Tag Archives: chris christie

Who’s on third?

I’ve touched on this topic before, that what Trump is appealing to is something that fundamentally succeeds under a democratic system better than what most of his competitors in the Republican primary are offering. At least, within the Republican Party itself, it’s more durable. With Trump leading in the polls, that might sound like basic commonsense, but it also says something far more meaningful and darker about the future of the Republican Party.

What they’ve carefully crafted over the past several decades, with Southern Strategies and Moral Majorities, are ultimately brokered deals. Those are between an electoral bloc motivated by causes artfully directed away from economic populism and a smaller set who call the shots on anything with economic relevance. This was the playbook up through the recent Bush administration – which was headed by something of a cultural representative. His accent was pretty unconvincing to many, but just trying to use one aligned him with one cultural element in the country, which remains a large electoral bloc if not plurality of voters.

His upper class background spoke to the demarcations within that Republican arrangement – if not one of he was from and familiar with the few powerful donors and representatives who held key positions and dictated economic policy. That description of his administration might sound odd, and it is incomplete in how it leaves out the inescapable and protracted debates on marriage equality and abortion. The presence of two distinctive, at times radically so, policy conversations has been the Republican modus operandi for decades. Trump has disrupted that clear boundary between the two and the larger system that created that.

spirit justice.jpgRemember when all national discussion stalled to talk about the Spirit of Justice statue and her exposed breasts? Image from here.

Most clearly, his economic policies, like most of his politics, are taken as much as possible from the reactionary cultural groups tapped into by Republicans for years. Even on “social” issues, he’s touched the live wires that few other Republicans would – ones like immigration which while often talked about in terms of language and identity are impossible to have a substantive policy on without huge economic ramifications, many of which are unfavorable to major Republican donors.

In a nutshell, what I’ve said about that before is that, electorally, what he’s doing works. The prior Republican set-up requires constantly shifting public discussion from issue to issue, with each one manufacturing new ways of understanding the issue that must be bleached of any economic impact. It relies unsustainably on an ability to simultaneously engage and distract the same set of voters and supporters. Trump is just adjusting the Party, making it into something that doesn’t depend on both democratic support and undemocratic leadership at the same time.

One of the conclusions of that, however, is that he isn’t an interloper “robbing” Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio or Chris Christie or anyone else of their rightful nomination within “their” Party. He’s adapting the Party from within, alienating some who don’t understand or admit the weaknesses inherent in its prior structure, but ultimately expressing the same politics in a more internally cogent way. Trump is Republican and a plurality of Republicans for months now have supported him in national polling.

Donald_Trump_by_Gage_Skidmore_3.jpg
(Credit to Gage Skidmore.)

Earlier this week, I saw the first major news headline to recognize what that means:

It’s the Republican “establishment” which would be running as the third party. Trump is the apparent Republican nominee. He is the seeming representation of Republican political philosophy. One of the responding tweets described the bluff being called in other terms

Hopefully this is a realization that a number of people – who had the personal freedom to tune out of the “cuture wars” and write it off as a distraction – will have. Whoever in politics is still operating with that theatrical use of social issues, which always was done in a way dangerous to some, they’re no longer a major party.

The most prominent voices still using those terms aren’t just promising the moon like before, but meaningfully articulating what they want done nationally. The Republican Party’s paper tiger form wasn’t working, and Trump and others have decided to opt in favor of an actual tiger instead.

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Let’s focus on Christie, starting with his past…

In the on-going realization that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was at least indirectly implicated (for systemically poor staffing choices, if not his personal involvement) in the illegal closing of most of the lanes of the George Washington Bridge, there’s been a shifting of sorts in how the issue has been discussed. With a large amount of information now released, and Christie’s office’s  intentional involvement confirmed, a lot of the criticism has actually moved from him and his staff towards those defending them. That’s not a necessarily counter-productive way of addressing the issue – after all, well-respected figures giving Christie a pass is an issue, but let’s not lose track of the radical revisiting of Christie’s record that this scandal calls for.

