Conservative David Frum Perfectly Explains How the Disintegration of the GOP Has Created Trump

David Frum unravels how rot within the GOP allowed Donald to break norms of behavior democracy needs to function.


Author: Heather Digby Parton/Salon

Emphasis Mine

The Trump phenomenon is presenting Republicans with one of those once in a lifetime gut checksdo you fall in line behind someone who is obviously unfit for the office of president or do you tell the truth as you see it and risk the disapprobation of your peers and the possible banishment to political Siberia? Even though the truth of the matter is obvious, I don’t think it’s fair to say that it would be easy for anyone. To lose your place in the political ecosystem can be emotionally painful and professional very risky. The path of least resistance is to go with the flow. If Trump loses you will have a lot of company. If he wins, well, you’ll have to live with your own conscience as to the consequences. But either way, the people who stood against him will always be resented for their courage by those who went along.

There are mainstream Republicans who are opting out, more than people may realize. The Stop Trump Movement boasts some major players in the GOP scene, people like Mitt Romney, George Will, Erick Erickson, David Brooks and Glenn Beck to name just a few. Some are attempting to salvage their futures by contending that Trump is unacceptable only because he is a traitor to conservatism, which he is in some ways although that is hardly the primary case against him. The more valiant among them take the threat of Trump seriously and are willing to admit the truth, such as Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal who told Fareed Zakaria over the weekend:

“I most certainly will not vote for Donald Trump. I will vote for the least left wing opponent to Donald Trump and I will want to make a vote that will make sure he is the biggest loser in presidential history since Alf Landon or going back further. It’s important that Donald Trump and what he represents, this ‘ethnic conservatism or populism’ be so decisively rebuked that the Republican party and Republican voters will forever learn their lesson that they cannot nominate a man so manifestly unqualified to be president in any way shape or form.”

Stephens is a traditional ideological conservative who could rail against Trump’s defense of Social Security or his anti-free trade tirades if he chose to. But except for a passing reference to “populism” Stephens indicts Trump on the right grounds: his manifest unfitness for the job. Finally, here’s something that

liberals and conservatives can agree upon.

There are a few conservatives who saw the disintegration of their party coming for quite a while, notably conservative writer and former Bush speechwriter David Frum who has been committing apostasy for several years now. He wrote a thought-provoking piece for The Atlantic this week in which he documents how Donald Trump has broken seven standards and norms of behavior that make it possible for democracy to function.

The first broken norm is the most obvious. The idea that America’s presidents should behave with maturity and self-restraint is a standard that most of us take for granted. Sure, they have all had different personalities but basic respect for the office and basic civility has been a given. For instance, presidential candidates have not, up until now, called their rivals pussies on the stump. Frum refers to Mitt Romney’s righteous rant against Trump from several months ago in which he said, “think of Donald Trump’s personal qualities, the bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third grade theatrics…” That’s Trump to a T. And until now that would not have been a constellation of personality characteristics that one would think of as presidential.

He next points out Trump’s unusual untrustworthiness making a very important point in the process. He notes that the GOP base holds establishment leaders in contempt for their alleged failure to fulfill the mandate they were given when they won a majority in the two midterm elections. Frum writes:

“As one unfriendly critic noted, the Republican rank-and-file weren’t exactly innocent victims of elite deception. Republican voters … wanted everything, and, after all, GOP leaders promised them that it was possible—even though those same leaders knew it was not.

Place the blame for that failure where you will, however, the results were glaring: radical Republican rejection of the trustworthiness of their leaders—all their leaders.What, then, was one liar more—especially if that liar were more exciting than the others, more willing to say at least some of the things that Republicans wanted said?”

They are responding to a man who says:

“Politicians have used you and stolen your votes. They have given you nothing. I will give you everything. I will give you what you’ve been looking for for 50 years. I’m the only one.”

The next norm that’s been broken is “the expectation that a potential president should possess deep—or at least adequate—knowledge of public affairs.” It goes without saying that Donald Trump winning the GOP nomination proves that this is no longer considered necessary by a majority of Republican voters. He is, as was pointed out above, manifestly unqualified and has absolutely no intention of learning anything because he doesn’t need to.

Frum next points out that the Republican ideological standard has completely evaporated which is of greater concern for conservatives than the rest of us but his analysis of how this happened is quite interesting:

“The ideology guardrail snapped because so much of the ideology itself had long since ceased to be relevant to the lives of so many Republican primary voters. Instead of a political program, conservatism had become an individual identity. What this meant, for politicians, was that the measure of your ‘conservatism’ stopped being the measures you passed in office—and became much more a matter of style, affect, and manner.”

No one exemplified this better than Frum’s old boss George W. Bush, the man everyone celebrated as presidential perfection because he was the kind of guy you wanted to have a beer with. But Trump has proved that ideology no longer matters at all to most Republicans, which does come as something of a surprise. Even the social conservatives seem to have completely given up the ghost.

