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The Real Reason GOP Talking Heads are Attacking Trump
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Well. This is telling.
One of the striking aspects of Donald Trump’s announcement that he is running for president is the vehemence of his critics – on the conservative side.
The normally even-keeled Dana Perino almost foamed on the set of Fox News’ “The Five” as she fumed about Trump’s line that he would not only build a wall that only he could build along the Mexican border but he would make the Mexicans pay for it. Over at National Review the normally astute Kevin Williamson went off not just the deep end but the very, very deep end in a column calling Trump – no kidding – a “Witless Ape.” In which it seems that Trump’s style (“the worst taste since Caligula”) and wife (a “ plastic-surgery-disaster wife”) were as offensive as Trump himself, the latter “a reality-television grotesque…grunting like a baboon about our country’s ‘brand’ and his own vast wealth.”
Let’s start with Williamson, whose piece should perhaps be retitled “Witless Writer Jumps the Shark.”
Having worked his way through a spray of bile unworthy of National Review not to mention the normally serious Williamson himself, there was a Williamson presentation of bankruptcy that was either willfully ignorant or maybe just blissfully so. Not to mention, Williamson revealed himself as historically clueless on the subject of presidents and bankruptcy.
And, oh yes. Let’s not forget the panel that appeared on Bret Baier’s “Special Report” the evening of Trump’s announcement. In which “conservatives” George Will and Charles Krauthammer joined liberal Mara Liasson in dissing Trump to substitute host Doug McKelway.
Why would conservative commentators pile on America’s arguably most famous capitalist? And not just pile on, either. This was, both individually in some cases and certainly collectively a full-blown temper tantrum worthy of a two-year old. As Rush Limbaugh observed after reading the NRO piece on air, imagine if Williamson and conservative commentators would expend this kind of energy on Hillary...or Jeb.
There is an answer to the “why” however. An answer that speaks directly to both why Trump’s candidacy resonates – and the visceral nature of the opposition to him in some of these conservative quarters. Not coincidentally it speaks as well to some of the GOP Establishment fury at Senator Ted Cruz when he stood up almost alone against Obamacare. Or the quick dismissals of Dr. Ben Carson’s campaign by the same crowd.
Donald Trump is an establishment GOP political consultant’s worst nightmare. He speaks off the cuff, and he speaks bluntly.
In short? A serious chunk of the conservative base of the Republican Party looks at the Washington GOP Establishment – defined as everyone from Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to the Republican National Committee, the US Chamber of Commerce and some quarters of the conservative commentariat – and they see not conservatives but Insiders. People who have long ago abandoned the field to join – if I may borrow a phrase thrown at Trump – a clown car of Insider-dom. People who spend their time talking to one another in Washington or New York or both and are utterly clueless of what’s going on in everyday America.
Donald Trump is an establishment GOP political consultant’s worst nightmare. He speaks off the cuff, and he speaks bluntly. He could not possibly care less what the GOP establishment, viewing it as he does as corrupt when not incompetent, thinks. Republican and conservative voters who like Trump, like him exactly because he speaks in blunt truths that they themselves believe and lack the forum to say. When Trump talks about his own wealth it is a reminder that he made not a dime of it being a Washington insider. The very fact that Jeb Bush generates news stories reporting that he’s swept through Washington’s lobbying industry like a vacuum cleaner sucking up money for his campaign tells a lot of conservatives everything they need to know about a Bush candidacy and potential presidency – none of it good.
To show how the Insider game works, take a look at that “Witless Ape” column by Mr. Williamson. Williamson tries to leave the impression – a decidedly false impression – that Donald Trump went bankrupt. This is false. Say again, false. When one operates in the world of business and finance that Trump has mastered to the tune of almost $9 billion in assets, the bankruptcy laws are tools of finance. Here is Trump himself educating ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on the subject back in 2011:
Stephanopoulos: There was one more question on that from Michael Swaile of Toledo, Ohio. He asked, "How would you defend any fiscal policy, considering you’ve had to declare bankruptcy numerous times?”
