Bleeding Kansas

“KSN News Poll shows Donald Trump losing ground in Kansas” says a stunning little article from a Kansas media site.

“The poll showed that Donald Trump would get 44 percent of the vote followed by Hillary Clinton with 39 percent. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson had eight percent. Nine percent of those polled were undecided. The margin of error is 4.2 percent.”

That’s right–Kansas, solidly Republican Kansas, edging toward Hillary Clinton. And while I wouldn’t bet real money against the GOP in Kansas, not ever, but the fact that Hillary is gaining and is within a few percentage points in the state really shows just how bad off Trump is nationally, for now anyway. The last time a Republican presidential candidate lost in Kansas was in 1964, when Goldwater scared even Kansans. Before that you have to go back to the Dustbowl years when FDR took it twice (beating a Kansan in 1936, Alf Landon, in fact). Before that it was when the Republicans tore themselves apart in 1912 and Kansas voted for Woodrow Wilson (by a plurality) and then voted for him again in 1916, with war looming. Before that it was 1896, when William Jennings Bryan, from next door in Nebraska, gave such an extraordinary acceptance speech (“You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold!”)[ at the Democratic convention it swept even Kansans off their Republican feet. And before that is was never. Kansas was quintessentially Republican even then.

In fact, it’s hard to find a state more Republican than Kansas. After all the state had been born bloody, in 1856, with pro-slavers–Democrats all, in those days–from Missouri beating and burning and massacring the Kansas Territory’s free soilers, soon to be Republicans all, trying without success to chase them out and bring Kansas into the union as a slave state. Kansas was also where John Brown had done his killing, his sons massacring some local pro-slavers with swords, hacking them to pieces. It was an eye for an eye response to a massacre of local free soilers by pro-slave ruffians. Politics was a murderous affair in Kansas then, with some voting and a lot more shooting and burning and death threats and beatings, and we forget that John Brown was a Republican martyr. “John Brown’s body lies mouldering in the grave”, went the hugely popular song of the time, “but his truth goes marching on!” The lyrics were later transformed into the Battle Hymm of the Republic, a Republican Party anthem till the party turned southern in the Reagan years.

We forget too that what gave birth to the abolitionist Republican party had given birth to Kansas, indeed the struggles between good and evil in Kansas in the 1850’s helped to create the Republican party. Forgotten almost completely now is how those former pro-slavery Democrat ruffians from Missouri morphed into Confederate guerillas and came back to Kansas on a sunny day in 1863 to slaughter a couple hundred unarmed men and boys in the town of Lawrence, merely for being free state Republicans. Jayhawkers, as they called the free soil militias who fought the pro-slavery Border Ruffians, were incorporated into the Union Army and took their vengeance on Missouri many times over. That bitterness must linger in a zillion little ways even today. Certainly small town Kansas and small town Missouri seem like very different places. And as Kansas seems to drift blue, Missouri has shifted dramatically red. The strife had enormous consequences at the time. Bleeding Kansas, as they called it in the 1850’s, helped birth the Republican Party, but also sundered the Democrats into Unionist and Secessionists and utterly destroyed the Whig Party. The bloodthirsty politics of Kansas in the 1850’s foretold the American Civil War, just as the American Civil War foretold the politics of the century to follow.

Now it seems, a century and a half later, that the Tea Party experiment in the state’s governance–Kansas is its laboratory–has completely failed and the state’s electorate is planning on voting more Democratic than it has in over half a century. In most states that might not be that big of a deal. But this is Kansas. You could not find a single example on the electoral map this year that shows more clearly how catastrophic the nomination of Donald Trump could be for the Republican Party. Foretelling the future again? Who knows. People yell, people scream, people jump about excitedly and say crazy things. You can never tell who among us is making any sense till later, when our time now is history and most of us are dead and things so confused today appear so much clearer. Perhaps Trump is a one time thing and Kansas and the rest of the red states will return to their perennial rock ribbed Republicanism. Or perhaps, like the Whigs we can scarcely remember anymore, the Republican Party will break up on the rocks on Kansas and throughout the once quiet backwaters of Republicanism and new parties will emerge from the wreckage. That, after all, is how the Republican party was born.

