Teflon Trump

Fry me a river.

Everything we know about American politics we learned thirty-five years ago.

It was the night of the Reagan-Carter debate, the only one before the 1980 election. Like all good liberals living in good liberal college towns, we had spent the previous months incredulous that Reagan was even in the race. We had heartily agreed with George (pre-HW) Bush, who, in the last honest statement he ever made in public life, called Reagan’s proposals “voodoo economics”.

Every criticism that everyone had about Ronald Reagan was true. And, as we were to learn that night, none of it mattered.

You had to be there, watching how Jimmy Carter was powerless against a confident fusillade of ignorance and lies, how “substance” was irrelevant against a supremely self-possessed delivery. Americans wanted to hear what Reagan was saying, see how Reagan was saying it, wanted it so badly they didn’t care about anything else.

That night, we knew Reagan would win the election. And we knew why: Americans love being lied to.

In the eight years that followed, Ronald Reagan never lost that ability to charm an electoral majority of Americans. He was immune to criticism, because criticism was beside the point: Reagan transcended conventional politics. Critics called him the Teflon President, because nothing stuck to him.

After a generation of searching, Republicans have finally found Reagan’s natural successor. And they’re doing everything they can to stop him.

In hindsight, it should have been obvious from the start. No, not the stuff about building a wall to keep out wetback rapists — that’s just saying aloud what was previously flimsy subtext. What should have tipped everyone off that Donald Trump was a force to be reckoned with was when he belittled John McCain for being a loser POW — and got away with it. Not a scratch. Every “gaffe” since then, every crime against Establishment Republican Orthodoxy, has been celebrated as the one that finally takes Trump down, followed by incredulousness when it doesn’t.

Even this week, there was chatter that tax returns would be Trump’s downfall, or shenanigans at Trump “University”, or Marco acting like (again) a wimpy George Bush kicking ass against Geraldine Ferraro. This far in, they still think conventional politics will reach Trump’s full-throated supporters? Don’t they recognize a cult of personality when they see one?

And do Democrats?

Hillary Clinton, ever the calculating rational manager, must have gamed out a race against all likely Republican opponents a year ago — against, that is, all the calculating rational managers on the other side. Awful campaigner that she is, she likely would have done well against one of their awful campaigners, especially the Exclamation Formerly Known as Jeb.

But if she wins the nomination, she won’t be running against Jeb, or Rubio, or Scott Walker, or any other cardboard cutout. She’ll be running against Donald Freaking Trump, who can pee on the Pope’s leg and tell His Holiness it’s raining.

We hope she’s taking him seriously. We hope her campaign is doing more than just teeing up millions and millions in attack ads that will have no effect whatsoever. Because the worst you can do is underestimate him, misunderstand the phenomenon he represents, pretend you can conduct politics as usual in a most unusual election.

There’s only one thing that will defeat Trump: More votes. But not by changing minds, since a mind lost to Trump is a mind lost for good. And with Republican primary turnout (so far) outpacing Democrats, you can’t rely on mere demographics either — Mitt won 59 percent of the White vote in 2012, and White turnout far exceeded everyone but Blacks. If Democrats are insufficiently inspired or frightened (or, in 21 states, able) to vote in November, we’ll be welcoming First Lady Melania in January.

We hope Hillary has it in her, but we have little confidence. And heck, maybe our fears are overblown, preventing us from enjoying as much popcorn as we’d like. But if we’ve learned anything in the decades since that 1980 debate, it’s that we need to take ridiculousness seriously.


This isn’t a national election, it’s a slow motion murder-suicide. Real AmeriKKKa has gone insane after forty years of sadistic, hateful, paranoid, neo-fascist revenge fantasies, and they’re gonna take the rest of us with them. These are people who voted for CaliguBush twice(!) and still think he’s hot shit.

I just don’t understand why the Republican establishment supposedly hates Trump. He’s like their ultimate-turbo-Voltron-super-candidate: a crass, Ivy league-educated, serially bankrupt billionaire who vows to destroy everyone that white AmeriKKKa hates, like blacks, immigrants, liberals, gays, non-Christians, and the poor.

He’s their dream candidate–why don’t they love him?

Reminds me of the moron I overheard at lunch who was bitching about the new Librul gubbiment.

He was remarking that dirty oil (aka tar sands) was 10% of the Canada City economy and how they want to help Bombardier and they should help the oil sands instead. Tory Moron didn’t tell the doofuses he was with that the economy of Ontario by itself is 36% of Canada City’s GDP.

Also he bitched about the price of gas going up.

/eye roll/

@ManchuCandidate: I noticed that just a few weeks after JTru was sworn in, the Cons already were referring to the Trudeau Economy, as if the last ten years instantly went down the Memory Hole. The Soviet-style de-Harperization is complete. Gee, who turned Canada into a petro economy and failed to sufficiently diversify the nation’s revenue sources? Duuuuuuuuh.

Reformacons (like your RW moron equivalents) can’t accept their share of responsibility.

Meanwhile, following the trend to date, SC Dem turnout is down 30 percent from 2008, while GOP turnout is up through all the primaries.

And, unlike 2008, Trump is a very known quantity — all the negatives long since baked in — while Palin’s one-speech wonder came dangerously close to the election itself.

Too soon for my favorite electoral vote tracking site to kick in this season, but Hillary is barely three points ahead of Trump at RCP.

On the other hand, National Review hates them both, so there’s that.

“Your Lives Are Already Ruined–Vote Hillary!”

Favorable/Unfavorable polling, via HuffPo.

Hillary: 40 / 53.6
Trump: 36.1 / 57.6

Trump has been steady for months — that’s the baked-in part of his reputation.

