For Trump and his mob, partisan feeling won’t yield to patriotism

“There is tremendous voter fraud,” U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump told supporters in Wisconsin this week, before predicting that “1.8 million deceased individuals” will vote for his opponent Hillary Clinton.

Facing a potential wipeout at the polls, Trump has of late used rallies, Twitter and sporadic Fox News interviews to question the legitimacy of an election he is about to fluff.

Studies reveal there is no widespread voter fraud, and, with the possible exception of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the dead don’t vote.

On Tuesday, Trump went further encouraging his supporters to monitor polling stations for electoral wrongdoing, especially in the inner cities.

And fascism’s siren song was heard: “If she’s [Hillary] in office, I hope we can start a coup,” Dan Bowman, 50, recently told The Boston Globe. “She should be in prison or shot.”

“We’re going to have a revolution and take them out of office if that’s what it takes,” he added. “There’s going to be a lot of bloodshed.”

Remarkably, this was posted by an elected sheriff:

Voter intimidation is likely on Nov. 8, especially if Trump’s vigilante “monitors” openly carrying guns.

America has enjoyed a peaceful transition of power after every election since 1876, but the death rattle of Trump’s burlesque campaign is now threatening that long-standing democratic tradition.

As Donald’s surrogates often parrot, he’s an “agent of change.”

Grace in defeat.

Trump isn’t the first to test America’s precariously balanced civics. As recently as 2000, the country looked truly f***ed. An impossibly ugly election was followed by a contested result forcing the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene. In a split decision, it ruled that Florida’s disputed votes be awarded to George W. Bush.

His Democratic rival Al Gore won the popular vote, but the Texan took the White House.

Gore had grounds for grievance but noting the potential damage of a continued fight, he conceded victory, yanking the nation back from the brink:

“I also accept my responsibility … to honor the new president-elect and do everything possible to help him bring Americans together in fulfillment of the great vision that our Declaration of Independence defines and that our Constitution affirms and defends.”

Forty years earlier, Richard Nixon gave a terse variation of the same sentiment on national TV:

“I want, I want Senator Kennedy to know, and I want all of you to know, that certainly if this trend does continue, and he does become our next president, that he will have my wholehearted support and yours, too.”

Adlai Stevenson in 1952 promised his support to Dwight Eisenhower, noting: “We vote as many, but we pray as one.” A similar “pledge” was made by Bob Dole in 1996 after he failed to unseat Bill Clinton.

Even McCain’s slapstick bid of 2008 correctly managed the concession, refusing Alaska Governor Sarah Palin a platform to deliver her own speech, albeit against the protests of the vice presidential pick, who by this time had gone full “Black Swan.”

Why it is important?

A state cannot function if a third of its citizenry believes the elected leader is illegitimate. As such, the concession speech is a vital release valve after the build up of a lengthy election campaign that cuts deep into the national consciousness.

Yet Trump is now threatening to make the scar tissue permanent with repeated claims of “rigged polls,” “biased” debate moderators and “corrupt media” pushing “false allegations” ― all strings of a marionette controlled by a “global power structure” bent on stealing the election from America’s white working class.

This type of waffle has currency among the orcs and goblins of the internet; a conspiracy theory after all simplifies a complex world. However, for an American presidential candidate, it’s absurd.

In Trump’s defense, he is not responsible for the country’s polarization, nor did he create a society in which truth has lost its value. But he is deliberately exploiting both to undercut the democratic process by claiming the election is “one big fix.”

Why is he doing this?

During July and September, Trump’s flamboyant campaign pulled at the docking ropes threatening to take off. Many national polls showed the portly tycoon level with his seasoned yet very beatable opponent.

The improvement was attributed in part to his newly-appointed campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, who successfully yanked Trump’s snout ring around the country giving the impression of a sober operation. However, in October the ship exploded, bursting into flames like the Hindenburg.

The campaign’s combustible mix of white victimhood, Islamophobia, anti-intellectualism, KFC buckets and late-night tweets was finally lit by vintage audio of the candidate talking “p***y” on a bus.

The tape and subsequent flood of women claiming to have been assaulted by her boss left even Conway, the smiliest of Stepford wives, floundering and the campaign in a tailspin.

Loyalists cried foul but the tape was revealing. For decades Trump fostered the myth of a dealmaker doyen, a man driven solely by his resolute desire to peak in business.

