Sunday, August 30, 2015

Those Birthright Blues

What does it take to be an American? 

Until recently, I was positive I was.  My passport says so.  I have a pronounced preference for Westerns in movies, and beef, to the strains of Aaron Copland’s Rodeo, for dinner. For further support, I checked the USCIS website, and I’m a winner.  American by birth. 

Yet, I may find myself fighting for my identity.  Because there are influential voices in the Republican Party that want to put an end to “birthright citizenship” by either ignoring, altering the meaning of, or repealing outright the 14th Amendment.  Some would even like to do that retroactively.    

For years, these types of ideas have floated around the fringes and would pop up occasionally in a state legislature, when some obscure local pol would introduce a bill that would go nowhere.  It migrated upwards to Washington, like some low-grade fever, through the generous efforts of people like Congressman Steve King, but never got any real traction.
But now, it’s primary season, and the big kahuna, Donald Trump, has said that “very smart lawyers” tell him that the 14th Amendment is not all that it’s cracked up to be.  And, where the Great White moves, the pilot fish follow to feed.  Among the nibblers include Rand Paul (who actually proposed a Constitutional Amendment several years ago), Rick Santorum, Ben Carson, Lindsay Graham, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal (wrap your head around that one—his parents arrived here in 1971 and four months later celebrated the birth of the future Leader of the Free World) and Ted Cruz (perhaps, although he doesn’t want to be pinned down.)

OK, it’s that time of year where the pandering becomes so reflexive that even the preternaturally cautious Jeb Bush first lets loose with the pejorative “anchor baby” and then tries to sidestep that by saying he wasn’t referring to Mexicans—it was those darned Asians that he’s concerned about. And Scott Walker was also a “repeal and don’t replace” guy until he got a few calls from people who write large checks for his waning campaign.  He’s backed off of that and is now talking about a second fence—across the northern border with Canada.  Should Walker’s poll numbers drop further, I’m going to be looking for moats and crocodiles.

What is really going on here on the GOP side is the conflict between proposing rational solutions to the immigration problem—which we need, and most voters of all stripes want—and maximizing poll numbers from a primary electorate that is growing more aggressively nativist—and frustrated.

The pressure is immense.  It’s not just the people trawling for votes—outside the circle of the eternally ambitious, there is also an entire cottage industry of 14th Amendment deniers, amenders, Congressional fixers, repealers, and retroactive repealers.  These include the usual hard-right entertainers like Ann Coulter and Rush, as well those more cerebral in nature.  The sophisticates at National Review have run a series of well-groomed anti-14th opinion pieces.  In one, the conservative law professor John Eastman makes the argument that the 14th is one of those sadly misunderstood Amendments that just need the clarification of a clear mind (like his) and a Congress ready to act.  So, truth be told, the 14th Amendment does not need to be repealed in order to fix the problem of birthright citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants. It just needs to be understood and applied correctly.”

Eastman’s arguments should make you pause on at least two levels. To start with, he’s splitting hairs, relying on an idiosyncratic interpretation of the phrase “subject to the jurisdiction of” that has no direct support in either Supreme Court decisions or in 150 years of actual practice. But Eastman would simply be another conservative scholar who likes to be provocative if he didn’t step up with the second leg of his argument: there is no need to go through a formal amendment process—you just need a Congress to help us all “understand and apply it.” 

That is a hand grenade.  Remember, we aren’t talking about a regulatory ruling or even a statute that was enacted by Congress and can be repealed or modified by Congress.  It is an Amendment to the Constitution—clearly covered by Article V, which requires a 2/3 vote of both the House and Senate, and the ratification by at least 38 states.   

Accept the “misunderstood and misapplied” premise, then you must also accept the proposition that any Constitutional Clause and any Amendment are subject to exactly the same type of ad hoc cutting and pasting—by a simple majority in Congress with a like-minded President. 

