As Hillary Clinton Accepts The Democratic Nomination, Donald Trump Leads The GOP To Its Armageddon

As Hillary Clinton accepts the Democratic Party’s nomination for president of the United States, the Republican Party stares oblivion in the face

It wasn’t the best acceptance speech at a Democratic Party national convention by a long shot, but Hillary Clinton’s historic speech got the job done.

Personally, I thought that it started off quite well before getting bogged down into the kind of grinding, laboured pedantry that is often the hallmark of a Hillary Clinton speech. One could almost hear Clinton’s brain checking off the various points she felt obligated to touch on (i.e. absolutely everything) as the speech ground onwards. But the moment Clinton accepted the nomination itself was effective:

And yes, love trumps hate.

That’s the country we’re fighting for. That’s the future we’re working toward.

And so it is with humility, determination, and boundless confidence in America’s promise that I accept your nomination for President of the United States!

And one did feel that slight sense of history in the making that we last felt when a much younger-looking Barack Obama accepted the Democratic Party nomination eight years ago.

This section was powerful too, inasmuch as it sought to make a virtue of the way that Hillary Clinton grinds away behind the scenes, seeking to make incremental progress (an approach which clearly frustrates the millions of Democrats who preferred Senator Bernie Sanders as their nominee):

I remember meeting a young girl in a wheelchair on the small back porch of her house.

She told me how badly she wanted to go to school — it just didn’t seem possible.

And I couldn’t stop thinking of my mother and what she went through as a child.

It became clear to me that simply caring is not enough.

To drive real progress, you have to change both hearts and laws.

You need both understanding and action.

So we gathered facts. We built a coalition. And our work helped convince Congress to ensure access to education for all students with disabilities.

This blog hasn’t done a night-by-night analysis of the Democratic Convention as we did for the Republican Convention in Cleveland last week, but I have been watching closely – both the speeches, the mood of the hall and how it has all gone down in the American media. And right now, I think that the Republican Party should be feeling complete and utter stomach-churning, sweat-inducing dread. For all of the GOP’s political sins are about to catch up with them, and Republicans will be forced to pay for them in a hefty lump.

The Democratic convention was everything that the Republican convention was not, but normally is. Usually, one can expect the GOP to successfully co-opt and monopolise the flag, the military, the constitution and the founding fathers. But not this time. With Donald Trump as their standard bearer, de facto party leader and the ugly face of American conservatism (as far as most people are concerned), the Republicans have utterly ceded patriotic centre ground. Reagan’s “morning in America” has been replace by a darker, dystopian “midnight in America” in Republican rhetoric – a fact noted by Hillary Clinton in her speech. The sunny optimism and the shining city on a hill have been utterly banished, replaced by something insular, nativist, distrustful, selfish and wantonly cruel.

The Republicans used to be the Party of the Constitution (in rhetoric, if not always in practice). But one was hard stretched to hear any substantive mention of freedom, individual liberty and smaller government in Cleveland last week.

The Republicans used to be the Party of the Military. But now they are led by a thin-skinned, authoritarian, egotistical demagogue who has openly bragged that he intends to order the military to commit unconstitutional acts including torture, placing them in an impossible position. And so this week in Philadelphia, the retired four-star generals and distinguished veterans were on stage supporting Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.

The Republicans used to be the Party of God, happy warriors for social conservatism. Now they are led by a twice-divorced adulterer who openly objectifies and belittles women, while the Democrats are led by a woman who (despite her many faults, and those of her husband) has kept her marriage together through thick and thin.

But more than anything else, the Republicans used to be a party of unabashed optimism and patriotism, always seeing the potential and the best in America and seeking to build on that progress in order to open the promise of America to more and more people. Now, they are led by a wannabe strongman who sees only the flaws in America, grotesquely exaggerating and distorting those faults for electoral gain while promising blunt and unsophisticated remedies without acknowledging the disruption and negative consequences of ripping up trade agreements and erecting protectionist and physical barriers against perceived threats. And now the Democrats are the ones with the positive, upbeat message.

Or as Clinton put it in her speech:

Our country’s motto is e pluribus unum: out of many, we are one.

Will we stay true to that motto?

Well, we heard Donald Trump’s answer last week at his convention.

He wants to divide us – from the rest of the world, and from each other.

