Tag Archives: gop

Remaking LGBT America: by the numbers

Trigger warning: heterosexism, cissexism

Social media went abuzz yesterday with the announcement that the 2020 census will not ask respondents whether they are LGBT. Many reported the news in a somewhat sensationalist way, mistakenly implying that the census would not count LGBT people at all.

Rather than an overt tool of anti-LGBT policy, this decision to continue to not ask for LGBT people to self identify echoes a more quietly delivered executive order Trump made on Monday. The order focused on data collection rather than LGBT people themselves – leaving intact Obama-era protections of certain LGBT workers while completely dismantling the regulatory process designed to document and thus prevent discrimination.

The issue here is deceptively simple. Many took the census announcement as a declaration that LGBT lives are too unseemly or undesirable to discuss on the census. Rather than that kind of cold sneer or haughty disgust, the explanation offered by the census’ director is tepid, measured, and legalistic. As he put it, “there must be a clear statutory or regulatory need for data collection” which he and others did not see as merited on this issue. In the history of both of these data collection projects, critics have asked for observation and study. The purpose of that is to demonstrate that anti-LGBT sentiments and practices exist and therefore understand how to challenge them. Thompson made quite clear that that’s simply not a consideration for the Trump administration.

Frankly, that shouldn’t be a surprise. Trump branded himself throughout the Republican primary as atypically amicable with LGBT people, even as he held us at arm’s length. What many cisgender and straight observers of that often seemed to miss was the expectation of what he would receive in return for that – not only did he assume we would be desperate to support him for the slightest tolerance but he expected us to curtail our experiences with anti-LGBT policies and attitudes to what he needed.

In his hands, anti-LGBT animus became not a common experience in this country, but a marker of foreignness. The reality that most LGBT Americans experience bigotry more regularly and acutely from other Americans is an inconvenience to the grand narrative Trump wanted to paint. Now, in the halls of power, he is doing what he can to disarm LGBT people of the overwhelming data that shows that.

lgbt-population.png
The Movement Advance Project constructs maps like this above one of the estimated overall LGBT population in different states without census data, as it has never been collected as part of the survey, from here.

Beyond his quixotic bid to build LGBT support, there’s an implicit threat buried in all of this. There is, as of now, supposedly no need to collect that data. What that admits is that the facts on the ground could change. If LGBT people become understood as not a group to hide the data from, but to gather it on, then perhaps they would put it back on the census. Or, failing that, let slip the dogs of war – Republicans in state government are already pushing to reinstate pre-Lawrence laws or similarly invasive and hostile measures, especially against transgender people.

The choice the administration is giving LGBT people is a simple one – obey or become reacquainted with survellir et punir. The self-styled deal-maker is offering LGBT people one: accept the quiet and private anti-LGBT bigotry that pervades the country or prepare to feel the heat turn up again.

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Ross Perot: Plus ça change…

Early last week, FiveThirtyEight came out with a new episode in its series of documentary-style looks at polling and politicking in elections past. If you’re in need of break between refreshing your poll aggregators, it’s a delightful mix of change of pace from this year’s elections and a curious examination of where this year’s unique character comes from. It seeks to answer one very simple question – what effects did Ross Perot have on US elections?

The bulk of it pulls us back into the 1990s, into a seemingly naïve political climate buoyed between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the World Trade Center. While securely focused on the 1992 election, it ultimately looks to the similarities between Ross Perot and Trump. It ends ominously on that note, however, as Galen Druke predicts that “Just as Donald Trump did better than Perot, maybe the next charismatic populist will do better than Donald Trump.”

Well, then.

That comparison and warning sent me down a rabbit hole of internet research into not just Ross Perot but the political party he spawned: the Reform Party. If nothing else, it’s deeply entertaining as a distraction from tightening polls. The crown jewel of my fervent self diversion is this early 2000 piece by then Trump ghostwriter Dave Shiflett (this guy) for the American Spectator. In it, he advocates for Trump’s candidacy for the presidential nomination within, you guessed it, the Reform Party.

I can forgive FiveThirtyEight for leaving half the story untold (they have limited time in any case), but this article truly is eye-opening. Trump did not wait for 2016. In 2000, his conspiratorial and aggressive understanding of international relations, his view of himself as un-racist for expecting people of color to be among those fawning over him, and his cartoonish misogyny were all already there, even then.

trump 2000.jpg
(No, seriously.)

Here’s just a few choice bits:

“[Trump’s] uncle, an MIT professor, foresaw the day of miniaturized weapons. ‘One day,’ Mr. Trump quoted him, ‘somebody will be able to detonate a suitcase-sized bomb in Manhattan that will flatten the entire city.’ Thus was born what is perhaps the most mesmerizing chapter in [The America We Deserve]—one in which, among other things, Mr. Trump warns that under his presidency, North Korea could experience some live-ammo discipline.”

“As the embodiment of earthly success, [Trump] is highly admired by lower-middle class Americans, many of them Hispanic and African American, who continue to admire the guys who have done well in the world.”

“[Al] Gore’s embarrassing reliance on high-paid political adviser Naomi Wolf also illustrates another difference with Mr. Trump, who is universally recognized as America’s premier Alpha Male. Mr. Trump knows that one never pays a woman for her conversation, but only for her silence.”

Of course, Trump not only failed to win the general election in 2000, but he fell short of the Reform Party’s nomination, to Patrick Buchanan. Both before and after that third party presidential bid, Buchanan has made a career out of White nationalism and other bigotries somehow stated more blatantly than even Trump cares to. Seemingly in an effort to appease Trump’s purportedly more moderate wing of the Reform Party, Buchanan selected Ezola Foster, a Black woman, as his running mate.

Politics journalist David Neiwert has argued that this contributed to George W. Bush’s contested victory in the election that year by dismantling the main third party contender for Republican-leaning independents motivated by racist and sexist ideas. Neiwert found this choice complaint from a close affiliate of David Duke’s (another familiar character!): “after Buchanan chose a black woman as his veep he [Duke] now thinks that ‘Pat is a moron’ and ‘there is no way we can support him at this point.'” Keen not to miss the bigger picture, Neiwert pointed out that the Democratic ticket had the first Jewish candidate for the vice presidency on it that year and the other main third party candidate was Lebanese-American Ralph Nader. The voting bloc that would congeal into the modern alt-right seemingly had no real choice in 2000 for a presidential ticket of only White , non-Mideastern, non-Jewish men, outside of Bush-Cheney.

