Welcome to the 18th issue of The Outsider Perspective, brought to you by The Beltway Outsiders.
Good Friday Morning! We’re 38 days out from the Presidential Election. The first Presidential debate is under our belts. Ted Cruz endorsed Trump. The VP debate is the main attraction this upcoming week. And we get to watch polls roll in showing the effects of the debate on the voting public. We’ve entered the frenzied final stretch of the Presidential campaign. And before any October surprises can hit, something else could affect the election…
Congress passes a CR to avoid a government shutdown
Something to watch in the coming weeks is the effect of the Continuing Resolution, CR, passed by the House and Senate to keep the government funded. As a major news story, this should have little effect on the overall Presidential election. But it could have an effect on down-ballot Republicans. The GOP won very little in the deal and conceded considerable ground in order to avoid a government shutdown:
The deal between Pelosi and Ryan came after Reid and other Senate Democrats laid down a hard line on Flint spending over the last several days. In fact, Democrats had already scored several wins in the CR, including Zika funding that also allows Planned Parenthood to receive money combating the mosquito-borne virus.
McConnell, Pelosi and Ryan started working on a deal shortly after McConnell’s previous proposal, which did not include Flint funding, failed to muster enough votes to advance Tuesday. Time was running short, with leaders having just two more days to pass their deal. Government funding runs out Sept. 30. Plus, lawmakers want to return to their districts to campaign for their seats.
Conservatives, meanwhile, were already squawking about the agreement. Heritage Action’s Dan Holler blasted the deal saying “House Republicans accept being jammed and essentially sit on the side lines” and Hill Republicans “negotiate behind closed doors with Democrats, essentially giving them what they want.”
So while you’ll hear bellyaching from Democrats on the CR, they got what they wanted from the bill. The GOP had leverage in both chambers and chose not to use it. Specifically when it came to Planned Parenthood funding with regards to Zika. The GOP offered numerous motions on Zika funding that removed the language. The Democrats chose to reject all of those motions to wait to get their choice until the last minute. Democrats believed that Republicans would be too scared of the prospect of a government shutdown on the election to use any leverage they had. Democrats believed that whatever happened, the GOP would be blamed for the government shutdown, not them. So they held out for all the items they wanted and got them. Because they were right: the media would have blamed the Republicans no matter who’s fault it was in the shutdown.
It’s a double standard. But the question is whether or not the spending choices in the CR will come up again in the election. It could dampen the enthusiasm of specific voter niches, particularly the pro-life and deficit spending groups. If these voters see no one worth voting for in November, they simply may not decide to vote. And that could be a problem for Republican candidates getting voters to the polls. Something to keep in mind for polling the next few weeks. Now let’s jump into the campaign…
For first time in at least 40 years in a presidential debate, Americans heard no arguments for a strong defense, the Constitution, or free markets.
Bill Kristol, The Weekly Standard
All indications point to Clinton winning the first debate
We’re past the first debate and the results are pretty clear: Clinton won the debate decisively. It wasn’t even close. If you make it a 3 round boxing match of 30 minutes each, Trump was upright after the first round, but unraveled by the third. He missed opportunities to hit Clinton in weak spots and spent most of his time on the defensive and looking unprepared and ill equipped to grasp the issues at hand. Clinton never landed a KO, but she landed barrage of attacks that kept Trump off-balance, off-track, and off-point all night.
Five factors indicate Clinton won and Trump lost. First, the flash polls of debate viewers indicate Clinton won, overwhelmingly. The most important of these is the CNN flash poll: 62% of viewers thought Clinton won the debate, compared to just 27% saying Trump won. Clinton’s win in the flash poll was the second largest after Romney in his first debate in 2012.
Second, focus groups of undecided voters found that Clinton won by a 3-1 margin. Frank Luntz’s focus group of Pennsylvania undecided voters only had 5 total viewers who thought Trump won. The rest thought Clinton won. No one liked either candidate, but Clinton came away from the first debate with a decisive victory in a focus group setting.
