Like a professional magician who turns on his fellows and gives away the tricks of his craft, Donald Trump has exposed the folly of what used to pass as modern conservatism. Trump’s choice after his victories on “Super Tuesday” to stage, not a bombastic victory speech, but a news conference (with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie by his side) was a media coup. Once again the Trump campaign displays its show-business chops and political shrewdness.
Trump fielded questions in a format akin to a presidential press conference. Trump even got Socratic with one of the questioners querying him where he got his information. Corporate media have naturally failed to pick up where Trump is correct. On the U.S.’s $400 billion trade imbalance and the exodus abroad of U.S.-based corporations pursuing cheap labor and tax havens, Trump is talking about something both party establishments never mention.
But on just about everything else he’s horrifyingly wrong. Trump is a mixed bag of nationalist and elitist policy prescriptions free of details but laden with patriot bunting. Yet he is not alone. None of the GOP candidates have said anything sensible about the tax code, Obama’s legacy, immigration, or the Iran nuclear deal, (which just helped weaken the hardliners in the Iranian elections).
Trump understands reality television. When he compares Marco Rubio to Don Rickles “except Rickles has a lot more talent,” that is reality TV speaking, which sounds fresh in the context of the canned political speech to which we’ve grown accustomed. It’s kind of amazing to see Trump attack President Obama for not “working with” the Republicans in Congress after seven years of unprecedented obstructionism.
A lot of the anger we’re seeing from voters who are drawn to Trump has its roots in the 2008 Great Recession where our political leaders gave about $800 billion to the biggest banks that brought the economy down and asked for nothing in return.
When Trump says: “we’re like a Third World country” while decrying the decrepitude of our infrastructure he’s pointing to the failures of decades of Reaganomics and neo-liberalism, which both party establishments have embraced.
A lot of the anger we’re seeing from voters who are drawn to Trump has its roots in the 2008 Great Recession where our political leaders gave about $800 billion to the biggest banks that brought the economy down and asked for nothing in return. They didn’t even enforce the anti-fraud laws to put any of the bankers in jail. The episode drove home the fact that Washington doesn’t really represent the interests of the American people.
Ted Cruz is running for vice president now. Trump will need to burnish his god-cred with the evangelical wing of the party and Cruz can help him do it. At this point, given the shattered state of the GOP, both Trump and Cruz are running for the opportunity to lose in November.
For decades Republican intellectuals like David Brooks, Steve Moore, Peggy Noonan, William Kristol, Karl Rove, and the National Review have play-acted as if their lust for tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulating corporations, and beating up on labor unions and the poor were all part of a coherent ideology expressing the highest “conservative” ideals.
But for years these polite society pundits have used their rhetorical skills to gloss over their party’s racist dog whistles, warmongering, xenophobia, and general meanness. With the rise of Trump the Republican intelligentsia finds itself in an ideological nosedive.
After Obama’s election the GOP establishment was surprisingly tolerant of the rise of birthersim, as well as the racism directed at the nation’s first African American president and the Koch brothers backing of the Tea Party “patriots.” They willfully ignored their party’s unprecedented obstructionism on Capitol Hill, the disastrous effects on democracy of Citizens United, and the egregious Republican gerrymandering and voter suppression efforts.
Donald Trump’s entire presidential campaign has been like a dance of the veils where he removes layer after layer each exposing one of the Republican Party’s dirty secrets. Even gifted intellectuals like Brooks or Kristol, who always get a free pass no matter how terribly wrong they are, cannot work their magic this time around when it comes to masking the inconvenient truths about their party that have surfaced with Donald Trump’s candidacy.
The startling implications of Trump’s popularity among Republicans is that through his actions, demeanor, and over-the-top campaign promises he is laying bare something right-wing intellectuals have been trying to hide.
The George W. Bush years revealed that “conservatives” didn’t care much about budget deficits or the national debt until they could use them for partisan gain. The Republican consensus to block President Obama from filling the vacancy on the Supreme Court also demonstrates that they don’t care much about the U.S. Constitution if it clashes with their partisan interests. The Republicans are having a more difficult time these days convincing the people that only through trickle down economics and austerity can America prosper.
All of these contradictions existed before Trump came along.
With their precious careers at stake and Trump looking more and more like the Republican nominee, prominent right-wing intellectuals must either fall in line behind Trump like they did for Sarah Palin in 2008, or start a mass exodus toward the Democrats this November.
The Trump candidacy’s clownish brusqueness and extremism have left in disarray the darlings of the Republican echo chamber who have been long accustomed to being coddled and kissed up to. The mightiest minds on the American Right who have been duplicitous all along can’t put Humpty-Dumpty together again.
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