He’s betting that the perils of today’s world will blind us to its unlimited promise.

He’s taken the Republican Party a long way, from “Morning in America” to “Midnight in America.”

He wants us to fear the future and fear each other.

Well, a great Democratic President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, came up with the perfect rebuke to Trump more than eighty years ago, during a much more perilous time.

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

In nearly every category where the Republican Party once dominated the political landscape, they are now in retreat. Donald Trump clearly believes that the level of unregistered pain and dissatisfaction in the country is great enough that he can be swept to power purely on the back of an anti-establishment backlash. But my word, it’s an awfully big gamble to cheerfully abandon the constitution, the military, patriotism and fiscal conservatism and assume that this will bring in sufficient new voters, and that the party’s existing voters – who sincerely believe in those things – will stick around even as the Democrats aggressively pitch for their support.

That is not to say that a Trump victory is impossible – far from it. But look at the type of things which would have to happen to make President Trump a reality – more Islamist terror attacks on American soil, driving scared voters toward Trump’s authoritarian appeal, or a further deterioration of the fraught relationship between America’s police forces and the black communities they serve. Trump benefits from this chaos and division, but none of the policies he has offered would make America tangibly safer. You can be assured that Hillary Clinton will be pushing that message through the fall into the general election.

If things remain as they are; if there are no further large extraneous shocks to the economy, to politics or to national security (admittedly a big “if” when Islamist terror attacks in Europe seem to be running at one per week) then Republicans should be very worried indeed. In their embrace of Donald Trump – a man who could never have become their leader had congressional Republicans acted in a more responsible manner throughout the Obama presidency – they have utterly jettisoned their commitment to the constitution, to individual liberty and to small-c conservatism. They have lost the support of this blog and millions of other thinking conservatives, all in the hope of riding a populist wave to the White House, based on promises which they know are largely undeliverable.

And while Hillary Clinton is undoubtedly a flawed candidate offering a continuation of America’s current trajectory, in a binary choice between the status quo and the void, she has effectively positioned herself as the de facto choice for anybody who is serious about protecting the American republic from unpredictable and often irrational constitutional, economic and political vandalism by Donald Trump.

The Republican Party should be afraid. And chastened. And if the day finally comes when the fever breaks and they realise just what eight years of hysterical opposition to President Obama followed by the nomination of Donald Trump hath wrought, they will face an almighty uphill climb to earn back the respect of small-c, constitutional conservatives.

 

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RNC 2016: Republican National Convention – Night 2 Summary

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Donald Trump is now the Republican Party’s official presidential nominee. And there is plenty of blame to go around.

The theme of Night 2 of the Republican Party convention was “Make America Work Again”. Not that you would have noticed any great difference from Night 1, titled “Make America Safe Again”.

The speeches were the same – long diatribes against Hillary Clinton’s criminality, endless unproductive hysteria about terrorism, creeping paranoia about Iran and constant assertions from speaker after speaker that President Obama’s America is a weak cuckold of a country, being fleeced left, right and centre by enemies and allies alike.

Chris Christie was the highlight of the evening. No matter how much the New Jersey governor may have debased himself since dropping out of the presidential race himself to become Donald Trump’s first and loudest establishment cheerleader, one cannot deny the effectiveness of his prosecutorial convention speech, calling out a litany of Hillary Clinton’s transgressions and inviting delegates to pronounce her guilty or not guilty of each charge (spoiler: the Republican delegates convicted Clinton on all counts).

But that was the prime time agenda, the face that the Republican Party actually wanted to show the country. Before the eyes of America fell on them, the GOP held its state roll-call and officially confirmed Donald Trump as their 2016 presidential nominee.

While some rejoice at the ascendance of a man touting such a populist, anti-establishment agenda – and I can identify with that impulse, in part – there is no denying that this is anything other than a profound defeat for American conservatism, an even lower low than that reached by the Bush-Cheney administration with their fiscal incontinence and calamitous decision to play at nation building in the Middle East.

