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Rich writes: "Republican presidential candidates and governors have called for turning away Syrian refugees, Ben Carson has likened them to 'rabid dogs,' and Donald Trump is peddling an urban legend about Muslims cheering the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New Jersey. How can a major American political party do this without incurring some political cost? It can't."

Republican U.S. presidential candidate and businessman Donald Trump whispers across to Dr. Ben Carson during a debate held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, November 10, 2015. (photo: Jim Young/Reuters)
Republican U.S. presidential candidate and businessman Donald Trump whispers across to Dr. Ben Carson during a debate held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, November 10, 2015. (photo: Jim Young/Reuters)


The Syrian Refugee Crisis and the Undoing of the GOP

By Frank Rich, New York Magazine

26 November 15

 

Most weeks, New York Magazine writer-at-large Frank Rich speaks with contributor Alex Carp about the biggest stories in politics and culture. This week: the GOP debate over Syrian refugees, Trump's latest surge, and the comparatively low-key Democratic presidential race.

epublican presidential candidates and governors have called for turning away Syrian refugees, Ben Carson has likened them to “rabid dogs,” and Donald Trump is peddling an urban legend about Muslims cheering the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New Jersey. How can a major American political party do this without incurring some political cost?

It can’t. The GOP — not just Trump and Carson — offers something to offend almost every minority group in the country: black, gay, Latino, and Muslim people. And one majority group: women. Even its so-called moderate Establishment candidates are culpable: Jeb Bush called for admitting only Christian refugees from Syria; John Kasich has proposed a government agency to promote “core Judeo-Christian Western values,” a plan that strikes me as not just anti-Muslim but anti-Semitic despite the lip service paid to “Judeos”; Marco Rubio opposes abortion even in cases of rape or incest. None of this will hurt Republican candidates in safe, gerrymandered House districts or in deep-red states. But it will cripple them in presidential elections, and contested races for the Senate and governorships in purple or even purplish states, let alone blue ones. 

But it must be said that the call for banning Syrian immigrants, besides being a xenophobic replay of America’s brutal record of turning away European Jews and incarcerating Japanese-Americans during World War II, is most of all a stab at political bait-and-switch: The Republican candidates think that if they rail enough against the lethal potential of 10,000 destitute Syrian refugees subjected to a two-year American vetting process, maybe no one will notice that they have no coherent ideas for combatting actual ISIS terrorists as opposed to imaginary ones.

No one else in the West has a fail-safe idea, either, but the Republican presidential candidates are particularly clueless. They repeatedly state that Obama’s efforts are insufficient but then, as the president has noted, just repeat his current policy, only louder. Some seem to think the problem will be solved, as Rubio has it, if a president will only say, “We are at war with radical Islam.” Ben Carson has called for “moderate forces” in Iraq and Syria to establish “sanctuary zones” — blissfully unaware that these “moderate forces” he hopes to recruit will be drawn from the same populace he is calling “rabid dogs.” Lindsey Graham has called for 10,000 American troops to help do the job — a proposal that is a nonstarter with the American public largely because of the war in Iraq that he helped champion and prolong. The others offer only bluster and gobbledygook that are merely more polite variations on Trump’s vow to “bomb the shit out of them.” The pugilistic Chris Christie seems to think we can defeat ISIS in part by keeping 5-year-old orphans out of Jersey.

Last week, Karl Rove welcomed terrorism as a winning issue for Republicans and cited a September poll from Gallup showing that 52 percent of the public believes that Republicans will do a better job of protecting America, while only 36 percent says the same of Democrats. But that poll was taken before the Paris attacks. The latest Washington Post–ABC News poll, conducted since Paris, found that despite a drop in Obama’s numbers, Hillary Clinton was more trusted to “handle the threat of terrorism” in one-on-one matchups with every major GOP presidential candidate. That 3 a.m. phone-call ad that failed in 2008 may easily mow down the gaseous GOP armchair generals of 2016.

That same Post-ABC poll showed that Carson had fallen from being neck and neck with Trump to a fairly distant second place (32 percent to 22 percent). What happened to Carson? Why is Trump, who has lately gone so far as to justify the pummeling of a black protester at a Birmingham, Alabama, campaign rally, rising yet again? 

As I wrote in my New York piece back in September, Trump is “a crass, bigoted bully with a narcissistic-personality disorder and policy views bordering on gibberish” who also may be the best thing to happen to American politics since Obama. He is continuing to prove the first part of that equation, heaven knows, but also the second: His repeated supremacy in the polls is exposing the built-in biases of those in the press who have dismissed his numbers as a transitory blip since day one and has also shown up the bankruptcy of the anachronistic, consultant-shaped political campaigns that offer the voters pablum like Jeb! as a feckless alternative. Most important of all, Trump is exposing the heart of a virtually all-white political party’s base by speaking its most repellent convictions out loud and unambiguously rather than let them continue to be cloaked in the euphemisms of most of his ostensibly more respectable opponents. 

