Fodder. 2016-05-04

“Donald Trump is definitely going to be the GOP nominee” edition.

Donald Trump and the Death  of the Republican Party – Molly Ball, The Atlantic

“As Trump’s hostile takeover of the party drew to a close, many of its leaders, particularly members of the conservative intelligentsia, were in revolt. George Will had denounced ‘collaborationists’ who sided with Trump, branding them ‘ineligible to participate in the party’s reconstruction.'”

Trump, Reagan, and the Downsizing of History – Jon Lee Anderson, New Yorker

“There was little that was dramatic or memorable, perhaps by design; it seemed that the speech was more of an exercise in proving that he could get through an appearance without saying something unhinged. In that sense, he was more or less successful, although observers were quick to point out his general superficiality.”

Beyond Schadenfreude, the Spectacular Pundit Failure on Trump is Worth Remembering – Glenn Greenwald & Zaid Jilani, The Intercept

“Influential journalists live much different lives from the mass of voters on whose behalf they think they can speak — or, at least, whose thoughts and actions they believe they can anticipate.”

The Mythology of Trump’s ‘Working Class’ Support – Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight

“… while Republican turnout has considerably increased overall from four years ago, there’s no sign of a particularly heavy turnout among “working-class” or lower-income Republicans. On average in states where exit polls were conducted both this year and in the Republican campaign four years ago, 29 percent of GOP voters have had household incomes below $50,000 this year, compared with 31 percent in 2012.”



A liberal arms race.

Last night, Brooklyn hosted the tenth (and let’s all start praying this can be the last?) debate of the 2016 Democratic primary, where the usual candidates argued over the usual issues with the usual caveats mentioning whatever happened in the campaign sphere that past week.

(If you can’t tell, I’m 100% ready for the Democratic race to be over by now. I think it’s so I can dedicate all my anxiety and well-meaning condescension on my poor Republicans.)

1, 2, 3… DRAW!

But one moment did stick out to me: the gun control portion. It’s always been a weird hiccup in the Democratic debates. Gun control has only gotten around 5-7 minutes of air time at each debate so far (probably because much like Beetlejuice, mentioning “assault weapons” on the debate stage three times summons failed candidate / Time Keeper Jim Webb), which is probably fitting for the scope of issue it is—minor.

Still, I always find myself wanting more in these sections. The first couple minutes are dedicated to the political moves Clinton and Sanders basically have to take: Clinton bringing up Sanders’ rejection of the Brady Bill, Sanders trotting out the same lines about opposing assault weapons bans since ’88 and his D- NRA voting record, yadda yadda.

Pictured: me, existentially speaking

This time, the gun control section ended with Clinton making a bold assertion:

Well, I believe that … giving this special protection to gun manufacturers and to dealers, is an absolute abdication of responsibility on the part of those who voted for it. This is a unique gift given to only one industry in the world by the United States Congress.

The special protection Clinton’s referring to is the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), a 2005 law passed in response to a flurry of legal challenges against various gun manufacturers in the late ‘90s. The law protects providers of weapons from being held legally culpable when crimes are committed with their products (e.g. you can’t sue a gun shop for selling ammunition that was later used to murder a member of your family).

It’s also an underutilized wedge issue this primary season: in 2005, Clinton voted against the protection bill, and Sanders voted for it. Conflict!

This isn’t the first time Clinton’s brought PLCAA up this election cycle. She mentioned it in the New Hampshire Town Hall forum last October:

So far as I know, the gun industry and gun sellers are the only business in America that is totally free of liability for their behavior. Nobody else is given that immunity.

I wish good ol’ Wolf could’ve pushed this topic more, because I think there’s an interesting conversation to be had about gun violence, security, and societal culpability. Should a gun manufacturer be held accountable for crimes committed with their products? Should they (as on 2000 legal challenge argued) stop providing weapons to stores that sell a high percentage of guns later used in crimes?

The debate is partially interesting because ultra-progressive Sanders is actually on the more conservative end of the spectrum than Clinton here. But far more interesting to me is the cultural and societal connections of guns and gun culture, and what it reveals about the appeal of the modern Democratic Party.

Culture Wars

Clinton (although rooted in Chicago & Arkansas) embodies the persona of a New York politician: liberal, but business-savvy; hawkish security while championing social freedoms; and most of all, a proclivity toward under-the-table political wheeling-and-dealing. It makes complete sense why she opposes PLCAA: it represents the overreach of the NRA into legislative policy, a fight that has probably led to increased homicides rates in NYC in the decade since the law was passed. And she brings up this consistent conviction to boot.

