The Freak Show

November 2016 should be a “no-way-the-Republicans-can-lose” Presidential election.  The country is in a sour mood and senses, rightly, that things have gone awry.  Our President is snubbed at airports all over the world (and it’s cold comfort that the “snubbers” are people “on the wrong side of history”), our best friends the Brits take offense at being lectured and threatened if they don’t vote “the right way” on the EU, true U.S. employment is still millions of jobs below pre-2008 levels, and many of the new jobs pay less than the jobs previously lost.  From ISIS to insurance premiums, Americans feel threatened, anxious and unhappy. That is tailor-made for the opposition party to capture the Presidency.   But it’s highly likely that the next President will be a Democrat, and more specifically, an ethically-challenged, been-on-the-national-scene-too-long, finger-to-the-wind, Nixonian-persona Democrat.  The Republicans really have no one to blame but themselves.  How has this happened?

 

Any Republican with a pulse and an IQ above 85 understands that the GOP must frame this election around just two issues:  jobs and national security.  The Democrats are vulnerable (and should be mortally wounded) on both issues.  To paraphrase Ronald Reagan’s 1980 rhetorical checklist:  “Are you better off now than you were four years ago? Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was four years ago? Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago? Is America as respected throughout the world as it was? Do you feel that our security is as safe, that we’re as strong as we were four years ago?”  Here we are, nine presidential election cycles later, and the Gipper’s questions should be the Republicans’ talking points.  But they (or at least the ones energized enough to vote in GOP primaries) apparently have all been bonked on the head and suffer from collective amnesia.

 

Jobs

Even now, after almost five years of anemic “recovery,” our true employment rate (not the phony, manipulated unemployment rate) is probably about 73 percent, versus around 75 percent in pre-Great Recession 2007.  Put it another way, we are at least 2 or 3 million jobs lighter than we should be, given the increase in the size of the work force during that time. And the jobs mix is tilted towards lower-paying, less-secure positions.  No matter how much they may try to blame others, neither the Obama Administration, nor its surrogates, nor MSNBC can put much lipstick on this pig.  But other than vague promises, the GOP debates and talking points have touched on jobs only tangentially, having opted instead for an anti-immigration, anti-trade free-for-all and a discussion of small hands and transgender bathroom predators.

 

A strong jobs economy affects almost every aspect of national life:  it means more taxes paid to help decrease the deficit and the appalling national debt; it helps pay for the “entitlements” that many Americans now regard as their birthright; it finances a strong military so that we are more credible overseas, and most important, it contributes to a sense of well-being among American families.  By contrast, our on-again, off-again 7-year “recovery” is angst-inducing.

 

National Security

It is a commonplace that these are troubled times in the world.  However arguable the merits of the Obama/Kerry initiatives in Iran and Cuba, it is beyond dispute that our relationships with traditional allies are frayed.  When Joe Biden discusses the Administration’s “overwhelming frustration” with Israel (read: Prime Minister Netanyahu), and claims that Israeli settlements and land seizures are “moving Israel in the wrong direction,” when the Saudi king greets two-bit Gulf rulers but not the U.S. President at the airport, and when we tell Canada that its natural resources are too dirty to move through the U.S., things aren’t going well.  And when China builds airbases on hitherto-barren reefs, and Russia is unmoved by sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine, and sending its pilots to do barrel rolls around U.S. military planes (not to mention being rightly perceived as having displaced the U.S. as the influential player in Syria), Americans are uneasy.  Further, our halting, incremental response to ISIS, which the President unfortunately once called a Jayvee team (a quote he tried to walk back), does not jibe with Americans’ view of what the United States should be able to accomplish.  Our unease is truly justified – the overseas situation is baaaad.  But what has been the GOP response?  Suggestions of carpet-bombing ISIS (Cruz’s non-starter when ISIS is billeted with local populations) and admiration for Putin (Trump’s “he’s just a strong leader” approach) are worse than boneheaded.  The official Ted Cruz response to terror seems to be to forbid all immigration by  “Syrian Muslims” – without any explanation for how one can tell the Syrian Christians from Syrian Muslims.   And the official Donald Trump response to terror is – gee, who can tell?

