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Maybe it’s not because Rubio all but promises a war with China that Republican elites aren’t flocking to the guy. After all, his immigration record has shown him to be someone who can easily be bent to what people like themselves ultimately want. Perhaps it’s because they’re worried about backing anybody at all lest that person get a target on their back for Donald Trump to just start unloading upon.

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Josh Marshall brings up the obvious point:

Well, as far as I can see basically no one, neither the networks institutionally nor the high profile journalists have said anything about the RNC’s fairly comical decision to ax NBC news.

Now, the additional wrinkle here, of course, is that this isn’t really NBC. It’s CNBC. Not a conservative network in the Fox News sense precisely but one that is more or less totally captured by the ideology of Wall Street and thus leans heavily right on key economic and regulatory issues.

As I noted, this whole drama seems more or less ridiculous to me on all counts. Everybody’s got an angle. No one is pure. And mainly this is a spectacle of a political party unable to root out “media bias” from debates it’s running itself! Whatever. But again, we’ve been to this rodeo before when Fox gets excluded by Democrats or the left.

So media bigwigs, why so silent?

I have to admit that it is more than a little surprising. I mean, it’s obvious enough that the mainstream media lives in almost abject fear of Republican criticism. It’s why the New York Times used euphemisms for torture during the Bush era. It’s why any flimsily sourced nonsense about the Clintons gets breathlessly reported, while Marco Rubio’s fingernail dirt goes unexposed for now. It’s why Bill Kristol and Erick Erickson fall ass-backwards into MSM commenting gigs, while neither one has ever been credible as a disinterested analyst. Post-Rathergate, it’s just sort of how it is, and we all know this. But why would a whole news ecosystem just sort of accept a politically useful Republican judgment like this without forceful pushback that cuts off their access in a material way, maintenance of which was presumably the whole point of this whole exercise?

It’s also worth pointing out that, in terms of survival, the mainstream media’s existential threat comes from liberals losing faith and no longer consuming it than from conservatives criticizing it as irreparably biased. Righties are going to do the latter no matter what, as that very idea forms the basis of the hugely profitable and powerful conservative media complex. Judging by Gallup’s most recent survey, it’s unambiguously the case that older liberals are what’s keeping the MSM afloat–younger people are just about as mistrustful as Republicans, though presumably for different reasons as that’s a demographic that has tilted strongly left over the past decade. It’s also the demographic that propelled Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show to ratings success, not coincidentally. But what one sees is an industry that is apparently so locked into a weird version of the “twice as good” paradigm that it is plainly obvious leads only to oblivion. There’s just no way to for the MSM to inoculate itself against bias charges from the right without becoming FOX News. One would figure that after both giving and not giving the schoolyard bully a dollar leads to the same beating, they’d realize there’s no incentive to giving the dollar and would instead just stand up to them. And yet they don’t. Maybe if The Wire‘s fifth season had focused on this stuff, it wouldn’t have been such a boring waste of time.

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I feel like the bafflement and irritation in Villager Town over the success of Carson and Trump–and the failure of Bush and Rubio to make any impression up to this point–is indicative of the distance they have from base Republican voters (as opposed to elite Republican voters, to whom they do have access, but who are quite different in so many ways). Because I am not an orphan I do have access to such people and understand their thinking rather well. If I’m a base Republican voter, then I do have reasons to support Trump or Carson. Trump hates the same people that I hate, he gets that this is a barroom brawl between decent Americans and parasitic elites, and even if he’s a bit of a buffoon, he “gets” the reasons why I’m fed up with Washington, and he doesn’t fear saying what everyone else seems to. Carson is the nice guy who shares my ideas and values; I just like him quite a bit (and, not for nothing, supporting him proves that I’m not a racist). But why on Earth am I going to support Jeb Bush, who seems to take my vote for granted and has nothing in particular to offer me, other than a tainted chalice of family association and a dubious case of electability? It’s also unclear why I’m going to support Rubio, who isn’t someone I hate so much as someone I’m barely aware of. Why should I go for him over the thrill of watching Trump infuriate the people I hate, or the inspiring* campaign of Ben Carson? What do either of them get me that my guy doesn’t? Inspiring life story? Carson. Debating skills? Trump. They’re both much more credible outsiders than a guy with two presidents in his nuclear family and that same guy’s former protege. And after all, they said that Reagan was unelectable.

