In “Trump and the Sultan” The Moustache of Wisdom says American voters should learn from Turkey’s experience with an out-of-control leader. Mr. Bruni points out the blindingly obvious in “Ted Loves Trump.” He says well, not exactly. But Cruz’s appearance at the G.O.P. convention shows how self-interest routinely muscles principle aside. Cruz’s ONLY principle is self-interest, Frank. Here’s TMOW:
Turkey is a long way from Cleveland, where the Republicans are holding their presidential convention. But I’d urge you to study the recent failed military coup against Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. America is not Turkey — but in terms of personality and political strategy, Erdogan and Donald Trump were separated at birth.
And the drama playing out in Turkey today is the story of just how off track a once successful country can get when a leader who demonizes all his rivals and dabbles in crazy conspiracy theories comes to believe that he alone is The Man — the only one who can make his country great again — and ensconces himself in power.
Let’s start with Erdogan, who was prime minister from 2003 to 2014, but then maneuvered himself into the previously symbolic role of president and got all key powers shifted to that position. I confess that when I first heard the news of the July 15 coup attempt, my first instinct was to consult that great foreign policy expert Miss Manners, The Washington Post’s etiquette columnist, because I was asking myself, “What is the right response when bad things happen to bad people?”
“Dear Miss Manners: I instinctively oppose military coups against democratically elected governments, like the one in Turkey. But am I a bad person if part of me felt that Turkey’s president had it coming?”
Anyone who has been following Turkey closely knows that Erdogan has been mounting a silent, drip-by-drip coup of his own against Turkish democracy for years — jailing reporters, hounding rivals with giant tax bills, reviving an internal war against Turkish Kurds to stoke nationalist passions to propel his efforts to grab more powers — and by generally making himself into a modern-day sultan for life.
I’m glad the coup failed, especially the way it did — with many secular Turks who actually opposed Erdogan’s autocratic rule, and had been abused by it, nevertheless coming out against the plotters on the principle that Turkish democracy must be upheld. That was a truly impressive act of collective wisdom and a display of democratic sensibilities.
The maturity of the Turkish people resulted in Erdogan’s getting what golfers call a mulligan, or a do-over, to demonstrate that he is committed to the universal precepts of democracy. Will he? Or will Erdogan go right back to his preferred means of staying in power: dividing Turks into his supporters and enemies of the state, weaving conspiracy theories and using the failed coup as a license for a witch hunt, not only for plotters but for anyone who has dared to cross his path?
The early signs are bad. A day after the failed coup, Erdogan dismissed 2,745 judges and prosecutors. How did he know exactly who to fire in one day? Did he already have an enemies list? To date, he has now reportedly purged 1,500 university deans, revoked the licenses of 21,000 teachers and either purged or detained nearly 35,000 members of the military, security forces and judiciary as part of his “cleansing” of coup supporters.
Here’s the real tragedy: Erdogan was an outstanding leader his first five years and truly lifted the country’s economy and middle class. But since then it’s all gone to his head, and he has gotten away with increasingly bad behavior by creating an us-versus-them divide between his loyal, more religious followers, and the more secular communities in Turkey.
Because his followers see their dignity wrapped up in his remaining in power, he can say and do anything and never pay a political price. His base will always rally to his us-versus-them dog whistles. But Turkey in the long run suffers.
Trump relies on the same tactics: He fabricates facts and figures on an industrial scale. He regularly puts out conspiracy theories — his latest is that President Obama’s “body language” suggests that “there’s something going on” with the president — hinting that Obama is not comfortable condemning the killing of cops by African-American gunmen and has sympathy for radical Islamists.
Trump also relies on the us-versus-them bond with his followers to avoid punishment for any of his misbehavior. He, too, is obsessed with his own prowess, and he uses Twitter to get around traditional media gatekeepers — and fact-checkers — to inject anything he wants into the nation’s media bloodstream. (Erodgan just uses his own friendly media.) And most of the people Trump has surrounded himself with are either family or second-raters looking for a star turn, including his vice-presidential choice and the person who wrote his wife’s convention speech and clearly plagiarized part of it from Michelle Obama. The whole thing reeks of flimflam.