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For instance, what was the above? Was it really just a baffling endorsement? Or was it the result of a threat or fear of a threat? Beyond that and a million other odd “coincidences” that appear to have followed Christie throughout his years as governor, there’s also the small unknown matter of how he retained his job as a United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey. In that case, Christie’s political actions are documented, and in short, it’s been established that he maintained a fraudulent corruption case for as long as possible in order to harass a Democratic state Senator.

Political cartoon showing democratic donkey telling a sprinting Christie
(Let’s not even get started on this understanding of the issue, that ignores both the corruption and its defenders in the press, from here.)

The current scandal has brought many of these old memories up, of Bush-era venality which extends as a consistent pattern of corruption to this day. The political discussion should, at least to some degree, remain centered on Christie, but what’s more, we need to acknowledge how the situation has changed. The question we need to ask ourselves is no longer whether Christie is corrupt, but what corrupt activities he engaged in either personally or through his staff.

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Tactics Alone

TW: heterosexism, cissexism

Alex Pareene had a very interesting piece up on Salon on Monday about how all the talk about a GOP civil war is often getting the nature of the argument wrong. As he put it:

There is still one party that is very committed to rolling back environmental and other regulations, preventing meaningful financial reform, and, most important, keeping taxes as low as possible on very wealthy people and corporations. The Tea Party is not opposed to any of those things. […] “The business community” wants the Republican Party to be competitive in national races — they’re also fine with the Republicans’ trying to win elections through gerrymandering and voter suppression — while “the Tea Party” prioritizes purity over electability. (In fact, most of them don’t see conservative purity as any sort of obstacle to electability, but they are wrong.) The backlash to Ted Cruz and the House “suicide caucus” was mainly a reaction to tactics, not a blow-up over policy.

Conservatives simply differed over the best way to force Democrats into accepting the roll-back of the Affordable Care Act and/or a tax-cutting, social insurance-cutting long-term budget deal. Plenty of “establishment” Republicans still believe it is perfectly appropriate to use the debt ceiling, and the implicit threat of default, to extract policy concessions. Where Republicans split was on the wisdom of actually shutting the government down or merely threatening to, and on what precisely to demand in exchange for reopening the government. Grover Norquist attacked Ted Cruz for demanding the unachievable, but he doesn’t actually oppose defunding Obamacare. He just thought Paul Ryan had a better strategy for actually winning concessions.

In short, they’re not ideologically opposed (or if so, it’s in very minimal ways), but simply using different playbooks. Unluckily for them, their tactics are increasingly incompatible, if not gummed up by unmoored-from-reality expectations by Tea Party “strategists”. Viewed that way, the conflict is all too real, but in reality not between groups that old different sets of beliefs but groups with different understandings of how those beliefs appear to the larger society. The establishment understands the tactical need to dress up hostility and their interest in reestablishing or maintaining traditional power imbalances as something less offensive to a growing majority of US residents. The Tea Party has either failed to clue in, or refuses to.


(I mean, as if signs like this didn’t already clue us into that, from here.)

Another news item this week shows how true this is, that the real difference between main “radical” Tea Party Republicans and “moderate” Establishment GOP operatives is purely in presentation and not in substance. I’m talking of course about Chris Christie’s decision not to appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court for a stay on same-gender marriages being recognized. As the New York Times reported

Mr. Christie’s advisers said it became clear late on Friday that the fight had to end after the State Supreme Court announced it would not grant the governor’s request to block same-sex marriages while he appealed. Not only did the court decision say that his appeal had no “reasonable probability of success,” it was also unanimous — signed by the justices Mr. Christie has long warred against and by the one he considered on “his” side, Justice Anne M. Patterson. The governor concluded that, legally, he was out of arguments, and that it would be what one aide called a “fool’s errand” to continue in the face of almost certain failure.

In short, Christie’s decision not to block one small advancement of equal rights and protections for queer and trans* people was not motivated out of wanting those people to be respected, wanting them to have equal means to protect themselves and their families, or even out of wanting to capitalize on a popular position. It was about calculating how to minimize damage.

He initially wanted to delay queer and trans* New Jersey residents’ ability to have their marriages recognized, as a means of reducing the state policy from immediate disagreement with him and his fellow conservatives to something less abrupt. When that tactic was shown to be highly unlikely to work, he rethought his strategy, and concluded that all he could hope for was to appear unaffected by it – and hence he attempted to quietly avoid an appeal. In a phrase, he decided to try and “save face”.

