Welcome to Curious Business
Every Friday, I post a small insight into running Curio City and/or Blue Hills Editorial Services. My most recent posts are directly below. You can also start with the first post, or use the subject labels to the right to home in on particular topics. Feel free to comment on anything that interests you.
Friday, January 22, 2016
Going Political, Part 2: The Red Post
Let's get my bias out of the way up front. I am not a Democrat, but I'm even less of a Republican. I've sometimes voted for socially liberal, fiscally conservative, moderate Republicans of the type that New England breeds. But now that the national Republican Party's anti-science, anti-intellectual tea party wing has discovered open racism and xenophobia as a winning strategy, supporting Republicans is virtually impossible. I am a highly rational person who is going to try to treat the Republicans rationally in this post, even though they don't do themselves the same courtesy.
To put it mildly, the Republican Party is in disarray. It might be disintegrating as a national force, although it will always dominate the South and rural areas, especially out west. I don't take any delight in watching it die; to the contrary, I feel sorry for reasonable Republicans. Our political system needs at least two functional parties and it's worrisome if one tears itself apart. In an effort to impose some order on this chaos, I'll divide their field into three categories: the Insurgents, the Establishment, and the Irrelevant, whom we can simply ignore.
Liberals understand the appeal of insurgents, too. Dissatisfaction is propelling Bernie Sanders past Hillary Clinton despite the tremendous odds in her favor. Left or right, we can all agree that the middle class is in decline. Polls indicate that roughly 70% of Republican voters favor one of the Insurgent candidates -- Trump, Cruz, and Carson -- while the 30% who prefer a traditional Establishment candidate can't unite behind one. Since none of the individual Insurgents poll much higher than 30%, there's still an opening for a united Establishment.
The frontrunners in Iowa and New Hampshire are both Insurgents. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz both court the same alienated, poorly educated, angry, white, and elderly demographic. Misled by FOX News and talk radio, these so-called "low-information voters" are primed to direct their fear and hatred at outsiders like terrorists and immigrants, rather than the oligarchs who pose the true threat to our republic. Science, education, and reality are all liberal plots to these people. They want to burn government to the ground. A defensive tribe who are not swayed by facts or logic, they vote emotionally, and are therefore easily manipulated. Trump and Cruz both use authoritarianism to simultaneously calm and excite these voters. They are masters of misdirection, diverting concern from the two smoldering crises that really can bring down our nation (income inequality and global warming) to two acute problems that cannot (terrorism and immigration). Trump's probably doing that consciously, while Cruz is harder to read.
Understanding Trump is half the battle in understanding the Republican field. Trump is a demagogue who's starring in a reality TV show that some voters passionately love. He'll utter whatever outrage keeps the spotlight on him and feeds his ego. He has no consistent ideology (the "fascist" label doesn't fit him because fascism is an ideology). He's a Republican in name only and mainstream Republicans know it. Somehow, he is popular with evangelicals despite being a thrice-divorced casino developer who displays no convincing faith of his own. Trump is a bully and a blowhard whom people find charismatic. He speaks his mind with no filter and he isn't for sale. The man is pure Ego. Any ideology and policies that might lurk under his bluster are a cipher.
Ted Cruz, OTOH, is an ideologue hiding a real political agenda under the same glib xenophobic scare-talk. Cruz has shrewdly positioned himself to take Trump's place if that show gets canceled. He is accused of being a Dominionist who believes that the Bible should be the supreme law of the land -- the Christian version of Sharia Law. If Cruz wins Iowa, it will be his fundamentalist bona fides that give him the edge. Cruz is more dangerous to Republicans (and to the nation) than Trump is if only because True Believers are always more dangerous than opportunists. Cruz appears to have almost no support beyond his evangelical base and would lose the White House by a historic landslide. I've read that establishment Republicans really, really hate Cruz personally, too, and in the past week they've started reluctantly coming together behind Trump in order to stop Cruz at any cost.
Ben Carson -- is he really still in this thing? -- is the least qualified candidate to hit the national stage since Sarah Palin; I guess that he draws the same anti-intellectuals who liked her. Since Carson will surely join the Irrelevants after the first round of voting, that's enough about him.
