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What Would a Trump Victory Tell Us About the Republican Party?

I remain on record as saying that Trump will not be the nominee. I believe that his polling numbers are significantly overstated by virtue of an echo chamber effect, in which media reporting translates into declared popular support. and by sampling issues, in which polls assume that unlikely voters will actually vote. At the end of the day, my continued belief is that Trump will disappoint in Iowa (substantially), will crater in New Hampshire, and will then get out of the Republican race in an effort to avoid further embarrassment.

Obviously I have a position here, but it may well be influenced by the fact that I would like it to happen. The bottom line is that we will not know if I am right or wrong until February, no matter what anyone says in the meantime. There is no reason to rush to judgment, no reason (yet) to declare that everyone’s (current) favorite political science book The Party Decides got it wrong.

With that said, we are now less than a week away from the Iowa caucuses, with no hard evidence of a collapse in sight. So it is a worthwhile exercise to work through the prospect that I am wrong, and that Trump does become the nominee.

Below, I offer a list of assumptions that, if true, could result in a Trump nomination. None of these are predictions, per se. It’s just that some combination of them needs to be true for Trump to be the nominee. In other words, if Trump were to make an acceptance speech in Cleveland in July, what would we have learned about American politics?

1. Movement conservatism was never nearly as popular – or as vital within the Republican Party – as we thought.

What if the three-legged stool of conservatism – the combination of fiscal conservatism, social conservatism, and a strong national defense – was never all that popular to begin with?

Call this the Samuel Francis hypothesis. Michael Brendan Dougherty from The Week uncovered a long-forgotten piece by Francis on the 1996 Pat Buchanan campaign. The essential hypothesis is that the ideas of movement conservatism – free trade, lower marginal tax rates, the free market, a small safety net – have never been all that popular among voters, and that a Republican candidate would be better off attacking neoliberalism in all its forms – including the version accepted by many elected Republicans – and embracing a more nationalist perspective.

Put it another way: Is it really that likely that the average voter from Kentucky is animated by a low marginal tax rate on the wealthy for philosophical reasons? Or is it more likely that Republican voter support for this agenda came from cultural affinities and delegated trust?

Let’s create a stylized example. John Smith from Kentucky is a coal miner who only supported Mitch McConnell on economics because he trusted that McConnell had his interests in mind. Sure, the idea of free trade and unlimited campaign donations might not seem like great ideas on the surface, but to Smith, McConnell is a Christian and a man who cares about coal country. There was a cultural affinity that dominated: at his core, McConnell is a patriot and portrays himself as such. McConnell wins election after election, but Smith’s life is not improved; indeed, coal jobs continue to disappear. McConnell hasn’t come through. Meanwhile, McConnell is now the Majority Leader of the Republicans in the Senate, and Ted Cruz is screaming about his treachery.

Once Mr. Smith loses trust in McConnell, he might look elsewhere. He looks at the Democratic nominee, who is pro-choice and pro-gay marriage, and who was spoken highly of by Hollywood (!) actor Ashley Judd, and Smith wants no part of that. So normally, Smith votes for McConnell, reluctantly, and the band plays on.

But what if there is a candidate who genuinely appeals to Smith’s frustrations? He criticizes the globalized elite in Washington, DC, where everyone is in on the game and benefits from the largesse of multinational corporations. He proclaims that the job losses from the last twenty years are only because the elite was “stupid” and didn’t have Smith’s interests in mind.

So, all of a sudden, Smith has a third option: it’s not merely the cultural liberalism of the godless Democrats and the economic indifference of the well-fed Republicans. Someone, finally, has his interests in mind. The intellectual case for limited powers seems much less persuasive after decades of stagnation.

Smith is a stylized example that treads in some serious stereotyping. But as an analytical exercise: is it that implausible that 40 percent of Republican voters are closer to Smith than to a form of movement conservatism?

A Trump victory would likely signify, to an extent, that movement conservatism was never very popular,

2. There was a deep undercurrent of disaffected potential voters who were waiting for their champion for a long time.

Perhaps the answer is not that John Smith has been voting for candidates he didn’t agree with on most issues. Perhaps Smith, instead of being a loyal McConnell voter, is a non-voter who has always tuned out McConnell and the Democratic alternatives, and Trump has found this untapped vein in the mine of American politics.

Let’s quickly break this out; below are some Iowa caucus numbers in the last few cycles where there was no sitting Republican president.

YearTotal VotesEstimated IA Pop.Share of Pop.
200085,9472,926,3242.9%
2008119,1883,027,8573.9%
2012121,0513,079,8763.9%

Basically, under normal circumstances, there’s something in the neighborhood of three to four percent of the population of Iowa that caucuses. If this holds, we should expect maybe 125,000 caucusers this time around. If Trump has truly tapped into something significant that was dormant in American politics, we might see a substantially higher share, maybe closer to six or seven percent of Iowans, as well as a smashing Trump victory.

(But we should be clear. Historically, an incredibly small share of Iowans actually caucus, and Trump is doing something almost unprecedented in American politics: he is attempting a hostile takeover of a party. The challenge of polling this race should not be understated.)

3. Style affinities are now enough to override seemingly intractable policy differences.

When Trump is forced to answer questions of substance, he is at his cringe-inducing worst:

Panelist Hugh Hewitt: “Mr. Trump, Dr. Carson just referenced the single most important job of the president, the command, the control, and the care of our nuclear forces. And he mentioned the triad. The B-52s are older than I am. The missiles are old. The submarines are aging out. It’s an executive order. It’s a commander-in-chief decision.

“What’s your priority among our nuclear triad?”

Trump: “Well, first of all, I think we need somebody absolutely that we can trust, who is totally responsible; who really knows what he or she is doing. That is so powerful and so important. And one of the things that I’m frankly most proud of is that in 2003, 2004, I was totally against going into Iraq because you’re going to destabilize the Middle East. I called it. I called it very strongly. And it was very important.

“But we have to be extremely vigilant and extremely careful when it comes to nuclear. Nuclear changes the whole ball game. Frankly, I would have said get out of Syria; get out — if we didn’t have the power of weaponry today. The power is so massive that we can’t just leave areas that 50 years ago or 75 years ago we wouldn’t care. It was hand-to-hand combat.

“The biggest problem this world has today is not President Obama with global warming, which is inconceivable, this is what he’s saying. The biggest problem we have is nuclear — nuclear proliferation and having some maniac, having some madman go out and get a nuclear weapon. That’s in my opinion, that is the single biggest problem that our country faces right now.

Hewitt: “Of the three legs of the triad, though, do you have a priority? I want to go to Senator Rubio after that and ask him.”

Trump: “I think — I think, for me, nuclear is just the power, the devastation is very important to me.”

One almost feels embarrassed for the man as he stumbles around this answer, but Trump’s utterly abysmal answer on this question had no effect on his polling. At this stage, it appears that his supporters simply do not care that Trump does not have the understanding of the issues that one expects a presidential candidate to have. Indeed, Trump’s resilience in the face of his utter lack of substance might be because there just has not been much substance in this campaign at all. No one has given a memorable speech comparable to Mitt Romney’s speech on religion in 2007, or Barack Obama’s speech at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner in the same year. Accordingly, there have not been particularly robust debates on policy; so far, most everything has been focused on broad attitudes. The wide-open Republican field seems to have foreclosed much in the way of sincere policy debates.

This lack of substance has played right into Donald Trump’s hands. Trump was queried on the following topics at the most recent Republican debate:

  • Banning refugees
  • Questions on the birther attack.
  • “Anger” in politics
  • Limits on gun sales
  • “New York values”
  • Banning Muslims
  • A massive tariff on Chinese goods
  • Disentangling from business investments

The only question of actual substance was on the 45 percent tariff; the others were all about vague impressions that required no policy expertise or fluency at all. On the whole, Trump’s campaign has been remarkably devoid of actual policy substance. His campaign is largely based on himself – his personality, his being, his essence – as the apotheosis of governance: that only through Trump can we achieve national greatness; that Trump, personally, is a “winner”; that his opponents and the established status quo are “stupid”; that Trump is the answer to the problems of American democracy and society, and it has nothing to do with structures of power or reasonable limits and everything to do with individuals – Trump and all of the others.

