Donald Trump is the man of the hour, and according to Ross Douthat, Barack Obama and liberalism are to blame:
THE spectacle of the Republican Party’s Trumpian meltdown has inspired a mix of glee and fear among liberals....
What it hasn’t inspired is much in the way of self-examination, or a recognition of the way that Obama-era trends in liberal politics have helped feed the Trump phenomenon.
Now, Douthat is a reasonable man, so he wouldn't put all the blame on Obama and liberals:
Such a recognition wouldn’t require letting the Republican Party off the hook. The Trump uprising is first and foremost a Republican and conservative problem: There would be no Trumpism if George W. Bush’s presidency hadn’t cratered, no Trumpism if the party hadn’t alternated between stoking and ignoring working-class grievances....
You can define immigration as a "working-class grievance," but Islamophobia? Birtherism? The alleged repulsiveness of Megyn Kelly's "whatever"? I don't think these have anything specifically to do with Republican neglect of the proletariat.
But Trumpism is also a creature of the late Obama era, irrupting after eight years when a charismatic liberal president has dominated the cultural landscape and set the agenda for national debates....
Really? Do tell.
First, the reality TV element in Trump’s campaign is a kind of fun-house-mirror version of the celebrity-saturated Obama effort in 2008.
And this was unique to Obama? Wait, here's Douthat's qualification of that statement:
Presidential politics has long had an escalating celebrity component...
Gee, ya think?
But the first Obama campaign raised the bar.
Higher than Reagan did? Ross, I post these images all the time. Do I really have to post them again?
... now we have the nearly-inevitable next step: presidential politics as a season of “Survivor” or, well, “The Apprentice,” with the same celebrity factor as Obama’s ’08 run, but with his campaign’s high-middlebrow pretensions stripped away. If Obama proved that you can run a presidential campaign as an aspirational cult of personality, in which a Sarah Silverman endorsement counts for as much as a governor or congressman’s support, Trump is proving that you don’t need Silverman to shout “the Aristocrats!” and have people eat it up.
Again, you're talking about campaigning with a "celebrity factor" as if Barack Obama invented that, when the GOP twice ran a candidate who'd been a Hollywood star for decades. And Trump isn't running as a celebrity. He's a celebrity who's running as a self-made billionaire strongman. He's not making a big deal of his TV show. He's not showing up in Super Tuesday states with Gary Busey and Meat Loaf. In fact, it's Ted Cruz who's campaigning with the Duck Dynasty guy, and it was Mike Huckabee who hung out with Ted Nugent all the time.
And if we're going to talk about personality cults, how much influence has the posthumous Reagan cult had on the GOP electorate's susceptibility to Trump? Elsewhere in the column, Douthat refers to the '08 Obama campaign's imagery as "quasi-religious" -- but what in American politics more resembles a religion that Republican worship of Reagan? Reagan cultism has set a bar other campaigns struggle to clear. Obama hasn't come close.
Douthat also blames Obama for Trump's authoritarianism:
He’s also proving, in his bullying, overpromising style, that voters are increasingly habituated to the idea of an ever more imperial presidency -- which is also a trend that Obama’s choices have accelerated. Having once campaigned against his predecessor’s power grabs, the current president has expanded executive authority along almost every dimension: launching wars without congressional approval, claiming the power to assassinate American citizens, and using every available end-around to make domestic policy without any support from Congress.
And this happened in a complete vacuum, right, Ross? On domestic policy, it had nothing whatsoever to do with the near-boycott of the Obama presidency by Republicans in Congress -- right, Ross? And regarding foreign affairs and the threat of terrorism, what Obama has done -- drone-killing Awlaki's son, taking out bin Laden -- still hasn't been enough to prevent Republicans from claiming that he's weak and feckless and "leading from behind." It's as if the GOP is begging him to be a carpet-bombing, waterboarding strongman. Maybe that's the reason Trump thinks he doesn't have to respect constitutional restraints?
Oh, and also, according to Douthat, it's Obama's fault that Trump is trying to appeal to voters in the Republican bloc:
... [Trump] is rallying a constituency that once swung between the parties, but that the Obama White House has spent the last eight years slowly writing off. Trump’s strongest supporters aren’t archconservatives; they’re white working-class voters, especially in the Rust Belt and coal country, who traditionally leaned Democratic and still favor a strong welfare state.
(Well, they favor it for themselves, though not so much for Those People. But never mind.)
These voters had been drifting away from the Democratic Party since the 1970s....
Yes, starting when Obama was in middle school. But it's still his fault that he's not begging them to vote for him!
... but Obama has made moves that effectively slam the door on them: His energy policies, his immigration gambits, his gun control push, his shift to offense on same-sex marriage and abortion. It was possible to be a culturally conservative skeptic of mass immigration in the Democratic Party of Bill Clinton. Not so anymore.
If Douthat wants to say that Trump is battling for blue-collar whites because Democrats have decided it's futile to try to win them over, that's fine. But even if Democrats have ceded blue-collar whites to the GOP, how does that justify Trump's decision to appeal to them with demagoguery and racism?
Here's a comparison. We know that Republicans effectively ceded the black vote to Democrats starting in the late 1960s and early 1970s. What if Democrats had responded by embracing a violent strain of black nationalism? Would Douthat say that was justified because, well, the GOP gave up on black voters? If a Democratic presidential front-runner had cheered violent attack on white protesters at his rallies, would Douthat say that was cool, because the GOP's Southern strategy meant that Democrats weren't responsible for their own actions?
Sorry -- if Douthat is looking to blame someone for Trumpism, he should blame Trump. He should blame a Republican-leaning propaganda machine that thought it could rouse the rabble with proto-Trumpian rhetoric without inspiring those mobs to take the rhetoric literally. He should blame the Republican Party for willfully throwing sand in the gears of America's government, because punishing a Democratic president is more important than doing what's right for American citizens. Trump is not Obama's fault.
Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog