Election 2016

Dems & Reps Are Melting Down. These Two Tweets Help Explain Why

GOP frontrunner Donald Trump is a seriously deranged male chauvinist pig, while Obama praises Cuban education.


If you've ever wondered why an increasing number of people are ashamed to be identified as either Republican or Democratic, consider the two tweets that appear below.

They differ in tone, subject matter, and in many other ways, but they help to explain why, as Gallup has documented, "Democratic, Republican Identification [Are] Near Historical Lows." In fact, just 29 percent of people are willing to cop to being a Democrat these days, which represents the lowest number since 1988 (when 36 percent called themselves Democrats). For Republicans, the current percentage is 26 percent, up one whole point from last year but well below the 31 percent proud to wear red back when the first George Bush was taking on Mike Dukakis. I'm happy to take all bets that when Gallup surveys folks next year, the GOP number will be at an all-time low.

A new CBS/New York Times polls finds that fully 60 percent of Republicans "are mostly embarrassed by their party's presidential campaign."

Who can blame them, when party heavyweights tweet stuff like this:

Trump's retweet of a supporter's photoshopped image is perhaps the crassest, most pathetic, and rankly misogynistic campaign statement in decades. But it is hardly the only reason why 60 percent of Republicans are embarrassed by their party's campaign.

I'll get to the president's own pathetic statement about the wonders of Cuban public education in a moment, but first let's focus on the GOP's breakdown and dysfunction, which features Republican solons not just joining the #NeverTrump movement but even hatching plans to deny the billionaire developer the nomination by any means necessary.

So let's be clear: The problem isn't that Trump is so deviant from GOP orthodoxy but that he so closely apes the party that he is helping to destroy. Yes, he's a "fake" Republican who showed very little interest in the party before deciding to run for president under its aegis. Conservatives and establishment characters can complain all they want about how he's not principled or serious or that he's even less well-read in the Constitution than he is the Bible.

What they can't do is explain very well where he departs from exactly the sorts of policies they've long espoused. Lest we forget (and libertarians who think about voting Republican shouldn't ever forget this), one of Ted Cruz's and National Review's main attacks on Trump is that he is weak on immigration! Seriously! Here's a guy who not five minutes into his announcement that he was running for president started calling Mexicans rapists and disease-ridden vermin and crowing not just that he was going to build a wall but that he would make the Mexican government pay for it! But according to Cruz, NR, and "real" conservatives, Trump would let some of the deportees back into America eventaully, so he's full of it.

When it comes to trade, Trump is no free marketer. But did you get a load of what Cruz, John Kasich, and Marco Rubio said about the topic at the last debate featuring a quartet? In different but distinct ways, all the candidates trimmed their devotion to free trade. Cruz walked away from earlier support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a imperfect trade pact that whose negotiations were started by George W. Bush, and support for "trade promotion authority" (TPA), which would allow President Obama negotiate all details and then submit a final deal for an up or down congressional vote. TPA is completely routine in these sorts of deals, by the way. Maybe Cruz just doesn't want to give a win to a Democrat? Maybe, but then what does that tell you about his principles? Rubio brayed on and on about Cuba and sugar protectionism and Kasich even invoked the need for "fair trade," which is protectionist garbage. Trump's proposed trade war with China sounds like something out of The Weekly Standard in the late 1990s, when that mag was figuring China was the next big fight for the U.S.

But, but, but…Trump is into eminent domain and no "real" conservative can abide that! In one of the early debates, Jeb Bush (remember him?) took it to The Donald about the billionaire's sad-sack attempt to use government muscle to squeeze an old lady out of her house in Atlantic City. In the debate, Trump was talking about the Keystone XL Pipeline, which he correctly said would never get built without a ton of eminent domain. Now, given that the pipeline will be run by a private company, there's a strong case against invoking eminent domain here, which should only be used for public purposes, right? Like building public schools and hospitals and roads. The case is complicated enough, though, that the Institute for Justice, the libertarian legal nonprofit that made eminent-domain abuse a national issue a decade ago, hasn't taken a position on Keystone. But Jeb Bush and every other Republican on that debate stage had. They supported building it and they claimed that it was in fact a public use. Indeed, in Ted Cruz's Texas, that sort of action to support the construction of pipelines owned and operated by private companies is totally accepted.

I raise this not to support eminent domain in this instance but to underscore that all the Republicans who complain that Trump is not one of them, they really have trouble explaining exactly how his policies contradict their own preferences. One of the places where that seemed to be the case was foreign policy or, more specifically, the war on terror. For a while, at least, Trump seemed to be less interventionist than the modal Republican and in his recent AIPAC speech he had the temerity to question whether NATO should still be funded mostly through American dollars. Once upon a time, he suggested he'd be a neutral negotiator in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, but he dutifully walked that back. But even if he is not as obviously interventionist as, say, Ted Cruz or Hillary Clinton, he's no so slouch when it comes to killing people in the name of national security, is he? Trump's enthusiasm for waterboarding and torture, not to mention the indiscriminate killing of innocents, is grotesque. And fully in line with Republican policies back when George W. Bush was running the show. Is he the only Republican calling for ending immigration from Muslim countries and turning away the few thousand Syrian refugees that might be headed for the United States? Hardly.