Third, the media reaction overwhelmingly gave the victory to Clinton. Now, you could say that this was simply media bias. And I’d agree, bias definitely plays a huge role here. But only highly pro-Trump conservative outlets were willing to give Trump a victory mark in their analysis. All other conservative, moderate, and main stream networks gave Clinton a victory. Meaning Clinton was gift-wrapped a positive news cycle.
Fourth, the way in which the campaigns reacted to the debate tells a lot. Immediately after the debate, Trump’s campaign manager said on Trump’s defensiveness, “It’s fair to defend yourself… he’s not a politician. Clinton has participated in 34 primary debates.” As many noted, this language was an attempt to downplay expectations for Trump to even have the ability to perform well. Despite considerable bravado from Trump’s camp prior to the debate. Trump, likewise, immediately left the debate stage went directly the backstage “spin room.” The place normally reserved for campaign operatives to spin the debate results for the media. It’s rare for a candidate to ever go there, and if they do, it’s a sign of desperation to change the media narrative. Trump ran to Hannity. Trump and his staff spent time complaining of defective microphones, unfair moderation, and Trump surrogate Rudy Giuliani going so far as to say Trump should decline the remaining debates. All these stories together combine to tell us one thing: Trump’s campaign was signaling he had lost. Now whether or not Trump actually believes this is another story.
Finally, the main reason I can say with confidence Trump lost: Clinton has received a post-debate poll boost. Nate Silver estimates the bump is 3-5 points up in the polls:
Four national polls have been conducted entirely since the debate: They have Clinton ahead of Donald Trump by 5 percentage points, 4 points, 3 points and 1 point. There’s also a new national tracking poll from the New Orleans Times-Picayune conducted mostly since the debate, and that has Clinton up 5 points. Considering that the 1-point lead was from Rasmussen Reports, which typically produces Republican-leaning results, the polls show a reasonably clear consensus so far of Clinton being up by 3 to 5 points nationally.
If that’s where the numbers wind up settling, that would reflect a meaningful bounce for Clinton, who was ahead by just 1 or 2 points nationally before the debate and in a tenuous position in key Electoral College states, such as Pennsylvania and Colorado.
The debate effectively reset the race to a pre-September place where Clinton had a small but decisive lead in the national and state polls. A 3-5 point lead gives her enough room to push back Trump in non-battleground states and cool her heels in some of the battleground states. The early results suggest Clinton received the largest post-debate poll bump since 1976. Even worse for Trump, the polls he and his supporters have been pointing to as evidence he won have been fake, non-scientific, driven by bots, or some combination of those three.
In short, there is no empirical evidence Trump won the debate. There is considerable evidence he lost the debate in a landslide. That said, is all the news bad for Trump? I think Trump can take two positive takeaways…
Trump’s post debate positives
First, the debate could go a long way towards humanizing Trump. Remember, Trump has aired very few ads and has depended almost exclusively on interviews and TV appearances. Clinton reigns over the airwaves freely and has spent her time clobbering Trump via a non-stop barrage of ads in battleground states. For most voters, this was their first look at general election Trump. Many voters don’t tune into the election until the first debate. And if they decided that Trump, while ill-prepared for the debate, was more human than the great evil Clinton has been attacking him as, they might be more likely to vote for him. Trump will have to win them over. But they might see him as more relatable.
Second, as I’ve long argued, this is a news cycle driven election. A 3-5 point lead can evaporate in this election through one bad negative-news cycle for Clinton. She spent the better part of September being buffeted by a constant flow of bad news for her campaign. The debate helped Clinton push back Trump’s advance. But nothing says her momentum is destined to continue. And everyone expects her campaign to be anticipating an “October surprise” from Wikileaks, or some other shoe-drop. Bad news for both candidates is almost a given at this point in the race.
Not all is lost for Trump. But he has to regroup and perform well in the next debates. He can ill afford 3 bad performances. I don’t expect the VP race to be all that interesting. Pence and Kaine are vanilla picks for their position. It will be up to Trump to overcome his deficiencies in the next debate. The big problem for him: does he even believe he needs to improve? If not, Clinton will dominate the next debates, absent some outside event.
