Perlstein: How a Trump loss might ‘wipe the slate clean’ for conservatism


Rick Perlstein, premier analyst of the conservative movement since 1960, explains how Donald Trump is Culmination and Aberration:

Isaac Chotiner: Ideologically and strategically, how do you think Trump’s loss will be understood among Republicans?

Perlstein: I’m kind of famous for coming up with a little epigram, “Conservatism never fails. It is only failed.” I came up with this during my long experience of studying the right, and realizing that basically anything that is politically successful is kind of labeled conservatism. Any failure is wiped off the books in this bad faith utterance that well, of course it failed because it wasn’t conservative. Romney wasn’t conservative enough. McCain wasn’t conservative enough. “Bush wasn’t conservative,” you began to hear in 2004, when the wheels came off the bus with Iraq, and all the rest.

That’s what we’ll hear, “Of course, Trump lost. He wasn’t conservative.” That allows everyone else in the Republican Party, basically, to push the infamous reset button. I think a lot of what we saw in the last couple of weeks with Trump’s various former supporters jumping ship, ostensibly because of this grotesque tape and the rest, is all about setting up that next move in the chess game. Everyone who has paid any kind of attention knew that Trump was this kind of guy in the first place. I think what we’ll see is the Paul Ryans and the Ted Cruzes, jockeying for the position of King of Conservatism saying, “We need to wipe the slate clean and go back to Reagan.” The dilemma that raises is that Trump has raised energies in the Republican electorate that may not be able to be so easily contained.

But Perlstein is skeptical about Hillary Clinton’s “actically shrewd and strategically questionable” attempts to reduce Trump into an outlier. Should the Democrats get the Senate (possible) and the House (not likely), Perlstein says he’s optimistic about Clinton’s progressive agenda:

The other day I allowed myself the fantasy of what a Clinton presidency is going to look like, and of course the big tactical question for every new president is which of their bills they introduce first, because that’s the one they have the most political capital to get across. I was like, well, it could be her paid family leave bill, it could be her bill for free college for everyone making under $125,000 and the debt relief for everyone. It could be her new tax credits for the very poor, who Peter Edelman—who resigned from the first Clinton administration over welfare reform—has said is the best poverty program he’s seen in a long time. I was like, wow, there really isn’t anything on her plate that isn’t a pretty strong, progressive, populist intervention. I’m pretty certain that there’s very little room for her to abandon that. She’s laid down some pretty strong markers

This would mean, of course, progressives avoiding the slough of victory whereby the fight against Trump exhausts all concerned.

Tonight I will live blog the third and, thankfully, last presidential debate.

‘A 10-year tax cut is not a bad deal’

As if watching reporters wading into ankle deep water for the sake of a hurricane wasn’t laughable enough, here’s what Speaker Paul Ryan has in store for the country should Donald Trump lay his hand on Art of the Deal and take the oath in January 2017: pass his budget using that wondrous parliamentary trick called reconciliation, last used by the Democrats in spring 2010 to pass the Affordable Care Act.

Trump and House Republicans have proposed different tax plans, but they are largely in sync on major principles. Both would cut the top tax rate for individuals to 33 percent from the current 39.6 percent. The corporate rate would drop to 15 percent under Trump’s plan and 20 percent under the House GOP plan, from 35 percent today. Both plans also would drain federal coffers of several trillion dollars and give the biggest boost to the wealthy. By the end of the decade, the richest 1 percent would have accumulated 99.6 percent of the benefits of the House GOP plan, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.

Grover Norquist provides the most telling quote: “A 10-year tax cut is not a bad deal. Very few things in life are forever.” St. Ronnie once said that he wasn’t jumping a cliff for the sake of a hundred percent of a proposal if he could get sixty. An old pro, Norquist understands the magnitude of Ryan’s budget; passing or “reconciling” even a sliver of it would change the relationship of the federal taxing power and citizens.

