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Trump, Mad Genius

Well, I thought the Palin speech was grating and idiotic, but then, I would think that. But in terms of politics, I agree with Scott Adams [1]: it was probably a home run for Trump.

Before Palin took the stage, my colleague Daniel Larison tweeted that Trump, who gassed on about his greatness for over 20 minutes, was saying the same things that made us all dismiss him as a joke six months ago. Who’s laughing now? You wanna laugh at this year’s model of Palin too?

She’s a much better articulator of Trumpism than Trump himself is. She’s upbeat, she’s folksy, she brings the you-betcha populism home hard. Her entire message was, “They think they’re so much smarter than us, but our Donald, he’ll show them! Come on, gang, are you with us?” She’s a much more practiced giver of speeches than Trump is, and much better at it. It doesn’t matter that people like me blanch at her whiny accent, her cheesy rhetoric, her dopey malapropisms (“squirmishes” for “skirmishes” [2]). She killed on that stage.

David Frum says this is the triumph of right-wing identity politics: [3]

Since Donald Trump entered the race, one opponent after another has attacked him as not a real conservative. They’ve been right, too! And the same could have been said about Sarah Palin in 2008. Palin knew little and cared less about most of the issues that excited conservative activists and media. She owed her then-sky-high poll numbers in Alaska to an increase in taxes on oil production that she used to fund a $1,200 per person one-time cash payout—a pretty radical deviation from the economic ideology of the Wall Street Journal and the American Enterprise Institute. What defined her was an identity as a “real American”—and her conviction that she was slighted and insulted and persecuted because of this identity.

That’s exactly the same feeling to which Donald Trump speaks, and which has buoyed his campaign. When he’s president, he tells voters, department stores will say “Merry Christmas” again in their advertisements. Probably most of his listeners would know, if they considered it, that the president of the United States does not determine the ad copy for Walmart and Nordstrom’s. They still appreciate the thought: He’s one of us—and he’s standing up for us against all of them—at a time when we feel weak and poor and beleaguered, and they seem more numerous, more dangerous, and more aggressive.

He continues:

Meanwhile, Trump is battling against Ted Cruz of Princeton and Harvard Law School, a Supreme Court practitioner married to an investment banker, who insists that the dividing line between “us” and “them” is not life story, not personal experience, but ideas and values.

Donald Trump, billionaire real estate tycoon, just covered himself with downmarket, populist glory tonight. And as Frum says (it’s a great short piece [3]), if this pushes Trump over the top in Iowa, and he wins big in New Hampshire (as he is poised to do), Trump heads into South Carolina with tremendous momentum — and he’s already up 14 points over Cruz, his nearest competitor, in the Palmetto State.

Not a single vote has been cast, but already, the Republican establishment is in shambles. Not one of its candidates are truly competitive. Not yet. Maybe they never will be. If Rubio doesn’t show in Iowa, New Hampshire (his best shot), or South Carolina, the party regulars are going to go all in for the despised-by-GOP-insiders Cruz [4] to stop Trump. Which may not even be possible by that point.

Either way, by this time next year, we will have a different Republican Party.

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110 Comments To "Trump, Mad Genius"

#1 Comment By JonF On January 21, 2016 @ 12:59 pm

Re: As for Bernie Sanders, in the South he is anathema to the majority

Bernie, that’s true of Obama too. His only chances came in Southern states with huge northern disaporas in them (VA, FL, and in 2008, NC). Democrats do not depend on winning Southern states (other than Florida and Virginia).

#2 Comment By JonF On January 21, 2016 @ 1:03 pm

Re: Can you show us some evidence of the Democratic party actually successfully pulling against Bill Clinton or Barack Obama on a military action?

Obama withdrew from Iraq and has been withdrawing us from Afghanistan. Her has also started no new major military engagements. Assuming he were so-minded, do you imagine the anti-war wing of the Democratic Party would stand for it? Do recall that this block is why Obama and not Hillary has been president since 2008.

#3 Comment By Bernie On January 21, 2016 @ 1:23 pm

Siarlys, I agree with you that the Democrats will not carry the South, and haven’t in a Presidential election in a long time. But from my perch, I don’t think a socialist can get the electoral votes necessary to win the election. If it’s Trump vs. Bernie, I think Trump will win. I may certainly be wrong.

