Ron White is a comedian from Texas who delivers his monologues, to large crowds, in an amply tailored suit with an expensive bottle of scotch on a small table at his side. One of his most famous routines is ‘You Can’t Fix Stupid’. He’s speaking, unkindly, of his ex-wife and cosmetic surgery, not the body politic, but throughout the 2016 presidential campaign the title of his disgruntled riff has looped in my brain.
On 9 March, I went to Washington, DC to consult with the Commission on Presidential Debates, a non-partisan organisation founded in 1987 that runs the election debates. Any candidate who receives at least 15 per cent support in five national polls is eligible to take part. In practice, this usually means that a Republican faces a Democrat in three commission-sponsored televised debates.
Three weeks out from polling day, Donald Trump has called the election for Hillary Clinton by alleging widespread voter fraud before most people have cast their ballots. At last night's debate Trump refused to say he would accept the election result, having earlier this week conjured the bogey of a zombie army of dead voters rising from its necropolis to spook his chances. Wisely, he's discounted the possibility that his impending defeat has anything to do with having alienated most US voters by his mendacity, bigotry, sexual predation, misogyny, racism, xenophobia, manifest unfitness for public office and encyclopedic ignorance of public policy. Maybe he should call in Russian election monitors to ensure fair play. Responders have noted that verified cases of voter fraud are rare in US elections; their tendency is to infer that all's well with US democracy. This is a non-sequitur.
Donald Trump’s instinctive response to his most recent crisis was predictable. As the tales of groping multiplied and swirled, he claimed the high ground. His accusers, he said, were ‘horrible, horrible liars’, whose attacks were being ‘orchestrated by the Clintons and their media allies’. He was willing to suffer for his ‘disfranchised’ followers, however, and they would collectively ‘take back our country’. The election, he promised, was going to be ‘our Independence Day’. As far as the US media took any notice – and many, in their mainstream way, were focusing instead on the complaints of Trump’s alleged victims – there was confusion. Was Trump drawing on the science fiction movie of the same name, wondered the New York Daily News? The 1996 film shows the White House destroyed by aliens. Worldwide havoc ensues. America’s president leads the counterattack that eliminates the intruders for ever (sequels notwithstanding). In Trump’s eyes, that's not fantasy so much as cinéma vérité. The inspiration for his speech, however, is almost certainly closer to home.
The Presidential Debate Watch at the Apollo Theater in Harlem – it was a scene. The line wound around the block at 125th and Frederick Douglass Boulevard, but a friend and I were 'VIP' guests of one of the panellists, causing some embarrassment as we tried to figure out the way in; an organiser mistook 'VIP' for 'RSVP' and sent us to the line for aspiring almost-ticket-holders who didn't like the encroachment. Inside, the DJ in the balcony box stage right, DJ Enuff, was dancing to the tracks he played, and forwarding, to a large screen at the front, stills and short video shots of the crowd, taken by himself, plus selfies sent by the crowd, and tweets mostly just saying 'We are here!' but others more expressive: 'The DJ is filling us with love, which we need'; 'Are there any Trump supporters here? Or did all this fine ass melanin scare them off?'; 'READY TO RUMBLE'; 'May the best woman win.' My friend said about Trump and HRC: 'They should be forced to dance together, before they debate.'
‘And by the way,’ Donald Trump said to Hillary Clinton in last night’s debate, ‘another one powerful is the worst deal I think I’ve ever seen negotiated that you started is the Iran deal.’ His view on the Iranian nuclear deal, and the nuclear weapons situation in general, hasn’t changed much since he spoke with two New York Times reporters in March. Not surprisingly he revealed an abominable ignorance of the subject.
Mormons vote for Republicans – everyone knows that. But they don’t like Trump. ‘Mormons place a high premium on being nice, and Trump is not nice,’ Matt Bowman, the author of The Mormon People, told ThinkProgress. After Mitt Romney said that Trump was a ‘phony, a fraud’ last March, Trump told a rally in Salt Lake City: ‘I have many friends that live in Salt Lake City – and by the way, Mitt Romney is not one of them. Are you sure he's a Mormon? Are we sure?’
