On the Difficulty of Replacing an Establishment

There’s an effort afoot to replace pretty much every last Republican in Congress with other Republicans more loyal to President Donald Trump. So far, it does not bode well for the party.
Anti-establishment fervor has already cost the Republicans a much-needed Senate seat in Alabama, of all places. Republicans in the state could have picked the guy who had been a reliable vote for whatever the party wants for the year he as an appointed replace for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but he’d been appointed by an unpopular governor and was backed by an unpopular senate majority leader, and Alabamians are in the same anti-establishment they’ve been in well before the Civil War. They could have also chosen an outspoken “tea party” congressman, who’s also an outspoken critic of the party’s establishment, but apparently his incumbency tainted him as just a bit too establishment.
Instead they chose Roy Moore, an unabashed theocrat who had twice been kicked off Alabama’s Supreme Court for defying the rule of law, had all sorts of crazypants opinions about matters ranging from slavery to women’s suffrage, railed at length about illegal immigrations but was unaware in a radio interview about the “dreamers” debate, and was quite credibly accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl and hitting on numerous other underage girls when he was in his early 30s. At least he wasn’t some milquetoast Republican establishment type, which is what a plurality of Republican Alabamians apparently care about most. A big chunk of the party wasn’t quite anti-establishment enough to vote for the likes of Moore, though, and black turnout was bigger that it was for either of President Donald Trump’s campaign, the youth vote went largely for the Democrat, the white women’s vote was well below what Republicans usually draw, and the Republicans wound up losing in Alabama of all places.
The Grand Old Party can hope that by the time the mid-term votes are being cast a short-attention-span public will have long forgotten Moore, as well as Trump’s enthusiastic support of his candidacy, along with the hated Republican establishment’s eventual begrudging and more muted support. They’ll have to avoid nominating similarly flawed candidates, however, and the anti-establishment wing of the party seems chockfull of them.
Out in Arizona there’s some enthusiasm for the Senate candidacy of one Kelli Ward, who has endeared herself to the state’s anti-establishment Republicans with her frequent criticisms of the state’s two Republican senators. They were hoping he would defeat Sen. Jeff Flake, who has been a reliable vote for the party’s agenda but also a harsh critic of Trump’s rhetoric and ethics, so he’s already announced he won’t seek re-election. He freely admits he would have likely lost a primary challenge, given the current anti-establishment mood of his party, but we think he might have fared better in a general election than Ward will should she wind up the party’s nominee.
She’s an osteopath and a State Senator and unabashedly conservative, which somehow doesn’t diminish her burn-it-down anti-establishment reputation, and all the right talk radio hosts like her. She doesn’t seem so awful as Moore and isn’t likely to have any sex scandals uncovered, so she’d be a favorite in a general election, but we suspect a more boring Republican would be a more prohibitive favorite.