Do I think so? No. My money is on the GOP recovering nicely. After all, the party recovered swiftly from the Goldwater debacle, gaining 47 House and three Senate seats in the 1966 midterms and retaking the presidency in 1968.  And it seems likely that today there is more than enough Republican solidity at the state level for a quick, phoenix-like reemergence in just a couple years. But then in 1852 I would have bet on the Whigs lasting forever too. Hadn’t they just elected a president in 1848? By 1856 what remained of them aligned themselves with the Know Nothings and disappeared.

In 2012 Ted Cruz told the New Yorker that without Texas

the Republican Party would cease to exist. We would become like the Whig Party. Our kids and grandkids would study how this used to be a national political party. ‘They had Conventions, they nominated Presidential candidates. They don’t exist anymore.’

Cruz was referring to Texas turning blue because half of the state’s population is now Hispanic and the Republicans were doing all they could to alienate them. But it’s not Hispanics (about 6% of the population) giving Kansas its blue tinge this year. It’s Republicans and independents. White people. Donald Trump is scaring his own kind.

Preston v Sumner

Congressman Preston Brooks, left, Democrat of South Carolina, debating Kansas politics on the senate floor with Senator Charles Sumner, right, Republican of Massachusetts, 1856. Sumner had just delivered his fiercely abolitionist Crime Against Kansas speech, two hours of vituperative elegance. Brooks objected. And you thought things were hostile now. This beating, incidentally, caused an instant media furor (news was telegraphed then almost as fast as we tweet it now) that helped to turn the Republicans into the dominant party of the north. The Civil War did the rest. It wasn’t until the Great Depression that the Democrats retook control. And it wasn’t until the sweeping electoral victories of Ronald Reagan that Republicans became dominant again, by basically abandoning the world view of Senator Sumner and taking up that of Representative Brooks. OK, I exaggerate. But Donald Trump does have far more in common with Preston Brooks than with Ronald Reagan. Something changed. Perhaps politics is much more immutable down south, ancient beliefs lasting generations. When the GOP shed it’s northern skin and became based in the south, it began to take on a lot of ancient southern ideologies as well. Ideas and notions have staying power south of the Mason-Dixon line, while up north they come and go with the generations. John C Calhoun is still a living presence down there, and we up north and out on the coast can barely remember the name Henry Clay.

 

Immigration and the fate of the Republican Party

(from an email in September, 2012)

The GOP’s national base is old white people. They also score among white males in general, but not as strongly as they do among older white people. And that GOP demographic is shifting upward in years…it’s not that  everyone over 55 turns, it’s that the people that were 55 and Republican fifteen years ago remain Republican, while there are far less 55 year old voters now than there were  15 years ago. (We’re talking percentages here…as their population grows the absolute numbers will shift upwards, obviously). Basically, the people that voted for Nixon and Reagan will vote for Romney…just like they voted for McCain and Bush. The ease with which Obama maintains a lead now (in September 2012) is just due to the fact that there are that many fewer of that age group left alive to vote for Romney. The same thing that allowed for Reagan–the aging FDR vote–will doom the current GOP. Their era is over. They are dominated by the Tea Party and its average age is above 55. The elderly have pushed the average younger voter out of the GOP. They’ve sealed their fate.

Incidentally…when the US virtually shut down immigration in the 20’s it allowed the original mostly WASP population to regain control of the political process by cutting off the supply of immigrants and their children who tend to be pro-government, pro-welfare, and pro-labor. By the time the third generation kids–baby boomers–of that wave took over they slid comfortably into conservatism. Think the upstate Italian Republicans in New York. I remember as a kid how few kids I knew who were first generation…we were all second and third generation.  When the US loosened up immigration in came a flood of Democratic votes. And when the U.S. lost control of the southern border and several million emigres poured in today’s democratic majority was formed…since every baby born in the US, even by illegal parents, is a citizen..and nearly all of them become Democrats (or lean that way.) In response the Republicans went crazily nativist–due to its base who grew up in an era when immigrants were rare–and doomed themselves. The Federalists in the early 19th century went out the same way….

