Monday, August 24, 2015

Conservative Pundits Are Being Willfully Blind About Trump

Trump Rally In The Matrix ... 
One of the most startling aspects of the Trump phenomena has been watching various observers on the right look for blame as The Donald crushes yet another poll or holds yet another mega-rally. The stages of blame evolved like this:
  1. Donald Trump. An easy call. He's certainly the guy who said "Someone's doing the raping"--today that seems like a quaint roadblock to winning Latino votes in 2016. However ... anyone could just come out and say stuff like that--in order for Trump to be leading the national vote for the past month there needs to be a second factor . . .
  2. A Minority of Idiot Voters. Here things get tricky. When Trump was at like 13% and neck-and-neck with Bush and Walker--and trailing Bush in Florida and Walker in Iowa--it was easy to say that it was a marginalized swath of idiots who were having a lark or a summer-fling. That lasts for a while--but when Trump broke away in Iowa and now runs even with Jeb in Florida--and is pulling close to 30% (and above in some cases) in national polls the problem ceases to be a small group and becomes more like . . . 
  3. The GOP Base. By the time you have reached 30% Likely Voters you are no longer in the small-group-of-malcontents. At this point you have to recognize that Trump is winning support across a large band from conservatives ... to moderates . . . to squishy liberal RINOs?  His voter base isn't limited to one of the traditional three legs (national defense, evangelical, or fiscal conservatism)--Trump pulls from everywhere. This is when you start seeing debates about how to "approach these people"--i.e. pleas not to insult them--we'll need them! At this point it's time to blame . . .
  4. Obama. He's got us all so demoralized and degraded that even stalwart red-blooded Americans are going "What the fuck? Why not Trump."* 

Noah Rothman moves to Stage 4 in a Commentary piece entitled "The Joke's On Us"
Many of those blinkered political commenters who allowed themselves to be swept up in the diaphanous hysteria that resulted in Barack Obama’s presidency convinced themselves that he was a change agent of divine wisdom. A “lightworker,” as the San Francisco Gate’s Mark Morford called him. They said Obama would restore America’s faith in the United States, in government in general, and even in ourselves. “That campaign restored a faith in politics that most of us thought we had lost,” gushed The Hill’s Niall Stanage. “America has restored the world’s faith in its ideals,” The Guardian averred without evidence. Seven years later, it’s clear that the effects of Obama’s presidency have not been to restore but to sap faith in the American system. We have so little reverence for the order bequeathed to us by the nation’s enlightened founding generation, in fact, that we deface it with adolescent acts of directionless defiance.
It's deliciously ironic that Noah's piece, tracing the current clown-show to Obama, commits the same mistake that got us here in the first place (here you can see the Washington Examiner finding Trump 'Like Obama Where It Counts--vain and naive).

The Problem: Trump Is Legit Appealing To the GOP Base

A quick look at Vox's smarmy "The Republican Party doesn't want to believe its voters agree with Trump. But they do is in order. This kind of basic analysis focuses on healthcare and immigration 'reform' -- and while Vox is right: a lot of people seem to want a decent entitlement state with tight border enforcement -- this elides the problem that Trump is not just a stalwart immigration reformist who also believes in the Great Society Social Programs. No, Trump is a bomb-thrower.

Let's ask Peter Wehner who wrote back in the day (May 23 2015) that the Democrats had become a radical leftist party, risking some kind of ideological roche limit in their hysterical flight from the center:
Progressive figures like Senator Elizabeth Warren and Mayor Bill de Blasio are the politicians who electrify the Democratic base. 
For demographic reasons, many Democrats believe that they are riding a tide of presidential inevitability. They may want to rethink that. They are placing a very risky bet that there are virtually no limits to how far left they can go.
A few days ago, we check back in on Mr. Wehner writing in Politico about the 2016 Republican candidates' positions on repeal of birthright citizenship:
“It’s a terrible idea. It’s a politically insane idea. It can’t be done. It’s impossible to achieve,” said Peter Wehner, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and former official in the George W. Bush White House. “So what’s the point? It’s symbolism and it’s exactly the wrong kind of symbolism. If Republicans want to make this their symbol … they’ll pay a high price for it.”
Pete: Check your Twitter Mentions--The Omnivore wants desperately to find out how the Democrats went from the champions of radical politics to having the Republicans do something terrible and insane--and, erm, impossible? We Need To Figure This Out!!

