The Rise Of The Trumpidian GOP Candidates
Whether Don Blankenship wins or loses in West Virginia, his success is yet another example of how Donald Trump has changed the GOP for the worse.
By this time tomorrow, we should know who won the Republican primary in West Virginia to face off against Senator Joe Manchin in November. As I noted yesterday, national Republicans are worried that Don Blakenship, a fringe candidate who has been making a name for himself by attacking the family of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on explicitly racist grounds, could end up pulling out a win in a race where he’s facing off against Congressman Evan Jenkins and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. Yesterday, President Trump urged West Virginia to reject Blakenship but declined to endorse either of the two candidates challenging him, setting up the prospect that he could pull off a win thanks to a divided vote against him. Blakenship responded to Trump by saying the President was misinformed and claiming that he was “Trumpier than Trump” and touting internal polling showing him gaining significantly on both his rivals over the past week.
All of this has led many Republicans to worry about what a Blankenship win might mean for other primaries and for the General Election in November. Dana Milbank, though, is pointing out in The Washington Post that his candidacy shows that, win or lose, Trump’s win in November 2016 was not an anomaly:
Whether or not the president stops Blankenship, the West Virginia GOP primary confirms that this sort of vulgar demagoguery is becoming routine. Trump’s election was no aberration. Rather, he exploited deep problems in American politics that had been building for years — and others, following his example, will exploit those same problems after he’s gone.
Before Trump, there was Sarah Palin, the tea party movement, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), the Republican Study Committee, the Freedom Caucus. The Republican Party tried to harness the rage of the nativist right but ultimately couldn’t contain it. House speakers John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) failed, as will whoever leads the party next. Now we have Blankenship, Roy Moore, Joe Arpaio and a proliferation of name-calling misfits and even felons on Republican ballots. They are monsters created by the GOP, or rather the power vacuum the GOP has become.
Political scientists have observed that American politics has deteriorated into an unstable combination of weak parties and strong partisanship — dry brush for the likes of Trump and Blankenship to ignite. The 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform restricted party fundraising, and the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling in 2010 essentially destroyed parties by giving everybody else freedom to spend unlimited sums to buy politicians. The moderating influence of parties was replaced by the radicalizing influence of dark money.
Related to this, partisanship in Washington escalated, aggravated by partisan redistricting that puts almost all House members in safe seats where the only threat comes from primaries. Primary voters tend to favor extreme candidates — who, once in Congress, turn politics into warfare.
Democrats suffer from the weak party/strong partisanship phenomenon too, as seen in the Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) campaign’s squabbles with the Democratic National Committee and the recent efforts by some Sanders followers to taint any candidate supported by the party. But the problem is most severe among Republicans, and it’s no small irony that the man who arguably did the most to create the current system is now under attack by it. McConnell, who championed unlimited dark money, cheered Citizens United and dramatically accelerated the partisan revenge cycle on the Senate floor, is now the victim of extremists his own actions created.
McConnell-affiliated groups have spent in the seven digits for TV ads opposing Blankenship in West Virginia. But Blankenship, free to spend as much as he desires, has far outspent his opponents, reportedly buying $640,000 of TV time in the past week alone. And he’s appealing to voters’ worst instincts. “I don’t see this insinuation by the press that there’s something racist about saying ‘China person,’ ” Blankenship said during a debate hosted by Fox News. “Some people are Korean persons and some of them are African persons. There’s not any slander there.” He suggested McConnell’s family ties could disqualify him from voting on China policy.
Trump didn’t condemn such filth; he merely said Blankenship “can’t win” and cited the example of Moore — who Trump unsuccessfully opposed in the Alabama GOP primary.
