The rise of Trump and Cruz

Loved this Fareed Zarakia column from a few days ago:

To understand why the current conservative crack-up so confounds the Republican establishment, you have to recognize that the party is facing two separate but simultaneous revolts: one led by Ted Cruz, the other by Donald Trump.

The first is well described by E.J. Dionne Jr. in his important new book, “Why the Right Went Wrong.” For six decades, he explains, conservatives promised their voters that they were going to roll back big government. In the 1950s and early ’60s, they ran against the New Deal (Social Security). Then they railed against the Great Society (Medicare). Today it is Obamacare.

But they never actually did anything. Despite nominating Goldwater and electing Nixon, Reagan and two Bushes, despite a congressional revolution led by Newt Gingrich, these programs endured, and new ones were created…

The simple reason for this is that while Americans might oppose the welfare state in theory, in practice they like it. And the bulk of government spending is on the middle class, not the poor…

Whatever the reality, Republicans kept promising something to their base but never delivered. This has led to what Dionne calls the “great betrayal.” Party activists are enraged, feel hoodwinked and view those in Washington as a bunch of corrupt compromisers. They want someone who will finally deliver on the promise of repeal and rollback.

Enter Cruz…

Trump’s voters reflect an entirely different revolt. Since the 1960s, some members of the United States’ white middle and working classes have felt uncomfortable with the changes afoot in the country. They were uneasy with the social revolutions of the 1960s, dismayed by black protests and urban violence, and enraged by the increasing tide of immigrants, many of them Hispanic. In recent years, they have expressed hostility toward Muslims. It is this group of Americans — many of them registered Democrats and independents — who make up the core of support for Trump…

Could these revolts have been prevented? Perhaps, if the Republican Party had been honest with its voters and explained that the welfare state was here to stay, that free markets need government regulation, and that the empowerment of minorities and women was inevitable and beneficial. Its role was to manage these changes so that they develop organically, are not excessive and preserve enduring American values. But that is the role for a party that is genuinely conservative, rather than radical. [emphasis mine]

The reality of terrorism

Loved this Vox interview with Peter Bergen, who has written a new book on terrorism and Jihad.  Really interesting discussion of why a violent Jihadi actually becomes one and tries to kill people (short answer: it’s complicated and hard to explain).  But, I found this part on the overall threat of terrorism worth highlighting here:

There’s a sort of paradox here: Americans are more concerned about terrorism now than at any time since 9/11, yet really the actual threat is contained and managed. But as a political matter, no one’s going to say that who’s running for office. Even though it’s true, and any sensible person knows that we’ve managed this problem pretty well, no politician is going to say we have this thing pretty well under control, because the political costs of something very minor happening later, which can somehow be associated with ISIS or al-Qaeda, are very large. [emphasis mine]

Two things are true: The problem is going to be persistent, yet at the same time we’ve managed it into a situation where it’s pretty contained and low-level, and that’s why the main threat is homegrown militants who are often very hard to detect.

The good news is that there’s a certain kind of ceiling to their capabilities in terms of what kind of damage they can do. And as you point out, it’s orders of magnitude lower than what it would have been on 9/11…

PB: The problem, of course, is that we’re not all rational human beings. We still have this brain that was extremely useful for getting around in the forest 20,000 years ago. Fear is very front and center, and so when the fear part of our brain is aroused, it tends to muffle our rationality.

Because from a rational perspective, fear of terrorists doesn’t make any sense at all. I say this in the book: You’re 5,000 times more likely to be killed by a fellow American with a gun than you are by jihadist terrorists. So what you should be fearing is somebody killing you with a gun.


Photo of the day

What is it about tennis that makes for some of the coolest sport photographs?  Anyway, from In Focus photos of the week:

Gael Monfils of France dives for a forehand in his fourth round match against Andrey Kuznestov of Russia, during day eight of the 2016 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 25, 2016, in Melbourne, Australia.

Cameron Spencer / Getty

Iowa round-up

I’m sure there’s some really good takes out there I’ve missed, but these are the tabs I’ve found worth leaving open so far.

Everybody is acting like Trump is all of a sudden doomed.  Way premature.  I honestly think it is a bit of wishful thinking that he’ll just fade away now (stay, Donald, stay!).  Thus, I especially enjoyed Reihan Salam’s take:

But Monday night’s outcome means less than you might think for Trump’s prospects going forward. Cruz often speaks of his fight against “the Washington cartel.” Yet it is Trump who has violated almost every tenet of movement conservative orthodoxy and who has maligned professional politicians, Republican or Democratic, as the pathetic cat’s paws of billionaires like himself. He has demonstrated that there is a large constituency of Republicans who are indifferent to the fight against Obamacare and the battle to cut capital gains taxes, and who are instead passionate about restricting immigration and protecting America’s industries against Chinese competition. Trump is threatening to transform the ideological configuration of the GOP, and all his Republican rivals can do is react to his erratic moves. This dynamic won’t suddenly come to an end because of Iowa, and it has allowed him to shape the Republican race to fit his strengths.

There is a widespread belief that because Trump so often emphasizes his talent for winning, any setback will prove devastating to his all-important aura of invincibility. Keep in mind, however, that Trump lost his lead on more than one occasion in the months leading up to Iowa, yet he kept pressing ahead. Trump’s reality distortion field proved even more powerful than the polls, and it may yet prove more powerful than the Iowa caucuses.

The truth is that Iowa was never the most favorable terrain for Trump’s brand of populism.

