Friday, February 12, 2016

The Audacity of Dope

Ezra Klein is spot on with his analysis of Herr Drumpf, but like most such analyses, they overlook the more salient question -- what's wrong with his supporters? Seriously, what's the fucking deal with these people? Beltway thumbnails touch on the obvious anger underpinning their antics, but that doesn't quite cover it. Lots of angry people are supporting Bernie Sanders, or Hillary Clinton. Hell, I'm angry. I definitely feel like I've gotten a raw deal. But I'd never fall for the low-rent carny antics of a reality-teevee pitchman. It's not like it's a carefully hidden secret how Trump has serially failed and derped his way through his so-called business career.

And yet there's a sizable -- and growing chunk of people who are falling for it. For now we can console ourselves that it's "just" 35% of Republicans, who as a group are maybe 40% of  registered voters. Some of Trump's domination of the GOP field is simply the natural result of an over-populated field of political has-beens and never-weres with a fraction of his name recognition.

But where it has become dangerous is that Trump's fan club clearly do not care that everything he says is bullshit, and their loathing is palpable of everyone other than their wampeter. And as the other GOP candidates tear each other down, since they can't seem to be able to fight Trump's schoolyard bluster with anything stiffer than a wet noodle, they simply help Trump consolidate his role early and quickly. In New Hampshire the other day, Trump finished with almost as many votes as the next three candidates combined. (Sanders received 50,000 more votes than Trump, but still.)

Several dilemmas are already foreseeable. There has been a lot of talk about the "establishment," especially the Republican establishment, and how they loathe both Trump and Cruz. This is why John Ellis Bush has already gathered nine figures' worth of "donations" this early in the game, and is burning through it like kindling wood just to stay remotely viable. The conventional wisdom, entirely believable, is that when push comes to shove, the establishment hates Trump, but they fear Cruz -- in other words, if Bush and Rubio continue their flame-outs and all they're left with is Trump and Cruz, they'll back Trump for the nomination.

"But Heywood," you say, "Trump's negatives outweigh his positives. He'll get creamed by Hillary or Bernie in the general election. We don't need to worry."

Sure. That's what they were saying back in 2000 about George W. Bush. Common sense held that John McCain, then an affable, media-savvy senator with a can't-miss backstory and a gift for schmoozing the media, would mop the floor with this mumblefuck hick legacy pledge idiot son of a one-term president. McCain had plenty of crossover appeal at that time, and probably would have beaten Al Gore without any hanging chads or such like.

Except it didn't happen at all that way, did it? Bush easily won the Alaska and Iowa caucuses right out of the gate, as would-be spoilers like Steve Forbes and Alan Keyes gained enough votes in those opening primaries to shake up the race. McCain then beat Bush by 18 points in NH, with nearly 50%(!) of the Gooper vote. That threw enough of a scare into Karl Rove for him to wheel out the dirty tricks, and the vile push-polling in South Carolina over McCain's supposed black love child (his adopted Bangladeshi daughter Michelle) was enough to not only send that state over to Fredo, but to provide the momentum that would carry Bush the rest of the way.

Never underestimate momentum, particularly in the south, and especially among low-info voters (which the southern states have a bottomless supply of). Look, I'm going to over-generalize here, but the nut of it is true:  politically, southerners are fucking nuts. This is an area of the country populated to great extent by people whose lives revolve around guns, meth, booze, porn, gambling, and of course, gawwwwd. In fact, the only way you can get a lot of these lowlifes out of the fucking casino is to hold a church raffle.

The downfall of being a true political junkie is that we frequently forget a very peculiar paradox -- most people are not very well-informed about even the most basic facts about politicians and their positions, whether the things they say are true or not, what effects their policy positions might have, etc. Nor are they willing to put in the time and effort to find out the facts and make an informed decision. Part of this is because they don't trust the process and think the media are all lying to them; part of it is just because they really are stupid and lazy. Yet they will, at the same time, be extremely passionate about voting for someone who appears to support the things they profess to support, or (just as likely) to hate the same things they hate.

So it's child's play for an experienced huckster like Trump to whip up resentment against the usual suspects -- uppity women and minorities, the media, career politicians, whoever they suspect of "taking" "their" country. Real fish-in-a-barrel stuff, but like any good songwriter, Trump understands that simplicity is the real key to success. He's kept it strong and simple and repetitive, to where they shout out catch phrases on cue, like the trained pinnipeds they are. I'm sure if Trump threw a beach ball out to the crowd and told them to take turns balancing it on their noses, they'd trample each other to be the first to do so.

Cruz may give Trump a fight in Texas, but Trump is out-polling Bush and Rubio combined in Florida. And if Trump wins SC (he's currently leading by 10-15 points), he gets all those shithole states between Texas and Florida, and maybe those states as well. Momentum. Can't disregard it. Right now, I'd say Trump has about a 60% chance of winning the GOP nom; if he wins SC, it's more like 70-75%.

That doesn't mean he has a cakewalk in the general election, but it's not at all impossible either. Both Sanders and Clinton have flaws, and will have difficulty pulling people in their direction in the general election. Another weird political phenomenon is that supporters of a specific candidate are frequently blind to their candidate's weaknesses.

For the record, I continue to support Sanders, and like him a great deal, but would vote for HRC if she wins the nom. But I have to ask, what would an Elizabeth Warren ticket look like, with either Cory Booker or Julian Castro as the veep? This is what I mean about seeing the whole playing field and having a solid bench.

Sanders' supporters are aware of his weaknesses, but their idealistic bent overshadows that; his inspirational message tends to outweigh the more practical concerns about how any of them could be proposed or accomplished in the current congressional makeup. HRC's supporters tend to be dismissive of the incessant scandal chasing surrounding their candidate, reflexively brushing anything and everything off as false. And for the most part they're right; only the most partisan idiot is still obsessing (or even "asking") about Benghazi.

But it's a death of a thousand cuts, made possible in large part by candidates who are ignorant of their own shortcomings, and quickly dismissive of their critics. The fact of the matter is, should HRC win, her term will instantly be cluttered with any number of "scandal" obstacles strewn across her path, draining her political capital by attrition. It doesn't matter if the accusations are true or not, if enough of these assholes want to believe in them.

And you better believe that they do, very much so. As always, affirmation is the key here, not objective facts or even a coherent narrative. What that ultimately means is that we're shit out of luck, whether or not their fucking clown of a candidate manages to win or not. If Trump wins, obviously we're fucked; the man is temperamentally unsuitable for any position of real responsibility. If he loses, his newly empowered base of morons will have yet another high crime to add to their endless list of imaginary grievances.


Brian M said...

A larger and larger proportion of the American population of all colors is slipping from comfortable middle class status to a state of reduced circumstances. Many of the folks who always believed they could buy their way in to the better places are now finding themselves in the lesser envirnoments – the kinds of situations they were happy to impose on others in the past. And they’re really pissed off about it.

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Heywood J. said...

Yep, and they'd rather buy the affirming lies than deal with the hard truths.