We’ve seen candidates like Don Blakenship before, of course. In 2010, Republicans firmly in the grips of the Tea Party movement ended up nominating candidates like Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle who had no real chance of winning the General Election against their respective opponents, and who likely would not have won their primaries in an earlier era. The 2012 Presidential campaign saw moments when obviously unqualified candidates such as Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain were at the top of the polls, although ultimately unable to overcome the advantages that Mitt Romney had in that race. The so-called GOP “establishment” managed to push back against those instincts in 2014 and nominate candidates for the Senate that, although still conservative, did not have the baggage that candidates who lost winnable races in 2010 and 2012 carried.
All that changed in 2016, though.
When Donald Trump entered the Presidential race in June 2015, it didn’t take long for him to skyrocket to the top of the polls and to stay there notwithstanding efforts by other candidates to knock him off his perch. Trump continued at the top of field even as the campaign went on and he attacked one group after another, including Mexicans and Muslims, mocking disabled people, women such as Megyn Kelly and Carly Fiorina. Trump also encouraged his supporters to engage in violence against counter-demonstrators and demonstrated utter disdain for the Rule of Law and Freedom of the Press. Coming in a different era and from a different candidate, rhetoric such as this would have been the end of a candidate’s campaign, but in Trump’s case it just seemed to energize his base and, over time, even his harshest Republican critics dutifully lined up behind him and, in the process, put their party and the prospect of victory ahead of their country.
Trump continued these themes of division and conflict during his first year in office, most notedly in the wake of violence that came with the alt-right protests in Charlottesville, Virginia after which he blamed ‘both sides’ for the violence and declined to condemn the groups who organized and participate in the rally such as the Ku Klux Klan or the broader so-called alt-right movement whose supporters made up the vast majority of the participants. The outrage over these comments was sufficiently broad, even from fellow Republicans in Washington, that the White House was compelled to have Trump deliver a follow-up comment the following Monday that was more measured and emphatic than what he had said before. Whatever damage had been repaired by that statement, though, was short-lived since less than twenty-four hours later when Trump repeated his ‘both sides’ argument in a press conference and repeated them again -a month later. More recently, he attacked the mostly African-American N.F.L. players who declined the to stand for the National Anthem, calling them “sons of bitches,” and derided immigration from “shithole countries” such as Haiti as well as, seemingly, the entire continent of Africa. Eventually he returned to his old habit of giving nicknames to his political enemies by referring to Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, as “Little Adam,” and of course made his comment about Democrats who didn’t stand for his State of the Union address as “un-American and “treasonous,”
Even if Blankenship loses tonight, the fact that he has come as far as he has is significant. Just like Trump himself, in another era a candidate who said the things he has would be polling in the single digits even in a state as conservatives as West Virginia. Instead, he appears to have an excellent chance of pulling out a win that, in the end, will likely prove to be quixotic in November. Nonetheless behind his success and that of other candidates who have found success this year in mimicking and pledging fealty to Trump lies something far more telling about the impact that Donald Trump is having on the Republican Party. We can see the same phenomenon in the fact that those few politicians on Capitol Hill who have been critical of Trump, such as Senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, either aren’t running for re-election this year or have decided to retire. Another frequent Trump critic, Senator John McCain, is obviously at a point in his life where he doesn’t care about the political consequences of picking fights with the President. Beyond these men, though, pretty much every Republican in Congress, and a significant part of the conservative pundit class has lined up behind the President and remained silent in the wake of whatever outrageous comments he might make on a daily basis, whether it be personal attacks on critics or attacks on freedom of the press, the rule of law, or nations that have, until now, been loyal American allies. As I’ve said before, the modern Republican Party is basically now made up of Trump supporters who are beyond reason, sycophants who are cozying up to Trump because they think it will advance their careers, sellouts who had sold themselves to a man with no principles, and cowards who know what they’re seeing is wrong but are too afraid to speak out against it. The result is that the GOP is moving further and further into the Trumpidian populist category in a way that will have a lasting impact on the GOP long after Trump is gone. Don Blakenship is but the latest example of that and, whether he wins tonight or not, the forces that helped make him possible will continue to shape the GOP at least through the 2020 elections and, if Trump is reelected, far beyond that. Hopefully, the American public will stand up against these forces. After what happened in 2016, though, I’m not very optimistic in that regard.