Another shattered norm, and it’s a big one, is the blithe acceptance of Trump’s total lack of coherent national security worldview. The fact that he is not a familiar neocon or a practitioner of Real Politic would be disorienting for Republicans regardless, but calling his turn to belligerent nationalism “America First” is downright hallucinatory.

Frum believes Trump has broken the norm against intolerance and it’s true that his crusade against “political correctness” and the open racism and religious bigotry are at levels we haven’t seen in decades. After surveying all the data which shows that the white ethnic tribalism we’re seeing on the right at the moment is a result of backlash against changing demographics, he writes:

“Trump is running not to be president of all Americans, but to be the clan leader of white Americans. Those white Americans who respond to his message hear his abusive comments, not as evidence of his unfitness for office, but as proof of his commitment to their tribe.”

Finally, Frum bemoans the harsh partisanship that leads otherwise normal people like Marco Rubio, after having denounced Trump for months as a vulgar con man, cozy up to Trump using the ludicrous rationale that he’s “even more scared about her [Clinton] being in control of the U.S. government.” That’s ridiculous and on some level Rubio knows this. Clinton is fully in the mainstream of American politics along with Barack Obama, both Bushes and Bill Clinton. Trump is not. But as is their wont, the right wing is projecting their own extreme deviation from the norm on to their opposition and their leaders are dutifully following along.

Frum’s trying to figure all this out and he’s digging deeply to do it. In fact, he’s been doing this for some time as one of the few insiders who have been clear-eyed about the destruction of the conservative movement and the Republican Party over the past few years even before the appearance of Donald Trump. And he’s right about all of this. This disconcerting breaking of the norms that make democratic governance possible has reached a critical stage.

What started with the cynical propaganda projects of Newt Gingrich to the ’90s witchhunts and the dubious tactics of the long election of 2000 metastasized into the Tea Party which was born out of a belief that Barack Obama was an illegitimate president and anything he proposed was therefore invalid. Donald Trump was in the middle of that as the King of the Birthers, the man who mainstreamed the formerly fringe conspiracy theory that the president wasn’t born in America. And now that man is the Republican nominee for president.

In order for democracy to function you cannot depend entirely on the laws to enforce it. It requires a common understanding and acceptance of the rules and norms developed over a long period that guarantee a certain level of civilized interaction. We’re losing them and the consequences could be very serious. Trump may lose this election and there will be some kind of reset. But even if he does, these rules and norms are very difficult to put back in place once they’ve been tossed aside. It may not happen, which raises the rather chilling question of what will be left in his wake.”

Heather Digby Parton, also known as “Digby,” is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.




Lie Big, Lie Often, Never Back Down: Donald Trump, Fox News and the Real Reason Why Right-Wing Lies Stick

Source: AlterNet

Author: Arbin Rabin-Hyat/Salon

Emphasis Mine

Nearly seven years ago, in July 2009, conservative researcher Betsy McCaughey appeared on Fred Thompson’s radio show and suggested that President Obama’s health-care bill would encourage seniors “to do what’s in society’s best interest or your family’s best interest, and cut your life short.”

A few weeks later in early August, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin wrote on Facebook, “The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care.”

Thus, the “death panels” lie was born, and seven years later it still remains potent. According to a new poll from Public Policy Polling, 60% of Americans—including 74% of Republicans and even 51% of Democrats—still either believe in or are unsure about the existence of death panels.

Why are so many Americans still clinging to 2009’s “Lie of the Year?” Tens of millions of people are receiving health care thanks to the Affordable Care Act, with no evidence of seniors or disabled citizens being forced to end their lives early due to a panel of government bureaucrats.

I commissioned this poll to clarify a key point in my new book, Lies, Incorporated: The World of Post-Truth Politics. Discussions about corruption of our political processes often center around money and lobbying. Yet a third element, lies, specifically those lies that are strategically designed to distort the policy-making process, are ignored. There is in fact a group of individuals who have intentionally used falsehoods to hack our democracy for both financial and ideological gain, thus the title. In Lies, Incorporated, I chronicle a series of these lies, profile the people who created them and assess the damage they have caused.

I could never have imagined a figure like Donald Trump would emerge a leader in the primary, even though I was familiar with his type. Like Trump in 2016, Betsy McCaughey in 2009 combined brazen falsehoods with a shamelessness that meant she never has to apologize for them.

Betsy McCaughey also shared Trump’s thirst for the spotlight. A former staffer from her time as lieutenant governor of New York said, “A lot of politicians are out for the limelight, but Betsy’s constant need twenty-four hours a day was something I’d never seen.”

Although a mini fact-checking industry immediately sprang up to correct the record on death panels, the story—like many of Trump’s claims today—proved stubborn. Even before Sarah Palin coined the term “death panels,” Politifact already declared the theory a “ridiculous falsehood” rating it “pants on fire.” And McCaughey’s death-panel lie was debunked within days by groups as diverse as the AARP and Media Matters for America, as well as by more than 40 major media outlets including the New York Times, USA Today, Associated Press, the Washington Post, CBS and MSNBC.

