The GOP’s Lost Boys

Monday, August 29th, 2016

By Reed Galen

Quote by a Smart Person: Don’t ever invite a vampire into your house, you silly boy. It renders you powerless.” Max (Edward Hermmann)/The Lost Boys

Welcome to the American Singularity.

Last week in Reno, Nevada, Hillary Clinton gave what may be the most impactful speech of this General Election; and one that may have illuminated the long-term fate of the Republican party in the United States. She said of Donald Trump, “He is taking hate groups mainstream and helping a radical fringe take over the Republican Party.” The “radical fringe” she speaks of is the so-called alt-right movement, a self-described group of largely disassociated people whose basis in belief is white nationalism and nativism. By calling out Trump, the alt-right, and the GOP together, she not only made undecided or “soft” moderate Republicans and independents pause in their decision this November, she also began the process of delegitamizing her rival, the American conservative movement.

This construction can be no mistake, no happenstance, no lucky turn-of-phrase. Clinton’s strategists and speech writers know of the immense discomfort many Republicans (this one included) have with the prospect of Donald Trump as President of the United States. But were they right? Is the alt-right now the dominant movement within the GOP? Where the national security hawks, fiscal conservatives and religious right once jockeyed for dominance in an uneasy three-way dance, have they each been usurped by an unruly band of political vampires that the GOP itself created, left to gestate and then ultimately invited into the house?

Alt Right + The Donald + The RNC = The End

What’s left of the Republican Establishment (GOPe) and the alt right will not live together. They cannot live together. The latter is the by-product of the former’s ignorance and complacency. The former is a twisted vision of what many small government, conservertarians hoped could serve as a reliable opponent of the Washington-centric, Chamber of Commerce party, that too often enjoyed the trappings of office over hewing to the principles on which they’d been elected. The alt-right is not the Tea Party. The alt-right is a strain of American conservatism that stayed largely in the background, and underground for years, if not decades, lacking the legitimate host they needed to spring upon the American political system.

The work that the Establishment tried to do with outreach to younger and minority voters after the 2012 campaign has seen the alt-right douse with gasoline and joyfully throw a match. The ensuing political inferno continues to this day and once it burns itself out after November, the alt-right will dance around the dying embers despite their favored candidate losing badly. They will have come of age in America — and we’ll have to work hard to put this ugly genie back in the bottle.

Is it even possible to reconstruct the Grand Old Party in which one of its most vocal constituencies is repellant to so many Republicans specifically and Americans (voters and not) generally? Republicans have been hounded by a branding probably for years, largely brought on by its policy positions. The party, oft-derided as that of the “old white guy” has now in fact become that very thing. Donald Trump’s ham-handed, ill-timed and a times flat out offensive attempts at “outreach” to minority communities will further push those same voters away from the conservative line on Election Day; and there weren’t many pulling the lever for Republicans to begin with.

A very smart, long-time Republican leader told me my recent pessimism around the future of the Party is overstated. They noted that at the state and local level Republicans control more governorships, statewide offices and legislatures than they ever have. This is true. When not voting for presidents, many states have elected Republicans to office. Those same office-holders have used gerrymandering to their distinct advantage — drawing favorable lines for themselves at the expense of Democratic districts.

This local success casts a disturbing shadow. In many red states, candidates are now running as far to the right as they can in primary campaigns, knowing there are not enough Democrats to overcome them in the General. We have seen policies enacted in states like North Carolina and Indiana, that purport to salvage religious freedom or protect electoral integrity, but have the distinct impression of being either anti-gay or anti-minority.

While those passing said legislation may honestly believe in it, national media outlets and advocacy groups pounce on the presumed discrimination, causing minority groups and dissenting politicians alike to threaten boycotts and file federal lawsuits. When it comes time to choose a president, all those voters who neglected to vote in a primary or mid-term election, suddenly rise up and vote for the Democrat: Wisconsin and the aforementioned North Carolina are likely battlefields for such an outcome this year.

It is the very success of ultra-conservative candidates that should have national Republicans alarmed. More and more of these politicians will win elections as the political spectrum further stratifies. In turn, this new generation will ultimately serve as the farm team for statewide and national candidates. If old-school Republicans want to find success, it may likely mean finding a new home — and quickly.