No, the staid analysis of Vox hinges on the policy positions at 50,000 feet. The policy positions--which are, yes, more or less impossible--aren't the point. The point is the bomb throwing. This is why Stage 3 is so tricky: If you can't get to Stage 4 (Blame Obama) you have to look at some very ugly potential scenarios. Let's do that (The Omnivore is sure Pete will read this!)

The Third Rail Scenarios 

In the New York Subway system the third rail is the one that has the electrical power for the car. If you touch it, you die. Rhetorically, a "third rail" is something that's too toxic to discuss or too disturbing to think about. In this context, for political purposes, it's realizing "your side" has a very deep and horrifyingly obvious problem. Here Hot Air's Jazz Shaw flirts with the third rail when, on August 7th (ancient history now) he observes:
Returning to the point I originally set out to make, our candidates aren’t just flummoxed by how to gain traction and get ahead of Trump in the polls. They seem to be failing an even bigger test when the media inevitably comes to them and asks why Trump is doing so well. Many respond by saying that Trump is just a celebrity and we’re a nation of folks who are fascinated by celebrities. But he’s leading in polls of people who are both registered Republicans and likely voters. These are the most involved, informed voters in the nation. When you do this you’re basically telling your base that they are vacuous consumers of brain numbing TV pablum. That’s really no way to win over the base, folks.
Yeah--you don't want to think about this too much--but maybe we'd better. When asking how is Trump winning when he's saying absurd, destructive things, there are three possibilities::
  1. Trump's appeal is solely a protest vote: a significant amount of his support comes because voters are sending a calculated message to the GOP Establishment that they are unhappy. They will settle down and vote Scott Walker when the time comes.
  2. The GOP--even the college educated swath--are what would be described as "Low Information Voters" (the kind that naively handed 2008 and 2012 to Obama)--this is the David Brooks / George Will position).
  3. Trump voters are neither playing a deceptive game nor are not-paying-attention--but instead, across a large swath of the GOP electorate identify not only with what Trump is saying it--but the way he is saying it. The GOP, in practical terms (judged by selected candidate), is a White Nationalist party which selects delusional policy positions and school-yard insults as rhetoric.

Scenario 1: Trump Support is a Calculated Choice

Image Search: "Political Calculator"
In this scenario a very large number of people, without coordination, and without declaring this on social media, have made the decision to pretend to support Donald Trump until, say, November (or something) in order to register their anger and dissatisfaction with the GOP Establishment. In this (comforting) scenario, people are 'righteously angry' but are not insane. When the time comes, they will revert back to a more reasonable candidate (Walker, Rubio, Cruz?) and choose someone who won't wreck the nation.

If this were the case, what would we see? Well, for one thing, we'd see people saying it--a lot. People leak. Yes: sending a message won't work if you telegraph that you're not serious--but for literally millions of people in the Trump-Voter demographic, some of them would be talking.

However, if you don't buy that (or you can accept that some kind of mass emergent behavior of deception could happen) there's another couple of testable metrics:
  1. First and Second Choice Polling: In this kind of polling, voters are asked who their first choice is--and then their second. In the event of a conspiracy of Trumping, we would see something like Trump-First and then Rubio second. What do we see? Trump first. Trump second. Trump leads in first at 24% and leads in second at 14%. Furthermore Jeb trails the first-choice at 13%. If people were looking to "send a message" to the GOP Establishment, this is not the way to do it.
  2. Who Do You THINK Will Win Polling: In this event, voters are asked who they THINK will win the nomination--NOT who-they-are-voting-for. This test would tend to get around a strategic protest candidate because a lot of people who are not part of the protest movement will say who they think is the strongest. What do we see? Trump.
Anyone who tells themselves that the support for Donald Trump is a somewhat disingenuous attempt to shake up the elite without breaking politics altogether should be aware that this is not what the numbers say.

