05 February 2016

What Is Donald Trump Doing?

The Donald is doing something very interesting.

He is exposing the main electoral strategy GOP has been using since the beginning of the 20th century.

You see, GOP is no longer the party of Lincoln, as they like to boast. It is the party of racist and angry white men. As such, they specialize in race-baiting.

Everything they do is centered around an "other."

And the culmination of that was Nixon's Southern Strategy.  Perlstein's Nixonland should be required reading.

This is how it works.

The party elite forms the pool of candidates. They also predetermine the likely winners of primaries. They raise huge sums of money from the usual suspects, that is, wealthy donors like hedge fund managers and Koch brothers who are interested in having the President's/Senator's/Representative's ear.

Also known as Pay for Play.

Candidates are given a list of iron clad principles to which they are to adhere if they wish to get elected (or re-elected) and have access to those funds. These include, starving the beast, reducing taxes for the wealthy, eliminating safety net for the poor and increasing national security state and military spending.

Since these are not very attractive positions for the general electorate, the candidates are given talking points for each principle to make them palatable.

For instance, starving the beast is translated as "taxes are job killers." Tax cuts for the wealthy are important incentives for the Ayn Rand producers. Eliminating the safety net for the poor is a necessity because of the deficit. And spending more money on fighting terrorism is needed because of America's various enemies, the latest of which being "them crazy Muslims."

The critical element that unifies all these principles is the race-baiting subtext.

Starving the beast is also cutting off funding to parasitic minorities, you know, the mythical Cadillac driving black welfare queens.

Tax cuts for the wealthy underlines the belief system that there are two categories of people in the world: on one side you have white Shrugging Atlases, you know, the producers, and on the other lazy minorities who live off their efforts.

The poor? Why, they are lazy people of various shades of dark who refuse to lift themselves out of poverty and wait for handouts.

And enemies like Muslims, well you already know their color. In fact, they are the only other minority to have their own N word.

All of these Orwellian phrases might not give you a clear idea how good the GOP is at creating a whole new bogus narrative and establish it as an axiomatic truth by repeating it ad nauseam and browbeating a largely compliant corporate media.

Let me give you a surprising illustration.

Evangelicals and Abortion

You know that the evangelical Christians are the most active and important primary voters for GOP, right? And three quarters of them vote Republican, in every election cycle.

Their single most important issue? Abortion.

Now, if you are like most people, you probably believe that evangelicals have always been this fixated on abortion, but the reality is that before 1979, they couldn't care less about it. In fact, to most evangelicals, it was a Catholic issue which left them completely indifferent.

Until, that is, some GOP strategists turned it into the perfect wedge issue.

The starting point was Pat Buchanan writing a memo to Nixon in 1972 suggesting that abortion could be used to sway some Democratic leaning Catholic voters and force Ed Muskie, a Democratic presidential candidate, to make a choice between his Catholic and liberal supporters.

Even though Nixon was pro-choice (like George H.W. Bush and most Republican leaders at the time), upon Buchanan's urging, he gave a speech about the "sanctity of life." That, along with the Canuck letter and a number of other dirty tricks, proved very effective in derailing Muskie's campaign.

But the real impetus was provided by something that happened in a local race Iowa in 1978. The Democratic incumbent Dick Clark was widely expected to have an easy victory against his Republican rival Roger Jepsen. However, during the last weekend before the election, a predominantly Catholic pro-life group leafleted evangelical church parking lots. The following week, despite all the polls showing Clark as the winner, Roger Jepsen pulled an upset and won the race with a tiny margin.

That, in turn, convinced Republican strategists Richard Viguerie and Paul Weyrich to add abortion to the GOP's Southern Strategy. As you can imagine, it was very easy to convince the Southern evangelical leaders.
When Jerry Falwell founded the pro-life Moral Majority in 1979, Paul Brown, the founder of the American Life League, scoffed, “Jerry Falwell couldn’t spell ‘abortion’ five years ago.”  But Falwell knew an opportunity when he saw one.
The rest is GOP history.

Drugs and Minorities

Besides abortion, which is a relatively recent addition to GOP's arsenal, drugs and being tough on crime have long been perfect fear issues with a solid dog whistle component.

The whole thing goes back to 1920s and 30s when cannabis was renamed "marijuana" to highlight its Latin American roots. In fact, they spelled it Marihuana to mimic the pronunciation and make their point.

You see, cannabis was a drug of choice for black jazz musicians and Latino workers. The politicians of the day seized that opportunity to insinuate that blacks and Hispanics could do terrible things to white women under the influence of that drug. They even financed a hilariously over the top movie called Reefer Madness, which portrayed a middle class white couple being driven to attempted rape, murder, suicide and insanity by marijuana.

The underlying message was, if marijuana pushes middle class white people to do these terrible things, imagine what could black people high on marijuana do to your wife.

Marijuana was promptly banned as a dangerous substance. Unsurprisingly, in 1972, the Nixon Administration classified it as a Schedule I drug, a category occupied by heroin and LSD, largely on the basis of race perceptions.

In case you are wondering, cocaine was a Schedule II drug, a lower category.

With Reagan things got worse. Long mandatory sentences were imposed on most drug offenses. Race was still key: Crack got life, cocaine probation. Nancy crowed "Just say no" and prisons began to be filled to the brim with black and poor people.