Until 1880, Aspen, Colorado was known as Ute City, after the Native American people who inhabited the valley. During the silver boom of the 1880s it was an extremely prosperous small town. There are still traces of that era, including the Wheeler Opera House. It came to an abrupt halt in 1893 when the silver market collapsed. The place was moribund for fifty years until the Chicago industrialist Walter Paepcke, who liked to ski, saw the potential of the place as a resort. Among other things he created the Aspen Institute where industrialists like himself might be exposed to Aristotle. The Aspen Center for Physics, where I have been coming since the 1960s, was originally part of the institute. This used to be a pretty funky town. In 1970 Hunter S. Thompson ran for sheriff. There were some wealthy people like Paepcke but they pretty much faded into the background. Either you could ski or you couldn’t. Things have changed. There are now fifty billionaires who have some sort of property in Aspen. Three of the Koch brothers – Charles, David and William – have roots here. (William is the poor Koch brother, worth only $2.3 billion.) Donald Trump does not own any property here – though he once tried to build a hotel – but he has left a trail.
At its most rabid, the Republican National Convention resembled a witch burning. The Democrats in Philadelphia, when they take aim at Donald Trump, do so in the form of a sanctimonious anti-bullying public service announcement. This didn’t work for his Republican rivals during the primaries, but they were talking to Republicans, who may see bullying as a fact of life, feel a bit bullied themselves, and indeed nominated the candidate who sold himself as a national bully. The Democrats ask, do you want your children looking up to a president who’s a bully? Children are ever part of the equation in Philadelphia.
America is a disastrous hellhole teeming with criminal non-citizens who steal jobs when they aren’t killing innocent young girls, but on 20 January 2017 it will transmogrify into a tranquil, terror and alien-free manufacturing dynamo, with assault rifles available to all, upon the inauguration of President Trump: that was the simple message delivered at great length on Thursday night. Trump confirmed that for all the cartoonish sideshows attending his campaign, he’s essentially a one-issue candidate, and that issue is immigration. ‘Nearly 180,000 illegal immigrants with criminal records, ordered deported from our country, are tonight roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens,’ he said, and you expected him to list every one. The crowd chanted ‘Build a wall!’ Ancillary issues were touched on — the murder of police, shabby schools, crumbling roads, taxes in need of cutting, even African-American youth unemployment and Latino poverty — but they all fed back somehow to an evil trinity of globalism, defined as mass immigration of criminals riding on the wings of terror and bad trade deals. ‘Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo,’ he said, promising to repudiate something that all other national leaders of recent memory have treated as an inexorable and desirable force of history.
It’s strange to be in a bar where the coolest guy is Newt Gingrich. The Westin Hotel is the headquarters of Team Trump, and its shock troops were outside smoking Cuban cigars and reminiscing about their efforts to win the Indiana primary, the contest that at last vanquished Ted Cruz. The delegates and GOP operatives at the bar not lining up for selfies with Newt felt the Tuesday proceedings had been an improvement on Monday in that none of the speakers seemed candidates for being sectioned. I was disappointed by the absence of Roger Stone, the former Nixon dirty trickster and longtime Trump confidant, who had been holding court the night before. Stone began his career at age 16 on Nixon’s 1968 campaign. He smeared the opponent, Hubert Humphrey, by making a donation to his campaign in the name of the Young Socialist Alliance and giving the receipt to the Manchester Union-Leader. He is also a longtime business partner, in the international political consulting racket (speciality: Eurasian dictators and elected Putin clients), of Paul Manafort, who has emerged as the Cromwell to Trump’s Henry VIII.
‘Fragments were used,’ Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort said of Melania Trump’s plagiarised Monday night speech. It was a Tuesday morning press conference, and Manafort, chief bulldog of Trump’s vintage Nixonian thug braintrust, was ceding no ground. 'Obviously Michelle Obama feels similar things about her family. The American people focused on her message. You people are trying to distort that message. The plagiarism charge was first spread by the Clinton campaign. Whenever Hillary feels threatened by a woman she tries to destroy her.’ Melaniagate occupied the day’s news cycle even though no one would expect her to write her own speech or to say what she actually thinks. Whether anyone cares what she actually thinks is another question.