Remember the original "insurgent" candidate, Rand Paul, who staked out the "crazy" niche before anyone else did? Paul lost control of that niche because he has demonstrated an ability to work within government rather than try to tear it down, as the insurgent voters prefer. Paul has one foot in the Irrelevant camp, but he's not there yet.
So much for the Insurgents. The Establishment wing of the party hasn't coalesced behind an electable candidate yet, nor have the Koch brothers showered one with money. Nobody in this group can unite the three legs of the Republican stool: Evangelicals/social conservatives, military interventionists, and corporate supremacists. For what they're worth, recent polls have either Chris Christie or John Kasich eking out a second- or third-place finish in New Hampshire and suggest that Marco Rubio might run the strongest nationwide. Jeb Bush reportedly has enough money to stick it out to the end; his "last man standing" strategy is not quite impossible.
The Establishment needs to narrow its field quickly and significantly to channel the non-Trump demographic into an anointed one, whomever that proves to be. There's no sign that that's happening yet, but don't dismiss the Establishment's power to manipulate the game behind the scenes.
Can I get behind any of these Establishment guys? Despite 30 years of experience showing that they clearly don't work, all of them fall back upon some flavor of the same weak beer: cutting taxes on the rich; cutting benefits for the poor and middle class under the guise of reducing deficits (spoiler alert: they won't); pumping up military spending and doling out corporate welfare; and undoing regulations.
As I said earlier, I understand the appeal of blowing up the system and frustration with the status quo. If you want an Insurgent, Trump is the most satisfying choice -- you know that he will upset the apple cart and that he'll entertain you while doing so. Trump's nomination will probably keep the White House in Democratic hands, but it won't damage the Republican Party as badly as Cruz would because Republicans can easily disown Trump. Cruz, OTOH, is one of them, whether they like it or not. He has Tea Party bona fides that could tear the Republicans down for many years to come by sending minorities, young people, and independents into the arms of the Democrats. Trump has lost the Latinos, but he could still make a credible bid without them if he can peel away enough of the Democrats' older whites.
If you want the most electable candidate, then Rubio's name usually floats to the top, although I think he's too young and glib to take seriously. He probably lives with his parents and doesn't have a driver's license. Christie's just another bully and he doesn't pull it off as successfully as Trump does. Rand Paul has shown that he's capable of governing, and he's the only Republican who isn't promising to start another war in the Middle East. If you want to vote for an "outsider" (insofar as any senator can be an outsider), then Paul is the one least likely to destroy the country, the party, or both...so there's a lukewarm endorsement for you. If you want to actually win the presidency, your best choice to submit to an increasingly liberal electorate is John Kasich, who passes for a "moderate" in a party that's fallen off the right end of the cliff. He seems to be the most pragmatic of the bunch and is the only one who is pushing a positive message (so there's another tepid endorsement). Bush might be innocuous enough to entrust with the presidency, but his brother poisoned the family name for at least a generation.
Well, that was tortuous, but there are your endorsements: Vote for Rand Paul if you want an Insurgent who won't destroy your party, or John Kasich if you want a safe and competent Establishment man who could conceivably win the White House.
All of this is probably moot because the nomination looks to be Trump's to lose. That will transform the party for a generation, which isn't necessarily a bad thing; the Republican establishment degenerated into the Party of No during the Obama years and has nothing to offer besides obstruction and stale failed policies. I don't think that Trump can defeat Sanders. He will have a somewhat better chance against Clinton. I honestly can't see the American electorate sending him to the White House under any circumstances...but I'll save the general election analysis for another day.
Polls and predictions are notorious for falling apart when the voting begins. Maybe Trump does not even want the job. It would be a huge pay cut; the POTUS lacks the dictatorial powers of a corporate CEO; government is not a for-profit endeavor; and Trump hates to lose. Maybe he will sell the nomination at the convention rather than risking all that.
This week brought last week's boom to a crashing halt. Curio City Online started out offline when MDD Hosting's server upgrade didn't go well. (I still recommend this company highly for fast, usually-reliable, reasonably priced web hosting.) Since going dark always tanks my ads and search rankings for at least a few days, I can't tell if the technical failure killed the magic advertising strategy that worked so well last week or if it was just random luck in the first place. In any case, the doldrums of late January are back. Next week's numbers will look good anyway thanks to that one unexpectedly great week -- this January is already a smidge ahead of LY with more than a week left to run.