The picture Neiwert paints of the ensuing relationship between Republicans and this emerging extreme wing of US conservative politics is strengthened by the ensuing confusion over the 2000 election. As he put it-

“No one from the Bush camp ever denounced the participation of [Stormfront-affiliated White supremacist Don] Black and his crew or even distanced themselves from this bunch, or for that matter any of the thuggery that arose during the post-election drama. Indeed, Bush himself later feted a crew of “Freeper” thugs who had shut down one of the recounts in Florida, while others terrorized his opponent, Al Gore, and his family by staging loud protests outside the Vice President’s residence during the Florida struggle.

“These failures were symptomatic of a campaign that made multiple gestures of conciliation to a variety of extreme right-wing groups. These ranged from the neo-Confederates to whom Bush’s campaign made its most obvious appeals in the South Carolina primary to his speaking appearance at Bob Jones University. Bush and his GOP cohorts continued to make a whole host of other gestures to other extremist components: attacking affirmative action, kneecapping the United Nations, and gutting hate-crimes laws.

“The result was that white supremacists and other right-wing extremists came to identify politically with George W. Bush more than any other mainstream Republican politician in memory. This was embodied by the endorsement of Bush’s candidacy by a range of white supremacists, including David Duke, Don Black and Matthew Hale of the World Church of the Creator.”

You probably can tell the history yourself from there. The 9-11 Attacks only further wear down democratic and procedural defenses against these politics, and before we know it, we’re at the place we are now – with Black churches appearing to have been torched by Trump supporters, more anti-Muslim attacks than ever, and a candidate openly running on a policy platform of ethnic cleansing.

What’s curious within all of this is that Buchanan misread Trump’s and his supporters’ jeers in 2000. The story goes, as The Hill described it, that the Perot, Trump, perhaps in LaRouche-esque sections of the Reform Party weren’t even trending towards fascism by 2000. Those voters supposedly left when their “moderate” candidate – that’s Trump – lost. Buchanan, so the story goes, lost another set that stayed by trying to win those already out the door back. But that’s usually boiled down to a very careful reading of Trump’s insults towards Buchanan at the time – those like “Look, he’s a Hitler lover.” Trump certainly presented them as a critique of Buchanan’s bigotry, but maybe it was intended more as a critique of its European and 20th century qualities, as opposed to an open embrace of rhetorical twists more distinctive to 21st American far-right ultranationalism.

That’s not a mischaracterization of Neiwert’s work, by the way. His description of how quickly Perot’s crypto-populism became lousy with White nationalists comes from a series asking whether the Republican Party after 9-11 was at risk of becoming fascist. His answer, while still under the Bush administration, was a concerned perhaps. Returning to his look at the disintegration of the Reform Party and the 2000 absorption of much of its voting base into the Republican Party, he casually describes the process with what now read as dire warnings.

To be fair, not all of those are his alone. He quotes Robert Paxton’s “The Five Stages of Fascism.” Paxton’s essay reads like Nostradamus for something from 1998, a decade before Sarah Palin let alone Donald Trump. As Paxton described it, one key stage in fascists acquiring power is their capture of a major political party or similar institution. In terms of that,

“Success depends on certain relatively precise conditions: the weakness of the liberal state, whose inadequacies seem to condemn the nation to disorder, decline, or humiliation; and political deadlock because the Right, the heir to power but unable to continue to wield it alone, refuses to accept a growing Left as a legitimate governing partner. Some fascist leaders, in their turn, are willing to reposition their movements in alliances with these frightened conservatives, a step that pays handsomely in political power”

Anyone else need a drink?

Between Paxton, others, and his own work, Neiwert creates an image of a typically rural-based political bloc preparing for warfare with an existentially opposed other, often one terrifyingly within the country, if only in small numbers. All of that is familiar to anyone remotely familiar with Republican rhetoric – in both pro-Trump and never Trump circles.

What’s more arresting is his description of why so often it’s rooted in rural hinterlands – because historical fascism often began as an arrangement between gangs and malfeasant landowners. When desperate to break agricultural strikes and either unable or resistant to state involvement, the latter turned to the former.

There is nothing quite analogous within modern US politics, but the closest cousin could arguably be the moderately wealthy, rural-dwelling, elder White voters without college degrees that many have seen as Trump’s core constituency. In the 1990s, their votes likely split between idealistic votes for Perot, pragmatic votes for Republicans, and White nationalist votes for Buchanan. Today they are a consolidated voting bloc – and they are Trump Republicans.

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A kingly presidency casts a long shadow in Republican thought

In the cavalcade of strange that was last night’s townhall debate, one particular exchange stood out for many:

DONALD TRUMP: So we’re going to get a special prosecutor, and we’re going to look into it, because you know what? People have been — their lives have been destroyed for doing one-fifth of what you’ve done. And it’s a disgrace. And honestly, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.

MARTHA RADDATZ: Secretary Clinton, I want to follow up on that. I’m going to let you talk about e-mails.

HILLARY CLINTON: Everything he just said is absolutely false, but I’m not surprised.

TRUMP: Oh, really?

[…]

CLINTON: Last time at the first debate, we had millions of people fact checking, so I expect we’ll have millions more fact checking, because, you know, it is — it’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.

TRUMP: Because you’d be in jail.

We’ve heard this same pivot from questions of legality to morality before, from someone very different: Mitt Romney.

If for no other reason than his clear opposition from early in the primary, Romney is quite clearly not interested in supporting Trump. Even still, as much as he might disagree with Trump, this moment last night especially echoes Romney’s own statements at funnily enough the corresponding debate in 2012. This pattern, from such different candidates, speaks to an emerging political tendency in the Republican Party.

Many seem to have trouble recalling this, but many of Trump’s lines can be seen as having passed through Mitt Romney’s hands if not originating with him. All of the ingredients for a Trump-style candidacy were there in 2012, even if missing the curiously distinctive feeling of Trump himself. Quickly, who said which of the following?

1: “It was a terrorist attack, and it took a long time for that to be told to the American people. Whether there was some misleading or instead whether we just didn’t know what happened, I think you have to ask yourself”

2: “These are radical Islamic terrorists. […] He won’t use the term ‘radical Islamic terrorism.'”

3: “The president’s policies throughout the Middle East began with an apology tour and pursue a strategy of leading from behind, and this strategy is unraveling before our very eyes.”

(Answers: Romney in 2012, Trump yesterday, and Romney in 2012, respectively.)

One particular point stood out then in 2012 and stands out now, and perhaps demonstrates the unique effects of Trump on this shared vocabulary. That is, the notion of the president as someone unconcerned and beyond daily legal matters. Just like the magic power of some version of the phrase “islamist terrorism,” both Romney and Trump share an idea of an almost monarchic presidency.

It’s easy to overlook the basis of agreement here. As I wrote about at the time, Romney’s borderline kingly presidency was shaped by inaction, with him promising to set a moral standard of sometimes hiring women. His idea of the presidency was not one of creating legal realities to prevent discrimination (in this example), but actively avoiding that for simply setting an example.

