Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Return of Pat Buchanan's Republican Party

I see that Chris Matthews had the same take I did on last night's debate: the old America First Republicans returned.

I think last night made very clear that there were two Republican parties last night-the Neconservative Establishment and the more isolationist base.

You saw this in both the Kid's Table and later main stage debates. I thought a debate between Rick Santorum and Lindsay Graham perfectly crystallized the fault lines-Graham wants boots on the ground and Santorum is a lot less excited about this. On the other hand, Santorum defends Trump's call for a temporary ban on Muslims.

You saw it on the main stage. I'd say that the battle between Rubio and Cruz boils down to the NeoCons and the America First. There's talk about how Trump's secret is that he projects strength which is sought after Paris and San Bernandino. But what has been papered over is that the base and the Neocon Establishment define strength differently.

For the base it's basically getting tough on border security-keeping the wrong people out of the country so they can't perpetuate 'Islamic terrorism.'

The Establishment wants to put boots on the ground and glories in regime change. I thought one of the big lines of the night was Senator Graham's declaration that he misses George W. Bush. That might explain why he's at zero in the polls. This is not a popular view even in the base.

The Rubio-Cruz faceoff was instructive. Indeed, is this the party of Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz.

"The most interesting fight brewing in the Republican primary isn’t between Donald J. Trump and the rest of the world, but between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, wunderkind vs. wunderkind. One is ruthless in his appeals to the Republican base, poised to ride its anger to victory, as Tea Party candidates did before him; the other is attractive to the establishment wing of the party, with the potential to draw in moderate voters, but who is sputtering in early primary states."

"The dynamic we’re seeing, between Senator Cruz of Texas and Rubio of Florida, may ultimately decide which path the Republican Party chooses to go down in 2016. And, as hard as it may be to envision where Trumpmania is going to leave us, Mr. Cruz has jumped to the lead in a new Iowa poll, and has climbed to second place in a national poll ahead of Tuesday’s debate."

But Trump and Cruz are on the same side of this divide anyway.

The insiders thought Rubio killed it.

As did the most Serious Pundits of Them All, Chris Cilliza:

"The Florida senator proved (again) that he is the best natural debater in the field. Totally in control. Relaxed. Extremely knowledgeable. He won, rhetorically speaking, a face-off with Cruz over metadata and held his own when Cruz attacked him on his participation in the Senate push for comprehensive immigration reform. When Trump — more on this later — had no clue what the nuclear triad was, Rubio stepped in to flex his policy chops."

As I noted in a previous post, I don't think many regular Americans know what a nuclear triad is-I try to keep up with what's going on, and I wasn't previously familiar with the term-so this is not the big deal that Cillizza seems to think it is. Such gotcha moments never work.

On the other hand Cillizza for some reason thought Cruz didn't do well. I really did not see this at all:

"Cruz wasn't actively bad in this debate. His skills as a presenter and performer ensure he will never be genuinely bad. But, he seemed to bite off more than he could chew on several occasions. His face-off with Rubio early in the debate over the NSA didn't end well for him and his extended attempt to interrupt moderator Wolf Blitzer didn't either. Cruz got almost 16 minutes of speaking time — the most of any of the nine candidates — but didn't do as much as I expected he would with it. Not a terrible performance by any means. But short of expectations."

This goes to the bias of Cillizza himself, I suspect. He thinks Rubio got the better of Cruz because he and most of the Serious People he knows, agree with Rubio on bulk data collection. But you know, I found the debate between he and Cruz on this question rather arcane. What I mean is that for the average viewer not familiar with the piece of legislation that Rubio keeps on hitting Cruz over, it comes out to something of a wash.

Does the base care a lot about Cruz's vote on a bill that that somewhat reduced the amount of bulk data that government can collect without red tape? Maybe, but I very much doubt that they care one 100th as much about this arcane debate as the fact that Rubio-much as he tried to spin this last night-voted for amnesty with Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer. So I find Cruz's line of attack on Rubio much more dangerous than this interminable debate on data collection. It all ends up sounding rather hairsplitting.

And Frank Luntz determined that Cruz clearly won the debate with Rubio:

"Marco Rubio is falling short; Ted Cruz is beating him in every confrontation tonight. "
If you want a good rendering of what the America's First ideology is, Trump nails it here:

Trump says things no other Republican will

Speaking of the cycle of Middle Eastern wars inaugurated under George W. Bush, Trump asked a rather profound question: "What do we have now?"

"We have spent $3 trillion and probably much more," he continued. "Thousands and thousands of lives; we have nothing. Wounded warriors all over the place, who I love, we have nothing for it."

"This is a far cry from GOP orthodoxy, and frankly not even something mainstream Democrats will acknowledge. Indeed, coming from a mainstream Democrat it might strike many as excessively unpatriotic. But Trump's visceral connection with the anxieties of older white working-class Americans allows him to give expression to certain unpleasant thoughts without ever raising the specter that he might be less than fully nationalistic. He later elaborated on the theme in a passage that echoed elements of John Kerry's 2004 campaign, but delivered in a world that knows much more certainly that the Iraq War was a fiasco:"

I mention Pat Buchanan as this could have been written by him, himself. 

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