If you look at the whole Republican Party, from libertarians to evangelicals to the Tea Party, you have a group of people who’ve been lied to for 35 years. Republican [presidential candidates] have said, "Elect us and we’ll do these things." Well, they haven't. And that frustration is manifesting itself in Trump. ~ MICHAEL STEELE
Now that the republic has survived the first presidential debate, it's time to move on and focus on the big question: Will the Republican Party survive Donald Trump?
After all, it has been three weeks since the celebrity gadzillionaire slandered John McCain, and he has not only withstood the predicted blowback, but has actually gained support in most polls. This is because, to beat a by-now very dead horse, the blowback came from blowhards masquerading as Republican presidential candidates, and Trump's supporters have a lot bigger axes to grind than caring about the dissing of an old war hero.
Meanwhile, Trump's performance in the Fox News debacle . . . er, debate was just that -- a blustering performance that frustrated competitors trying to get a grip on the greased pole that he sits so preeningly atop while blithely vowing to not rule out a third-party run that almost certainly would doom the Republican nominee. And although a primary debate record 24 million people watched the slugfest, this ratings bonanza was cancelled out for hankie-wringing Republican bigs by the reality that the Grand Old Party had again been grifted, cast in a far less than flattering light because of their very own Frankenstein, who yet again confounded the punditocracy by sweeping the post-debate instapolls. Today -- four days after the debate -- All Things Trump is still hogging the story line with other candidates not getting a peep in edgewise.
In a post-debate thumbsucker over the weekend, Reuters rushed to declare that Trump's campaign seemed poised to unravel as his rivals piled on. Never mind that he continues to maintain a commanding lead in the latest polls. "Enough already with Mr. Trump," wah-wahed Lindsay Graham, who is barely registering in the polls. "As a party, we are better to risk losing without Donald Trump than trying to win with him."
In fact, at this point the media and punditocracy are utterly befuddled in trying to explain why Trump has not yet fallen from that pole and onto his face.
"[C]ount me as surprised that there has been little evidence of decline in his support -- and even more surprised if he has managed to pick up additional support," writes Nate Cohn, the New York Times polling guru and chief tea-leaf reader. "The likeliest scenario is still that party and media scrutiny erodes his position. But the fact remains that he has faced this scrutiny . . . with little effect, at least raising the possibility that he will stick around for longer than I would have guessed."
To beat another dead horse, and we may be further stinking up the joint with a bunch of them before long, Trump's remarks about McCain and subsequent non-apologies laid bare an uncomfortable truth that Cohn and his cohorts are having an itty-bitty problem understanding: The Republican Party's xenophobic and racist white male base is not policy oriented nor ideologically inclined, and is a lot more concerned about illegal immigrants, income disparity, the power of the elites, and the demographic tide running out on them than disparaging veterans, let alone hewing to GOP orthodoxy. Which I have now noted, oh, about a half dozen times.
Cohn, trying to clamber onto a horse still showing signs of life, imagines "three basic ways" that Trump could fall on his face:* Implosion, or being irreparably damaged by having done something really bad.
* Relentless criticism from those party elites and that ever vigilant news media.
* Unfavorables, or having too few voters who view him favorably to get the nomination.
It is hard to imagine something worse than all the really bad things that Trump has said and done over the years, not the least of which is his racially charged past and misogynistic bona fides, so that's a non-starter, while relentless criticism slides off that greased pole like so much water off a duck's back. But the unfavorables will eventually shimmy up that pole and bite Trump on the keister, as Ronald Reagan was fond of terming the backside, if nothing else does first. The only question is not whether that will happen, but when.
(Whenever the eventual does happen, there has been one refreshing thing about Trump: Unlike the toadies in the race whose views change to suit the political season, he makes no apologies about refusing to worship at the altar of the ideological orthodoxy that is crushing the Republican Party. When asked during the debate about his past support for a Canadian-style single-payer health system, Trump didn’t back down: "As far as single-payer, it works in Canada. It works incredibly well in Scotland. It could have worked in a different age, which is the age you’re talking about here.")
The big reason for that eventuality -- the lead-pipe cinch certainty that Trump will not be allowed to get the nomination even if it somehow were to be within his reach as the party convention neared -- is that the Republican field will narrow from its present 17 candidate overload (where's the fire marshal when you need him?) and then narrow some more. And then even more. As it does so, it will become increasingly difficult for Trump to continue running a mouth-driven campaign, which was so glaringly obvious during the Fox debate, with waffling and on-the-fly improvisation substituting for substance.
"I don’t think they like me very much," Trump pouted with seemingly wounded pride every time the debate moderators or peanut gallery signaled their disapproval of one of his responses.
Looking at it another way, how will Trump be able to remain politically incorrect -- more bombastic reality TV star than committed candidate -- if he's in the race for the long haul? Or how about looking at it this way? The debate was not the beginning of the end for Trump, it was the end of the beginning.
NEVER WRESTLE WITH A PIG
By almost any measure, Jeb Bush didn't do so hot in the Fox debate. He is still struggling to come up with a coherent answer about the Iraq war, and he was outperformed by his top competitors not named Donald Trump, notably fellow Floridian Marco Rubio. It's damning with faint praise to suggest that while Bush may not have won the debate, at least he didn't lose it.
But Jeb! did get one thing right: He wisely ignored Trump, and when Trump didn't ignore him, he laughed him off. And while Bush threw no punches in Trump's direction, the candidates who did failed to land any.