That would be the ultimate Pandora’s Box, where not only control of the government, but of the very meaning of the Constitution, would shuttle back and forth between whomever was in charge. Could a conservative Congress and Administration make explicit what Justice Thomas says is the correct interpretation of the 1st Amendment—that while the Federal government may not establish a religion, the individual states may?  Could a liberal one do the same with the 2nd Amendment—interpret the “well ordered militia” clause to be the underpinning of substantial restrictions on the purely private ownership of guns?  Go through every right set forth in the Constitution and Amendments and ask yourself how many of them you will be willing to permit a temporary, possibly narrow, political majority to simply disregard?  The answer has to be none.

Despite all that, I think that Eastman, and Trump, and all those who follow in Trump’s wake, are doing us a tremendous service—if we are willing to take heed of it.  What they are really saying is the that a problem exists (even Tom Friedman, no-one’s definition of a conservative, recently pointed out that if you can’t control your borders, you can’t control your sovereignty) and they can fix it—by breaking or reinterpreting the rules. 

This desire to episodically ignore the rules is both profoundly American (we are rule-breakers) and profoundly un-American, in that it flies into the teeth of our most hallowed principles.  Moving from King to democracy was a fundamental reordering.  The Constitution reflected an end of any final, un-appealable power. Individual rights are not granted by a central authority—rather, they are inherent and inalienable in the person, who then grant, by contract (the Constitution) some to the state and local and Federal governments.  

Yet, there is only so much blame we can heap on overeager conservatives ready to slip the Constitutional bit.  Democrats are equally guilty, because they have failed to propose comprehensive viable alternatives.  My hunch is that this is for both practical and political reasons.  Politically, it’s to their long-term benefit to watch Republicans show a potty-mouth to fast-growing non-white populations.  People remember insults for a very long time.  But practically, I think they don’t really have a clue what to do.  Some of Obama’s Executive Actions on this are at least a starting point—for negotiation, not final resolution, but if there is a fleshed-out approach to doing a better job of securing the borders while providing a generous immigration policy and a path to legalization (perhaps with deferred access to entitlement programs) I have yet to see it. 

So, we end up arguing about the 14th, and the ridiculous assumption that if you just end birthright citizenship, millions of anchor-baby parents will flee with their small weighted offspring and we can go back to Ozzie and Harriet days, with real Americans picking fruit, tending gardens, and working in meatpacking and rendering plants.  Double down, repeal it retroactively, and you could have an exodus of generations.

Would I have to follow?  Actually, I’m pretty confident the answer is no.  Retroactive repeal wouldn’t be that much of a problem for me—ironically, my grandparents are my ace in the hole.  They were all immigrants who were naturalized—before they had children.  That made my parents citizens, and, by extension, me. 

Which gives me a leg up on at least three Republican candidates for President—Jindal, Marco Rubio (parents naturalized four years after he was born) and Ted Cruz (born abroad to an American mother and a Cuban father.) 

Eat your hearts out, guys….

August 30, 2015

Michael Liss (Moderate Moderator)

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Biden Antidote

The Biden Antidote

Let’s talk about chaos. 

Not Republican chaos, although one can never find enough time to dwell in the lush garden of dysfunctionality that flourishes in the Land of Big Hearts and Big Tents.

Democratic chaos.  Time to discuss Hillary Clinton, the clear (and possibly doomed) frontrunner for their nomination.  You can love Bernie Sanders to death, or harbor a secret craving for those Men of the Mid-Atlantic Webb and O’Malley, but when every nose has been counted, it’s her nomination.

So the eggs in the basket all have Hillary painted on the side.  But it’s a gigantic gamble, because outside the Hillary-haters, and the Hillary acolytes, no modern politician, short of perhaps Richard Nixon, produces such complex feelings.  Either enough of those “conflicted” people will respect her toughness, think of her as able and experienced, and choose her to be our next President.  Or, they will look extra closely at every imperfection (and there are many) and decide they just don’t want what she has to offer—especially in the package she’s wrapped in.  