The Cruz Endorsement Flip-Flop
The biggest endorsement flip-flop this cycle is Ted Cruz endorsing Trump. Cruz managed to isolate himself and make all conservatives hate him. He betrayed the very base he spent time, money, and effort trying to expand in the race. All to gain favor with a group that already hates him, especially after he said to “vote your conscience” at the GOP Convention.
For me it revealed three things about Cruz. First, he did not make this decision for the reasons he claims. This is isn’t a principled stand. He’s trying to placate several of his large donors and avoid a primary challenge from Rick Perry. Specifically he’s trying to placate the Mercer family, who have been funding Trump’s campaign. The Mercers had been trying to reconcile Cruz and Trump and did not like Cruz attacking Trump. Trump’s campaign picked off several Cruz campaign staffers, including Trump’s current campaign manager. All of these connections combined with the threat of a primary challenge from Perry forced Cruz’s hand.
Second, Cruz and Trump were never the enemies they pretended to be. If you recall, last summer, Cruz and Trump held events together. Cruz attempted to lure Trump and his voters into event to make them Cruz supporters. His backfired. Cruz’s supporters ended up becoming Trump supporters, causing Cruz to underperform badly in Southern and Evangelical states. Cruz also has spent the last several months profiting off of Trump’s email list by renting it and sending out pro-Cruz literature. Cruz was doing this well before his convention speech.
Finally, it really revealed Cruz’s true self-serving nature and his lack of principles. I spent the better part of the winter and spring arguing with Cruz supporters who claimed everyone needed to drop out of the race and support. I made the point that no one would support Cruz because Cruz used backhanded campaign tactics to harm his rivals, but never Trump. Cruz’s campaign sent out false news before the Iowa caucus vote saying Ben Carson had dropped out. Cruz’s team sent activists and staff to states like Florida and Virginia to harm Rubio in those states, which ended up helping Trump win both states. When Cruz finally pushed all the people out of the race, he bowed out after he was unable to gain traction in states everyone told he couldn’t win in 2015. In other words, Cruz’s ambition, dirty campaign, and pride made him become the last person to kiss Trump’s ring. A fitting end to his betrayal to conservatism.
Cruz can rationalize his endorsement all he wants. It’s not a principled stand. Nor was his convention speech. He’s not Reagan in 1976, as he likes to claim. He’s barely Huckabee 08 and Santorum 12. Both of whom sided with Trump early on.
Evan McMullin is making waves
I’ve written many times in this newsletter about Evan McMullin gaining ground by getting on the ballots of various states. This week I’m happy to report he’s making waves in the national polls. A recent set of national polls released by the left-leaning PPPPolls shows McMullin at 2% nationally. Both McMullin and Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson lead Trump among African-American voters. This movement will hopefully help McMullin be included as other options in more polls.
He picked up the endorsement of Erick Erickson, former writer for RedState.com, and current founder and editor of TheResurgent.com:
McMullin gives people a reason to show up. He gives conservatives someone they can vote for without holding their nose. He gives people someone to vote for instead of reconciling themselves to voting against someone. McMullin’s candidacy is not the lesser of an evil, but an alternative against evil. For many, that will be enough.
A lot of people have been writing me, begging me to reconsider Donald Trump. They think this is the last best chance to get this nation right. They think we will turn a corner after which we cannot turn back. In truth, I have concluded we are already past the point of redemption when the best either party can do is offer up Clinton or Trump. We are beyond the point of looking to five black robed masters to save us from ourselves when we put up either a Clinton or a Trump. The seriousness and virtue of the voter is in the grave already and too many yearn for an idolized past that never existed in a future that is not theirs, but God’s, to shape.
I am realistic that Evan McMullin has a limited change of winning. But I am idealistic enough to hope for better than Clinton or Trump.
Jennifer Rubin, conservative opinion columnist for the Washington Post, argued that McMullin is a far more appealing choice than Gary Johnson:
…[F]or Republicans who’ve given up on the race, and frankly on the party, McMullin points the way to a new sort of center-right party — more appealing to younger voters (he’s barely 40 years old), confident, measured on foreign policy, pro-growth on economic issues and inclusive in tone. It’s not the know-nothing message of Trump nor the rigidly right-wing message of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) (anti-immigration, anti-gay marriage, hostile toward government).
