Ronald Reagan

Not at All Unexpected if We Just Stop and Think About It for a Moment

#NationalistRepublicanArmy | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Oliver North, notorious figure in the Iran-Contra scandal, speaks to the National Rifle Association in Dallas, Texas, 4 May 2018. (Photo: Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

As Steve Benen explains—

In 1994, then-Sen. Chuck Robb (D-Va.) offered a famous description of his Republican rival, Oliver North.

Lieutenant-Colonel Oliver North, former aide to former National Security Adviser John Poindexter, is sworn in 7 July 1987 before the House and Senate Foreign Affairs Committee hearing in Washington, D.C. on arms sales to Iran and diversion of profits to Nicaraguan Contra rebels. North testified under limited immunity. The 'Irangate' saga erupted 30 November 1986 into a new crisis for the US President Reagan administration with the resignation of Admiral John Poindexter as the President's National Security Advisor and the dismissal of North, a member of the National Security Council Staff. 'Ollie' North, a much-decorated Marine officer, known to White House cynics as the President's 'Swashbuckler in Chief', was linked to the transfer of some $ 30 million profit from the Iran weapons sales to Contra rebels fighting the left-wing Sandinista government in Nicaragua. (Photo: Chris Wilkins/AFP/Getty Images)“My opponent is a document-shredding, Constitution-trashing, commander-in-chief-bashing, Ayatollah-loving, arms-dealing, criminal-protecting, resume-enhancing, Noriega-coddling, Swiss-banking, law-breaking, letter-faking, self-serving, snake-oil salesman who can’t tell the difference between the truth and a lie,” Robb said.

North went on to narrowly lose that race—then Republican Sen. John Warner (R) endorsed the Democrat, and North was denounced by Ronald Reagan—but he nevertheless cemented his role as a far-right celebrity and conservative media personality. Today, he landed a notable new gig.

—this is your new president of the National Rifle Association: Oliver North, ladies and gentlemen.

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Image notes: Top — Oliver North speaks to the National Rifle Association in Dallas, Texas, 4 May 2018. (Photo: Lucas Jackson/Reuters)  Right — Lieutenant-Colonel Oliver North, former aide to former National Security Adviser John Poindexter, is sworn in 7 July 1987 before the House and Senate Foreign Affairs Committee hearing in Washington, D.C. on arms sales to Iran and diversion of profits to Nicaraguan Contra rebels. (Photo: Chris Wilkins/AFP/Getty Images)

Benen, Steve. “Despite his criminal scandal, Oliver North to lead the NRA”. msnbc. 7 May 2018.

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Another Memo to the Late Party of Reagan

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Donald Trump speaks to South Carolina voters in North Charleston, 19 February 2016. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

MEMORANDUM

To: Republican voters

re: What now? (Follow-up)

So it turns out we weren’t the only ones who noticed. Or, as Steve Benen put it today:

In the same interview, Moore added, “Reagan ran as an ideological conservative. Trump ran as an economic populist. Trump’s victory turned it into the Trump party.”

One of these days, conservatives are going to have to come to terms with the fact that they have no idea what “populism” means.

Indeed, not long after Moore’s remarks, the Republican president-elect, leading the newly transformed “populist working-class party,” indicated a variety of far-right billionaires would join his cabinet, including vulture capitalist Wilbur Ross for the Department of Commerce.

Which was right around the time Republicans celebrated a court ruling blocking President Obama’s policy expanding access to overtime pay for millions of working-class Americans.

Which was right around the time the Associated Press reported―about a month too late―that Trump’s tax plan would actually raise taxes on many middle-class Americans while delivering a windfall to those at the top.

This. Is. Not. Populism.

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Absurdly Unsurprising

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., 3 February 2016. (Detail of photo by Reuters/Gary Cameron)

The lede is the sort of thing that brings that mix of suprise and recognition that there really is nothing surprising about it. Jonathan Easley of The Hill explains that, “Allies of Ben Carson will launch a super-PAC later this month with the aim of turning out evangelical voters for Donald Trump and down-ballot Republicans”, and should the portmanteaux be gruckle or choan, because, to the one, of course they will, and, to the other, why not.

More particularly, what is afoot is that Bill Millis, a Carson fundraiser, is helping put together “an ambitious network of nonprofit advocacy groups” intended to help the Republican nominee apparent work the evangelical crowd.