The video, however, suggested Trump was impelled by nothing more than his perverse need to exert power over women. Perhaps this was already obvious. His willingness to confess to serial sexual assault was not.

Already behind in battleground states, Trump’s turn in the first Clinton debate did little to encourage swing voters. Then came the video and attendant allegations, effectively ending the race.

The second debate proved a turning point, a pantomime of Clinton-bashing that suggested Trump had given up the White House. Instead he would concentrate on maintaining a sizable, hardcore following that he could exploit for cash after the vote.

According to reports, this change was encouraged by campaign CEO Stephen Bannon, a bedraggled anti-establishment agitator who runs a white ethno-nationalism website.

In Trump’s ear like Grima Wormtongue, Bannon coaxed the willing tycoon to turn on the whole political class ― the Clintons, the Republicans, the media… even the election itself.

The GOP response?

Many prominent Republicans, sniffing the coming drubbing at the polls, jumped ship, giving Trump and his twitchy coterie another bête noire: those “disloyal” Republicans,” those “traitors.”

Even Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, a man with an almost ideological commitment to cowardice, baulked at fantasies of a “rigged” election, putting out a statement noting he was “fully confident” the vote would be fair.

Which is where we are three weeks out from the vote. The irony for Trump is that his opponent is currently having her soiled underwear shaken out daily byWikiLeaks. If he stopped talking about voter fraud, he could hammer her for the remainder of the campaign on issues far less mythical. But he won’t because his goal is no longer office.

Quoted by Gore, defeated Sen. Stephen Douglas (D-Ill.) told Abe Lincoln in 1860 that “partisan feeling must yield to patriotism.” But Trump requires partisanship to feed his post-election vision.

It appears that after 16 squalid months of race-baiting, lying, debasing women and threatening to upend American democracy, the campaign of Donald J. Trump has yet to reach its nadir. This could end in violence.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

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Relax, world. Trump isn’t going to be president.

During his throat clearing at the 2011 White House Correspondents dinner in Washington, D.C., comedian Seth Meyers delivered a prophetic critique of the political ambitions of Donald J. Trump.

The mogul, touting a run in the 2012 race, sat scowling at his table as the comic quipped:

Donald Trump has been saying he’ll run for president as a Republican, which is surprising as I just assumed he was running as a joke.

Five years on and Trump is not only the Republican nominee but also the de factoleader of the Party. Yet Meyers’ insight remains pungent.

The West has inspected Trump’s rise with morbid fascination, as if it were gazing at a smoldering crash site, the charred wreck of the GOP circled by the ashen corpses of its passengers — Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie et al.

Cultural sneering abounds from Europe: “Look at what those silly Americans have got themselves into now.” Only British snobbery has waned, the country chastened by its vote to hobble economic prosperity in protest at Polish car washers.

International perceptions of Trump were revealed in recent polling. Asked if the businessman would do the right thing once in the White House, only 14 percent of Canadians said he would. Some 12 percent of Britons expressed confidence in the mogul, along with nine percent of French respondents, and eight percent of those in Spain. Only three percent of Greeks welcomed a Trump presidency.

Donald will have seen those numbers — surveys are the one election tool he regularly consults (around 10 percent of Trump’s personal tweets push data).

So the nominee is also aware of his historically bad polling inside the U.S. — he’s unfavorable with 88 percent of African-Americans, 87 percent of Hispanics and 55 percent of white voters. Even his own party doesn’t like him, with 51 percent of Republicans saying they’d prefer a different nominee.

And polls still matter. Brexit data showed the “leave” and “remain” camps tied for much of the campaign. Election night revealed a narrow win for “leave.” Polling put Trump way ahead of his rivals in the primary. He won that race months before the convention — all while Nate Silver, the political seer du jour, gave Trump only a two percent chance of winning.

As Politico reflected, the GOP nominee is “setting modern records for political toxicity.” So unpopular is Trump that David Plouffe, Obama’s former strategist, predicted his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton — herself up to a high waistband in toxic sludge thanks to email practices — will top 350 electoral colleges on election day. That’s ambitious, but Clinton only needs 270 to become president.

There is no mystery to Trump’s tower-high negatives. They are the product of an early campaign in which the tycoon used immigration and the threat of ISIS to exploit a white working class already unmoored by globalization and set adrift by technological and social change. This was Trump’s deal with the Devil — his Trumpian pact.

The GOP historically corralled this constituency by making overtures towards protecting “traditional” values, whether that was a Christian interpretation of marriage or the right to stockpile military grade weaponry next to the bikes in the garage.