Also in Slate, Jim Newell’s take on Rubio’s strong third:

What did Rubio do for himself, though? Plenty. He exceeded expectations through a modest surge over the past week, largely among moderate Republicans in suburban Iowa, coming a few thousand votes from pulling off an upset second-place finish. That’s a strong enough signal to the center-right and the “establishment”—aka that nefarious group of Republican cigar-chomping devils who would like a Republican to have a fighting shot in the general election—that he’s their vehicle, and all pretenders had better step aside.

Barring some coordinated trolling effort from New Hampshire voters who like to mess with narratives—and they are capable of it—Rubio’s better-than-expected placement opens the exit door for Jeb Bush, Gov. Chris Christie, and Gov. John Kasich immediately after New Hampshire, and it pulls what should be a frightening amount of funds and official party support in Rubio’s direction.

And Chait on Rubio:

And Rubio has implanted himself as the leading, and probably sole, selection of the party regulars. As Rubio’s spokesman, Alex Conant, said Monday night on MSNBC, “If you don’t want Ted Cruz or Donald Trump as the nominee, you better get onboard with Marco Rubio.”

The Republican field looks at the moment like a three-candidate race. The ideological contours are not exactly clear. Rubio is the candidate acceptable to the party elite — the candidate who is providing a more attractive delivery mechanism for George W. Bush’s policies, which is what Republicans have craved since the Bush administration. Cruz and Trump are unacceptable to the Establishment, for roughly opposite reasons. Trump has no record of sincere commitment to conservative policy doctrine. Cruz has positioned himself as the high priest of conservative orthodoxy, flaying his fellow Republicans for their inability to impose their policies over President Obama’s veto. On foreign policy, Rubio is the most orthodox neoconservative hawk, and Trump and Cruz are more neo-isolationist. All three would repeal Obamacare and replace it with something undefined but wonderful, and pass gargantuan, regressive tax cuts. (Cruz’s plan is the least fiscally irresponsible of the three, recompensing some of the tax cut for the rich with a tax hike on the middle class and poor.)

As for the Democratic side, I’ll go with Jamelle Bouie’s pre-results take:

Win or lose, that counts. It’s the Democratic analogue to Reagan’s 1976 primary against Gerald Ford—a sign of the times and of the future. If Sanders wins Iowa, New Hampshire, and the nomination, then he’ll bring (or drag) the Democratic Party to the left. If he loses, then he’ll represent the largest faction in the party, with the power to hold a President Hillary Clinton accountable and even shape her administration, from appointments and nominations to regulatory policy.

With that said, the impact of Sanders goes beyond presidential politics. I am skepticalthat any “political revolution” can change American politics in the short term. But if Sanders inspires supporters to delve deeper into Democratic Party politics, then it could change the long term. His supporters—his workers and volunteers and activists—are (potentially) the next generation of Democratic operatives, who will bring the lessons of this effort to future campaigns. And in the same way that Jesse Jackson opened the door to politicians like Barack Obama, Sanders may do the same for “democratic socialists.” Like the veterans of George McGovern or Howard Dean, the veterans of Bernie Sanders will change and shape the Democratic Party.

As for the results and their meaning in the larger context, I like Nate Cohn’s take:

But in the end, a virtual tie in Iowa is an acceptable, if not ideal, result for Mrs. Clinton and an ominous one for Mr. Sanders. He failed to win a state tailor made to his strengths.

He fares best among white voters. The electorate was 91 percent white, per the entrance polls. He does well with less affluent voters. The caucus electorate was far less affluent than the national primary electorate in 2008. He’s heavily dependent on turnout from young voters, and he had months to build a robust field operation. As the primaries quickly unfold, he won’t have that luxury.

Iowa is not just a white state, but also a relatively liberal one — one of only a few of states where Barack Obama won white voters in the 2008 primary and in both general elections. It is also a caucus state, which tends to attract committed activists…

As a general rule, though, momentum is overrated in primary politics. In 2008, for instance, momentum never really changed the contours of the race. Mr. Obama’s victory in Iowa allowed him to make huge gains among black voters, but not much more — the sort of exception that would seem to prove the rule. Mr. Obama couldn’t even put Mrs. Clinton away after winning a string of states in early February.

There’s an even longer list of candidates with fairly limited appeal, particularly Republicans like Rick Santorum, Pat Buchanan or Mike Huckabee, who failed to turn early-state victories into broader coalitions…

The polls this year offer additional reasons to doubt it. Mrs. Clinton holds more than 50 percent of the vote in national surveys; her share of the vote never declined in 2008. The polls say that her supporters are more likely to be firmly decided than Mr. Sanders’s voters.

Back-to-back wins in Iowa and New Hampshire by Mr. Sanders might have been enough to overcome that history. The no-decision in Iowa ensures we won’t find out.

Primary performance is all relative to expectations.  The favorable coverage for Bernie results from how he performed relative to the expectations of months ago.  But, in truth, he under-performed expectations of a week ago– and in the electoral calculus of the on-going primary slog, that’s what counts.  If you think otherwise, just ask Howard Dean (note, the scream did not “doom” Dean, underperforming his recent expectations did).

And, finally, I’m not going to post the cool charts (I’ve already written enough and I don’t feel like bothering with the screen capture NYT makes me resort to), but these entrance poll results on both sides are pretty interesting.  I’ll just mention that Rubio and Clinton both won going away with voters that put the most importance on general election electability.

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