Trump’s promise to investigate and jail Hillary Clinton if elected is not only more proactive than that, but bombastic in tone. A violation of basic principles of democratic governance, it’s much harder to overlook. Still, let’s not erase the roots of this kind of Trump-style despotic presidential policy.

At its core, his explanation for why he would tap a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton is tonally quite similar to Romney’s justification for having “binders full of [the résumés of] women”: it’s an act of moral conviction, not legal action. He presses the point on the basis of Clinton seeming mendacious, not there being the possibility of broken laws (in part because there isn’t much of that left after so much investigation).

Questions of legal standards take a back seat to morality – whether the particular concern is fairness in the workplace or conduct of a public servant outside of the realm of legality. The law is secondary or even irrelevant… in a position of literal executor of laws.

5906767325_f454beca73_o(Credit to Quinn Dombrowski, from here.)

Legality has long been understand in US political thought as not the be-all, end-all. From our founding, arguably, critiques of the legal system simply being how it is have been part of what has shaped us as a country. But from a revolution which began as a protest against voting and taxation procedures and policies of quartering and invasive searches, to a Civil Rights Movement about many of those same concerns, the classic concern about the limits of legality has been about correcting it with arguments from morality and decency, not replacing it with hazily subjective ethical standards.

The modern Republican Party in part seems preparing to break with that long tradition by not just approaching laws from a place of skepticism, but utter doubt of their existence. While Trump may have exacerbated those trends, this isn’t a new phenomenon and arguably a tendency that’s fueled his rise more than been a product of it.

Last night’s townhall debate has been transcribed here. For a video and transcription of 2012’s corresponding debate, look here.

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Super Tuesday II: everything’s coming up Trump

As promised, here’s the most important map in the US right now:

2016-03-16_1020(Counties sorted by winner: Trump in dark blue, Cruz in yellow, and Kasich in bright green. Candidates who have withdrawn or suspended their campaigns with a win include Carson in pale green and Rubio in red. Ties are in dark gray, counties that will hold contests later in the year are in light gray, and territories that elect strictly unbound delegates are in black.)

In a nutshell, it’s good news for Trump. Here’s a quick overview of what we can all learn from last night beyond that.

Region matters, but it’s only part of the story

A lot of commentary has focused on regional distinctions, in which Cruz is painted as successful in the West while Trump dominates the East and especially the South. That misses some nuances about where and how either of them dominate in various regions.

In the South, urban centers largely light up in contrast to the cold sea of largely rural, blue-coded, Trump-won counties. A large percentage of that were counties carried by Rubio, but Cruz’s showing in North Carolina maps surprisingly well to the more densely populated parts of the state too. Those voters in particularly may very well have been anyone-but-Trump votes, cast by somewhat more moderate and typically urban Southern Republicans. If North Carolina had voted earlier (like South Carolina), they may have gone with Rubio or a more moderate choice than Cruz, but this late in the process they were voting extremely strategically.

Missouri, hotly contested as a southern state, seems to have had a similar dynamic play out last night. Cruz won Jefferson City, Kansas City, Springfield, and Cape Girardeau, while Trump dominated the rural areas between each of those cities. Those who insist that Missouri has a distinctly un-southern feel to it might be right, as the second largest city, St. Louis, was narrowly carried by Trump. Bordering Illinois, those counties saw a dynamic more like those seen further north in the country.

Outside of the South, this urban-rural split is not only less dependable but also shockingly reverses, with Trump carrying Las Vegas, Detroit, Boston, and yesterday Chicago. As noted before, that oddity of him tending to win urban and suburban centers in blue states particularly speaks to his unique appeal to conservatives who feel “under siege” or similarly vulnerable. Where comparatively less populated parts of Illinois flip from Trump to Cruz might serve as an indicator of where a more southern cultural identity ends within the state. Trumps electoral success in Chicago – even though it’s with a small part of the total population there – was key in him pulling off that win.

Kasich wins, yet barely

If anyone pulled off a major victory in the Republican primaries last night outside of Trump, it was Kasich. While no one, Florida senator Rubio least of all, failed to step up and oppose Trump more or less steamrolling his way to victory in Florida, Ohio governor Kasich gave a surprisingly strong showing in Ohio. Cruz failed to capitalize on his appeal in certain rural parts of Kentucky bordering Ohio, but Trump’s wins along that border (and up along the boundary with Pennsylvania) were overshadowed by Kasich’s decisive if lean wins in virtually every other rural, suburban, or urban part of the state.

His win really was a bare minimum, however. Kasich, armed with electability, experience, and likability, only managed to win a plurality of Republican primary voters. To make matters worse he also had some pretty substantial conservative bona fides and benefited from a semi-organized campaign among Ohio democrats to crossover and vote for him. Even with all that, Trump trailed behind him only 9.1 percent – a meaningful loss, but not very much of one when Ted Cruz won 13.1 percent in the race in Ohio. The viability of Kasich outside of Ohio is dubious at best, and these fairly anemic returns under best case conditions may have a secured a key victory there but they mostly serve as a reminder of how limited his appeal has been.

The missing caucuses

Most coverage has sadly overlooked this, but the Northern Mariana Islands held their caucuses yesterday as well. Trump won decisively, with Cruz in a distant second. This is a bit of an upset of historical norms, actually, as they had previously cast their support even more overwhelmingly to Mitt Romney in 2012. In both cases, however, the territory saw wildly unrepresentative caucuses with fewer than scarcely a thousand participants representing its more than fifty thousand residents.

What next?

Within the immediate race, eyes will soon turn to Arizona, Utah, and American Samoa, which will all hold primary contests next Tuesday. That’s another 107 delegates – 58 of which will be awarded as a set by Arizonan primary voters. If Trump wins that primary, he would be more than halfway to a clear majority of delegates, suggesting that the Republican convention this summer will either be his to enjoy or a protracted mess of last minute deals to deny him the nomination.

Considering those exact possibilities, more than few Republicans are probably busily taking notes on this Bloomberg article which explores exactly how a brokered convention might be engineered. The key issue, particularly if Trump manages to win Arizona or similarly gain control over the majority of delegates is whether he can keep them completely loyal at a potentially rowdy convention. It’s unclear if this was tabulated with the aim to help Trump retain his delegates, Cruz target them for conversion, or for other reasons, but one list of who will appear at the convention as an unbound delegate (meaning, they can change their votes) has already popped up.

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Skirmish of the Titans

For a while, energy policy in the US has been characterized by many as a sort of apocalyptic battle between a group of interconnected fossil fuels industries and a kind of scrappy coalition of underdog competitors.