Sanders, although having a lot in common with a New York politician in policy, does not have the cultural background Clinton does. Sanders comes from rural Vermont, and like a lot of rural politicians, his relationship to guns is different. Hunting is more common, gun crime is almost the lowest in the nation, and in general—it’s a less pressing issue. It makes complete sense why Sanders would be more gun-friendly than Clinton, and yet—he doesn’t lean into it the way Clinton does.

This is a warning sign to me: Bernie is stumbling under the weight of his own image. Ultra-liberal, super-progressive, democraticsocialist Bernie can’t possibly be more conservative than Hillary on guns, right? But he is! He just can’t talk it up because Democrats have added gun control to their list of must-supports for the immediate future. As that list grows, Democrats should become concerned they’ll fall into the same demographic tailspin currently plaguing another (unnamed) political party.

Though, when pushed in the debate last night, Sanders capitulated his actual policy opinion:

I voted [for PLCAA] because I was concerned that in rural areas all over this country, if a gun shop owner sells a weapon legally to somebody, and that person then goes out and kills somebody, I don’t believe it is appropriate that that gun shop owner who just sold a legal weapon to be held accountable and be sued.

To be honest, I agree with him. I don’t know if it’s necessary to specifically introduce legislation stating that you can’t sue a gun manufacturer, but the premise of his quote is definitely accurate to me.


More so, I think part of why I agree with him has to do with my own cultural background! I grew up in a state with a LOT of guns, and know a lot of people—friends and family—who own guns, for hunting and for self-defense. Personally, it’s not really my cup of tea (and the self-defense argument really is poorly constructed), but being close to gun culture reminds me that people who own and like guns aren’t crazy or inherently demagogic.

That’s a perspective that missing from the modern Democratic Party. Sanders has the chance to let people in on that perspective, so that we can start talking about accomplishing the gun control policy that virtually everyone in America agrees on, but instead, he distances himself from those voices, and starts sounding a lot like a New Yorker in the process.

Fodder. 2016-04-13

Killer Mike’s Supreme Court Brief – Gilad Edelman, New Yorker

“Killer Mike, whose father was a police officer, said he finds it incredible that educated people would take rap lyrics at face value, when other art forms—he also mentioned outlaw country music and Shakespeare—are rife with depictions of violence.”

How federal law draws a line between free speech and hate crimes – Eric Tucker, PBS News Hour

“Establishing the line between protected speech and a federal hate crime can be challenging for prosecutors and courts and depends on the facts of each particular case. Here’s a look at how federal law treats hate speech.”

The Reductive Seduction of Other People’s Problems – Courtney Martin, The Development Set

“There is a whole ‘industry’ set up to nurture these desires and delusions — most notably, the 1.5 million nonprofit organizations registered in the U.S., many of them focused on helping people abroad. In other words, the young American ego doesn’t appear in a vacuum. Its hubris is encouraged through job and internship opportunities, conferences galore, and cultural propaganda — encompassed so fully in the patronizing, dangerously simple phrase ‘save the world.'”

How the Arab Spring Became the Arab Cataclysm – Robin Wright, New Yorker

“What seems to have been lost in the past five years is American strategic support for the Arab Spring’s aspirations—and for the innumerable other Bouazizis still struggling for rights and justice and jobs. One of Obama’s boldest decisions, in 2011, was to abandon longstanding U.S. support for Arab despots, personified in President Hosni Mubarak, who ruled Egypt ruthlessly for thirty years. For the first time, Washington opted for the unknowns of potential democracy over the guarantees of autocratic stability in the Arab world.”

At least learn from yourself

Preface: this focuses entirely on the Republican Party. Please know we value equal opportunity critique, and we plan on having similar reflections focused on Democrats in the future.

After President Obama decisively won re-election, the Republican National Committee created the Growth and Opportunity Project. This independent review panel spent three months conducting research to find substantive communication changes the Republican Party should undertake so they wouldn’t repeat their embarrassing defeat in 2016.

The panel had five co-chairs leading the research:

  • Henry Barbour, RNC member and nephew of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour
  • Sally Bradshaw, senior advisor for the Florida Republican Party and long-time council of Jeb Bush
  • Ari Fleischer, media consultant and former White House Press Secretary (2001-2003)
  • Zori Fonalledas, National Committeewoman from Puerto Rico
  • Glenn McCall, former Chairman of the York County Republican Party

This resulted in the 2013 Growth & Opportunity Report, sometimes known as the Republican 2012 autopsy. It’s an evocative term, but memorable because it gets to the core of what the GOP was doing with the report: looking at the dead Romney campaign, and learning exactly why it failed.