McMullin is not going to win in 2016, but with the disintegration of Johnson and the reminder of Trump’s abject unfitness, despondent Republicans can at least signal that McMullin’s agenda is the direction in which the party should head.
And a piece in The Federalist argued Evan McMullin had picked up the discarded mantle of Ted Cruz, representing conservatism in the GOP:
McMullin, a former CIA officer and chief policy director of the House Republican Conference, shares with Cruz a penchant for talking about the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Founding Fathers. Like Cruz, he’s big on political philosophy and conservative principles, and talks about them in a sometimes lecturing tone. In some ways, McMullin has taken on the mantle Cruz discarded.
Unlike Cruz, he’s not too worried about politics. In fact, he says he got into the race by accident. He wanted to help out with a conservative, third-party campaign, maybe as a policy advisor. When he approached some people to ask about it, he was dismayed to learn that no one with national name recognition would agree to run. When they asked him if he’d do it, he was surprised, but agreed because, “someone had to run.”
Asked who are McMullin voters if, as Cruz claims, the election is a binary choice between Clinton and Trump, McMullin replied: “People who are extremely principled, who care deeply about the Constitution, who believe Donald Trump is much like Hillary Clinton. Country before party types.”
McMullin’s 2% may seem small now. But for a campaign that began only weeks ago, it’s a massive leap. As Gary Johnson continues to show how incoherent he is on policy, it’s time for more people to look towards McMullin. Trump and Clinton doesn’t have to be a binary choice. McMullin is an option.
Quick links for your radar:
Senate races are tracking national Presidential polls. Not a great sign for close races. – FiveThirtyEight
Howard Dean jokes about/makes baseless claims Trump is a cocaine user. And triples down on it. – MSNBC
US Stock markets are betting on and pricing in a Clinton victory in November – WSJ
The coming war for Mosul, Iraq
As early as next month, US and Iraqi forces are expected to begin a battle to retake the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. It was overrun by ISIS fighters two years ago and been held by them ever since. The US has been building troop presence back up in the region, by as much as 6,000 total US forces in Iraq. The push to extricate ISIS from Mosul is expected to create a massive humanitarian crisis, with innocent civilians fleeing the city:
As many as a million people are expected to stream out of Mosul when Iraqi government forces, backed by the United States, move to retake the city from isis, which took control two years ago. The much anticipated military operation could begin as early as next month, but aid workers here say they do not have anywhere near the resources, money, or manpower to deal with the expected human tide.
“It’s a nightmare—a disaster heading our way,’’ Alex Milutinovic, the director of the International Rescue Committee in Erbil, told me. “The Iraqi government is determined to destroy isis, but it is impossible to accommodate the number of refugees the military operation is going to produce.
Once the military operation begins, it’s possible that isis fighters will block civilians from fleeing and use them as human shields. But, ultimately, much of Mosul is likely to be destroyed. Without proper preparation, the invasion could resemble the ends of the first Gulf War or the Rwandan civil war, both in the nineteen-nineties, both of which produced hundreds of thousands of refugees, and immense suffering. Aid workers have communicated their alarm to Iraqi and American commanders, but preparations for the offensive continue apace. In a joint appearance at the United Nations with President Obama this week, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said he expected military operations to begin as soon as late October.
The US is expecting ISIS to use chemical weapons during the war too, specifically mustard gas. In preparation for the attack, the US has increased drone attacks on ISIS, killing 18 ISIS leaders ahead of the Mosul assault. ISIS, expecting an invasion, has built “hell on earth” to meet the assault:
Islamic State terrorists have held the historic city of Mosul for nearly two and a half years, and they have dug networks of tunnels and filled moats with crude oil to lay waste to a city that has been called an open-air museum.
The terrorist force has dug 18-foot-deep trenches around the city and filled these with oil and tar. Black smoke from burning moats has the potential to obscure targets pursued by fighter aircraft and drones. Tunnels have been dug connecting both banks of the Tigris River and also the northern end of the city to districts near the Qayara oil fields, allowing fighters, weapons, and supplies to be moved quickly. Some tunnels discovered after the fall of Fallujah were miles long.
