Brooks and Krugman

Bobo is going to explain “The Ted Cruz Establishment” to us all.  He says Ted Cruz has fooled most of America into thinking he’s anti-establishment, when in fact he just has his own.  And he’s the scariest thing any of us have seen in decades.  Prof. Krugman, in “Empowering the Ugliness,” says the Republican establishment helped to pave the way for the Trump phenomenon with decades of appeals to white anger.  Here’s Bobo:

There are two types of Machiavellians in politics, Selfish Machiavellians and Kind Machiavellians. The Selfish ones are the ones we usually think of — the nakedly ambitious people who are always strategizing, sometimes ruthlessly, for their own personal advantage. The Kind Machiavellians realize that it’s smart to get along with people, so they pick their friendships strategically, feigning affection toward those who might be useful.

In Washington and maybe in life, there are many more Kind Machiavellians than Selfish ones. But Ted Cruz has always stood out for being nakedly ambitious for himself.

He was always drawn to establishment institutions: Princeton, Harvard Law. His personal drive to gain elite posts was noted, even by the standards of such places. He learned tennis to get a clerkship with Justice William Rehnquist. According to The Boston Globe, a female law student who was giving him a ride was shocked when he quickly asked her about her I.Q. and SAT scores.

He joined the Republican establishment while young, working for George W. Bush, though he was marginalized when administration jobs were handed out, reportedly because his ambition was off-putting. Yet Cruz is intelligent, and knows that sometimes you have to switch tactics in order to climb. Over the past few years, Cruz has become a team player. In fact, he’s become a central member of the conservative establishment.

A little history lesson is in order. During the 1970s conservatives self-consciously built establishment institutions to counter the liberal establishment. But with the election of Ronald Reagan, the conservative establishment split into two. There was the regular conservative establishment, filled with mainstream conservatives who wanted to use the inside levers of power that Republicans now controlled.

But there was also a conservative counter-establishment. This was populated with people like Paul Weyrich, Richard Viguerie, Brent Bozell and others who were temperamentally incapable of governance. Many of these Old Right people broke with Reagan because he wasn’t ideologically pure on this or that policy matter.

Today the conservative community still has at least two establishments, or three if you want to throw in the young Reform Conservatives. The mainstream establishment tends to side with party leaders like Paul Ryan and whoever the presidential nominee is. The Old Right Counter Conservative Establishment has grown in recent years. For example, the Heritage Foundation, which used to be more or less conservative establishment, has gone more Counter Establishment.

The difference is the establishment wants to use the levers of power to practically pass reforms. The Counter Establishment believes that Washington is pervasively corrupt and is implacably hostile to the G.O.P. leadership.

Since he came to Washington, Ted Cruz has meticulously aligned himself with the rising and rich conservative Counter Establishment. He’s called his party leader a liar on the Senate floor. In another recent floor speech he accused every Republican but him and Mike Lee of selling out their principles for money. His efforts to shut down the government did enormous harm to the Republican Party and to the country, but they cemented his relationship with the members of the Counter Establishment. Crucially, those battles enabled him to amass the email lists that are a large part of his donor base.

His campaign is uniting the Counter Establishment. According to some excellent reporting in the National Journal, he was rapturously received by members of the Council for National Policy, an important Counter Establishment gathering. He’s been endorsed by the old guard, Viguerie and Bozell.

The Counter Establishment is now nearly as financially flush and institutionally entrenched as the mainstream establishment. Cruz has been able to tap into it to raise gobs of money. In the third quarter, Cruz raised $12.2 million, about twice what rival Marco Rubio raised over the same period. His super PACs raised $31 million in the few weeks of his campaign, largely from hedge fund manager Robert Mercer. He’s had fund-raisers hosted by Joseph Konzelmann, a managing director at Goldman Sachs.

He’s won over the Counter Establishment and even some of the regular establishment by being tactical in his policy positions, shifting his views most notoriously on trade promotion authority and foreign policy generally. He savages Republicans habitually but initially refused to criticize Donald Trump. As Eliana Johnson of National Review put it, the paradox of Cruz is that “The man who boasts of his ideological purity is perhaps the most obviously tactical candidate.”