For Donald Trump is anything but a conservative. He has no respect for the United States Constitution, or for individual liberty – precious things to which the old Republican Party would at least pay lip service. He is an authoritarian, ideologically rootless wannabe strongman who actively scorns policy and loudly insists that all of America’s problems can be solved by simply deciding to start “winning” again. Rather than engage his brain and think about education policy or immigration, or globalisation and free trade, Trump merely promises to hire “the best people” to get the job done.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Trump apparently offered to make Ohio governor John Kasich the “most powerful” vice president in America’s history:

One day this past May, Donald Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., reached out to a senior adviser to Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, who left the presidential race just a few weeks before. As a candidate, Kasich declared in March that Trump was “really not prepared to be president of the United States,” and the following month he took the highly unusual step of coordinating with his rival Senator Ted Cruz in an effort to deny Trump the nomination. But according to the Kasich adviser (who spoke only under the condition that he not be named), Donald Jr. wanted to make him an offer nonetheless: Did he have any interest in being the most powerful vice president in history?

When Kasich’s adviser asked how this would be the case, Donald Jr. explained that his father’s vice president would be in charge of domestic and foreign policy.

Then what, the adviser asked, would Trump be in charge of?

“Making America great again” was the casual reply.

In other words, Donald Trump cares so little about actually governing that he was willing to outsource both domestic and foreign policy – that is, the entire US presidency, bar the annual pardoning of the Thanksgiving turkey – to his VP, someone who would deal with all of the boring stuff while Trump jetted around insulting foreign heads of state and acting as America’s global brand ambassador.

This – this – is the depth to which the party of Abraham Lincoln has sunk.

But how? Daniel Larison’s painful evisceration of the rotten Republican Party says it best:

Like Rod Dreher, I see Trump’s success as proof that “the people who run [the GOP] and the institutions surrounding it failed.” They not only failed in their immediate task of preventing the nomination of a candidate that party leaders loathed, but failed repeatedly over at least the last fifteen years to govern well or even to represent the interests and concerns of most Republican voters.

Had the Bush administration not presided over multiple disasters, most of them of their own making, there would have been no opening or occasion for the repudiation of the party’s leaders that we have seen this year. Had the party served the interests of most of its voters instead of catering to the preferences of their donors and corporations, there would have been much less support for someone like Trump. Party leaders spent decades conning Republican voters with promises they knew they wouldn’t or couldn’t fulfill, and then were shocked when most of those voters turned against them. Trump is millions of Republican voters’ judgment against a party that failed them, and the fact that Trump is thoroughly unqualified for the office he seeks makes that judgment all the more damning.

While as Tucker Carlson pointed out back in January (h/t Dreher):

In the case of Trump, though, the GOP shares the blame, and not just because his fellow Republicans misdirected their ad buys or waited so long to criticize him. Trump is in part a reaction to the intellectual corruption of the Republican Party. That ought to be obvious to his critics, yet somehow it isn’t.

Consider the conservative nonprofit establishment, which seems to employ most right-of-center adults in Washington. Over the past 40 years, how much donated money have all those think tanks and foundations consumed? Billions, certainly. (Someone better at math and less prone to melancholy should probably figure out the precise number.) Has America become more conservative over that same period? Come on. Most of that cash went to self-perpetuation: Salaries, bonuses, retirement funds, medical, dental, lunches, car services, leases on high-end office space, retreats in Mexico, more fundraising. Unless you were the direct beneficiary of any of that, you’d have to consider it wasted.

Pretty embarrassing. And yet they’re not embarrassed. Many of those same overpaid, underperforming tax-exempt sinecure-holders are now demanding that Trump be stopped. Why? Because, as his critics have noted in a rising chorus of hysteria, Trump represents “an existential threat to conservatism.”

Let that sink in. Conservative voters are being scolded for supporting a candidate they consider conservative because it would be bad for conservatism? And by the way, the people doing the scolding? They’re the ones who’ve been advocating for open borders, and nation-building in countries whose populations hate us, and trade deals that eliminated jobs while enriching their donors, all while implicitly mocking the base for its worries about abortion and gay marriage and the pace of demographic change. Now they’re telling their voters to shut up and obey, and if they don’t, they’re liberal.

It turns out the GOP wasn’t simply out of touch with its voters; the party had no idea who its voters were or what they believed. For decades, party leaders and intellectuals imagined that most Republicans were broadly libertarian on economics and basically neoconservative on foreign policy. That may sound absurd now, after Trump has attacked nearly the entire Republican catechism (he savaged the Iraq War and hedge fund managers in the same debate) and been greatly rewarded for it, but that was the assumption the GOP brain trust operated under. They had no way of knowing otherwise. The only Republicans they talked to read the Wall Street Journal too.