Trump “gladly accept[s] the mantle of anger” and rails against the status quo. That his stated policy affinities, such as they exist, are all over the political spectrum is irrelevant, in this reading.

If he wins, Trump will have leveraged years of personal and professional fame into a presidential nomination. Republicans accused Obama’s 2008 campaign of vapidity and celebrity, and I (still) believe they (or we) had a point: Obama deliberately portrayed himself as something of a blank canvas that many types of voters could support. But Trump’s campaign has taken a tendency and has converted it into an exclusive method.

4. Christianity is less of a factor on the Right than advertised.

Although the share of Christians in both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party has declined, as of 2015, 82 percent of Republicans are self-described Christians. Much of the party remains suspicious of non-religious people; specifically, 70 percent of Republicans say they would be less likely to support a candidate who does not believe in God. (And that sort of thing might be more than Republicans merely rejecting atheism; for these voters, belief in “God” might necessitate belief in the Christian conception of God.)

To put it lightly, Trump does not present himself as a Christian in the way that most Republican political leaders do. He has been divorced twice, and is unrepentant about it. He claims to have never asked God for forgiveness. And he barely even tries to pander to religious voters. Much of Trump’s expression of religion seems to come from a sort of American religious chauvinism, where it all boils down to tropes like “We’ll be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ in this country again.” A lot of Christians sympathize with that position – or that positioning – but it would be surprising to me if the genuine Christians of the Right thought that this was good enough to earn their support over a true believer.

If Trump were to win Iowa, it might signify that the religiosity of Republican voters was overstated.

5. Some Republicans overestimated their ability to beat Trump in a head-to-head race.

In the last week, we’ve seen a plethora of former and current elected officials in the Republican Party offer kind words for Trump. Among other Republicans, Orrin Hatch, Chuck Grassley, Newt Gingrich, and Rudy Giuliani have also had kind words to say.

Gingrich is unpredictable and really always has been. It seems, though, that these Republicans – two senior Senators, a former House Speaker, and the former “Mayor of the World” – might be running interference for their establishment allies. If Trump defeats Cruz in Iowa, Cruz is substantially weakened. Once Cruz is cut down, then the officeholders can turn their attention to Trump.

This is clever but also risky. A Trump victory in Iowa would bolster his “winner” narrative and likely carry him through New Hampshire. Trump is still unacceptable to a substantial share of the party, so an Iowa/New Hampshire double shot for Trump might not carry him through to the nomination. Still, Trump victories in the first two states would certainly put Trump’s odds into the area of “plausible” at minimum, and more likely “substantial.” Certainly, unthinking media coverage would pronounce him the presumptive nominee, presenting the risk of a fait accompli. And if the only candidate who has the resources and network to survive a Trump blitzkrieg is Jeb Bush, there is no guarantee that Bushworld can defeat Trump. Jeb Bush’s unfavorable ratings are just staggering, and his performance in debates has been abysmal. Surely, anti-Trump Republicans should fear the prospect of a head-to-head debate between those two candidates.

If Trump wins, it is likely to be, in part, because the Republican Party failed to stop him, in a massive failure of collective judgment.

6. A substantial share of Republican voters are actually full-fledged bigots, and Trump’s comments made the political process safe for racism.

This is, of course, the elephant in the room with Mr. Trump. Trump does not publicly use racial slurs, but he has said some utterly beyond-the-pale things on issues of race. In his announcement speech, Trump said that Mexico is “sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” In an interview, he noted that African-American youth have “no spirit.” Later, he mocked a stereotyped speech pattern of Asians.

It’s even worse on social media. Trump’s Twitter account enthusiastically retweets content from explicit white nationalists. His spokeswoman previously lamented that President Obama was not a “pure-breed.” And the Trump campaign seems to have corresponded to a massive surge in the presence of the so-called “Alt-Right” online. (Criticize Trump on Twitter, and the “cuckservative” mentions will follow.)

It is hard to say how much of this sentiment has genuine support on the traditional Right, and how much of this is just some sort of broad backlash against political correctness, which goes something like, “The elite censors hate this stuff, after all, so I will offer them the rhetorical middle finger and practice saying what I want, regardless of who it hurts.” It is likely a combination of both. But what is clear is that Trump is at least attempting to exploit an ugliness that he suspects was underneath the surface in American politics. Personal racism has been delegitimized in American political discourse for decades. In many ways, Trump is challenging that consensus.

* * *

One reason that I don’t think it is that implausible that Trump will be the nominee is that you really only need one or two of these things to be true for the chips to fall in his favor. That’s in contrast to, say, John Kasich or Ben Carson, who need a lot more things to break right for them to have any chance of winning.

Currently, my position remains that there are enough Republicans who genuinely believe in limited government; that there is not a huge untapped reservoir of bigoted non-voters; that most Republican voters are sincerely Christian; and that substance means something. While I am perfectly willing to believe that many Republican elected officials are incompetent enough to risk Trump, I don’t believe that their incompetence alone could tip the balance in his direction. But if Trump becomes the nominee, some part of my position must be wrong.

Image by Gage Skidmore What Would a Trump Victory Tell Us About the Republican Party?


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Dan Scotto lives and works in New Jersey. He has a master's degree in history, with a focus on the history of disease and the history of technology.

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128 thoughts on “What Would a Trump Victory Tell Us About the Republican Party?

  1. Interesting breakdown. It’s been fascinating in the past couple of weeks to see everyone start to realize that Trump really might end up being the nominee, after six months of treating his candidacy as a prelude to an inevitable flame-out.

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    • Indeed.

      I’m waiting for the inevitable “I’ll leave this country if he’s elected” statements from celebrities, left leaning academics, and the rest of the republican party.

      Best fun ever in a campaign….

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    • I’m not convinced Trump believes he can be or wants to be President. How would that work? Even if he had a plan to turn around the problems of the old white working class it would take far too long to enact. Even if elected as a Republican he’s basically an independent candidate and look to any of the problems independent governors went through for an idea of what a Trump presidency would look like.

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      • Oddly enough, I’ve had the same thought. I have almost metaphysical certainty that Trump thought a Presidential bid would be good for Trump Inc. Actually winning the nomination? That really wasn’t part of the original plan; certainly not necessary for the original plan to be counted successful in his own calculus.

        Some part of me thinks that he’d much rather be Donald King-maker than Donald the King… but there’s no face-saving way for him to become King-maker without now becoming King (if that makes any sense).

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          • True enough, I guess I was imagining more of a bubble popping and him becoming persona non grata rather than shaking hands with the winner after a race well run… There’s no real reason to assume that, though.

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            • Also entirely possible. If he suffers a terrific blowout loss or three he’ll be humiliated, abandoned and the GOP will throw him out and laugh at him. At that point he would likely not mount a third party bid to suffer more humiliation.

              The GOP’s nightmare scenario, of course, is that he loses but not terribly, and then takes his voters and mounts a third party challenge.

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              • I think that’s almost out of the question. People like that aren’t allowed to fail. Who’s already proven that better than master businessman and multiple bankrupt Trump. There’s no accountability in this country. McCain ran with Palin and still holds his seat!

                We’re really in fall of Rome territory here, politically. Madness is commonplace and insanity rules.

                There are people who honestly believe Obama’s a failure!

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                • There’s marketing and spin, no doubt, but at the end of the day the votes will be counted. If Trump looses the count he will go away, the speed at which he departs and the damage he does as he goes will depend on the margin of his defeat.

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                  • I don’t know he grabbed hold of the zeitgeist and represents something authentic to his followers (maybe not voters). I think there’s still something to be exploited there even if he “fails” in the traditional sense. He’s not a “normal” pol and he isn’t governed by their laws.

                    As in the start of this thread his definition of success and failure maybe different and mutable.

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              • I’m genuinely unsure whether a Trump 3rd party run is worse for the GOP than a Trump nomination. Both are quite likely to mean President Clinton, but the effects on downballot races and the future popularity of the party are a lot harder to parse.

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                • I guess a Trump third party run would be bad for the GOP in the short term, but either option – Trump wins! or Trump third party run – is bad for the GOP as currently constructed in the long term, seems to me.

                  I certainly didn’t predict Trump, but I’m probably not alone in thinking that national level GOP politics was/is so caught up in self-serving righteous delusion that a fracture with the base of some kind was sorta inevitable.

