more varied, voter suppression, and- that Alchemist's Stone of conservatism- winning over the Hispanics who are left after most are deported.

And rightly so: for generations, the ungrateful, The Nixonite Silent Majority, the Reagan Democrats,  long settled for fireworks and free public dancing, and now they demand more gruel.

Now, like an abused spouse after years of neglect, put downs, and abuse, punctuated every two years by a night out at Olive Garden, the voters are realizing they’ve been suckers. They’ve been had.

And, like Howard Beale in Network, they’re mad as hell and they’re not gonna take it any more. Donald Trump has simply rolled out a new, improved dog whistle. As longtime GOP consultant Stuart Stevens has put it recently, “people aren’t “really focused on what Trump is saying except on a couple of issues”. For example, he didn’t think “it’s Trump’s stance on immigration that is drawing voters with a lot of fervor, it’s Trump’s racist language”.

So angry are the lower orders, they don’t care if Donald Trump starts a nuclear war with Kim Jong-un after a week of traded insults over which has the most absurd head of hair.

(Note: I wrote my version in March)

They now realize they have been valued for two things: voting as they are told; and being sent on military adventures. A CBS Sunday report in March observed,

For too many Americans in 2016, war isn't a dire act turned to once all other options have been exhausted. It's a narcotic, a quick fix, something that happens in strange, faraway lands, where other people's sons and daughters do violent things for country.

As income and residential stratification continues, the odds that anyone in the political classes knows anyone who dies in America’s war adventures are slim. The older cohort of Republican officeholders tend to be veteran draft manipulators, like former Georgia Saxbee Chambliss. With an eye-popping six Vietnam-era exemptions from service (more, even, than Vice President Cheney), Chambliss won his senate seat by questioning the patriotism of the Vietnam triple-amputee incumbent, Max Cleland.

Since the military went all-volunteer, virtually all of middle and upper-class Americans have cheerfully traded the democratic values of universal service for the assurance someone else’s kids will do the dirty work.

This separation from reality helps make military service just one more product from the Luntz & Co. factories.Thus did we recently see an ad from the RNSC mocking Illinois Democratic senate candidate Tammy Duckworth- pictured in a wheelchair, with the prosthetic legs she acquired after military service in Iraq- for “not standing up for American service members.”

The ad ran in support of the incumbent, Mark Kirk, whose Iraq service as a Navy intelligence officer left him uninjured, but who missed a full year of his first Senate term recovering from a stroke that leaves him mostly wheelchair-bound to this day. Facing the nation’s toughest reelection campaign in 2016, he has recast himself as the patron of disabled veterans’ causes.

Yet the “working class revolt” meme conceals a larger truth about today’s Republican Party: Donald Trump plays well with the well-off, too, who fear a loss of status and unearned privilege in a more diverse society.

At Five Thirty Eight, Nate Silver analyzed 2016 primary exit polls and learned that the median income of The Donald’s supporters is $72,000 a year.

The median income for Americans as a whole is $56,000.

In several northeastern states, he nearly cracked the $100,000 income level. (for the Carolinas, the median was $62k South, 72k North).

29% of Americans have a college degree; 44% of Trump’s supporters do.

Misogyny, xenophobia, and racism pay well throughout the Republican Party, it seems.

But it polls best at the bottom of the barrel:

The New York Times sifted through census data and found “that Trump counties are places where white identity mixes with long-simmering economic dysfunctions.” Variables that make someone most likely to support Trump, according to the Times, include: identifying as white and having no high school diploma; living in a mobile home; working in agriculture, construction, or manufacturing; and being an evangelical. Trump’s salvation narrative recognizes these people —white, evangelical, working class — who feel forgotten, lost.

In one striking, downticket example of evolution, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory has been vigorously remaking himself in The Donald’s image, as defined in May in a New York Times op-ed piece:

“Donald Trump is basically the most high-profile example that I think we all have of the sort of overgrown frat boy who’s extremely egotistical and narcissistic and thinks he’s all that,” Ms. Mair said.

Some of his fans might like that, though. The Trump supporter Ms. Hughes put a softer spin on it. “He’s kind of seen like the bully to the bully,” she said.