WE'D SHO WOULD 'PRECIATE YER VOTE, LITTLE LADY
While Jeb Bush blew a pretty good opportunity to show that he was the grown-up in the room (dark horse John Kasich won that contest hands down), the debate was a reminder of how freaking reactionary the Republican Party has become -- establishment conservatives duking it out with Tea Party conservatives. It was a debate with moderators but not moderation, Kasich excepted. And if you're a voter of the knuckle-dragging persuasion, what's not to like?
Then there's Donald Trump. He's a fundamentally unserious candidate, but when taken as a whole, virtually all of the candidates are unserious, as well, it's just that they try to clothe their right-of-center flapdoodle in lofty Sunday Go To Meeting prose. A damned good example is the party's view that women are second-class citizens.
Trump is a sexist by any definition, something that Fox anchor Megyn Kelly helpfully reminded viewers of in asking Trump whether he had the temperament to be president because of his offensive remarks about women, citing his descriptions of them as "fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals." Trump, not missing an opportunity to pile on, not only refused to apologize, but later asserted Kelly was aggressive in questioning him because she was menstruating.
But can it honestly be said that the other candidates are any better when it comes to women even if their language is less over the top? No candidate, after all, has even hinted at opposing the party line on women: Limit reproductive choices, restrict access to health care, limit exceptions for rape victims seeking abortions, and oppose pay equity, family leave and helping with daycare costs.
Women came up in three contexts in the course of the debate: Defunding Planned Parenthood, which meets the health needs of three million women, making the federal government they otherwise want off our backs to force impregnated rape and incest victims to give birth, and making the federal government they otherwise want off our to let a high-risk woman die rather than permit her to have an abortion.
But we sho would 'preciate yer vote, little lady.
POT CALLS KETTLE BLACK
Trump's suggestion that Megyn Kelly's aggressive questioning was because of That Time of the Month got him disinvited as keynote speaker at RedState Gathering on Saturday by Erick Erickson, the unreconstructed right-wing troglodyte who organized the event.
Erickson, who is an influential radio host, commentator and champion for conservatives who oppose the Republican national leadership, asserted that Trump's remarks were "a bridge too far," which is a hoot considering that he has long said inflammatory things about women, including this response to the controversy over a Super Bowl ad: "That's what the feminazis were enraged over? Seriously?!? Wow. That's what being too ugly to get a date does to your brain."
Or this: "Good thing I didn't suggest the feminists . . . you know . . . shave. They'd be at my house trying a post-birth abortion on me."
Sounds an awful lot like Trump over the years, no?
Erickson is a big reason the GOP has tacked deeply into right-wing extremism, but he realizes that Trump's bloviations will be a huge turnoff to those all-important woman swing voters, who baring a miracle (calling all Evangelicals!) will not be voting Republican.
"We will not gain the White House,’" Erickson fumed, "if we’re screaming at people, calling them whores and queer and the N-word."
Never one to turn the other cheek and ever insecure despite his tough-guy blustering, Trump responded that Erickson was a "weak and pathetic leader" and his decision was "another example of weakness through being politically correct. . . . Not only is Erick a total loser, he has a history of supporting establishment losers in failed campaigns so it is an honor to be uninvited from his event."
GRAHAM CRACKERS -- PART I
Silly of me to think that Lindsay Graham is made of better stuff, because he's not.
Speaking at a New Hampshire candidate forum, the South Carolina senator signaled his desperation (he's in a dead heat for last with George Pataki in many polls) by attacking Hillary Clinton not for her stand on one issue or another, but for her husband's past indiscretions.
"I am fluent in Clinton-speak," Graham said, then added: "When Bill says he didn't have sex with that woman, he did. When she tells us 'Trust me, you have all the emails you need,' we haven't even scratched the surface."
GRAHAM CRACKERS -- PART II
Meanwhile, Graham continues to shamelessly peddle the fiction in a campaign video and elsewhere that he served in Iraq and Afghanistan as an Air Force Reserve officer.
The Washington Post sets the record straight in revealing that Graham did next to squat in the Reserve, yet rose to the rank of colonel, entitling him to a monthly $2,773 pension, while those war zone trips were specially arranged stints that lasted a few days and coincided with trips he made as part of congressional delegations.
TRUMP IS THE VERY PINEAPPLE OF GREATNESS
Why are we not surprised that Carly Fiorina's fans have the best grammar, spelling and punctuation among the Republican presidential candidates and Donald Trump's have the worst?
That's based on an analysis from Grammarly, an automated proofreading company, which evaluated the supporters of the GOP candidates. Fiorina's fans had 6.3 errors per hundred words in their Facebook comments, while Trump's backers had 12.6 errors per 100 words. Only comments of 15 words or more were analyzed, and Grammarly ignored common slang words and stylistic variations (for instance, the use of serial commas, using numerals instead of spelling out numbers, using contractions). In total, roughly 9,000 words were evaluated for each candidate.
In ascending order of misteaks . . . er, mistakes per 100 words, Ben Carson's supporters were second with 6.6, Lindsay Graham and George Pataki with 7.2 each, Ted Cruz 7.7, John Kasich 7.7, Jeb Bush 7.9, Mike Huckabee 8.0, Bobby Jindal 8.2, Chris Christie 8.3, Rand Paul 8.4, Marco Rubio 8.8, Scott Walker 10.6, Ric Santorum 11.5, and Rick Perry second-to-last with 12.5.
Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968. Click here for an index of previous Politix Updates.
IMAGE FROM DONKEYHOTEY/FLICKR. USED WITH PERMISSION.