The biggest political story of 2015 was not the emergence of the Vladimir Putin-hugging Donald Trump as a contender. He's a sloppy second. The biggest story -- perhaps of many years and not just this year -- is that the Republican Party went into the colorectal system known as the presidential election campaign dumber than a box of hammers at the start of the year and has come out the other end dumber still and threatened with national political irrelevance.
It actually would be comforting to say that the Democrats, as well as the entire American body politic, are stuck on stupid. But the Democrats and their supporters are doing a pretty good job of playing it smart, keeping it civil and understanding the needs of ordinary folk, while the Republicans and a good many of their supporters have devolved into xenophobic racists and name calling and blatant lying are de rigueur as the party's chances of recapturing the White House slip slide away even as it strengthens its hold on statehouses.
Consider that in January, the three leading Republican presidential candidates in most polls were Scott Walker, Rand Paul and Jeb Bush, and that at the end of the year they are Trump, Ted Cruz and Ben Carson, three caricatures who each in their own way are truly scary as well as hugely unqualified to be president.
How could this have happened? Because the Republican Party worked very hard to make it happen. Thinking like a box of hammers will do that.
This is not to say that Democrats don't have their own problems, although they seem eminently manageable by comparison: The party doesn't have as many younger up-and-comers as it should, its populist message could use some recalibrating, and it cannot afford to begin losing centrists to the GOP should Republicans wise up following a devastating 2016 presidential defeat and perhaps the loss of the Senate, as well, and conclude that hate may not be so effective a message after all.
With the legacy of lessons not learned after crushing defeats in 2008 and 2012 and the magical thinking that has long pervaded the American conservative movement, it's difficult to imagine that suddenly happening to a party whose supporters are attracted to Trump's self-described "tremendous smarts," Cruz's mindless prescriptions for carpet bombing the Middle East back to the Stone Age, and Carson's evocation of Nazi analogies in attacking President Obama.
And hasn't the mainstream media been doing a craptastic job of covering it all?
According to the media mavens, Hillary Clinton continued to stumble badly although she has had the nomination locked up after the first Democratic debate, while Trump was a flash in the pan long after it became obvious he was the smirking new face of the Republican Party. And, as always, there was an allergy to calling out even the most blatant of liars.
I published some 76 Politix Update columns at my home blog during 2015 on everything from The Donald to The Killa From Wasilla that chronicled the Republican year in dumb, as well as some comparatively tame Democratic hijinks, thoughts about President Obama, and other political developments. Here are some nuggets from those columns, and an index to the whole bloody shooting match:
(March 31) In the last two-plus decades as the Republican Party's drift to the right morphed into a full-blown gallop and the party's base came to be dominated by Bible thumpers and angry white men -- and frequently Bible thumping angry white men -- the GOP has won only two of six presidential elections, one because the Supreme Court gave the Constitution the finger and the other because Republicans had perfected their fear machine message and the Democratic candidate was weak.
(May 18) Jeb Bush, asked last week in an interview in the comfy confines of a Fox News studio of whether, knowing what he knows now, would he support the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he answered that he would have. . . .
After tying his shoelaces together and falling on his face, Bush opined that Hillary Clinton would say the same thing. That is demonstrably false, although like most senators (but not Barack Obama) she was for the war in 2003 before she was against it. No, what burned the red, white and blue ass of this veteran is that Jeb Bush defaulted to cowardice. Because, doncha know, any criticism of the troops and by extension his former commander-in-chief brother is unpatriotic -- a battle-tested, if vile, tactic from the Republican playbook to tamp down dissent when it threatens to come uncomfortably close to the truth.
(June 21) While no one would accuse presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton of having the wings of a dove, there is little doubt that most of the Republican wannabes who would like to deny her the White House would plunge the U.S. into yet another war. Or two or three wars if given the opportunity. This is because they believe in what I call the Doctrine of Perpetual War.
The doctrine goes something like this: Going to war after we're attacked or provoked is so yesterday and isn't what makes America great. After all, we're inherently better and different than other nations because God blessed ours way back in The Beginning and told us we had to mind everybody else's business. Besides which, defense contractors create jobs. So we will be more assertive about war and not hesitate to act unilaterally by taking out bad guys wherever they may be. Because we can.
(July 1) There is an undercurrent of angst about the state of the GOP in the otherwise happy-face pronouncements of many Republicans in talking about 2016, and it is not difficult to see how the GOP has gotten itself into such a fix: Its once-vaunted ability to speak with one voice was overrated to begin with, while it is Democrats who have closed ranks, especially on social issues. The party is attracting young voters (aka those damned Millennials) in droves and they tend to be liberal, and while its solid black and Hispanic bases are not so liberal, they generally are progressive when it comes to those social issues.
(July 10) The sensational early successes of Eugene McCarthy [in 1968] invite comparisons with Bernie Sanders, who like McCarthy nearly five decades earlier, has tapped into a reservoir of disenchantment with the Democratic establishment in the person of Hillary Clinton.
