Thursday, January 28, 2016

Why I Won't be Watching GOP Debate Tonight

You know me, I'm a political animal. I always watch debates. But tonight when the main GOP debate starts on Fox, I'll be watching MSNBC.

Which will feature Trump's 'veteran benefit' in Iowa.

Why is this? First and foremost to put some mud in Roger Ailes' eye. My hope is the ratings tonight are in the toilet. I sure don't want to help him get ratings.

For the one thing that could help Jeb and Rubio is a stage not totally overshadowed by Trump.

Hopefully, then no one watches them.

I didn't watch the Kid's Table debate-as I usually do. I might check in at the main debate but will switch back and forth with MSNBC.

Trump said the other day that he could kill someone and not lose any fans. What he's doing tonight is not quite on that level but it's not the sort of thing that is done and it would probably hurt anyone else.

Josh Marshall is right. This is all about optics, pure and simple.

"I can't say that I know how this is going to play out for him. But I thought this was an important moment to revisit an issue I've discussed in various posts going back over a dozen years. In the present context I would put it like this: Pundits and political obsessives tend to get distracted by process and policy literalism. But politics generally and especially intra-Republican political battles are really about demonstrating dominance - not policy mastery or polling leads but a series of symbols and actions that mark the dominating from the dominated."

Marshall first made this point in the Swift Boat attack on Kerry in 2004. Kerry lost in part because he didn't fight back. Indeed, as David Brock explained, Kerry had waited way too long to even think about dealing with it. He and his campaign had allowed these lies to fester for months before responding.

So again, Trump is showing dominance vis a vis Roger Ailes, who regrets getting himself in this pickle but was trying to show that he's the bigger bully; until Trump, Ailes always had been the bigger bully.

"When I first wrote about this a dozen years ago I called it the "bitch slap theory of politics." I'm no longer comfortable using that phrase. But I do think the heavily gendered, violent nature of that phrase is one of the only ways to really capture the nature of what's happening in these dramas."

"Take Trump's evisceration of Jeb Bush."

"Trump's comment about Jeb's being "weak", "low energy", "pitiful" ... these are demeaning and denigrating phrases. They seem frankly gross, with an emotional tenor we'd expect from street toughs or frat boys trash talking each other. It's raw and primal and all about dominating by denigrating. But what has really hurt Bush is not so much that Trump is calling him names. It's that Trump has used these attacks to demonstrate that Jeb is unable or unwilling to defend himself. Trump hits him and Jeb takes it. His responses are hapless and weak and generally meaningless. You probably barely remember them. The impact of this is not tied to Trumpcalling Bush "weak." Trump is engineering encounters that show that Bush is weak."

"That was a dozen years ago. But this driving force of Republican politics has only become more salient and central as the GOP has become increasingly dominated by core constituencies animated by anger and resentment that things to which they believe they are entitled are being taken away from them."

"Trump doesn't apologize. He hurts people and they go away. He says things that would kill a political mortal (ban members of an entire religion from entering the country) and yet he doesn't get hurt. Virtually everything Trump has done over the last six months, whether it's a policy proposal or personal attack, has driven home this basic point: Trump is strong. He does things other people can't."

"This is why Trump has so shaken up and so dominated the GOP primary cycle, at least thus far. As I've said, this kind of dominance symbolism is pervasive in GOP politics. It's not new with Trump at all. Most successful Republican politicians speak this language. And yet somehow for most it is nonetheless a second language. But it's Trump's native language. I still believe it's rooted in the mix of the hyper-aggressive New York real estate world, his decades of immersion in the city's febrile tabloid culture and just being, at the most basic level, a bully. Wherever it comes from, he seems to intuitively get that for this constituency and at this moment just demonstrating that he gets his way, always, is all that really matters. Policy details, protecting the candidate through careful press releases and structured media opportunities ... none of that matters. Trump doesn't kiss babies. Babies kiss him. He doesn't have a billionaire backer; he is a billionaire. Trump doesn't ask for support. He just tells you that you need to stop being a loser and get on board."

"So this debate power play is all of a piece. He can just take the table, flip it over and walk out of the room. It's all about him."

"There is no question that Trump will completely dominate tomorrow night's debate by his absence. After all, he's the one in the lead everywhere. If he's not there, what is there to talk about? The Rubio v Christie stand off? Jeb? Who cares?"

"It may be two plus hours of people attacking him without him being there to respond - and the moderators themselves out to get him too. But again, it's still all about him. He can make it all about him by not even being there. He doesn't kowtow to Fox News or go on retainer with the network during the off-season. He calls the shots. And there is little question in my mind that in one fashion or another you will have two competing TV shows tomorrow night, Trump's and everybody else's. And Trump's will almost certainly be better."

Indeed. That's why I'll be watching Trump-maybe check in on Fox now and again.

The goal in my mind is to drive tonight's Fox News debate as low as humanly possible.

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