The guns remain, but the Republican Party’s inability to arrest social change allied to stagnating economic conditions means the longtime accord between the white working class and the GOP establishment has disintegrated.

Workers have not only lost their jobs but they’re forced to watch on as the society undergoes rapid change, whether that’s the withering of religious superstitions, shifting definitions of the family or transgender soldiers in the military.

All the while anxiety is increased with talk of radical Islamic incursions over the Mexican border and a president in cahoots with Raqqa.

Established Republican politicians have failed so voters look to an outsider, an aging businessman who promises to stop the shifting social sands and protect them from a caricatured threat.

However, promises to “Make America Great Again” while head-butting a jihadi ideology (“I would bomb the shit out of ‘em”) only works for a limited constituency. It is not a trick Trump can pull off in the general election. That con is too long, hence his current deficit of around six points in national polls.

And notions of a terrorist attack pushing fearful swing voters to Donald’s cause were dispelled in Orlando in June. His polling barely twitched in the aftermath.

So Trump won’t be tweeting taco bowl pictures from the Resolute Desk come 2017. Like his hidden tax returns, the numbers don’t add up.

Yet none of this will end his campaign. That’s because the purpose of a modern presidential run is not to become president but to make money. The 70-year-old tycoon entered the primary hoping to poll at 12 percent, rack up a healthy delegate count and push some product on the way.The purpose of a modern presidential run is not to become president but to make money.

To be part of an Oval Office bid is a money-spinner. It increases a candidate’s profile, which can be peddled after the election by way of book sales, TV appearances and speaking fees. The further you go in the race, the greater the reward.

Sarah Palin’s preposterous ‘Going Rogue: An American Life’ isn’t so much a memoir as a 432-page monument to American idiocy. Yet it spent six weeks as a New York Times bestseller and sold more than two million copies.

After the ‘08 election, Palin landed a lucrative Fox News deal, launched an online media channel and scribbled a library of dimwitted volumes on The Almighty — all from a burlesque vice-presidential campaign that barely lasted two months.

Why else did 17 Republican candidates run in the current cycle? Certainly not to be president. There are bills to be trousered; there is media to be serviced. There are even TV channels to be set up. As Meyers said, it’s a joke.

Look at the property developer’s campaign spending. In June, Clinton spent$23million on TV adverts in the battleground states. Trump spent $0.As the Washington Post pointed out, Trump’s expenditure “bears little resemblance to a modern presidential campaign.” That’s not to condemn the Republican nominee for failing to match the granular voter analytics of the Clinton campaign. But his current efforts would barely register as a run for Congress. Less than 50 people are charged with disseminating Trump’s message nationally — you could squeeze most of his campaign staff into an elevator in the Trump Tower.

The magnate recently looked to professionalize his operation by firing Corey Lewandowski, the press-hating campaign manager (Lewandowski now appears on CNN, looking like a victim unable to shake feelings of affection for his former abductor).

Why would Trump fire his top guy five months before the election if he were not running a sincere campaign? Why bother? Because the campaign was heading for disaster following a succession of blunders. And there’s a huge difference between losing an election and getting wiped out.

Trump’s brand will be enhanced by a run that ends in a standard defeat. You can already hear him playing the victim, claiming the election was stolen, blaming everyone from the Republican National Convention, to the #NeverTrump movement, to the media, to the donor class, all the way down to a cabal of Syrian refugees smuggled over the border with instructions from ISIS to end Christmas.

Trump can sell that. He can sell being the casualty of a conspiracy to rob the American people of his terrific presidency. “This country would have been so great, believe me.”

What he cannot hawk is being the man who leads to the GOP to an historic clobbering, taking a fleet of Congressmen down with him. The race must be kept respectable if not competitive.

It shouldn’t be hard. The polarization of the country means 45 million Republicans would vote for a potted plant if it said it hated Hillary. All Trump has to do is run the traditional Republican campaign — casual discrimination, militaristic bombast and the occasional NRA catchphrase — and tribal voting will take care of the rest.

This first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original can be found here.

The conspiracy theorist-in-chief

His name has never once appeared on a ballot paper and he has never held public office. Yet Dr. Ben Carson has spent much of the past 50 days sitting second in the polls to be the presidential nominee for the Republican Party ahead of the 2016 election.