There are, of course,other factors at work, not of the Republicans’ making. One is the inability of gatekeepers in the publishing and media elites to determine who gets heard they way they once could. David von Drehle wrote about this in Time in January:
Disintermediation is not entirely new. In 1941, the radio personality W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel dealt Lyndon B. Johnson the only defeat of his consummate insider’s career. Johnson had the credibility with middlemen, but O’Daniel had a direct connection to his listeners. Nearly 60 years later, the professional wrestler Jesse Ventura used his direct connection with an audience to win a three-way race for governor of Minnesota. But technology now gives the power of direct relationships to everyone, not just media stars; indeed, the line between being a media star and simply having a big Twitter following is blurring into nothingness. It’s telling that Trump’s rallies often feature appearances by a pair of women who go by the names Diamond and Silk, whose spirited endorsement of Trump on YouTube has been watched by nearly 100,000 people–as many as tune in to some cable news shows.

Trump tends his virtual community with care. Among the candidates, his 5.6 million Twitter followers are matched only by his counterpart at the top of the Democratic polls, Hillary Clinton. Trump has 5.2 million Facebook likes—three times as many as Cruz and 17 times as many as Bush. His 828,000 Instagram followers is nearly a third more than Clinton’s 632,000. For many, if not all, of these individuals, their networked relationships with Trump feel closer and more genuine than the images of the candidate they see filtered through middlemen.

This can explain why Trump is unscathed by apparent gaffes and blunders that would kill an ordinary candidate. His followers feel that they already know him. When outraged middlemen wail in disgust on cable news programs and in op-ed columns, they only highlight their irrelevance to the Trumpiverse.

Indeed, the psychology of disintermediation adds another layer of protection to a figure like Trump. For members of an online network, the death of the middlemen is not some sad side effect of this tidal shift; it is a crusade. Early adopters of Netflix relished the fate of brick-and-mortar video stores, just as Trump voters rejoice in the idea of life without the “lamestream” media. Trump gets this: mocking abuse of his traveling press corps is a staple of his campaign speeches.
The geopolitical historian Robert Kaplan has put it this way, in The National Interest:
Hierarchies everywhere are breaking down. Just look at the presidential primaries in the United States—an upheaval from below for which the political establishment has no answer. Meanwhile, like “the brassiness of marches” and “the heavy stomp of peasant dances” that composer Gustav Mahler employed as he invaded “the well-ordered house of classical music” in the waning decades of the Habsburg Empire (to quote the late Princeton Professor Carl E. Schorske), vulgar, populist anarchy that elites at places like Aspen and Davos will struggle to influence or even comprehend will help define the twenty-first century.
In the ‘everyone’s a pundit’ world of social media, where everyone can say whatever he likes, what once would have been weeded out as fringe-dwelling bullshit can now find a platform.
Witness the deranged tweets of the newly elected Republican Party chair in Harris County, Texas, the state capitol: he alternates between photos of women whose breasts make the term “pneumatic” seem woefully inadequate (he is, he says, addicted to them) and an obsessive conviction that virtually every significant politician in the Republican Party is a homosexual. Once the party elders could have shut him down; now his Twitter following is growing exponentially.
Or consider Florida Republican US Senate candidate Carlos Beruffe, unrepentant after video surfaced this comment:
"Unfortunately, for seven and a half years this animal we call President, because he’s an animal, OK-”
Beruffe joins a happy subset of conservative who have enjoyed eight fat years selling Obama sock monkeys; Curious Obama t-shirts, circulated memes of the White House lawn planted in watermelons, and the President, dressed as an African witch doctor, bone through his nose, or as Aunt Jemima; and- on the cover of National Review, a proctologist gleefully gloving up (the GOP’s obsession with anality of all sorts is a topic for another day, and could easily require another 40,000 words to understand).
There’s the Montana federal judge who circulated jokes comparing the President’s ancestry to that of a dog; the South Carolina GOP leader who declared, after an ape escaped the Columbia zoo, it just wanted to see its granddarughter, Mrs Obama, at The White House. Not to mention former Senator Rick Santorum, caught on tape- more than once- catching “Obama is a ni-” at the last two syllables.
Nor is there any reason to suppose it will end on January 17, 2017. Indeed, the day Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination, Tucker Carlson’s The Daily Caller ran this breathless story:
The mammoth, multi-million-dollar mansion where President Barack Obama and his family will reportedly live after the first family exits the White House is located 1,096 feet from the Islamic Center of Washington — one of the largest mosques in the Western Hemisphere.