FYI…commenting is not turned on for the Iran thread…
Though there are other forces influencing the rise of Trumpidian politics, it’s good to see someone call out dark money as the poison that it is. “Money is speech” is one of the most pernicious ideas to ever infect American politics.
Good article but bad framing, IMO. Trump is a product of the modern GOP, not the driver for it.
Cruz, Steven King, Bachman, Gohmert. David Duke. Roy Moore (pre-2017).
Fox News, Bannon, Alex Jones.
The issue isn’t Trump, it is the “conservative right”. It isn’t the politicians, it is the voters.
@SKI: I’ve been pondering this question for a while and my current opinion is he’s both. He imitates the base, and amplifies them. He reflects their desires, but also licenses their behavior. Sure, you already want to punch that libtard college protester faggot, but when trump says, ‘he should be carried outta here on a stretcher’ then you might actually do it.
@SKI: Great point. Trump tested running as an overt racist when he championed the birther movement. Nobody but a dyed-in-the-wool racist could buy into the birther garbage, but many “mainstream” Republicans accepted it as gospel. To this day a large percentage of Republicans take it for granted that Obama isn’t a real American. If you still identify as Republican given that Trump is the leader of the Republican party it would seem that you can accept his racism.
@Daryl’s other brother Darryl:
Which Iran thread? The post about the poll on the Iran deal has commenting turned on.
Fear is driving this rise of candidates like Dennison.
The fear that rural, white, make-believe christian males feel about losing their white privilege; of losing their status.
The fear that these candidates, like, Dennison stoke; the brown people are coming to get you, the Deep State is coming to get you, bad trade deals are coming to get you, everyone is out to get you…but I — Donnie Dennison — I will protect you.
Fvcking stupid snowflakes looking to a guy, who is scared to admit he is bald, who is afraid to fire people to their faces, who is afraid to tell the truth about anything, who is afraid of a pron star telling the world about his tiny penis, to protect them from an imaginary threat.
I currently live in a heavily Republican district in a Democratic state and it is both interesting and depressing to see how the steady erosion of civility and decency in the Republican side has seeped into even hyper-local politics. A neighborhood group has been trying to resurrect an old special benefits district to pay for repairs and improvements to neighborhood amenities. They have been open and transparent. The process requires 50% plus 1 of all homeowners with any non-vote counted as a no so they really need a large majority for it to pass. The Tea Party / Trump contingent have been uniformly nasty, insulting and demeaning. They constantly and publicly disparage the motives of the committee members and accuse them of deliberately misleading the neighborhood. At the same time they don’t really listen to what has been said or acknowledge when shown proof, instead continuing to repeat their incorrect talking points, embellishing them a bit more every week. (Sound like a few of the contributors here?)
The GOP has entered a vicious cycle where so much of its active and vocal membership consists of angry, put upon and gullible people that they can only attract more of the same.
Republicans should also note that the Ku Klux Klan and the american Nazi Party, two groups who want to kill off American Citizens who are not white enough for them, are Trump’s most rabid champions.
Republicans could do themselves a favor by canvassing these insurrectionists to determine how many are actually registered as Republicans to vote in the State Primaries.
Yes, it was my mistake…I requested deletion.
The idea that if Donald Trump never appeared or went away then everything would be fine is about as far up denial you can swim without a crocodile biting your ass.
@Scott F.: If “money is speech”, why do we have laws against bribery?
I was always amused by the fact that one of the two (2) newspapers to endorse Trump was The Daily Stormer. The Klan paper, The Crusader, didn’t endorse him, but it did grant him a lovely front-page write-up.
Nobody says that Bungles. Nobody except you.
Don’t give them any ideas!