Scenario 2: American Idiots -- Trump Voters Are Dumb

The Omnivore Wanted Something That Wasn't Green Day--And While You've All Seen This Already, There's Nothing Better ...
In this formulation, Trump voters are just dumb. Trump is appealing to the lowest common denominator and, hey, there's one in every political party (and some parties are nothing but, right?). This is less comforting than Scenario 1--but far, far better than Scenario 3. The usual balm here is that the Base is angry--and, yes, angry people sometimes do stupid things.

The problem with this theory on the face of it is:
  1. Angry people do stupid things in the heat of the moment. Not years after an election or a failure to repeal Obamacare.
  2. Trump draws support from, according to polling, educated and moderate-liberal demographics. These people are presumably not Low Information Voters and are not politically stupid. 
  3. The GOP Field is supposed to be giving us the strongest group in any recent history. So many good choices! So many real conservatives!
Paul Mirengoff at PowerLine puts all this properly in perspective:
Anger is an understandable reaction to the current political scene, but it’s no excuse for stupidity. 
Yes, Republicans as a party haven’t fulfilled expectations when it comes to advancing a conservative agenda. But at least they didn’t enact a Canadian-style single payer health care system (which is what the Democrats have always wanted) or impose massive tax increases on the wealthy. Trump, as noted, favored both of these core liberal agenda items. 
And why assume that all 16 of Trump’s GOP rivals are to blame for the failure of Republicans to push a conservative agenda through Congress? Is Scott Walker guilty? He successfully took on the powerful public sector unions in Wisconsin when Trump was trying still trying to decide whether he’s a liberal or a conservative. 
Is Ted Cruz guilty? In an attempt to undo Obamacare, he orchestrated a partial government shutdown. What else do Trump supporters think he should have done, engage in self-immolation? 
What about Bobby Jindal? How is he to blame for Republicans “not doing what they said they would do” when they got to Washington? 
Prefer the false purity that comes with never having held public office? What’s wrong with Ben Carson? Unlike Trump, he has a consistent record of supporting conservative principles.
This is a very, very good point: there are so many protest candidates in the field, why is everyone lining up behind the guy who probably fits the bill the worst? It has to be something else.

Scenario 3: The Comments Section Election

From The Brilliant Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal
One of the commonly stated bits of Internet self-care is never read the comments. This is because the comments section is always the anonymous-comment-driven dregs of verbiage with trolls, counter trolls, counter-counter-trolls, legitimate idiots (all of whom feel self-important enough to post), and so on. Comments sections are often a horrible view into the American Id.

Blog authors--and in this case, since, you know, Trump, we'll focus on conservative blog authors--have learned to distance themselves from their comments sections. Oh, to be sure, they look at them (don't let anyone tell you otherwise). When they see a deluge of toxic sludge the assure themselves:
  • It's a tiny, non-representative sample of idiots. 
  • Or one idiot with sixteen different screen-names.
  • It's the nature of the Internet for people to dial up the stupid or the crazy.
  • They don't really mean that.
  • Some of them are liberals posting caricatures of conservative view-points.
  • One of those assholes is probably actually Obama.
Trump's ascendancy, however, puts the lie to all of these.  

If you think you know what The Omnivore is going to say--that Donald Trump is essentially a conservative-blog comments section that has "gone SkyNet"--you are only half right. That's the joke version of the thesis. The rabbit hole goes much deeper. No--Trump is actually running a campaign that has a literal basis in the same drivers that create the online discourse known to be toxic.

It isn't literally the commentators who are electing Trump--no, it's the great silent-majority GOP Base masses--but the appeal of Trump--and his method of gaining support--is rooted in the same place that gives us FoxNewsComments. What does The Omnivore mean?

Online Comments discourse is impacted by two things: Lack of Accountability (usually due to anonymous posting or, at least, no direct easy real-world link to the poster), and a congruent Lack of Civility (the usual social morays around politeness go to the wayside when you aren't accountable). Donald Trump embodies both of these. He is not accountable to the usual social-gatekeepers (by virtue of what is technically known as "Fuck You Money" rather than anonymity)--and he is not remotely civil (he calls people babies as an insult).