Both Obama’s new digs and the Islamic Center are located in the fancypants northwest Washington, D.C. neighborhood of Kalorama.
Carlson- that is, Tucker Swanson McNear Carlson, son of King World media mogul Richard Carlson (he of the famous multi-million dollar collection of the walking sticks of the famous, some 2,000 of them), graduate of St. George’s School of Trinity College- is a noted conservative man of the people.

The GOP’s voters are all over this stuff. They lap it up like swill from a pigsty’s trough. As author Jon Meacham quipped on “Charlie Rose” March 16, Trump’s rise is the first recorded instance of an airplane hijacking supported by the passengers.
Yet The Washington Post has reported The Donald polls as the most unpopular party nominee since polling on that topic began. And even Frank Luntz is grasping for a solution:
But Frank Luntz, an unaligned GOP pollster, said Trump could erase at least some his deficit if he capitalizes on the fall debates and other events, noting that history is littered with examples of candidates doing just that.

“The big moments cause people to change,” Luntz said. “And let’s face it, we may have a moment outside of conventions and debates that’s even bigger. If you have a Paris or a Brussels on American soil, that can completely change the dynamic.”

It is a tall order, however, for Trump to undo the damage his rhetoric has already done to his image with the rising national electorate that includes Latinos, single mothers and millennials.

“Donald Trump’s whole message is somewhat backward looking,” said Kristen Soltis Anderson, a Republican pollster who wrote a book, “The Selfie Vote,” about these voters.

Referring to Trump’s slogan, she added: “ ‘Make America Great Again’ sounds like an attempt to turn back the clock to a time most young voters don’t remember.”
Over at Fox News, on one of the shows where the host interviews other hosts of other Fox News shows, concern is tinged by nostalgia:
During a conversation about the Republican presidential candidates wavering on whether they will support the eventual nominee, Gutfeld pointed out that there's not just strife within the Republican party, but among conservatives in general and at Fox News.

"What we're doing is we're pointing out this fractured strife among the Republican Party. But us pointing that out is like Charlie Sheen pointing out your drug habit. We, as a show, are facing internal strife. From a micro-level to a macro-level," he said.

"You can look at conservative websites like Breitbart, how much that has fallen apart since the Trump nomination. You can look at 'The Five.' On any given day, we have tension over this nomination, over this candidate. You can look at our network as a whole, which is — don't look at me — but you can look at this network, where we are having issues within a family of anchors over this stuff. You can look at the Party," Gutfeld continued. "So at every area where there is conservatism, there is strife."

The Fox host then fondly recalled "the good old days where we could all unite against the hatred for Obama, when it was so easy."

Co-host Eric Bolling jumped in to say, "It'll be back."
Bolling’s comment underscores the tone-deafness of the GOP at the top.  Ben Jacobs, a correspondent for The Guardian, ID’d how keeping people perpetually angry is a great strategy- for as long as that’s all the angry are willing to go along with:
For party grandees, sticking their heads in the sand left them unable to cope with the tempest whipping up dissent. Rick Wilson, a prominent Republican consultant who has become a vocal Trump opponent, argued that much of the New York tycoon’s outrage towards Washington was stoked by what he called “the entertainment wing of the Republican Party”.

This group, which he described as consisting of “certain parts of the Fox News evening line up, talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin ... and the fever swamp of the conservative message machine had spent years looking for the perfect villain”.