“We expect them to use the same tactics they employed in Manbij (a border city in northern Syria) whereby they will use civilians as human shields. They will use many tunnels. Terrorists dressed as civilians will go into a house in one part of the city and appear in another part of the city with weapons,” said Wladimir van Wilgenburg, a security expert affiliated with the Jamestown Foundation.
The refugee crisis that will emerge from the push for Mosul will resemble the Syrian refugee crisis. An estimated 1.5 million Iraqis will immediately be displaced and forced elsewhere. If they come to the US, it will reignite the refugee debate. And if they choose Europe, it will already swamp a Eurozone struggling to keep up with the influx of Syrian refugees. It is ticking time bomb of a humanitarian crisis.
This new assault also underscores how Obama likes to pretend the US is finished in Iraq. We are far from finished with the war for Iraq. And, as Jennifer Rubin argues in the Washington Post, it is another case of incrementalism in Obama foreign policy:
President Obama, who bragged about “ending” the Iraq war, since coming into office has been using his favorite straw man choice between no “boots on the ground” or hundreds of thousands. In fact we’ve had and now are adding to the boots on the ground, and no one was recommending hundreds of thousands of troops.
Is this a case of better late than never? “I won’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” says John Noonan, former adviser to the House Armed Services Committee and to Jeb Bush during his presidential campaign. “The Administration is taking this fight more seriously and that’s commendable.” He cautions however that “military leadership has been more or less consistent. We’re lowballing what’s necessary to get the job done right. I’m not sure how many attacks in places like Orlando and New York it will take to get the point across.” He urges, “Better to strangle ISIS in its cradle than nurse its unacted desires.”
Incrementalism only drags out an engagement for the US. Lowballing troop support and resources places our soldiers at greater risk. While retaking Mosul won’t end the problem of ISIS abroad, it will help cut down on support and training grounds for ISIS. The President needs to ensure our military and the Iraqi army is fully prepared to retake Mosul.
The President needs to use more sanctions against Russia over Syria
One of the travesties playing out in Syria right now is how Russia and Syria are engaging in what US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Powers called: “Barbarism.” At the same UN meeting, the French and British Ambassadors said Russia could be guilty of war crimes. A piece in the Atlantic was far more blunt, “Putin and Assad are outdoing ISIS at mass murder.” The Atlantic piece laid blame squarely at the feet of an indifferent administration:
The American ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, won the Pulitzer Prize for a priceless volume about 20th century mass murder and how American presidents either measured up to the challenge or skulked away. For it is only presidential leadership that can convert mass indifference to pointed resolve. It is the lack of such leadership in this administration that gives birth to diplomatic long shots that benefit neither from useful leverage nor a unified executive-branch position. The administration even went out of its way to sink preemptively a piece of sanctions legislation aimed at mitigating civilian slaughter in Syria, one that certainly would have gotten the attention of Kerry’s Russian counterpart. And one can only imagine what the secretary of state must have been thinking when the testimony of the chairman of the joint chiefs was brought to his attention.
A careful consideration of military options is not pleasant work for any American president. Yet in this case it must be done. Yes, the Russian presence in Syria—about to mark its first anniversary—complicates things. No, no one is calling for invasion, occupation, or violent regime change. Unless, however, the Assad regime free ride for mass murder is brought to a screeching halt—and soon—there may be hell to pay, and not just by Syrians. The Vladimir Putins of the world may not always draw the correct conclusions from their perceptions of weakness, but they inevitably draw conclusions that can create danger—and not just in Syria. President Obama should avoid misleading Putin. He should also spare his subordinates the misery, humiliation, and frustration of trying to find truth, honor, and decency in the words of Putin’s employees. He should find civilian slaughter in Syria unacceptable, and demand of his defense secretary options for exacting a price of a murderous, cowardly regime currently convinced it can do with absolute impunity as it pleases to children and their parents, where and when it wants.
It’s not as if the administration lacks support in challenging this situation. Nor does the administration lack the tools. A bipartisan effort in Congress is trying to give the administration more power to levy sanctions and halt the supply chain used by Assad to resupply his forces. The major headache for an indifferent administration? These new tools would negatively impact Russia and Iran, both of which are actively supporting Assad and attacking US backed forces and innocent civilians. These tools would force the President to stand up to both countries.
