As astounding as this political season has been, and I don't include the spittle-and-venom Republican presidential debate last night in that category, I never cease to be surprised at the new ways pundits find to spin the astounding success of Donald Trump's scorched earth campaign. And am grateful for that since I'm fast running out of ways to say the same thing but make it seem different.
Anywho, a chap by the name of Philip Klein, who is manager of The Washington Examiner, a conservative crying towel masquerading as a newspaper, has jumped the shark, as well as saving my repetitive ass for the moment, by opining that the greatest evil that could come of Trump winning the GOP nomination is that it would validate liberals' caricature of Republicans being all about "bombast and white resentment rather than substance and principles."
What is so outrageous about that statement -- okay, maybe hilarious is a better word -- is that Klein fails to grasp that liberals are spot-on correct while he and his conservative ilk are clueless. And that while there are a lot of reasons why Republicans have used appeals to white resentment to win elections, in the end they all boil down to the fact that they work.
And would seem to be working better than ever this election cycle as Trump rallies increasingly take on the look and feel of Nazi rallies with Trump's security guards dragging protesters from the halls as his supporters hurl curses and shout "Sieg heil!"
The GOP has not only not tried to keep the lid on xenophobia and racist hate, but has encouraged it to the point where the groundswell of Trump's popularity and his repugnant "silent no more majority," as he calls them, have made him not the party's savior, but its worst nightmare.
While there is a certain voyeuristic pleasure in watching adults act like children, the Republican scrum in Las Vegas last night again fundamentally failed in what a presidential debate should be: An opportunity for candidates to soberly explain where they stand on the issues of the day and why you should support them.
The Democratic debates have done just that with a minimum of fact stretching and general good will, while the Republican debates have been exercises in name calling and lie telling with discussion of the issues of the day mere afterthoughts, or crass oversimplifications. The main difference in last night's fifth and final debate before the primaries is that almost everyone threw sand at Donald Trump instead of at each other, and tried hard to dial up the hysteria.
Terrorism and immigration reform, of course, were at center stage, but if anyone felt safer after hearing Ted "Carpet Bomb" Cruz and most of his cohorts, then I want some of what they're smoking. If the candidates' aim was to scare the shit out of people without offering plausible alternatives to what President Obama is doing, then they succeeded.
Jeb Bush actually had a pretty decent night, albeit probably not good enough and too late, when he rose above the warmongering and urged alliances with the Arab world to combat ISIS instead of banning Muslims from the U.S., which has become the centerpiece of Trump's campaign since he's worn out ways to bash Mexicans. Bush called Trump a "chaos candidate," and warned him "you're not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency."
Jeb's shots hit their mark, leaving Trump spluttering and demanding an apology (ha!), but Trump still came out on top. Bullying and portraying Americans as losers has gotten him to where he is, and by that standard he was the hands-down winner last night.
Donald Trump has moved well beyond being a factional candidate like a Howard Dean or Pat Buchanan or Herman Cain because of his impressive staying power. As in he's surged to the top of the polls and stayed there unlike those other candidates, who quickly collapsed.
But it's still too soon to say if Trump really is the front-runner for the nomination. As Nate Cohn of The New York Times well puts it, "He has a high floor but a low ceiling, and although he has weathered many controversies, the toughest days are yet to come."
Those challenges already are evident: Ted Cruz leads in Iowa; Trump is weak in polls of verified voters; he gets crushed in one-on-one matchups with Hillary Clinton, and despite his renewed commitment to not running as an independent, the number of Republicans who say they would not support him is substantial.
Concludes Cohn: "His chances of winning -- which are real, even if not good -- depend much more on the weaknesses of his opponents than his own strengths. The good news for Trump is that the opposition is flawed enough to entertain such an outcome."
The flavor of the moment is that the Donald Trump juggernaut will force a brokered convention, and that would be the most disastrous outcome for Republicans short of Trump winning the nomination outright. There are a number of things wrong with this view, beginning with the fact that there no longer are political brokers.
There hasn’t been a floor fight over the Republican nomination since Ronald Reagan unsuccessfully challenged Gerald Ford in 1976, let alone any undecided first-ballot votes for a nominee from either party since 1952. This is because the brokers of smoke-filled backroom lore, the guys (and they're always guys, typically with a couple days of stubble, a dead stogie hanging from a corner of their mouth and bad body odor), went out with the Sony Walkman.
Brokers did indeed used to keep delegates in their pockets for horse-trading, but that doesn't play in the age of sanitized, made-for-donors prime time conventions that are non-stop happy face commercials with the only drama being whether the chairwoman with the funny hat from the sovereign state of Mississippi can get her mike to work. Even if there is the prospect of a deadlocked convention in which no candidate has a majority of delegates, party bigs will put the squeeze on enough unbound delegates to push the candidate over the top. Guaranteed.
But doesn't history say otherwise? Dick Polman over at NewsWorks dredges up a quote from pollster Paul Maslin about fears of a delegate floor fight: "The party is up against an extraordinary end-game. If this guy has more convention votes than anyone else, how can we not nominate him? But how can we nominate him?"
That quote sure sounds like a Republican talking about Trump in 2015. But the year was 1988, and Maslin was referring to Jesse Jackson.