Trump isn’t suffering any penalty in the polls because the base believes this stuff — the base that has been bullying the GOP ever since John McCain empowered the Ur-Trump, Sarah Palin. And it’s fear of that base’s power in the primary states that has made Trump’s GOP adversaries, except those at the bottom of the pack with nothing to lose, so slow and ineffectual in taking him on. It’s not lost on them that Trump’s bigotry — whether aimed at African-Americans, Latinos, or Muslims — only boosts his numbers. That’s why they are coming up with their own me-too plans to turn away Syrian refugees. That’s why they are remaining silent when a black protester is beaten up at a seemingly all-white rally in Birmingham. That’s why, after the Charleston massacre, they didn’t come out against the Confederate flag until after the Republican South Carolina governor, Nikki Haley, did so and gave them political cover. They are hoping that when Trump does wear out his welcome they’ll inherit his following. We can thank Trump for inadvertently exposing just how much the GOP leadership cowers before the racists and crazies.

As for the Carson bump, it’s gone the way of the Fiorina bump. It certainly didn’t help him that his own foreign-policy adviser told the Times, for attribution, that the good doctor didn’t know squat about the Middle East. As Paris has felled Carson, it has boosted Trump by fusing terrorism with the issue that made him a GOP hero: immigration. “Donald Trump was elected president tonight,” Ann Coulter tweeted the night of the Paris carnage with typical hyperbole. Trump will not be elected president unless Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, Colorado, Virginia, et al, secede from the Electoral College. But he can’t be ruled out yet as the GOP nominee. The Wall Street Journal trumpeted on its front page last weekend an effort by the “Republican Establishment” to mount a “guerrilla campaign” to “defeat and destroy” Trump. How? It would create an ad that “would link Mr. Trump’s views and style to his celebrity foe, Rosie O’Donnell, in hopes of provoking a reaction from Mr. Trump” as well as “fake pro-Trump ads” that would use “a Trump impersonator to show him insulting people.” This plan is so stupid you have to wonder if it wasn’t conceived by Rove.

You can’t fight something with nothing. Which candidate is going to take Trump out? Bush, who supposedly rose from the dead after his last (slightly) less-embarrassing performance in the last GOP debate, is at 6 percent in the Post-ABC poll; Rubio, still the subject of countless pieces touting him as the perfect candidate on paper, is at 11 percent. The RealClearPolitics poll average in South Carolina, whose primary has been since 1980 the most reliable indicator of who will win the GOP nomination, is indistinguishable from the national numbers: 27.5 percent for Trump, 21.8 percent for Carson, 12.3 percent for Rubio, 11.3 percent for Cruz, and 6.8 percent for Bush.

Meanwhile, Trump has a plan B: He is now saying that he may run as an independent after all. This is further confirmation that his faux “pledge” not to do so, signed with much fanfare at the Trump Tower, has all the standing of the Munich pact of 1938, with GOP chairman Reince Priebus reenacting the role of Neville Chamberlain.

Things are a little calmer on the Democratic side, where Hillary Clinton's biggest problems lately are front-page reports in the Times and Washington Post showcasing her ties to Wall Street and her role in her family’s $3 billion donor network. Will continued stories like these hurt her at all?

I just saw Adam McKay’s upcoming new movie The Big Short, from the Michael Lewis book, and it made me furious all over again at those who made a killing during the housing bubble while so many Americans lost their savings, their retirement plans, or their homes in the crash. But the star power of Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, and Steve Carell is no more likely to pull a majority of the Democratic electorate away from Clinton than Bernie Sanders has. Nor is Clinton likely to suffer any lasting damage by her own tone-deaf gaffes, like her offensive effort in the last Democratic debate to link her coziness with Wall Street to 9/11. And if she ends up running against Trump — or, for that matter, Rubio or Bush or Cruz — she will be seen, by comparison and perhaps not without reason, as a relative populist no matter her speaking fees from Goldman or her ties to Robert Rubin. 


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+60 # vilstef 2015-11-26 11:18
To add to Rich's description of Trump is “a crass, bigoted bully with a narcissistic-pe rsonality disorder and policy views bordering on gibberish” I'd throw in he is sociopathic, mean spirited and ready to be on the wrong side of history on any topic he speaks on.

Jingoistic screams and taunts while being ignorant and cowardly will really help the Republican candidates win over the whole world.
 
 
+37 # Barbara K 2015-11-26 11:53
Not only all of that this frump is a corporation. He would have corps running his job, and his cabinet. We would then be wholly owned and run by Corporations. Remember that he does nothing. He just hires others to do everything from designing to building his buildings, and if they are lucky, they may get paid by this grifter.

