And when chemotherapy fails, what’s left—Kryptonite?
There’s no easy cure for the cancer that is metastasizing in the Republican Party right now. As you may have read in more than a few opinion pieces, GOP presidential candidate and front runner Donald Trump is the natural end product of Republican behavior that began in the 1968 election, with Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy.”
It’s also been called “dog whistle” politics; its most identifiable characteristic being prejudice expressed as thinly disguised code. For example, justifying police brutality against people of color as “law and order.” Supposedly only a specific group can hear the true tenor of this pitch. Hence, the term dog whistle.
Trump has blown that strategy out of the water not by discarding it—and that’s the true pity—but by dispensing with the code. He speaks out loud, and in words of few syllables, what Republicans have whispered amongst themselves for the past half century.
Not that the rest of us were ever fooled. Trump simply dropped the decorum and hypocrisy when he declared his candidacy last June—saying of illegal Mexican immigrants, in part: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” And then, as he always does, he added a patronizing disclaimer that fools no one: “And some, I assume, are good people.”
That’s mighty white of you, Donald. Too bad your whole schtick fails fact-checking.
Trump claims to not be a politician, but he has mastered its most important technique: pumping up the base. The go-to skill for that is repeating your bullshit over and over again, until the people listening take it as truth.
He’s also mastered the classic “attack the messenger” and “answer a different question” strategies when confronted with accusations he can’t disprove. Like most other politicans running for president, he occupies an interviewer’s time just repeating his basic message.
On the other hand, what answer should any reporter expect when pointing out failure to a man who’s entire image is success? Certainly not the Burger King commercial with their mascot debating a politician. The politician admits his folly and failure with, “$1.49 for 10 nuggets? Pfffffffffffft”:
That, folks, will never happen with any modern politician, not even in a concession speech. It will certainly never happen with Donald J. Trump. He would claim even a landslide defeat as a victory. And I would pay to watch that!
The so-called Republican Establishment, and many pundits, seem to think that a Trump candidacy would apppoint Hillary Clinton to the presidency by default. And more, it be so disasterous downticket that the Republicans would lose their Senate majority as well.
I wish I could be so optimistic. (But don’t worry about the House of Representatives. It’s been gerrymandered to remain under Republican control into the next decade.)
If you can’t attack the questioner, then you win the argument by refusing to lose. You talk past any difficulties, and just keep talking.
For example: during this interview with George Stephanopoulos, Trump refuses to acknowledge that Trump University got a “D” from the Better Business Bureau. “No, that was changed to an A.”
Stephanopoulos: “Sir, I have it right in front of me. It’s a D.” (He was referring to Trump U.’s final BBB ratng. Now closed, T.U. has no rating at all.)
Trump: “Excuse me, we got an A.”
Stephanopoulos finally ends the interview, after granting Trump most of the five minutes to describe a different reality, where Trump U. gets an “A” and where—as we’ve heard so many times now—that the USA currently fails everywhere but will instead succeed everywhere when he’s President.
Candidates have used this technique forever, of course. What scares me is how well Trump does. He can sound like a Sunday preacher, even using call and response. “Who’s gonna pay for the wall?” “MEXICO!”
But not eveyone has gotten religion over him. My new favorite video has former Mexican president Vincente Fox telling an interviewer: “I’m not going to pay for that fucking wall!” Be sure to watch the interviewer’s face.
Trump’s response to that? “The wall just got ten feet higher.” He never misses an opportunity to up the ante. Or deny that the other guy just spoke the truth. Politicians do this all the time. Just keep repeating your lie until your opponent (or your audience) gives up calling you on it.
So what exactly is the chemotherapy that the GOP is trying on its cancer? Attack ads on its own front runner for the nomination. This sounds like the Vietnam strategy of “destroying the village in order to save it.”
They fell straight into a boxing mismatch. Some genius decided that their best fighter was the 2012 loser Mitt Romney, and he opened round one with what he imagined to be a blistering attack:
“Here’s what I know. Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He’s playing the American public for suckers. He gets a free ride to the White house and all we get is a lousy hat.”
There are several great sound bites in there. But bing bang boom! Trump won that round easily with: “I have a store that’s worth more than Mitt Romney.” He said lots more, and you’ve probably heard the crudest sound bite, that had poor pitiful Mitt on his knees in 2012, begging for The Donald’s endorsement.
The next couple of weeks will be interesting. March 15 features key primaries in Ohio—the state Kasich governs—and Florida, Rubio’s likely last stand. “Little Marco,” as Trump branded him in the final debate, has already announced his victory in Florida, because if he loses his home state, he will have to stay at home. Likewise, Kasich needs to win hishome state if he expects to continue as a serious candidate.
The Republican Brotherhood, er, Establishment believes that March 15 is also Trump’s rubicon—for getting the nomination on the first ballot. He’d be more than halfway there with large liberal states like California and New York waiting in the distance like pit crews with fresh tires and fuel. It’s a cinch that reactionary conservative Ted Cruz won’t win those states, and Rubio will likely be irrelevant at best.
And so the plan is to unleash negative ads and speeches by prominent Republcans that will drag Trump down in the eyes of primary voters. He can then be denied a first-ballot victory and defeated when his supporters switch to a different candidate. Yeah, right. If they do manage to deny him, Trump would probably run as a third party candidate, having been released from his loyalty pledge by the double-crossing Republican Establishment.
And Hillary would become president that way, too. Do the Republicans actually have a strategy that wins them the White House? Many rely on another attitude they’ve cultivated for years: that Hillary Clinton is a weak candidate who they can defeat. We’ll see if that is as true as they imagine.
And yet, with all that Republican gloom and Democratic optimism, I listened to Trump’s Super Tuesday victory speech masquerading as a press conference and heard a skilled speaker working his audience with slogans that resonate. If I may repurpose a quote from The Fly: “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”
Then there’s the video I’ve been watching for the past month of Trump supporters acting like Fascist brown-shirts at rallies. You can’t even be black and silent at those rallies. Out you go. Speak up and you get shoved and pummeled while being dragged out of the rally. None of those health care town hall disruptors in 2009 suffered anything stronger than hate stares.
How long before there are actual beatings? Oh wait, they’ve already begun.
I’ve gotten grim on you. But wait. Pause for a moment, because I’ve been told that comedy is tragedy plus time. In that spirit, here’s Stephen Colbert explaining the intricacies, and absurdities, of the Republican strategy:
Political Survivor #35