Republican leaders and Federal office holders have several difficult tasks ahead of them in the next 70+ days. They must do their best to hold onto the US Senate, mitigate losses in the US House and find a way to piece the GOP back together. To do so, they will need to start executing on promises they’ve made and broken for decades. Otherwise this army of political succubi they’ve helped create will only grow, and scatter non-alt-right conservatives to the four winds.

Copyright 2016. Jedburghs, LLC.

AuthorReed Galen

America’s Orange Devolution

Thursday, August 23rd, 2016

By Reed Galen

Welcome to the American Singularity.

Dirty politics, ugliness and saying horrible things about your opponents is a tradition in American politics as old as the Republic itself. In earlier times, broadsheets, pamphlets and rumor mills were the channels by which you spread damaging or embarrassing information. They remained in place until the early 20th century when radio, and subsequently television, became dominant and far-reaching media; allowing information, good and bad, to travel instantaneously to anyone listening or watching. In the 21st Century, we’ve eclipsed even the “24 hour news cycle” and in 2016, we’re dismantling the last vestiges of the phrase “out of bounds” in American politics.

Donald Trump certainly did not start the trend, but his ability to overwhelm all forms of American media — mainstream, conservative, online and otherwise, has helped create an environment in which words and deeds normally associated with other countries in other times have arrived on our shores. Perhaps more troubling than even Trump’s daily antics is Americans’ willingness to now accept them as normal.

What time are we living in when a candidate for the highest office in the land can say, “I could stand on 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and they’d still vote for me.” We may have our first truly issue-free presidential general election campaign because our candidates focus on judges, TV personalities and avoiding the press as a matter of course.

Burning the Edges of the Envelope

Most of us have believed, up to now, that if we call, text or email a friend or colleague that somehow that information is in a magical lockbox in the “cloud” somewhere. Members of both political parties were likely brought up short and put on notice that everything, every keystroke, is now fair game.

The Wikileaks hack of the Democratic National Committee, likely perpetrated by a wing of the Russian secret service is a new and unwelcome entrant into the Big Book of Dirty Tricks. After all, we aren’t Greece or Italy in the 1950s where both the US and the USSR actively participated in swaying elections in a foreign land. We’re America. This isn’t supposed to happen here. But it happens, and will continue as a fact of life in our political life and beyond.

This month it was reported that three #NeverTrump Republican operatives, Rick Wilson, Liz Mair and Cheri Jacobus were the targets of “spear phishing” attacks by someone supportive (if not allied) with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Taking down rival operatives is also nothing new, though it is only generally only a marginally successful tactic against a candidate.

As troubling as this act is, what it portends is even more concerning. If in 2016 it is okay to go after political consultants with poorly designed email scams, will it be okay in 2020 to hack their personal accounts, or worse, attack them personally?

Will the scorched-earth politics and tactics of Breitbart (full disclosure, I have written for Breitbart California on Golden State policy and politics) and its attendant foot soldiers escape cyberspace and enter the real world? Their actions already have practical consequences, but what if the genie gets completely out of the bottle? What if the target of a Twitter shaming suddenly becomes fair game on the sidewalk outside their house? How far is too far when defending and/or advocating for your beliefs or belittling those of someone else?

Past Actions ==> Future Behavior

The Donald and his new campaign CEO, Steve Bannon, have made careers of attacking those they consider enemies. Trump has often used the courts to further his aims or kneecap an opponent. Bannon, who when he’s not running Trump 2016, is the chief of Breitbart has been called “the most dangerous man in politics.” No doubt Bannon revels in this moniker but the fact he now controls both a presidential nominee and a nominally independent media organization puts him in a unique position in American presidential campaign history: That’s not a good thing.

Hillary Clinton, though, is also no stranger to questionable behavior in political life. On a daily basis, there are new revelations that she, her staff, the former president or the Clinton Foundation engaged in activity that by any objective standard is unethical. With more than three decades of backroom political dealings and hundreds of millions of dollars in both donations and personal profit, it is impossible to believe that as president, Mrs. Clinton could suddenly shake this behavior. That she keeps her inner circle so close and insular, and assuming many of them are also indoctrinated, the spirit of “if we say it’s okay, it’s okay,” will likely live on in the next Clinton White House.

Ancillary Deficits

Donald Trump is the B-52 bomber of the 2016 campaign. He flies over, drops his bombs, turns the sand to glass and moves on to the next target. Those below, shell-shocked can do little but shake their heads and hope he doesn’t navigate toward them again. Because DJT has broken every traditional rule of political life, highly damaged candidates such as Clinton may safely within the confines of Martha’s Vineyard or Holmby Hills, as she approaches her ninth month without appearing before the national press corps.