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                  • Yea, the whole incestuous GOP/Fox news/Christian right for old people who can’t handle reality was always going to crash sooner than later. Trump kind of represents the worst aspect of it and the one I fear the most. The “okay the democratic process didn’t get us what we wanted. Let’s try fascism!” It’s what a lot of people feared all the way back to Reagan and has been most fully realized to date by the Dubya admin embracing Commie\Nazi torture. Hopefully that aspect doesn’t go any further and Trump goes down in flames. I doubt we’ll get a strong enough repudiation of that sort of behavior without a serious catastrophe for the country unfortunately but you have to hope. But both the McCain picking Palin and the country never repudiating Bush torture show we aren’t accountable or capable of addressing mistakes as we need to.

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                    • Think about where all this has led us. Bush became president while losing the popular vote in an election where the hinge state was the one where his brother was Governor and the vote was clearly shaped by his agents. The same election is finally decided by the supreme court. His terms are a catastrophe the worst of which is getting the U.S. involved in the moral abomination of torture. The US. has brought foreigners into court to be tried who had to wear all manner of apparatus because they had been so horrifically worked over and abused that they are no longer capable of functioning. China is now forcably extraditing critics in foreign countries to stand trial. What can we say about this after flying people around the world to be tortured?

                      This is followed by McCain picking Palin. Find the Palin endorsing Trump speech and play it and say to yourself V.P. Palin a heartbeat from President. Repeat until this hit’s you full force. McCain is never held accountable and still holds his seat.

                      Today the GOP in spite of all this is still treated with a level of respect.

                      We are living through significant history here. Historians will puzzle over how things went so wrong.

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  2. “One almost feels embarrassed for the man as he stumbles around this answer” The typical viewer would be completely comfortable with Trumps answer. The question itself would be baffling to the majority of American’s as it is to Trump. They are never confronted by any aspect of this issue in their daily TV viewing or (I’m embarressed to offer) their reading (if they do any).

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      • It’s a fantastic discussion point, the triad. It really puts into harsh relief the nonsense the “news” channels and by extension the “typical” person spend their time on. Worrying about gays and blacks while the countries infrastructure devolves into uselessness.

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    • Also, it’s a stupid question based on a false premise. Is the American nuclear deterrent really decaying in a way that requires massive spending on newer bombers and nuclear-armed submarines? Are nuclear weapons the most important part of American military power, i.e. do they address any of the challenges of the 21st Century (e.g terrorism and failed states)? Is there any likelihood of a first strike destroying so many land-based missiles that the other two legs of triad are necessary to provide deterrence? No, no, and no.

      But for Hugh Hewitt, it’s always 1953. It’s why his interviews so often start with a discussion of Alger Hiss. (Seriously. He brags about that.)

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      • Yeah, I agree that this was a really weird question. I think it was intended as a pure softball as evinced by the Rubio answer: I love all my war toys, and we need to make more of all of them.

        A much more interesting question for the Negotiator in Chief would have been something along the lines of: What would be your approach to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: Fish, Marry, or Kill?

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        • Indeed, the F-35, apparently absorbing all the dollars the USAF has for new weapons systems and then some, would have been a more interesting question. We’re also within sight of the day when the USN will no longer be able to afford 11 carrier strike groups. The toys have become too expensive.

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            • Starting some 35 or 36 years ago, part of my job was explaining to middle managers that in the future their projects wouldn’t be late because of hardware problems, but because of the software. The F-35 is one of my current examples of that, ever since the announcement that while there were F-35s flying, some of them with guns, and that on a few occasions the guns had been fired by means of a mechanical workaround, the plane’s integrated software wouldn’t be able to fire the guns until 2019.

              The F-35 is at eight million lines of source code, going up rapidly. No one knows how to reasonably specify a software system that includes that much real-time code. DoD and Lockheed Martin have apparently agreed that deliveries will include known-buggy software.

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      • It is not a stupid question. Every bomber, sub and missile has a finite lifespan. Take the Ohio class SSBNs, the first was built in 1979 and they are scheduled to start de-commissioning in 2029. Meanwhile the Russians started launching a new class of SSBNs, the Dolgorukiy class, in 2013. The US sub fleet is hands down the most important leg of the triad yet we are only starting to think about the replacement.

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      • I don’t think it’s a dumb question at all, given that maintenance and upgrades of this segment of our military capabilities constitutes a substantial fraction of our military spending — and that upgrading our nuclear capabilities sends a visible signal to rival and potential rival powers globally about those capabilities and the will that animates them.

        And I’m not entirely sure that Trump’s answer is particularly dumb, given that he is not a military man at all. What he needs to know, and what the audience does know, is that America’s nuclear weapons give our military the ability to unleash horrific destruction upon our enemies — and that doing so would do tremendous harm to our diplomatic standing and makes much more likely receiving a response in kind. So we have settled upon a position of being able to make a credible threat of having that power at hand, while being visibly reluctant to ever actually follow through with it.

        Subject matter experts can answer the particular question at hand, as to whether subs, missiles, or bombers are in most dire need of upgrade; it isn’t important for a Presidential candidate to be familiar enough with the particulars while on the campaign trail. I’m more interested in the candidate acknowledging that within the military there are partisans for each; that within the body politic there are actors with agendas ranging from pacifists advocating disarmament to aggressive expansionists who would expand the use of nuclear weapons into regular rules of engagement, and that the agenda is probably going to have a high level of domination by the military contractors who stand to make tremendous profits from working with the military to effect contemplated upgrades and maintenance that probably really are necessary if that credible threat of incredible power is to be maintained.

        So I care that a Presidential candidate wishes to maintain our generalized policy about having and using nukes; I care if the candidate wishes to adopt a different policy what that policy will be; I care about the judgment and decision-making that the candidate will bring to assessing and resolving conflicts among subject matter experts from within his corps of advisors and others who would persuade him.

        Frankly, I think Trump kind of addressed those issues. And I evaluate the response as mixed positive, mixed negative. On the one hand, I like Trump’s brag that he was able to assess the Iraq invasion as creating a net instability. It suggests that as a decision-maker, he had the ability to engage in longer-term thinking about strategy and can correctly forecast consequences of particular actions. But on the other hand, I dislike his implication that nukes ought to be seriously on the table in Syria — precisely because the conflict there strikes me as not worthy of flexing this kind of muscle and the readily-foreseeable consequences of using nukes there are of similar water as the Iraq invasion.

        So on balance, my net assessment of his answer to the question is “He addressed the issues relevant to me raised by the question, and overall I don’t like what he said.”

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        • I don’t think it’s a dumb question at all, given that maintenance and upgrades of this segment of our military capabilities constitutes a substantial fraction of our military spending — and that upgrading our nuclear capabilities sends a visible signal to rival and potential rival powers globally about those capabilities and the will that animates them.

          The SSBNs are certainly doing their job of keeping ISIL and the Russians in line.

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          • The SSBNs are certainly doing their job of keeping ISIL and the Russians in line.

            You are so right. We should therefore retire all of them b/c love and ideas will defeat both of them. They aren’t an existential threat to these country unlike Trump, so who cares?

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          • As to the Russians, I think our nukes are doing their job, as well as they did during the Cold War. Russia isn’t actually doing anything that we can’t live with (given that Russia has ICBMs and SSBNs of its own). You notice there were no retaliatory strikes against our NATO ally Turkey after the Turks shot a Russian jet out of the sky a couple weeks ago, for instance. (It helps that the pilot survived.)

            Russia is doing things that we dislike, but dislike is not the same thing as inability to tolerate (given that Russia has ICBMs and SSBNs of its own). We can live with them annexing Crimea, in a way that we couldn’t live with them annexing, say, Poland. That some have flirted with including Ukraine and Georgia in NATO or the EU doesn’t mean those things have actually happened.

            As to Daesh, they aren’t worth much more than special forces and small arms and are unlikely to ever become other than so; if they do, the proper response would almost certainly be containment rather than abruptly transforming their territories into molten glass. They’re despised by the Iranians, the Russians, the Turks, and the Saudis alike.

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        • It’s a bad question posing as a smart one. “This thing is bad, tell me what you’ll do about it” is a bad debate question, fluffing it up with insider lingo is even worse and the fact that our media thinks they’re being E.R. Murrow when they do so is an embarrassment. A smart question would have been “Our nuclear capabilities are out of date, will you commit to cutting, expanding, or keeping them as they are?”, with time for the other candidates to draw differences between themselves and Trump.

