Monday, August 29, 2016

The GOP as a failed state

Josh Marshall at TPM does such a great job explaining the "institutional collapse" in the Republican Party that I'm going to post the whole thing here:
Over the last few years, as 'government shutdown' went from being a crazy ass thing Newt Gingrich did twenty years ago - never to be tried again - to the top item on the Republican policy agenda, you could hear more and more Republicans saying something like this: We thought it was this great thing that we had our own cable news network as an arm of the GOP or the conservative movement, echoing talking points, spinning the news. But at a certain point we realized Fox News wasn't working for us. We're working for Fox News.

This isn't something I'm fantasizing for effect. It's a real recognition by real, specific people. Not everyone of course. In some ways it comes very much from 'the establishment' : elected leaders, campaign operatives, non-BS-based conservative commentators and intellectuals. They thought Fox News was the media arm or comms department of the GOP. But at some point the GOP, the institutional Republican party, the people who run campaigns, formulate policy or try to enact it, became a junior operational affiliate of Fox News. Whether Fox is principally a hugely profitable media company or an ideological endeavor is largely beside the point: the balance of power had shifted fundamentally. Like in decrepit, fragmenting imperial states where the powers-that-be keep on a powerless nominal emperor because he is so easy and convenient to dominate, a figure like John Boehner was kept at the helm by the fringe figures who had become the dominant force in GOP politics along with Fox News. Of course, that's the conceit of Trumpites and Fox, a populist rebellion against the 'establishment' and 'party elite.' Only that conceit is mainly self-flattery and it obscures the deeper fragmentation and institutional collapse within the GOP.

Several months ago I described the build of 'nonsense debt' and 'hate debt' in the GOP which made Trump's takeover possible. Indeed, whether genuine or merely opportunistic, you now have more than a few Never Trump conservative media personalities stepping forward to explain how the rightwing media echo-chamber created a framework in which you are immediately discredited if you do not subscribe to a series of demonstrably false claims, non-facts and theories. And there you have it: Years of build up of fantastical conspiracy theories, completely unrealistic political goals, all leaving the party ungovernable and vulnerable to a takeover by someone like Donald Trump who was willing to satisfy the demand the institutional GOP had studiously cultivated but was both unwilling and unable to satiate. Will Saletan had an observation several months ago which captures this and which I continue to think is one of most apt insights I've seen into contemporary American politics: the GOP is a failed state and Donald Trump is its warlord.

This isn't just a clever aside. The prism of state failure is actually an apt way to look at the progression of the GOP over the last two decades. Trump isn't the leader of the GOP. He's not trying to be. Historic party leaders - FDR, Reagan, possibly Obama - fuse party coalitions together on new and transformative terms. McCain or Romney may have failed to achieve that goal in its entirety. But Trump hasn't even tried. He's simply taken control of the largest constituency block and decided to rule it as his own. The party's institutional apparatus was too weak to prevent it. Like warlordization in a state collapse context, Trump's action confirms the breakdown of institutional control but also makes recovery and unity even more difficult to recover.

The social realities of urbanization, race and deindustrialization are the true engines of change rumbling beneath our politics and driving these changes. But conservative media - Fox News, Talk Radio, Drudge, Breitbart - has been the mechanism of the transformation within the GOP. Fox News as the leader of the pack has increasingly been the one defining the choices and options for the GOP, even taking on the role of providing sinecures for once and future Fox-approved presidential nominees during the off-season. And out of the blue we're now seeing the transformation take full effect with Trump.

Kellyanne Conway appears to be a nominal campaign manager, functioning as something more like a national spokesperson and chief surrogate. The campaign is now really being run by the head of Breitbart news, the disgraced former CEO of Fox News and talk radio host Laura Ingraham. Yes, yes, I know the latter two don't have formal titles. But look at recent reporting about who Trump is really spending his time with and being advised by. Other than Limbaugh taking a sabbatical and taking over as chief strategist, I'm not sure how much more total the conservative media takeover of the rump GOP could be.

How this plays over the longer term is less clear to me. If the rumors are true that Trump wants to use his candidacy to launch a right-wing media empire, it could lead to an even more ridiculous development: right-wing media takes over the GOP; Trump takes over and takes the the GOP private in some sort of ersatz leveraged buyout of a distressed publicly traded company. For now at least the takeover seems total. And even though this precise configuration can't outlast Trump's likely defeat, it's difficult to see how the warlordization of the GOP doesn't become more entrenched by these events.

"The conservative media takeover of the rump GOP." Marshall can really turn a phrase, can't he? And he's right.

Of course, Republican Party leaders let this happen, because it was politically advantageous for them. Heck, they deliberately wooed white racists with their notorious 'Southern strategy.' When you put political ambition above everything else, this is what happens.

Marshall links to this article from January, and I'm going to post a significant excerpt from that. (Remember, this was written months ago, before Trump had actually captured the GOP nomination.)
The disaster, the blame game, and the establishment’s surprise at what’s happening are related. Since President Obama’s election, the GOP has abandoned its role as a national governing party. It has seized Congress not by pursuing an alternative agenda but by campaigning and staging votes against anything Obama says or does. The party’s so-called leaders have become followers, chasing the pet issues of right-wing radio audiences. Now the mob to whom these elders have surrendered—angry white voters who are determined to “take back their country” from immigrants and liberals—is ready to install its own presidential nominee. The Trump-Cruz takeover is the culmination of the Grand Old Party’s moral collapse.