Hillary has been trending down since she left office, especially once her campaign started. Everyone liked her during the Texts From Hillary era, not so much now.

At least we’ll have the pleasure of a really nasty campaign before the Apocalypse.

@¡Andrew!: Abandon hope, all ye who enter the voting booth!

This Current Affairs article sums it up. Clinton is a train wreck of a candidate, and there’s no way she’ll win against Trump.

Trump will capitalize on his reputation as a truth-teller, and be vicious about both Clinton’s sudden changes of position (e.g. the switch on gay marriage, plus the affected economic populism of her run against Sanders) and her perceived dishonesty. One can already imagine the monologue:

“She lies so much. Everything she says is a lie. I’ve never seen someone who lies so much in my life. Let me tell you three lies she’s told. She made up a story about how she was ducking sniper fire! There was no sniper fire. She made it up! How do you forget a thing like that? She said she was named after Sir Edmund Hillary, the guy who climbed Mount Everest. He hadn’t even climbed it when she was born! Total lie! She lied about the emails, of course, as we all know, and is probably going to be indicted. You know she said there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq! It was a lie! Thousands of American soldiers are dead because of her. Not only does she lie, her lies kill people. That’s four lies, I said I’d give you three. You can’t even count them. You want to go on PolitiFact, see how many lies she has? It takes you an hour to read them all! In fact, they ask her, she doesn’t even say she hasn’t lied. They asked her straight up, she says she usually tries to tell the truth! Ooooh, she tries! Come on! This is a person, every single word out of her mouth is a lie. Nobody trusts her. Check the polls, nobody trusts her. Yuge liar.”

Where does she even begin to respond to this? Some of it’s true, some of it isn’t, but the more she tries to defensively parse it (“There’s been no suggestion I’m going to be indicted! And I didn’t say I usually tried to tell the truth, I said I always tried and usually succeeded”) the deeper she sinks into the hole.

Trump will bob, weave, jab, and hook. He won’t let up. And because Clinton actually has lied, and actually did vote for the Iraq War, and actually is hyper-cosy with Wall Street, and actually does change her positions based on expediency, all she can do is issue further implausible denials, which will further embolden Trump. Nor does she have a single offensive weapon at her disposal, since every legitimate criticism of Trump’s background (inconsistent political positions, shady financial dealings, pattern of deception) is equally applicable to Clinton, and he knows how to make such things slide off him, whereas she does not.

@¡Andrew!: Holy shee-it. Best. Trump. Ever. I’m in awe.

And yes, that’s my worry expressed: That Hillary simply lacks the ability to fight someone like Trump. (Bernie, no problem.) Trump is an Ali of politics, dancing all over the mat, and while Hillary can jab, she’s trapped in her training.

And beyond that, well, she has no natural political base, no larger pool of voters who can simply dwarf Trump’s. She’s only here because she’s Mrs. Bubba, which is an irony her old-school feminist friends don’t talk about.

@¡Andrew!: One problem with his broader analysis: Bernie has to prove he can win elections, just like Barry did in 2008. (Iowa convinced me Obama had a shot.) We can explain away Nevada and South Carolina, but excuses don’t last long: Bernie has to win over Democrats before he can win over anyone else.

Nor can I agree that it’s impossible for Hillary to beat Trump. Just that it’s far from a slam-dunk, and Establishment Demrats need to take him very, very seriously.

I seriously doubt that establishment Demonrats are going to be successful in connecting with the public. Like the rest of the 1%, their obscene wealth and privilege has sealed them in a gossamer cocoon from the rest of human society; in marketing it’s called the empathy problem. They’re part of the status quo and benefit generously from it, so consequently they can’t comprehend any opposition to it, never mind address it. Everyone they know is crazy rich and lives in a Manhattan penthouse–who are these silly malcontents that won’t stop bitching about the eCONomy or being shot in the back by police? For this same reason, the Walmart billionaires can’t understand that their sales have been circling the drain for years because the People of Walmart are now too poor even to shop at Walmart. They’ve been relegated to thrift stores and pawn shops, which is a perfect metaphor for the entire nation.

They’re in deep denial over the fact that 90% of the country is far worse off than we were in 2008, and that Obama was elected to be a liberal lion and then governed as a center-right, Wall Street Republican, which has totally demoralized many Democratic voters. Bernie Sanders’ campaign has taken off precisely because he opposes the corrupt kleptocracy that Clinton epitomizes. Many Sanders voters consider themselves to be people of principle, authenticity, and integrity, and they are not going to shrug and push the Clinton corruption and scandal button in November. They’ll stay home or vote for third party candidates.

Curiously — and, granted, anecdotal — the only arguments I see out there for Hillary are that she’s “electable” (Josh at TPM) or that she’s a woman (Jason Kottke, saying he needs a symbolic role model for his daughters).

Arguments for Hillary, in other words, have nothing to do with Hillary. And soon you can add “not Trump” to the list.

I don’t know how compelling these arguments are to anyone not already inclined to support her — they’re not inspiring, to say the least. And yes, that leads to her greatest weakness: Not folks voting for Trump, but not bothering to vote at all.

We’ll see. I have strong doubts about her strengths against Trump — that’s the post, after all — but it’s premature to say anything definitive. Give it a month. We’ll know what’s going down soon enough.

The good people who didn’t vote in 2010 gave us the Congress we have today. The good people who don’t vote in 2016 will give us the next step or five down the slope. GOTV is our only hope. (So hard not to watch John Oliver take down Trump and think “Okay, this time we’ve REALLY got him!”)

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