          Instead we had Trump vaguely talking about how nuclear weapons are powerful in sad voice, and then Rubio vaguely talking about how nuclear weapons are powerful in confident voice and using the right words.

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      • It’s a weird question, sure – but your non-answer to it is a far far better non-answer than Trump’s, in that it demonstrates that you listened to the question, understood it, and have a a thought – any internally consistent thought – on the subject.

        Trump could just as easily have made up something on the spot – “I believe that our bomber fleet should be brought up to modern standards as the highest priority, as bombers are useful for conventional warfare whereas the other pieces of the triad are not. This would allow America to strongly pursue international nuclear disarmament, while making military investments that would strengthen our military might regardless of the success of those efforts.”

        See, I just made that up on the spot, it’s probably wrong for all manner of reasons that anyone with an ounce of understanding of military affairs could point out. But it sounds a bit less like a schoolboy who forgot his homework.

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          • Isn’t effective bluffing a big part of a military deterrent? The art of the deal and all that?

            Really though I’d much prefer someone who, if they don’t know much about the state of a nuclear arsenal, would answer honestly that they don’t know much about its state, what with not being privy to top secret military information just at the moment, but could at least articulate some objective, the specifics of whose execution would have to wait until they had more information – say, “support disarmament by continuing to reduce warhead counts, while maintaining an effective nuclear deterrent by ensuring what warheads are kept are effectively deliverable.”

            I mean, that’s just as vague and bafflegabby of an answer, but it sounds less idiotic than the disjointed rambling he did come up with.

            It’s just interesting that, given a choice of
            – honestly admitting ignorance
            – making up an at least reasonably credible sounding answer
            – bafflegab that should make a sixth-grader embarassed

            Trump chose the latter, and suffered no apparently loss of support.

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  3. “survive a Trump blitzkrieg is Jeb Bush” This is the big bang of this election cycle. In what echo chamber of delusion and self-regard was another Bush anything but preposterous! Dubya (really nearly 30 years of Republican policy) brought the world economy to it’s knees but let’s make Jeb! the frontrunner, wtf?

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    • I can’t really disagree with this. I remain shocked at the relatively warm reception Jeb got compared to Romney (also flawed, but in a different League of flawed). Everybody around Jeb should have been yelling at the top of their lungs “Don’t do it!”

      I believe Jeb begat Trump in a pretty direct way.

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      • It just goes to show how many people show up just to celebrate a world that no longer exists but that they can’t let go of. Obviously for a lot of people that’s more important than winning elections or fixing problems.

        Communism and the GOP have the same problem. They try to make the world what they want it to be and not work with it as it is. True Conservatism works with the reality not some list of platitudes Reagan sold voters 30 years ago. You can fear reality and dislike it but you can’t make it go away no matter what posturing candidates would have you believe.

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          • That’s the true end at this point. Get in office to do the bidding of the super rich to secure your future. Scare everyone when your lack of success in solving problems comes up. “Muslim’s, blacks and gays are plotting to get in the way of your watching sports, I can save you! Global warming causing dislocations in the middle east and causing ISIS and massive migrations of people, no, no, don’t look behind the curtain. Don’t learn about anything. Keep watching sports! You need to run to the kitchen for more chips? Don’t worry, I’ll wait.”

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  4. All six are true to one extent or another, as far as I can tell.

    So the question is, can Trump turn out his supporters at higher than expected rates? I don’t expect him to win Iowa, but I don’t think that’s a disaster for his campaign unless he ends up in third AND the second place finisher (assuming that Cruz wins, which seems likely) can parlay their finish into a pile of endorsements and donations. He pretty well has to win New Hampshire, though, given the size of his lead in the polls and the extent to which his campaign has fed off of coverage of his polling leads.

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  5. I’m generally in agreement with your predictions at the opening of your excellent post. Trump will not be the nominee. Allow me to add that I still consider Rubio the most likely eventual winner. The pattern taking shape as Iowa looms seems to be thus:
    -The GOP establishment has determined to their own satisfaction that in the long run Trump isn’t going to win. In contrast Cruz, who is also unpopular in the general and who they personally detest, presents the most plausible threat to one of their centrist candidates (chiefly Rubio).
    -The establishment is accordingly bombarding Cruz while leaving the issue of fighting Trump to their media wing; National Review and Fox. The presumption is, as you note, that Trump can be halted in the larger later states even if he sweeps the initial ones whereas early Cruz victories could propel him towards an actual victory.
    -Rubio is very obviously running a long game. He’s fighting in Iowa and New Hampshire but he’s not going all out. His campaign is operating at a slow burn. He’s very obviously banking on sticking it out to later states.
    -The establishment has too much Bush sympathy to put a bullet in Jeb! Yet. He’s loathed by the electorate (for obvious reasons, both in performance and his last name) but he’s too connected to the elite. You can almost imagine the scenario: Bush washes out in all the early states, the party elite sit him down to a gentle sympathetic chat for some hard truths. Jeb! Drops out and Rubio inherits his apparatus and the elite rallies behind him.

    So yeah I think they’re pulling for Rubio, just not yet. Cruz is the threat they fear- the establishment honestly thinks Trump can be stopped and I think they’re probably right. I remain a Trump skeptic just as you are.

    But just because Trump is likely not going to win the nomination doesn’t mean he hasn’t done enormous damage to the GOP and it doesn’t mean his rise is an insignificant issue. Going through your numbered points some thoughts:
    1: This is undoubtedly and has always been something the GOP has struggled with. For years they’ve clouded the issue with the social conservative war and by sidestepping specific policies and doubling down on catch phrases. Well the social war has been lost rather unambiguously (outside of the grueling trench warfare of the abortion debate). Armies in retreat are far more prone to flying apart into a route and on most social issues the right is in, if not full on route, a very rapid and disorganized retreat. The social conservative glue is not present to paper over the fissures any more.
    2: I share your skepticism and happily Iowa should tell us pretty clearly if we’re right or not. I expect roughly the same turnout, left and right.
    3. While I agree with you in general I think you are eliding just how much the GOP is reaping a harvest they sowed themselves on this matter. In the wake of Bush Minor’s disastrous administration the GOP consciously chose to embrace total opposition and wild hyperbole in an effort to shortcut their way back to power and they had considerable success on this front. By ditching policy substance and embracing soundbite politics to a new extreme degree the GOP’s own elite created the environment that Trump is now thriving in. If Trump is able to get away with being eye-rollingly bad on policy it’s only because the GOP chose to create a party where policy acumen is unimportant. They chose this because their own policy contradictions are severe and they didn’t want to make the hard choice. You can’t want rock bottom taxes, sky high spending on defense and the elderly and no deficits; you need to pick two. Bush Minor chose the first two; the GOP went whole hog on denouncing Obama for deficits and so foreclosed that discredited option and have hand waved the conflict away with soundbites ever since. Enter Trump, a natural demagogue and consummate entertainer bursting into the GOP scene where demagouguery and entertainment suddenly the premier aspects. The GOP had it coming and you’ll forgive us centrist liberal types for enjoying watching them suffer it good and hard.
    4: Voters don’t like losers and they don’t like what the social right has been selling. The social right has been losing and they can’t really change what they’re selling so this section of the traditional stool is in wild chaos. I don’t think the GOP can expect the social warriors to ride to the rescue this cycle.
    5: I don’t think it’s as risky as you do. The Hillary vs Obama match in 2008 shows that, while normally parties simply fall into line once a candidate most of the party is sympathetic to scores some symbolic victories, as long as an unliked candidate keeps winning the symbolic victories the party can stretch the campaign out to the convention. I do not think Trump can win an absolute majority of delegates.
    6: All I can say confidently is that the bigot constituency in the GOP is smaller than liberals like to imagine but bigger than conservatives do.

    While I don’t think Trump can win the nomination I think he’s already harmed the GOP’s prospects in the general and he has the potential to harm them even more. The big question is how much and how badly.

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    • If Trump did nothing but wise up the GOP to the delusions (the points offered in this article re religion, taxes, etc.) they operate under then he not only didn’t harm it but saved it. GOP voters are dying off and if the party doesn’t change it’s doomed.