..
 
 
+27 # elizabethblock 2015-11-26 14:00
Yes to the description. No to the idea that he's good for America.
That horrible Tennessee politician who said he'd use the National Guard to keep refugees out of his state: Naheed Nenshi, the (deservedly popular)(and Muslim) mayor of Calgary, said, "They elect people like that?"
Yes, you do elect people like that. (So do we in Canada -- but we just dumped someone like that, and almost all of us are breathing easier.) Trump is the avatar of a certain segment of the United States, and by voicing their feelings he strengthens them.
 
 
+63 # kalpal 2015-11-26 11:26
To date I have not uncovered any Republican originated and passed legislation that is aimed at helping the average American voter. Their essential thrust is to comfort the comfortable while afflicting the afflicted and to insist that everything that is wrong in this nation is the fault of somebody who is not one of them.

The question that remains in my mind is how much of America's populace can the GOP offend without self immolating.

A Latino who has always voted Republican in the past stated that he can't resume voting Republican till they cease using him as a pinata. Trump, Cruz and Rubio seem to adore striking Latino pinatas.
 
 
+45 # reiverpacific 2015-11-26 11:38
Quoting kalpal:
To date I have not uncovered any Republican originated and passed legislation that is aimed at helping the average American voter. Their essential thrust is to comfort the comfortable while afflicting the afflicted and to insist that everything that is wrong in this nation is the fault of somebody who is not one of them.

The question that remains in my mind is how much of America's populace can the GOP offend without self immolating.

A Latino who has always voted Republican in the past stated that he can't resume voting Republican till they cease using him as a pinata. Trump, Cruz and Rubio seem to adore striking Latino pinatas.


I guess that this can be seen as Good News from a progressive-pop ulist point of view.
It also shows how out of touch these reactionary chowderheads are with all but the most bigoted, mean-spirited, angry white, mostly male demographic who'd never change in any case, as long as they have somebody or another who'll engage in an "I'm meaner and more bile-spitting than you" competition and race to the bottom, as their leaders of choice.
 
 
+32 # Texas Aggie 2015-11-26 13:53
"I guess that this can be seen as Good News from a progressive-pop ulist point of view."

In a rational world, that would be true. Unfortunately we live in a world where the new KY governor Benin's strongest support came from those who would lose their medical insurance if he wins. As you said, "bigoted and mean-spirited."
 
 
+27 # Mainiac 2015-11-26 11:47
Perhaps a reason that the Syrians are being denied entry to the US is that they may have an idea or two about what is really going on in the Middle East and our part in funding ISIS.
 
 
+19 # curmudgeon 2015-11-26 12:00
While I wish Mr. Rich were correct in his conclusions about GOP demise, I think he is wrong.

The more outrageous the statemnts of these demagogues, the higher their numbers in the polls. Our populace has been brainwashed and made fearful of 'others'.

Just wait until ALL Muslims in the U,S. are made to wear Yellow crescents before they are incarcerated.

http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/nov/25/anti-muslim-group-publishes-names-texas
 
 
+16 # reiverpacific 2015-11-26 12:39
Quoting curmudgeon:
While I wish Mr. Rich were correct in his conclusions about GOP demise, I think he is wrong.

The more outrageous the statemnts of these demagogues, the higher their numbers in the polls. Our populace has been brainwashed and made fearful of 'others'.

Just wait until ALL Muslims in the U,S. are made to wear Yellow crescents before they are incarcerated.

http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/nov/25/anti-muslim-group-publishes-names-texas


They're only rising in the polls of mostly white, mostly male, angry and "Selectively" educated (if at all) fearfully nationalistic, flag-waving demographic, who are easily convinced that hate and attack-dog, bile-spitting, blind attacks on "The Other" -from First-Nation peoples across the wide US racial and cultural rainbow -which should be celebrated rather than resisted- to those fleeing their own areas to the lands of progenitors of Imperial wars, much like the former "White Man's Burden" caused the huge (and ultimately culturally and labor-force enriching) influx of Indian, African and Caribbean immigrants.
 
 
+20 # Texas Aggie 2015-11-26 14:00
My only experience with Syrians was during a period of time in Lebanon working with farmers. In Lebanon, Syrians, especially the women, are the moral equivalent of undocumented Hispanics in the US, except that they had legal status as long as they had Syrian ID cards. They were the ones who did the grunt work in the fields and lived in tent encampments near their work.

If the RWNJ's got it into their heads that they won't be eating nearly as much or as well if we get rid of undocumented Hispanics, maybe they will be more amenable to letting Syrians do the work. The Georgia and Alabama experience of what happens when you get rid of Hispanics and can't find anyone else to harvest fruits and vegetables may at least change the minds of the agriculture community in the Deep South.
 