Cruz is riding the shift in the conservative activist establishment, the way groups like the Club for Growth now provide a power base for someone who wants to run against the G.O.P. leadership.

A friend once joked that the journalist has the ultimate power: The power to choose who he wants to be co-opted by. Ted Cruz is surging as the figurehead of the rich and interlocked Counter Establishment. And he gets to do it while pretending that he is antiestablishment. That’s a nice trick. Even a Machiavellian one.

Sow the wind…  Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

We live in an era of political news that is, all too often, shocking but not surprising. The rise of Donald Trump definitely falls into that category. And so does the electoral earthquake that struck France in Sunday’s regional elections, with the right-wing National Front winning more votes than either of the major mainstream parties.

What do these events have in common? Both involved political figures tapping into the resentments of a bloc of xenophobic and/or racist voters who have been there all along. The good news is that such voters are a minority; the bad news is that it’s a pretty big minority, on both sides of the Atlantic. If you are wondering where the support for Mr. Trump or Marine Le Pen, the head of the National Front, is coming from, you just haven’t been paying attention.

But why are these voters making themselves heard so loudly now? Have they become much more numerous? Maybe, but it’s not clear. More important, I’d argue, is the way the strategies elites have traditionally used to keep a lid on those angry voters have finally broken down.

Let me start with what is happening in Europe, both because it’s probably less familiar to American readers and because it is, in a way, a simpler story than what is happening here.

My European friends will no doubt say that I’m oversimplifying, but from an American perspective it looks as if Europe’s establishment has tried to freeze the xenophobic right, not just out of political power, but out of any role in acceptable discourse. To be a respectable European politician, whether of the left or of the right, you have had to accept the European project of ever-closer union, of free movement of people, open borders, and harmonized regulations. This leaves no room for right-wing nationalists, even though right-wing nationalism has always had substantial popular support.

What the European establishment may not have realized, however, is that its ability to define the limits of discourse rests on the perception that it knows what it is doing. Even admirers and supporters of the European project (like me) have to admit that it has never had deep popular support or a lot of democratic legitimacy. It is, instead, an elite project sold largely on the claim that there is no alternative, that it is the path of wisdom.

And there’s nothing quite like sustained poor economic performance – the kind of poor performance brought on by Europe’s austerity and hard-money obsessions — to undermine the elite’s reputation for competence. That’s probably why one recent study found a consistent historical relationship between financial crises and the rise of right-wing extremism. And history is repeating itself.

The story is quite different in America, because the Republican Party hasn’t tried to freeze out the kind of people who vote National Front in France. Instead, it has tried to exploit them, mobilizing their resentment via dog whistles to win elections. This was the essence of Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy,” and explains why the G.O.P. gets the overwhelming majority of Southern white votes.

But there is a strong element of bait-and-switch to this strategy. Whatever dog whistles get sent during the campaign, once in power the G.O.P. has made serving the interests of a small, wealthy economic elite, especially through big tax cuts, its main priority — a priority that remains intact, as you can see if you look at the tax plans of the establishment presidential candidates this cycle.

Sooner or later the angry whites who make up a large fraction, maybe even a majority, of the G.O.P. base were bound to rebel — especially because these days much of the party’s leadership seems inbred and out of touch. They seem, for example, to imagine that the base supports cuts to Social Security and Medicare, an elite priority that has nothing to do with the reasons working-class whites vote Republican.

So along comes Donald Trump, saying bluntly the things establishment candidates try to convey in coded, deniable hints, and sounding as if he really means them. And he shoots to the top of the polls. Shocking, yes, but hardly surprising.

Just to be clear: In offering these explanations of the rise of Mr. Trump and Ms. Le Pen, I am not making excuses for what they say, which remains surpassingly ugly and very much at odds with the values of two great democratic nations.

What I am saying, however, is that this ugliness has been empowered by the very establishments that now act so horrified at the seemingly sudden turn of events. In Europe the problem is the arrogance and rigidity of elite figures who refuse to learn from economic failure; in the U.S. it’s the cynicism of Republicans who summoned up prejudice to support their electoral prospects. And now both are facing the monsters they helped create.

And I’ll say it again…  Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.


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