On immigration policy, party elders were caught completely by surprise. Even canny operators like Ted Cruz didn’t appreciate the depth of voter anger on the subject. And why would they? If you live in an affluent ZIP code, it’s hard to see a downside to mass low-wage immigration. Your kids don’t go to public school. You don’t take the bus or use the emergency room for health care. No immigrant is competing for your job. (The day Hondurans start getting hired as green energy lobbyists is the day my neighbors become nativists.) Plus, you get cheap servants, and get to feel welcoming and virtuous while paying them less per hour than your kids make at a summer job on Nantucket. It’s all good.

This blog agrees: Donald Trump is the fault of every single American conservative who has been in government since the turn of the millennium. It is hard to think of any other political party which so thoroughly alienated its own base through a deliberate campaign of ignoring their interests and showering them with contempt since… since centrist Labour was blown apart by the Jeremy Corbyn revolution in Britain.

The GOP’s corrupt leadership and willingness to con their own voters (particularly by exploiting wedge social issues to little effect while pursuing the same old failed economic policies) is the reason why the Republican base turned en masse against establishment conservatism, preferring even an authoritarian strongman like Trump to another moment of their sanctimonious, self-serving rule.

This is happening. There will be no white knight to swoop in and save the day, snatching the nomination away from Donald Trump. The Republican Party have already bestowed their blessing and their nomination. And everybody who shares the same stage in Cleveland – even the good ones, like Paul Ryan – are now tainted by association with him.

And when the Republican Party is picking through the wreckage on Wednesday 9th November, there will be plenty of blame to go around.

 

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RNC 2016: Republican National Convention – Night 1 Summary

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As the Republican National Convention gets underway in Cleveland, it is hard to recall a time when American conservatism has been in so parlous a condition

Andrew Sullivan (in a most welcome return to political live-blogging) captured the ugly essence of Night 1 of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio:

Just mulling over the events tonight, there’s one obvious stand-out. I didn’t hear any specific policy proposals to tackle clearly stated public problems. It is almost as if governing, for the Republican right, is fundamentally about an attitude, rather than about experience or practicality or reasoning. The degeneracy of conservatism – its descent into literally mindless appeals to tribalism and fear and hatred – was on full display. You might also say the same about the religious right, the members of whom have eagerly embraced a racist, a nativist, a believer in war crimes, and a lover of the tyrants that conservatism once defined itself against. Their movement long lost any claim to a serious Christian conscience. But that they would so readily embrace such an unreconstructed pagan is indeed a revelation.

If you think of the conservative movement as beginning in 1964 and climaxing in the 1990s, then the era we are now in is suffering from a cancer of the mind and the soul. That the GOP has finally found a creature that can personify these urges to purge, a man for whom the word “shameless” could have been invented, a bully and a creep, a liar and cheat, a con man and wannabe tyrant, a dedicated loather of individual liberty, and an opponent of the pricelessly important conventions of liberal democracy is perhaps a fitting end.

Well, quite.

What struck me most from the first night of the Republican convention, as speaker after speaker stood and railed against President Obama, called for Hillary Clinton to be thrown in jail and led the delegates in endless chants of “USA! USA!”, was the fact that these people were all scared. Scared of the future, scared of their economic prospects, scared of Islamist terrorism, scared of national decline.

Rudy Giuliani, appearing a very shrunken figure since his glory days in the late 1990s and during 9/11, sounded like a fearful pensioner shouting at the television when he gave his barnstorming prime-time speech. Where had his America gone, he shouted, and who would keep them all safe in these dangerous times? The answer, of course, was always Donald Trump.

We know that some American conservatives have skipped the convention entirely in disgust – and who can blame them? But of those in the convention hall – or the Quicken Loans arena, to give its full title – the vast majority seem to be drinking the Kool-Aid, or have at least reluctantly reconciled themselves to the fact that Donald Trump is their presidential nominee.

Something has changed in the soul of the Republican Party. One can argue endlessly about the reasons why – this blog believes that the continued failure of Republican government to benefit the struggling middle classes, the failure of the Tea Party to make a positive difference despite its loud rhetoric together with the ill-fated adventurism of the neoconservatives, has done much to alienate working class Americans from a conservative political class who have little to offer them but shallow patriotism.

