Trumped

If those establishment Republicans who really do want to stop Donald Trump also want to beat Hillary Clinton, their options have narrowed to just about one. They need to get Ted Cruz to withdraw from the race and throw his support to Ohio Governor John Kasich. And they better not wait till the convention, where a thoroughly fanciful food fight against dear leader Trump would tear their party apart.

As for the ballyhooed effort by a few elements of the Republican establishment to take down Trump with negative ads, well, it hasn't worked and it's now mostly unravelled. The supposed big money campaign is mostly melting away, as we see from reports of the most recent meetings, and Trump looks dominant in polls for most upcoming state primaries. And as for the option of backing Cruz ... fuhgeddaboudit.

The falangist Texas senator is so politically extreme and personally repellent, that last according to his own Republican Senate colleagues, that he would be easy pickings for Hillary. At least Trump has the potential to upend normal campaign dynamics with his Fox News/"reality" TV/social media-derived mastery of the present media culture. And he is certainly quite effective at tearing down his opponents, as media favorites Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio learned the hard way.

Hillary certainly hasn't mastered the new media disorder. As unpopular as the neo-fascist Trump may be, her credibility problem, thanks to the e-mail gaffe and perpetual nonsense, may be worse than his. But the former secretary of state did effectively turn the Bern down to a flame with her impressive five-state sweep last Tuesday, squelching the socialist senator's Michigan breakthrough with a huge win in Ohio (gaining support over the closing weekend after Sanders had closed the gap), along with expected landslide wins in Florida and North Carolina. Sanders has an important role to play going forward building a big vote and powerful progressive wing, but his tantalizingly close performances in Iowa and Nevada, where he had real opportunities to upend Hillary, will haunt him.

As for the Duce, er, Donald, the billionaire bully boy took four out of five Republican contests, including a near 20-point humiliation of establishment fave rave Marco Rubio in his home state Florida.

"Bye bye, little Marco, you're fired!" Yes, I find Trump quite entertaining -- though I always put him in the media section -- and have even worked up an impression of the guy. I also find him to be sinister as hell, as you may have noticed.

Anyway, Trump's it for the Republicans. He only lost to Kasich, the quite decent governor of Ohio, in the Ohio primary. Everywhere else, he won, despite $23 million in attack ads against him in the previous two weeks. Trump says it was $43 million, by the way, but what else would you expect from someone who says he's the most presidential guy ever, "except for the great Abe Lincoln."

That's perfect, you know, "the great" Abe Lincoln. Trump is such a dyed-in-the-wool huckster he can't turn it off, even when it's obviously unnecessary.

"I'm more presidential than those other guys on Mount Rushmore though. My plane's much better than the Jefferson Airplane. Solid gold fixtures. Classy. World classy. The other guys there didn't even have planes. Losers. I'm the most successful person ever to run for president. ..."

Ahem. Back to business. But hey, if you can't laugh about the devolution of a once, well, not embarrassing political party, what can you laugh about?

Of course, the real joke, which is kind of on us all, is that, quite unlike Cruz, who has no dynamics as a candidate, Trump might just win. In a demolition derby campaign, naturally. I don't expect him to win, but if a few things go wrong for Hillary and the Dems -- economic downturn/terrorist spectacular/geopolitical humiliation/Clinton scandal -- and his own luck holds, Donald Trump is president.

Which you can bet a lot of big-time Republicans know. So what if he's a neo-fascist? In world history, conservatives have not infrequently worked with neo-fascists. And it's not like it's that giant a step for a party sliding in that direction for a long time. As then U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell said before the inconvenience known as Watergate: "This country is going to go so far to the right you won't recognize it."

Mitchell was the New York bond lawyer who arranged for the then ex-Vice President Richard Nion to move to New York and join his Wall Street firm after getting trounced in the California governor's race by Pat Brown. He then served as Nixon's campaign manager -- implementing the notorious "Southern strategy" to take advantage of white backlash against the Civil Rights Act -- and then as attorney general before becoming a top Watergate conspirator.

So this stuff does predate the Fox News strategy of aggregating and activating a mass right-wing base. And Fox News chief Roger Ailes was, wait for it, Nixon's groundbreaking media consultant in 1968 prior to the rest of his pre-Fox career as a conservative Republican consultant.

So what Ailes proceeded to do with Fox News in the past decade actually had a strong set of predicates. (Nixon, of course, has a rather mixed heritage of a paranoid sort of repressive policy on the one hand and some otherwise surprising creative moderation in aspects of environmental and social welfare policy.)

The strategy that former Nixon media consultant Roger Ailes pursued in aggregating and agitating most of what has become the Republican base via Fox News programming derives from the previous examples of the big evangelical Christian TV ministries, the Talk Radio Right of Rush Limbaugh and his ilk, and the frequently central online conveyor belt role played by the Drudge Report.

And so, as moderation evaporated, the Republicans became the party of low taxes for the rich and big corporations, denialism of much of modern science (especially evolution and climate change), seething resentment of "the other," and crackpot interventionism and imperialism.

Seeing and seizing the main chance, Trump neatly slid into virtually all of these emerging tendencies in an already activated and angered media base.

Evangelical Christians, for example, have demonstrated how their brand of followership slots neatly into Trump's neo-fascist politics throughout the primaries, despite Trump's laughable lack of religiosity, much less belief in the ethical teachings of Christ.

Neoconservatives, however, stick out with their resentment of Trump for his criticism -- very much after the fact, mind you -- of the invasion of Iraq. But Trump, while not satisfying neocon elites still trying to claim they weren't wrong on the Middle East, nonetheless satisfies what populist neocon sentiments there are through his crude but effective talk of American exceptionalism and promise of triumph over threatening foreigners.

Against Trump's shrewd gut-level appeal to basic instincts in the party's now quite Foxonian popular core, establishment Republicans have proved to be mostly flat-footed and/or half-hearted.

The reality is that most party establishment folks are lobbyists, mercenary consultants and PR types, elite fundraisers of the One Percent, Beltway think tank propagandists, and career politicians.

To most folks like this, an obvious stiff like Jeb Bush or a chameleon-on-plaid like Marco Rubio is a consummate professional and true leader. (To Trump, they were fresh meat.)

A shallow, ADD, insular political media, missing Trump entirely, gilded all that into something it decidedly was not, something which Trump was all too happy to implode like an old casino long overdue for demolition.

For Trump, who is a phony, looks oddly real compared to what was supposedly the greatest Republican presidential field in memory.

The Dems have their own problems, of course: too tied both to Wall Street and narrowcast unions, as well as too PC. Their path forward is complex. But the Dems are a party of hope, not hate.

And what of moderate, modern Republicans? Well, though I'm not a Republican, I was with John McCain 2000 and Arnold Schwarzenegger (the latter, not incidentally, utterly essential to California's world leadership on renewable energy, new transportation, and climate change.) But McCain has moved to the right and Arnold, who helped Kasich win the Ohio primary, has just established his Arnold Classic multi-sport festival on every continent except Antarctica. The only moderate Republicans around much now are on Mad Men. And that show, notably set in the 1960s, has concluded its original run.

John Kasich is a good man, a thoughtful, non-radical, non-hating conservative. But in no other Western nation would anyone serious really call him a moderate.

We've come a long way, baby.

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