Photo of the day

From the Telegraph’s photos of the day:

Have you seen the rook!?: A jay looks to be deeply involved in a game of chess with a squirrel. Photographer Vadim Trunov captured this photograph in the snowy woodlands located in the Voronezh region of Russia.

Have you seen the rook!?: A jay looks to be deeply involved in a game of chess with a squirrel. Photographer Vadim Trunov captured this photograph in the snowy woodlands located in the Voronezh region of Russia.Picture: Vadim Trunov/Solent News & Photo Agency

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Rubio the opportunist

Nice piece by Peter Beinart arguing that Rubio is particularly unprincipled (and that’s saying something in this field) in saying whatever he thinks will get him elected– in this case trying to win over Trump supporters:

But the ugliest moments [in the most recent GOP debate] belonged to Marco Rubio. The junior senator from Florida sold his soul in North Charleston, South Carolina, for a shot at winning over the supporters of Donald Trump.

It began early in the night when Rubio said, “Barack Obama does not believe that America is a great global power. Barack Obama believes that America is a arrogant global power that needs to be cut down to size.” These are lies. Since becoming a national political figure roughly a decade ago, Obama has uttered millions of words about America. In addition to his public statements, his private comments have made it into the media countless times. He’s never said anything remotely like what Rubio suggests…

Later in the evening, the moderators asked about Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States. Christie and John Kasich said they disagreed. Jeb Bush disagreed at length. Rubio did not. Instead, he began his answer by praising Trump for having “tapped in to some of that anger that’s out there about this whole issue because this president has consistently underestimated the threat of ISIS.”…The listener who didn’t already know Rubio’s position might well have thought he supports Trump’s plan.

But the people Rubio needs to win don’t only dislike undocumented immigration…

So instead of defending his past support of legal immigration, Rubio abandoned it…

Back in 2013, when nativist Iowa Congressman Steve King tried to use the Boston marathon bombing as a pretext to limit legal immigration, Rubio responded that, “We should really be very cautious about using language that links these two things in any way.” Not anymore. Now Rubio is worried that the women and children fleeing rape and murder in Guatemala are trying to establish a caliphate in Southern California…

But for Rubio, it is just politics. Unlike Bush, he possesses the political talent to effectively challenge the paranoia and bigotry coursing through today’s GOP. Instead, he’s rolled over. At the debate, he left absolutely no doubt: His strategy for defeating Trump is to ape Trump. Bush may have lost the debate, as he has lost every debate, but he lost with dignity. Rubio surrendered his. And he probably lost anyway. Despite his best efforts, he just doesn’t do fear and hatred that well. [emphasis mine]

Actually, I think he does fear and hatred plenty well enough.  It’s a lot easier than doing hope and optimism.  I’m not sure whether to think under everything Rubio is a decent enough guy just doing what he thinks he has to do to win, or a completely shameless opportunist who will way whatever it takes to get elected.  One thing I think I have learned is that he is not a genuine leader.  A genuine leader with Rubio’s history on these issues would actually stand up to Trump, not mimic him.

The most distinctive thing about Trump supporters

A good while back, I linked to an excellent post by political scientist Richard Skinner that tried to make sense out of who supports Trump and why.  There was not a lot of hard data to go on, but Skinner had some astute speculation on Trump and authoritarianism:

Authoritarianism. Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler have found that a new divide, based on fundamental worldviews, has become increasingly important in American politics. “Authoritarian” voters are less tolerant of minority groups, more fearful of threats to order, and more likely to see morality in black-and-white terms. They have become more likely to vote Republican over the past two decades. But they are not especially conservative on either cultural or economic issues. As the living embodiment of “white male privilege,” Trump can appeal to those fearful of changing racial and gender mores. By separating the world into “winners” and “losers,” Trump exalts strength and shows contempt for weakness, and that language constantly frames every issue, every policy, every disagreement as in-group vs. outgroup/us vs. them.

Sounds very much on point.  Now, another political scientist, Matthew MacWilliams, has conducted a poll using the standard political science questions on authoritarianism (they are actually about your views on child-rearing, interestingly), and surprise, surprise, the key feature of Trump supporters is their high authoritarianism:

If I asked you what most defines Donald Trump supporters, what would you say? They’re white? They’re poor? They’re uneducated?

You’d be wrong.

In fact, I’ve found a single statistically significant variable predicts whether a voter supports Trump—and it’s not race, income or education levels: It’s authoritarianism.

That’s right, Trump’s electoral strength—and his staying power—have been buoyed, above all, by Americans with authoritarian inclinations…

My finding is the result of a national poll I conducted in the last five days of December under the auspices of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, sampling 1,800 registered voters across the country and the political spectrum. Running a standard statistical analysis, I found that education, income, gender, age, ideology and religiosity had no significant bearing on a Republican voter’s preferred candidate. Only two of the variables I looked at were statistically significant: authoritarianism, followed by fear of terrorism, though the former was far more significant than the latter.

Authoritarianism is not a new, untested concept in the American electorate. Since the rise of Nazi Germany, it has been one of the most widely studied ideas in social science. While its causes are still debated, the political behavior of authoritarians is not. Authoritarians obey. They rally to and follow strong leaders. And they respond aggressively to outsiders, especially when they feel threatened. From pledging to “make America great again” by building a wall on the border to promising to close mosques and ban Muslims from visiting the United States, Trump is playing directly to authoritarian inclinations. [emphasis mine]

MacWilliams goes on to argue that given the still untapped level of potential authoritarian support, we should take Trump very seriously.  I’m not entirely convinced on that point, but in terms of placing Trump in historical context and really understanding what his support is about, I think this is a very useful finding.

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