Another reminder to my liberal colleagues of what’s at stake. There will be no Democratic resistance to Trump and a Republican House in January because, like Florida, they have no meaningful way to stop this shit.

College Republicans for Trump: ‘…he speaks like a person of my generation’

Los pobres!

At Mr. Trump’s alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, Grayson Sessa, the vice president of the school’s College Republicans, said he was dismayed by the nominee’s name-calling and hoped the party’s values could withstand him. “It’s not a great feeling,” he said.

At Yale, the chapter’s endorsement of Mr. Trump led to a mutiny, with departing members forming the Yale New Republicans and Yale Undergraduate Conservatives Against Trump. And at Harvard, alma mater of countless Republican leaders, the club’s president, Declan Garvey, 21, said that between Mr. Trump and Hillary Clinton, “I would have to vote for Hillary.”

But Karis Lockhart, the chairwoman of the University of Central Florida chapter, whose parents met as College Republicans, said that those who could not bring themselves to vote for Mr. Trump were being overly sensitive.

She argued that Mr. Trump would bring in new voters who would help in other races on the ballot. “He’s dumbing it down for people who don’t want the numbers and statistics,” she said approvingly.

College Republicans are a bigger albeit subtler force on my campus than you’d think in fervently blue Miami-Dade County; this chapter and student government are practically synonymous. As baiting minorities looks less acceptable, this iteration of conservatism treasures low taxes and “responsibility” with a healthy dose of received anti-Clintonism, the latter of which they learned from parents if they’re Cuban. Gay marriage they’re cool with — a “non-issue” as they like to say. Sea level rise they avoid as a discussion point, especially on a campus which produces excellent research showing its effects. Student who attend a commuter school have it hard: they’re at war with the small-l-liberal education of the classroom and their parents’ attitudes.

Hillary Clinton will court the GOP at her peril


Last week I wondered whether Donald Trump represents a Unique Threat or a Culmination. I tend to think both, an answer that isn’t a contradiction. But the short term goals of expanding Hillary Clinton’s electoral chances will come at the price of a governing coalition. A historian who has written three masterful books about the rise of conservatism since 1960, Rick Perlstein is more adept than most at placing the Clinton campaign’s folly in historical context:

Large numbers of supporters of only glancing or provisional commitment to your governing agenda, shoehorned into your tent in time for Election Day, can become quite the liability for effectuating that agenda when it comes time to govern.

Championing a revision to the tax code, President Jimmy Carter watched as the bill behind which he threw executive support was eviscerated by the very Democrats elected in 1974 and 1976 as part of the national disgust over Watergate and other Nixon-era abuses (the same class of which Joseph Biden, Jr. of Delaware was a member). Perlstein again:

In October 1978, a Congress with more than two-to-one Democratic representation voted for the first time in history to make the tax code more regressive. In each of the progressive measures that was defeated, the deciding votes came from first- or second-term Democratic congressmen. The reason for this poor fortune for the New Deal legacy, paradoxically, was precisely what was understood to be the good fortune of the Democratic Party: habitual Republicans disgusted with their party after Watergate were voting for Democrats for the first time. Many of the Watergate Babies represented traditionally Republican suburbs. They went to Washington and voted their constituencies. It was one of the reasons—though there were many—that Jimmy Carter geared up to run for his second term with the albatross of a failed presidency around his neck.

(Walter Karp’s Liberty Under Siege is the classic guide; please buy it). In the heady days of December 2006 — a decade ago! — when Rahm Emmanuel proclaimed his Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee a model for the future the party had been demoralized for so long that it wanted to win.