“Joseph James DeAngelo Jr., convicted in 2019 of being the Golden State Killer but nominated and confirmed to the Supreme Court of the United States, replacing Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in order to “Stick it to the Libtards”, today wrote the concurring opinion in Koch vs Becerra legalizing bribery in US politics…”
I think he’s both. If Trump had never happened and we’d ended up with a more conventional GOP president like Jeb or Rubio or Kasich (yes, I know I’m ignoring Ted Cruz for the sake of this thought exercise), we’d still have the Gohmerts of the world blathering on the side, we’d still probably see far-right loons winning nominations for major races and sometimes even winning, we’d still have Fox News screaming about scary immigrants and black people. And I don’t have any doubt that even the supposedly mainstream GOP president would be pandering to these people to some degree. But at least he wouldn’t be the face of the movement. In 2016 we saw a huge burst in activity from white nationalist groups, a huge rise in racist and anti-Semitic incidents–nearly all of it in response to extremists being invigorated by the rise of Trump. (Perhaps the most bizarre development is minorities being harassed and/or assaulted by people screaming “Trump!” at them. Congressman John Lewis reports having it happen to him. Somehow I don’t think the same people would be screaming “Rubio!” or “Bush!” or “Kasich!”)
Any right-winger who makes it big is both a symptom and a cause. Look at our discussion from the other day about how McCain’s selection of Palin paved the road toward Trump. In some ways you could say that Palin was merely a symptom of the right-wing freakout over Obama, something that was bound to happen regardless of who McCain chose as his running mate. But Palin helped direct that energy, both as vp candidate and later as the right-wing star she’d go on the become in the following years. The movement is sustained by its cheerleaders, and when one of those cheerleaders becomes president–the official leader of the party–you see the effect on an even grander scale. I don’t mean that Trump is totally in control of the movement. We’ve already seen plenty of people try to out-Trump Trump, as in Blankenship’s recent insult of the President for coming out against him in the WV race. But I don’t think there’s any question that Trump’s being president has made the movement a lot stronger and more dominant than it ever was before.
The Florida Times-Union
Las Vegas Review-Journal
St. Augustine Record
Antelope Valley Press
Santa Barbara News-Press
Bowling Green Daily News
St. Joseph News-Press
Waxahachie Daily Light
Savannah Morning News
The Augusta Chronicle
The Washington Times
I don’t think things can be reduced to McCain-Feingold and Citizens United. They may be contributors, but there’s a broader populist wave ni the West, as seen with the Brexit vote, and the rise of parties, mainly on the right, taking up populism. I don’t suppose Britain, Germany, France, etc. have campaign laws that similar to America’s.
You made some of those names up, right? 😉
I got them from Wikipedia. I’m sure some of them are tiny, but there are more than two of them.
@Kathy: I think calling it “populism” is misleading and wrong. It is ethno-nationalism or, if you want to be less blunt, tribalism.
@Leonard: I was making a joke.
LOL, the Waxahatchie Daily Light endorsed him? Hell, he should just have been declared the winner by acclamation. 🙄
I think CSK meant newspapers published within the boundaries of civilization …
Of the 20 you named, 10 are/were owned by the same company, Morris Communications. The one where a corporate VP sent out a memo dictating editorial consistency and position with regard to Trump.
Sheldon Adelson (surprise …)
Wendy McCaw (surprise)
Then we have five papers with circulations of less than 20k – one with a circulation of 4,300 …
One that termed Chris Dodd “chief apologist for the communist tyrants” (ISYN …)
One I can’t even find …
And one owned by the Moonies.
You’re batting 1,000, Leonard. Welcome to the deep end of the pool.
@HarvardLaw92: The Daily Stormer isn’t within the bounds of civilization.