Even I’ve written about energy proposals somewhat from that angle myself, where policies fairly neatly cleave into two adversarial camps. There’s those that recognize the risks of climate change and those that don’t and the outcomes on how you want government to work as a result. There’s those that see resource renewability as a key issue and those that don’t, giving us economic policies based on endless resource extraction and those based on resources being possible to exhaust. There’s those that want to create a new energy system and those that want to double down on maintaining what they already have, creating a competition for federal research funds between those who want to improve the viability of solar panels and those who want to perfect the science of dredging oil from the earth. They’re two different worlds and two different political realities struggling to live together in just one.

That dynamic seems to be changing somewhat, however. The anemic coal industry has slowly reached the realization that fracking and other innovations extracting other fossil fuels are at least some of its biggest competitors, joining if not quite replacing renewables and regulatory oversight as its bogeymen. The huge leak of natural gas in California has called into question the natural gas industries not so subtle claim to being the safest fossil fuel energy source. Ethanol producers, long seen as a fossil-fuel-like and fossil-fuel-cooperative energy industry a bit like the nuclear industry, has emerged as a competitor for favor and support within the same Republican energy-minded circles. There’s no outright conflict between any of these powerful industries yet, but there’s a new sense of fractures between them.

There’s a sense that these different industries feel crowded together within the US marketplace. The Republican energy policy proposals expected to be put to a vote before Congress in the coming days seem to attempt to address those feelings in a number of ways. Lifting the ban on export for certain energy commodities might allow fuels like coal which aren’t terribly competitive domestically to be exported to where they might be (or at least, whoever buys them thinks they are). On the other end of these industries, reopening certain federal lands to speculation and extraction might similarly allow all of these possible competitors to co-exist again. Failing that, it might at least create a feeling that they can all get along. From production to sales, the focus in “adult” Republican circles has shifted towards carving out a big enough space for all of these different industries, seemingly to keep the peace.

20140111_FBM959
From here.

Curiously, this would politically put the Republicans in the place of actively governing, and at that in a way that would be to reduce competition within one of the biggest markets in the US. That’s in a nutshell precisely what they’ve branded themselves as being opposed to. In spite of the risks, they appear ready to do anything to avoid wasteful conflicts between your biggest donors, particularly as even mainstream discussions about energy sources have started talking about keeping all of it in the ground. That’s a bit of a tell – they think they might need a united front in the coming years, and are willing to spend political points today to have one tomorrow.

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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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With us or against us

Barton Swaim, a former Republican speechwriter, wrote what he believes is the “perfect Republican Stump Speech” – a distillation of the talking points supposedly winning out in the Republican presidential primary presented to maximum gain and minimal risk. Over at 538, they have an annotated presentation of it, which details why specific words and phrases are key. One of the elements to it that leaped out at me was the regionalism.

For anyone who’s read What’s the Matter with Kansas? this bit from the speech might not be too shocking:

In fact, this election boils down to a few very simple principles. To understand these principles, you don’t need an advanced degree in the latest trendy subject from an Ivy League school. You don’t need to get your opinions from the New York Times. You don’t need to be some policy wonk in Washington, and you don’t need to be a member of the intelligentsia [Annotation: Consider amending to “Northeast and West Coast intelligentsia” for locations not in the Northeast or on the West Coast.] .

You really just need two things to understand what this election is about: You need your God-given intelligence, and you need a deep and abiding love for this country.

The disparagement for “elitists” that is ubiquitous within broader conservative politics is on full display here, and it nakedly gives away one of the easiest ways for it to find expression: the writing off of a large swathe of the country as apparently too good to vote for Republicans. The risk that alienating a huge part of the electorate poses to any Republican fundamentally isn’t a concern, apparently.

The anti-intellectual elements to this only broaden the risks. Academics and intellectuals, some of whom tend to vote Republican, can be found in every state – why throw away their votes? Beyond their presence throughout the country, there are vibrant academic cultures in places outside of the Northeast and West Coast, in Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, and Hawaii. In all of those states, the growing anti-intellectualism of the Republican Party has helped push them into consistent Democratic wins in the presidential race and often at the state and local levels as well. Doubling down on that rhetoric only reinforces that loss of competitiveness.

With that in mind, it’s a surprisingly large chunk of the electoral college that this pushes out, further away, or even out of reach of Republican candidates.

2015-11-23_1843

The implication of writing off, to varying degrees, all of those electoral college blocs is that you have to win almost every other one.

That means that Republicans have to not just dominate the southwest, but reverse the rising Democratic support in Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico. It means that the Upper Midwest has to be largely reclaiming as Republican territory – the parts not terribly vulnerable to Republican wins like Michigan and Wisconsin (neither has been won in the electoral college by Republicans since 1988), the parts a bit easier for Republicans to win like Ohio (still won twice by Obama), and Republican strongholds like Indiana (still won once by Obama). It means counting on Virginia to still be a part of the Solid South. It means North Carolina (and Georgia too maybe down the road) being impossible for Democrats to take (like they did North Carolina in 2008). It means winning perpetually too-close-to-call Florida.

In short, completely writing off that set of states means spreading Republican resources thin almost everywhere. It basically hopes to reinvent the 2004 Presidential race’s returns, by will alone.

In that race, the Republicans won, in spite of losing all but two of the states the above map has shaded in. In Iowa and Virginia that year, resentful talk about an educated elite (particularly in the northeast or west coast) sounded to most voters as if it was about someone else, and didn’t potentially include them. That gave Republicans a little breathing room that they can’t necessarily count on in 2016.

The only two states not shaded in above which the Republicans lost that year were Wisconsin and Michigan – in which Democrats maintained some of their smallest margins, 0.38 percent and 3.42 percent respectively. Talking dismissively about the northeast and west coast hypothetically could help wring out those few additional votes needed to turn them red, but that’s with the assumption that those races will be just as close now as then.

The only two other states they lost with comparably low margins were Pennsylvania and New Hampshire – two of the states in the northeast with some of the largest populations outside of the Boston-Washington corridor, and hence potentially most likely to think a contempt for “the northeast” meant someone else. Not far behind those two were Oregon and Minnesota – a similarly exceptional case on the west coast and another part of the Midwest hypothetically excited by hearing negative comments about other parts of the country.

In short, from a Republican perspective focused on recreating 2004, this type of rhetoric is potentially a crowd winner in almost all of the states they already carry, a useful way of appealing in some of the states Democrats just barely won, and largely alienating only to voters in states they had little to no chance of winning.