In the wake of the Brussels attacks, his main rival, Ted Cruz, called to renew a demonstrably failed program to surveil Muslim communities. Mentioning Cruz, of course, brings us back to the rancid tweet above, where Donald Trump recirculated a fan's unflattering image of Heidi Cruz. This came after a Cruz super-PAC (which legally can't coordinate with any candidate's campaign) had circulated semi-nude pictures of Trump's wife Melania, a former model, in an attempt to undermine support for The Donald in the Utah caucuses. Trump responding by threatening "Lying Ted" that he would "spill the beans" about Cruz's wife, Heidi, a Goldman Sachs employee and former George W. Bush administration official (most speculation of what the beans are includes a 2005 incident in which Mrs. Cruz was deemed "a danger to herself" by the Austin Police Department).

To his minimal credit, Cruz is taking the high road in this latest flap, calling Trump a "coward" and refusing to rise to his rival's bait and insult Mrs. Trump. At the same time, Cruz is hardly above what even the anti-Trump organ National Review calls "dirty campaign tactics," most spectacularly sending out phony notices of voting violations and spreding false rumors about Ben Carson dropping out of the race in Iowa. The incredibly low and increasingly ugly Republican race for the nomination may well represent the logical endpoint for a party that has long hewed to a take-no-prisoners approach to politics and policy. And it should hardly be surprising that it may well have created an opening for someone like Donald Trump to win the GOP presidential nomination. How exactly do conservative Republicans, who have spent decades denouncing all criticism of their reactionary social positions as just one more symptom of "political correctness" and the hyper-feminization of America, credibly get annoyed when their own candidates play rough with one another?

While it's tempting to see the 2016 Republican meltdown as rooted primarily in rhetorical overload, that would be a mistake. Fundamentally, the problem facing the GOP and people's loss of confidence in it is about policy. Specifically, it's about the absolute failure of the Republicans to deliver on any of their promises earlier in the 21st century when they held a lock on both houses of Congress and the presidency. The GOP did not simply fail at leadership, they were catastrophically awful. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, first came The Patriot Act and a whole host of initiatives that violated civil liberties (the extent of these only only came out later). Foreign policy was a complete disaster, including two major wars that were poorly conceived and incompetently prosecuted. On the domestic front, Republicans tripped over themselves to expand Medicare, federalize K-12 leducation policy, loosen requirements on food stamps and disability, and ultimately expand spending and major regulations in ways not seen since LBJ pursued his wars on poverty and in Vietnam. In the close of the Bush years, Republicans ralled around a tax-rebate stimulus that was pointless and bailouts for Wall Street and the auto industry. That they did all this while attacking the Democrats as the party of big government and wild deficits didn't help matters.

But of course, the Bush years and absolute GOP policy failure only takes through 2006 or 2008 at the latest, and thus doesn't explain why the same CBS/New York Times poll that finds 60 percent of Republicans are ashamed of their own party also finds that 61 percent of us believe "that things have gotten pretty seriously off on the wrong track" and less than half of all Americans approve of the job Barack Obama is doing.

In his first couple of years in office, when he had a veto-proof majority in the Senate, the president effectively got everything he wanted, particularly his still-unpopular health care plan and a record-breaking stimulus whose benefits have yet to materialize. Time and again, Obama and the Democrats descended into parody, as when it turned out that self-described most transparent administration in history was maintaining an extra-judicial, secret kill list and massively expanded surveillance of communcations by ordinary Americans. The reflexive attitude of Democrats is still to "blame Bush" for all the ills of the world or, same thing, Republican obstructionism.

And even when Obama does something absolutely proper and correct—such as normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba, the event that generated the tweet at the top of this column from his advisor Valerie Jarrett—he manages to alienate even people who agree with him. "Cuba has an extraordinary resource," he pants, while in a communist country that had actually imprisoned political activists in anticipation of his visit, "a system of education which values every boy and every girl." As Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, himself a longtime advocated of opening up Cuba and who accompanied Obama on his trip, told Reason at a January conference we held in Havana, "Cubans will tout their three successes: healthcare, education, and science. I think Americans would come down here and see the three failures of socialism: breakfast, lunch, and dinner."

To be sure, Jarrett's retweet of her boss's platitude is not crass or contemptible in the same as Trump's bon mot about Heidi Cruz. But in the end, it speaks to the same evacuation of common sense and responsibility in contemporary American politics. Both Democrats and Republicans have had their turn in the sun in the 21st century and each has, by common acclamation, failed not just miserably but spectacularly at governing a country in which only 18 percent of us trust the government to do what is right all or most of the time.

Gage Skidmore—Flickr

One immediate result is that each party's frontrunner—Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton—is disliked by a majority of Americans. That's one way to make history: force Americans to pick between cancer and poison.

Here's another. Force at least one of the major parties (or elevate a third-party to major status) that takes seriously what we all know to be true: Americans are mostly socially liberally and fiscally conservative and a majority is tired of "government doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals." There's a reason why the 2012 Libertarian Party presidential candidate, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, is already polling in double digits months before the LP's convention.

It's not because he is promising to be all things to all people and expand wars, surveillance, free health care and college, and keep unisex bathrooms from darkening the doors of public schools. It's because we are tired of political parties that turn every aspect of human activity into partisan battlefields and that regularly completely switch positions without acknowledging it while pretending to embody timeless "principles." It's because we are tired of political parties that turn the world into literal battlefields (in this, Hillary Clinton is at least as belligerent as any Republican) and spend more and more money while blaming the other side.

We yearn for an alternative and, given the utter bankruptcy, ugliness, and banality of this campaign so far, we might just get it.

Last summer, Reason spoke with Gary Johnson about the new phenomenon that was Donald Trump, the end of the Republican Party, and the future of American politics.