This is an important point:

The groups have obtained the rights to a database and email list started by televangelist and Liberty University founder Jerry Falwell, and later maintained by Carl Townsend, who founded the influential Christian ministries group InService USA.

“It’s the largest existing database in the world that can send messages to churches, pastors, evangelicals, and Christians of all kinds,” said Sam Casey, a conservative lawyer who is acting as general counsel to the groups.

Indeed, it is nearly a scary prospect, especially recalling the Reagan awakening of 1980. The question this time is just how desperate is the evangelical identity politic. It seems nearly a trembling anticipation to hear the first preacher tell us Donald Trump is a changed man finding his way to Christ.

Laughing will be appropriate, come the day. Calling bullshit will be requisite. And while we might caution one ought to at least attempt some semblance of politeness about calling bullshit, there will be days when such a feat is impossible. Priority will out.

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Image note: Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., 3 February 2016. (Detail of photo by Reuters/Gary Cameron)

Easley, Jonathan. “Carson allies to target evangelicals with pro-Trump super-PAC”. The Hill. 4 June 2016.

The Conservative Conundrum, and Other Notes

Republican Presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks during the 2016 Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Candidates Forum in Washington, DC, December 3, 2015 (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

Paul Krugman offers a curious observation:

As many have noted, it’s remarkable how shocked — shocked! — that establishment has been at the success of Donald Trump’s racist, xenophobic campaign. Who knew that this kind of thing would appeal to the party’s base? Isn’t the G.O.P. the party of Ronald Reagan, who sold conservatism with high-minded philosophical messages, like talking about a “strapping young buck” using food stamps to buy T-bone steaks?

Seriously, Republican political strategy has been exploiting racial antagonism, getting working-class whites to despise government because it dares to help Those People, for almost half a century. So it’s amazing to see the party’s elite utterly astonished by the success of a candidate who is just saying outright what they have consistently tried to convey with dog whistles.

We might call it curious not for being obscure, but, rather, for being obvious.

That is to say, despite the blunt force with which reality asserts itself, we are somehow expected to ignore it. The Republican Party, of course, seems very good at ignoring it. Even establishment tools like RedState managing editor Leon H. Wolf are getting in on the act:

Sadly, 35% of our party has decided to abdicate their responsibility as adults to take their civic voting duty seriously, and so the poisonous threat of Trump has completely altered my own personal voting calculus.

And we, too, might try the word, sadly.

Because, sadly, we find ourselves up against a baseline standard that can only break when conservatives need it to; blaming voters, even on those occasions when circumstance otherwise describes it as wholly appropriate, is problematic in the marketplace.

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My Superstition (Anti-Prophet)

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin poses with a snow truck Saturday, 23 January 2016; the Republican governor posted the image to social media in order to show Bluegrass State residents how hard he was working on the snowstorm shortly before flying to New Hampshire for a campaign event. Detail of self-portrait by Matt Bevin.

This is a personal superstition:

Aside from the obvious, it’s worth noting that when governors go to New Hampshire to headline fundraisers, it often means they’re thinking about raising their visibility ahead of a national campaign. Bevin’s entire career in public office has only lasted a couple of months; is he already eyeing some kind of promotion?

Every once in a while a paragraph like this comes up, or some similar circumstance. One reads or hears something, and, you know, just … oh, come on.

And while it is easy enough to knock Steve Benen for sounding histrionic partisan alarms early, the truth of the matter is that I also scoffed, nearly three years ago, at the proposition of Ben Carson running for president.

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The Clown Car Breakdown

Detail of 'Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal' by Zach Weiner, 12 June 2015.

Four paragraphs from Steve Benen:

Nine candidates would be a big field under any circumstances, but in this case, just the governors alone―Bush, Christie, Gilmore, Huckabee, Kasich, Jindal, Pataki, Perry, and Walker―had enough to field a baseball team. Add Democratic governors to the mix―O’Malley and Chafee―and the number swells to 11.

And at a certain level, this is understandable. For many in both parties, it’s long been assumed that governors have the edge in the party’s nominating contests, in part thanks to history―Reagan, Carter, Clinton, W. Bush, Romney, et al―and also because of the nature of the job. Being the chief executive of a state, the theory goes, offers ideal training for being the chief executive in the White House. Governors learn how to manage and respond to crises. They learn how to oversee a massive, bureaucratic team, while working opposite a legislature. They learn how to lead.