Of course, that was now over a decade ago – the electoral map has changed. 2004’s returns haven’t appeared to be a lasting condition, so much as a snapshot of where the country was at that moment. The greater continuities in voting patterns – easily observed through the 1990s and into the Obama years – suggests a greater uphill battle for Republicans in the Midwest than 2004 alone might imply. What’s more, in New Hampshire, Maine, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, the developmental growth from the Boston-Washington corridor (now, the Acela Corridor) has made them more likely to see disparagement of the northeast as including them. A regionalist tone today might win some voters over in Midwestern states, but it’s risking even more for a less certain gain.

Beyond that changing calculation of risk, it fails to recognize the emergence of new voting patterns in states that Republicans won in 2004 (and would count on winning under a regionalist strategy). Throughout the southwest and in Florida, Latin@s have emerged as a key constituency, and in Florida and Colorado particularly, new voting dynamics have cropped up among White voters as well. Negative talk about other parts of the country might change some of those voters minds, but policies on immigration and economics are attracting them to the Democrats over Republicans in a way that talk about coastal eggheads is unlikely to challenge.

Jesus-land-1

Remember these maps? Obama won seven of those red states in both elections. Not exactly lasting.

A core part of the argument laid out in What’s the Matter with Kansas? and several other looks at the increasing regionalism and anti-elitism in conservative politics is how they collapse those two issues. In that book and others, what’s presented is a bait-and-switch. Kansans (and others) who are angry for the systemic poverty they either can’t escape or live in perpetual fear of, are told it’s the fault of some “coastal elites” or “effete cultural elitists.”

Misdirected, Kansans and others from “the heartland” end up putting at least some of their energy into fighting symbolic cultural issues, burning off their populist anger doing something that doesn’t directly address their problems. It also propels Republicans into office with popular support in spite of them holding what are typically deeply unpopular economic policies.

What that often overlooks is that what one of the effects of that strategy is that it sets neglected and impoverished people from some parts of the country (Kansas, far from anything like a coastal elite, is the quintessence of that) at odds with the millions of other people in poverty, who often fight to keep the Democratic Party’s agenda focused squarely on feasible economic redistribution.

Ultimately, dividing the country against itself is incredibly effective at preventing collective action to address economic inequalities (as well as their various social dimensions). But being elected is, itself, a collective action. Doing everything possible to tear up a notion of shared goals if not outright community between the “Kansans” and others motivated by their lack of economic security isn’t a strategy that seeks to maintain a cohesive national politics. Among other things, that means that there are no more national elections – there’s and election in one US and an election in another – and it’s increasingly difficult to win both. Are Republicans really sure they want to set that challenge for themselves?

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Who are these people again?

I wrote earlier today that I was going to pull up the floorboards trying to disprove my own perception that the rebellious factions within the GOP aren’t all that ideologically distinctive. The past couple of hours I’ve been pouring over census data, political reports, and even looking into the rough outlines of every current House members’ history in office. To spoil the findings, if there’s any ideological splint happening here between Republicans, it is deeply hidden.

To give an indication of how a markedly more conservative slice of the contemporary GOP (the “suicide caucus”) has evolved into a less ideologically remarkable portion of the broader Republican Party, I looked at who within that group has stayed a member of these agitating groups within the GOP. Here’s a look at the original set of districts whose representative signed on to that original letter asking the Republican leadership to threaten a shutdown:

pvi_romney_marginAs you can maybe work out, the horizontal axis is the score given those districts in the 2014 Cook’s Political Report. Built off of a variety of political factors, including election results from several years, it roughly predicts the ease of a Republican or Democratic win in a district (with Republican leaning values here treated as positive, Democratic leaning ones as negative). The vertical axis is the margin by which Romney won (or if negative – lost) that given district. Unsurprisingly, the two have a rough correspondence. Within that splash, however, the seventeen steadfast representatives who are members of the Freedom Caucus and signatories in both 2013 and 2015 letters urging a Republican shutdown are marked with a C above their district’s dot. The newcomer representatives who signed the most recent letter and are members of the Freedom Caucus but couldn’t have signed the earlier letter since they are freshmen representatives have an F above their district’s dot. Representatives that may be unannounced members of the secretive caucus but have signed both letters are marked with a D.

If there are ideological forces at work, they appear to be complex, with both more centrist and more extreme districts appearing to have less proportionate weight in the smaller, more persistent faction. With many saying that the districts that produce Freedom Caucus Republicans aren’t significantly different from other Republican-electing districts, it seems that this says more about all Republican districts and their divergent demographics and ideas from the electoral majority in the US. This doesn’t exactly lend credence to interpreting this new faction as uniquely un-ideological in its contentious fight with the Republican Party leadership, but it certainly fails to suggest an ideological component to the division.

What appears to be a vastly better indicator for who’s in which camp among the House Republicans is what year they were elected in. Below is a set of charts that advance from the core seventeen representatives, to that group plus their newly arrived freshmen caucus members as well as signatories who haven’t been announced (yet?) as Freedom Caucus members, to any House Republican who participated in any of these campaigns, to the broader House Republican Party Caucus.

gop_factions_house_topAs you can see, the cohort of Republicans elected in either the 2012 election or a special election held after that one but before the 2014 midterms balloon from a middling fourteen percent of Republicans into an undoubted majority of the representatives upending the legislative process from within the Republican Party. Pre-Obama era Republicans shrink into nonexistence the further you reach into those types of Republican congressional circles. What’s interesting is that this is not only observable as the group that has largely created these rebellions within their party, but it’s almost every single Republican elected during that time frame who has rejected the leadership’s standard process and standard bearers.

parliamentary_analysis_factional_gopIf these really were functionally three separate parties vying within the House for a parliamentary-style majority, you would think there would be some Republicans supportive of their own party elected within that time period. Instead, it looks like there really is a seniority-motivated revolt happening. The Republicans involved in these almost splintering factions have become increasingly vocal that they hope to change procedures in the House in order not necessarily to advance substantively different policies but to more easily advance their projects and personal takes on those shared ideas. This is a group of Republicans looking to advance out of legislative childhood (unlike the less rebellious freshmen elected in the 2014 midterms or later, maybe they are still too young). As a country, our financial status and political process have been caught up in a collective tantrum, born out of a professional adolescence.

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A tale of two Republicans

Kevin McCarthy, the first among many Republicans to be considered as a replacement Speaker of the House, has seen a new, formidable challenger appear: central Florida congressional representative Daniel Webster. Previously one of the leading contenders to unseat Boehner at the start of the current congressional term, Webster has again captured the attention of many in the most conservative Republicans with calls for less Party oversight in bringing bills forward and other legislative actions. In the wake of that, he has earned the endorsement of the Freedom Caucus – the closest bloc within the House to a third party.