Democrats have long assumed that Hillary, without Obama’s “ethnic” problem, would reassemble Bill’s coalition and attract traditionally Democratic but presently alienated blue-collar voters.  One of the things you heard frequently after the 2008 elections was Obama’s convincing win would have been a landslide if Hillary were the nominee.  I am not convinced of that—Obama 2008 was a one-off, a candidate of a unique and fresh appeal, especially to younger voters.  The 2012 Obama, dogged by 4 years of the drudgery of governing, and the incessant vituperation coming from his opponents, was far more prosaic.  You gave him another chance either because you were a partisan, or because you thought he was dealt a tough hand and got a raw deal and deserved more time, or because Mitt Romney didn’t set your heart aflutter.  In 2008, Obama showed he could soar.  In 2012, he demonstrated he could punch it out, when needed.

And that’s the problem, because a tough slog might not work for Hillary—the voters she might gain for being not-Obama might be well offset by those she loses for being Hillary Clinton.  Look at the 2012 results, and you can see that in in the battleground states where Obama assembled his winning coalition, he had several close calls.  Ohio, Virginia, and Florida, a total of 60 Electoral Votes, were each decided by less than 3% in 2012.  In Florida, the margin was less that 75,000 out of nearly 8.5 Million votes, more than easily flipped by a favorite son on the ticket. 

Absent some appalling collapse, I don’t think Hillary will get her clocked cleaned—Democrats are already frantic about the idea of the GOP running wild with control of the government in 2017, so they will do the best they can.  But there is the very distinct possibility that 2016 could look a lot like 2004, with an unpopular George Bush facing off against an unexciting John Kerry.

The problem for Democrats is that they don’t really know where anything stands—they basically have lost their bearings as the party has become captive to dominant personalities—and the vociferous and highly personal nature of the political opposition. It’s become increasingly difficult to distinguish between empirically good and bad policy, and even good and bad behavior.

With Obama, it’s become a tiresome dirge that is clearly personal.  The words are barely out of his mouth before he’s denounced as a weak-yet-tyrannical secret Muslim bent on destroying our way of life.  Most Democrats, no matter how much they might disagree with a particular Obama policy (the Iran deal comes to mind) or even dislike the man himself (and there are more than a few) just don’t buy that characterization.  

But with Hillary, a far more complex web emerges.  Talk to a Democrat and they roll their eyes at Benghazi.   Benghazi has become the Stalinist Show Trials of our time.  They will go on and on, with no regard for proper procedure or the smallest semblance of fairness, with continuous unflattering leaks, and a subpoena power intended to intimidate and interfere with Hillary’s campaign.  Democrats see Benghazi hearings like ACA-repeal votes—blood for an insatiable vampire.  So, they will stay in there and fight for Hillary.

The charitable contributions and especially, the emails are a different matter.  Not just because there might be illegality there (the GOP is already demanding indictments, the FBI, and the Iron Maiden of Nuremberg) and not even because there’s likely some embarrassing ones.  But because of what it may say about Hillary herself.  The private server and the big time contributors-influence peddlers reinforce the peculiar poll results that show there a far greater number of people who think that Hillary can do the job than those who actually trust her with the keys.

Democrats know that the next 15 months are going to be non-stop Hillary bashing, coupled with taxpayer-financed continuous investigations.  If that were it, they might just very well grit their teeth and duke it out.  What worries many is that they don't trust her that much either—they are hesitant to go to the mat in defending her—and possibly going down flames themselves.  And, they worry she’s not all that good at being a politician—especially since she’s been sandwiched between two of the marvels of the age, her husband Bill, and Barack Obama.

Ugly little thoughts creep in the dead of night.  Corrosive thoughts, thoughts of failure—or thoughts of a 2016 summer surprise, with Hillary dropping out for “health reasons.”  Democrats know that if it goes into next year, they have no back up whatsoever.  It is a function of the weakness of the Democratic bench that not only do they not have many politicians who can electrify, but they don’t even have that many who can project an authoritative competence.

