How to Fix a Broken Elephant: Prologue
I am about to publish a post detailing exactly which steps those Republicans and conservatives who are rightly horrified by a Trump candidacy will need to undertake in order to right their proverbial ship. This upcoming post will be fairly merciless, even to people I love and respect. The steps I will lay out will be necessarily difficult for all to take; because of this, I expect it will be difficult for non-liberals to swallow. It will also be quite lengthy.
In an effort to both mitigate word count and get readers in the right frame of mind, I thought I might first provide a kind of written montage, with each scene a news story from the past several years. Consider this post that montage.
Though each of these stories broke through the detritus to make the news, none was seen as particularly big or important by either the mainstream or the conservative media or punditry. So in one sense, each was a very small story. In another sense, however, when taken collectively all of these stories were, shall we say, yuuuuuge. Some of the stories in the montage below are ones I noted on these very pages as they occurred; others, at least to my memory, have never been discussed at Ordinary Times.
All of these stories, however, are important to answering a fundamental question that I see conservatives everywhere asking themselves as they prepare for the utter cluster-fish circus that will be the 2016 Republican Convention: How did our own base come to nominate someone so outside the values we have been preaching for decades? Every answer to this question that I have seen thrown against the kitchen wall like overcooked pasta by conservative thinkers and pundits is necessarily flawed, because so too is the question itself. Here is the hard truth the #NeverTrump crowd needs to face if they wish to stem the rising tide of Trumpism:
Donald Trump is not 21st century conservatism’s ruiner; he is its embodiment.
Further, Donald Trump is not a magical being armed with unicorns and fairy dust. Were Trump not to have entered this race, Trumpism would still have occurred — albeit under a different name and perhaps not beginning in earnest for another two or four years. Any fix of the so-called “Trump problem” that does not fully embrace these truths — be it “sitting out” 2016, contesting the convention around an anointed savior, or flirting with a third party run — will at best accomplish nothing, and at worst simply provide momentum to Trumpism’s ascendancy.
Like I said, hard truths to swallow.
Before we dig in with what steps “true” conservatives and the GOP leadership must do to retake and right their ship, then, a sour and curdled apéritif is sadly required. Thus I present to you, dear reader, the following montage.
As he steps to the microphone in a plush and crowded Houston Marriott hotel ballroom, Ted Cruz looks every bit the cat that devoured the canary. As well he should. Cruz has just won the special runoff election for the Texas GOP Senate Primary. This victory required besting a popular, seasoned, and significantly better funded Lt. Governor who has outspent Cruz 3-to-1. More impressively, Cruz has won despite being disliked and vigorously campaigned against by Texas Governor Perry and the state party leadership. Texas being Texas, Cruz’s primary nod means that a seat in Senate with his name on it is but a formality.
Speaking to the crowd at the Marriott, Cruz first does what all politicians do when accepting victory. He thanks God, his wife, and his family, and then he takes time to both thank and honor a short list of America’s most “great,” “fearless,” and “extraordinary” leaders. In and of itself, this praising of national leaders is expected. It’s good form for politicians to acknowledge their team’s political and cultural luminaries in acceptance speeches. Were you to gather every GOP Senator and Congressman whose victory speeches in the 1990s did not give a big shout out to Ronald Reagan, for example, you’d likely be able to fit them all in a Volkswagen Beetle. By tradition, these shout outs to power are given in an explicitly hierarchical fashion; like the characters of a Shakespeare play, the names descend in order of rank and importance.
The six “great,” “fearless,” and “extraordinary” national leaders Cruz chooses to thank and honor first and foremost in his speech are therefore curious choices. They are also quite telling. Those leaders are, in order of appearance: Fox News contributor Gov. Sarah Palin, ex-Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum, Fox News anchor Sean Hannity, conservative radio host Mark Levin, Fox News and Blaze barker Glenn Beck, and conservative radio host Michael Berry.