The simple fact is that there’s no real answer to this question, and this is why Rubio remains mid-pack and Bush is on life support. If and when they can come up with a compelling answer will they succeed, and that they haven’t yet should be a major warning sign to people like Douthat, who actually argues that Rubio’s winning strategy will involve successfully executing Rudy Giuliani’s joke of a campaign strategy in 2008. Everyone assumes that the Trump/Carson support is little more than the quintessence of dust, but theories on why they’ll falter are still not forthcoming.

* It is objectively strange that it is considered thus, but according to bumper stickers I’ve seen–mainly one on a vehicle owned by a very old couple who live next to my mother-in-law–this is the principal selling point.

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I can only imagine the dismay that the 2016 election is causing our nation’s hallowed narrative-makers in the media–perhaps only Richard Thompson’s “Tear Stained Letter” can come close to the manic feel of it all. First, two of the three “frontrunners” for the Republican nomination have seen their campaigns completely collapse, and the third continues to be poised to make his move anytime but never makes it. Media creation Carly Fiorina has succeeded as well as her history would suggest she would, while would-be media creation John Kasich seems already to have peaked. Second, Hillary Clinton’s nefarious emails didn’t actually make Joe Biden run for president, in spite of thousands of articles, blog posts, and tweets about just how nefarious they are. Third, despite numerous calls for Donald Trump’s campaign to fail, it hasn’t and remains stunningly consistent in terms of support. And the ongoing chaos of the House Republicans has made “both sides do it” style stories impossible to write. Now that Paul Ryan has decided to run for the job that he never, ever, possibly could ever have dreamed of ever having, that element will go away (until House conservatives get fed up with Ryan in a couple of months), so the narrative-smiths could breathe a sigh of relief and get back to articles premised on the concept that on any issue at any time, both sides are firmly to blame in equal measure. And then this happened:

According to the survey of likely Iowa Republican caucusgoers, 81 percent approved of Carson’s comment that Obamacare is the “worst thing that’s happened in this nation since slavery;” 77 percent said they liked his statement that Hitler’s rise could have been stopped if German citizens had had guns; and 73 percent liked his concerns about a Muslim becoming president.

Among the respondents, 96 percent said they find Carson’s “common sense” attractive, and 89 percent said they like that he is guided by his faith, according to the poll. Only 32 percent of those surveyed believe Trump is a committed Christian.

Here’s the thing: Trump is not a fanatic. He’s loud, uncivil, abrasive, and thus perfectly explicable as an outlet for the sorts of attitudes that are predominant among the Republican base, but he’s primarily self-interested and puts on new positions and ideologies like he tries on suits. Carson, though, is a fanatic, perhaps the biggest fanatic to run for president in quite some time. That he is soft-spoken and appears gentle means only that he is secure in his fanaticism, which should make him much scarier than Trump to the thinking non-wingnut (though our press is apparently not sophisticated enough to understand that the greatest fanatic is the one who feels no need to shout about it). Carson’s is a bigoted, reactionary, victim-blaming worldview that doesn’t call attention to itself, that is communicated with hushed tones and relative propriety. So the Republican nominating contest is between a loudmouthed, bullying bigot and a quietly malignant bigot. This is the “debate” going on within the Republican Party, and while loudmouth bully continues to have the lead, quiet malignance is not far behind, and is in very strong shape in Iowa. But I’m sure that any day now, sober conservative voters will wise up and just settle for an “electable” candidate like Jeb Bush. Right?

All in all, not any different than the Wall Street reregulation debate between Clinton and Sanders.

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It’s almost as though Paul Ryan really, really wants to be Speaker and is willing to give the nuts what he needs to in order to make it happen. While I’ll give him credit on delivering a very elaborate and effective performance designed to increase his leverage, it wasn’t fully successful and he ain’t walking away (I tend to find this affected humility, this “Who, me? Oh no no no!” act, to be intolerably phony on its own, but anyway). My guess is that he has a year before the crazies dump him.