The GOP combined this with a "Tough on Crime" campaign which led to the incarceration of millions of blacks, minorities and poor people through "Three Strikes" laws and new sentencing guidelines. As judges are elected in the US, they began to campaign on the basis of their sentencing records: in that climate of fear, judges who imprisoned more people for the longest time got re-elected.

And if you even hinted that this was wrong, you were quickly Willie Hortoned.

It wasn't all blacks of course. Hispanics, the fastest growing demographic segment n the US provided another excellent outlet for GOP's race-baiting fear campaigns.

Since most drugs originated from Latin America, their image quickly became that of Scarface: Violent drug traffickers who will kill white Americans with impunity and rape their blond women.

When they were not violent offenders, they were presented as shady foreigners who steal American jobs. To this day, most Americans are unaware that the 11 million irregular Hispanics in the US are doing the most thankless jobs for much less than minimum wage. In fact, in places like Texas and California, agriculture would come to a halt if they did not have access to illegal aliens, a term that perfectly connotes their less than human status.

Others and Muslims

Besides blacks and Hispanics, the GOP has also been obsessed with women and gays. The subtext for the former is sluttiness and cultural decay and deviance for the latter.

If it wasn't for the massive Will and Grace effect and a very successful media campaign by gay groups, GOP would still be on message about gay marriage which won them a couple of midterm elections in the 1990s.

But the mother of all "others" is, of course, Muslims.

A character in a Barry Eisler novel once said "9/11 was not an inside job, though the way it's been exploited, it might as well have been."

What that means is that 9/11 provided the perfect opportunity to put together all Republican issues in one neat package. From fear to border security to increasing military spending while starving the beast, you can now use Muslims to justify any GOP position.

To put it in another way, Muslims and Global War on Terror (GWOT) has become the most effective topic changer.

Topic changer is the right word.

In that sense, you could say that, millions of women lost control of their bodies and got treated like sluts, millions of blacks spent their lives behind bars, millions of Latinos were harassed daily and lived in fear of deportation for doing jobs nobody wanted and hundreds of millions of Muslims died or were injured or displaced so that GOP could change the subject on their primary mission of reverse income distribution.

That is very cynical but it is also very effective when the electorate has the attention span of fruit fly and no knowledge of the issues.

Enter Donald Trump

Since the party establishment predetermines the outcome of most races, the majority of candidates are in it not to win it but to make a name for themselves and turn it into something that brings money.

And we call this branding and brand management ever since Neil McElroy of Proctor and Gamble came up with that amazing insight.

The formula for this brand management is simple: you participate in TV debates, people learn your name, the media mentions you many times. You write a book and you join the lecture circuit. Next thing you know, your annual income has many zeroes in front of it.

That is exactly what Ben Carson is doing. Or Carly Fiorina.

Huckabee and Santorum are old hands, they have been living off of this for some time now.

Trump was in it for that purpose. He already had a very solid brand. You go to Google and type Donald and the first selection is Trump. Previously he was in the top 10. He just wanted to elevate it to a new level and to ensure that he was perceived as a political entity as well. That's important in his line of business: it protects you from regulatory oversight and IRS snooping.

He must have known that Cruz was the true nominee. Even I knew it after I read the Time's article entitled "right turns only" which is emblazoned on his campaign bus .  But Trump was fine with it.  He was in it for Trump brand.

Since he is a practical guy he figured out the GOP strategy of race baiting and began using it without sugar coating it.

Mexicans were rapists. Muslims were terrorists.

You are afraid and you need a tough guy and a wall.

And I can negotiate any deal. I am the guy who wrote the Art of a Deal.

Then he realized that he actually had a real shot: The GOP electorate loved his "plain truth" discourse. These were things Republicans always believed in but because of that terrible "political correctness" they couldn't voice them.

The Donald became their voice.

At that point, Donald Trump decided that he had nothing to lose if he simply made a serious run at it. If he loses, his brand will be sky high. No future President would dare to come after his deals and tax shenanigans.

And if he wins, well, he will be a hands off President like W and let the pros do the work while he enjoys the prestige of the office.

But thanks to him,  we now know that the majority of GOP primary voters hate women, blacks, Hispanic and Muslims.

In that sense, the Donald stripped GOP discourse bare and exposed the real agenda.

And I find this hilarious and exhilarating.

Will Donald Trump get the party's nomination?

Despite Iowa setback, he has a serious shot but it depends whether he really wants it. I don't think that in his heart he really want to be a President. He must love his life too much to give it up.

Also, after months of efforts to derail him, it is possible that the GOP elite will find a way to push him out.

The irony is that Ted Cruz, the likely nominee, would make a terrible and dogmatic President because, unlike Trump, he actually believes in all the GOP talking points.

But the GOP thinks that they can negotiate with him because he will need their money and backing for this and the next election.

And this is why angry white men and evangelicals and obtuse conservatives support Donald J Trump.


Speaking of disrupting GOP electoral blueprints, this is about the prodigal son JEB Bush's lackluster performance.
In a "normal" election cycle he might have actually flourished. But Donald Trump has seemingly ended all that.

The charge that he is low-energy seems to have stuck. The whole Trump tactic of treating Bush more as an object to be pitied than feared seems to have struck a chord.

It was no coincidence that Bush's finest hour in this campaign came at the latest TV Republican debate, which Trump boycotted.

With Trump not there to bully and belittle, Jeb seemed to find his voice. But it might be too little, too late.

No comments:

Post a Comment