In hindsight it reminds me of the Republican Party in 1952, banished from public life since Hoover’s defeat twenty (!) years earlier. Whom did it run? Not “Mr. Republican” Robert Taft but the war hero with the terrifying smile and no political experience other than the formidable task of leading the Allied armies against Hitler. Dwight Eisenhower won in a landslide; the GOP, campaigning on change, won the House and Senate for the first time since 1946. But Eisenhower was a shrewder pol than anyone realized, which is to say, he cared about his survival more than his party’s. The New Deal remained not just popular but a fact of American public life (“Should any political party attempt to abolish social security unemployment insurance and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history,” he wrote his brother Milton). So starved was the GOP for victory that it abdicated any notions of conservatism. It became a consumptive brother of the Democrats with lunatic fringes dismissed by Lionel Trilling’s liberal consensus. The results? In 1954 the Republicans lost the House and Senate again, out of reach for forty years — the longest exile in America political history. 1958 was another huge rebuke. Ike regarded Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Baines Johnson as a better governing partner than William Knowland.

History is cunning. Without those majorities in 2006 and 2008 my unemployed friends wouldn’t have Obamacare, but without those Blue Dog Dems we would have had sturdier progressive legislation — not perfect, but perhaps less market-driven. Clinton won’t flip the House. Hell, she may not even flip the Senate. But she’s already signaling how the rest of us might write the epitaphs in 2020.

Gary Johnson’s fealty to eliminating government

I don’t think friends and relatives who say they’ll vote for Gary Johnson are deluded; I think they know precisely whom they’re voting for. As governor of New Mexico, Johnson showed a “relentless drive to privatize or eliminate functions of state government.”

Johnson originally ran on a platform of privatizing every jail in the state — “that way,” he reasoned, “we’ll always have the latest and greatest and best.” His first budget proposal included $91 million for a new privately run state prison.

As Joseph T. Hallinan reports in his book on the US prison system, Going Up the River, Johnson accepted at least $9,000 in campaign donations from a prison company that ultimately won a state contract. By the time he left office, New Mexico led the country in for-profit prisons, housing 44 percent of its inmates in private facilities. Only Alaska, with 31 percent, came close.

Whenever problems surfaced in the for-profit prisons, Johnson turned extremely defensive. In 2000, after four inmates and a guard were killed in private facilities, Johnson vetoed an oversight bill and startled reporters by insisting that New Mexico had the best prisons in the nation. When a riot in a private prison prompted him to send 109 inmates elsewhere, he selected a supermax prison run by the same company in Virginia — despite previous reports of human-rights violations. To this day Johnson is remorseless, saying he “saved taxpayers a lot of money.”

Johnson’s preference for private prisons dovetailed with his tough-on-crime philosophy. As governor, he advocated a three-strikes sentencing policy and a law eliminating early parole. He also sought to limit appeals from death row and even said capital punishment should sometimes be used on minors. (He later changed his mind and said he wanted to eliminate the death penalty altogether; he still believed in “an eye for an eye” but thought that as a policy, it was too costly and unfair.)

In other words, he’s a Republican, insofar as the libertarian and Republican positions are interchangeable these days: note how Sam Brownback has turned Kansas into an abattoir for ideas about government’s commitment to citizens. And while Hillary Clinton wasn’t shy about accepting dough from private prison lobbyists, at least she’s renounced the practice. I’m sorry about William Weld’s association with Johnson. Once one of the last of the moderate Rockefeller Republicans (he quit Ed Meese’s Justice Department in protest over the Wedtech scandal, he’s tied himself to libertarianism because his former party has no use for men of his kind.

Fomenting distrust in mainstream media

Oliver Darcy interviewed right talk show host Charlie Sykes, who admitted the truth:

Over the years conservative talk show hosts, and I’m certainly one of them, we’ve done a remarkable job of challenging and attacking the mainstream media. But perhaps what we did was also the destroy any sense of a standard. Where do you go to have any sense of the truth? You have Donald Trump come along and the man says things that are demonstrably untrue on a daily basis. My experience has been look, we live in an era when every drunk at the end of the bar has a twitter account and maybe has a blog and when you try to point out “this is not true, this is a lie” and then you cite the Washington Post or the New York Times, their response is “oh that’s the mainstream media.” So we’ve done such a good job of discrediting them that there’s almost no place to go to be able to fact check.