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I took a bunch of undergraduate courses in religious studies back in college–at one point I considered a minor in the subject, but I went to a school that discouraged minors and deliberately made them hard to get, requiring 30-40 units for an essentially worthless distinction. In any event, I (unlike the dittohead running Ahmed Mohammed’s town) actually do know a thing or two about Shari’a Law. Hardly an expert, but my recollection is that it’s about 90% unobjectionable love thy neighbor, give to the poor type of stuff, and about 10% stuff that is problematic from a secularist’s perspective–it does do things like proscribe how the judicial system is supposed to work, so it’s fair to say that under strict Shari’a Law, a separation between church and state is not really a thing that exists (though few Islamic countries implement the entirety of Shari’a Law in their legal codes), and it must be stated that for quite a long time the idea of church-state separation was marginal in the Christian sphere as well. And if you ever listen to Mike Huckabee for more than twenty seconds, you’ll find that it’s still not universal there either.

However, despite whatever misgivings one might have with those issues, what Shari’a Law does not have are (a) some kind of forced conversion to Islam on pain of death, (b) commandments to kill the infidels (a Latin-derived term, FWIW), (c) burka requirements, (d) fifty lashes for eating pork, or whatever else the fevered mind of right-wingers might ascribe to it. When you read these stories about the graying of the Republican Party and the conservative movement, I think the fact that large swathes of them are terrified of a legal code that they don’t understand anything about needs to be interpreted as a need for a substitute for Communism to make their whole right-wing paradigm work for septuagenarians who grew up terrified of the reds. However, it is ridiculous to equate it to Communism because the USSR actually did work to infiltrate, penetrate and take over various labor organizations, newspapers, and to a huge degree the intelligence services created to watch them (read this if you want to read the so-scary-it’s-funny story of that). Right-wingers of the era, of course, held inaccurate and silly views of Communism, and in the case of Joe “Precursor to Ted Cruz” McCarthy, you clearly had a demagogue who did not have the goods on this phenomenon, but was just trying to use fear of it to beat on liberals. But at least there was a central force that was doing some of the things they said they were doing in some of the ways they said they were doing them, however exaggerated. The whole “creeping Shari’a Law” thing, though, is simply stupid. Nobody knows what it is or what it does. There is no central actor in this conspiracy, no idea that can be communicated, no evidence, no known figures, no argument, just panicked email forwards by elderly shut-ins. And while right-wingers famously refused to accept the various rifts among the Communist sphere back in the day, it’s a lot harder to deny them in the Islamic world when they’re fighting to kill each other each and every day. Aside from Vietnam invading Cambodia in the late 1970s, there was simply nothing like this back then. There’s no reason to believe that radical Islamists are even trying to penetrate institutions to the same degree that the Soviets did back in the day, or that they’d have much success if they tried. The Shari’a freakout is something that exists because septuagenarian Republicans (such as Charlie Daniels) are used to thinking of enemies compromising America from within, period, end of paragraph.

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carly

I wrote my silly little piece about yesterday’s debate last night because I found the entirety of the debate to be silly, meriting no real deep analysis. For the most part, it was eleven grown-ups alternating between truthy bullshit and rageful hysteria, a setup for the punchline that one of these people will actually wind up with a decent chance of being President of the United States. It’s hilarious that they spent any time arguing over whether Donald Trump passes muster when you have Huckabee’s bad acid trip, Rubio’s apparent attempt to steal Dinesh D’Souza’s act and offer the nation a bunch of alarmist hypothetical future nonsense, Carson sounding like some civilian who they just picked off the street, etc. If this country had a press that wasn’t full of cynics and people just generally ignorant of policy, politics and power, todays headlines would have been in the vein of, “Major Political Party’s Collapse Embarrassingly Caught On National Television.” On foreign affairs, the attitudes ranged from war right away (Christie) to let’s wait until we get a good pretext for war (Kasich). Shibboleths of resolve and respect were invoked repeatedly with no pushback. On domestic policy, virtually all of these folks tried to sound like they supported the stupidest government shutdown in history while maintaining plausible deniability, with the exceptions of Cruz, who outright favored it, and Kasich, who seemed to oppose it due to past experiences, not because of the facts of the situation. And then there was that time when several candidates played footsie with anti-vaxxers. All in all, a tough night for the sorts of people who need to find “sane” Republicans in which to put an unrealistic amount of hope and then still hold up as some example of something long after any kind of relevance, i.e. the narrative-obsessed political press, you know, the ones who still talk to John McCain every weekend for some reason.