How many sitting GOP senators have ever been elected to the White House? Only one. It was Warren Harding, who was elected nearly a century ago. This is hardly accidental―Americans tend to hate Congress, so they don’t necessarily look to Capitol Hill for national leaders.

And yet, here we are. Two of the most experienced candidates of the cycle―Rick Perry and Scott Walker, both governors―have already quit (as has Lincoln Chafee). George Pataki and Jim Gilmore were excluded from the debates altogether this week, while Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee were relegated to the kids’ table, where they joined Bobby Jindal. Jeb Bush and John Kasich made the prime-time stage, but both are struggling badly. The latter faced booing.

This is actually important in its own right; in an anti-institutional year when career politicians who achieve governorships are actually being viewed as career politicians, the landscape really does seem strange from an unradicalized perspective. Indeed, how strange might we now find the recollection that back in April, even Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was pitching for senators against governors in the presidential context. Even in unhinged quarters, gubernatorial experience was actually respected earlier in this cycle.

With a flaccid RNC and impotent Congressional leadership, the anti-institutional movement driving Donald Trump and Ben Carson to the top of the polls would seem to get the nod: Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Republican Party.

Nor might we begin to speculate at what that means. Still, as Phillip Rucker and Robert Costa of the Washington Post explore the now perpetual chatter of growing discomfort and even “panic” among establishment Republicans, it is hard to fathom the idea that even in the GOP, this is starting to become an American existential question:

The apprehension among some party elites goes beyond electability, according to one Republican strategist who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly about the worries.

“We’re potentially careening down this road of nominating somebody who frankly isn’t fit to be president in terms of the basic ability and temperament to do the job,” this strategist said. “It’s not just that it could be somebody Hillary could destroy electorally, but what if Hillary hits a banana peel and this person becomes president?”

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Image note: Detail of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal by Zach Weiner, 12 June 2015

Benen, Steve. “Governors find a hostile 2016 landscape”. msnbc. 13 November 2015.

Rucker, Phillip and Robert Costa. “Time for GOP panic? Establishment worried Carson or Trump might win.” The Washington Post. 13 November 2015.

The Ben Carson Show (Phenomenon)

Source photos: Ben Carson announces his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, 5 May 2015 (Paul Sancya/AP). A biblical inscription is chiseled into the wall of Ben Carson's home, with 'proverbs' spelled incorrectly (Mark Makela/The Guardian, 2014).

Tom McCarthy tries to explain the Ben Carson phenomenon for The Guardian:

He is more than an American success story, brilliant brain surgeon and bestselling author of 10 Christian-themed books. He has also coined some of the most outlandish statements ever uttered on the national stage, a purveyor of bizarre conspiracy theories and a provocateur who compares abortion to slavery and same-sex marriage to pedophilia.

This week, Carson restated his belief that the pyramids were built by the biblical Joseph to store grain, and not by Egyptians to entomb their kings. He believes that Vladimir Putin, Ali Khamenei and Mahmoud Abbas attended school together in Moscow in 1968. He believes that Jews with firearms might have been able to stop the Holocaust, that he personally could stop a mass shooting, that the Earth was created in six days and that Osama bin Laden enjoyed Saudi protection after 9/11.

The Carson conundrum is not fully captured by a list of his eccentric beliefs, however. He also confounds the traditional demographics of US politics, in which national African American political figures are meant to be Democrats. Not only is Carson a Republican – he is a strong conservative on both social and economic issues, opposing abortion including in cases of rape and incest, and framing welfare programs as a scheme to breed dependence and win votes.

He has visited the riot zones of Ferguson and Baltimore but offered little compassion for black urban poor populations who feel oppressed by mostly white police forces.

Even Carson’s core appeal as a Christian evangelical is complicated by the fact that he is a lifelong adherent to a relatively small sect, the Seventh-Day Adventist church, whose celebration of the sabbath on Saturday instead of Sunday and denial of the doctrine of hell have drawn accusations of heresy from other mainstream Christian groups.

That last probably plays more strongly with the British audience; in the United States, Christian is as Christian does; Dr. Carson’s penchant for false witness and exclusionary, judgmental scorn are his own ad hoc iteration of faith, shot through with neurotic self-contradiction as it struggles to justify his self-centered pretense of humility. If one seeks strangeness about the SDA experience in general, it is a different phenomenon.