Trump: I never went bankrupt.
Trump: And it’s such-- excuse me. I never went bankrupt. And let me just tell you. If you look at our great businesspeople today, Carl Icahn, Henry Kravis, (UNINTEL)-- Leon Black of Apollo. All of them have done the same. They use and we use the laws of this country, the bankruptcy laws, because we’ll buy a company. We’ll have the company. We’ll throw it into a chapter. We’ll negotiate with the banks. We’ll make a fantastic deal. We’ll use those. But they were never personal. This is nothing personal. You know, it’s like on the Apprentice. It’s not personal. It’s just business. Okay? If you look at our greatest people, Carl Icahn with TWA and so many others. Leon Black, Linens-n-Things and others. Henry Kravis. A lot of ‘em, everybody. But with me it’s "Oh, you did--" this is a business thing. I’ve used the laws of this country to pare debt. In one case, with the casinos, which I don’t-- which I haven’t even run for many years. But I did very well with the casinos, very well. But then what happened with Atlantic City was Philadelphia happened, lots of other places happened, Delaware and such. And what I did is reduce the debt from a billion eight to like $300 and some odd million, by using intelligently the laws of this country. Now, people could say, "Oh, gee, isn’t that terr--" I never declared-- this is nothing to do with me, personally. This is just a business. I haven’t even run these things. I only owned a piece of them. I didn’t own the whole thing. I owned a piece of them. But if you look at our greatest businesspeople, most of them, in order to pare debt or change a company or change a structure, most of them and many of them and some-- the best ones, and I name some of ‘em. I could name 25 more. Have used the laws to take a deal. I mean, as an example. I bought a house out of bankruptcy. A house-- I bought it for $41 million. I sold it for $100 million a short time later. I paid $41, I sold it for $100. I bought it at a bankruptcy. The bankruptcy laws could be used to your advantage.”
One has a hard time believing that a guy as smart as Williamson could be that ignorant of the way the financial community uses bankruptcy laws, but it’s either that or understanding that he chose to be deliberately deceptive.
How tough is this to understand? Apparently, too tough for Williamson who foams almost literally while trying to give the impression that Trump’s “latest bankruptcy” is personal. One has a hard time believing that a guy as smart as Williamson could be that ignorant of the way the financial community uses bankruptcy laws, but it’s either that or understanding that he chose to be deliberately deceptive.
This particular phoniness is only emphasized when one realizes that on the one hand there is Williamson lauding Abraham Lincoln as one of “a pantheon of Republican political heroes,” yet seemingly clueless that, yes indeed, Abraham Lincoln not only went bankrupt but unlike Trump, Old Abe had to file for personal bankruptcy. As the Lincoln legend accurately records, the future president’s try at being the owner of a general store owner in 1832 New Salem, Illinois didn’t go well. Long story short, the store went belly up and so did Lincoln’s finances – and he had to file for bankruptcy. It took Lincoln into the 1840s to pay off his debts.
And while we’re on the topic of Trump and the presidency, Mr. Williamson is also a Thomas Jefferson fan, writing that, “there is more to the life of Thomas Jefferson than his having been a slave owner.” That’s correct. That something “more” would include several bankruptcy filings, and like Lincoln and unlike Trump Jefferson’s bankruptcies were decidedly of the personal nature. All of this was long before the Republican Governor of Ohio went bankrupt while serving as governor – and three years later was elected president, with William McKinley becoming a popular twice-elected president serving until his 1901 assassination. No one, apparently, cared about his bankruptcy. Or at least not enough to keep the country from electing him twice.
So if Williamson considers bankruptcy such a big deal? Then surely one can believe he will be leading a campaign to – what? Remove the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials from the Washington pantheon of monuments to great presidents? Take Abe off the penny and five dollar bill? Get Jefferson off the nickel? No, of course he won’t be doing this. Which means not just that the bankruptcy issue he raises is phony, but that his fury is hypocritical if not seethingly almost irrational.