Side note: please once you’re done reading this, watch “Mitt” on Netflix. Super interesting documentary of a very underrated candidate and person.

When reading some sections of the report, it would appear that the Republican Party has learned almost nothing from their loss in 2012, but I think that’s an oversimplification. Let’s take a look.

A study in learning entirely the wrong lesson

[Republicans] must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our Party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only. We also believe that comprehensive immigration reform is consistent with Republican economic policies that promote job growth and opportunity for all.

I’ll begin with the obvious: the report offered suggestions on how to expand the GOP base into Latino communities, focusing particularly on immigration as a policy concern. It’s disheartening to remember how close the Republican Party was to following this advice. Now, the conversation over immigration is entirely unproductive—like they’re building a yuge, yuge wall between the GOP and independents.

So what happened? Did Republicans change their mind on the messaging of immigration? I would argue no, because they undertook the bill in the first place. I staunchly believe there’s a parallel universe where Marco Rubio swept the GOP nomination because of his involvement in this exact legislation, and it’s tragic we don’t live in that universe. Seriously—watch him have to distance himself from something he should be proud of:

When looking back on the failure of the immigration bill, it appears the Republican Party didn’t internally agree on the issue. That’s okay. But instead of parsing out that disagreement, they dropped the bill. No compromise.

I once saw a shirt very similar to this one in the international area of EPCOT at Disney World.

A study in reluctant resignation

There is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays — and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the Party is a place they want to be.

No one writing this report in 2013 would’ve guessed that in a little over two years, gay marriage in the US would be legal nationwide. I think the GOP has done a good job moving forward from Obergefell v. Hodges: although gay marriage coming through the Supreme Court is not the ideal circumstance, it’s largely been a non-issue in the 2016 election. Kasich initiated that shift at the first debate last August, and it hasn’t really been talked about since then.

But that’s not to say the Republican Party is doing any better at appealing to gay voters, or those who strongly value the rights of LGBTQ groups. My own home state of Indiana went through an insanely contentious debate over RFRA legislation last year, and similar legislation in other states is being met with the same outrage.

In short, it would appear that Republicans called retreat on the gay marriage front, and have repackaged their arguments in the context of religious liberty. It’s a fight Republicans are a bit more likely to win than the previous one, but it still doesn’t make this gateway any more attractive to young voters. In contrast to the immigration debate, it would’ve been best for Republicans to drop this issue entirely; instead, they’ve given additional reasons for LGBTQ-friendly voters to stay away.

A study in reaching out to ‘the other’

The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself. We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue.

This is the rhetorical failure destroying the GOP: partisan opposition that is total in nature. It’s an issue based in magnitude of communication rather than specific policy. In the case of the Supreme Court, House Republicans are selfadmittedly opposing nominee Merrick Garland solely because they can. This opposition is total, without regard to individual circumstances—it’s the final line of that quote that really jumped out at me: “…those who do not agree with us on every issue.”

The Republican Party is allornothing. The inability to compromise is political death—expect this to be a theme as long as this blog goes on. As a minority party, this strategy can be effective (after all, it has significantly limited Democratic policy over the last seven years); but as the special interests compound on each other, it offers no legitimate path to becoming a majority.

I can already hear people beginning their responses, “But the Democrats are—” YES, I AGREE. The Democrats are going through the same problem right now with particular interest groups commanding the broader party (I can only name one mildly pro-life elected Democrat). But the issue is more obvious within the GOP, and more immediately threatening to the party’s future.

The GOP did learn one thing from the 2012 autopsy: they need to expand their base. To that, I would add an important caveat: they need to do it in the direction of the Democrats if they ever want the Oval Office again.


PS – While going through the Growth and Opportunity Project report, I found these other quotes that didn’t really fit into my piece, but I found interesting / funny. Check them out!

  • The number of debates should be reduced by roughly half to a still robust number of approximately 10 to 12, with the first occurring no earlier than September 1, 2015, and the last ending just after the first several primaries, February – March 2016. (We’re done with the GOP debates, and we ended up having 13, only one more than the report suggested. Let’s go for half that again in 2020?)
  • Well-funded conservative groups should seek to hire activists to track Democrat incumbents and candidates with video cameras constantly recording their every movement, utterance, and action. Within the applicable legal constraints, we need to create our own video content, bank it, and release it when it suits our candidates’ needs. (Isn’t it crazy that they just lay this out?)
  • Establish an RNC Celebrity Task Force of personalities in the entertainment industry to host events for the RNC and allow donors to participate in entertainment events as a way to attract younger voters. (Years later, still no cool Republican celebrities.)