The President doesn’t lack the resources or tools to make a difference in Syria. He lacks desire and will. Which means this is a purposeful choice to ignore Russian war crimes and a humanitarian crisis in Syria.
Quick reads for you radar
Obama kept the military out of the loop on the cash payments to Iran. Military heads testified before Congress that the decision was a political one and they were never consulted nor informed until after the fact. – Bloomberg View
Libya’s terrorist descent: How al-Qaeda is trying to establish their own caliphate in the failed-state of Libya and what the US can do to stop it. – RealClearDefense
Defense Secretary Ash Carter: The 9/11 bill to allow victims to sue Saudi’s over their role in 9/11 terrorist attacks could endanger American military and hamper US interests abroad – Associated Press
The White House tells the Pentagon to stop talking about “competition” with China. Pentagon heads can no longer describe the US as being in a “power competition/struggle” with China in the region. – Navy Times
US GDP numbers still slow
The US grew 1.4% in the second quarter of 2016, up from the estimated 1.1% previously reported. The Federal Reserve has lowered it’s 2016 projections of growth to 1.8% across the whole year. Much lower than the initially expected 2+% growth. Which means we will need growth above 2% for the rest of the year to hit that target. The US has typically averaged 2.5-2.8% throughout the post-recession period. The broader story is this: US growth is anemic and shows signs of slowing further. Stronger GDP growth would give the US better ability to navigate choppy waters emanating from European banks.
Deutsche Bank faltering… the next Lehman Brothers?
Bailouts are back in the news again with the recent fines being handed out by US regulators. The bank in the most perilous position is the German bank Deutsche Bank, which has seen its value decline sharply the last year. That decline accelerated the last few months as the bank was hit with fines from US regulators for $14 billion, which is expected to be negotiated to a lower price. Deutsche Bank’s position is perilous enough that European bankers are openly discussing whether or not Germany or the EU will bail the bank out.
Why does this matter to you? Because Deutsche Bank is a highly connected institution. The IMF said that Deutsche Bank: “appears to be the most important net contributor to systemic risks in the global banking system.” Deutsche Bank is highly connected to banks across the globe. And unlike America and its banks, Europe never experienced anything close to the anemic recovery America has seen the last 8 years. Europe experienced double dip recessions and more volatility than the US. Europeans do not have the economic growth numbers to allow some buffeting from a Deutsche Bank contagion. And the Germans do not want to bail the bank out right now. Mohamed A. El-Erian, the famous investor previously with Pimco and currently with Allianz SE, described the headwinds in an article for Bloomberg View:
Deutsche bank is battling three simultaneous headwinds that also are roiling other financial institutions:
- Ultra-low interest rates, including negative ones on a significant portion of European and Japanese government bonds, are undermining the ability of the bank to generate steady income from traditional intermediation activities.
- A persistently sluggish economy is putting pressure on the creditworthiness of some of the banks’ borrowers.
- Financial-market distortions, including interventions by central banks that were deemed improbable not so long ago, together with tighter regulation, have eroded the scope for revenue generation from capital market activities.
These headwinds are not going to die down soon. As a result, banks must have, and must be perceived to have, robust capital cushions to avoid the kind of rough treatment by markets that Deutsche Bank continues to experience. This is particularly true of the European banking system, where, unlike its U.S. counterpart, comprehensive efforts to overcome past slippages were hampered at times by the urgent need to address a sovereign debt crisis that even threatened the integrity of the euro zone.
If Deutsche Bank collapses to the point of needing a bailout, it will have ripple effects across the global economy. Regulators in the US and Europe will rush to contain any chance of a contagion. US Banks have struggled in making headway with the advent of Dodd-Frank regulations. And the big problem here: if the economy does take a nosedive from an event like Deutsche Bank going under, regulators have fewer tools this time around to contain a contagion. In the US, interest rates are already at historic lows and we aren’t that far removed from Quantitative Easing periods. Any impact the Fed can have will be hampered by credit already being cheap. Which is one of the reasons the Fed is growing more agitated it can’t raise rates. It is worried it won’t be able to provide relief in the event of recession.