Ward once went on Alex Jones’ conspiracy-theory-peddling “Infowars” program, and when he warned her to “watch your back” after criticizing Republican Sen. John McCain because “that guy is just such a gangster” she admitted she had considered her friends advice to get a remote starter for her car in case of a bomb and added that “We are always very cautious and I always have people around me who are providing security, which is great.” She ran a primary campaign against McCain in 2016, railing against all the heretical votes McCain has cast over a long career, and hoped to capitalize on McCain’s lack of enthusiasm for Trump, but she lost by a 51 to 39 percent margin, and of course McCain won easily in the general election.
She’s also such a build-that-wall hard-liner on illegal immigration that she sneers at the departing Flake as an “open borders guy,” despite his impeccably Republican voting record, and she lavished Trump with praising for pardoning Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio for cracking down on native born American citizens who looked a little too much like illegal immigrants. That will play well with the Trumpian plurality of Republican voters, but Arizona has a long history of voting for the sorts of establishment Republicans Ward is slightly worried are wanting to kill her, and to the extent the party is associated with her it won’t help in more closely contested states any more than Moore did.
Trump has “tweeted” favorably about Ward in the past, especially back when he she was contesting McCain, that loser who is only considered a war hero because he got captured, but after she lost the praise was less frequent, but it picked up a bit when she was a potential challenger to Flake, or “Flake Jeff Flake” as Trump always calls him in his “tweets.” Flake’s not running, though, and some more boring Republican might be more likely to keep the seat, so we weren’t surprised by The Washington Post’s report that Trump merely “exchanged pleasantries” with her she showed up at Mar-a-Lago during his Christmas vacation. If she winds up with the nomination we’re sure he’ll be right back to “tweeting” her praises, but until then even Trump seems leery of these very anti-establishment types.
The effort afoot to burn down the establishment and replace it with more Trump-like politicians largely driven by former Trump political strategist and current Breitbart.com editor Steve Bannon, who backed Moore to the bloody end is still on board with Ward, but even he’s backing off from his previous pick to unseat House Speaker Paul Ryan in his Wisconsin district. Ryan was once a Tea Party darling but is now another one of those hated establishment types, in large part because he’s occasionally admitted his embarrassment about something Trump had done or said or “tweeted,” but by now Trump has to admit the House has been far more effective than the Senate in passing his bills and doing his bidding on those pesky investigations of the “Russia thing,” and we figure that an effort by businessman Paul Nehlen to unseat him in the primary would be as futile as his last attempt.
Bannon was still backing Nehlen, though, until Nehlen “tweeted” about Jewish supremacy and his own pro-white views. He’d been on “alt-right” sites long before, accusing Ryan of spending taxpayer dollars to cover up sexual deviancy and “replace American whites with Anti-white substandard foreign H1B and H2B key pushers,” and expressed various other crazypants opinions on white nationalist programs, but by now even Bannon’s had enough.
The Republicans can surely find better candidates, but they’re going to have recruit more than the usual number. Ryan is reportedly among the many incumbents who won’t be seeking re-election next year, most of whom were reliable votes for the Republican agenda but never very enthusiastic about Trump’s rhetoric and ethics, and winning an open seat is always harder than winning re-election. Harder yet if fealty to an unpopular president is a requisite for a Republican nomination, and anyone with relevant experience on a resume is regarded with suspicion.