      2008 was the end of the line for GOP BS. Anyone who doesn’t recognize that is deluded.

      It’s the party of the wealthy and trickle down doesn’t work. The country is finally moving on.

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      • The Party would have organically evolved on the policies as their base died off, I have no doubt of that. What they would evolve to? I have no idea but the GOP as a political organism has weathered larger policy changes than this in the past as has the Democratic Party. What Trump has done is convert an election that was quite possibly winnable using the old mantras into one that is quite possibly already lost. This is, I’d note, a fate the GOP richly deserves for the political choices they cynically made in the near past.

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        • Your seeing the evolution you describe right before your eyes. You just thought it would be orderly instead of the mayhem and carnage of Trump-a-saurus Rex.

          The real problem is the Koch’s and other money guy’s abetted by a docile, risk averse electorate have perverted nature and so this.

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          • I agree with you more than I disagree. I admit I assumed we’d see something like a normal failure of the GOP talking points, a recession of their majorities as their base dwindled and their baked in district advantage waned followed by trimming, triangulating and finally coopting or innovating of new policy positions all over the course of a number of electoral cycles. This rise of the Trumpkins wasn’t what I expected but then again no one expects the Spanish Inquisition.

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    • The interesting thing is that large chunks of the population probably want nothing to do with social conservatism and large parts don’t want anything to do with social liberalism.

      Things like this are always hard to place on a map though because definition are vague. Lee has brought this up before but the liberalization bills that went through Britain during the 1960s were really a triumph of the elite over anyone else. Most of the ideas came from Home Secretary Roy Jenkins and were put forward as private bills. Large swaths of the Labour and Conservative Parties were against liberalizing laws on homosexuality, the death penalty, pornography, birth control, etc. People in all demographics thought that these liberalizing factors were bad even if they might have hyprocritically indulged in the 1960s hedonism as well.

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        • That’s not what I am talking about. If you read Dominic Sandbrook’s history of Britain in the 1960s, most Brits were very enthusiastic about the expansion of the Welfare State and new red brick universities and comprehensives. The so-called “permissive society” made them uneasy even if they participated. People are capable of multitudes. You can be a committed trade unionist and anti-Capitalist and not support abortion or the widespread availability of pornography

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  6. Just a heckuva piece, Dan.

    But I think the conversation has moved on from here such that the question you pose reflects slightly behind-the-moment thinking.

    Now the big question seems to be what would a Trump victory (or even the present Trump phenomenon) say about the Democratic Party?

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      • In fairness, that’s not exactly the point being made in the first of those pieces. It’s not only the question I state either, but it is that in part: “While many Democrats are eager to deny that Trump is drawing support from their party, the data show a different story. … So suck it up, Dems. Trump’s your party’s phenomenon, too.” …And the second point that’s pursued there is a refutation of the idea that’s common in liberal media that the GOP leadership cultivated the Trump phenomenon by engaging in anti-immigrant and other otherizing rhetoric – to the extent of denying that they could have done anything in any case to head off the Trump takeover: “That data also reveals the falsity of the pretense that Republican party leaders could somehow have prevented their party from being largely captured by an ugly populist contingent.” Which is not a direct placement of more responsibility than has to date been placed at the feet of Democrats for Trump’s rise like the first point is, but does work to lower the relative responsibility of Republicans (Republican leadership in particular) for it.

        And the second piece treats the amount and nature of Democratic support for Trump that may be out there, arguing that it is significant in numbers, that it is not limited to in-name-only Democrats for whom voting for Republicans for president would be nothing new, but that it includes significant numbers of Obama-voting registered Democrats, and that if it were not for the fact that almost certainly quite large numbers of Republicans will defect from voting Republican if trump is the nominee, then this influx of support from Obama-votng Democrats walking right by the defecting Republicans would likely be enough to make Trump president.

        It’s hard to imagine that in this author’s view if this is true, that it’s not the case that he believes that, if not for this significant amount of support from Democrats, including significant numbers of Obama-voting Democrats, there is no way Trump would be dominating (or even leading) the Republican nomination contest (in polls, anyway), and that therefore if Trump were nominated, a significant part of the responsibility for it, if blame is appropriate to be assessed after such an eventuality, should be placed at the feet of Democrats. …Maybe, though, that’s not what the author thinks. Maybe he thinks that, while atypical Democratic voting would be enough to give Trump a winning general election coalition (indeed, be largely responsible for his election, since in this view Trump would be getting less than typical Republican support and so, without atypical levels of Democratic support, would surely lose to the Democrat) if not for expected very high levels of Republican defections, nevertheless it would not have been support from Democrats that actually delivered him the nomination if he were to get it.

        Of course, nowhere in this has there yet been a baseline set for how much support from Democrats goes into polling results (and election results) for Republican presidential primaries during a normal cycle, or how much of the Democratic vote the Republican nominee ends up attracting during a typical presidential election, and that would probably be necessary to factor in if we were to assess how much atypical democratic voting patterns, affected by attraction to Trump, ended up playing into whatever electoral success he may have. So that would have to be established.

        But in any case, all of this seems like a fair amount that’s being said about what Trump says about the Democratic Party, and about relative responsibility for the Trump phenomenon between the parties – stated in terms of party, not in terms of general national conditions – to me. A conversation that was about the national problems and conditions that driving the Trump phenomenon at an individual, not-necessarily-partisan level, however, would sound a lot different, it seems to me. It would… make a lot less reference to the names of particular political parties, for starters, I’d think.

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        • Shorter me: if we want to talk about the ways in which Trump is a national problem, we can do that in direct and explicity ways. It’s really not necessary to establish that he’s *that* party’s problem, too in order to talk about that. Be he very easily could be, and I think would be, a national problem – even if, when addressing the question from a partisan-location problem (where is the problem located), we found that it was more exclusively located in one party than it is.

          Trump is a national problem, but if that’s the point we want to focus on, the partisan locus of Trump as a national problem (and the national problems that lead to Trump) is very incidental to that point. It’s quite easy to discuss Trump as a national and not partisan problem if thats what we want to do. We wouldn’t spend a lot of time considering how he’s a problem for this party and that party, though, in that case. But there are other reasons that we may want to do that.

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          • Well I don’t think Trump can get the nomination. So if Trump does get it then some of my firm assumptions are wrong at which point I’d agree he represents a national problem. If he doesn’t get the nomination though? He’s strictly a Republican problem (The Dems have their own different problems, they don’t need the GOP’s problems).

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        • I don’t know, Hanley has some good points but it seems to me the Trump supporters he’s shining a spotlight on are more like former Democratic Party supporters than current ones, certainly they’re not a huge part of the extant Democratic electoral coalition.

          I certainly don’t think he’s made the case that a GOP nominee Trump can draw away members of the existing Democratic electoral coalition in any large numbers. I very much doubt it and I even more strongly doubt that the support he’d draw would outnumber the numbers he’d push to the Democratic Party through motivated opposition or the numbers of GOP voters who’d sit out the election in disgust (or at least not vote for him in the Presidential ticket).

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          • I think you’re overestimating the extent to which the flight has occurred outside the South.

            I think the Democratic economic policy is winning them white votes. I think the GOP policy is losing them some. A shift away from the economic right (which Trump represents) and towards economic populism would therefore be attractive.

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            • The problem is, the GOP would actually have to win an election…and put more pro-middle class policies in place. Outside of the South, the white working class still votes Democratic, even if they’re personally socially conservative, because of the GOP’s need to appease their masters.

              But, even Trump put out a tax plan that’s basically Bush II on steroids – some sops to the middle and working class, while massively cutting taxes on rich people.

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          • I actually wish this argument were getting more traction nationally. I don’t even see a lot of Republican apparatchiks making much use of it. I’d like to see how the Chris Hayeses & Sam Seders of the world would handle it, but it’s not even enough of a TAKE at this point that it’s even on their radar, it seems. Unless I’ve missed it.

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    • Depends? A Trump nomination victory? Not a lot. A GOP Trump General Election Victory? That the Democratic party needs to break the glass, pull the red lever and stop everything they’re doing so they can figure out what the hell is going on.

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  7. But what if there is a candidate who genuinely appeals to Smith’s frustrations?

    Maybe there is, but it’s certainly not Trump. Trump might cynically appeal to Smith’s frustrations, but that’s it. To the extent that there is anything genuine about Trump, it’s limited to his self-regard and contempt for others.