Instead she goes on Jimmy Kimmel and makes jokes about her own transgressions or sits down with a local reporter who has likely been threatened within an inch of their lives to keep the interview “light” and restricted to “only the important issues.”

Because of Trump’s daily Toon-Town talk and Hillary’s hiding, the major issues that concern Americans: the economy, jobs, national security and the daily uncertainty that many now contend with, are pushed aside, found not interesting enough to be discussed.

While no one other than reporters and researchers made read a candidate’s plan for the economy or the country, voters need to hear something more than a saccharin stump speech to adequately make a decision on who should lead the country. Without hearing directly from the would-be presidents, voters will run to their own safe spaces — outlets that bestow upon them only glossy, sanitized information in support of their chosen candidate.

The Drowsy Fourth Estate

When then-Governor George W. Bush ran for president in 2000 (a campaign on which I worked), a media availability every two or three days was a common occurrence on the road. There was an understanding that giving the traveling press even five or ten minutes served as a pressure-valve and left to their own devices, the reporters would find something else, and less flattering to cover. After all, who can watch the same event three times a day for a week and not look for a juicy process story?

In Trump and Clinton the press has a dichotomy on its hands. Trump won’t shut up. Every word out of his mouth is more bombastic than the last, and therefore dictates some level of coverage. Clinton won’t even look in their general direction, hasn’t spoken to them in 270 days and her sequestration gets only sniping on Twitter or a line in an article. But as the self-appointed arbiters of what is good and bad for American politics, they’ve determined that Clinton, for all her faults, is a less-bad option than Donald Trump.

They may well be objectively correct in that assessment, the fact that the media does not take her more to task is troubling. Clinton and her people are well aware of this dynamic and will gladly take advantage of it for the next seventy eight days.

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop (After November)

On Wednesday, November 9th, Americans will wake up to as divided a country as they had been the day before. Regardless of the victor on Election Day, neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton is likely to change their modus operandi in any meaningful way. As I wrote earlier this summer and Politico’s Eli Stokols reported last week, far from going quietly into that good night, Trump will likely declare the election rigged from the start and millions of his followers will likely believe him.

Trump, and Bannon and Roger Ailes know how to sell anger and resentment. Just because he’s not president doesn’t mean Donald Trump and his dark wake won’t be with us for years to come.

Conversely, while President Barack Obama pledged to have the most transparent White House in history, we should not expect such grand pronouncements from Clinton 2.0. What we see from today’s White House, or the State Department (a $400 million payoff to Iran comes to mind) or the Pentagon, half-truths or “technically correct” statements will likely only metasticize if Hillary takes office. Truth is always in the eye of the beholder. If Team Clinton believes that their version (or vision) of the truth advances their goals and ambitions, veracity be damned.

Mad? Frustrated? Get Up. Do Something.

Governance at every level of this country leaves much to be desired. Whether you’re a central economy loving socialist or a Don’t Tread on Me Tea Partier, almost every American can agree that our elected (and all too often the unelected) leaders don’t do right by citizens, voters and taxpayers. From the ongoing disgrace at the Department of Veterans Affairs to the bureaucratic heartlessness of Flint, Michigan, we should expect more from those we entrust with our votes, our money and our safety.

Ticked off? Frustrated? On your last nerve? Pick up the phone and call your city council, your state rep and your Member of Congress. If there is anything, literally anything in the world that people in government like less, it’s hearing from their constituents. Lobbing 10 or 15 calls into a Congressional office will send them into orbit. Dozens of emails showing up in their inbox will send them straight to the liquor cabinet. Have the audacity to show up at their office in numbers, asking for a meeting? You may well find your rep running out the back door to catch a last minute, unexpected flight to Mauritius. Representative democracy only works if we as the Demos do our job — and that is holding those we elect accountable. If we don’t, no one else will.

Copyright 2016. Jedburghs, LLC.