Only the insurgency of Donald Trump, a man with an equal paucity of elected experience, has demoted his rival to the role of subsidiary, though recent polls have Carson besting his competitor in the early voting state of Iowa.

Either way, both remain far ahead of the “traditional” candidates in the race for the nomination, a roster that includes three former governors, two current governors, three senators, one former senator and a member of the House of Representatives.

Much has been written about the appeal of “political outsiders” across the US and Europe in recent years. The predominant American narrative has Carson and Trump riding a wave of conservative discontent birthed by the election of Barack Obama, and nurtured by a Republican party impotent to offer coherent opposition ever since.

Yet Trump and Carson are also exploiting a very American flavor of disgruntlement – the obsessed, conspiratorial mindset of a pocket of the population besieged by paranoia and a fear of the hidden hand.

Their approaches, however, do differ. Whereas the billionaire property tycoon is peddling empty optimism, fawning to a sense of injustice that says a longstanding political cabal has robbed America of its God-given dominance of the world, Carson’s campaign has the hue of an Internet comment board, replete with Nazi analogies, hatred of the media, conflation of the welfare state and Stalin’s gulags… and yet more Nazis.

A fetish for Hitler references has contaminated Carson’s campaign, the MD given to likening the United States to the Third Reich or warning that Democratic policies are paving a path for the next Fuhrer. “Socialism” is discharged as a similar catchall for “bad.”

Although Trump recently denounced Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders as a “communist,” generally the businessman resists using McCarthyite slurs to attack his competitors. Evoking Herr Hitler or the Soviet Union is too thin a branch even for the rambunctious frontrunner. Not so Carson, who applies a heavy garnish of fascist fear mongering every time his feather-caked voice leaks towards a microphone.

Witness the recent gun debate following the Oregon shooting in which Carson shoehorned a Nazi analogy into the tragedy by suggesting the Holocaust would have been “greatly diminished” had the Jews been armed.

Likewise in 2013, Carson called Obamacare (that’s the provision of healthcare to millions of working class Americans), “the worst thing since slavery,” while noting that American citizens were living in a “Gestapo age.

In August this year, Planned Parenthood, a non-profit organization that provides reproductive health services, was decried by Carson as an agent of “population control” in black neighborhoods. “Read about Margaret Sanger, who founded this place [Planned Parenthood],” he told Fox News. “Look and see what many people in Nazi Germany thought about her.”

On evolution Carson forewent the Nazis, settling on that other bête noir the Devil, arguing “the adversary” had possessed Charles Darwin and was therefore responsible for the Victorian naturalist’s famous theory. At the same meeting in 2012, he claimed the Big Bang was a “fairy tale” cooked up by “highfalutin scientists.”

When the doctor is challenged on his historical parallels, he claims he has either been misrepresented or misquoted, opting not to defend his position but to blame the media.

Much of Carson’s twaddle appears to be inspired by the 1958 book ‘The Naked Communist,’ in which the author heralds a Red plot to take over the world. “It reads like it was written last year,” Carson told Newsmax in 2014, while suggesting viewers read ‘Mein Kampf,’ to find out the truth about President Obama.

The ’58 tome was written by W. Cleon Skousen, a far right conspiracy theorist who, when not crusading against hidden communists in society, was warning against a cabal of global bankers. Although written half a century ago, this paranoia has become the tone for much of the right wing Internet, a vernacular that Carson is gleefully corralling into a run for the White House.

Policies aside, Carson is an odd chap – and not just because his eyelids look like a half-closed blinds with weights tied to the trim. The delicate tenor of his voice jars with the savagery of his rhetoric. Red faces etched with mounting dander usually deliver right wing bluster. Hearing Carson quietly mumble his way through musings on Hitler’s manifesto is jumbled.

The 64-year-old attributes his slow and measured demeanor to the tranquility of his faith. This maybe so, but faith likely accounts for Carson’s conspiratorial bent too. This is, after all, an educated man from Detroit who followed a successful career in medicine by becoming the author of hugely popular books in which he employed his own life story as an aspirational metaphor for the United States. Yet he speaks in sentences that could be cut from the bottom end of a comment board on YouTube.