 
-1 # backwards_cinderella 2015-11-27 04:25
Texas Aggie, that's a really despicable remark. I cannot imagine why you have gotten so many thumbs up. But letting in refugees to "do the work" once "we get rid of undocumented Hispanics" is really a crappy thing to say. What the F is the matter with you? Do you REALLY look at people in that way?
 
 
+20 # PABLO DIABLO 2015-11-26 16:03
No more Clintons AND no more Bushs.
Vote Bernie. He may be our last chance.
 
 
+6 # Robbee 2015-11-26 16:09
this is facile treatment of the relationship of zomblican lies to the media! it over-simply conflates repeating a zomblican's lies without calling them with being fair and objective!

bull! - if MSM starts calling rump's lies it has to call cartoon's lies! - if it starts calling some zomblican lies it has to start calling all zomblican lies! if it starts calling trickle-down and job-creators create jobs in america, lies, the zomblican party falls like the house of cards it is!

then who buys all the ads that keep the MSM thriving in a fountain of bucks?

is MSM stupid enough to shut down their highest-growth market segment, with some truth? kill cash cow? such nonsense is rhetorical!

now bernie has a plan to get private bucks, all of them, out of politics! - public funding, only, of federal, state and local elections!

as bernie puts it - “Long term, we need to go further and establish public funding of elections … American democracy is not about corporations and billionaires being able to buy candidates and elections. It is not about (super-pacs) spending billions of dollars to elect candidates who will make the rich richer and everyone else poorer ... This is not democracy. This is oligarchy. The defining principle of American democracy is ... every citizen having an equal say ... And that’s the kind of American political system we have to fight for!"

- who here knows bernie says that? - lots more of us here need to start listening to bernie! - go bernie!
 
 
+10 # Shades of gray matter 2015-11-26 17:07
Please note: the more bizarre the stream of lies, the stronger Hair Trump becomes. People CRAVE to be lied to. Soon heavily armed goon squad "malicias" will suppress opposition to the LIAR. Already started at Reichrally, and in Cleveland. Gonna get 1930s violent. OxyContin "Rush" and Phone SeXXX with Intern O'Reilly opened Pandora's Box.
 
 
+2 # davehaze 2015-11-26 21:27
I've read and enjoyed Frank Rich for decades but his reasoning has become boring and his carrying water for Hillary has become tepid and muddy.

You would think he works for MSMBC and Debbie Wasserman Schultz for his dogged refusal to mention Bernie Sanders.
 
 
+5 # davehaze 2015-11-26 23:03
To give Bernie Sanders any credit or chance.
 
 
+10 # Rockster 2015-11-26 23:49
It's almost like the more desperate the politician is to Get elected to high office the more suspicious we all need to be. What is actually motivating most all the candidates to say anything and struggle so hard to climb to the top ? As near as can be discerned to this point , only Bernie is running for nonselfish reasons. Bernie has consistently held the same positions advocating principles and policies supporting working people for decades. So has the American electorate been abused by lying pols for so long that we have become addicted to pain and disappointment ? Our politics more resembles an abusive codependency than a functional relationship. For the abuser it's always about the power and control not about other issues. What if Trump and the others are actually political, cultural abusers not actual political leaders?
 
 
+5 # Auteur47 2015-11-27 02:12
The right wing base has as one of its core values the prevention of any more peoples who are not white Western Europeans from coming to the US, period. That's why Republican politicians pander to this constituency in the form of opposing, or at least calling for a "pause" in the acceptance of Syrian refugees into the US. They falsely couch the issue in terms of "national security," or other such BS. Similar calls were made by the right to prevent people out of West Africa from even visiting the US out of stated "concerns over public health considerations" from the risk of ebola contagion. Who do they think they are fooling with such bald faced lying? They have sought to block the passage of any such "colored people" from entering the US even before the Paris attacks. They're calling for refugees to blocked until everybody is satisfied that they will pose no threat to the security of our people. That's easy for them to say since the right would NEVER be satisfied.
 
 
-3 # caphillprof 2015-11-27 07:42
The notion that Hillary Clinton can beat the bigoted elder white party is itself a crapshoot. She may have the middle but she doesn't have the left and the left have been sitting out elections of late.

Lurleen Wallace, anyone?
 
 
+8 # Gwalihir 2015-11-27 12:24
Let us hope that Trump does run as an independant, with any other candidate for Republican, and Bernie running for the Democrats. Then the Right will split their vote between two of these clowns and Bernie will run away with it.

There is not another candidate out there who truly understands the needs of the populace, nor any who will even speak common sense about policy. We are in dire straits: we need Bernie!
 

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