Still, while “All these people are crazy” would have been an awesome headline if the left had a Murdoch-style tabloid (HuffPo doesn’t count since Murdoch pays his writers), there was never any chance of that. So, instead, the narrative-smiths went to work and came up with a result that hit me with equal amounts of dismay and giddy enthusiasm: this was Carly’s night! No less a narrative master than Joe Klein had the hubris to argue that this debate had given a blueprint to neutralize Donald Trump (as if Trump’s success in the polls came from this sort of setting) and hailed Fiorina and, tellingly, Rubio as standouts. Rubio does indeed speak fluently, but the content is utter nonsense, little different from the discredited neocon pabulum of a Dick Cheney. Proving, perhaps, that the media only dings people who aren’t polished media presenters, the sort of clubbish bullshit that everybody recognizes and properly hates them for. But it is Fiorina’s performance that is shaking up the intertubes. And it should be admitted that Fiorina has a command of the conventions of modern political debating: the theatricality of her abortion bit was well-executed, sure, and she provided enough moments of drama to be endlessly replayed on Morning Joe and such over the next couple of days. She even managed to fight Donald Trump to a draw on their respective business records, which is frankly nuts if you think about it. Whatever you might say about Trump’s failed businesses–remember when he tried to start an airline?–it’s nowhere near the devastation that Fiorina visited upon HP. I lived quite near their corporate headquarters during this time, had lots of friends whose parents worked there. It wasn’t exactly like a Bruce Springsteen song or anything, though I did know people who lost jobs there, but the universal feeling was that Fiorina cared more about being featured in business magazines than in effectively managing the company, which in any event she seemed to have little talent at doing. Her lame excuse that the dot-com bubble bursting wrecked HP’s fortunes just isn’t going to cut it as her tenure corresponded with Apple’s big resurgence, the success of Dell, etc. Companies that took chunks out of HP’s market share while HP was reeling from a merger that Fiorina did not inherit and was not forced to make. People were buying fucking computers and digital cameras in the early aughts–lots of them!–even though a bunch of ill-conceived web ventures went belly-up. There’s no argument there, merely distraction.

But focusing solely on HP ignores her vast history of failure that has been exhaustively documented on this blog. To paraphrase Pesci’s character from Casino, this gal could fuck up a cup of coffee. The fact that she threw away the Republicans’ best chance to win a California Senate seat in decades and then had a hand in the party’s embarrassing 2012 Senate failure, along with getting yanked as a McCain campaign surrogate, should convince Republican elites even if her business record doesn’t that this woman is a walking disaster who has no business being anywhere the main stage. But it hasn’t. Fiorina is the perfect match for a party in denial about its history since she is, like St. Ronald Reagan, in complete denial of her own, including her apparent belief that she’s an “outsider” even though everything she’s done since branching into politics has been thanks to party contacts, certainly not due to her own record of escalating failures. And this makes her the perfect match for a party that likes to deploy rhetoric about meritocracy but is in reality committed to consolidating power among a small circle of insiders. She doesn’t have to learn that double game, she lives it. No failure is too great to wreck the reputation of someone who is on the inside, after all, as D’Souza, Ralph Reed, etc. have continually proven. I would say that she could be the Republicans’ presidential nominee except that it’s going to be impossible to paper over the HP problem. Romney’s record could be (and was) interpreted in multiple ways, but Fiorina’s can only be interpreted as a story of overreaching, incompetence and failure. But my original prediction stands, in fact, the probability of her failing upward to a veep nomination is I think an especially good possibility now. It will be amusing to see how she blows that up too.

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