Saturday, October 08, 2016

Ratfucking Your Way to a Democratic Congress

"Ratfucking" is political slang for a dirty trick. Sometimes they're outright illegal (think, oh I don't know, hacking into an opponent's emails). But sometimes they're merely underhanded. One popular form of ratfucking, for example, is when a party runs ads in the opposing party's primary denouncing the (more moderate and electable) candidate as "not a true conservative/progressive". The hope is that this enflames the base to nominate a more extreme or polarizing candidate, who would in turn be an easier general election foe.

The latest burst of Donald Trump misogyny has finally caused a non-insubstantial number of prominent Republicans to withdraw their endorsement of their own candidate, or even pledge not to vote for him. Some of these Republicans include New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who just a few days ago called Trump a good role model (and is being hammered for it by her Democratic opponent) and Nevada Senate candidate Joe Heck, locked in a tight race with Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto. These disavowals, in turn, have generated a furious response from the GOP base which remains avidly pro-Trump. Heck was booed by his own supporters when he announced he was abandoning Trump. Paul Ryan received similar treatment from his hometown crowd after he bailed on a planned rally with Trump.

There has always been a gap between the Republican Party leadership -- which was always worried about Trump and thought he'd be a burden on the ticket -- and the base, which continues to adore him. The entire GOP side of the presidential race, after all, has been the sustained story of the party elites being unable to stop Trump (who -- to be perfectly clear -- I consider to be a beast of their creation. The GOP elite thought it could indefinitely whip up ever-more conspiratorial anti-Obama, anti-Clinton, anti-liberal, anti-government hysteria and yet still keep their base firmly under its own thumb. This entire election has been the story of that hubris blowing up in their face). But right now, it's perhaps more stark than ever: Party leaders actually abandoning their own nominee a month out from the election, while the Party cadre continuing to back him in earnest.

So what would happen if "someone" (probably some hitherto unknown group with a name like "People for a Greater America") started putting up some targeted ads urging Republican voters to not support the "traitors" who have turned on Trump? Label them RINOs, label them appeasers, label them tools of the wretched Hillary Clinton. Haven't we had enough of Republicans who knuckle under to the liberal media and PC culture? If they don't back Trump, why should Trump and his people back them? Throw a couple ads like that in select Nevada markets aimed at the folks who booed Heck, and watch the chaos blossom.

Of course, such a move would stand in tension with another Democratic objective: convincing anti-Trump swing voters that a vote for folks like Heck and Ayotte is akin to a vote for Trump. But with a sufficiently deft touch, it could be managed. There is a core of angry Trump supporters who are primed to hear this message, and they don't necessarily live in the same place or watch the same media as the suburban swing voters for whom Democrats very much want to harp on the "Trump = GOP" message. Hell, if one does it right one could probably get The Donald to tweet something out in favor. Every fiber of Trump's being probably wants to savage those turncoat Republicans who are urging him out of the race. Give him the opportunity, and I bet he'd lash out at them almost as a matter of reflex.

The GOP is fracturing wide open, and the Party's new strategy seems to be to throw Trump overboard in the hopes that it might save their downballot nominees. That might work ... if Trump's base continues to stay loyal to Republican politicians who just sold their candidate down the river. It seems to me that there are ample opportunities for a creative political operative to make that task much more difficult.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Could Misogyny, Of All Things, Finally Destroy Donald Trump?

In our latest spin of the "outrageous Trump remarks" wheel, we landed on misogyny. Specifically, comments Trump made during taping for Access Hollywood where he graphically talked about sexually assaulting women:
During the lewd conversation captured by a microphone Trump was wearing on his lapel, Trump recounts how he tried to "fuck" an unidentified married woman before bragging that he is "automatically attracted to beautiful (women)" and just starts "kissing them." The conversation came just months after Trump married his third and current wife, Melania.
He also said: "When you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything ... Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything."
How lovely. But this has stood out in that it has seemed to generate a particularly ferocious condemnation from Trump's fellow Republicans. Paul Ryan, set to campaign side-by-side with Trump for the first time, withdrew his invitation and declared himself "sickened". Reince Priebus was far more blunt than I've ever seen him: "no woman should ever be described in these terms or talked about in this manner. Ever." Jon Huntsman went from endorsing Trump to demanding that he drop out. Even Trump gave a non-apology-apology of the "I apologize if anyone was offended" variety (Jeb Bush: "no apology can excuse away Donald Trump's reprehensible comments degrading women.").

And while the comments themselves really cannot honestly surprise anyone, the reaction to them is a bit striking. Liberals have certainly noticed, and been quite wry -- "oh, it was okay to call Mexicans rapists, and to suggest banning all Muslims, and to fan a resurgent conservative anti-Semitism -- but this was the step too far?" Indeed, while there have been other moments where Trump has said outrageous things and political commentators have declared him dead, only for him to emerge stronger than before (think the John McCain "captured" comments), this feels different -- he is the Republican standard-bearer, there is no deluding oneself that by condemning Trump one can simply switch support to another conservative.

Honestly, it is hard to explain. And I'd be very curious to hear what someone like Kate Manne -- who has written very incisively on the role of misogyny in this election and in our society -- thinks of this development. Right now -- improbable as it may be -- it looks like Trump's misogyny might have finally closed the door on his candidacy. There's almost -- almost -- a sense in which it is heartening (though I won't pop any champagne until November 9).