It could be that the bounds of rationality have long since been breached. Carson fluffs with abandon his Seventh Day Adventism, a protestant sect that eagerly awaits the Second Coming of Christ. Central to the faith’s doctrine is the belief that the Son of God was due to swing by in 1844. He did not, but adherents insist he remains en route. If Carson can swallow that conspiracy with a straight face, perhaps it’s not surprising to find him indulging in more sinister make-believe, including jackboots goose-stepping up Pennsylvania Avenue.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

Shouting ‘gun control’ across the Atlantic isn’t going to save a single life

“What the fuck is wrong with America?” It’s the stock refrain that echoes across the rest of the developed world after another mass shooting blights an otherwise civilized, progressive and responsible state.

“Gun control,” comes the shout from Europe’s ancient capitals. Kill the Second Amendment; excise the law that routinely leaves bodies heaped in schools and churches across the bloodied republic.

It’s an easy answer and wholly unsatisfactory. Democratic America is what it chooses to be, but the issue is so aged, politicised and now polarised that banning guns is not only impossible, it would likely do little to stop the type of bloodshed witnessed last week in Roseburg.

Here’s what is known:

The US boasts a high murder rate — one of the highest in the developed world. Guns are likely the main cause of this higher rate, being the prime weapon in around 65 percent of all US murders.

An American is five times more likely to be murdered than a British person, and 40 times more likely to be murdered with a gun. However, overall crime rates in the US are falling, with the rate of gun deaths halved since the early Nineties.

Nobody knows how many guns there are in private hands. A 2007 Small Arms Survey suggested around 270million but it’s likely much higher.

The reason there is no national firearms database is because the government has not been allowed to create one. The gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association, argues that the government knowing who owns a gun is an infringement on the constitutional right to bear arms. Not only can Washington not stop citizens buying a gun, it doesn’t have the right to know who owns one.

Why is there no gun control?

The disproportionate power for the NRA, which plays on an old and ingrained distrust of the government, has turned Second Amendment absolutism into a test of identity. You cannot be a true Republican, a true conservative, a true constitutionalist, or a true American and countenance gun control, so they argue. Backed by the gun manufacturers, the NRA has money to bully politicians, funding those who display Second Amendment fidelity, while financing the opponents of politicians that pose a threat.

And there is plenty of money to go around. In the past seven years, the share price of most major gun manufacturers has increased; Sturm Ruger’s share price has gone up 700 percent since 2009.

The upsurge in sales is tied to the election of Barack Obama; gun enthusiasts, anxious that the commander-in-chief would enact gun control, responded by stockpiling weapons.

However, the gun lobby didn’t cause this anxiety. The election of the country’s first African-American president churned up a raft of ugly sentiment — racial, religious and social — allied to a shifting national demographic that led many citizens to feel America was changing and not for the better. The gun lobby feed off this anxiety while stoking the flames.

Despite the increase in sales, crime rates have still fallen. Yet the US retains a deserved reputation for gun violence. This is because although the overall trend is downward, the numbers of mass shootings, the type that capture national and international attention such as Oregon, are rising.

Would gun control work in the United States?

It is unlikely that implementing controls, such as background checks for buyers, would stop the type of mass shooting that increasingly plagues the national body.

Neither would banning guns, at least in the short term. There are an estimated 300 million weapons in circulation in the US; restricting access to guns, as enforced in the UK and Australia, would not hinder a determined buyer. The time for that has long passed.

And despite a succession of mass shootings (11 during Obama’s tenure alone), there remains little public appetite for gun prohibition. A 2011 poll showed that only 26 percent of US citizens want to ban handguns.

What onlookers can fail to appreciate is the depth of feeling towards concepts of liberty and individual freedom that burns in the national consciousness. Even if it were proven that gun controls would prevent mass shootings, some Americans would still resist.

The loathing for government restrictions is so deeply entrenched that there is almost no price for which many Americans would hand over their firearms. And for Second Amendment absolutists, the NRA included, liberty is so sacrosanct that they would be willing to endure any atrocity to retain the right — even if that means scraping 10 children off the wall every six months.

It’s a Faustian pact, but it’s also a choice. If there were a genuine demand for legal restrictions, candidates would emerge in regional and national elections campaigning on that plank — “vote for me, I’ll ban the guns.” Citizens would vote for those candidates en masse and the country would change. That they do not is down to crony capitalism and the influence of the NRA, but it’s also because Americans choose not to.

Here’s the real question: does a lack of gun control make mass shootings inevitable? This is where fact gives way to conjecture and politics. The NRA skillfully diverts attention away from guns after every massacre, framing the problem as a mental health issue.

But it’s a far broader cultural problem. So what is it about American culture that drives young men to take an automatic weapon to a school, church or cinema and start shooting?