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  8. I generally agree with your points above. I also think Trump will be unable to actually win primaries when it comes down to it. If he is still running by the time I have my state’s primary in June, I will be surprised.

    Related to your 2nd and 6th points, I think Trump has revealed that many voters want an unabashed strong man as their leader. The joy of reading Trump supporters is they often recognize that he doesn’t know the issues well and they are not bothered by it. By being against Mexican and Muslim immigration, he has touched upon the only issue that matters to many voters. The policy specifics? His followers don’t need to know how he will stop immigration, just the fact that he is against it and makes it his major campaign focus.

    Immigration (of all stripes, not just the “illegal” variety), is the most important issue in the Republican Party. Candidates who wanted to focus on their tax plans, christian social programs, and military interventions overseas have lost; those policies were simply not the major animating idea for the majority of the party. Trump has exposed that.

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  9. There are no Republicans who believe in limited (by which I mean accountable) government. If they did, they would have left the Party.

    There are no Republicans who do not believe in surveillance. There are no Republicans who do not believe in legislating morality. There are no Republicans who do not believe that police and prosecutors must be absolutely unaccountable. None. None. None. None. None. If there were, they would have left the Party, long since, in horror and revulsion.

    There are a few Republicans who do not believe that business ought to be equally unaccountable, but they are confused and lack the courage of their half-formed convictions.

    Meanwhile, Trump’s appeal has nothing to do with ideology of any kind. He barely condescends to clothe his propaganda in crumbs of pseudophilosophy. Trump is channeling sadism, nothing else.

    As the three keys listed above — surveillance, moral coercion, police above the law — are all purely manifestations of sadism, Trump is a perfect fit for the Republican Party. All he is doing is “saying the quiet parts loud”.

    And if he is on the general ballot, the raw appeal to pure sadism and incitement to violence will carry him to a record-breaking percentage of the popular vote: probably well over 70%. Yes, the American People are THAT bad.

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  10. I guess we shall see in a few days how Trump does in Iowa and New Hampshire. Current wonderings are that Kaisch might be able to pull a victory in New Hampshire.

    #1 strikes me as a big one. Socially conservative but working to lower-middle class members of the Right Wing really don’t have much in common with the GOP elite who went to fancy schools, have high paying jobs in Global Capitalism, etc. This is something lots of commentators on the conservative side of things have been picking up because of the inability to make Trump go away. The problem is that they don’t realize that they created Trump or the opportunity for someone like Trump to come along. Now Trump is no one’s idea of a working-class guy but he is a builder/property developer and that does require local labor. Kaisch worked at Goldman. Cruz’s wife is a managing director at Goldman, etc.

    Though what is social conservatism is hard to pull down. Look at the article that Will put up from the Federalist arguing that video games are really right-wing. I see a lot of these types of articles. “This secular piece of pop culture is really right-wing…” These articles always strike me as off and cognitive dissonance. Instead of just saying “I enjoy X.” The author feels compelled to place X as being pro right-wing or pro-conservative.

    There is also seemingly a shadow culture out there that is targeted at the 40 million or so Evangelical-Fundamentalist Christians in the United States and if you are not an Evangelical Protestant, this is stuff is unknown and lost on you.

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  11. What Would a Trump Victory Tell Us About the Republican Party?

    That it’s a group of irresponsible nutjobs who can neither be taken seriously nor be trusted with power, i.e. the same thing that a Cruz, Carson, Paul, Jeb!, Fiorina, or Rubio victory would tell us. But don’t take my my word for it; listen to former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates:

    People are out there making threats and promises that are totally unrealistic, totally unattainable. Either they really believe what they’re saying or they’re cynical and opportunistic and, in a way, you hope it’s the latter because God forbid they actually believe some of the things that they’re saying.

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      • “Do you mean like Obama when he talked about “red lines” in Syria for chemical use and then backed away from them once the proof came out? Talk about, unrealistic, unattainable and empty threats.”

        It’s the difference between realizing that what you said is dumb, and not carrying it through to disaster.

        Or, since the chemical weapons were removed, it ‘s called ‘getting things done’.

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        • It’s the difference between realizing that what you said is dumb, and not carrying it through to disaster.

          I guess Gates forgot Obama’s example then and only seems think that Repubs act like children. I wonder who Gates sucking up to? It’s interesting that you are willing to give Obama the benefit of the doubt when he says something dumb but won’t give it to Repubs when they say something you think is dumb.

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  12. All solid observations.

    I wonder if in #1 you mean to say that Movement Conservatism has followed a trajectory that ultimately left Mr. Smith behind rather than imply that it wasn’t popular in the first place?

    1. Fiscal Conservatism went from Main Street to Wall Street Global Corporate Capitalism.
    2. Social Conservatism went from Main St. and Peace to sloganeering on a few hot button items
    3. Strong National Defense went from Peace through Strength to (Neo-con) Global International Interventionism

    And… #1 and #3 joined forces to consolidate a Globalist agenda for which #2 voted hard, and without commensurate gain – or worse, their votes actively undermined their interests… or worse than worse, they abdicated (or sold) their responsibilities to protect Main Street and Peace in exchange for increasingly shrill and ineffective jeremiads against the culture. To be sure Wall St and the Neo-Cons were there at the founding, so there is no purity test to administer. There is no return to some sort of perfect moment, it is just to wonder at the route taken – and how they (we? I?) arrived at… Trump.

    Now pace Ordinary Folk, I’m not asking you to embrace the stool (in any sense of the word), just to wonder whether the idea that Trump proves there was never any support for movement conservatism, or rather whether Trump shows how far movement conservatism has moved from the folks who originally made the movement.

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    • Now pace Ordinary Folk, I’m not asking you to embrace the stool (in any sense of the word), just to wonder whether the idea that Trump proves there was never any support for movement conservatism, or rather whether Trump shows how far movement conservatism has moved from the folks who originally made the movement.

      My experience with “real people” out there is that they don’t really have political philosophies as much as a vague collection of sentiments. They agree with two contradictory things stated within a minute of each other because they agree with the sentiment of the statement rather than the content of it.

      Movement conservatism communicated sentiments now disconnect from the blue collar sentiments out there to the point where someone like Trump can come in and hijack the pre-caucus/primary race… and we’re all hoping that the political junkies who go to caucuses and primaries aren’t “real people”.

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      • Sure, I’m not sure I’d go quite so far as you into mushville… I mean that’s sort of the point of the Stool analogy. People were expected to hold 3 (no more, no less) Big Ideas (TM) about the new fusion of the Republican party.

        Dan suggests there was possibly never much support for those ideas, I wonder if those ideas…ossified?…into the Norquist/Neo-Con/New Republic Movement Conservative Inc. Played out over 20- to 30- years folks realized the Three Ideas weren’t such great ideas as they are instantiated now.

        You make a good point about the Iowa caucus goers, though… I’m not sure if only the “real” people will show up, or if new “real” people will make an appearance or how the old “real” people really feel about Trump. I’m purely a spectator here too.

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        • Well, let’s look at the big Republican winners of the last few decades and whether the “collection of sentiments” argument holds.

          Reagan? EASILY.
          Herbert Walker? I had a former co-worker who explained to me “I voted for Reagan three times. The third time, however, I got stuck with Bush.”
          Walker (No Herbert)? I’d say yes, pretty much. Definitely 2004. Maybe 2000. The case can be made.

          The only question is whether Clinton and Obama’s wins can be attributed to the whole “collection of sentiments” thing. Obama? I think we can table the answer to that question.

          Clinton? Well… Perot changes a few things (at least in 1992, he does). And if the question is whether Clinton did a better job of capitalizing on collections of sentiments than Bush did, I think that it’s obvious that he was able to.

          I mean, jeez. Herbert Walker had the Wall fall followed by Desert Storm. And he still couldn’t beat 43%.

          It ain’t about big ideas. I don’t know the last time that it might have been. Vietnam, maybe? The 1976 election?

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          • Our main hope, it seems to me, is that the “real people” in, oh, let’s say South Carolina and after vote for the grownups in the race.

            But I have gone from “he’ll be gone by Halloween” to “he’ll be gone by Thanksgiving” to “he’ll be gone by New Year’s”.