In the Washington Post, Ezra Klein explained why Betsy McCaughey’s lie caught fire in the media, a reason extremely familiar to those of us watching Trump in 2016: “She’s among the best in the business at the Big Lie: not the dull claim that health-care reform will slightly increase the deficit or trim Medicare Advantage benefits, but the claim that it will result in Death Panels that decide the fate of the elderly, or a new model of medical ethics in which the lives of the old are sacrificed for the good of the young, or a government agency that will review the actions of every doctor,” Klein wrote. “McCaughey isn’t just a liar. She’s an exciting liar.”

Being an exciting liar led to media attention and numerous bookings not only with the conservative media, but also with ostensibly liberal venues like “The Daily Show.” It forced progressive organizations and news outlets like MSNBC to devote countless segments to debunking her falsehoods. Yet this seemed to instead perpetuate the lie, keeping it active.

A further similarity between Trump and McCaughey is that she was already known as someone who played fast and loose with the truth about a Democratic president’s health-care policies.

In 1994 as a fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, McCaughey excoriated the Clinton White House health-care proposal in an article in the New Republic titled “No Exit.”

Newt Gingrich said McCaughey’s New Republic piece was “the first decisive break point” that led to the defeat of what conservatives derided as “Hillarycare.”

“If these facts surprise you, it’s because you haven’t been given a straight story about the Clinton health bill,” she wrote. But it was McCaughey who wasn’t telling it straight.

James Fallows of the Atlantic later declared that New Republic piece the “most destructive effect on public discourse by a single person” in the 1990s.

Despite this performance, the following decade saw Betsy McCaughey welcomed back into the media fold to continue spreading her lies, now about Obamacare. Her quotable and stirring attacks made her a welcome guest. Republicans loved her talking points, which confirmed their worst fears about President Obama’s true intent, and Democrats loved to hate her because she was one of many conservative boogeymen who could easily be attacked for their outrageous lies.

As we’re seeing now with the Trump campaign, 2009’s part media frenzy, part goat rodeo was compelling content for liberals and conservatives alike. But it was not beneficial to our public discourse.

As I note in Lies, Incorporated, instead of discussing how to help the millions of uninsured or debating the merits or feasibility of proposed solutions, endless months were devoted to an irrelevant debate over whether President Barack Obama secretly wanted to kill grandmothers. Members of Congress were begging the White House for a response—their constituents were calling in droves, fearful of death panels. Whether they were enticed by the ratings potential of this manufactured drama or they were simply unwilling to truthfully confront the issue, mainstream reporters who lacked any understanding of health-care policy flooded the White House and pro-health-care-policy groups with questions.

Today, instead of discussing the actual problems with U.S. immigration policy, Donald Trump shifts debate to whether or not Mexicans who wish to enter the U.S. are rapists, how tall his wall is going to be and whether the federal government should ban all Muslim immigrants.

By loudly and unapologetically lying to a friendly audience of partisans in the media, at think tanks, on Capitol Hill, and to the public at large, Donald Trump has created bedlam within the Republican party—the same way that Betsy McCaughey successfully threw health-care reform into chaos.

The death panel lie helped to rile up the conservative base in such a way that it became impossible for Democrats and Republicans to reach any sort of compromise on health-care reform. It confirmed for conservatives their worst fears about Barack Obama and what his presidency would mean for their lives, leaving no space for a public discussion on how to fix America’s health-care system.

The post-truth landscape that Trump, McCaughey and others take advantage of is fueled by a bifurcated media structure, which allows misinformation to rapidly spread in ideological echo chambers. Because it is simply impossible for individuals to track down the primary source for every piece of information they consume, we by necessity rely on aggregators to report the news to us. No longer limited to anchors on the big three networks to tell us what we need to know, we flock to the outlets that best conform to our own worldview.

Thus the lies of Donald Trump and the lies of Betsy McCaughey become truth in different communities. This means that even after the existence of “death panels” had been thoroughly debunked it may never fully leave the public consciousness. Zombie lies continue to rise from the dead again and again, influencing political debate and swaying people’s opinions on a variety of issues—particularly emotionally resonant lies like the “death panels.”

The lesson of Donald Trump’s campaign is, if you are going to lie, lie big, lie often and never acknowledge your lies. Repeat them enough and certain segments of the population will accept them in such a way that they will stick.

The lesson for the rest of us (and the media) is we cannot give these liars their undeserved public platforms. It is too late to undo the damage of Donald Trump’s lies, just as there will always be a segment of the people who believe in death panels.

After her lies about health-care reform in the 1990s, Betsy McCaughey should not have been granted any platform to participate in the debate during the Obama years. Likewise once Donald Trump began his quest to discover Barack Obama’s true birthplace, he should have been laughed out of public discourse, relegated to his reality show boardroom. Yes, both McCaughey and Trump were ratings boons for television news seeking an audience, but that came at a cost to our public discourse.