And then there’s Joe Biden.  Pundits have pointed out that he’s everything that Hillary isn’t, but I don’t think that’s completely fair—to Hillary or to Biden.  If Biden gets into the race he is by far and away the most experienced, and in many respects, the most qualified of any candidate, Democratic or Republican. I am not making a policy point; I’m simply stating facts.  Biden has had an uninterrupted record of public service for more than 40 years.  He was first elected as a wunderkind in 1972.  He chaired both the Senate Foreign Relations and the Senate Judiciary Committee before playing a critical role in the Obama White House   He is deeply steeped in the arcane knowledge of how government works, and even the Republicans who mock him publicly for his gaffes rely on his exceptional gift for working across the aisle to fashion reasonable compromises.

Biden also has led an extraordinary and extraordinarily public life story, scarred by tragedy, which he has borne with exceptional dignity.  For all the caricature, he is a superb retail politician who easily relates to a broad spectrum of the electorate—he’s just a very hard guy to dislike.

So, Joe the antidote to what ails the Democrats?  Even more expansively, is he the antidote to what ails the nation?  Would a President Biden find ways to work with Republicans that Mr. Obama either couldn’t or wouldn’t have been allowed to?  Could a one-term Biden Presidency (his camp, while not committing him, has conceded to age by talking one term) do the very hard things that any other President, who has to run for reelection from the day after his Inauguration, could not do?

I honestly don’t know.  There are so many obstacles.  Biden himself has to decide to run, and he’s apparently deeply conflicted, with many of his inner circle worried it could damage his legacy.  Biden would have to get the nomination from Hillary, and that’s no mean feat, given her huge institutional advantages.  And Biden would have to convince the electorate that, at 73, he’s really up to it.

Not going to be easy, especially because Biden has never been good at campaigning for the top job.  There have always been folk who seemed more papabile than him.  In 1988 he had to withdraw after plagiarism charges, in 2008 he was just outpaced by the perceived frontrunner (Hillary) and the new star (Obama).

And yet, it’s somewhat tantalizing. Biden is a throwback to an earlier age.  He’s not shouting like Trump, or barn burning like Sanders, or competing to be the absolute meanest guy to immigrants or the one demanding that pregnant women wear body-cams.

Just an old pharmacist with a mortar and pestle who knows how to get you up on your feet and back on the road.

Biden-Kasich 2016?

Is that really more bizarre than The Donald selling Oval Office-themed condos?

August 18, 2015

Michael Liss

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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Bernie, Donnie and Jon Drive Them Wild

Bernie, Donnie, and Jon Drive Them Wild
Bernie, Donnie, and Jon.  Three fine fellows who drew three pretty awesome crowds.   

24 Million to watch Donald Trump whisper sweet nothings to everyone in earshot.  3.6 Million for Stewart’s sayonara, his second highest of all time—trailing only an episode in late 2008 where a skinny guy with big ears showed up on his way to Washington.  28,000 for Bernie Sanders in Portland, Oregon—19,000 packed the Moda Center, home of the Portland Trailblazers, and another 9,000 Bernie groupies joined outside the arena. 

Personally, I am a little exhausted.  That’s a lot of viewing and reading I felt compelled to do. 

Let’s start with Bernie.  He’s burning it up—his crowds are bigger than any other candidate, of either party—he came to Portland from Seattle, where he drew an estimated 15,000.  People want to see this guy who looks like some distant elderly relative.  Listen to Bernie and you take away two impressions.  The first is that he’s a slightly crazy socialist who stepped right out of a 50’s Noir film.  The second is that some of the things he says seem to make sense—not all of it, but some of it, and shouldn’t be so easily dismissed.  

Here’s a statement from Bernie’s website, and see how it sits with you.  Do we continue the 40-year decline of our middle class and the growing gap between the very rich and everyone else, or do we fight for a progressive economic agenda that creates jobs, raises wages, protects the environment and provides health care for all? Are we prepared to take on the enormous economic and political power of the billionaire class, or do we continue to slide into economic and political oligarchy?”

What do you disagree with?  Factually, most metrics show the middle class has been losing ground.  As to a gap—it looks pretty gappy to me.  And as to power—Bernie is right on.  The economic elites have always played a major role in shaping policy, and the Supreme Court has now blessed unlimited spending, and whether they want to acknowledge it or not, unlimited influence-peddling and purchasing. 