Guns are part of the problem, but guns alone don’t turn sane people into mass murderers. Then again, there is something perverse and fetishistic in the way guns are revered in the US that is individual the country.

Opponents of the Second Amendment point to the success of banning weapons in the UK and Australia after the Dunblane and Port Arthur massacres. Would those countries have suffered further atrocities had guns not been banned? Possibly, but with the multitude of guns in circulation in the US (unlike in the UK and Australia) comparisons are problematic. The best you could say for a blanket ban is that it may eventually cause a cultural shift away from firearms, but probably not for generations.

It’s an ‘American’ problem.

Guns have become a tribal issue in a country increasingly separated by two opposing identities. Speaking about this article to an otherwise dispassionate and rational ally in the Midwest triggered a visceral response in which gun control was instantaneously dismissed. Likewise, speaking to colleagues in New York sparks an opposing but equally primal reaction.

This plays out on a national level with massacres met by entrenchment on both sides — those who believe guns make individuals safer and those who believe they make the country as a whole more dangerous. The makeup of these opposing groups falls along political, ethnic, social and geographic lines, as revealed by Pew polling.

Speaking after the shooting last Thursday, Obama scolded the nation for becoming “numb” to the problem. He is right; it has become “routine.” But the detachment is not because Americans don’t care… it’s because they don’t know what to do. Half the country advocates measures that wouldn’t stop mass shootings while the other half refuses to acknowledge the gun’s role in creating a destructive culture. And that, to answer the original question, is what is wrong with America.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

American election debates are even more contentious than their British counterparts

NEW YORK — The advent of American-style TV debates as part of the British electoral landscape proved hugely popular during the 2010 and 2015 general election campaigns. Yet for broadcasters, organising an event that can have such a decisive impact on the result (the 2010 success of the Liberal Democrats started with a strong debate performance by Nick Clegg) is a difficult exercise, balancing fairness to the candidates while providing a service to the electorate — all while creating a watchable spectacle.

Witness David Cameron’s machinations before the 2015 election in which the prime minister laboured to participate in the fewest debates with the most possible candidates. As the incumbent, he had the most to lose by either making a mistake or inadvertently bestowing statesmanlike parity on his rivals. The opposite ran true for the non-incumbents, whose natural inclination was to target the prime minister in the hope of gaining an imprimatur of legitimacy.

If dragging Cameron into a studio to face his adversaries was a testing task for the British broadcasters, that obstacle seems trite compared to the brouhaha engulfing the first Republican primary debate of the 2016 presidential election, scheduled for Cleveland, Ohio on August 6th.

The debate is being produced by a partnership of Fox News, Facebook and the Republican Party with the broadcaster deciding the best format would be to limit the number of candidates to 10. A second debate organised by CNN with the same format is scheduled for September. Unfortunately, there are currently 17 Republicans vying for the nomination, the largest presidential primary field in the history of the Party. So who makes the cut?

Fox News and CNN plan to use an average from five major national polls ahead of the debates. Unfortunately, polls are often wrong, particularly with some candidates polling similarly low numbers. Also, early polls tend to favour candidates with better name recognition. As such, the 10 candidates on stage in Ohio may not be the best 10 candidates in the Republican field.

Some are guaranteed a place on stage due to their consistent high polling. Businessman Donald Trump, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee will, short of a meltdown in the next two weeks, be at the debate.

Ted Cruz, who has suffered most from the Kraken-like emergence of Trump, is still likely safe. Trump’s nativist siren song has enchanted the party’s populist wing, a role formerly occupied by the Texas senator. Yet Cruz is polling high enough to not miss out. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Texas Governor Rick Perry, however, are in peril should a rival candidate surge.

Even if those 10 are the final selection, some heavyweight candidates will miss out, including former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who came second to Mitt Romney in the 2012 primary race, winning 11 states. Ohio Governor John Kasich (whose state hosts the debate) would also sit on the bench, alongside Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, businesswoman Carly Fiorina, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and former New York Governor George Pataki.

Critics, including Santorum, have complained about the “arbitrary” nature of the 10-person cut off, which could have far-reaching consequences for the nomination and even the Presidency. Those candidates who do make the cut will benefit from huge national exposure not only to prospective donors but also to voters in states the elect the Republican nominee early. Exclusion from the first two debates will, in effect, smother candidacies in their crib.

