Until the last few weeks, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz were each other’s best allies in a GOP primary that has unveiled the dark heart of the Republican Party.
Cruz gave Trump credibility with the conservative base. As a hero of the Tea Party and the personification of obstructionism, his early alliance with Trump — who is only a “serious” candidate after years of fake campaigning by virtue of birtherism — gave the billion-dollar baby valuable conservative cred. No politician has done more to court right-wing talk radio than Cruz; with his tacit approval of Trump, he made it okay for the talkers to champion Trump’s bigoted bombast.
At the same time, Trump gave Cruz a chance to ride the anti-immigrant zeitgeist without the withering hits from the frontrunner that his other opponents have suffered. The junior senator from Texas recognized that attacking Trump — who is still more reality star than politician — wouldn’t help him, and refrained until it was absolutely necessary.
The narrowing of the race brought out the birther in Trump, a mode proving to be somewhat effective in Iowa.
Cruz’s return assault on Trump’s “New York values” seemed to have backfired when Trump gave an impassioned response to the “insulting” charge, complete with a Giuliani-style 9/11 riff. The billionaire won rare plaudits from Hillary Clinton and even our own Joe Conason, who noted the ridiculous hypocrisy and dark undertones of Cruz’s cheap insult.
Apparently this is exactly what Cruz wanted. His anti-birther strategy is to draw Iowa’s attention to this clip from 1999, where Trump lays out his then-liberal values and says they might be different if he lived in Iowa.
This may be the first successful attack on the frontrunner, or could backfire like all the others. But it’s based on a ridiculous assumption that Trump has any values beyond boosting Donald Trump and his Trump gene pool.
Trump’s reliance on the city’s reaction and nation’s collective pain over 9/11 belies the fact that most of what he advocates these days is in exact opposition to what makes New York and America great.
Here are five “New York values” Donald Trump needs to learn.
Nationalism isn’t patriotism. Trump has spent months degrading America as a “hellhole” occupied and run by “losers,” that is, the American people. He’s inciting anger at other countries and fellow Americans not out of any allegiance to our values but for political convenience. He says he wants to make America “great” again and cites the Eighties as a time when we were great, although back then he was using the same schtick to rail against Japan and Ronald Reagan’s leadership. Trump’s captious indulgence in a restoration of a humiliated national pride is an echo of fascist movements of the 20th century.
Not only do undocumented immigrants commit fewer crimes on average than citizens, actual net migration has been near zero for the past few years. No, Americans are struggling not due to immigration but because of decisions made by our elites. Fixating anger on the least among us — those most likely to be exploited and abused — doesn’t just contradict the works inscribed on the Statue of Liberty but speaks to deficiency of the broad ethnic and cultural acceptance that makes our largest and most multicultural city so great. This is a man whose entire campaign is built on the racist assumption that the first black president isn’t a citizen, based on no actual evidence. Watching him claim to uphold any sort of “values” is nauseating.
Apparent scams like Trump University speak to Trump’s sense of people’s aspirations as an opportunity to milk and exploit them. And his political career has been wrought with the same cynicism. We’re supposed to believe that Trump — like anti-gay marriage Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis — suddenly found Jesus after multiple divorces. Listening toTrump claim that the Bible is his favorite book, closely followed by his own, should raise the hackles of true Christians — given the complete lack of generosity or Christian spirit of his rhetoric. Nothing about a Muslim ban or database speaks to “turning the other cheek.” Appealing to Americans’ worst instincts can make you powerful and profitable. But it should also make you ashamed. Yet this is a man who has no shame — not even decades after calling for the execution of black teenagers who have been proved innocent.
We should give Trump credit for embodying one New York value in excess — chutzpah. The man can be funny, ribald and game, which is what made him a national celebrity. But in his pretense to statesmanship, he’s only gotten more insulting. Insulting to POWs. Insulting to the disabled. Insulting to immigrants, Muslims, women. By feeding anger against disempowered groups, he may increase his power — but that strategy reveals a deeper weakness that he seems desperate to hide, with a flurry of insults any time he feels slighted in any way.
Trump promises to soak the rich — and then proposes giving them trillions in tax breaks. He says workers’ wages are too high, and suddenly reverses himself when someone points out that he’s exactly wrong. He claims to oppose “political correctness,” but employs that tactic only to shut up anyone who disagrees with him. Weathervanes have far more integrity than Trump, because they at least are tethered to the reality of the wind. We have no idea what Trump will support or oppose tomorrow, because he lacks a basic code. He made it big in New York City — with a lot of help from his father. The Donald Trump who is on the national stage today doesn’t represent a New York state of mind. He’s just a bad joke that’s gone on way too long.
Copyright 2016 The National Memo