A key thing to note within this process is that this borderline rogue faction within the House is not only approaching this with more preparation than ever before, but also hasn’t selected one of their own. As some have pointed out, Webster is virtually identical to McCarthy on policy, and his main criticism of the Republican Party is about its leadership and structural organization, not policy outcomes. I’ve pulled together a list here of recent and major assessments on a variety of issues to show just how similar their political perspectives are:

Rankings and Assessments

Assessing Organization Kevin McCarthy (GOP CA-23) Daniel Webster (GOP FL-08)
NARAL Pro-Choice America (2014) 0% 0%
National Right to Life Committee (2014) 100% 100%
Planned Parenthood Action Fund (2014) 0% 0%
American Farm Bureau Federation (2014) 50% 50%
Food Policy Action (2014) 17% 11%
American Farm Bureau Federation (2014) 50% 50%
American Library Association (2013) 22% 22%
Gun Owners of America (2014) 80% 80%
Hispanic Federation National Immigration Scorecard (2014) 59% 59%
Human Rights Campaign (2014) 0% 0%
American Family Association (2014) 75% 75%
Christian Coalition of America (2014) 90% 90%
FRC Action (2014) 75% 75%
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (2014) 36% 36%
Federally Employed Women (2014) 30% 30%
Concerned Women for America (2013) 92% 91%
American Civil Liberties Union (2013-2014) 0% 0%
AFL-CIO (2014) 0% 9%
John Birch Society (2014) 50% 60%
Peace Action West (2014) 9% 16%
Center for Security Policy (2013-2014) 9% 16%
Bread for the World (2013) 30% 20%
Drum Major Institute (2012) 7% 14%
Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law (2014) 25% 20%
Competitive Enterprise Institute (2014) 100 100
FreedomWorks (2014) 52% 62%
National Taxpayers Union (2013) 68% 74%
Alliance for Retired Americans (2014) 10% 11%
National Education Association (2013) 0% 0%
NumbersUSA (2013-2015) 50% 93%
NumbersUSA (2011-2012) 57% 57%
American Immigrant Lawyers Association (2014) 33% 33%

(Sources: here and here.)

To a large extent, this makes sense when you think of McCarthy and Webster as products of their districts. Both presided over largely non-Hispanic White and comparatively rural sections of far more racially diverse and urbanized states. The leading industries of agriculture and tourism have become economically and socially invested in the presence of other ethnic and racial communities, particularly non-White Latin@s, for labor. As a result, they fall into a conservative business-minded fold of the Republican Party – in favor of a light approach towards immigration but not necessarily citizenship and amnesty for undocumented people. McCarthy’s district has a deeper structural basis in immigration workers and so he has been less able to tap into increasing anti-immigrant rhetoric the way Webster has in recent years. That shows in their diverging scores from NumbersUSA in recent years. That said, when it comes to organizations that care about the nuts and bolts of immigration policy, they’ve been given largely identical rankings.

What’s more, on virtually every other issue, they fall together – in favor of most military activities, of strict policing, restrictions on abortion, and restrictive definitions of marriage. All of that’s reflective of the largely non-urban, White, and middle class nature of their standard voter. Related to all that, the sizable presence of national industries like agriculture and tourism in their districts encourages them to hold a specific type of economic policy perspective. It’s one about maximizing profits within the existing economy, not radically restructuring the economy into a more ideologically conservative model.

All that said, McCarthy has failed to gain the support of the Freedom Caucus and most likely many unaligned House members who are similarly invested in a hyper-conservative outlook distinct from his and Boehner’s. Webster, equally an outsider to that faction, simultaneously has. He’s one that more conservative parts of the party believe they can effectively advance their policies under, largely because of his ideas on how to differently run the House. More than revealing something about Webster, this suggests something about the Freedom Caucus. For all their policy disagreements and protests, they have cast their lot in with the Republican Party and decided that they are Republicans after all. They will foment a fight within the party to decide how it will be run with clear hopes for how a different structure might allow different ideas to come out on top within the party. That said, they have decided to fight within the party, not against it.

As I’ve written before, the factionalism within the current Republican Party often leads to all of the uncertainties and instabilities of a more-than-two-party system but with all of the policy discussions third parties bring up being directly or discretely discussed. This is exactly that dynamic at work – a few opinion pieces from Freedom Caucus supporters have hinted at what policies exactly they want instead of those personally put forward by Webster, but a broader public analysis of how that group of Republicans differ from other groups hasn’t really happened even within conservative media circles. We have a House of Representatives that’s increasingly divided into factions that the average voter won’t be informed of. That doesn’t inspire confidence in our ability to make a decision about which groups we support and vote for.

The featured image for this article comes from here.

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Decoding dogwhistles

Trigger warning: racism, anti-immigrant violence, deportation, police violence, ethnic cleansing

On Tuesday, Donald Trump became frustrated at a press conference. To journalist and eight-time Emmy Award winner Jorge Ramos, Trump responded to a line of questioning about how on earth he was going to deport millions of undocumented people by saying, “Go back to Univision.” In case the thinly veiled language is able to pass you by undetected, one of Trump’s supporters confronted Ramos after he was expelled from the event and made it even more explicit.

“Get out of my country, get out.”

Donald Trump himself did say “Univision”, a Spanish language news network based in the United States, but the implications of it, that Ramos did not belong in the room, were heard loud and clear and seized on almost immediately by someone less able or willing to hide the nature of what was being discussed. That slipping of the curtain behind what Trump said and what others correctly heard him mean is not only a confirmation that “dogwhistling” – the use of subtle language to indicate support for unpopular and extremist groups – will continue to be a key part of the Republican presidential primary, but also a confirmation of what many had already suspected about the specifics of the anti-immigration animus currently propping up Donald Trump.

Jorge Ramos is a US citizen. While he was born in Mexico, he immigrated at the age of twenty-four with a legal student visa. The following thirty-three years of his life, he has lived in the United States first on that visa and later as a naturalized citizen. Whatever political stance you take on undocumented immigration isn’t a stance that at least personally implicates him, and yet, the language ultimately used to dismiss him is identical to that used against undocumented people. That’s because, for all the bluster about legality and criminality, Donald Trump’s campaign doesn’t care about documentation of immigration, they care about immigration, full stop.

In hindsight, this is obvious. In his announcement that he was running, Trump famously spoke with open hostility towards undocumented immigrants from Mexico, stating they were intrinsically criminal people guilty of not only failing to obey immigration laws but also habitually engage in various violent crimes. His description actually doesn’t connect what he sees as an anti-social nature among those immigrant communities to their undocumented status, but rather their national origin. “Mexico sends” them, is how he put it – technically including legally documented Latin@ immigrants like Ramos, who left his birth country after facing pushback for critical coverage of the Mexican government. While the focus is on what’s possible policy-wise to do towards the undocumented, the political desire clearly expressed targets all immigrants regardless of documentation status.