Bernie has identified the problems with real clarity.  His “progressive” solutions, to my liberal but capitalist mind, sometimes seem a little farfetched and could do more harm than good, but at least he’s thinking about the issues that confront ordinary people—jobs, economic security, education, healthcare.

This has to be making Hillary Clinton nuts.  Bernie isn’t a threat to her amassing the most votes in the primaries.  But he is a threat to her, intellectually and emotionally.  The enthusiasm you see for him is a function of the fact that he is saying things resonate with his audience—and she isn’t connecting the same way.  I would have very serious doubts about his capacity to do the job—much more so than Hillary.  But if by some bizarre set of circumstances, we were to elect Bernie Sanders, “on day one” he will walk into to the Oval Office wondering what he can do for the maximum number of people.  Bernie is the genuine article, and Bernie wants to help. About how many politicians can you say that?

Now let's move over (a bit) on the ideological spectrum to Jon Stewart.  Until the last week or so, I thought Jon Stewart was a left of center political satirist who skewered (mostly Republican) politicians, could do a very good interview when he wanted to, cursed a little more than I thought absolutely necessary, and was a perfectly pleasant way to spend a few minutes a couple of times a week.  I didn't think he was Allan Nevins, or Walter Cronkite, or Milton Freidman, or William F. Buckley.

I guess I wasn't paying attention.  Literally thousands and thousands of comments appeared on the websites of major newspapers, a remarkable number of them from outraged conservatives. The consensus on the Right was that Jon Stewart failed, and failed horribly, in his duty to be fair and balanced.  Stewart may have had only about 1.4 Million average viewers, but apparently he reached into every conservative household.  Bernie Sanders is just a typical commie-Democrat, and Hillary is, well, Hillary.  Jon Stewart—he was a secret agent cloaked in fake impartiality with the singular mission of driving them bonkers.  Reading some of the comments—and the columns, I would say he succeeded.

My personal favorite of this genre was Gerald Alexander’s “Jon Stewart, Patron Saint of Liberal Smugness” which appeared in this last Sunday’s New York Times.  Mr. Alexander eloquently enunciated his personal agony with said smugness and Stewart’s abject failure “And Mr. Stewart…. was more qualified than anybody to puncture this particular pretension. He trained his liberal-leaning audience to mock hypocrisy, incoherence and stupidity, and could have nudged them to see the planks in their own eyes, too. Instead, he cultivated their intellectual smugness by personifying it.

As my children would say, LOL—and maybe even a full ROFL.  Jon Stewart was a comedian.  He was funny and fast and if you didn’t like him, you could always turn the channel.  He didn’t demand you agree with him—and in fact, many prominent conservatives were more than happy to come on to join in the fun—including several who have or are currently running for President.  But Stewart wasn’t a teacher.  He didn’t have a higher obligation to find an often-false equivalence between the two parties.  And surely, he didn’t need to start each show with an hourglass on his desk, and flip it half way through his opening monologue with “now, the Stewart Mocking Response to the Stewart Mocking Critique.”  Chill, Mr. Alexander.  Stewart has left the show, and you will no longer have to have to suffer so.  You may now soothe yourself with the pleasant non-partisan poetry of Rush and Sean. 

Now, on to the Donald.  My goodness, the shrieking—his and everyone else’s.  The geese are honking everywhere.  Donald Trump is a big, loud, crass, hyper-caffeinated and hyper-opinionated billionaire. People are drawn to his wealth, his outspokenness, and his alleged capacity to fix things.   

Trump draws, and draws big—does anyone seriously think 24 Million people would have tuned in to bask in Jeb Bush’s charisma? But he’s the physical embodiment of “inconvenient truth” for the GOP.  Trump was set upon last Thursday by a network and a party who want to see him gone (no-one sucks up all the air in the room better than the Donald, except maybe Bill Clinton).  He, predictably, reacted strongly to it, shot his mouth off, particularly about Megyn Kelly, but the Trump Blimp (why not?) still seems afloat.

