Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Bannon Unchained Is An Opportunity For The Democrats, But Do They Know It?

The biggest reason why I'm not cheering the implosion of the Republican Party, which seems to have accelerated nicely since Stephen Bannon departed the adult day care center known as the West Wing for his whirlwind Revenge on Mainstream Republicans Tour, is that the Democratic Party is pretty screwed up, too.  Besides which, reports of the GOP's death are a tad premature even if Republicans keep tip toeing around the real problem: That Donald Trump is fundamentally unfit to be president. 
Things were merely out of control in the Republican Temple of Righteous Right-Wing Conservatism when Bannon was Trump's resident Svengali but nothing was getting done on the inside.  So Bannon was cut loose. 
Longtime Republican foreign policy Robert Kagan, whose bona fides as a neoconservative mensch are impeccable, picks up the Bannon odyssey from there in a blistering Washington Post op-ed piece, explaining that Bannon and Trump decided Bannon could do more on the outside while Trump was being Trump:
Meanwhile Bannon would play the gonzo political maestro on the outside, running Trumpists in primaries to knock off establishment types, even hardcore conservative ones.  Trump could pretend to support the [party] establishment's choice, but his voters would know better.  The result would be a rout.  Some establishment Republicans would lose, either in the primary or the general; others would be afraid to run for reelection; others would try to suck up to Bannon in he hopes of persuading him not to unleash the hounds; all would try to mimic Trump.  And it didn't matter which path they took: These would all be victories for Trump. 
While I think Kagan gives Trump too much credit, the larger point is that the right-wing takeover of the party is ongoing because the Mainstream or Establishment or Whatever You Call It wing of the party is too poltroonish to fight back.   
This is a gift that will keep on giving for Bannon, who is variously described as a white nationalist and alt-right apologist. Although thug covers it nicely, witness his gleeful statement last weekend that Trump ended insurer health-care subsidies to "blow up"Obamacare. 
As Kagan notes, the definition of a brave Republican these days is someone who is not running for reelection, and being the party so completely in power with iron grips on all three branches of gubberment really has been a bitch. 
Props to the handful of Republicans who voted against the several iterations of repeal-and-replace Obamacare legislature, and a big hand for little Bob Corker for calling out Trump for his serial craziness and warning that the guy could start World War III if General Kelly were to take too long in the loo.    
But the vast majority of congressional Republicans, starting with Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, have taken panicked complacency to a new level in praying into their martinis that they can get a few more judicial nominees approved and enact their holy grail -- tax relief for the rich -- before the Trumpian Anschluss is complete or Robert Mueller finishes his clean-up in Aisle 1600.  Pick one. 
At the heart of the Republican Party's malaise is a simple fact that has had nothing to do with principles or identity: It has played a shell game with voters for years, and is still doing so because McConnell and Ryan still think they can get away with it. 
With mind-numbing regularity, the party establishment assured its middle- and working-class loyalists that it had their best economic and social interests in mind, and then inevitably crapped all over them, which led to the coup that elevated Trump to the party nomination as was preordained by Sarah Palin's 2008 nomination for vice president. 
Says Rich Lowry in Politico:
This is the state of the G.O.P. in a nutshell. It is a party locked in mortal combat between an establishment that is ineffectual and unimaginative and a populist wing that is ineffectual and inflamed.    
But back to Bannon, who may be the best thing to happen to the Democratic Party since Barack Obama, which raises the happy but so far wishful prospect of Democrats riding Bannon's coattails to the 24-seat pickup needed to take back the House in the 2018 midterms. 
Trouble is, the Democrats don't seem to know what to do with this gift because their leadership is hopelessly addicted to and blinded by the power politics of corporate PACs and lobbyists. Liberalism isn't dead, it just has been sold out.  There are Republican voters ripe for the picking among the two-thirds of the party not wearing red MAGA baseball caps, and the right message might move some of them to get off the fainting couch and fall into the Democratic embrace. 
If that message is out there, I'm sure not hearing it.   
And if the tsunami of tin-cup emails I get from the Democratic "leadership" and its proxy groups are a fair barometer of the state of the party, the whole bunch of them are still pretty much in whiney wound-licking mode and more concerned with stopping Trump on this issue or that issue and refighting the election than marching out of the political wilderness with some newly minted Republican converts in tow. 
The demographic tide may yet save the Democrats' asses.  But with Trump and Bannon calling the shots, the toxic effects of Republican gerrymandering, the party's lock on so many statehouses and the lack of centrists among the long list of potential 2020 Democratic nominees (please, God, not Bernie Sanders!), the party needs a core message beyond Obama feel good-isms. 
Trump's campaign rhetoric aside, he has done nothing to unify the country.  Quite the opposite.  A We Can and We Will Unify message as the core of a reinvigorated Democratic message might do the trick.  And perhaps drive a stake through Trump's wingman on the outside -- Steve Bannon. 

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