The anti-immigrant politics defining Trump’s campaign only become more obvious from there. The first of his rallies to attract the size of crowd first associated with Bernie Sander’s populist rhetoric was in Mobile, Alabama, where he appeared on stage with Senator Jeff Sessions. His host has previously used his weight in the Senate to upend proposals about legal immigration – essentially he’s opposed to immigration in any form. Trump has added him to his team specifically to design immigration policy for him. Tellingly, this is what the crowd that greeted the two of them in Alabama looked like:

trump in mobileFrom here.

Alabama is in many ways not just the type of place where Trump draws the largest support but also the kind of population that Trump wants to create with the policy of all undocumented people being “returned”. Years of anti-immigrant policies culminated in Alabama in 2011 with the passage of a strict profiling-encouraging law inspired by an Arizonan forerunner. As many news outlets noted at the time, one of the most immediate impacts on Alabama was that many neighborhoods were in essence ethnically cleansed. As the New York Times put it –

“By Monday afternoon, 123 students had withdrawn from the schools in [Albertville, Alabama], leaving behind teary and confused classmates. Scores more were absent. Statewide, 1,988 Hispanic students were absent on Friday, about 5 percent of the entire Hispanic population of the school system.

John Weathers, an Albertville businessman who rents and has sold houses to many Hispanic residents, said his occupancy had suddenly dropped by a quarter and might drop further, depending on what happens in the next week. Two people who had paid off their mortgages called him asking if they could sell back their homes

[…]

Rumors of raids and roadblocks are rampant, and though the new law has nothing to say about such things, distrust is primed by anecdotes, like one told by a local Hispanic pastor who said he was pulled over outside Birmingham on Wednesday, within hours of the ruling. His friend who was driving — and who is in the United States illegally — is now in jail on an unrelated misdemeanor charge, the pastor said, adding that while he was let go, a policeman told him he was no longer welcome in Alabama.

‘I am afraid to drive to church,’ a 54-year-old poultry plant worker named Candelaria said, adding, ‘The lady that gives me a ride to work said she is leaving. She said she felt like a prisoner.'”

For many this is perhaps a not terribly revealing moment, but this marks an opening in which the motivations behind policy are being revealed, making them visible for some for the first time. What Donald Trump is running is at its core an anti-immigrant campaign that is built to validate what was said to Jorge Ramos – that this is a White person’s country and not his. The basic idea that Trump’s campaign sells is that Ramos shouldn’t feel entitled to ask questions as a journalist, that Latin@ people shouldn’t feel entitled to drive or go to school otherwise exist in the US publicly, that Candelaria shouldn’t feel entitled to go to church. The targeting of the undocumented for deportation is just the most visibly violent part of the system he’s trying to set up.

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This ain’t a scene: Trump and the spectacle

Earlier this week, Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the Republican Presidential Nomination in 2016. This is hardly the first time he’s stated his interest in holding that position and even stated he was running, but his official, public announcement on Tuesday earlier this week goes beyond prior runs. More than new for Trump, as Rachel Maddow pointed out for instance, this is something of a reflection of the brave new world of the Republican Party. In a not entirely positive way, Trump is groundbreaking for his use of paid actors to pack his announcement site. Maddow herself hints at the open question of what this means even as she traces Trump’s rising visibility within Republican circles and the growing encouragement of that by those circles.

2015-06-18_1917
At the announcement, from here.

That history is actually much longer and detailed that Maddow can (or probably wants to) delve into. There’s echoes in Trump’s crowd-for-hire of Mitt Romney’s personally circulated, photoshopped image of supporting crowds in Nevada. Trump himself stands as a figure that perfectly exemplifies the glossy, image-conscious branding with minimal basis in reality that is increasingly powerful within the Republican Party. That said, he’s only a symbol for the underlying trend – that has played out in increasingly narrower demographic appeals and more extensive grandstanding for decades now.

At first glance, that broader trend is somewhat baffling. How does overstating popular support create popular support to win elections? But that assumes that winning elections is even the goal. It’s become almost a perennial punchline in Republican jokes to note that they don’t seem interested in governing. Perhaps they actually aren’t. That’s possibly the outcome of the anti-government ethos that has become at least rhetorically dominant in the party in the past decades. In the name of that, Republican government official have held up non-governmental work as superior and pushed policy designed to encourage the development of an ultra-rich socio-economic class freed of social expectations. Those are the true beneficiaries of Republican political rule – not, at least to the same degree, the (typically similarly wealthy) members of the same class who decided to run for office and (apparently regrettably) won.

The false image of significant popular support is a salve for both candidates and their potentially quite vanishingly rare supporters. That only makes the loss all the more bittersweet and their subsequent appearances as commentators in partisan-affiliated media all the more filtered through supposedly righteous indignation. In short, this is an emotional production. It’s about maintaining face among candidates by carving out a paradoxically commoner politician, at once a voice of the people and silenced loner. That candidate attracted so much attention and yet couldn’t quite assail against something unassailable, maybe the liberal media? For Republican voters, it’s a similar deal. This crafts a figure they can declare it only “common sense” to support and yet have him be also simultaneously overwhelmingly unsupported. It’s security and thrill, normalcy and specialness. Having your cake and eating it too.

The only problem is, maintaining all those confusing contradictions means giving up some other uses of the democratic process, most notably electability, governance, and responsibility.

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David Frum – now extra ridiculous

The always intriguing Alex Pareene has a lengthy piece up on David Frum’s twin articles from the past month (one about how Ted Cruz could ostensibly become the Republican nominee for the presidency in 2016 and another about how he could then win a general election). Pareene seems to be doing two things in his look into Frum’s head – correcting the more egregious errors (like the plainly inaccurate levels of turnout in past elections he references), but also probing for what the hidden message for Democrats.

Pareene’s answer is a thoughtful look at how delusionally certain Frum is that Democrats “playing” the class card would wreck their chances for the White House in 2016. But he seems to be operating with the assumption that the intended audience for these pieces are Democrats, liberals, progressives, or some other faction in opposition to the GOP coalition.


(Where these columns make sense though, from here.)

It’s a common refrain on the right that the US is a center-right country, so even when writing for the Daily Beast, I don’t think it’s out of the question to consider that Frum might be talking to his political compatriots or just voicing an opinion for his own pleasure of seeing it in print. Taking that approach, of his latter article especially being more of a fantasy for Republicans than a warning to Democrats, there’s something else to be learned from it.

In between the relatively thoughtlessly strung together happenstances that Frum envisions as launching Cruz to the White House, there’s a lot of chestnuts. He says that Ted Cruz could on Spanish language television, in English, “This is America. We obey the law. People who can’t deal with that don’t belong here” and yet not motivate much of the Latin@ electorate to vote against such a hostile take on the issue of undocumented immigration. He has Cruz also simultaneously liberated from conventional fundraising avenues for conservatives (by “angel” donors) but without even a trace of being beholden to either those bankrollers or his conservative base, in terms of what he could run on.

