The Republicans: From party to primordial swamp

It’s tempting to characterize the ongoing turmoil among Republicans as a partisan “civil war”—tempting, but incorrect.

A civil war is a contest between factions for control of a coherent territory. What’s happing to the GOP is closer a shattered window, where dozens of fissures run in all directions and, sometimes, back onto themselves. At the moment, the Republicans’ intramural politics are a kind of primordial swamp with all sorts of toxic elements oozing from the cracks caused by the party’s own internal contradictions.

The insurgent candidacies of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, however, are not the cause of the Republicans’ long, slow dissolve into incoherence; they are its products.

For the past eight years, this internal anarchy has been camouflaged by the party’s shared antagonism to Barack Obama and all his works. The absolute and irrational quality of that antipathy was the perfect glue to hold what’s essentially become the national white people’s party together.

With Obama about to exit the Washington stage, there’s simply nothing left to hold the Republicans together. After eight rigid years as the “party of no,” the GOP can’t agree on what, if anything, to which it might say, “yes.” Immigration, healthcare, equal rights, foreign policy, environment and energy, even the size of government—there is no substantive issue on which a substantial enough number of GOP partisans  agree so that their position might be called “the Republican one.”

Apart from doing whatever it takes to suppress as much of the potential Democratic vote as possible, there’s precious little on which, state to state, significant numbers of GOP partisans agree.

Only this sort of internal chaos could produce the sort of dizzying choice party members are being asked to make in this election cycle.  Trump and Cruz do not represent different Republican factions nor are they even polar opposites. They’re like two guys from different worlds.

Billionaire Charles Koch—who along with his brother David—donates more to Republican candidates and causes than any other giver, said it is “possible” that Clinton would make a better present than either Trump or Cruz. He will not donate, he said, to either man, if they get the nomination. Both, Koch told his interviewer are “terrible role models.”

Trump is the party’s prince of disorder, wildly flailing at its rules and leaders with a campaign rhetoric that sounds like—and is about as well thought out—as the after dinner remarks at a particularly drunken second-rate celebrity roast.

As dimly glimpsed, he seems to imagine running the country’s domestic and foreign policies as a sort of fusion between eBay and “Let’s Make a Deal.” (He doesn’t seem to realize that unlike, say, his failed casino or airline schemes, if this one doesn’t work the country can’t declare bankruptcy and walk away.)

The Trump campaign is all about ambition and appetite and not ideas or programs. And behind it all is a grimly threatening thugishness that goes beyond being merely combative. When the developer threatens rioting among his supporters at the Cleveland convention should he be denied the nomination, there’s every reason to believe him—and that he would encourage the violence.

After all, he already has at his campaign rallies. What can anyone make of a candidate who would send his new campaign chief, Paul Manafort, to meet with Republican establishment leaders last week and to tell them that, in essence, Trump hasn’t meant any of the things he’s said?  When elected, Manafort promised, his boss will be a reliable member of the club.

Sure.

To believe that you would have to be not just stupid or desperate; you’d have to be stupid, desperate and delusional. Still, given the way this crowd is behaving, who knows? This is a party, after all, which seems increasingly likely to nominate a candidate who is actively disliked by 7o% of the electorate. If Trump comes out of Cleveland with the nomination, he will be the most unpopular man to run for president in the history of public opinion polling.

The alternative is Cruz, probably the most rigidly ideological man to sit in the United States Senate since John C. Calhoun. If nominated, he would almost certainly be the most right-wing candidate ever to seek the presidency. While Trump seems to believe firmly in nothing but himself, Cruz holds to his beliefs with the sort of vice-like grip that excludes consideration of any other idea.

Trump is obviously a man of low cunning; Cruz is just as obviously a man of high intelligence in the service of rigid orthodoxy.  (I never thought Bertrand Russell got it quite right, when he said that, “Orthodoxy is the death of intelligence. Rather, I suspect that when intelligence is severed from curiosity, the result is a lack of concern with the lives of others. What dies is empathy and solidarity and the knowledge that people matter more than ideas, however compelling.)

Cruz would dismantle large sections of the federal government, abolish the IRS and replace the progressive income tax with a flat levy. He would put the country back on the gold standard, something no responsible economist in either party supports.

He would rollback marriage equality guarantees, nearly all controls on firearms, erase the separation of church and state and would abrogate all reproductive rights, banning all abortions even in cases of rape and incest and to save a mother’s life.

Most serious national polls give both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders substantial margins over either Trump or Cruz in a projected national election. Even so, distress over the choice they’ve been proffered is popping up among unlikely Republicans.

In an interview with ABC News Sunday, billionaire Charles Koch—who along with his brother David—donates more to Republican candidates and causes than any other giver, said it is “possible” that Clinton would make a better present than either Trump or Cruz. He will not donate, he said, to either man, if they get the nomination. Both, Koch told his interviewer are “terrible role models.”

Koch said the pair’s “personal attacks and pitting one person against the other — that’s the message you’re sending the country. . .So how — I don’t know how we could support ’em.” Koch said Cruz’s plan to carpet bomb the Islamic State and — as Cruz said — “make the sand glow” was “frightening.”

The oil and gas magnate called Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims from entering the United States was “anti-ethical. . .What was worse was this ‘we’ll have them all registered,'” Koch said. “That’s reminiscent of Nazi Germany. I mean — that’s monstrous.

A Koch brother comparing the Republican frontrunner to a Nazi. The death of the Republican Party has ushered in strange days, indeed.

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