The trouble with identifying Obama as that villain was that they couldn’t defeat him, so they turned upon their own and went after congressional Republicans in Washington because “they won’t do everything perfect and won’t commit to burning down the village”, Wilson said. The problem wasn’t that congressional Republicans were ignoring the grassroots, it was that the Republican base had been “primed” to demand the impossible.
But for forty years and more, GOP leaders- and their media handlers, like Roger Ailes and Frank Luntz- have counted themselves clever lads for being able to adapt their methods for coping with the risorgimento crochets and whimsies of one way of right wing zanies who read like the school secretary’s summation of Ferris Bueller’s appeal- “Oh, he's very popular Ed. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads - they all adore him. They think he's a righteous dude”.
The GOP circus- at once, performers and audience-  includes Birchers; birthers; racists; teabagistanis; God-botherers; abortion fetishists; sex regulators who, somehow, believe nonreproductive same-sex marriages threaten the existence of LDS polygamists; the Quiverfull Movement’s  brood mare wives; and evangelicals’ ethic and moral hypocrisies. They just adjust the rhetoric they blather to synch with that of the torch and pitchfork bearers in the courtyard, and everyone is happy.
Ben Jacobs cites an example of the elected classes’ cluelessness:
Republicans in the congressional leadership had also totally ignored the signs of discontent in the party’s base. After Eric Cantor, the house majority leader, lost his 2014 primary in perhaps the most shocking upset in modern American political history, [Kentucky Congressman Tom] Massie said the growing anger was simply never talked about. He recalled that Cantor ran the weekly, members-only meeting of the Republican caucus. Then, after his primary loss, the Virginia Republican just wasn’t there anymore. “Nobody ever talked about Cantor not being there. It was like he had a heart attack,” Massie said.
No one has ever had a plan, except to keep the rhetoric from party leaders calibrated to the bitch list of the current Noisy Group. Just ride it out, counseled the ultimate schmoozer, House Speaker John Boehner. His sado-masochist relationship with his caucus dominated his tenure until the Freedom caucus grew bored and tossed him aside for the virile young Paul Ryan.
One extra, and highly significant, factor, in Trump’s rise is the disintegration of evangelicals as a national force. In short, they will proof-text The Bible to shreds to find a way to support a Republican. Bloomberg News reported one remarkable example of a televangelical protesting his virtue all the way to the whorehouse:
At one recent meeting with Trump, evangelical leaders noted how he often flashes a signature hand gesture, with a thumb out and a finger point to the sky, as he enters and exits rallies.  

"You see athletes do it all the time and it's their chance to point to the sky, to thank God for their success," said Pastor Mark Burns, CEO of a Christian television network based in South Carolina. "Trump does this all of the time, too. He's giving reverence to the man upstairs."

"Even with Mr. Trump's billions of dollars, he too still submits himself to God," said Burns, who has become a top Trump surrogate and a staple on the campaign trail, frequently introducing the candidate at rallies. "We should all chip in to help him out. You know, even a billionaire needs some cash flow."
“Evangelical” has become a shorthand expression, a term of convenience. Over on the Roman side, such people are sometimes called “cafeteria Catholics.”
Among the innovations of American evangelicalism is the invention of “secondary virginity” to excuse slatternly pasts (with the related, if drowning-in-hypocrisy, acceptance of Bristol Palin as a highly-paid spokeswoman for abstinence even after she gave birth to a second child out of wedlock; her children’s interactions with their separate dads seem to be mostly as pawns in custody and maintenance battles in court, and large spreads in the tabloid TV shows).
Another is the get-out-of-jail free-card that never quits: the born again chat with God invoked in April by Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, after the exposure of his phone sex affair with a campaign-funded, female advisor:
"I've asked God to forgive me because that's the most important thing. I want back in His fellowship. And so I asked God to forgive me.
"But I asked other people to again forgive me and I've already done that and I have truly asked the people of this state – they're the folks who love me and are the best people in the world – I have asked them to forgive me."
"And, you know, it's mine. I own it. I own it. I did it. I point no fingers to anybody else. I make no excuses from that. I own my problem. It's not your problem. You have other problems. It's not your problem. It's my problem and I have to deal with that. And so I have humbly opened myself up to the people of this state and I have asked them to forgive me. And let me continue to do the things they elected me for twice and that's to try to make their lives better. And that's what I'm going to do.

"It is not (affecting my job). This has been addressed a long time ago. It really has. It's all been clarified, it's all been addressed. I have put it in the rear-view mirror. Others have not because it's obviously been brought out now. It's one of those things that I take full control of. It's me. I did it. I did it. And that's why I ask the people of this state to forgive me because they are a forgiving people and they know God's grace."

