Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Price of No Leadership

After beginning this blog with commentary on the 2012 Republican Primary (the first few posts are gone because I wrote them on another website which is gone), I have not written about the 2016 primary hardly at all. The only exception was a rather minor shout-out to Carly Fiorina for a single comment. I have tried to write other things. There's an unfinished post called the Two Faces of Reagan about Rubio and Cruz possessing different Reaganesque characteristics. That one will never be finished. There's another one about Trump called Abdominal Inspiration that I started the same day and with the same intro as this post. I don't think I've written much about the primary because I realized very early on that I did not understand what was happening. When asked the direct question by a friend who I thought was going to win, I answered Ted Cruz, and this was when his poll numbers had zero within the margin of error. From the unfinished post:

"Cruz's positions on everything have been perfect, and he is the only Republican out of the entire field of 17 initial candidates who understands how to handle the media. That ability, which comes so naturally to liberals and progressives, is exceedingly rare among Republican politicians."

Everyone is so focused on Trump we are all forgetting that Cruz would have won if Kasich had dropped out when he had no chance of winning, which was somewhere around Never, 2014. We are forgetting that Trump never got above 40% in the early primaries where it counts, and the only reason the Republican Party nominated this despicable douchebag is a failure of leadership. But I'll get to that.

So I did what I have learned very few people are capable of doing: I admitted I was wrong not just by happenstance or because I didn't care, or because I was wrong in a particular but not the general. None of that is acceptable to me, and it never has been. Reality trumps what goes on in my own head, because my own head is not that very big of a place when it comes down to it. I was wrong because I misunderstood something fundamental. I saw this great quote by T.S. Eliot somebody posted on Facebook. "Humankind cannot bear very much reality." Perhaps not, but maybe one individual human can. It sort of reminds me of this other less famous quote that's been going around in my head for months now. I was talking to my atheist professor of history in college in his office, one of the very few times I went to a prof's office. I was a biochemistry major, but he was probably the best teacher I ever had there. He didn't use a textbook. He had us read books. You know, actual books that changed history when it was still fluid and uncertain. It was so refreshing I didn't even care that the books he chose were by Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud. I ate it up because it was real. It was the kind of class I'd always thought college was supposed to have, where students stop being babies and whiners, crying to the teacher about too much homework, and actually start giving a shit about the subject. Anyway, I remember two main things about that conversation, other than some of his interest in the more local history of Nebraska. The first was his observation that Marx was ultimately wrong. The socialists revolutions he predicted did not occur in advanced capitalist, industrial societies. They in fact occurred in backwards agrarian societies, primarily Russia and China. The second was his own observation that at any given time in history, in any given country, forty percent of the population are complete fucking morons. I never forgot that, but generally, complete fucking morons don't vote, so I figured we were safe. Unfortunately, I guess they do vote when one of their own is running.

I have only recently become loosely, barely involved in actual real life politics. And my short experience has taught me very quickly that at the local level where hardly anyone is paying attention, high voter turnout is usually bad news for the conservative insurgent candidate. That's why conservative activists love run-off elections and rainy election days. Run-offs and rainy days have much lower turnout. And when we are talking about something like 5% of registered voters voting in a presidential primary, imagine how many we are talking about in a primary run-off election for a state house seat. So basically if you can get a similar level of name recognition as your opponent, which normally only happens in a race for an open seat, then the activists will tip the scales in your favor. But I was slow to translate that into a national campaign. I assumed these were the gamey types of things you can do to win low turnout elections and that at the national level everything would average out, making it much more difficult to game it. So much media coverage and information is available about a presidential campaign that I thought people were on the whole making better informed decisions. I thought that conservatives have a harder time winning local elections because there's much less information out there, people don't care as much and all of that translates to less informed voters. But turns out that even at the national level the same basic principle applies just the same as in every other race: Name recognition is everything. The vast majority of the tiny number of registered voters who actually bother to vote in a primary are still doing so primarily on the basis of simply checking the box beside a name they recognize from somewhere. Almost the entirety of every political race is decided by whose name people recognize more than the other names in the race. All the punditry, all the policy positions and even televised debates in the end boil down to one thing: How many people know your name? Donald Trump won because his was a household name brand for thirty or forty years. That's it, and that's all. Everyone knew his name. Not enough people knew the other guys in the race. So when all those complete fucking morons somehow found a polling station and wandered in, and they stared glassy eyed at that long list of names, one name jumped out. "Hey! I know that guy!" Check.

Politics is a stupid game played by stupid men. The fact that the dumbest of the lot ended up winning should not have surprised me. And here we have a nice segue way to the thesis of the post, namely, that Donald Trump beat the "geniuses" who run the Republican Party because he was even dumber and more shameless than they were, if that were possible. In fact, Donald Trump seems to know he is stupid and shameless, which is actually an advantage because it gives him a counter intuitive kind of honesty. Not, of course, honesty in the substance, or lack thereof, of what he's saying, but honesty about what politics is really about. So the Donald didn't give a shit about anything that he was supposed to. He didn't care about his speeches, his policy papers, his campaign staff or anything that all the smart people think matters. He had the name brand, and they didn't, so nothing else mattered. Instead of taking the high road and letting all those establishment hacks do his dirty work for him with the attack ads and whisper campaigns, he did all those things himself. And all the voters that the establishment hacks have been playing like violins for years ate it up. Finally a candidate who accuses his opponent's father of being involved in the assassination of JFK!  Out of his own mouth! Right on TV!  Who needs establishment money when the candidate can do his own attack ads on Twitter and the nightly news?

The establishment was not prepared for this, and neither were conservatives, because we all failed to recognize what my history professor, and also the Founding Fathers of this country, knew years ago: A very, very large number of people are very, very stupid. Actually I think I'm being a bit derogatory towards the establishment. Of course they knew there are a lot of stupid people. They are the ones who win elections by throwing all that money they have into negative advertising, and they know it works. The problem is this time Trump got all those voters, so there was nothing they could do. The real conservative candidates were splitting the conservative vote, again, because our movement has no leadership. Hats off to Tony Perkins though. At least he tried. And the Republican Party leadership was rendered toothless because Donald Trump took all their idiot voters on whom they depend to win primaries and keep control of the party. Make no mistake about it: Donald Trump's nomination only happened due to a failure in leadership, both in the Republican Party establishment and the conservative movement. And now we are all wondering the exact same thing all those ancient Egyptians must have wondered about the inbred sons of their inbred Pharaohs: I know he's next in line, but are we seriously going to be led by this guy?

Now that's whack.