 

So what ARE they talking about?

As it turns out, the two GOP frontrunners’ main contribution to the national security debate seems to be anti-immigrant talk.  The Republicans’ descent from former California Governor Pete Wilson (who first made this a GOP issue and just emerged from the dustbin of history to endorse Cruz) through strident drumbeaters such as former Rep. Tom Tancredo and current Rep. Steve King to the current Republican contestants virtually guarantees that the Hispanic vote will tilt heavily Democratic.  The odds are overwhelming that in November the Republican nominee will be someone who has so alienated Hispanics that the Democrats will get at least 65 percent of their vote, which could alone be decisive in states such as Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nevada and Virginia.  That’s a huge chunk of electoral votes (68), and the Republicans lost all of those states but Arizona (11 votes) the last time around.   And, in the meantime, Ted Cruz is railing against letting any Muslim immigrants into this country, because the FBI cannot vet them all. Logically, that means banning all immigration.  After all, Ted, how can you tell if they are Muslims?  What if they claim to be Christians—but they’re lying?

 

What about domestic initiatives?  Apparently the Republicans have also forgotten that at least half of the electorate is female and that a large majority has had enough of the anti-abortion activists.  Maybe these women don’t like abortion, and cannot imagine ever being in the position of wanting, let alone undergoing an abortion, but they don’t particularly think that legislators should be that involved in ruling their bodies.  How is it that the Republicans believe in laissez-faire capitalism (including letting unwanted babies receive little or no social services once they are born) but simultaneously resist letting women choose on this most intimate of decisions?  Does anyone doubt that this position alone dooms Donald Trump and probably Ted Cruz as well in the general election?

 

What else are the Republicans talking about?  Mythical assaults in public restrooms!  Is there some reliable statistic showing that transgendered people (news flash:  they are people) are more likely to assault young girls than oversexed heterosexual frat boys—or that they are more dangerous to young boys than high school gym coaches (and future Congressmen)?  And, just when we thought the debate had already descended below the lowest bar anyone could imagine, out comes Trump citing as gospel a National Enquirer story linking Rafael Cruz to Lee Harvey Oswald.

 

It’s a freak show.  Cruz or Trump, Trump or Cruz…they’re gonna lose, and based on their issue-free, bottom-dwelling campaigns, they deserve to lose.

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2 thoughts on “The Freak Show

  1. Lee, when you say the Admistration is frustrated with Netanyahu expanding settlements as an example of “something being wrong” with our relationships with our allies, are you saying the fault lies with the U.S. Or Netanyahu? About 100 former Israeli generals and every living former Israeli spy chief is equally frustrated with Netanyahu and believe Bibi’s policies are destructive for Israel.

  2. Lee,

    I find many things in your post which I could spend many paragraphs addressing, a lot of them in agreement; others with perhaps some nuanced and distinguishing points. However, ultimately I feel neither category would advance the discussion.

    Rather, I would like to throw two things into the marketplace of ideas for consideration:

    1) Love him, hate him, fear him, or whatever one thinks about him, don’t underestimate the Donald. The GOP “Establishment” learned that the hard, stubborn and laughably and amazingly the stupid way.

    2) The primaries are different than the general election, bringing different issues to the forefront. At least they should be, for a variety of reasons, especially for the challenging party, and even more so when it begins the process with 17 candidates.

    I’m not making any predictions. Hell, I still don’t know if it’s yet safe to say Hillary will be Trump’s fall opponent.

    Just from an objective, non-partisan, political-science academic perspective, 2016 has been and will continue to be an extremely fascinating, intriguing, surprising and often bewildering election year, worthy of innumerable other adjectives of one’s choosing.

    And to think, we aren’t even half-way done.

    One final thought: If, come the morning of November 9th, you see the following newspaper headline, remember you first saw it here:

    THE DONALD TRUMPS HILLARY.

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