@Leonard: If I was on a company selection committee for where to locate a new branch I think I would be unopposed in crossing off St. Augustine, Waxahachie, etc. There couldn’t be a stronger indication that siting in such a community would drastically increase the chance that the company name would be dragged down by some anti-gay, anti-Muslim, or anti-Trans initiative. What are Trump communities willing to spend money and time on? Refighting the civil war. Instilling their weird version of Christianity in the courtroom, the classroom, the sports arena. Anti-Abortion. Anti-Unionism. Re-litigating the Civil Rights battles. What are the Trump communities not willing to spend time or money on? Schools. Public facilities (or at least those that may be used by brown people). Healthcare. Keeping local businesses from polluting everyone’s air and water. Keeping new housing developments from overflowing raw sewage into the river.
Right. No newspapers published within the bounds of civilization endorsed Trump. Glad we agree on that.
I agree. We’d still have to get rid of the rest of the GOP before that can happen.
@MarkedMan: Las Vegas? Santa Barbara?
Sheldon Adelson and Wendy McCaw mouthpieces, respectively. They print what they’re told to print.
@Leonard: Are you forgetting all of those Stormer readers who Trump identified as “good people” at the time of Charlottesburg? How dare you call those good people and their news source “outside the bounds of civilization?” What kind of an America-hating radical are you anyway?
@Leonard: Of course. There are lots of places to site a branch. Why take a chance on a place that will continue to elect racist agitators?
Great. I’ve only heard of two of them.
We know that The Daily Stormer isn’t within the bounds of civilization. Trump is the first presidential candidate they ever endorsed.
@Mister Bluster: I agree with him on the very narrow point he made. What has infected this country isn’t going away and the crazy is rooted so deep in the GOP a trumpist candidate could very well have been inevitable.
@CSK: Well, you didn’t say 2 major papers. You said two papers. You were wrong on the internet.
The Daily Stormer only began in 2013, so 2016 is literally their only presidential election they’ve been able to comment on.
I would agree that Trump received more support from white nationalist groups in general than any other major-party nominee since Goldwater.
Actually, I had read an article–on the Internet!–about the fact that Trump had received only one endorsement from an actual real newspaper, albeit a very small one somewhere in Colorado (I think). It may have been written before he was endorsed by the Waxahatchie Daily Light, et al. In any case, I humbly admit my error and, equally humbly, beg your indulgence. One should never, ever, underestimate the power and prestige of an endorsement from the Peninsula Clarion.
There is no “populist wave” in the West. There is a increase of the vote for Far Right parties in Europe because of immigration(Racism is a major fuel for conservative parties), but Trump is not a populist(And frankly even people like Farage or Le Pen are hardly populists). He is basically a caudillo-coronel-dixiecrat, someone that uses demagoguery to pass regressive policies, a playbook that we all know pretty well.
@Andre Kenji de Sousa: Dixiecrats are alive and well in the GOP now. Whether they abide in mountains, on the desert, or by the shore, their hearts still lie in the land of cotton, old times there being not forgotten and all.
Say what? Blankenship was just another crank candidate. After your hands heal from the wringing, note that he got something like 20%.
@Guarneri: Proving only that even he was too disgusting for 7 of the usual 27%. I guess being responsible for the deaths of 29 miners was a bridge too far for even them.
Yes he was another freak candidate, like, say, Donald Trump, or Roy Moore. In this case GOP voters did the right thing–but this was after years of doing the wrong thing, over and over and over. Worrying that people will make the same mistake they’ve made numerous times in the past is not “wringing our hands,” it is facing reality.
Note Trump’s tweet from the other day: “To the great people of West Virginia we have, together, a really great chance to keep making a big difference. Problem is, Don Blankenship, currently running for Senate, can’t win the General Election in your State…No way! Remember Alabama. Vote Rep. Jenkins or A.G. Morrisey!”
Did you notice that his entire reason for opposing Blankenship wasn’t to avoid sending an ex-con whose actions cost people’s lives to the Senate. No, it was simply because nominating Blankenship would cause Republicans to lose. That is, literally, all Trump ever cares about: who’s winning and who’s losing. After all, that’s why he supported Roy Moore in the general election and even doubled down on his support after the molestation charges came out. He didn’t want his party to lose.
Tell me, honestly, doesn’t that bother you just a little?