Throughout both pieces there’s an implicit longing for a past formula to suddenly become feasible again. In the first, Frum writes,

“The plan [for Cruz’s ascendancy to the GOP nomination] is obvious enough: to emerge as the next acknowledged political leader of American conservatism in the apostolic succession that begins with Robert Taft, continued through Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp, and has had no agreed successor since Newt Gingrich’s retirement from Congress in 1998.”

In case that conspicuous absence at the end there isn’t obvious enough, there’s this gem from the second piece: “Cruz delivered half his convention speech in Spanish and used the other half to rededicate the party to “the compassion of conservatism,” a subtle variant of an old phrase that delighted convention delegates.” Yes, what Frum really seems to want is to reinvent the second Bush administration’s political hallmarks and structures.

In short, all this recent writing reads like an escapist fantasy. In it, in Frum’s own words, a president can win with “the vaguest platform” and the “most issue-free campaign” in immediate memory. It’s basically a push-button presidency, where Cruz simply… wins because the Democrats are divided, the electorate is more White, and US voters aren’t swayed by arguments for economic equality. The imagined world that Frum seems to deeply want is one where Republicans win because why not. It’s important to realize how unrealistic that is, however, and how rooted that is in view what were actually historical exceptions (like the 1984 presidential election) as the norm.

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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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Uncivil War

TW: “suicide” as a metaphor

So the federal government shutdown is now more than a week old, with seemingly no end in sight, and honestly, why should we expect there to be any such thing? As Ryan Lizza explained with liberal references to extremist Republicans as “suicidal” in the New York Times:

As with Meadows [the House member who popularized the idea of a shutdown], the other [pro-shutdown]-caucus members live in places where the national election results seem like an anomaly. Obama defeated Romney by four points nationally. But in the eighty suicide-caucus districts, Obama lost to Romney by an average of twenty-three points. The Republican members themselves did even better. In these eighty districts, the average margin of victory for the Republican candidate was thirty-four points.

In short, these eighty members represent an America where the population is getting whiter, where there are few major cities, where Obama lost the last election in a landslide, and where the Republican Party is becoming more dominant and more popular. Meanwhile, in national politics, each of these trends is actually reversed.

Lizza points to a less metaphorically troubling article but more condescending one by Charlie Cook at the National Journal, where he detailed the situation:

Between 2000 and 2010, the non-Hispanic white share of the population fell from 69 percent to 64 percent, closely tracking the 5-point drop in the white share of the electorate measured by exit polls between 2004 and 2012. But after the post-census redistricting and the 2012 elections, the non-Hispanic white share of the average Republican House district jumped from 73 percent to 75 percent, and the average Democratic House district declined from 52 percent white to 51 percent white. In other words, while the country continues to grow more racially diverse, the average Republican district continues to get even whiter.

As Congress has become more polarized along party lines, it’s become more racially polarized, too. In 2000, House Republicans represented 59 percent of all white U.S. residents and 40 percent of all nonwhite residents. But today, they represent 63 percent of all whites and just 38 percent of all nonwhites. In 2012 alone, Republicans lost 11.2 million constituents to Democrats (a consequence of not only the party’s loss of a net eight House seats but also the fact GOP districts had grown faster in the previous decade and needed to shed more population during redistricting). Of the 11.2 million people Republicans no longer represent, 6.6 million, or 59 percent, are minorities.

Now, if you had to come up with a word for this, gerrymander would probably be the first off of your tongue (and it was the first off of Cook’s and Lizza’s), but examine the racial politics here for a second longer – what Republicans have essentially created a distinctive portion of the country and now feel entitled to allow its politics to dictate the entire country’s. Or should I say countries’? Is this a bit of covert secession, complete with the expectation that comparatively urban as well as racially and regionally diverse populations will kowtow to rural, White, and predominantly Southern interests?


(The Republican-catering media knows what the Zeitgeist is for that part of the country, from here. And yes, Drudge used the 2008 electoral college map in a story from 2012.)

Much like before the first US Civil War, the interests and political solutions touted by different populations have been aligned with different political parties, different classes, and even different regions. For some time now, we’ve been in a time of divergence. The shutdown is just another installation of that, and it’s just the sort of thing that can’t “run its course”, because it has so much historical and political momentum.

In a very scary sense, that’s what might have begun now more than a week ago. The most extreme Republicans have fashioned a miniature country within the US of their own likeness out of odds and ends. With more and more people of color living in this country and more and more Whites at the least being less enthusiastic about this near-exclusively White political coalition, however, they’ve had to scribble together all sorts of unusual districts to make it work, for just 80 seats in the House.

The trade off there may be a part of our saving grace, since there’s no clear center of operations for a secessionist movement to coalesce around. Still, that seems to have been replaced with battle lines drawn through 32 states instead of between them.

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The spectacle should be a scandal

One thing that’s become clear in the past few days is how effectively the Republican Party manages its image, in comparison to the Democrats. Just earlier today, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) gave a quick response to his meeting with various political leaders in Washington as the House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) gave their own remarks. Boehner’s words rolled off his tongue from sentence to sentence with an ease that’s only possible to interpret as a prepared speech. It had nothing to do with their meeting, admittedly, since it recast the entire shut down in unusual terms (that is, as the Democrats’ fault for not repealing obamacare and otherwise supporting Republican policy). In contrast, while Pelosi and Reid were quick witted and explained their alternative perspective well, it wasn’t a prepared speech.

That difference is admittedly not the most important thing to pick up on today, with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) stating that they can’t implement their seasonal flu vaccine, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) being unable to even start responding to the massive oil spill within the Colorado floods and mudslides, and the nutritional supplements for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) having only twelve more days of funding to keep food on some households’ tables. That said, it’s a revealing microcosm of the shutdown as a whole: Democrats are talking about what’s happening, while Republicans are stuck in an abstract soup of political philosophy and self advertisement.


(Republican congressman assisting veterans enter the WWII memorial that they voted to close, from here.)

Another flashpoint of that same crash between the truth and the GOP spectacle was the forced entry to the WWII memorial by veterans of that war accompanied by Republican congressman who had voted in place the barriers that they helped veterans move around. The truth is that they’re selectively responding to the fallout of the crisis they helped create, but the image is one of nationalist sentiment and the values Republicans tell themselves they have.

Did we finally hit a place where the Republican vision of the world and themselves is so disastrously at odds with what’s happening that it begins to cave in? Or can Boehner and others rehearse speeches nice enough and create photo ops stirring enough that they can reject reality and substitute their own?

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