US investors are already starting to price in a Deutsche Bank fall, with the financial sector falling yesterday after news of Deutsche Bank’s huge fine by regulators. With US growth slowing, US investors feel the Deutsche Bank crunch. The Germans face the same question as US regulators in 2007-08: To bail out the banks or not? US investors are signaling they want a bailout ready.
What I’m Reading
“How Donald Trump Set Off a Civil War Within the Right-Wing Media” – The New York Times Magazine
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an extensive analysis of the philosophical underpinnings of conservatism and where Trump fit into everything written by George H. Nash. It is helpful to keep that analysis in mind when reading this New York Times Magazine article. It is written from an obvious liberal viewpoint – the use of “Right Wing Media” in the headline is a dead giveaway. But the journalism within it is great because of the interviews. It underlines the split Trump has opened up within the Republican Party. The schism is real, based in philosophy, and underscores who the entertainers and believers are in the party. This section of the piece was particularly good:
Then came Trump. In a sense, the divide that he has opened up among conservative media figures is simply a function of the heartburn his ascent has caused among Republicans more generally, pitting voter against voter, congressman against congressman, Bob Dole against the Bushes. Some conservative media outlets threw themselves behind Trump from the beginning, explaining away his more radioactive statements and his uneven-at-best record as a conservative. Breitbart, whose former chairman, Steve Bannon, is now Trump’s chief strategist, was an ardent early supporter, breathlessly covering Trump’s ascent in the polls and his smackdowns of “low energy” Jeb Bush and “little Marco” Rubio. But as Trump expanded into more sacrosanct targets — Fox News’s Kelly, George W. Bush’s performance in the war on terror and Cruz — the dissenting chorus among conservatism’s dons grew louder. The Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer warned in December that Trump “has managed to steer the entire G.O.P. campaign into absurdities.” His Post colleague George Will predicted that a Trump nomination would mean the loss of conservatism “as a constant presence in U.S. politics.” The Weekly Standard editor William Kristol floated the idea of a new “non-Trump non-Clinton party.” And on the eve of the Iowa caucus, National Review devoted an entire issue to a single topic: “Against Trump.”
Since Trump clinched the nomination, the dividing lines have become starker, the individual dilemmas more agonizing. Mark Levin, an influential talk-radio host, complains that among conservative commentators, Trump’s message is endlessly repeated by what he derisively refers to as “the Rockettes.” But Levin, too, recently announced to his listeners that he intends to vote for Trump, if only to prevent another Clinton presidency. As he put it to me, “I’m not going to be throwing confetti in the air if Trump wins,” adding that he viewed the candidate as “a liberal with some conservative viewpoints that he’s not terribly reliable at sticking to.”
Others — Sean Hannity, Ingraham, the former Reagan official and “The Book of Virtues” author William Bennett — have thrown in for Trump with a brio that strikes some in the business as unseemly. “Look, we’re in the opinion business, but there’s a distinction between that and being a Sean Hannity fanboy,” the Milwaukee-based talk-radio host Charlie Sykes told me. “It’s been genuinely stunning to watch how they’ve become tools of his campaign and rationalizing everything he’s done.”
“For 20 years I’ve been saying how it’s not true that talk radio is all about ratings and we don’t believe what we say,” he went on. “Then you watch how the media types rolled over for him. Obviously Donald Trump is very good for ratings, and at some point it’s hard not to conclude they decided the Trump train was the gravy train. I’ve been thoroughly disillusioned, and I’m not alone in that. It’s like watching ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’: Oh, my God, they got another one!”
Quote of the week
This quote is from Allan Bloom’s seminal classic: “The Closing of the American Mind.” In this chapter he describes how Americans approach the ideas their country is founded upon. The pillars of American society are the ideas of John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, and the outgrowths of the Enlightenment and Reformation. Americans no longer study or understand them.
We are like ignorant shepherds living on a site where great civilizations once flourished. The shepherds play with the fragments that pop up to the surface, having no notion of the beautiful structures of which they were once a part.
Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind
Thanks for reading!