No revelations, just exposure of MO.

Krugman: GOP ‘currying’ favor with bigots for tax cuts

Paul Krugman, never a writer of felicitous prose, reminded me in clear English of Obama administration tax policy in the last four years:

What’s that? It’s the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate of the average federal tax rate for the top 1 percent in 2013, the latest year available. And it’s up from just 28.2 in 2008, because President Obama allowed the high-end Bush tax cuts to expire and imposed new taxes to pay for a dramatic expansion of health coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Taxes on the really, really rich have gone up even more.

If Hillary Clinton wins, taxes on the elite will at minimum stay at this level, and may even go up significantly if Democrats do well enough in congressional races to enable her to pass new legislation. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimates that her tax plan would raise the average tax rate for the top 1 percent by another 3.4 percentage points, and the rate for the top 0.1 percent by five points.

But if “populist” Donald Trump wins, taxes on the wealthy will go way down; in particular, Mr. Trump is calling for elimination of the inheritance tax, which these days hits only a tiny number of really yuuuge estates (a married couple doesn’t pay any tax unless its estate is worth more than $10.9 million).

When the rest of Washington asks whither Paul Ryan’s soul (don’t worry: no soul to leave), Krugman has none of it: “Just to be clear, I’m not saying that top Republicans were or are personally bigoted — but that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that they were willing to curry favor with bigots in the service of tax cuts for the rich and financial deregulation.”

Alas, poor whites

Conservative think tanks still hatch rotten eggs. The Republican Party’s reform plan on 2002 having been consigned to ignominious exile, leaders must give interns at Koch summer camps and Heritage Action for America some work that justifies their salaries. What they have in mind:

Whether Mr. Trump prevails or the party is left to rebuild from defeat, these conservatives in think tanks, advocacy groups and the news media — and a few in political office — will be pressing for a new agenda: to update the Reagan-era playbook with an eye to working-class voters without a college education who form the Republican base. Ronald Reagan’s notions that policies that benefit the rich and big business lift all incomes now appear outmoded in an era of rising wealth inequality and stagnant wages.

“Update” is the key word. What is one of those ideas?

Rule out fully privatizing Social Security and Medicare, and reassure workers they will be exempt from cost-cutting.

• Acknowledge that universal health care is here to stay, but push for market-oriented changes.

The “but” is key; the reporter could have used “butt,” for that’s what these ideas are. To anyone who doesn’t rely on Social Security and don’t rely on Affordable Care Act plans and Medicaid subsidies, these “market-based solutions” amount to purloined drivel from human resources seminars. And what is “fully” doing modifying the verb “privatizing”? So often do reporters gloss over the subtle horrors of “entitlement reform” that their work implicitly aborbs conservative messages. Who can balk at the word “reform,” right? The choice is designed to appeal to the guilt at the heart of the liberal imagination?

Lessons learned

What I learned about Republicans from watching their convention in Cleveland:

1. They have a special affinity for Station to Station, David Bowie’s 1976 masterpiece about the kabbalah and the search for lasting love after snorting shovelfuls of cocaine.

2. Rick Perry, who no doubt keeps a framed printout of this post, wears glasses like Ronald Reagan wearing spangled purple space boots.

3. Confirming what we learned from a former ghostwriter about his attention span and probing intellect, Donald Trump was calling FOX News shooting the shit with Bill O’Reilly while Patricia Smith and the dude from Duck Dynasty did his bidding.

4. The phrase “the weaponization of grief.” It’s by Steve Schmidt, John McCain’s former 2008 campaign manager, the man who didn’t light himself on fire after introducing the world to Sarah Palin.

5. For months I’ve waited for Trump to get so carried away in one of his arias of incoherence that he’ll call Hillary Clinton the b word or the c word. It’s going to happen.

