Republican civil war

Odds are that the GOP will lose a couple dozen seats in the house this year. It seems as of now highly doubtful that they’ll lose more than that. Very effective gerrymandering by GOP controlled statehouses have left enough Republicans in safe districts that can withstand even a severe drubbing of their presidential candidate and a big increase in Democratic voters. But the irony is that the Republicans in districts that are not safe veer to the more moderate side of the GOP, being that the districts they are in are not conservative enough to have elected a Tea Partier. Democrats will pick up those seats, leaving a GOP majority in the house that, though smaller, will be even more conservative than it is now. Trump won’t win the White House, and a lot of Republican senators will be losing their seats because of Trump and likely losing the majority to the Democrats, but the House will be more Trumpified than it is now. There has been a long running Republican trend since 1980 (maybe since 1978) where every election brings more hard line conservatives into the House than before. In 1994–seven elections after the Reagan landslide in 1980–Newt Gingrich took control of the House GOP and set it firmly to the right. Indeed to the right of Reagan, certainly to the right of George S Bush. Clinton’s national health insurance plan was destroyed by the Gingrich revolution. Fast forward ten more congressional elections and Paul Ryan–more Reagan than Reagan just four years ago–is now far too moderate for most conservatives in the House (and among Republican Party rank and file) and in all likelihood will not be Speaker in 2017. Just four years ago he was hardline conservative. Now he is a RINO. Every Republican you see interviewed seems to see nothing but intra-party civil war and bloodletting. Meanwhile, the demographics in the general population run against them, and their base grows smaller and smaller. Parties do disappear sometimes. The Federalists were gone by the 1820’s after being dominant in the first twenty years of the country. The Whigs elected presidents before the Civil War and were national and growing until they almost instantaneously disappeared in the late 1850’s. But we’ve had two dominant parties since the Civil War, it’s hard to imagine one disintegrating completely. Yet that is what seems to be happening. A surreal time. Perhaps it is just a phase and the GOP will re-emerge. Perhaps it will split into multiple parties. The liberal Democrat in me snickers. The historian in me looks on in astonishment. To think I lived to see this day.

Brokered convention

(Predictions for the nomination races written in early December, 2015)

The last time the GOP had a brokered convention was 1976, when the delegate count was so close a credentials vote–over whether Mississippi’s Ford or Reagan slate of delegates would be seated–was required to break the impasse. Ford’s slate won the vote, but just barely, and he was renominated. But the damage was done and Carter won that year. It was the last gasp of the old Eisenhower GOP, by 1980 Reagan conservatives, embittered by their loss at the 1976 convention, swept the party and convention and the liberal wing (that had been so essential in getting Civil Rights, social security, welfare and environmental laws passed over the objections of Southern Democrats–all of whom are Republicans now) ceased to be. The moderate Republicans clung on longer but are mostly gone. By now the GOP seems split between conservatives and flat out crazy conservatives. So brokered conventions seem to have lasting consequences. The last time the Democrats came close to a brokered convention was 1968 and the repercussions followed into 1972, when the left, furious at the treatment in Chicago in 1968 (tear gassed, among other things), gamed the process and got McGovern nominated. Alas, he was no Ronald Reagan as far as vote getting went, instead he was our Barry Goldwater.

So what does all this mean? Well, the odds of a brokered Democratic convention are near nil, Bernie will be beat solidly and early in the primaries. [Ha! Now there’s a prediction…. Yet Bernie was, actually, he was stomped on early and regularly thereafter, but no one knew in 2015 that he’d be able to raise 200 million dollars online and keep indefatigably pressing on, if never catching up, till the bitter end, and making an exciting and ideologically passionate race of what most of us political junkies thought back then was sure to be a snoozer. But I digress….] And the chances of a brokered Republican convention? Maybe, maybe not. Yet with Trump and now Carson both going mad dog and threatening to bolt the party should it appear there is a party establishment effort to block them, the results for the GOP are dire at best. Right now they are more interested in saving the party–the old Reagan GOP, this time–from being seized by crazed Trump revolutionaries. After all, Reagan’s people had seized the party the same way in 1980, and they know what it means for the old order. But the GOP has been riding Trump’s crazy beast for years now, kissing Rush Limbaugh’s ass and giving in to the extreme right at every opportunity, now suddenly and inexplicably it has turned on them. The GOP had thought all along they could control the reins and there was no danger of anyone Rush Limbaugh-like could ever have a shot at the nomination. But Trump has proven them wrong. There are more Republicans now who think of Trump as one of them than there are not. And if there’s anything a typical Republican hates it’s a RINO (Republican In Name Only), and suddenly all these Trump loving Republican voters consider the party itself to be RINO. As the race develops these next couple months the only thing a Trump voter will hate more than Moslems is another Republican.

Well, maybe. It’s early, and we have no idea what will happen. But keep you eye on Super Tuesday, that is March 1. There are a dozen primaries and caucuses that day, including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. If Trump is as popular with Republican voters in those southern and/or Bible Belt states as he is right now in South Carolina (which votes a week earlier), then he could well sweep them all. Toss in some of the other states that day and Trump will come out of Super Tuesday with a juggernaut, and he can pile on southern states Kentucky and Louisiana on March 5, Mississippi on March 8, and three of the five states in the March 15 primary Florida, North Carolina and Missouri. By that date, almost every state south of the Mason-Dixon line has voted in a presidential primary. The north and west dominate the next two months, not that it matters much. Candidates who sweep the south tend to win the nomination, as every single southern state has their primary in the first six weeks of the primary a schedule. It’s one of the ways that southerners control the Republican nomination process, and it’s one of the ways that the Republicans have been driven so far to the right. Trump knows this, and has positioned himself to sweep those nativist southern republicans voters off their feet. The more he yells about Muslims, the more they love him down there.

And once he nails every one of those states–as he probably will–there might well be nothing left to stop him but back room deals at a brokered convention. Provided there are other candidates who have won enough delegates to keep Trump from coming into the convention with enough to win the nomination outright. And then there’s this…”a new Republican National Committee rule that requires any GOP nominee win a majority of delegates from eight different states”. Which guarantees a mad scramble as candidates beg other candidates to withdraw and release their hard won delegates to them. Imagine the promises made during those conversations. It’s impossible to figure out ahead of time how many delegates a candidate will get…each state has their own method of allotting them. Even if Trump wins every state I mentioned it does not mean he gets all the delegates. He’ll get most, but not all. But somebody besides Trump will have to win at least eight primaries and have access to enough delegates to keep Trump from winning the nomination before the convention even convenes. Not only to stay in contention, but to keep Trump from winning the number of delegates he needs before the primaries are even over. As it looks now, Trump doing just that is a likely scenario. If there are any more attacks like in San Bernardino, that likelihood becomes all the more certain.

But here is the Republican establishment hope: that the anti-Trump vote in the Republican primary is high enough so that he did not quite get the number he needs for the nomination, and that those anti-Trump delegates would do anything but vote for Donald Trump, and that one candidate besides Trump manages to win a minimum of eight states. Those are high hopes, but they are feasible. Then (and only then) is there a possibility of a brokered convention. Of course that also means Donald Trump very likely storming off in a huff and announcing a third party bid, and of the Republican Party, at least at a presidential level, flushing itself down the toilet. They might even lose Congress.

But what the hell, they got the state legislatures and governorships sewn up. We handed the states over to the GOP and have paid for it ever since. So even the worst possible outcome for the GOP in 2016–a split party and a Democratic blow out–leaves them with a solid base to rebuild from. Donald Trump is a one time freakout. The GOP will revive.

This was originally an endless Facebook post about this CNN story:

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.


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