So irrational that he simply makes up another story out of whole cloth. Comparing Trump’s candidacy to the 1992 presidential candidacy of Ross Perot, Williamson writes that Perot peddled “cracked tales” including that RNC Chairman “Lee Atwater plotted to crash his daughter’s wedding with phonied-up lesbian sex pictures.” Interesting. Particularly interesting since Perot withdrew from the race in July of 1992 – and Atwater had died of brain cancer in April of 1991. That would be long before Perot even thought to declare his candidacy in February of 1992. But hey, if you can make up stories about Donald Trump why not make one up about Lee Atwater while you’re at it.
When did Brian Williams start writing under the name Kevin Williamson?
But as mentioned, Williamson isn’t alone. This isn’t really about Williamson or Perino, Will and Krauthammer. They are merely symbolic of the divide that is increasingly splitting the GOP wide open. As it happens, another article in the cyber pages of National Review illustrates the divide fueling the Trump candidacy without even mentioning Trump.
That article, by Joel Gehrke, nominally concerns the back and forth over trade issues between House GOP conservatives and Speaker Boehner’s House GOP Leadership. The tale revolves around Ohio’s Congressman Jim Jordan, the leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. Write’s Gehrke:
Led by Representative Jim Jordan (R., Ohio), a platoon of conservatives demanded that Boehner agree to a series of concessions in exchange for their support for so-called Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), legislation that would give President Obama wider latitude to negotiate free-trade agreements. When GOP leadership ignored them, Jordan and his allies tried to kill the bill on a procedural vote — a rare step made more surprising by the lawmakers’ general support for free trade. It was the boldest attempt yet from the recently formed House Freedom Caucus, which Jordan chairs, to counteract Boehner’s perceived tendency to wilt in the face of Democratic pressure.
…Jordan and other members of the Freedom Caucus believe that Republican leaders have tended to yield to Democratic demands rather than keeping the promises they made on the campaign trail in 2014. And they thought that sending Boehner a message was important enough to oppose a free-trade package they’d normally be inclined to support.
‘Why do 65 percent of Republican voters think Republicans aren’t doing what we said we were going to do? You know why? Because we’re not doing what we said we were going to do,” says one Freedom Caucus member. “We didn’t talk about trade . . . We talked about dealing with the executive amnesty issue, we talked about dealing with Obamacare, we talked about totally reforming the tax code, requiring work for welfare.’
In other words, the same forces that are making the Trump candidacy resonate with the grassroots and are infuriating Williamson and others on the conservative side of the commentary aisle are fueling Jim Jordan and those House conservatives in their increasingly bitter battle with Boehner. To wit, that quote from a Freedom Caucus member: “Why do 65 percent of Republican voters think Republicans aren’t doing what we said we were going to do? You know why? Because we’re not doing what we said we were going to do.”
Exactly. And Donald Trump—and others like Dr. Ben Carson and Senator Ted Cruz—get it.
They are out there on the ground in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and elsewhere getting an earful from Republicans and conservatives who see themselves as being “marginalized” for simply expressing uncomfortable truths about the issues of the day from amnesty to dealing with Iranian nukes to the repeal of ObamaCare.
They are the candidates who resonate with the non-Insider base of the Republican Party and the conservative movement. And neither Trump nor the rest are going away.
Marginalized at the grassroots level just like those House conservatives who actually have been elected to Congress. Marginalized just like those conservative commentators and others trying to marginalize Donald Trump or Carson or Cruz or whomever.
All of which explains the real meaning of Donald Trump’s popularity—and that of other outsiders as well. They are the candidates who resonate with the non-Insider base of the Republican Party and the conservative movement. And neither Trump nor the rest are going away.
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at email@example.com
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