Alabama is an outlier, though, still filled with that moralizing zeal even as the governor faces impeachment (after sticking with him through two elections and six years, the state GOP has suddenly discovered the man is immoral and incompetent), the speaker of the house awaits sentencing for a dozen counts of corruption, and the chief justice of the supreme court is suspended pending his second removal from the office for declaring himself above the law.

And people call Libya a failed state.

When New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller's second wife- newly married and 18 years his junior, bore their first child during his 1964 presidential campaign, William Loeb, the publisher of the influential Manchester, New Hampshire, Union Leader had called Rockefeller a “wife swapper.” Goldwater fans asked during the primary: “Do you want a Leader or a Lover in the White House?”

Things change, I guess. Gerald Ford opened the White House up as the first president whose parents divorced, and and who married a divorcee. Ronald Reagan made being divorced OK for presidents in the party of rectitude and moral censure. Republicans grew comfortable with finer moral distinctions between what they said and what they did.

52 years after Rockefeller (who died having sex with a mistress), Donald Trump brags about his promiscuity and adulterous affairs.

The GOP was virtually silent this year when their longest-serving Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, went to prison for paying hush money to cover his past as a pedophile.

Hastert, of course, succeeded Congressman Bob Livingston, who didn’t become speaker when his adultery surfaced in his campaign to succeed Speaker Newt Gingrich (he told one of his three wives he was divorcing her as she was being treated for cancer, and conducted an extramarital affair while leading the impeachment of President Clinton for adultery.

Gingrich’s deputy, former majority whip Tom Delay, urged the federal court not to imprison Dennis Hastert, arguing the child abuser is “a good man who loves the Lord.” Delay illustrated his fine edge of his moral scalpel during the Clinton impeachment as well:

“Yes, I don’t think that Newt could set a high moral standard, a high moral tone, during that moment,” DeLay said. “You can’t do that if you’re keeping secrets about your own adulterous affairs.” He added that the impeachment trial was another of his “proudest moments.” The difference between his own adultery and Gingrich’s, he said, “is that I was no longer committing adultery by that time, the impeachment trial. There’s a big difference.” He added, “Also, I had returned to Christ and repented my sins by that time.”

House Judiciary Chair Henry Hyde, who led the Clinton articles of impeachment to the House floor, admitted to adultery, as did half a dozen leading Republican congressional critics of President Clinton.

Bob Barr, author of the Defense of Marriage Act, was a serial adulterer.  Tennessee congressman Scott DesJarlais- who sits in Congress this very day- is a doctor who has had affairs with two patients, three employees and a drug company sales rep; he also pushed his ex-wife to have two abortions while he campaigned as a pro-life, famiy values candidate.

Just since 2000, there have been dozens more. US Circuit Judge William Pryor- the appointee of President Bush 2, and a Trump short-lister for the Supreme Court- may have taken the prize for evolving the farthest the fastest. In a 2003 brief he filed with the Court in Lawrence v. Texas, he made the remarkable argument that a Biblical abomination’s abominability derives from who does it:

“Texas is hardly alone in concluding that homosexual sodomy may have severe physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual consequences, which do not necessarily attend heterosexual sodomy, and from which Texas’s citizens need to be protected,” Pryor's brief states.

“Who’d’a thunk it?” as my dad used to say.

While Trump has a slice of the politicovangelicals, his is mostly the campaign for practitioners of the evangelical lifestyle, in which all judgments are directed at others.

Writer Jeff Sharlet likens them to the rubes who fall for the prosperity gospel preached by Kenneth Hagin, Joel Osteen, and the aptly-named Creflo Dollar, disciples- all- of oldtime frauds like R.W. Schambach, Oral Roberts, and the Reverend Ike.