— Bud Norman

Things Get Moore Strange in Alabama

There’s an awful lot going on in the world these days, with another round of hurricanes in the Caribbean and a second big earthquake in Mexico and the escalating war of schoolyard taunts on the now nucqearized Korean Peninsula and all those recent “Russia” revelations, but we can’t keep our eye off that special election t coming up next Tuesday in Alabama. President Donald Trump is scheduled to be in the state today to campaign for his preferred candidate, which suggests the matter also commands his attention despite everything else going on in the world these days, and of course his involvement makes the whole thing even harder to figure.
In case you don’t usually follow Alabama politics, as we usually don’t, the state is finally getting around to picking a successor to Sen. Jeff Sessions, who resigned his seat to become Trump’s Attorney General. Sessions seems to have been Attorney General forever by now, and we’re sure it seems even longer than that to him, but they take their time about doing things down south, and the Republicans are just now getting around to choosing their candidate for a general election that will occur somewhere down the road and  whichever Republican will surely win. One reason for the delay is that the Republicans had to hold an open-first primary to select the two run-off candidates, and given the nature of Alabama politics and the Republican party as a whole and the further complications of Trump’s intervention that was hard not to watch.
In the primary there were three credible and intriguing candidates. One was Rep. Mo Brooks, a one of those hard-line conservatives who voted against anything that wasn’t hard-line conservative enough no matter what the rest of the Republican caucus was going along with, and he was favored by all the talk radio hosts and the nationalist and populist Steve Bannon wing of the White House. Another was former state Supreme Court Judge Ray Moore, best known for twice being removed the bench for refusing to comply with Supreme Court rulings regarding public displays of the Ten Commandments and same-sex marriage, who was enthusiastically supported by the same evangelical voters who supported Trump. There was also the former state Attorney General Luther Strange, who had been warming Session’s seat as a temporary replacement and was a chosen son of the much-reviled-by-talk-show-listeners and Trump and most other Republicans Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, but for reasons no one can explain Trump also endorsed Strange.
As confusing as it must have been to the average Republican Alabamian, where he’s statistically likely to be a big fan of Trump, the open primary somehow ended with with Moore and Strange in the run-off. As popular as Trump is in the state, though, the talk-show-backed Brooks immediately endorsed Moore right after his near defeat, the more defiant sorts of evangelical voters have stayed loyal, and the president flies into the state in support of a candidate who’s far behind in all the polls. That’s Trump’s base resisting Strange, too, which is a noteworthy development in the ongoing war within the Republican party.
At this point it’s hard to see it working out well for the Grand Old Party in any possible case.
If Moore wins the Republicans will at long last be saddled with a Senator who actually closely resembles the Democrats’ caricature of the party’s extremist religious zealotry. Moore has reassured Alabama’s voters that he’s not in favor of executing homosexuals, but other than that he hasn’t gone out of his way to allay any secular fears about his religious fervor.. We’d like to think we’re as evangelical and Republican as the next guy, and we share Moore’s concerns that God is being banished from the public square, and we try our best to adhere to those ten commandments that Moore defiantly erected on public grounds, but we also note the New Testament scripture about rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and obeying civil authorities, and that part about “come let us reason together,” so the mixed martial arts afficionado Moore strikes us as suspiciously prideful for a prophet.
If Strange wins so does McConnell and the rest of the Republican establishment, which is by now hated by the entirety of the Democratic party and most of the independents and pretty much all the Republicans except for a few old Never-Trumper types such as ourselves, even Trump is today campaigning on behalf of Strange. Strange would likely end up on the repeal and replacement of the debate about Obamacare Trump now favors, and might help out on other issues, but given his establishment credentials he’s bound to cross paths with Trump at some point, and we don’t see him as the unifying figure the party needs right now.
If Brooks had somehow survived the open primary that probably wouldn’t have helped, either. He might have wound up sinking the last ditch attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare because it didn’t repeal and replace it enough, and although he’d have had a good enough case that Strange or Moore couldn’t refute it would have still been scored another loss for both the party and its president. Brooks’ enthusiastic endorsement of Moore, along with all the polls, suggests that Alabama Republicans prefer the ten commandments to Trump, which seems about right to us, but it’s still hard to see this ending well for anybody. From our far away from Alabama perspective we’re hoping for Strange, as weird as it feels, and we’re still hoping that in any case Moore won’t be all that bad.