I’ve noticed an interesting thing in just the past two weeks in my part of Louisiana. People had been far more hesitant just weeks ago to say they would vote for Trump. Not now. Social and community leaders are openly saying they are for Trump (I am not). I think if Trump wins Iowa and New Hampshire, he has a good shot at the nomination. With the national debt approaching 20 trillion dollars, many folks just don’t think it’s responsible of Bernie to propose free community college and university tuition, and other massive new spending, as well as significant tax increases when the country may well be headed into a recession. Just sayin’.

#4 Comment By VikingLS On January 21, 2016 @ 1:54 pm

I am not endorsing Trump btw. I am just saying why I think it’s possible for him to get elected.

#5 Comment By Patrick On January 21, 2016 @ 2:11 pm

“when is the last time a Democrat won by sweeping the South? I believe it was 1960.”

It was 1944. Thurmond broke the solid south in ’48, Ike in ’52 and ’56, and Nixon and Harry Byrd won southern electors in ’60.

Oddly, the south had been trending Republican since the 1920s, but WWII just suppressed all of these organic forces until they re-asserted themselves (and how!) in the 60s. This is partly why I hate wars: besides killing people, they really do a number on “culture” – a lot of the violence of the 60s can be traced to the fact that organic cultural change was suppressed to fight the war (I say “organic” as opposed to changes imposed by cultural experimenters. Civil rights was more popular in the early 30s than, say, the 50s: there actually was change afoot before the war and subsequent reaction.) Anyway, wars are evil and I hate them.

I’ll bet neither Bernie nor Hillary carry Florida, but the Obama coalition doesn’t strictly need even one southern electoral vote so long as it can hold Ohio.

#6 Comment By VikingLS On January 21, 2016 @ 3:58 pm

@JonF

Obama got us involved in the overthrow of Khadaffy, his state department helped orchestrate a coup in Ukraine and we’ve been assisting a violent Sunni insurgency. He’s had no pushback to speak of from his own party that I’ve seen.

#7 Comment By Jim Houghton On January 21, 2016 @ 7:30 pm

Good piece in Salon, too, on the subject of why Palin is not bad for Trump — or even necessarily crazy.

[5]

#8 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On January 21, 2016 @ 10:17 pm

Now if Cruz wins Iowa and Kasich wins New Hampshire, then we have an even more interesting picture. For all the hullaballoo about Trump’s “lead,” he’s still pulling only a plurality of likely Republican primary voters.

Sanders calling for increased social spending is no more irresponsible than Republicans calling for increased military spending. At least he’s willing to talk about raising the revenue to pay for at least part of it. If we’re going to pay down the national debt, we’re going to have to raise taxes just to do that. We were making a good start in 2000, but then George W. Bush said “let’s give the surplus back to the people,” ignoring the fact that “the people” had an unpaid $5 trillion mortgage. But I forget, “Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter.”

#9 Comment By JonF On January 22, 2016 @ 1:10 pm

Re: Obama got us involved in the overthrow of Khadaffy, his state department helped orchestrate a coup in Ukraine and we’ve been assisting a violent Sunni insurgency.

None of which was a full-blown war– or even a euphemistic “police action”. Every president going back many years has flexed US military muscle somewhere or other. Even Gerald Ford had his Mayaguez incident. And even back before WWII and super-power status it was quite common to send some troops into this or that bananaocracy down south to show them how to elect good (boot-licking) men and make the world safe for American businesses. Comparing Obama’s shenanigans to those of Mssrs. Bush and Cheney is like comparing a spate of snow flurries to this weekend’s anticipated mid-Atlantic Blizzard of the Century.

Re: I’ll bet neither Bernie nor Hillary carry Florida,

I can easily see either one of them taking Florida. There’s been a real sea change in Florida since the notorious hanging chads of Y2K (and even in the 90s you could find hints of what was to come). As more and more liberal northerners take refuge under the palm trees down there, and as a younger Cuban-American generation comes of age ceasing to care about the anti-Castro orthodoxy of their elders, the good old boy cracker vote of northern and rural Florida has come to be decisively outnumbered.

#10 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On January 22, 2016 @ 10:48 pm

…not a single vote has been cast…

So this is all sound and fury, signifying very little.