            I find that “he’ll be gone by Valentine’s Day” to feels a lot like wishful thinking.

            Then again, I’m bound to be right about when he’ll be gone by eventually. I’m due!

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          • Clinton did a better job capitalizing on the collection of sentiments – and then practically invented single handedly what everybody derogatorily refers to now as ‘neoliberalism’.

            But, he was bailed out by
            1) the end of pumping lead into the atmosphere
            2) the end of the secular trend of rising female employment (after the 90 recession, it became identical, if a bit lagged, with the cyclical trends that male employment had demonstrated since WW2)
            3) the end of the Baby Boomers going to college and trying to find jobs for the first time, replaced with the much smaller gen x doing these things
            4) Information technology creating not only a financial bubble, but also a brief time of much higher productivity with very little ‘disruption’ as the saying would go now
            5) low gas and commodity prices prices
            6) levers of monetary policy that were operating in the middle of the band, and thus could be pushed or pulled in either direction

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    • Well you shouldn’t forget that fiscal conservatism WON their fight. The Democratic Party under Bush Senior and Clinton flat out coopted most of their centrist and rational principles and as a result in order to retain Fiscal Conservatism as a Republican leg the GOP had to move very far to the right.

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      • Well you shouldn’t forget that fiscal conservatism WON their fight.

        How so? Total government spending (state + federal + local) as a percentage of GDP is as high as it’s ever been, except for the spikes in World War II and 2009. Sure, it stopped growing as a percentage of GDP, but that was obviously a trend that couldn’t continue indefinitely. That’s at best a stalemate.

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        • Obviously from a libertarian PoV it didn’t but the fiscalcons of the 80’s and early 90’s weren’t libertarians. The GOP fiscal policy of that era was to restrain spending, keep taxes modest to low and not drive up the deficits too much. That’s basically the Democratic Party’s position circa 1994 or so. The Democratic economic policy now is barely distinguishable from the GOP’s economic policy from the late 80’s and early 90’s with the exception that they won’t scrap safety nets and say so (as opposed to the GOP which won’t scrap most safety nets but won’t admit it). In response the GOP has gone off the deep end of the right (at least in word if not in deed).

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      • Right… but that’s a big part of the current phenomenon.

        And, if there is such a thing as a President Trump, this might turn out to be the anchor by which Hilary went down.

        It is interesting that recently there is a spate of Conservative/Liberatian mea-culpa’s on the whole Free Trade uber alles meme. Stopping just short of calling Pat Buchanan to apologize. :-)

        Tyler Cowen

        McMegan

        PEG

        Market Capitalism as if people mattered? If the republicans get hold of this issue – and that’s really Trump’s whole schtick – it will mean that they will flog the Neo-liberals in both directions… having dragged them there in the first place, and the beating them about the head and shoulders on the way back.

        Now, I still don’t believe that Trump or the Republican Party could execute such a strategy, but its not because the Democrats are somehow more adroit here.

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        • Well sure, but what you’re talking about is the GOP flat out inverting their entire position and their long standing talking points. If they somehow did it convincingly enough to get the economic populists flockingi n the front door how do they keep all their current supporters from flocking out the back? That would be one hell of a trick and Trump doesn’t have the policy chops for it.

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          • Well, that’s sort of the point I’m arguing. You are exactly right that it would be a total inversion of the dominant Free Market Libertarian wing of the party, but that’s not the entirety of conservative economic thought on these matters. And, more importantly, for certain sectors of formerly reliable Republican voters, orthodoxy to that leg of the stool is weakening.

            Who would leave on principle to defend 100% free trade global capitalism? Lots of money – and that alone is why its still a (the?) pillar of the stool – but numbers wise, not so many.

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            • Well you’d lose the libertarians of course, you’d also lose the business wing of the party and once you lost those two groups you’re talking about the entire GOP establishment would basically be bailing out. Turning the party 180 in an election season would be hard enough for an incredible candidate with establishment support. Not even a genuis candidate could pull it off with the establishment fighting for their lives against him and Trump ain’t no genuis nor do I think he has those ambitions.

              I think it’d be a train wreck; it’d be a train wreck I would welcome with joy and delight but it would not produce a Republican President in 2016.

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              • The business wing of the party is much more complex than that… but again, I agree that the larger more monied business interests would exit. Big loss of $$, but not of people. How is that different from what’s actually happening (assuming what’s happening is happening?).

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                • Okay so first off, I don’t think it’s happening. The live fire from the establishment on Cruz says to me that these guys think Trump will flame out on his own and Cruz is the greater threat.

                  That said, if Trump got the nomination by sheer force of votes but generally stayed wobbling within the existing GOP policy lane then the establishment would either reluctantly work to help him win or they would leave him alone and focus their efforts on containing down ticket damage from his candidacy.
                  If Trump got the nomination and then said “fish what the GOP has said before, we’re going whole hog populist and we’re raising taxes to pay for it.” Then the establishment would go after him with everything they had. There’d be no ignoring him, no down ticket focus, they’d be out for blood. It’d be Trump and whoever he could rally versus all of the GOP and then the Democrats sort of staring on in incredulous glee (and me here at OT happy drunk and in a food coma from the popcorn).

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      • To me, people usually tend to deal with politics like they do sports. Pick a team. If the team does great, Yay! If the team messes up, it’s either “the ref’s fault” or “Oh, hell, I luv ’em anyhow because they’re My Team. Yay!” People don’t often switch teams, whether they get to the Series/Bowl/Final Four or not.

        A new quarterback, if he makes bold moves and gets the ball downfield, can re-excite the team’s fans, sometimes rabidly. Doesn’t matter if he’s been married three times and has weird hair — if he’s scoring points, he can be the New Fave. Yay!

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    • 1. Fiscal Conservatism went from Main Street to Wall Street Global Corporate Capitalism.

      I dunno. The post-WWII GOP’s fundamental identity was determined as opposition to those labor-union-loving Democrats, not the tax-and-spend Democrats. Ie., pro-Big Business.

      2. Social Conservatism went from Main St. and Peace to sloganeering on a few hot button items

      Well, it was always comprised of hot-button issues, yeah? It’s just that the relevance and HEAT! of those issues have gone in opposite directions.

      3. Strong National Defense went from Peace through Strength to (Neo-con) Global International Interventionism

      The logic of “peace thru strength” entails that other countries acquire “strength” to maintain “peace”, which in turn requires the US to engage in military adventurism to preserve “peace”. Innerstin, yeah?

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  13. Trump’s victory and movement conservatism not being real thing would seem to be the real big lesson of a Trump victory. It really should be a no brainer. George W. Bush’s attempt to shrink the safety net by privatizing social security was so politically unpalatable that it was rejected nearly outright. Medicaid Part D was one of the biggest expansions of the American welfare state between LBJ and Obama. Homeland Security has been partly seen as a jobs program for rural America. People generally like the social safety net or at least social safety net programs that benefit themselves and their kith and kin. There should be ample evidence that movement conservatism really didn’t have much to offer from the average Republican voter or anybody else.

    Another potential message of a Trump victory is that European style National Front, which combines support for the welfare state, a nationalistic defense of the “native” population, and hostility towards globalization and immigration, politics will work in the United States to an extent. A campaign message like Trump’s is not exactly absent in European politics. The BNP, the English Defense League, the National Front, Jobbik, the Swedish Democrats, and other parties have expressed similar messages.

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  14. Top rate stuff, Dan.

    I suspect that if T.D. wins the answer will be part of some of all of the above, honestly.

    However, I’m still on board with you and North, largely due to this:

    “At this stage, it appears that his supporters simply do not care that Trump does not have the understanding of the issues that one expects a presidential candidate to have. Indeed, Trump’s resilience in the face of his utter lack of substance might be because there just has not been much substance in this campaign at all. ”

    This comes coupled to something else.

    Folks who are disengaged with the political process are less likely to vote. The more disengaged they are, the less likely they are to vote.

    And that’s what makes his rise to the nominee very unlikely (and, if he gets there, his election to the Presidency astronomically unlikely).

    If you’re already an unlikely candidate, you can bet the farm on folks that aren’t likely to vote – because there are a lot of them, and if they show up you can win a surprising victory. Plus, you’re an unlikely candidate, so betting large on improbabilities is actually probably the least stupid strategy if you actually want to win.