— Bud Norman

What They’re Thinking, If Anything

All the talk on conservative talk radio lately has been about immigration reform, and mostly it concerns an expected capitulation on some sort of euphemized amnesty by the Republican congressional leadership. The most discussed issue, of course, is about what in the world the Republican congressional leadership is thinking.
Although the expected capitulation is not yet a done deal, and some reliable sources are reporting that cooler heads in the Republican caucus might yet prevail, there is ample reason for concern. Enough Senate Republicans have already gone wobbly to help pass a bill so awful that it has been endorsed by President Barack Obama, several prominent House Republicans have been making worrisome pronouncements in recent months, and last week the party’s leaders issued a statement of principles on the immigration issue that strikes the more rock-ribbed rank-and-file of the GOP as insufficiently principled. Given the leadership’s spotty track record of acting according to its constituents’ will, conservatives can be forgiven for already cussing the as-yet-unannounced deal.
Also understandable is the confusion about what could possibly cause the leadership to act so stupidly. Perhaps they have a sincere belief that a path to citizenship for the industrious undocumented workers who have been forced to live in the shadows as they have contributed so much to our country is the best and fairest economic policy for America, but sincere beliefs are a far-fetched explanation for any politician’s actions, and especially so if it is a self-proclaimed Republican sincerely believing that flooding an already depressed labor market with millions more unskilled laborers flouting the law is either fair or good for the economy. Politics is usually a plausible reason for a politician’s actions, but in this case the leadership’s reported stand would provide the opposition with millions of additional voters while further enraging its own base of support. With neither of these usual explanations at hand, many conservatives have sought to explain the Republican leadership’s inexplicable behavior with strange theories that it’s all part of a plan to limit the party’s widely expected gains in the upcoming mid-term elections and thereby set up a more favorable political climate in the 2016 presidential race or some similarly convoluted scheme.
A more likely explanation is that the leadership is more concerned with the potential donations of the party’s big business wing that is eager for a wage-depressing flood of cheap new labor, but even if that is the case they’re still making the wrong political calculations. After running a series of exceedingly immigrant-friendly presidential candidates who lost the Latino vote by landslide margins it should be clear that the party won’t benefit from further immigration any time soon, and the costs of the full-scale conservative revolt that a capitulation will provoke cannot be paid by any amount of corporate donations. The expense of fending off primary challenges against every single Republican who goes along with this nonsense will eat up most of the money, and when disgruntled conservatives stay home in the general elections the price will be higher yet.
Should the Republicans stand fast against any sort of amnesty for illegal immigrants it would likely bolster their chances in the mid-terms and several elections beyond. Much of the opposition to unfettered immigration comes from such traditional Democratic voting blocs as African-Americans, low-wage workers, and union members, and although it’s unlikely any of them could be persuaded to vote for a Republican the issue could keep many of them at home and safely away from the polls. Even the big business wing of the party might be persuaded to continue contributing the big bucks against a party that wants to flood the market with cheap unskilled labor but simultaneously make it more expensive with a rise in the minimum wage, and the Republicans could truly make the compelling claim that they are a party of competitive free market capitalism and not crony corporatism.

— Bud Norman

Sayonara Santorum

Rick Santorum has dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination, and that’s probably best for both him and his party.

The stated reason for the former Senator’s withdrawal is the poor health that has recently afflicted his young daughter, and that might even be the real reason, as one of the several admirable qualities that Santorum has demonstrated during the long campaign is an uncommon devotion to his family. There were other good reasons for Santorum to call it quits, however, and it is almost certain they also played a part in the decision.

Santorum had already lost the nomination, barring some uncharacteristic self-inflicted catastrophe by front-runner Mitt Romney, and it was becoming increasingly likely that he would suffer a humiliating and potentially career-ending loss in the primary of his home state of Pennsylvania. Dropping out of the race and ceasing his attacks on the party’s all-but-certain nominee now, especially with a plausible reason having to do with his family, will allow Santorum to remain an influential figure in the GOP and perhaps even make another and more practiced run for the presidency in the future.

Santorum’s withdrawal also allows the Republicans to begin repairing some of the damage that has been done by the internecine fighting that has marked the primary campaign. Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul will remain in the race, for reasons known only to them, but the former has ceased his sniping at Romney and the latter has avoided any attacks on Romney from the outset, so the Democrats shouldn’t get any more help making a case against the Republican nominee.

There were a few less-than-admirable qualities that Santorum also revealed during the race, and they all helped the Democrats and their media allies caricature the Republicans as a party of religious zealots. Although Santorum spent most of his time on the campaign trail talking about how to fix the country’s broken economy, by far the most important issue to voters, he too often allowed hostile reporters to lure him into pointless statements about banning contraception, Puerto Rican statehood, John F. Kennedy’s 62-year-old speech about separation of church and state, and other red herrings that fit the contrived narrative of the opposition.

The downside of Santorum’s withdrawal, of course, is that Romney’s many enemies in the news and entertainment media will not be able to focus their efforts entirely on his campaign. After going to such lengths to emphasize the extremism of Romney’s opponents, though, the media will at least have a harder time convincing the uninformed voter that he’s dangerously far to the right.

— Bud Norman