New Jerseyans who are queer, trans*, LGBT, or whatever labels we want to use need to understand and remember this moment. This is not a Republican Party that’s becoming more moderate and more willing to allow us to live as we want to. This is a political party with one faction that is smart enough to recognize the need to disguise or obscure their refusal to do that. If you vote to re-elect Chris Christie as governor, you are not supporting candidates who support you, but those that are capable of appearing to do so.

Christie has come under criticism from the virulently heterosexist National Organization for Marriage (NOM) for deciding not to appeal any further, but that’s not because they actually disagree on the political question of what queer and trans* people’s rights should be, but rather what they should do about those shared beliefs.

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Can’t look away

TW: racism, sexism, rape apologetics, classism

Nick Gillespie’s recent article in the Washington Post which attempts to “debunk” popular myths about Libertarians is absolutely fascinating, in much the way a dramatic car accident or Roland Emmerich disaster flick can hold your attention longer than you want it to.


(All Gillespie needs is a fedora to complete his ensemble, from here.)

He starts with a muddled point that Libertarians aren’t “the hippies of the right” (whatever that even means) because there’s a lot of them according to a poll put out by an avowedly Libertarian media outlet (Reason, which Gillespie edits). The conservative framing here should be obvious: hippies are recently formed and marginal agitators who ruin everything, which Libertarians can’t be compared to because they’re historied (at least for a few more decades by Gillespie’s odd count) and central to the political culture in the US.

Both Gillespie’s logic for classifying assorted movements from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as “libertarian” and the rational behind his magazine’s polling are the same – that Libertarianism is semantically devoid outside of a distaste for government policy (quirkily defined). He argues that libertarianism wasn’t a strange reaction to communism (which others have argued), but instead rooted in movements within the United States against formal imperialist structures over the proceeding century.

That libertarians arguably only oppose government-run imperialism today when it’s convenient to them is one quibble, but it’s also worth noting that disinterest in imperialism is being reduced by Gillespie to disapproval of it when conducted by the government. It’s apparently unthinkable that those liberal movements might be the antecedents to calls for governmental intervention to prevent commercial groups or other organizations from profiting from and reinforcing the conditions left by overt government-run colonialism.

This is revealed in the simplistic questionnaire that Reason used, which merely asks-

“1. ‘The less government the better’; OR, ‘there are more things that government should be doing’.

2. ‘We need a strong government to handle today’s complex economic problems’; OR, ‘People would be better able to handle today’s problems within a free market with less government involvement’.

3. Some people think the government should promote traditional values in our society. Others think the government should not favor any particular set of values. Which comes closer to your own view?”

Occasionally (as the article states) over the years this survey was put out, a question actually pertaining to an issue (only marijuana decriminalization though!) rather than a vague philosophical moral would be asked. A nuanced perspective that governments’ actions are legitimate or unacceptable depending on what those actions are, is apparently by and large anathema to getting the results that 24 percent of US citizens agree with them (compared to 27 with “liberals” and another 27 with “conservatives”).

His other points are poorly strung together, and really amount to two admissions: that libertarianism doesn’t offer much to people of color and women, as well as that libertarians are a contentious political bloc that is already contending with others within the Republican Party for the 2016 presidential nomination. For the former, he only points to opposition to the drug war, support for “school choice”, and the idolization of Ayn Rand (and a few other decades-dead women, none of whom were a part of libertarianism in the past 31 years).

Prominent libertarians quite clearly only want to soften the drug war, namely by reducing the penalization for drugs which like marijuana are commonly used among more affluent Whites. School choice is openly a means of shifting the cost of maintaining de facto segregation from White families on to the government (while also making parochial education more competitive). And do we really need to run down why Ayn Rand isn’t a feminist idol? (Hint: she wanted her audience to excuse rape.)

In the end, Gillespie is left arguing that it’s a myth that “Libertarians are destroying the Republican Party” and yet that the party leadership is “worried about the party’s growing libertarian streak” so much so that Chris Christie (presidential nominee apparent, unless libertarian Rand Paul has his way) called libertarians “dangerous”.

Is it hard to be so very wrong about everything, Mr Gillespie?

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