6. I figured out which movie star Chuck Todd studied to perfect his haircut.

7. Gazing at the non-crowd, I think, “This is what America looked like in 1976.”

8. “Mike Pence is headed for the RNC” is a sentence I expected to hear after “Addressing the RNC is Scott Baio.”

Bob Bennett: ‘He wanted to apologize on behalf of the Republican Party’


In 2010, Colorado senator Bob Bennett got his comeuppance when his support for TARP won him the ire of Tea Party members, then at the apogee of their power. The abortion and gay marriage opponent and Patriot Act supporter famously lost a primary to the curiously illiterate Mike Lee, often considered an expert on a Constitution that froze in 1861. To quote The Magnificent Ambersons, Bennett had gotten his comeuppance — and his cup runneth over. Dying of pancreatic cancer, Bennett shared regrets with his wife and son, both of whom then spoke to The Daily Beast in a legacy-building effort:

Are there any Muslims in the hospital?” he asked.

“I’d love to go up to every single one of them to thank them for being in this country, and apologize to them on behalf of the Republican Party for Donald Trump,” Bennett told his wife and son, both of whom relayed this story to The Daily Beast.

The rise of Donald Trump had appalled the three-term Utah senator, a Republican who fell victim to the Tea Party wave of the 2010 midterms. His vote for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, had alienated many conservative activists in his state, who chose lawyer Mike Lee as the GOP nominee for Senate instead.


As they traveled from Washington to Utah for Christmas break, Bennett approached a woman wearing a hijab in the airport.

“He would go to people with the hijab [on] and tell them he was glad they were in America, and they were welcome here,” his wife said. “He wanted to apologize on behalf of the Republican Party.”

“He was astonished and aghast that Donald Trump had the staying power that he had… He had absolutely no respect for Donald Trump, and I think got angry and frustrated when it became clear that the party wasn’t going to steer clear of Trumpism,” his son relayed.

We love posting these stories. A man whose senatorial tenure worsened the lives of millions of people, including his constituents, purportedly said the words he couldn’t say aloud in DC, much less Denver. Death loosens lips.


EDIT: I had no idea about Bennett’s CIA past, including involvement in the Watergate and ITT scandals.

Trump as conservative – who cares?

Charles Krauthammer shook with excitement when Donald Trump released a list of conservative justices he might nominate to the Supreme Court. Why not? It’s an updated list of the horrors that keep popping up since the days when we used Palm Pilots (I’m offended Miguel Estrada and Janice Rogers Brown didn’t make the cut). The relief on the conservative side exemplifies the gradual but eventual surrender of every principle to Trumpism, reducing to clickbait all those stories published by Slate and the like in early May about the GOP “establishment” bemoaning its candidate.

Paul Waldman:

When Republicans in Congress craft legislation, is he going to stay up late at night going over each sub-section to make sure they reflect his beliefs? Of course not — they’ll pass it, he’ll sign it, and he won’t bother reading more than the title. Is he going to worry about who all his undersecretaries and deputy secretaries are, and make sure he agrees with the policy decisions they make? Not on your life. He’ll say, “Get me some fabulous people, really top-notch, the best” — and the Republicans around him will put the same people in those positions who would have served in any Republican administration.

Trump has said many things during the campaign that contradict conservative dogma. So what? If you’re a conservative worried about some policy stance Trump took today, you can just wait until the next time he gets asked about the same topic, and he’ll say something completely different. That may mean he isn’t committed to your position deep in his heart, but that doesn’t matter. If on a particular day as president he takes some policy stance that runs counter to conservative ideology, is he really going to care enough to pursue it, especially when the people around him are objecting? Or is he more likely to say, “Eh, whatever — what else is going on today?”

In a section I didn’t cite, Waldman classifies Ike as a president independent of GOP orthodoxy, which is true insofar as he didn’t touch Social Security and transformed Harry Truman’s CIA into a Murder, Inc, but he also believed in balanced budgets and such.