Back in 1965-66 Richard Nixon pulled the Republican Party together after 1964’s Goldwater debacle by going liberal on social issues (compared to Goldwater) and then appealing to the southern whites. It was cynical, but politically ingenious, the GOP had a lot of smart people then. I wonder about now.

Of course, Nixon’s Southern Strategy has been its undoing, we can see that now. And if southern blacks would ever start voting in numbers matching their tuirn ouit in the rest of the country (which is as high as white turn out), the southern base of the GOP would begin to disintegrate. I wonder if we’ll see that in our lifetime? It’ll be interesting to see if there’s been an upsurge in the black vote in the deep south. It has in Virginia, North Carolina and Florida…

Funny how it was the Democrats who did the Whig Party thing. Just as the Whigs were torn apart by slavery the Demos were torn apart by the Civil Rights movement, and then the northern half was then torn apart by Viet Nam. Watergate saved us, because the Nixon coalition included the Liberal Republicans. When the Democrats won in 1974 and ’76 liberal Democrats swept out most of the liberal GOP, which gave an opening to the neo-Goldwater people to put Reagan in and purge what few liberal Republicans were left. If If you read the first Making of the President, the political structure Ted White described in 1960 had been virtually banished by 1984, so transformed that it was unrecognizable. But that GOP coalition in 1984 was dependent on a population that was either WASP or third generation immigrants. The demographics have changed, and in a dozen years the political structure that voted for Reagan will be long gone. The GOP has never been a flexible institution. And they aren’t dealing with this well at all.

Boos

The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson just remarked that Ted Cruz not only “did not endorse Donald Trump, he unendorsed him”. Cruz had told people to “vote your conscience up and down the ballot.” The New York delegation, stage front, booed loudly and kept booing. I appreciate the enthusiasm of the New York delegation said Cruz, who then droned on without a word about Donald Trump. Cruz supporters–in Texas, in Colorado–applauded, but most other delegations, full of Trump delegates, joined in booing, and then the galleries joined in. The boos grew louder and almost drowned out Cruz. With perfect timing Donald Trump entered the hall to take his seat among the New Yorkers amid this chorus of boos. All of which was carefully noted by every reporter watching the scene. It has not been a good week for The Donald.

The undumpable Trump

Why Can’t Republicans Distance Themselves From Donald Trump? Jamelle Bouie asks in his latest Slate piece. They’re Afraid, he says. Afraid of power, afraid for their careers, afraid of Donald. Which is all true. It’s a fascinating piece (as are all his articles), but I think he missed a key point about what makes them afraid. It’s Facebook. I think that something the media regularly misses (because they spend most of their time on social media with other pundits) but politicians do not miss (because they read social media from their constituents every day) is the power of Facebook to drive politics. Defying Trump can be disastrous for a Republican politician, because it could set off a tsunami–even a series of tsunamis–of incredibly angry, out of control, and crazily inaccurate Facebook posts that can severely damage a politician. When you have a tidal wave of furious Trump supporters calling Paul Ryan a RINO–he the lifelong Republican and they mostly recent converts–you can see just how dangerous a thing Facebook can be if you are on its wrong side.