That makes the GOP a little nuts, just as Bernie makes Hillary a little nuts.  He’s connecting, and the GOP is fainting right now—fainting at the idea that they might be thought of as a little misogynist, a little loose cannon, and a little “unwelcoming” to people who speak with accents.  The mad (but coordinated) scramble to dissociate from him (while love-love-loving his supporters) is a function of that.  

There is a common thread between Trump, Sanders, and Stewart.  For the right audience, they are saying precisely the things those people think need to be said.  And all three, in their distinct ways, are authentic.  What you see is what you get.

The Daily Show carefully planned to replace Stewart with Trevor Noah, and perhaps he will be a hit.  But no one can possibly know right now.  As for Trump and Sanders, their respective parties assume  (read, “hope desperately”) those energized fans will happily, and uniformly, tune in to new hosts. 

Maybe.  When I see fannies in seats, I’ll believe it. 

August 11, 2015

Michael Liss (Moderate Moderator)

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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The GOP Searches For A Motif

The GOP Searches For A Motif

When I was a small child my parents had a subscription to the Metropolitan Opera—for three.  I was the third wheel.

This was serious business. In the weeks leading up to the performance, Dad would quiz me by “singing” snatches of arias and requiring me to identify the opera, act and scene.  Game-day was tough. It required a dark suit, white shirt, and tie.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t yet figured out how to tie the tie, and clip-ons were too humiliating.  I would present myself for my father’s disapproval, with the very tight top button of the shirt closed, pressing a collar starched to a scalpel’s edge to my neck.  He would mutter something about how big boys learned to tie their own ties. And he would tie it in a classic double-Windsor knot, adjusting for size and alignment until it was perfect.  A messy tie, or one that did not reduce airflow, was very much frowned upon.  Then into the car’s back seat (but don’t play around back there, we don’t want you looking like a ragamuffin) and down the Major Deegan Expressway, my father driving, and my mother reading from the libretto (or at least Milton Cross). 

From a child’s perspective, the differentiation between a “good” opera and a “bad” one was one of degree—mostly the degree of length.  Fortunately, my parents were not Wagner or Richard Strauss fans, but time moves very slowly—very slowly, when some short, beefy tenor in a bad wig is clanking around in a toga and sword, singing of his love for the beautiful heroine, all the while one or both of them was either doomed to die of some horrible disease, commit suicide, or be executed—sometimes all in the same opera, and all while I was sitting absolutely still. Wiggling was even more frowned on than an improperly tied tie.  You could distract the artists….or embarrass the parents who had the temerity to bring a small boy to such an unlikely form of entertainment. 

Yet, even for me, there were some redeeming moments.  While the before and after were boring, The Triumphal March from Verdi’s Aida was great—all those horns and elephants.  Cavalleria Rusticana was my grandfather’s favorite—and, while I didn’t get the fatal passion part, it was also a one act, which made it even better.  As to other operas, one navigated the “La’s” with great care.  Verdi’s La Traviata had fairly good music (bad ending, of course) but Puccini’s La Boheme, equally loved by the adults, was more enervating. La Forza del Destino began with a terrific overture, but petered out.  Madame Butterfly (another Puccini, what did you expect?) was just gruesome—terrible story and just endless slow groaning of unrequited love, men who were heels, and loss—plus a suicide—it remains to this day the one “great” opera I detest.  Carmen actually had a consistently engaging and tuneful score, but Bizet, sadly, was a one-note wonder--he died three months after the first performance, at 37.

Many, many hours of music. And some of it actually sunk in—not necessarily in any organized manner but in odd little places in the brain, when the few bars of a motif would (and still can) prompt an unspooling of an entire mental score. 

A motif, in music, is a short series of notes that then recur, in variations, through longer passages.  They can introduce a theme or a character—Beethoven’s Fifth—or Darth Vader.  In opera each major character can be given a motif suitable to their temperament--heroic, evil, beautiful, passionate, scary, dignified, silly.   For a child sitting at an opera focusing on not moving a muscle, a motif can be your best friend—because it announces that the two people emoting away endlessly are about to be joined by someone who is hopefully more interesting.  Mario and Tosca sing beautifully, but it's Baron Scarpia (bum, bum, bum, bummm, baaah) who (literally) wakes things up.

