The very possible and increasingly probable President Trump

Ross Douthat is out with a slightly odd column which is, in significant part, about his initial attraction to Sarah Palin as a politician in 2008 and a redirection of that attraction in 2016.[1] There are a few points here I want to raise.

Fig. 1. Image attributed to Sarah Palin’s family. The tee shirt reads, “I may be broke but, I’m not flat busted.” Huffington Post, fair use.

First, he entitles the column, “My Sarah Palin Romance.”[2] This, in a heteronormative world, alludes to Palin’s gender, and highlights a principal role for women as men’s mates and therefore as carriers of babies. Palin, of course, reinforces this herself with her strong stance against abortion. But it also calls to mind my longstanding view that Palin looks the way many working class white males want her to look (figure 1) and says the things that they want her to say.

Douthat, I should hasten to add, means that he was attracted to Palin for “a kind of socially conservative populism, which would link the family-values language of the religious right to an economic agenda more favorable to the working class than what the Republicans usually had offered.” She blew it with “interviews — terrible, terrible interviews. She was in over her head. Her own paranoia took center stage. She became her critics’ caricature, embracing a mix of willful ignorance and proud ressentiment.” But, Douthat also writes, Palin’s endorsement of Donald Trump “is the closest American politics has come to offering the populist grand new party that [Reihan] Salam and I called for two presidential campaigns ago.”[3]

Except that it isn’t what we called for, because we wanted a populism with substance — one that actually offered policy solutions to stagnant wages and rising health care costs, one that could help Republicans reach out to upwardly mobile blacks and Hispanics as well as whites, and so on down an optimistic wish list.

Whereas Trump-era populism, while it plays very effectively on economic anxiety, mostly offers braggadocio rather than solutions, and white identity politics rather than any kind of one-nation conservatism.[4]

Which leads to a second, more substantive point that in part applies as well to the Democratic race:

[A]t a certain point disillusionment with the system becomes so strong that no wonkish policy proposal is likely to resonate anymore. So you can talk all you want (as Marco Rubio’s water-treading campaign has tried to do) about improving vocational education or increasing the child-tax credit, and people will tune you out: They want someone who will arm-wrestle the Chinese, make Mexico pay for the wall, smite our enemies and generally stand in solidarity with their resentments, regardless of the policy results.

Since this is a recipe for American-style Putinism, it’s not exactly a good sign for the republic that it seems to be resonating. But those of us who want a better, saner and more decent populism than what Donald Trump is selling need to reckon with the implications of his indubitable appeal.[5]

If, indeed the mainstream media were guilty of underplaying Bernie Sanders’ candidacy before,[6] now that he seems to have a chance of winning Iowa and New Hampshire, they seem to be tripping over themselves to refute his policies[7] in support of what amounts in significant part to a neoliberal consensus established when the Berlin Wall fell[8] but which also more broadly affirms U.S. political and economic system values, just as J. Herbert Altschull expects them to do.[9] Sanders’ support comes largely from people who are fed up with establishment politics, so much so that they may even refuse to support Hillary Clinton in the general election if she wins the Democratic nomination. Putatively “pragmatic” proposals amount to the “politics of the possible,” which is the very rationalization that these voters reject.[10] Clinton’s supposed realism thus counts against her just as Douthat writes that it does against Rubio,[11] let alone Jeb Bush.

It hasn’t entirely happened yet and there might still be a reversal, but it very much appears that Republicans are now falling in line behind Trump[12] while Democrats remain in denial about Clinton’s unelectability.[13] Contrary to leftist delusions of a disintegrating Republican Party, in fact, conservatives have been dealing with schisms for decades.[14] It’s the Democrats who have been sweeping their differences under the rug, moving ever further to the political right[15] and ostracizing the left[16] with the very same hippie-punching now being waged against Sanders.[17]

Given a Republican party with a lot of practice dealing with its internal differences and a Democratic party which, in its treatment of Sanders and the left,[18] could not exacerbate its own differences more if it intended to do so, I think it’s the Republican Party that’s in far superior condition to contest the general election.

