If the 2016 GOP primary is a long meltdown, Saturday night was when the core breached and the damage became catastrophic.
Sure, the damage that Donald Trump’s incendiary rhetoric about Mexicans, Muslims, the disabled, women, and anyone who doesn’t call him a genius was probably already irreversible. But in that two-hour debate, the billion-dollar baby found the cracks in the Republican coalition and began fracking away.
“I will tell you. They lied,” said Trump when asked about George W. Bush’s prosecution of the Iraq War, as Jeb Bush stood a few feet away. “And they said there were weapons of mass destruction and there were none. And they knew there were none. There were no weapons of mass destruction.”
This was like Code Pink in full anti-war fury, calling out a Bush brother to his face. Trump also praised Planned Parenthood, noting that abortions are only a tiny fraction of what it does, and rebuking Ted Cruz: “You are the single biggest liar, you’re probably worse than Jeb Bush.”
Then he mentioned the one indisputable fact you’re never, ever supposed to point out as a Republican: George W. Bush was president on 9/11.
The only way he could go any further would be to actually throw a shoe at a Bush.
The crowd booed him several times but the online poll at the Drudge Report — the sewer into which all that is conservative online drains and flows — showed this:
“If [his debate performance] doesn’t backfire, then it will be official; nothing can stop him,” GOP strategist Curt Anderson said.
The tribalism of the GOP — along with massive support from vested donors who depend on Republicans to make the richest ever richer — has kept the party together despite its undeniable failures. Trump is proving he can stomp on half the tribe and still win, violating the rule that you’re never supposed to mention Bush failures where you eat.
Republicans are finally figuring out that their party isn’t their party. Decades of identity politics built on resentment and loss have created a moveable beast ready to follow anyone fearless enough to savage their opponents and promise a restoration of lost status.
George W. Bush is a victim of this mob mentality because Jeb is calling on his brother for backup. But more than any living Republican, W. — or the machine around W. — figured out how to channel identity politics into political power.
Not sure why W is bewildered. He’s the one who destroyed the GOP’s institutional capacity for policy analysis. https://t.co/qmpsLH6FvS
— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) February 13, 2016
One fortunate son paved the way for another.
Trumpism is all about braggadocio and the use of power for its own sake. W. Bushism proceeded with the same mentality, while adhering to the pre-Trump etiquette of only hinting his true intentions with heavily coded language.
With a veneer of respectability and a pseudo-aristocratic pedigree, Bush definitely differed from Trump in style. He wasn’t willing to swing wildly in public and he had an innate sense of legacy that drove him to woo the fastest growing group of new voters, Latinos, rather than using them as scapegoats for America’s ills.
Instead, Bush’s policies did the wild swinging for him — and the damage he did to America and the Republican Party is finally becoming clear with the emergence of Donald Trump.
Trump seems ahistorical with his disconnection from reality and his willingness to invent facts that serve his narrative, of an America in decline that only he can save. But his closest antecedent is the Bush/Cheney administration
From his campaign built on lying about who would benefit most from his tax cuts to claiming a mandate from an election he lost to passing those surplus-draining tax cuts, Bush’s willingness to ignore precedent and reality was evident long before the Iraq War.
While Bush deserves credit for visiting a mosque and calling for tolerance in the days after 9/11, his administration’s relentless drive for war in Iraq was only possible by exploiting America’s worst fears, creating a culture of endless war that has seen us bomb more than a half dozen Muslim countries since 2001.
With Republicans finally debating whether the Iraq War was an act of outright deception or just complete incompetence, the idea that the facts can be trimmed to fit a presidential agenda wasn’t just politics as usual for the Bush Administration. It was the result a philosophy that embraced the art of intentional deception — a right-wing response to a world without a countervailing superpower.
‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality,” a Bush aide later identified as Karl Rove told author Ron Suskind. “And while you’re studying that reality— judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'”
For decades, the right has been building what historian Rick Perlstein calls “The Long Con.” But only during the Bush era did that confidence game become apocalyptic — just as the national unity that followed 9/11 was charred by the insanity of the Iraq War.
While most of America sees the Bush Administration as a failure, the party’s biggest donors experienced its massive transfer of the wealth and its regulatory elimination (which sped climate change and ushered in the Great Recession) as tremendous spoils of victory.
After decades of right-wing conspiring to create a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, the high bench delivered Citizens United and the decimation of nearly all campaign finance laws. That decision encouraged Republican billionaires to step in and create their own shadow party. The party establishment was left powerless in the face of an actual billionaire donor stepping into the fray, ready to burn everything down — whenever it might suit his fancy.
From the increasing abandonment of reality during the Bush era, a straight line can be drawn to the complete denial of climate science, the absolute abandonment of normal political order to obstruct Barack Obama, and now, the rise of Trump.
The party has actively shrugged off the constraints of reality in the name of power. And today they confront a skillful, reckless interloper who is even better at that than they are.
Copyright 2016 The National Memo