AuthorReed Galen

The @GOP: Stuck in the Middle with Trump

Sunday, August 21st, 2016

By Reed Galen

Quote by a Smart Person: “Clowns to the left of, jokers to the right. Stuck in the middle with you.” Stealer’s Wheel/“Stuck in the Middle with You”

Welcome to the American Singularity.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. With a field of more than a dozen qualified candidates, a president they couldn’t beat on the way out the door, and a likely Democratic nominee who was damaged and unpopular, 2016 was going to the year the GOP retook the White House, held Congress and embarked on reversing eight years of Barack Obama. They had arranged the primary calendar as to avoid a Romney-like slog into the late spring. They’d cut down on the number of debates to ensure that campaigns didn’t have to do one a week and open their candidates to the possibility of a fatal mistake.

But it was not to be. In just six months, Donald Trump would transform himself from real estate mogul and reality TV star to the Republican Party’s tangerine nightmare and there was little that anyone could or would do about it. To ensure Trump would stay inside the Party’s tent, they asked the candidates to sign a loyalty pledge. Trump did them one better. Not only did he sign it, he had Chairman Reince Preibus go to New York and participate in a flashy show of the event, complete with a press conference.

Time and again The Donald broke every known rule of American political life — from his hard line on immigration to insulting Senator John McCain over his seven years in captivity to initiating that Fox News anchor (and debate moderator) Megyn Kelly had asked him tough questions because, perhaps, and some people say this, maybe she was, you know having women’s troubles. All this happened before Labor Day 2015.

The Republican National Committee is not a public organization. It is a political party with its own rules, is privately funded, and exists for the purposes of electing candidates that fit within its ideological framework. Donald Trump represented RINO Prime: a man who held few, if any traditional conservative views yet consistently out-thought and out-fought a lethargic and sclerotic GOP establishment that could not understand with what they’re were dealing and would not take him directly to task for his words and deeds.

This hesitancy may prove lethal to the modern Republican Party. The GOP’s fight or flight instinct failed it miserably. Like a patient whose sympathetic nervous system has been damaged, it could neither stand and defend itself against an attacker, nor flee fast enough to put enough distance between itself and the predator to live to fight another day. Now Republicans across the country are backed into a corner with a crazed bear blocking their only escape. Hold still and he may eat you. Try and run and he will surely attack.

Thousands of articles have been written about how Republicans missed the disaffection among its voters that allowed Donald Trump’s rise. Thousands more will be written about Trump’s long-term effects on the GOP. Regardless of what happens on Election Day, Republican leaders will have to take honest stock of themselves and decide who they are and what they believe. All the talk of “purges” and “recriminations” that are sure to come in 2017 continue to miss the overall: those fights will be among party elders, consultants and politicians.

The lifelong Republican voter sitting at home does not, and will not care, what a bunch of people inside the Beltway have to say about one another. While County Chairs and uber-consultants duke it out in committee meetings and the Washington Post, the man or woman who was so fed up by the process that they turned to a wraith like Donald Trump as their savior will turn further away from Republican politicians and conservative ideals. As they watch GOP poobahs argue over money and ideology, all ultimately for their own benefit, why wouldn’t voters look out for themselves as well?

The White House, control of the United States Senate and the Republican margin in the US House are imperiled by Donald Trump’s ascendance as GOP standard-bearer. His statements are typically offensive or nonsensical. His policy positions, if they can be found, are rooted in early 1940s nativism. Trump’s power is derived from the anger of his followers — a not insignificant portion of the American people as a whole. The latest iteration of Trump’s campaign leadership has more contempt for the GOP than any Democrat ever could. While it will be easiest to blame Trump for the political bloodbath that is headed Republicans’ way in November, that is a cop-out.

Trump is not the cause of Republican decline, nor is he a symptom of it. The GOP has been hemorrhaging voters and support at the national level for years. Like a person who has dedicated themselves to eating fried chicken three meals a day and washing it down with a bottle of vodka, the Republican Party became a ripe target for a viral agent like Donald Trump. When the time came for the GOP body politic to defend itself, its ability to do so had long passed. Now the once-proud elephant lays on its side, gasping for breath as it is attacked both from within and without.

With less than 80 days to go before American voters choose their next leader, the GOP remains in neutral, as it has been the entire election cycle. If they cut Donald Trump loose and focus on saving the US Senate, Trump will firebomb the establishment as he did in the primaries. If they draw him closer, hoping that his (dubious) ability to raise money can help them save a few down ballot seats, they could watch the whole Republican superstructure, in place for decades, implode.

Copyright 2016. Jedburghs, LLC.

AuthorReed Galen