That means Trump, and while there’s still a lot of time for something to go wrong with this very early forecast, as of now, it very much looks to me like it’ll be Trump taking the next inaugural oath.

  1. [1]Ross Douthat, “My Sarah Palin Romance,” New York Times, January 20, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/21/opinion/campaign-stops/my-sarah-palin-romance.html
  2. [2]Ross Douthat, “My Sarah Palin Romance,” New York Times, January 20, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/21/opinion/campaign-stops/my-sarah-palin-romance.html
  3. [3]Ross Douthat, “My Sarah Palin Romance,” New York Times, January 20, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/21/opinion/campaign-stops/my-sarah-palin-romance.html
  4. [4]Ross Douthat, “My Sarah Palin Romance,” New York Times, January 20, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/21/opinion/campaign-stops/my-sarah-palin-romance.html
  5. [5]Ross Douthat, “My Sarah Palin Romance,” New York Times, January 20, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/21/opinion/campaign-stops/my-sarah-palin-romance.html
  6. [6]John Wagner, “Bernie Sanders shares something with Republicans: Bashing the media,” Washington Post, December 24, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/bernie-sanders-shares-something-with-republicans-bashing-the-media/2015/12/24/f1add2c8-aa51-11e5-bff5-905b92f5f94b_story.html
  7. [7]Kevin Gosztola, “Liberals No Longer Amused by Bernie Sanders’ Presidential Campaign,” Common Dreams, January 21, 2016, http://www.commondreams.org/views/2016/01/21/liberals-no-longer-amused-bernie-sanders-presidential-campaign; Eugene Robinson, “Finally, Hillary Clinton has a battle on her hands,” Washington Post, January 14, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/sanderss-run-is-no-fairy-tale/2016/01/14/0f0afc50-bb01-11e5-99f3-184bc379b12d_story.html; James Taranto, “Hillary’s Journey,” Wall Street Journal, January 21, 2016, http://www.wsj.com/articles/hillarys-journey-1453401964
  8. [8]Melvyn P. Leffler, “The Free Market Did Not Bring Down the Berlin Wall,” Foreign Policy, November 7, 2014, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/11/07/berlin_wall_fall_25_anniversary_reagan_bush_germany_merkel_cold_war_free_market_capitalism
  9. [9]J. Herbert Altschull, Agents of Power: The Media and Public Policy, 2nd ed. (White Plains, NY: Longman, 1995).
  10. [10]Dan Balz, “What have Bush, Clinton learned from voters’ attraction to the outsiders?” Washington Post, September 5, 2015, http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/what-have-bush-clinton-learned-from-voters-attraction-to-the-outsiders/2015/09/05/3500ba66-532e-11e5-8c19-0b6825aa4a3a_story.html; Dana Bolger, “Dear New York Times: The Real Reason Young Feminists Reject Hillary,” Feministing, December 17, 2015, http://feministing.com/2015/12/17/dear-new-york-times-the-real-reason-young-feminists-reject-hillary/; Alexander Bolton, “In wake of Sanders standoff, key DNC official warns of schism,” Hill, December 19, 2015, http://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/263837-in-wake-of-sanders-standoff-key-dnc-official-warns-of-party-schism; Ryan Cooper, “Hillary Clinton and the awful risk of winning ugly,” Week, December 21, 2015, http://theweek.com/articles/595141/hillary-clinton-awful-risk-winning-ugly; Bill Curry, “Hillary’s in danger, Trump is sunk: The hard truths America is ignoring this election season,” Salon, August 17, 2015, http://www.salon.com/2015/08/17/hillarys_in_danger_trump_is_sunk_the_hard_truths_america_is_ignoring_this_election_season_thanks_to_the/; Tim Fernholz, “Hillary’s Clinton’s biggest problem: She won’t tell progressives what they want to hear,” Quartz, January 19, 2016, http://qz.com/597352/hillarys-clintons-biggest-problem-she-wont-tell-progressives-what-they-want-to-hear/; Robert Reich, “The Revolt Against the Ruling Class,” August 2, 2015, http://robertreich.org/post/125702366950; Kelly Riddell, “Democrats fear Sanders’ supporters won’t back Clinton if she wins nomination,” Washington Times, January 19, 2016, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/jan/19/democrats-fear-bernie-sanders-supporters-wont-back/; Ken Thomas, “It’s hearts versus heads for many in unions as they decide whether to back Clinton or Sanders,” Minneapolis Star-Tribune, August 19, 2015, http://www.startribune.com/labor-unions-facing-tricky-choice-in-democratic-primaries/322301031/
