Jeb Bush has dropped out of the GOP primary, leaving behind Ohio Governor John Kasich as the last of the more “establishment” choices in the GOP primary. Some might say that Rubio is “establishment,” but he’s not your typical GOP presidential candidate — maybe more like the typical candidate than Trump or Cruz is, but a young Senator like Rubio doesn’t fit the stereotypical image of the GOP standard bearer like Bush, Dole, McCain, or Romney. It’s a different year indeed. George Will wrote a piece not too long ago accusing Trump of damaging the GOP. I can see Will’s point, and I sympathize with him, but I don’t think that Trump’s message would resonate if the support for it didn’t already exist. I think Trump is revealing something that already exists in the party, but I don’t think he deserves credit for actually causing the damage. I think that rests on the heads of the party itself, particularly in the way they’ve acted over the past seven years. Let’s go deeper.
Some republicans are pointing fingers. Newt Gingrich told the Fox & Friends hosts that they’re to blame. He accused them of giving Trump free advertising by putting him on over and over, giving him a free ride. The relevant part starts at the 1:35 mark in the video below.
Newt has a fair point. Fox and other networks have featured Trump and given him an easy and free way to reach his audience. He’s rarely challenged on these shows, and that’s not just Fox News. Newt says “You could say that Trump is the candidate that Fox & Friends invented.” Newt is talking about the free media, but I think there’s more to it than that.
Tara Setmayer (probably best known from her time on Glenn Beck’s TheBlaze) wrote a scathing piece for CNN blaming John Boehner and Mitch McConnell for creating Trump. Her argument is that the voters are angry because they put McConnell and Boehner in office to block Obama and they didn’t succeed. She writes:
All this has led to this moment: An electorate so angry, they are willing to vote for a conservative of convenience who has spent the majority of his adult life pro-abortion, pro-gun control, pro-single payer health care and as a financial backer of Democrats.
But she’s missing something that started well before the GOP leaders failed to push back against Obama…the point when GOP leaders, both elected and otherwise, completely distorted the Obama administration policies. I realize that painting the “other side” as wrong on issues is part of politics, but since the election of Obama, this seems to have taken a very different tone. I think it’s impossible to ignore that aspect when thinking about what made a Trump candidacy possible.
Trump likes to think of himself as a self-made man, so let’s look at his role in creating this environment first, beginning with the birther movement. Trump certainly didn’t start this. In fact, there’s evidence that it started with democrats who supported Clinton in the 2008 primary season. The birther controversy continued past the election with places like WND carrying the torch for a while. But Trump put a face to the birther movement. He was arguably the most outspoken (at least with respect to voices that were covered by the media) champion of the birther movement. He insisted that Obama show his birth certificate (never mind that it was already shown), and to this day, I don’t know if Trump ever publicly stated that he now believes that Obama was, in fact, born in Hawaii and is therefore a natural born citizen of the United States.
The birther movement is just one part of the fire started by Obama’s opponents. Notable other examples are the way that Obamacare was discussed, both during the season when it was being proposed and passed, and ever since. “Death Panels” stand out in my mind, and many people still don’t know what Sarah Palin meant when she talked about these death panels. It’s hard to say for sure, because most “death panel” fear-mongers never really explained what they were talking about (probably because it’s not so frightening once it’s described), but my best guess is that people were referring to one of two things that the law did: either coverage for end-of-life counseling or the IPAB (independent advisory board) that was established by the law. Neither of these should be frightening to anybody. Talking about how you want to die (if you have any choice in the matter) is an important part of life. Obamacare provided Medicare coverage for these types of meetings, where people can decide if they want to be put on a feeding tube or ventilator, etc. Having those things decided ahead of time can make things much easier for family members, and can save a lot of money. The IPAB is more likely what the fear-mongers were talking about though. This a a panel established by the ACA that develops and submits proposals to slow the growth of health care spending. They do not have the power to put regulations in place, and the law explicitly says that they are not allowed to resort to methods of rationing to achieve their goals. A group charged to explore ways to reduce costs, but without any power to regulate or put their recommendations into effect. Not so frightening after all, is it? But that’s not what the rhetoric from the GOP would make us think.
These kinds of things aren’t just limited to policy, they include how we view the world. The economy is a key example. Ask Americans a simple question, Is the US economy in a recession, and a frightening large proportion will say that we are. News outlets report these polls (like here, and here), but so often they fail to mention that there’s a real definition for a recession and we haven’t been in one for quite a while. The standard definition is two sequential quarters of negative growth. A reduction in the GDP for two quarters in a row. That hasn’t happened since the four quarters in a row that had negative growth in 2008-2009. Since then, we’ve had a couple quarters of negative growth, but each was separated by many quarters of growth. In other words, the news article and the way that our leaders talked about it, should have been, “A recent poll shows that a majority of Americans do not know what the term recession means.” But that’s not what we get. What we get is this: Americans don’t believe the facts. Americans don’t trust the economic indicators. What might be reasonable is to ask Americans why, but the polls don’t seem to do that, and the articles that do fall back on the idea that Americans don’t think the recession is over because their personal situations haven’t gotten better. I’m not sure I buy that, although it could be true, but it doesn’t change the fact that the recession ended in 2009, and the people who respond to the polls saying otherwise are factually mistaken. Why are they making this mistake, probably because they hear, over and over, from folks who don’t like Obama, that the economy is weak. So, again, the GOP created this view that things are falling apart, and they shouldn’t be surprised if that message is heard by people, even those who are doing well, and those people want to change something.
In the end, I agree with those who are saying that FoxNews, or Mitch McConnell, or John Boehner created a Trump candidacy…but I think they did it earlier. I think they started the fire, then fanned the flames, and now they might burn down their own house. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next few years, and how we view all of this twenty or thirty years from now. The beginning of the end of the GOP as we know it today? Maybe, or maybe just a blip in the radar. A lot probably depends on the outcome of this election.