There are indeed similarities, but they will not hearten the supporters of Sanders, a Democrat-turned-Independent and self-described socialist from Vermont: While McCarthy and Sanders were and are men of principle and there is a not dissimilar reservoir of disenchantment, it also does not run deep. And like McCarthy, Sanders will get very little rank-and-file support, while his quixotic quest will end as McCarthy's did, a mere footnote in the annals of presidential campaign history.
(August 6) If there is a single issue on which candidates for president agree regardless of party affiliation or political persuasion, it is that America's middle class is in deep doo-doo and with a wave of their magic wand they will ride to the rescue. But while that mantra has great appeal, it obscures a dirty secret: No one is going to be able to help the middle class in ways that count. . . .
This is the part of the movie where we come to the biggest villain of our story -- income disparity -- a consequence of rampant capitalism as practiced by the Vampire Elite, the people who are sucking the middle class dry from their big corner offices in skyscrapers across America and, in my view, represent a far greater threat to our security than domestic terrorists or even Al Qaeda or ISIS. Yet Republicans are in their thrall and most Democrats too cowardly to face them down although nothing less than the future of the tattered remnants of the American Dream is at stake.
(August 19) There are many reasons, some consequential and others less so, why I don't believe Joe Biden should run for president.
Among them are that Hillary Clinton would be a far stronger Democratic nominee and be able to summon a coalition of supporters, including the party's deep-pocketed liberal elite, far larger than Joe would. She would be something approximating a shoo-in to win the election, while Joe would not, and will be a worthy successor to Barack Obama. And their values, which was of such concern to Beau Biden, are not dissimilar. It really would be no contest, while Joe seemed to keep tripping over his own message when he ran in 1988 and 2008. Would a third run be appreciably different? Possibly, but perhaps only because the press corps digs him so much, and that affection eventually would fade.
But the most important reason is this: Joe always has made his own political fortunes secondary and those of country he serves first and foremost. There is no reason to stop that now.
(September 2) Has the Republican Party become incapable of governing? Or so opposed to anything Barack Obama says or does that oiling the wheels of government is merely an afterthought? Or perhaps beholden to a restive base that so loathes Washington that it equates governance with a sexually-transmitted disease? The answer is some of each, and the result has been the accretion of layers of partisan gridlock for the last six years, along with the occasional government shutdown, with the prospect of more of the same in an era when political purity for the GOP has become paramount, while accepting the responsibilities that governing in a fractious democracy entail is no longer an obligation.
(September 8) Beyond the experience of burning brain cells at an alarming rate, I learned something important during my 18-month-long slog through the digestive tract of Hollywood celebrity and SoCal culture [covering the O.J. Simpson murder case]: Everyone who touched its third rail case ended up being diminished by it. So it is too with Donald Trump.
The wake churned up as Trump tacked, yawed and scare mongered across those boiling political seas of summer revealed (or in many cases merely further confirmed) the dubious accuracy of public-opinion polls, the fecklessness of the news media and its mutually backscratching relationship with the political class, the crass idiocy of the punditocracy, our infatuation with people who have nothing to offer beyond Botoxed good looks, an occasional flash of talent, big houses and fast cars, as well as heaps of money. Oh, and our political system is so crook that scary numbers of people believe that a man about whom nothing beyond his lion's mane of orangutan-colored hair is real is, in fact, real.
(September 16) While The Donald is easy to criticize and some of his opponents for the nomination are making a cottage industry of doing just that, Dr. Ben Carson can glower from behind that invisible shield so many of us white folks instinctively erect to seal off strong feelings when we don't necessarily like the message and the messenger is black.
(October 13) A grave question must now be asked in the wake of a Republican meltdown in the House of Representatives that in the short term threatens the fiscal stability of the U.S. and world markets, as well as the ability of government to function, and in the longer term calls into question whether the Republican Party is still capable of governing, let alone whether its prospects for the 2016 presidential election have been further damaged: Have the Gang of 40 lurched from their patented brand of despicable politics into treason? Why, yes they have.
(October 21) Jeb Bush's success was going to be determined, to a great extent, by not allowing his brother's legacy to define him, but he has gone from not wanting to be defined by his brother to using his brother's legacy to define the Republican frontrunner. Dumb or what?
(November 8) Sarah Palin is not the only reason for the Republican Party's dysfunction, but her toxic lip lock is evident in the hapless 2016 presidential campaign.
Taking into account the unelectability of frontrunners Carson and Trump, who have accomplished far more in their careers than Palin even if they are similarly unqualified to hold high office, as well as the rest of the overcrowded field, no party has been in a weaker position one year from a presidential election in the modern era.
(December 11) The days roll into weeks and the weeks into months. Not only does Donald Trump hang on, but he fights his way to the top of the pack, solidifies his lead and draws away from the field, looking more and more like the favorite to win the Republican presidential nomination. And as the days roll into weeks and the weeks into months, a venal know-nothing the party has inflicted on itself morphs from being a distraction to a nightmare to a crisis. . . .
The seemingly unstoppable Trump and his renewed threat to bolt for a third-party run if Republican bigs don't kiss his ring may be the greatest crisis the GOP has faced since it debated whether to back emancipationist Abraham Lincoln in 1860 or stand by Thomas Jefferson in 1800 when the young republic's very survival was at stake. Yes, it's that serious.