  11. [11]Ross Douthat, “My Sarah Palin Romance,” New York Times, January 20, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/21/opinion/campaign-stops/my-sarah-palin-romance.html
  12. [12]Jeet Heer, “The Classier of Two Evils,” New Republic, January 21, 2016, https://newrepublic.com/article/128107/classier-two-evils; Mark Murray, “Trump More Than Doubles National Lead in NBC/WSJ Poll,” NBC News, January 14, 2016, http://www.nbcnews.com/meet-the-press/trump-more-doubles-national-lead-nbc-wsj-poll-n496711; Philip Rucker and Robert Costa, “Republicans now see a Trump-Cruz race, with time for a shift running out,” Washington Post, January 15, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/republicans-now-see-a-trump-cruz-race-with-time-for-a-shift-running-out/2016/01/15/9b5d91f0-bbb4-11e5-b682-4bb4dd403c7d_story.html; Jonathan Swan, “Donors changing tune on Trump,” Hill, January 20, 2016, http://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/266389-donors-changing-their-tune-on-donald-trump; Megan Thee-Brenan, “Donald Trump Solidifies His Lead, but Leaves Many Nervous,” New York Times, December 10, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/politics/first-draft/2015/12/10/trump-solidifies-his-lead-but-leaves-many-nervous/
  13. [13]David Benfell, “Damnation by faint praise: Sanders claims to be more electable than Clinton,” Not Housebroken, January 10, 2016, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=8529; Robert Borosage, “As Panic Grips Clinton Campaign, The Real Question: What’s Wrong with Hillary?” Common Dreams, January 21, 2016, http://www.commondreams.org/views/2016/01/21/panic-grips-clinton-campaign-real-question-whats-wrong-hillary; Philip Bump, “Hillary Clinton’s national lead is slipping faster in 2016 than it did in 2008,” Washington Post, January 14, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/01/14/hillary-clintons-national-lead-is-slipping-faster-in-2016-than-it-did-in-2008/; Amy Chozick, “’90s Scandals Threaten to Erode Hillary Clinton’s Strength With Women,” New York Times, January 20, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/21/us/politics/90s-scandals-threaten-to-erode-hillary-clintons-strength-with-women.html
  14. [14]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2015), doi: 10.13140/RG.2.1.4776.2001; George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945, 30th anniversary ed. (Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2006).
  15. [15]Rick Perlstein, The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2014).
  16. [16]Blue Texan [pseud.], “Ed Rendell Tells Democratic Base to “Get Over It” on Rachel Maddow,” Firedoglake, September 23, 2010, http://firedoglake.com/2010/09/23/early-morning-swim-ed-rendell-tells-democratic-base-to-get-over-it-on-rachel-maddow/; Blue Texan [pseud.], “Stop Whining, Liberals!” Firedoglake, September 27, 2010, http://firedoglake.com/2010/09/27/late-night-stop-whining-liberals/; Michael Falcone, “Opposite Day On The Campaign Trail?” ABC News, September 21, 2010, http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2010/09/election-2010-opposite-day-on-the-campaign-trail/; Glenn Greenwald, “Obama’s view of liberal criticisms,” Salon, September 17, 2010, http://www.salon.com/2010/09/17/obama_139/; David Neiwert, “President Obama lashes out at his liberal critics: Choice is to ‘get things done’ or feel ‘sanctimonious’,” Crooks and Liars, December 7, 2010, http://crooksandliars.com/david-neiwert/president-obama-lashes-out-his-libe; Heather Digby Parton, “‘It’s always the hippies’ fault’: Why the left treats its idealists all wrong,” Salon, February 5, 2015, http://www.salon.com/2015/02/05/its_always_the_hippies_fault_why_the_left_treats_its_idealists_all_wrong/; Greg Sargent, “Liberal blogger directly confronts David Axelrod, accuses White House of ‘hippie punching’,” Washington Post, September 23, 2010, http://voices.washingtonpost.com/plum-line/2010/09/liberal_blogger_directly_confr.html; Sam Youngman, “White House unloads anger over criticism from ‘professional left’,” Hill, August 10, 2010, http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/113431-white-house-unloads-on-professional-left