This has pushed some candidates to spend precious campaign dollars trying to secure enough support just to appear at the debate. Other aspirants – Graham and Perry – have turned on frontrunner Trump, hoping to build their profile by attacking the playground bully. Some have used the media to call for a rethink of the format, including Jindal, who argued in the Wall Street Journal that “all 16 candidates” should debate. Or as Graham brusquely reflected on the selection criteria, “It sucks.

The Republican National Committee hatched a plan to limit the 2016 primary race to just nine televised events hoping of avoid the exhaustive 2012 schedule in which candidates bloodied each other over 22 debates. The longer debate schedule gave Democrats time to organise, while leaving little more than a Romney Husk by the time he emerged the eventual Republican nominee.

As RNC Chairman Reince Priebus reflected after the 2012 defeat, “While we were playing footsie debating each other 22 times, they [the Democrats] were spending $100 million on technology.”

The move to limit the debates was designed to help Republican candidates with the aim of recapturing the presidency. However, by handing control of the debate mechanics to the broadcasters who, for production reasons have limited the number of participants, the RNC may well have distorted the democratic process, while inadvertently intensifying the internecine bloodshed.

Having reality TV star Trump and conservative author Carson on the stage makes for great TV. Yet having them ahead of senators and governors dilutes the Republican field. Also, unlike the British debates in April, which boasted three female participants, American voters will not be given a chance to hear the only woman in the Republican race, former Hewlett Packard Chief Executive Fiorina. As one of the lesser-known and lesser-funded candidates, a good debate performance could help the impressive Texan break out into the mainstream, while giving the field at least a whiff of diversity. That is unlikely to happen.

Yet despite the criticism, Fox News and CNN have shown no inclination to adjust the format. As Fox News Executive Vice President of News Michael Clemente told Bloomberg earlier this month: “National polls are the traditional, time-tested yardstick by which presidential hopefuls have long been measured and remain the fairest, most objective and most straight-forward metric for gauging the viability of these candidates.”

And why should they adjust the format? They are in the ratings business not the democracy business and will do whatever creates the most compelling TV. The problem rests with the RNC, which has done nothing to force a compromise. As Curt Anderson, a consultant to Jindal’s campaign, recently noted: “The Republican Party should be looking forward instead of backward — and seeking every opportunity to feature its roster of excellent candidates, rather than trying to find ways to constrict the field.”

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

The world consists chiefly of the vulgar

During the 1964 presidential election, Democratic incumbent Lyndon Johnson released a vulgar campaign advert equating his Republican opponent Barry Goldwater with nuclear annihilation.

The spot, which became known as “Daisy Girl,” represented political theatre at its most base, playing on the pervasive and real fear of Armageddon to corral voters on polling day. Such was the controversy it only aired once. That was enough with Johnson’s securing an historic landslide to return him to the White House.

Half a century later and the attack on Goldwater still resonates. Last week Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a Goldwater decent within the Libertarian family, announced his intention to run for the presidency.

On the same day a conservative group attacked Paul with a similarly vulgar $1 million TV campaign that played like a modern update to Sixties nuclear vignette. In the attack, the role of Soviet bogeyman was played by Iran, with President Obama (a Muslim fifth-columnist to many on the American right) cast as the facilitator via the nuclear agreement currently being whittled by Iranian and Western diplomats.

Yet unlike its political forebear, the attack on Paul did not originate from the Democratic Party but from a shadowy group tied to the GOP. To clarify: on the day Paul announced his bid for the White House, a group from within his own political stable unleashed an advertising campaign suggesting his candidacy could lead to a nuclear attack.

The group responsible for the spot is the Orwellian-named “Foundation for a Secure and Prosperous America,” a hawkish nonprofit cabal whose status allows it to conceal the donors that paid for the advert. Not only was the senator attacked by his own, he was mugged in the dark, his assailants delivering kicks from the political void.


Paul is a divisive politician, beloved by younger Republicans, untrusted by religious and social conservatives and feared by the party establishment. Yet it is his non-interventionist worldview that represents the biggest threat, particularly to the neocons for whom perpetual war offers the healthiest returns.

The Libertarian has been softening his isolationism in recent months, moving towards the Republican mainstream. However, he has abstained from the GOP push to sabotage the Iranian nuclear deal, a move compelled by reasons running from blind allegiance to the Israeli right to a rabid need to scupper Obama’s legacy. To the neocons any appeasement towards Iran is unthinkable, and certainly won’t be tolerated in a prospective Republican presidential nominee.