I woke before dawn on Monday in Parma, a Ukrainian neighbourhood south of downtown Cleveland, and watched a lightning storm flash for half an hour over Lake Erie. In a world governed by the pathetic fallacy, the storm might have signalled that Donald Trump was angry or doomed or both, or that the Republican Party was angry or doomed or both. Trump has demonstrated that the GOP primary electorate can do without the three main planks of the conservative movement that’s had the party in its grip since Reagan. For a hawkish interventionist foreign policy, he has substituted a ban on Muslims entering the US. In place of globalised free-market fundamentalism, he has engaged in the rhetoric of nationalist protectionism and a xenophobic paranoia when it comes to the border with Mexico. Unschooled in the catechism of social conservatism, he has railed against the catch-all of political correctness. He made scorched earth of the party’s new policy of outreach to Hispanic Americans. Trump’s pick last week of the Indiana governor and former talk radio host Mike Pence as his vice-presidential candidate was seen as a sign of reconciliation with doctrinaire conservatives – at least until it was reported that Trump was making midnight calls to see if he could get away with ditching him.
Acquiescence, co-option, appeasement? It’s hard to tell what’s been going on between Donald Trump and the American right since he became the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Tuesday saw Trump’s final Foxwashing, the end of the feud between the candidate and Fox News presenter Megyn Kelly.
After last night’s defeat in New York it will be next to impossible for Bernie Sanders to win the Democratic nomination. But he has transformed the complexion of US politics. He has described the movement behind him as a ‘political revolution’, and while it can be framed historically – Sanders often invokes both Franklin Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln – his radicalism is unprecedented for a potential nominee in recent times.
Super Tuesday didn’t begin at 6 a.m. in Virginia, USA, but at 12.01 a.m. in Wellington, New Zealand, which declared for Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton by 21 votes to 6 (with one spoiled ballot). Since 1988, Democrats Abroad – members of the Democratic Party who live overseas – has been considered a state in the presidential primaries. It sends 21 delegates to the Democratic National Convention, only slightly fewer than Wyoming, North Dakota or Alaska. (Republicans living abroad have to vote by absentee ballot in their home state.) In 2008, DA was among a handful of states on Super Tuesday to declare overwhelmingly for Obama, who until then had been more or less tied with Clinton.
Sixteen years ago, during the Republican primary campaign, John McCain went into South Carolina with a five-point lead over George W. Bush, having enjoyed a decisive victory in New Hampshire. A certain party with no official links to the Bush campaign organised a phone poll, asking: ‘Would you be more or less likely to vote for John McCain if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?’ (McCain had taken his adopted daughter, who was born in Bangladesh, on the campaign trail.) It worked like a top for the Bush team. McCain lost the South Carolina primary by eleven points and never recovered. While the smear campaign was underway, during a break in a televised debate between the two candidates, Bush took McCain’s arm and assured him that he, Bush, would never countenance a dirty manoeuvre. ‘Don’t give me that shit,’ McCain told him. ‘And take your hands off me.’
Hillary Clinton may have been the Democratic victor in Iowa last Monday, but the scale of Bernie Sanders’s achievement there was as significant as his win in New Hampshire last night. Clinton is not only a former secretary of state and first lady, but has vast resources at her disposal. Before Christmas, George Soros donated $6 million to her Super PAC, Priorities USA. That’s the equivalent of 228,000 Sanders supporters each donating $26.28, the average contribution his campaign has received so far.
Chris Lehmann on Ted Cruz (LRB, 18 June 2015): Most of the Republican frontrunners are perhaps grudging converts to the gospel of failure, having at least made a show of trying and trying again. The Texas senator and Tea Party darling Ted Cruz, though, is an ardent evangelist for the sacred mission of screwing things up for ideology’s sake.