  17. [17]Kevin Gosztola, “Liberals No Longer Amused by Bernie Sanders’ Presidential Campaign,” Common Dreams, January 21, 2016, http://www.commondreams.org/views/2016/01/21/liberals-no-longer-amused-bernie-sanders-presidential-campaign; James Taranto, “Hillary’s Journey,” Wall Street Journal, January 21, 2016, http://www.wsj.com/articles/hillarys-journey-1453401964
  18. [18]Alexander Bolton, “In wake of Sanders standoff, key DNC official warns of schism,” Hill, December 19, 2015, http://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/263837-in-wake-of-sanders-standoff-key-dnc-official-warns-of-party-schism; Ryan Cooper, “Hillary Clinton and the awful risk of winning ugly,” Week, December 21, 2015, http://theweek.com/articles/595141/hillary-clinton-awful-risk-winning-ugly; Christian Drake, “New Information Shows DNC Violated Its Own Rules When It Shut Down Sanders Campaign Data Access,” Addicting Info, December 19, 2015, http://www.addictinginfo.org/2015/12/19/new-information-shows-dnc-violated-its-own-rules-when-it-shut-down-sanders-campaign-data-access/; Jonathan Easley, “Dem rivalry takes nasty turn,” Hill, December 19, 2015, http://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/263784-dem-rivalry-take-nasty-turn; Jonathan Easley and Amie Parnes, “Chelsea Clinton goes on the attack; Democrats ask why,” Hill, January 14, 2016, http://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/265839-chelsea-goes-on-the-attack-dems-ask-why; Andrea Germanos, “Latest Snub of Progressive Base as Clinton Ditches MoveOn Forum,” Common Dreams, November 25, 2015, http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/11/25/latest-snub-progressive-base-clinton-ditches-moveon-forum; John Heilemann, “Insurrection Erupts at the Democratic National Committee,” Bloomberg, October 15, 2015, http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-10-16/insurrection-erupts-at-the-democratic-national-committee; Ben Kamisar, “Clinton skips MoveOn candidate forum,” Hill, November 24, 2015, http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/presidential-races/261242-clinton-skips-moveon-candidate-forum; Lauren McCauley, “Viewers Tune Out, Voters Lose Out as Democratic National Committee Buries Second Debate,” Truthdig, November 16, 2015, http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/viewers_tune_out_voters_lose_out_as_dnc_buries_democratic_debate_20151116; Lauren McCauley, “Thumb on the Scale? DNC Backs Off Bernie But Questions of Neutrality Linger,” Common Dreams, December 19, 2015, http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/12/19/thumb-scale-dnc-backs-bernie-questions-neutrality-linger; Greg Sargent, “The DNC needs to restore Bernie Sanders’ access to voter data — fast,” Washington Post, December 18, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2015/12/18/the-dnc-needs-to-restore-bernie-sanders-access-to-voter-data-fast/; Jonathan Turley, “The Democratic Debate Brought To You By Max Bialystock: The DNC Engineers A Flop In Latest Debate Scheduling,” January 16, 2016, http://jonathanturley.org/2016/01/16/the-democratic-debate-brought-to-you-by-max-bialystock-the-dnc-engineers-a-flop-in-latest-debate-scheduling/; Caitlin Yilek, “Ex-Obama adviser: DNC ‘putting finger on scale’ for Hillary,” Hill, December 18, 2015, http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/presidential-races/263792-ex-obama-adviser-on-sanders-scandal-dnc-putting-finger-on

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