Of course, Donald Trump offers shallow patriotism too. But he is also a strongman. Where President Obama wrings his hands and attempts to explain the complexity of the world and the problems facing America – often to excess – Donald Trump offers clarity and bold, oversimplified solutions. ISIS can be defeated without putting American boots on the ground, just by America deciding to “lead” again. Semi-skilled manufacturing jobs can be repatriated to America simply by “standing up” to nefarious foreign countries like China and Mexico. And apparently, after having been ground down by two stalled wars and a financial crisis, American conservatism was sufficiently dejected and debased to pick up that message and run with it.

I came of age (and became aware of American politics) in the late 1990s, in the tail end of the Clinton presidency and into the George W. Bush era. And in that time, in books and speeches by prominent conservatives, American conservatism was clearly dedicated – in rhetoric, if not always in practice – to advancing freedom. Freedom for the individual in America, and (sometimes disastrously) freedom for people in other parts of the world.

But the Republican Party of 2016 barely talks about freedom at all. On the first night of the RNC in Cleveland, speakers and delegates gathered under a massive sign proclaiming “Make America Safe Again”. Freedom has apparently gone out the window completely – why else would Republicans nominate an authoritarian like Donald Trump, a man who expresses contempt for freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion and human rights? And in freedom’s place comes the soothing, reassuring, beguiling promise of safety.

The America I now see through the prism of the current Republican Party – thankfully quite a distorted prism – is one where the American Dream has died for millions of people, or is at best on life support. The Republican primary voters who overwhelmingly voted to make Donald Trump their presidential nominee, and who are now gathered in Cleveland for the quadrennial party convention, were motivated by not by a sense of opportunity but by fear. Fear for their physical safety from terrorism. Fear of economic instability. Fear of relative decline.

Tim Stanley agrees:

Note: preserve. Not build more, not expand, not create – but preserve. You might argue that Trump is conservatism in its purest sense, the sense of being about conserving the best of the past. You might also argue that this represents a break from Reaganism, which is optimistic and about growing the economy to the advantage of the individual.

I’ve been a US conservative convention goer for eight years and I can tell that a change has come over them. You used to hear a lot about defending the Constitution and shrinking the government. Not so much anymore.

The people who are interested in those things are here. On Monday afternoon, God bless them, they tried to kick Trump off the ticket with a rules challenge on the convention floor. They failed and stormed off. They never had the numbers necessary to do it and the Republican establishment has reconciled itself to Trump anyway – so no dice.

And that’s the most depressing thing of all – there is no longer a major political party in the United States remotely dedicated to expanding freedom for the individual and defending against the encroachment of the state.

Lord knows that the Democrats will not be championing liberty now that they are led by Hillary Clinton and nearly entirely captured by the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics. For small-c conservatives, libertarian and conservatarians, this election is very much a case of pick your poison.

Andrew Sullivan is quite right to highlight the lack of any serious policy discussion on Day 1 of the convention (and if you don’t get any on the traditionally less TV-worthy opening days then you won’t get any at all). Trumpian conservatism clearly is not interested in solutions. Like their strongman hero, the Republican Party of 2016 has decided that the difficult, intractable problems of Islamist terror, deindustrialisation, global competitiveness and social mobility can be solved simply by willing them away, by “standing up to America’s enemies” and being swept along by Trump’s strong leadership.

Maybe it will take defeat in the 2016 presidential election for the Republican Party to be shocked out of its current stupor and invigorated to find a way to appeal to Trump’s broad coalition of voters with a more optimistic, pro-liberty message.

The nightmare scenario, though, is a Trump victory, which would gild this fear-based, revanchist form of conservatism with the prestige that comes with winning (never mind posing a serious threat to the American republic) and has the potential to transform Donald Trump from an unfortunate blip on the political landscape to an early 21st century Ronald Reagan.

In short, it is hard to see any grounds for hope at all going into this Republican Party convention. But this blog will continue to watch and hope for the green shoots of a future conservative revival, something better to come once this Trumpian nightmare is over.

 

Donald Trump Hosts Nevada Caucus Night Watch Party In Las Vegas

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