For those keeping score, that’s a short list of America’s Greatest Half Dozen Leaders™ that counts six Fox News contributors, four conservative radio shock jocks, one reality television star, and one presidential candidate who had been forced to drop out of the race due to lack of any significant national support months earlier. And before you scoff, consider: Not only has Cruz won, in less than four years from this night he will become the human Maginot Line the GOP establishment will briefly and flaccidly rally behind to be the leader of the free world.
Within a matter of months of his Senate nomination, in fact, Ted Cruz will come to symbolize for much of the GOP’s conservative, evangelical base what it means to be a true conservative in the 21st century. He will go on to propose several bills and lead several party stratagems. Among the most notable are bills to repeal Obamacare, a bill to prevent Obama from killing his enemies within the United States with drones, a bill to prevent known terrorists from legally entering the country as UN ambassadors, a bill requiring citizens to submit birth certificates before registering to vote or run for office, and several attempts (one successful!) to shut down the federal government on an indefinite basis. All of these will turn out to be ineffective, unnecessary, unwise, and/or implausible, but all will also share this common trait: Each will ensure that in his first year as an elected official to any office, Ted Cruz will become among the most (and likely the most) interviewed politician on Fox News and conservative talk radio. In turn, the conservative base will decide that a Senator who can boast exactly zero political or legislative accomplishments, but who has logged in countless hours on talk radio and Fox News, is the obvious choice to be President of the United States of America.
Or at least Cruz would be, were there not a reality television star who habitually slurs Mexicans, Muslims, and women who has thrown his hat into the race as well.
Late 2014, Exact Date Undetermined
In 2014, House Republicans approach Ben Carson and ask him to become the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Now, to be fair, there is nothing in the Constitution that says the Speaker must be a member of Congress. Still, because it’s been assumed by pretty much everyone for the past 224 years that you do, it bears noting that as he is approached Carson is not — and indeed has never been — a member of the House. Nor has he been elected to any public office of any kind. Nor, at the time he was asked, had he ever even run for office. In fact, unless they are asking him very, very late in the year, he likely isn’t even a Republican. Throughout most of 2014, Ben Carson is just an ex-surgeon and corporate motivational speaker who has only recently become a political commentator on Fox News and other conservative media outlets.
At the time he is approached to head the House, his single contribution to the Republican Party and his single qualification for the office of Speaker of the House of is that he is a black man who is known for going on conservative television and radio shows and bad-mouthing Barack Obama.
If you are part of the #NeverTrump movement, you really need to stop and think about that for a good long while.
Two notable conservative voices become the online faces of the #NeverTrump movement. One becomes its face in the blogging world, the other its face in the Twittererverse. They are Erick Erickson and Kevin D. Williamson, respectively.
In an attempt to explain away the cause of Trumpism, each offers their conservative followers the bromides those same followers have tuned in to have repeated: GOP leadership has simply not been conservative enough; SJW’s forced people to like Trump by being all SJW-y; poor white people are rubes that can’t be expected to know the difference between charlatans and the deeply principled; and so forth. Each loudly decries the crassness, the racism, and the misogyny Trump has seemingly brought into the movement all by himself, likely at the behest of those pesky and sneaky Clintons.
Through all of this, the cover story Williamson wrote for the National Review in 2012 apparently slips his and his followers’ minds.
In that frat-boy-esque piece, Williamson jovially argued that women should vote for Mitt Romney on the basis that Romney had sired sons while Obama had merely had daughters — who to Williamson and the NRO editors, are comparatively worthless offspring. Williamson even suggests that if a man fathers and raises a daughter with pride rather than shame, that father might as well have been born with “fallopian tubes.” Also, Williamson implies, because Obama seems to be highly educated, it’s a pretty good bet that he’s totally gay. In addition to forgetting about this Romney NRO piece, Williamson also seems to have forgotten his referring to black children as “primates” as way to generate page clicks.
Erikson, for his part, seems to forget his oft-repeated comments in 2013 that a woman making more money than a man, regardless of circumstance, was “anti-science,” and that a woman’s natural state is to be “dominated” by whatever male happens to be lying around handy. Likewise, he seems to forget his describing Trump’s plan to ban Muslims from the US as “brilliant” at the time. And his referring to a Supreme Court Justice as a “goat f***king child molester.” And his calls for whites-only scholarships. And his dismissal of more than one woman talking in an evening at one event as “vagina monologues.” Or, really, everything he is written or said on air, ever.