In comparison, the negative campaigning for the forthcoming UK election looks almost childish, despite the efforts of a few dilettantes at Conservative Central Headquarters exploiting a YouTube loophole to create anti-Labour online fare.

At least it’s the opposition attacking Ed Miliband and not a shadowy faction within his own party. What’s more, the nature of the British system means that any attack on a party leader, no matter how cutting, has little meaning across the constituencies. The electorate votes for their local MP rather than a party head, thus limiting the effectiveness of national character politics.

The veracity of the attack on Paul is as suspect as its sophistication. Yet the Senator is not just a hapless victim. Only hours after Hillary Clinton announced her intention to run on Sunday, the Paul campaign released a vulgar spot rehashing parts of a conspiracy theory suggesting the former secretary of state was responsible for the Benghazi attack in Libya in 2012.

Just because it isn’t true doesn’t mean it won’t be effective. “The vulgar crowd always is taken by appearances,” said the Prince, “and the world consists chiefly of the vulgar.”

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

The Christian right goes into meltdown

NEW YORK — The US Supreme Court delivered a tacit victory for advocates of gay marriage on Monday, refusing to hear appeals on whether individual states can ban marriage between same-sex couples.

As a result, 11 more states are likely to join the 19 already permitting gay marriage, leaving only 20 to go before the entire nation is draped in rainbow equality. That means roughly 60% of Americans now live in states where equal marriage is legal.

However, as campaigners pointed out the fight isn’t over until the Supreme Court provides a ruling covering all 50 states, bringing the country to what Evan Wolfson of the group Freedom to Marry called a “nationwide resolution”.

Still, the court’s sidestepping of the issue is a huge blow to America’s Christian right and advocates for the “sanctity” of traditional marriage – many of who reacted to the decision like this…

Public opinion in the US has so overwhelmingly moved in favour of gay marriage in recent years that even the Republican Party – nothing more than a vassal for well-financed bigotry of late – was reluctant to speak out against the court’s rejection.

Apart, of course, from Texas Senator Ted Cruz and his Utah factotum Mike Lee, with the latter echoing the former in condemning the court for “abdicating its duty to uphold the Constitution” and allow individual states to define marriage.

This would be the same sacred constitution Cruz now wants to amend to reverse the “tragic and indefensible” decision. Yet that was nothing compared to the collective stamping of feet across America’s heartland, as the Godly voiced their disapproval.

Take Peter LaBarbera, a social conservative activist and president of the pithily named Americans For Truth About Homosexuality, who concluded that as a result of the court’s decision Americans “live not in freedom but under tyranny”.

Allowing same-sex couple to marry was so egregious that LaBarbera even called for “civil disobedience on a massive scale”.

“God is not mocked: the Scriptures are clear that homosexual practice is an offense against both God and the very bodies of those who practice it (as is all sexual immorality),” he trumpeted.

Then there was Gordon Klingenschmitt, a former Navy chaplain who was once court-martialed for turning up to an anti-Obama rally in uniform, and who now makes a living on Christian TV.

He reacted with bluster, reminding his followers that “sodomy is still banned by God in all 50 states” and “God will have the last word”. He added: “Every child has a right to a mom and dad. Cruel judges now deny kids’ rights in 30 states.”

The Family Research Council was equally vexed, releasing a statement saying the court had “undermine[d] natural marriage and the rule of law”.

“As more and more people lose their livelihoods because they refuse to not just tolerate but celebrate same-sex marriage, Americans will see the true goal, which is for activists to use the Court to impose a redefinition of natural marriage on the entire nation,” the council squawked.

Focus on the Family similarly bellowed, “marriage has always been – and will always be – between a man and a woman… Ultimately, no court can change that truth”. More ominously the Faith and Freedom Coalition promised the Supreme Court that it would “reap a political whirlwind” for their inaction.

Troublingly for the GOP, the court’s decision has placed equal marriage back at the forefront of the national debate, and with a presidential election in 2016, it is not an issue prospective candidates can hope to duck – no matter how many times they deflect to “jobs” and “the economy”.

During the presidential primaries, the Christian right will expect Republican candidates to come out forcefully in favour of “traditional marriage” – anyone that doesn’t is unlikely to get nominated by the party.

Yet – and here’s the real quandary – any candidate that opposes equal marriage has almost zero chance of winning a national election. Short of praying for the Rapture, it’s a conundrum the Republican Party and its overly influential Christian base has yet to solve.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.