The evangelical tent welcomes a variety of sketchy characters and reprehensible views. The KKK, which Trump claimed he doesn’t know enough of to say if they are good or bad, uses him as  recruiting tool and signs up to maintain stretches of highway as a religious organization (in May, his California campaign approved William Johnson as a convention delegate; "I just hope to show how I can be mainstream and have these views," Johnson told Mother Jones magazine. "I can be a white nationalist and be a strong supporter of Donald Trump and be a good example to everybody." Williams longs to be President Trump’s secretary of agriculture; he was dumped by Trump once he turned toxic as a delegate but there’s no telling about becoming the white nationalist Earl Butz.
Activism, misogyny and homophobia overlap pretty comprehensively with”evangelical”. Nearly forty years after the Republican Party invited Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell to tea, evangelical leaders are a quarrelsome, spent force, and their ground troops have passed over Huckabee, Santorum, Carson, and Cruz’s ostentatious, exclusionary theocratic nostrums for a man who doesn’t give two slaps about faith but says what they long to say about minorities through the long decades of choking back the ”n” word.
An early April New York Times story noted,
But religion’s appeal has been eroding in the United States since the end of the 1980s, according to research by Michael Hout of New York University and Claude Fischer of the University of California, Berkeley. In 1987, only one in 14 American adults expressed no religious preference. By 2012, the share had increased to one in five.

Scholars like Professor Voas argue Americans are undergoing a process similar to what has happened in Europe, where secular institutions took over many of the jobs once performed by the church. Professors Hout and Fischer argue, instead, that the erosion reflects the shocks and aftershocks from the 1960s: like churches’ censureship of premarital sex and young people’s growing acceptance of homosexuality.

“Organized religion gained influence by espousing a conservative social agenda that led liberals and young people who already had weak attachment to organized religion to drop that identification,” they wrote. By 2012, 36 percent of liberals preferred no religion, compared to just 7 percent of conservatives.

Regardless of the deeper dynamics, Mr. Trump’s campaign poses a critical question: Is the alignment of interests on the right, entwining religious fervor with free market economics, fraying? If so, what will take its place?

“The notion that evangelical voters are nonresponsive to anything other than abortion and homosexuality overstates the power of religion on political choice,” said Nolan McCarty, professor of politics and public affairs at Princeton.

Republicans’ longstanding strategy has been showing signs of wear for a while. By 2012, Professor Hout argued, it was clear that they “had pretty much gotten as much as they were going to get out of religion.” They couldn’t expand the base any further by appealing to devout Christians, he said, “because they had rounded them up already.”

Still, it took Mr. Trump to identify the real Achilles’ heel in the Reagan coalition: an economic policy built around tax cuts for the wealthy that has failed to deliver the goods to the Republican base for far too long.

While Mr. Trump’s economic proposals may not add up to a coherent agenda for most voters, it does suggest, said Kenneth Scheve, a professor of political science at Stanford, that “there is something wrong in the policy bundle Republicans have offered them over and over again.”
Cory Cane:
From a political perspective, it is certainly not healthy to incite anger and hate within a nation’s own population.  And it is not very wise to inflame hostility and rage against a nation’s own government.  From a business perspective, sure, it is perfectly understandable because a corporation can exploit this and profit handsomely from it.  But from a political perspective of creating a cohesive society and maintaining peace and harmony among the population, this is disastrous.
In April, the Trump campaign announced that his entire primary-season persona was just an act. He, himself, has said people will be amazed by how presidential he can “act” if he gets the nomination he demands. He will be so presidential,he said, people will fall asleep from boredom.
Unanswered is whether being presidential-seeming is an act, too. The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman has a long article out on how Trump affects a bemused tolerance of American LGBT citizens, going so far as to criticize North Carolina’s HB2 on the Today show.
At the same time, he has repeatedly pledged to pack the Supreme Court with judges pledged to overturn marriage equality. Haberman recounts a meeting between Trump and the actor and LGBT activist George Takei:
Mr. Takei walked Mr. Trump through the benefits of supporting same-sex marriage, particularly for a business owner. Gay couples would celebrate in his hotels, and their guests would dine in his restaurants, Mr. Takei said. Mr. Trump agreed with that view, Mr. Takei said, but he would not budge, saying he supported “traditional marriage.”

“I was tempted to say, marrying multiple times is not traditional marriage,” Mr. Takei said of Mr. Trump, who has been married three times. “He’s a chameleon or a hypocrite, whichever word you like.”
All that was on April 21. On April 22, Trump told Sean Hannity,
“There’s a small number, but we have to take care of everybody, frankly,” Trump said. “And North Carolina, which is a great place, which I won by the way. I love North Carolina. And they have a law. It’s a law that’s unfortunately causing them some problems, and I fully understand if they want to go through, but they are losing business, and they are having a lot of people come out against.”
And then he came out against repealing HB2. Since then, he has said transgender Americans deserve his protection, and he will revoke all their current protections under law.
Paul Waldman has posited that
[S]ince Trump didn’t rise through Republican politics, he doesn’t have an intuitive sense of what’s important to which conservatives and what will make them angry.

