Sunday, May 8, 2016

Norm Ornstein Explains Trump's Rise

Political scientist Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute took Trump's candidacy seriously long before most pundits. In an interesting interview, he explains why, and offers a theory of how Trump did it:
But if you forced me to pick one factor explaining what's happened, I would say this is a self-inflicted wound by Republican leaders.

Over many years, they've adopted strategies that have trivialized and delegitimized government. They were willing to play to a nativist element. And they tried to use, instead of stand up to, the apocalyptic visions and extremism of some cable television, talk radio, and other media outlets on the right.

And add to that, they've delegitimized President Obama, but they've failed to succeed with any of the promises they've made to their rank and file voters, or Tea Party adherents. So when I looked at that, my view was, "what makes you think, after all of these failures, that you're going to have a group of compliant people who are just going to fall in line behind an establishment figure?"
Ornstein actually traces this arc of Republican behavior all the way back to 1978, when Newt Gingrich entered Congress. Gingrich, he says, already had his long-range plan for Republican control of Congress:
And over the next 16 years, he put that plan into action. He delegitimized the Congress and the Democratic leadership, convincing people that they were arrogant and corrupt and that the process was so bad that anything would be better than this. He tribalized the political process. He went out and recruited the candidates, and gave them the language to use about how disgusting and despicable and horrible and immoral and unpatriotic the Democrats were. That swept in the Republican majority in 1994.

The problem is that all the people he recruited to come in really believed that shit. They all came in believing that Washington was a cesspool. So what followed has been a very deliberate attempt to blow up and delegitimize government, not just the president but the actions of government itself in Washington.
Whatever success this strategy has had at winning elections, it ultimately makes it impossible for Republicans to govern using  institutions they have wrecked:
If you delegitimize government, and make every victory that occurs partisan and ugly, and then refuse to implement the policies to make things work as much as you can but instead try to undermine them, and you cut government funding, and you freeze the salaries of people in government — well, then eventually you’re gonna have a public out there that basically says, "Anything would be better than these idiots."

So when you get a Donald Trump, who is contentless, and knows less about policy, domestic or international, I would say, than any candidate in the last 50 years — including Pat Paulsen, the comedian — you have a large share of the public who say, "You know, the people who know about policy were the ones who fucked all of this up! And how could Trump do worse?"
I found this last bit interesting partly because it is what I said about Trump back in September was that he seemed to me at least as coherent as most of his rivals. Mitt Romney was as knowledgeable and intelligent as most presidential candidates, but even he had to talk all kinds of nonsense to fit in with the climate of unreason.


Anonymous said...

I'm not in much agreement with Ornstein's approach. It's basically top-down, arguing that Trump voters think that way because Republican leaders have taught them to. Actually I think it's clear that Trumpism (white ethno-cultural rage, as you put it so well) descends pretty directly from mid-sixties white backlash. Its roots (cultural, psychological, etc.) are of course older than that, but it's been an identifiable force in politics nationwide since (I would say, following Rick Perlstein) the 1966 effort to integrate housing and make school integration real.

G. Verloren said...

There's an old French saying I'm particularly fond of - "Rogues are preferable to imbeciles, because they sometimes take a rest."

No matter how little faith you have in something, you will always make it worse by puttng a complete idiot in charge. It's a terrible shame some people don't realize that or have been led to disbelieve that.