The Tea Party was dangerous for Republicans, too, but it was an email phenomenon, and as such a Republican could confront it because Tea Partier’s frenzied emails would be seen by relatively few. Hundreds at most. But taking on Trump’s followers can expose you to literally hundreds of thousands of virally angry people, and there is as yet no way to safely contain that. This is anger several orders of magnitude beyond that of the Tea Party. An anger that actually crushed the Tea Party candidate, Donald Cruz. And while the media understands that the media itself has been instrumental in making Donald Trump the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, it doesn’t quite understand that it was not just the media,  not all that free television they gave him, but that television in conjunction with Facebook. The impact of an analog appearance on television would expand exponentially in the digital universe that is Facebook. Trump would be everywhere on Facebook, pro and against. He seemed to dominate it. Even progressives were overwhelmed by Trump related posts. While all his opponents were spending big money in traditional campaigns, Trump sucked up all the Republican oxygen on Facebook. Each opponent smothered and died. Trump became not only the presumptive nominee, but became the Republican Party as far as Facebook was concerned.

Now, Facebook also went a long way to propelling Bernie Sanders too, but unlike the ethnically homogenous Republicans, Hillary had a firewall of Black and Hispanic voters who were not in the same Facebook universe as all those angry white progressives. Facebook dominance only works if everyone is Facebook friends with each other. But Facebook connections between blacks and whites are few, and between whites and Hispanics are few. The tsunami of pro-Bernie posts (and they were overwhelming) stopped at that racial/ethnic line. Bernie people never seemed to notice this and the Bernie Sanders phenomenon wound up a white people thing, as you could see from the faces at his rallies. As the campaign went on Bernie began picking up support across color lines from under thirty voters, but this was past the time of that first critical explosion of Berniemania. Hillary’s firewalls had held fast just about everywhere and Bernie’s campaign was on the mathematical ropes after the Southern primaries. The battle lines hardened and Bernie’s revolution never really expanded beyond his base of white progressives. It was that demographic topography of Democratic and Democratic leaning independent voters that limited Bernie Sanders’ success to mostly small states (he won eleven of the states with under thirty delegates, and two of the thirteen with over one hundred delegates), and failed at all to shake the confidence of the Democratic establishment. Only one Senator endorsed Bernie. A handful of congressmen. A few unions. He barely made a dent in the establishment at all. Voters over fifty had little use for him. Hispanics rejected him by two or even three to one. Blacks by four to one. Bernie’s Facebook world was a swirl with passionate intensity, a passion that had not been seen in American politics in generations, but it was mainly among white people under age forty who never noticed that so few outside that demographic were sharing their posts.

But among Republicans and Republican leaning independents on Facebook, there were no barriers to Trump at all. Compared to Democrats, Republicans are an endless flat plain of ideologically very similar people, differing in little but their accents, and you don’t hear accents on Facebook. The Donald’s presence just kept growing and growing, flowing like water in all directions, and it seems now to have no limits within Republican voters. There are no firewalls stopping him. There are certainly no ethnic divisions. Everybody can share everybody’s posts. And as a result, Republican politicians are much more at the mercy of outraged people on Facebook. They can’t hide, like Hillary, in all the places where white Millennials do not digitally congregate, because Trump supporters are anywhere and everywhere. And I think to a large degree this explains the fearful reticence of Republican politicians to cross Donald Trump. Even John McCain doesn’t want to cross Donald Trump. Trump could level him with one tweet, a tweet pasted onto Facebook and posted from one end of the party of Abraham Lincoln to the other. And McCain’s own Arizona Republican constituents love Donald Trump. He has to tread very carefully now. That RINO POW McCain and the Mexican judge both gotta go, someone might post, and the likes would pop up like dandelions after a spring rain.

But has Trump gone too far quintupling down on that judge? Could Trump be dumped? The media seems to think so. You can see the reporters and analysts and the scary bald GOP strategists and the lovely Nicole Wallace convincing each other of this on panel shows. You cannot be a racist presidential nominee howls an outraged Joe Scarborough. But I suspect it is far too late to dump Trump. I think that the press sees more change in Republicans than is real. I think they take the hopeful and logical and thoroughly unracist opinions of some valiant Republican politicians far too seriously. Because a poll today showed that a majority of Republicans do not think that Trump has been racist going after that judge. And it is that majority of Republicans, across that immense flat and seamless plain of Republicanism, and not the press corps and their favorite talking heads, who will be going nuts on Facebook every time faint of heart Republicans try to dump or even distance themselves from The Donald. Facebook dominates the GOP rank and file right now, and any politician who knows how to dominate both the media and Facebook will rule the Republican Party for the foreseeable future. Republican politicians are right to be afraid of crossing Donald Trump. He has too many Facebook friends.