    But absent one hell of a ground game, you’re not going to get those unlikely voters registered, and you’re not going to get them registered in time for the mail-in ballots, and you’re not going to get the reminders out to send in the mail in ballots early in the process with reinforcement throughout and you’re certainly unlikely to be able to get them to show up to the polls on voting day.

    Are all of those things possible? Sure.

    Are they likely? Not when you stack the deck against yourself…

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  15. 4. Christianity is less of a factor on the Right than advertised.

    It never has been. Romney is Mormon. His nomination briefly suppressed the discussions about whether or not Mormons count as Christians, but it had been going on strong beforehand, and came right back.

    McCain is, so far as I was able to tell, a non-practicing nominal Christian of Episcopalian background, from back in the days when the Episcopal Church was the Republican Party at prayer. At one point he said that he thought that he was probably Baptist now, but was unsure of the details. This was hilarious: pandering as blatant and as clumsy as anything Trump has done. He was given a free pass on it, and the topic was discreetly dropped.

    You can run this back as far as you want. (Reagan was a barely practicing nominal, retroactively assigned deep devotion as part of his canonization.) Bush the Younger is the only Republican nominee in living memory with any plausible claim to Evangelical Christianity (which is what we are actually talking about when we discussion “Christians” and the modern Republican Party). He wasn’t nominated because the Evangelicals pushed him. The blame for that is much more widespread.

    What is interesting about Trump is not that the Evangelical establishment is proving ineffectual at Republican Party power politics. That is normal. But Trump is acting as a wedge within Evangelicalism. This never has been a unified group, but it normally has put on a relatively unified front in party politics. Various factions within Evangelicalism include the Pentecostals and the Prosperity Gospel crowd. These are not entirely distinct subsets. There is considerable overlap between the two. But the more distinctively Pentecostals tend to support Cruz, who through his father is a card-carrying member. The Prosperity Gospel types adore Trump, and why not? They never had any identifiably Christ-like doctrine, favoring the enthusiastic worship of Mammon. Trump fits right in, even if he doesn’t use exactly the same vocabulary. Jerry Falwell Jr. breaking for Trump is interesting. I don’t know that much about him, but I would not expect his father to have gone that route.

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      • Endorsing Trump doesn’t really fit with the kingmaker role his father sought. It is hard to pretend that Trump will really do anything on the traditional Evangelical goals of outlawing abortion or gayness, or that if Trump wins he will feel a political debt to repay to Falwell. It smacks of jumping on the bandwagon as it drives by.

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      • I don’t have a strong sense about how Republican Catholics will go. (I could ask my in-laws who they support, but the last thing I want to do is talk politics with them.) Many many American Catholics are Hispanic. So far as I know they are as repelled by the Republican Party as non-Catholic Hispanics. As for non-Hispanic Catholics, I have a hard time seeing them go for Trump in large numbers. If it is between Cruz and Rubio (Santorum being effectively out of the picture) I don’t see any obvious reason to favor one over the other. They both say all the right things on abortion.

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        • Sort of what I think — most of the Catholics I know who care about politics at all aren’t particularly concerned if a candidate is Catholic like them, so much as the candidate’s stand on particular issues. And even then, there is such a wide spectrum of beliefs, preferences, and other political pressure points that it seems to me that Catholicism is sort of swamped by other factors.

          In particular, are Catholics attracted to the same sorts of candidates and issues that evangelicals like, or are they attracted to the same sorts of candidates and issues that mainstream Protestants like? The answer seems to be “yes, both,” based on things that really aren’t the teachings of the RCC at all.

          But that’s only how I see it, and in discussions like this, I like to test out those assumptions. And the reason I asked about RCs particularly is there seem to be rather a lot of them but they don’t seem to get talked about much, and to the best of my knowledge the RC candidate pulling the best numbers is Rubio.* Wondered if there was something going missing.

          * Who the official bio says did more than just flirt with Mormonism as a kid, but then returned to the RCC a little bit later in life.

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  16. Terrificly cogent post.

    I think all of these theories are consistent with the observation made by Jon Chait in this article:

    The sparsely filled bottom right corner represents the libertarian-ish leanings of the Republican elite, which would like to liberalize immigration law and decrease Social Security benefits. The upper left corner, thick with dots, represents the populist, opposite combination: higher Social Security spending and less immigration. The Republican field — all of which, other than Trump, has endorsed raising the Social Security retirement age — is fighting over the tiny right side, leaving the huge upper left all to Trump.

    Trump is taking low hanging fruit from a combination of voters who (1) Only care about movement conservatism to the extent that it gives them a job; (2) Hate anyone in the GOP establishment because they don’t have a job; (3) Like TD personally; (4) Don’t care about religion; (6) Are racists/race-realists, alt-rightists, etc. that think the US being mongrelized is the most important issue of our time. The other candidates don’t want them because they are poison in the general and for traditional measures of political success (endorsements, fundraising, etc.). An outsider running on his ego doesn’t care about that and just wants the easiest picks. Most importantly, unlike previous outsiders such as Perot or Forbes, TD *is shameless*, has a ton of media/reality-show experience, and knows how to work the media just as well as an insider. The only open question is how big the upper left corner is.

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  17. At this stage, it appears that his supporters simply do not care that Trump does not have the understanding of the issues that one expects a presidential candidate to have.

    At what point did anything Republican (the party proper, its supporters in the media, its noise machine) start to say anything about Palin’s frightening level of ignorance? Well after the election at the earliest, and in my opinion not until last week’s Trump endorsement.

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    • You could say similar things about the Dems.

      After all, it’s it always written off when presidential candidate make promises, then fail to deliver them, that “they got into office and were told the real truth/realized it would take more work/yadda” excuses? If they had more of an understanding of “the issues” they wouldn’t have made promises they couldn’t keep…or they just plain lied.

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        • I said “similar” not exactly.

          But we’re going to change the world by over throwing tin pot dictators in the near east, ’cause that hasn’t worked for centuries. Yeah, we’re going to double down on a stupid entry into “graveyard of empires”. We’re going to wonder why, after we destabilized half the frickin world, that Europe is “suddenly” with “refugees”. We’re going to distribute classified material to individuals not cleared to do see it, keep it, store it, know about it.

          And we’re going to read all about this in the press as they relentlessly pursue “the facts” on who did what when and to whom.

          Really?

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          • And to be clear it is the Democratic Party on who’s doorstep you are laying these babies. The Democrats?? I mean Bill did get pretty jiggy in Serbia and Obama did lead from behind on Libya but the Democrats? Really really??

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      • Which Dem candidate shares Trump’s ignorance. Hillary is the exact opposite-about as steeped in detail as any candidate since LBJ. Sanders is closer on some spheres (e.g. foreign policy) but knows a lot about many issues.

        Obviously, many disagree with them, but I’d hope we can agree neither wallow in Trumpian ignorance.

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        • For the ideologue, disagreement with their views is fundamental indicator of stupidity, one which derives from the principle of charity: it accounts for why those folks hold such obviously false beliefs without implying that they’re evil.

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          • Sure, but I can admit that Cheney was not ignorant of policy details, that Cruz is a smart human being, etc.

            I wouldn’t vote for a democratic poltician I believed to be ignorant about governance. Heck, it’s why I haven’t voted for Gavin Newsom for anything despite how much I supported his gay marriage civil disobedience.

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  18. “One almost feels embarrassed for the man as he stumbles around this answer, but Trump’s utterly abysmal answer on this question had no effect on his polling.”

    It probably had no effect because John Smith doesn’t know a nuclear triad from a salad fork, but figures that if Trump gets elected President he’ll be briefed on everything he needs to know by people for whom the nuclear triad is their entire mission in life.

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    • The question defines the nuclear triad – unless it deliberately mis-defines it as a trick question (Ah-hah! The nuclear triad is in fact mines, enrichment facilities, and bomb factories!).

      You only have to know something about the subject to tell the difference between an answer, and competent bluffing. This was not competent bluffing – it wouldn’t have fooled a half-asleep substitute teacher into thinking a school child had done their homework and maybe the sub had misread the problem description.

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  19. It would be a really bad thing if some madman was to get a nuclear weapon, wouldn’t it?
    If they were actually to set one off, that would be worse, wouldn’t it?

    My response to Trump: Check the seismographs.

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