Yep, Williamson and Erickson are both pretty darn sure that the crass, racist, and misogynistic tone of Trumpism caught on in the 21st century conservative base because something something Jeb Bush.
At the annual Values Voter Summit, the conservative base comes together to rally around VP candidate Paul Ryan.
In three days of speeches, several claims are repeated over and over to the crowd by that year’s presidential candidates, sitting governors, Fox News personalities, talk radio show stars, and elder conservative statesmen. Among these claims: That Barack Obama is a Kenyan sleeper agent illegitimately elected. That the Obama administration is planning The Next Phase, where they will make churches and synagogues illegal, and force Americans at gunpoint to convert to Islam. That the attack on the Libyan embassy that claimed the life of Ted Stephens was likely planned by the Obama administration — and even if it wasn’t, that the administration issued a press release applauding the terrorist acts and the killing of a US Ambassador on foreign soil.
Not one of the conservative luminaries invited to speak refutes any of the ridiculous, over-the-top, inflammatory claims made. The entire event is shown live on C-SPAN, and covered unquestioningly in its entirely by the conservative media.
Terrible news for conservatives, fans of jurisprudence, and lovers of gorgeous judicial prose everywhere: Justice Antonin Scalia has passed away.
The GOP seizes on the tragic event as a possible winning political strategy: to make the presidential election all about replacing Scalia with an equally and appropriately gifted and intellectual conservative justice. The Cruz camp believes that its moment has finally arrived.
The Cruz camp spends the next several weeks declaring that if Ted should win, he will likely nominate J. Michael Luttig. By any measure, it is a truly inspired choice for the Cruz camp to pitch. Luttig is conservative — indeed, he is oft compared to Scalia himself — but his intellectual prowess and discipline is also widely respected throughout the judiciary. Forty of his clerks have gone on to clerk for the justices sitting Supreme Court. And on top of all of that, the floating of Luttig highlights Cruz’s own intellectual chops. Cruz was himself a Harvard-educated “Luttigator” that went on to clerk for the highest court’s Chief Justice. To a conservative base in almost any era save this one, it’s pretty damn close to a checkmate move.
Donald Trump’s camp goes a very different route. The name they decide to float in what the GOP has decided is its key, lynchpin, litmus-test election issue is Fox News contributor Judge Andrew Napolitano.
For a brief time in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Napolitano was indeed a judge in New Jersey, albeit not a particularly recognized one. Instead, Napolitano achieved his national fame by becoming the sitting judge on the syndicated reality television show Power of Attorney, a kind of People’s Court knock off. After Power of Attorney, Napolitano went on to host conservative talk radio shows, as well as get his own Fox News television show for a few years. He is currently Fox’s Senior Judicial Analyst.
Needless to say, Donald Trump will go on to utterly crush Ted Cruz.
I could go on and on, of course. Indeed, feel free to click on my archives here on this site and you’ll find scores if not hundreds of other examples.
As I have noted repeatedly over the past five years, these hand-in-hand actions by political leaders and its Media Machine were always going to come to this. The mass ostrich-ing of heads in sand with which conservative moderates and “grownups” treated the above events and all the others like them was always going to have consequences. To have spent the past eight years denying that this was so, as pretty much all of them have, is akin to… um… Well, it’s akin to seeing a dangerous, whopper-telling, openly racist and misogynistic, demagoguing mountebank lead by double digits in your party’s polls pretty much every day through the entire primaries, and all the while pretend that there was simply no way the man could possibly get the nod.
It’s time to stop all of that, my moderate conservative and GOP-leaning brethren. It’s time to stop pretending. It’s time to stop wishing the poisonous impact of your own “fair and balanced” media on your base away. It’s time to put your collective Big Boy Pants on.
It’s time to face and fix the broken Elephant in the room.