Going out on a limb

On the eve of the latest Super Tuesday, March 15….

I haven’t read or watched or listened to or imagined any of the news today, but I’ve been assuming Bernie Sanders has had Missouri for a few days now. Maybe Illinois too, as Rahm Emanuel is so unpopular he’ll probably drive some urban votes to Sanders. But Bernie would have to have a huge Millennial turnout, a huge independent turn out, a huge turn out in the suburbs, and 25-30% of the black vote, not to mention a sizable chunk of the Hispanic vote. It’s a tall order but not impossible. But it would bring him close, even if he lost, to splitting all those Illinois delegates fairly evenly. Continue reading

Republican Debate

I’d spent the night watching a couple hockey games, then after the Kings retook the lead in the west with a win over Montreal, I switched to MSNBC for news of the debate. Everyone was talking about Marco Rubio’s weak performance and Donald Trump’s yuge penis. I was bewildered and curious, but tripping on a Benadryl and seizure med cocktail I drifted off as Chris Matthews was babbling about Lawrence of Arabia. The movie, I think. Clever boy. Dreamless hours passed. I woke with a start to Joe Scarborough’s theme music. Born on the Bayou, I think, choogling on down to New Orleans, and several very sleepy journalists were talking about Marco Rubio’s weak performance and Donald Trump’s yuge penis. The BBC’s Katty Kay, in a perfect Received Pronunciation redolent of Oxford and the tonier restaurants, told us she was so mortified by the debased and phallic (her terms) content of the GOP debate that she had to fight the urge to shower to wash off the filth. She was so fraffly bothered you’d think she was back on the sub-continent in the wrong train car. The flies, the heat, the filth. For a moment I was almost proud of The Donald and Little Marco, but it was just the Irish in me, and it subsided later, in the shower, scrubbing and scrubbing. I never realized what a clean freak a Democrat could be.

Trump, Cruz, Rubio and William F. Buckley

So I just saw a replay of that portion of the GOP debate in Texas where it degenerated into complete anarchy, kind of like the examination scene in A Day At the Races, but instead of the Marx Brothers you had three obnoxious assholes who want to be president. Then I switch stations and it’s an old Tonight Show. Johnny Carson is talking to William F. Buckley, and Buckley is using words I’ve never heard before, big huge words. It’s 1980 and he’s lecturing Johnny on conservatism which, he doesn’t know yet, is right on the cusp of its golden age. He was Mr. Conservative back then, the smartest guy in the world, a conservative so intellectual he could hate communists in iambic pentameter. They’d bring him out to argue with Gore Vidal or trade bon mots with Truman Capote. But today, after watching that debate, it’s like William F. Buckley was from another planet. Do they even have conservatives like him anymore? What happened? Was it Rush Limbaugh that made things so stupid? I like to think so, but it’s certainly more than that. Still, you could imagine Rush on stage here with the three stooges, pitching in, shouting at Cruz, calling Rubio names, yelling louder than Trump. But not William F Buckley. I can’t see him on that stage, I can’t see him asking questions, I can’t even imagine him in the same room. But I do wonder just what Bill Buckley would say, watching Trump, Cruz and Rubio on PBS yell insults at each other. Maybe he’d say the superstition that the hounds of truth will rout the vermin of error seems, like a fragment of Victorian lace, quaint, but too brittle to be lifted out of the showcase. Not that I have a clue what that means, but at least he didn’t say sweat.
William F. Buckley watching the debate at Cato's pad.

William F. Buckley watching the debate at Cato the Elder’s elysian pad.