In foreign policy, there’s a term for governments that don’t govern. We call them failed states. A state can fail for many reasons, but weak or clueless leadership is usually a factor. In a failed state, insurgencies grow, warlords arise, and chaos reigns. That’s what the GOP has become.

When did the collapse begin? Maybe it was in late 2008 and early 2009, when congressional Republicans decided to block anything Obama proposed. Maybe it was in 2010, when they refused to compromise on health insurance reform or to agree on a plausible alternative. Maybe it was later, when they staged dozens of pointless votes to repeal the new law in its entirety, treating health care as a campaign issue rather than a problem to be solved. Maybe it was in the 2011 debt ceiling showdown, when they took the nation’s credit rating hostage, or in 2013, when they forced a federal shutdown to protest the health insurance law.

Republicans captured the House in 2010, but they didn’t use that power to cut favorable deals and pass legislation that might be signed into law. Instead, they reduced Congress to theater. House Republicans, unwilling to offend their base, killed immigration reform. In 2014, Republicans captured the Senate. Again, they spurned the opportunity to govern. Forty-seven Republican senators advised Iran not to sign a nuclear nonproliferation agreement with the United States. The Senate became such a farce that according to Rubio, there’s no point in attending, since nothing happens there but “show votes.”

Republicans no longer have a policy agenda. They have a scapegoating, base-stoking agenda. Their economic plan is to blame legal immigrants for the demise of upward mobility. Their social policy is to defund the nation’s leading birth-control provider and promote disobedience of court orders. Their foreign policy is to carpet-bomb Syria, insult the faith of our anti-ISIS partners, and void Iran’s pledge to abstain from nuclear weapons production.

In the race to the right, yesterday’s conservatives can’t keep up. John Boehner, a right-wing rebel in the House 20 years ago, has been purged as speaker by the GOP’s new hardliners. Kasich, another House rebel from the Boehner era, is now ridiculed in the presidential primaries as a liberal. Cruz and Rubio accuse each other, correctly, of having switched positions on immigration. Both men have shifted to the right—Rubio turning against illegal immigrants, Cruz turning against legal ones—in pursuit of angry white voters.

When you run a party this way, chasing after your most radical constituents—in Republican parlance, leading from behind—you shouldn’t be surprised to find that the audience you’ve cultivated doesn’t match your original principles. National Review’s Jan. 21 editorial, “Against Trump,” is eloquent but far too late. Today’s Republican electorate doesn’t belong to National Review. It belongs to Trump.

So,... what's next?

Assuming that Hillary Clinton wins the election - and we're in big trouble if she doesn't - what's next for the GOP?

Donald Trump is unlikely to go away. I mean, he ran for president in the first place to re-establish his celebrity credentials and further the commercial value of the Trump brand. That has backfired with many people, but not with the Trump faithful.

Even if he loses in a landslide (and we can only hope he does), he's going to get more than 40% of the vote - easily. And he's already claiming that the election will be "rigged." Republicans eat that stuff up.

Thanks to that horrible 'Southern strategy,' the GOP has already been filled with racists, xenophobes, and religious nuts. They're not going to go away. And certainly the right-wing media isn't going to go away.

Republican leaders aren't going to be leaders anymore, if they don't accept that the crazies now run their party. (Even then, as William Saletan points out, it's going to be "leading from behind," running as fast as they can just to keep up with the fanatics.)

Sure, their big-money backers will still have immense influence, but it's not going to be as easy as it used to be to use those crazies for their own benefit. (Yes, even the Republican base backs cutting taxes on the rich - though they may not understand that that's what they'd be doing - but you need to win elections first.)

Donald Trump might be new to the GOP, but this situation isn't. It's been building for decades, as Republican politicians took full advantage of that 'Southern strategy,' right-wing talk radio, and Fox News.

When Republican leaders agreed to obstruct Barack Obama - while America was in the middle of two wars and as our economy was crumbling around us in the worst economic crash since the Great Depression - not one Republican Congressman stood up for what was right. Not one!

They brought this on themselves by caring more for their own political power than for America. And again, if you're willing to use racism to advance your political ambition, what won't you do?

The right-wing crazies have always been with us. But they're not such a big problem on the fringe. And historically, they've been on the fringe of both political parties. Unfortunately, the GOP's 'Southern strategy' successfully put all of the crazies into the same political party. That has given them lots of political power.

At first, Republican leaders just threw them a bone occasionally. It was mostly just rhetoric, as they used those people to cut taxes on the rich. But as people unhappy with using racism for political power - African-Americans in particular, but not just them - left the party, that further concentrated the crazy.

Meanwhile, the right-wing media - from Fox News on down - whipped up the anger, resentment, and fear of white conservatives, both for commercial and political purposes. Again, that worked great for decades. A lot of people got rich, and a lot of Republicans got elected to office. But what do you do with the monster once you've created it?

This isn't about Donald Trump. Trump was just the perfect person to take advantage of it. He's used to scamming the gullible, and he's as narcissistic as a celebrity can get. But any fascist demagogue could have risen to the top here. Heck, Ted Cruz was the GOP runner-up!

Of course, it's going to be about Donald Trump now. Trump is unlikely to go away, even if he loses big. Indeed, he's likely to just get crazier. And again, look at the people he ran against. A different crazy person isn't going to be better.

I don't know how the GOP recovers from this. And while I'm not at all concerned about the GOP, I am very much concerned about America. We can't have one of our two main political parties controlled by crazies (and we do need two main political parties).

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