Trump is conservative and not conservative. By showing the malleability of positions when power’s at stake, he’s called the bluff of every Republican since January 1981 who bellyached about Hayek and von Mises.

General Ross Douthat and his civil war

A time will soon come when our descendants will look at writers like Ross Douthat like the speaker in Shelley’s “Ozymandias” staring at ruins. Here’s another meteor slamming into Pangaea:

With Marco Rubio’s grudging, painful statement this week that he intends to support “the nominee” (for many Republicans, He Who Must Not Be Named), and with Paul Ryan possibly contemplating assimilation, it’s a good time to take one last look back at what I got wrong — oh, so very wrong — about the Republican Party’s leadership in the age of Donald Trump.

You and I both know this look won’t be the last. Five months and several thousand words await, not to mention the inevitable post mortem on November 9.

Before Trump’s emergence, the Republican elite was in the midst of a long-running civil war, pitting the much-hated “establishment” against the much-feared “base,” the center-right against the Tea Party, the official party leadership against a congeries of activists, media personalities and up-and-coming right-wing politicians.

The scare quotes give the game away. The “establishment” vaporized on January 20, 2009 when a black Democrat called Barack Hussein Obama put his hand on the Bible, looked Chief Justice John Roberts in the eye, and delivering the oath of office (and causing Roberts to himself fumble the words of the oath). The vapors faded when several months later a congressman named Patrick Wilson called the president of the United States a liar on national television.

But beneath the noise of battle, the establishment’s leaders and the base’s tribunes were often in near-agreement on policy (or, in some cases, on the absence thereof). The establishment wanted a more cosmopolitan and compromise-oriented party and the base a more socially conservative and combative one.

The first sentence – yep. The second – well, if you consider cutting taxes for the rich and stepping away from Mitt Romney and Bob Dole’s health plans and example of being compromise-oriented, I’ll order a round of Cosmopolitans.

Then the person whom Lord Dothan calls The Great Exposer complicated this game of bridge.

Beyond confusion and incompetence, though, there was also flirtation, normalization and finally acceptance, as a wide array of figures whose own commitments seemed incompatible with Trumpism decided that he was worth defending and eventually supporting.

Hell, no legislator wants to pass up an invitation to Sunday brunch at Cokie’s or lukewarm coffee on Chuck Todd’s show. Besides, legislators need to send their kids to private school too. They remember how good they had it in, oh, 2005.

Of course many converts to Trumpism were motivated simply by expediency, ambition, power worship.

“Many” = “all.” “Simply” = “inevitably.”

But many were clearly motivated by grudges and fears instilled by the party’s civil war, and by a sense that even though Trump might represent a grave threat to their vision of Republicanism, it would still be better to serve under his rule for a season than to risk putting their hated intraparty rivals in the catbird seat.

Now I’ve reached the diseased heart of the column. After digging a chasm as deep as a puddle between himself and the participants in his invented civil war, Douthat hints at how he’ll write the terms of his own surrender.

For those of us who have long been frustrated precisely by the smallness of those differences, the narrowness of the G.O.P. policy debate, it’s a particularly staggering result:

Sez the man who ten days ago explained how he and everyone else, including libs, want a king for president. Sez the man who wondered why gays have to be so goddamn pushy to churchgoers.

It is possible that a dishonorable, cowardly, unprincipled course will yield the result that many in both G.O.P. factions clearly crave: Trump defeated in the general election, his ideas left without a champion, and then a reversion to the party’s status quo ante, to the comforts of a tactically narrow “wacko birds versus RINOs” family feud.

But then again it’s possible that the establishment and the Tea Party are more like Byzantium and Sassanid Persia in the seventh century A.D., and Trumpism is the Arab-Muslim invasion that put an end to their long-running rivalry, destroyed the Sassanid Dynasty outright, and ushered in a very different age.

George Will is the only conservative columnist allowed to make inapposite historical and literary allusions, buddy!