Marco Rubio

I remember catching part of one of the early GOP debates and realizing that Marco Rubio scared the hell out me. He was too electable, and he could take big bites out of a potential Democratic majority in just the right places (e.g. Florida, New Mexico, Colorado and Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania) to give the GOP enough electoral votes in November. I breathed a sigh of relief, though, as he was stumbling and obviously wasn’t in this for the long haul this year. I said–either in a Facebook post or on my blog, I can’t remember–that the threat of Rubio won’t be this year, but in four years, or eight. Now he comes in second in South Carolina (after a weak fourth place finish in new Hampshire) and is obviously here to stay for a while. Two thirds of Republicans in South Carolina voted against Donald Trump. Rubio, Cruz and three losers split that two thirds. One of the losers, Bush, a hundred million bucks in the hole, drops out and his supporters despise Trump. Kasich can’t stay in much longer and it’s hard to see his supporters flocking to Trump either. Carson’s supporters I don’t know about. But as this race goes along, and as Trump still leads in polls nearly every upcoming race through the end of March, I’m wondering if half of that two thirds of Republicans will shrug and follow Trump, giving him the numbers he needs to win the nomination, or will they wait till Cruz and Rubio battle to the death and throw all their support to the winner. If either can hold on, and begin to win primaries by the end of March, then they could beat Trump. And we might be left with Marco Rubio, and I think Democrats who laugh at him underestimate his potential appeal to lots and lots of people who otherwise would vote for a Democrat. Cruz is not a genuine threat. He’s too doctrinaire, roo mean, too strident, and too unlikeable. Trump is not a genuine threat, he’s just loathed by too many people. Rubio, though, might have a Reaganesque appeal, in which case we Democrats have positioned ourselves too far to the left to win. If Rubio could appeal to moderate independents, a Democrat, any Democrat, could lose. A conservative Republican president is not something I like to think about. Hence Marco Rubio is the biggest threat to Democrats, liberals and progressives that the Republicans currently have. Let’s hope Trump keeps winning.

Trump hating

The very same people who are demanding that the media quit running stories about Donald Trump are the same people who can’t seem to stop reading and sharing and commenting on all those stories about Donald Trump. The audience for Donald Trump stories consists of two basic demographics….the conservatives who really, really like Donald Trump and the progressives who really, really hate him. As there are more Americans who can’t stand Trump (including me, actually) than there are those who like him, it’s the Trump haters who are driving most of the media frenzy. After all, Trump lovers are mostly following him on FoxNews. Trump haters are following him across a wide spectrum of news media. If those Trump haters would stop obsessively following his campaign, stop commenting in such vast numbers on the stories, and stop the incessant sharing and posting of everything Trump on Facebook and Twitter…then the  monetary value of Trump news would plummet…less ad revenue, less page hits, less fundraising value on public radio and television. Right now, though, you have to be nuts to not cover Trump as much as possible, especially since Trump haters are by far the most high value advertising demographic. Trump lovers, on the other hand, are a relatively low value advertising demographic, if only because they make so much less money than Trump haters. It’s  Trump haters that are driving this media explosion because every time television news, public radio, newspapers, news weeklies, blogs or news sites run a Donald Trump story it draws the very audience that pays the bills…Trump haters. Only FoxNews is the exception to this. Which means the only way to end the Trump media frenzy is if the very people who demand the media stop running Trump stories stop watching or reading those stories. But they can’t, because they are as addicted to Donald Trump as they were to Mad Men. And it’s hard to tell right now where the political news ends and entertainment begins, and how many people now can tell the difference.

Thank God Donald Trump came to the rescue

After the Paris attacks the GOP conveniently went after Syrian refugees which allowed the American Left to turn the debate of Islamic terrorism into a part of the 2016 presidential election contest. It became part of the classic battle between the Democratic party’s multi-culturalism and the Republican Party’s resurgent racist nativism. In the process the threat of real live Islamic terrorism was ignored, even belittled. I wondered, a month ago, how we on the Left would react when American Islamic terrorists, inspired by ISIS, would attack. Continue reading