It also turns out, for me at least, that being required to hear all those arias was excellent preparation to watch the Republican debates, which promise a full compliment of massive egos, questionable hair, dirge-like music, long recits and up to 17 elephants (in two settings) weighing down the stage.  I like opera—both tragedies and comedies. 

Joking aside, the debates really mark the organized beginning of the Republican quest for the White House, and World Domination.  They partnered with Fox so as to ensure more supportive treatment than the 2012 variety, which were panned for showing to the general electorate too much of the less appealing side of Republicanism. 

The GOP viewed this as the chance to reboot the brand—to create a new Republican motif. Put a number of calm, competent, attractive people up there, and you blunt the completely unfair characterization of a obstreperous, obstructionist bunch of that is unfriendly to minorities, excessively eager to stray into bedrooms, and ready to go to DEFCON-4 for virtually any situation—here or abroad.

The GOP realized this wouldn’t be easy.  To start with, they knew that the spectrum inside the Republican Party included some very edgy people that had to be given a place at the table. The thought was that with those folk defining the extremes (and, hopefully, dropping out in time so they could be forgotten) the remaining, more Establishment candidates would appear more approachable and moderate. And, they had an institutional problem as well. For six plus years, they have defined themselves as the opposition—but they have done so in extraordinarily personal and even angry terms.  Government is bad.  Obama is bad.  People who have a tendency to vote for Obama are bad—and they are taking things away from everyone else.  Get mad!

People did get mad, and they voted mad.  That anger is a source of the GOP’s strength. But it is also a sign of profound weakness.  David Brooks tiptoed up to this point earlier this week in The New York Times.  Brooks is dismayed by Donald Trump’s rise,  He’s an outsider, which appeals to the alienated. He’s confrontational, which appeals to the frustrated. And, in a unique 21st-century wrinkle, he’s a narcissist who thinks he can solve every problem, which appeals to people who in challenging times don’t feel confident in their understanding of their surroundings and who crave leaders who seem to be.”

Smart people in the GOP realize that you can’t build a lasting and constructive democratically elected government on alienation and anger and confrontation.   The problem is you can build both a candidacy and a movement on it.  That is exactly what Donald Trump is doing now, and neither GOP nor Fox is sure how to react. 

Put a different way, if you were trying to massage the message (and they were) you picked ten as the cap for the “varsity” debates because it was a good number.  You would get your perceived heavyweights, in Bush, Rubio and Walker, add in Huck to reaffirm to evangelicals you were with them, Rand Paul to attract younger/libertarian voters, Chris Christie for the beer and a shot and just-get-it-done crowd, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina to show you were open-minded, and Ted Cruz just for spite.  The tenth could be a retread like Santorum or Perry, or maybe a fresh voice, like Kasich. New characters were better than the old.  Rand was younger, more attractive, and more mainstream than Ron.  Fiorina is far more accomplished than flaky Michelle Bachmann.  Carson is a legitimate star.  Swap out an old Newt for a new Marco, a more conventional Jeb for Mitt, and your new motif “Big Tent, Ready to Govern” is far better. 

But Donald crashed the party, and now they don’t know what’s next.  They must assume (and clearly desperately hope) that Trump will eventually flame out, drop out, and then all his support will be redistributed.  That could happen—part of Trump’s peculiar genius is to know when to get out of a failing business with his assets intact—but it won’t happen by tomorrow.

Will he talk about immigration and drop a few M-Bombs?  Will he call Obama a “loser” and revisit birtherism?  Will the crowd go wild when he does? 

It’s Opening Night at the Opera. The sopranos are beautiful, the mezzos imposing, the tenors in fine voice, the bass is dignified, the children’s chorus charming. 

And then: bum, bum, bum, bummm, baaah.  Baron Scarpia has just walked in the door. 

Not to tip my hand, if you haven't seen Tosca, but things go downhill from there.

Let’s see if the GOP has a different ending on Thursday. 

August 5, 2015

Michael Liss (Moderate Moderator)

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