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Incomplete

Detail of frame from Serial Experiments Lain

The headline above John A. Tures’ blog entry for Huffington Post might seem definitive: “Experienced Republicans Are Losing, Because GOP Primary Voters Are Less Experienced”. But the subsequent paragraphs do not support the statement, at least not in that context.

25 years of political experience didn’t seem to matter to GOP primary voters this year. They appear more enamored with the likes of businessmen Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson, neither of which either served a day in political office, or even ran for office prior to this year. Last week, Perry found himself with one percent of the vote in a CNN poll, well behind the front-runners Donald Trump (32 percent) and Dr. Ben Carson (21 percent).

Huffington PostIn fact, Perry had never polled as high as two percent in any GOP primary survey nationwide. He fared poorly in Iowa, according to Qunnipiac University’s polling. And he’s doing worse in New Hampshire, in the NBC News/Marist Poll.

Huffington Post politics editors Paige Lavender and Mollie Reilly cited gaffes from the 2012 Republican election primary, as well as anemic fundraising. But Perry is hardly alone. Experienced GOP candidates across the board are suffering, failing to even notch double-digits in the polls, while politically inexperienced candidates like Trump, Carson, and Carly Fiorina alone make up more than 50 percent of the polls, outnumbering the other 14 Republican candidates combined. Inexperienced candidates are getting six times as many votes and experienced candidates.

Is the party that touted the political experience of their own candidates in the past (Nixon, Goldwater, Ford, Reagan, Bush Sr., Dole, Bush Jr. and McCain) suddenly not valuing the political experience of a candidate? If so, why?

Unfortunately, that portion of the setup is a little less than half the entry. The point is not to denounce the article or author for apparent failure; rather, we might remain hopeful and continue to tune in.

You know. We hope.

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The Donald Trump Show (Un-Obama)

Donald Trump pauses during a speech while making a surprise appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., Thursday, 10 February 2011. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

This really is putting the cart before the horse, as excerpts go―

Trump is likely to have a tough time getting the Republican nomination. Back in 2000, John McCain had exactly the right message after Bill Clinton: straight talk. But conservatives didn’t trust McCain. McCain had challenged conservatives’ ascendancy over the Republican Party, so conservatives rallied behind George W. Bush. And ran a vicious campaign in the South Carolina primary to stop McCain.

Now another Bush is trying to stop the frontrunner by attacking his conservative credentials. “Mr. Trump doesn’t have a proven conservative record,” Jeb Bush charged last week. “People will vote for a proven conservative leader.” Bush is going to have to get a lot tougher than that. The Bush family proved in 1988 and 2000 that they can get pretty nasty.

Trump offers decisiveness, which is something a lot of voters are missing in President Obama. That’s why Trump has acquired a following. But brashness and boorishness come with the package, and that will make it tough for Trump to expand his following. Most voters find those qualities repugnant. And unpresidential. Too much unlike Obama.

―but the path Bill Schneider forges to that reach conclusion really is worth the time to read.

He makes a reasonable point.

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Image note: Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., Thursday, 10 February 2011. (Detail of photo by Gage Skidmore)

Schneider, Bill. “The Un-Obama”. The Huffington Post. 23 August 2015.

The Rand Paul Show (Iran-Contra Episode)

"U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks in Washington on Dec. 2, 2014." (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

It really is a fun headline from Jonathan Chait: “Rand Paul Promises to Illegally Trade Weapons for Hostages With Iran”.

Right. The Kentucky junior did not make that promise explicitly, but the headline is intended to point out the problems of Sen. Paul’s generalizations. After all, “A skeptic might note that the actual Reagan approach to the Iran issue involved selling Iran coveted weapons in return for its helping to release American hostages, and then lying about it.”

Still, though:

But a Reagan skeptic fails to grasp the higher truths of the Reagan cult that are apparent to the Republican Party. It is a truism for the faithful that all of Reagan’s beliefs were correct, even the Reagan beliefs that contradicted other Reagan beliefs. Likewise all of Reagan’s actions projected strength and are worthy of emulation, even his underhanded appeasement of a radical regime that led to a massive scandal. Even Reagan’s appeasement projected strength. That’s just how great he was.

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Chait, Jonathan. “Rand Paul Promises to Illegally Trade Weapons for Hostages With Iran”. New York. 7 April 2015.