So when a question he hasn’t thought about comes up, he just gives an answer that seems right for him at that moment. Then what often happens is that people who understand what Republicans think about that issue — reporters and Republicans themselves — say, “What?!?,” somebody clues Trump in to why his allies are mad, and within a day or two he comes back and clarifies what he meant to say, which winds up being something more palatable to the party. This has happened multiple times.
On May 12, Waldman offered a bill of particulars:
On the question of the minimum wage, Trump has previously said he would not raise it. Then Sunday he said he did want to raise it. Then in a separate interview on the very same day he said there should be no federal minimum wage at all, that instead we should “Let the states decide.” Then yesterday he said he does want to increase the federal minimum wage.

So when you ask the question, “Where does Donald Trump stand on the minimum wage?”, the answer is: everywhere and nowhere. He has nothing resembling a position, because what he said today has no relationship to what he said yesterday or what he’ll say tomorrow. And we’re seeing it again and again. Will he release his tax returns? Yes, but then no, but then yes and no. Does he want to cut taxes for the wealthy? His plan says yes, his mouth sort of says no, but who knows? What about his promise for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” that so thrilled his supporters? Now he says it’s “only a suggestion.”

On May 14, the headache-inducing illogic of the Trump worldview inched toward migraine alert:
Speaking on a panel on CNN, Barry Bennett, a senior political adviser to the Trump campaign, defended Trump’s waffling by saying that anything he puts forward is “a suggestion to Congress,” noting that “he has to persuade Congress to do it and all he can try to do is persuade Congress to go along with him.”
When a fellow panelist pointed out in response, “Typically, words matter,” Bennett had a strange response.
“Oh please, this words matter stuff. This is ridiculous,” he said. “You are looking desperately for a reason not to vote for him.”
It’s as if Lewis Carroll rose from the grave and directed an egg to run for president:
Once a party can so enthusiastically embrace this level of idiocy, they may as well all be on crack.
Which leads us, just a few more steps, as it turns out, to the best of all explanations for how politics got to where it is today.
S.E. Cupp laid it out, short and plain, last August, and others have followed her:
Trump is the result of liberal political correctness run amok.
Yep. Democrats have forced over ten million self-respecting conservatives to abandon their all and vote for The Whoreson of Fifth Avenue.
David Frum is right to argue, as he does in The Atlantic, that- as has been the case with American evangelicalism- Republicans have rushed to embrace a man they called anathema only months ago, because conservatism has become a lifestyle rather than an ideology:
Instead of a political program, conservatism had become an individual identity. What this meant, for politicians, was that the measure of your “conservatism” stopped being the measures you passed in office—and became much more a matter of style, affect, and manner. John McCain might have a perfect pro-life voting record...
“We love him most for the enemies he made,” said supporters of the anti-Tammany Democrat Grover Cleveland. The sentiment applies pretty generally in politics. As conservatism’s positive program has fallen ever more badly out of date, as it has delivered ever fewer benefits to its supporters and constituents, those supporters have increasingly defined their conservatism not by their beliefs, but by their adversaries. And those adversaries Donald Trump has made abundantly his own.
As much as anything, the polarization of party supporters against each other- no longer on the merits of issues, just en bloc, has paved the way for Donald Trump. Jonah Goldberg, the National Review writer, cranked out reams of Trump criticism before falling into line, did so because he already had an Other:
If the election were a perfect tie, and the vote fell to me and me alone, I’d probably vote for none other than Donald Trump because (endorsing a view presented to him by a National Review supporter) we know Hillary will be terrible, while we can only suspect Trump will be. Trump will probably do some things conservatives will like—Supreme Court appointments, etc.—while we know for a fact Hillary will not.
David Frum commented,
Once you’ve convinced yourself that a president of the other party is the very worst possible thing that could befall America, then any nominee of your party—literally no matter who—becomes a lesser evil. And with that, the last of the guardrails is smashed.

Tomorrow: Is there a way forward?

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