From The Time's story on what may be an incredibly durable Trump coalition:
His support is not tethered to a single issue or sentiment: immigration, economic anxiety or an anti-establishment mood. Those factors may have created conditions for his candidacy to thrive, but his personality, celebrity and boldness, not merely his populism and policy stances, have let him take advantage of them.
Tellingly, when asked to explain support for Mr. Trump in their own words, voters of varying backgrounds used much the same language, calling him “ballsy” and saying they admired that he “tells it like it is” and relished how he “isn’t politically correct.
Trumpism, the data and interviews suggest, is an attitude, not an ideology.
Indeed it is--it is the attitude of telling #BlackLivesMatter to come try and take his microphone. It's refusing to back down on calling undocumented immigrants rapists--even after the ritual sponsor-collapse part of the equation. Trump's resolute refusal to apologize--even in the face of Armageddon**--and his willingness to sling fired-from-the-hip insults is the source of his power--it's the fulcrum of his appeal.

During the discussion of Trump's John-McCain-Gaffe ('gaffe') The Omnivore went to the comments sections of a few conservative blogs and contrasted the support there against the lack of it. It was notable that just about every actual blogger--conservative or otherwise--was of the opinion that the gaff could be (would be--and in some cases--should be) fatal. The comments sections, on the other hand? Overwhelming support for Mr. Trump.

The Omnivore was told, by several people, that, of course, The Comments Sections don't mean anything--statistically speaking--but The Omnivore already knew that--what he was looking at was this: The Comments Sections reflect--are driven by the same underlying forces--as the Trump constituency. 

In other words: if you are a conservative blogger who has ever looked in askance at the worst excesses of the responses to your articles? If you dismissed those guys? It's time to stop doing that: they're about to hand the primary over to Donald Trump in the midst of what you, yourself, told them was the "strongest line up in modern times" and was "far stronger than the weak-ass corrupt-ass Democrats."

Yes--yes you did. And you believed it too. Square that with the fact that Bernie Sanders, the fucking communist***, isn't running away with the nomination. Trump, The Donald, is--or maybe is about to be.

Like millions of other Americans, I am a registered Republican. According to Timothy Egan, writing in yesterday’s New York Times, that makes me responsible for the vitriol and inanities currently being spewed by Donald Trump. Trump, writes Egan, “is a byproduct of all the toxic elements Republicans have thrown into their brew over the last decade or so.” Not some Republicans, mind you, but all Republicans including those who might disagree with Trump but have allowed “any amount of gaseous buffoonery [to go] … unchallenged.”
It is absurd to contend, as Egan does, that Donald Trump is a concoction of the Republican party. Trump is his own creation and if he succeeds in selling that creation as the Republican nominee for president of the United States (a prospect less likely than finding life on Pluto) I and many others predisposed to vote for a Republican may find ourselves voting for Hillary. Only then can we fairly be held accountable for the results.
Yeah--really Jim? Really? If you think this is Trump's doing alone, you're kidding yourself. The only thing that's becoming clear as this goes on is that you aren't fooling anyone else.

Updated: Here's a telling comment from Hot Air--
It’s interesting that I never see politicians or writers on the left call their base “racists”, “stupid”, “uneducated”, “unreasonably angry”, etc. 
When was the last time Obama called blacks “racists” ? When was the last time Pelosi called abortionists “murderers” ? 
Why is it that the GOPe feels that it can vilify us ?
jaime on August 24, 2015 at 10:50 PM

* It is unsporting--but important to note--that it was just before this that a lot of online commentators were shocked at the amount of racism in American nationalism and racists/white nationalists behind Trump. To everyone else, this was Gambling-In-The-Establishment, of course--but it really was a surprise to a bunch of these fellows.

** Ted Cruz's favorite super hero was Rorschach, a guy who would never compromise--not even in the face of Armageddon. Cruz aspires to this--but he did back down. Trump lives it.

*** The fact that Sanders isn't a communist--and isn't even the kind of socialist you paint him as (he's the Canadian kind--we know that Canada is a post-apocalypse wasteland of oil-sands, soccer riots, and draconian overlords).

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