There was a long familiar Republican soap opera character absent from the second presidential debate the other night: The Cowboy Conservative.
You know what a Cowboy Conservative is. He's the Stetson hat-wearing dude with a Texas swagger, aw shucks style, feigned ignorance and a drawl a mile wide as exemplified by George W. Bush and most recently by Rick Perry, who watched the debate from his ranch . . . er, townhouse in Austin after becoming the first major casualty of the 2016 campaign, arguably because of shifting Republican voter demographics as much as any other factor. (Scott Walker has no such excuse. He was, plain and simple, a dud.)
Anyhow, in Dubya's heyday being a "good ol' boy" was preferable to being an effete urbanite in the eyes of many Republican voters, and they ate up the shtick like crab puffs at a party fundraiser. But as the party "runs out of old, white, married, rural voters, being a Cowboy Conservative ain't what it used to be," writes pundit Matt K. Lewis in The Week. This is because younger and more cosmopolitan conservatives are rejecting that shtick as stupid, if not downright repellent.
My own take as an effete FDR liberal is that pretending you are dumb, a hallmark of the Cowboy Conservative, might have box office appeal, but it doesn't have legs when it turns out that you are dumb. In the case of Bush and Perry, their dumbness wasn't necessarily because of a lack of intelligence, it was because they did dumb things. Perry seemed to acknowledge as much after his campaign crashed and burned so spectacularly in 2012. He got reading glasses, boned up on policy issues, made some pretty good speeches -- notably one about Republicans marginalizing black voters - and dialed back on the shtick, but it was too late.
We can blame Dubya for many things, and seven years after his godawful presidency stumbled to an end, the list of his sins is still growing, while the embarrassment Republican bigs feel when confronted by his tarnished legacy seems boundless. But there is one thing for which we can thank him: The death of Cowboy Conservatism.
DR. BEN'S FIRST FIRESTORM
Republicans love to cite the Founding Fathers as a backstop for their wingnuttery, and reliably get ridiculously wrong what the powdered crowd set actually said and believed.
To the inconvenience of Dr. Ben Carson, who does not believe that a Muslim should be president (he thinks Barack Obama is one) and asserts that the Constitution says as much, as well as the execrable Ted Cruz and their fellow GOP travelers who also view Islam as a threat to motherhood and apple pie, the Founders recognized Islam as one of the world's great faiths.
Thomas Jefferson often consulted a copy of the Quran and made sure the concept of religious freedom enshrined in the Constitution included Islam. Hence the great document reads: "No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."
In what The New York Times calls a "firestorm," Christian and Islamic groups took issue with Carson. He has been dogged by his own brand of racism everywhere he has gone in recent days, and his efforts to walk back his statements by clarifying his clarifications would be comical if they weren't so damning. (Example: Carson has not been absolute in his view that the Constitution should be more important than religious belief. Asked if this should apply to Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to certify same-sex marriages, he hemmed and hawed and finally said that his view "only applies to presidential contenders.")
The Council on American-Islamic Relations called for Carson to leave the race and expressed outrage that someone like himself who had benefited from the civil rights movement would make such an incendiary statement.
"Our message is this: Dr. Carson, you should have more faith in the American people," said Rabiah Ahmed, a spokeswoman for the Muslim Public Affairs Council. "Fifty years ago, people in the United States said African-Americans were unfit to be president. Because of civil rights leaders, you have the right to run for president."
No matter, 43 percent of Republicans believe Obama is a Muslim, according to a CNN poll, up from 31 percent in 2010, while a PPP poll finds 49 percent of Republicans think Islam should be illegal. That's not going to change when even the candidates not into name calling don't want to roil the party base.
CROCODILE TEARS FOR SCOTTY
Halley's Comet lasted longer than Scott Walker's presidential campaign, which should not come as a shock to anyone who spent . . . say, five seconds on the guy and realized that he was a Tea Party cipher. (Yes, Trump was a factor.)
But before we relegate the Wisconsin governor to the scrap yard of campaigns, one thing is worth noting in this age of Citizens United: Walker was supposed to be able to stay in the hunt for a long time because of super PAC money, but when you don't have a campaign worth funding -- and despite spending millions of dollars in Iowa alone Walker would have had to sit at the kiddie table at the next debate -- the money from the rich farts goes poof!
And while you didn't ask, I see fellow governator John Kasich benefiting the most from Walker's flameout, not Marco Rubio as some pundits say, with Lindsay Graham being the next dropout.
YET ANOTHER SHOE DROPS -- ON CHRISTIE'S HEAD
Beating up on Chris Christie is so much fun. The Republican presidential wannabe is finding over and over again that paybacks for the crap and corruption that have characterized his tenure as New Jersey governor are a bitch, and Walker's exit from the big dance won't matter squat to Christie's running-on-fumes campaign.
The last time we checked on His Corpulence, the CEO of United Airlines and two other execs had been shown the door after being caught in one of the tentacles in the long-running fallout from Christie' very own Bridgegate scandal. Now comes word that a New Jersey state lottery privatization scheme that benefited two cronies, including a central figure in Bridgegate who screwed the pooch in the United flap, is a flop.
Christie had declared that taking the lottery private would boost revenues and stimulate sales. Just the opposite has happened, and the lottery has cut state income for the second straight year, creating a $136 million shortfall in the 2015 budget.
IT'S ONLY ROCK 'N' ROLL, BUT WE LIKE IT
Political candidates have been appropriating rock songs for their campaigns for years, and almost without fail if they're Republicans, they get their ears cuffed by offended musicians, who almost without fail are liberals of the Democratic persuasion (Ted Nugent is a rare exception) who threaten to sue if the candidates don't stop using their songs.
The most (in)famous such appropriation is Ronald Reagan's use of "Born in the U.S.A.," which drew a sharp rebuke from Bruce Springsteen, who is kind of rare among rockers for being a political activist who puts his money where his mouth is and did a slew of get-out-the-vote concerts for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
Now comes R.E.M., which has given Donald Trump and Ted Cruz their collective middle finger for the unauthorized use of the band's "It's the End of the World as We Know It," and Survivor co-founder Frankie Sullivan for Mike Huckabee's unauthorized use of the band's "Eye of the Tiger."
"Go f*ck yourselves, the lot of you -- you sad, attention-grabbing, power-hungry little men," R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe declared. "Do not use our music or my voice for your moronic charade of a campaign."
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.