Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Truth or Consequences, New Hampshire

This montage of red shirt deaths reminds my of the Republican primaries this week

I don't think I've ever witnessed a New Hampshire primary as momentous as this one.  It took out the electoral equivalent of the Star Trek red shirts (Fiorina and Christie and maybe Carson), severely damaged another leader candidate (Rubio), and handed victories to a crypto-fascist in Trump and a socialist (more like social democrat, to be fair) in Bernie Sanders.

The latter phenomenon is especially striking, in that it shows the complete weakness of the political parties.  Trump has never held office, and was long a Democrat, but now is the front runner in the Republican race despite being feared and despised by the party leadership.  Running close behind is Ted Cruz, who inspires similar loathing.  Sanders was an independent for years in Congress, and became a Democrat merely for the convenience of running in this race.  In the process he defeated the hand-picked candidate of the Democratic party, a candidate thought to be so unassailable that more established figures didn't dare challenge her.

The political trends of the past few years have accelerated longer-term declines in party strength.  The bans on "soft money," which went to the parties, led to the workaround of the superPACS, which are technically (and often in practice) independent of the candidates.  This means, especially for the Republicans, that rich groups of donors, not the party bosses, hold the power.  For the Democrats, labor's power in the party has declined along with its power in the nation.  Most of the old local political machines have also been broken, so nowadays the party leaders have few mechanisms to get the rank and file into line or get them out to vote for preferred candidates.

This is not a totally positive development.  While it is good that for the Democrats that the vested interests can't necessarily call the tune, on the other side the current situation tends toward demagoguery and anarchy.  Republicans compete to do the bidding of hardcore reactionaries like the Koch brothers, and have the money win once blue states like New Jersey and Wisconsin.  The alienated right wing base, no longer held in check, is free to be tempted by the likes of Trump.  I get the feeling that this weakness in parties will only continue on into the future.

The Republican leadership is desperate for a standard bearer to take on Cruz and Trump, but can't seem to find one.  New Hampshire, more than anything, exposed the difficulties inherent in trying to stop Trump.  It was hard for him to win a caucus state like Iowa, where ground game is essential, but in a primary state like New Hampshire, he does not really have to work hard to get out the vote.  The Republican vote is divided, and Marco Rubio, the candidate many (including myself) thought would be the establishment champion got intellectually pantsed on live television on Saturday.  I've long thought Rubio to be a lightweight, but then again, so was Dubya.  But a lightweight who is visibly anxious and scared (that's why he kept repeated the same phrase like a talisman) has no chance of becoming president.  Kasich looked strong, but he is so moderate by modern Republican standards that I see him having a hard time mustering the votes.  Bush, of course, has been completely lame, a punchline to a joke nobody told.  He has shown some fire recently, but the die has been cast.  Right now I can't make any kind of confident prediction about how this is going to turn out.

I do know that Christie is done, an almost shocking downfall.  He should have been the mainstream standard bearer, but his relationship with Obama during Sandy hurt him, Bridgegate mortally wounded him, and his grating, mean-spirited nature alienated voters and helped finish him off.  Of course before he went out he did a kamikaze attack on Marco Rubio, both motivated by revenge (his favorite emotion) and the pleasure he derives from bullying a weak person and humiliating them in public.  I can only hope that when he gets back to New Jersey his need to lash out at his enemies will have subsided.

I am also still agog at the fact that Donald Trump just won a primary election by a wide margin.  He says horrific, bigoted things all while just talking out of his ass while wearing a spray-on tan and laughable haircut.  Who on earth is impressed by this?  He sounds like someone who doesn't know what the hell he's talking about.  I guess his legions of knuckle-dragging troglodytes don't know either.  His audience scares me more than him, since after he's gone they'll still be around.

I but two things to say about the Democrats.  In the first place, the youth vote for Sanders is indicative of a larger generation gap.  Boomers got to benefit from a generous social state and low cost higher education in their youth, got tax cuts in middle age, and will still have Medicare and Social Security waiting for them in retirement.  Those in Gen X and younger had much of that taken away from them with fewer job opportunities.  Socialism is not the boogeyman if you never really got all the goodies from the social state to begin with.  Last, people should be careful about overestimating Sanders' chances.  New Hampshire is an open primary state, and Clinton actually won among registered Democrats.  Demographically and geographically, the state was in his wheelhouse.  Soon the primaries will move to the South, where Clinton will clean up.  If Sanders survives that onslaught, then we can start taking his chances more seriously.

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