If Trump is elected, I don’t think there will be a military coup, but I guarantee you that Jeb Bush’s prediction will be proved true, that he’ll be “a chaos president” just as he’s been a “chaos candidate.” Americans will regularly be in the streets, because they are not going to follow — on any big issue — a man who lies as he breathes, who has not done an ounce of homework to prepare for the job and who generates support by conspiracy theories and making people afraid of the future and one another.
If you like what’s going on in Turkey today, you’ll love Trump’s America.
Now here’s Mr. Bruni:
One of the last times you saw Ted Cruz, flames were shooting from his head and spittle was flying from his mouth — metaphorically, at least — as he branded Donald Trump “a pathological liar,” “a serial philanderer,” “utterly amoral” and a “narcissist” on a level this country had seldom seen. It was the day of Indiana’s Republican primary, Trump had just insinuated a connection between Cruz’s father and the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and Cruz announced that he must at long last tell the world “what I really think” of Trump.
But when you see the Texas senator on the convention stage here on Wednesday night, that contempt and candor will be absent. He may not exactly praise Trump, but he’ll almost certainly swallow whatever misgivings he still feels, and his presence alone will be taken by some viewers as a gesture of implicit, tentative support.
It will also be an example of what he always says he can’t stand about other politicians and what voters loathe as well: the elasticity of their convictions, the urgency of their self-interest and the alacrity with which they take an eraser to their past words.
There’s a lot of erasing going on these days, and Trump is a big reason. For many Republicans, rallying round him means conveniently forgetting how much they disagreed with or even detested him before, a breach much wider than the one that typically exists between opponents within a political party.
Mike Pence had to do a memory purge so complete it may well constitute a lobotomy. Once upon a time he deemed Trump’s proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the United States “offensive and unconstitutional,” but Trump’s slight tweak to that — a focus on immigrants from Muslim-heavy countries that seem to be fertile for terrorists — is something Pence now praises. People say the vice presidency is a miserable job, but what misery politicians go through in pursuit of it.
Pence is also among the large crowd of lawmakers whom Trump savages for having supported the invasion of Iraq. He’s an advocate of the trade deals that Trump mocks. And in that Indiana primary? Pence endorsed Cruz. But now he’s all aboard and all about the good ship Trump, because it has the plusher staterooms and is sailing toward the snazzier port.
I shouldn’t beat up on Pence. Whatever reservations he expressed about Trump were mild next to those mentioned by Rick Perry, who called Trump “a barking carnival act” and “a cancer” before endorsing him and showing up in support of him here.
And it’s not just Trump who brings out the squish in politicians. Their spines jellify in all sorts of situations.
Remember Marco Rubio’s insistence that he’d be leaving the Senate after 2016? In May he gave his latest guarantee, tweeting: “I have only said like 10,000 times I will be a private citizen in January.” Rubio wasn’t just resolute; he was flabbergasted that anyone could doubt his resoluteness. As it turns out, though, a vow doesn’t become an ironclad guarantee until it’s made 20,000 times. In June, he announced his candidacy for re-election.
Pranksters write in disappearing ink; politicians speak in it. And that certainly includes Democrats — Evan Bayh, for one. When he left the Senate six years ago, he did so in an indignant, operatically aggrieved fashion, describing it as hopelessly partisan and corrupted by money and outside influences. He then joined the outside influencers, going to work for a lobbying and law firm. But he apparently missed all that partisanship and corruption, because now he wants back in. The negative ads write themselves.
Cruz isn’t up for re-election to the Senate until 2018, but what’s on his mind is 2020. He clearly began plotting his comeback the moment he exited the Republican primaries. His convention speech will be a part of it and warrants careful study as a road map to where he thinks the post-Trump G.O.P. is headed.
He has even repaired his pride (to the extent that it ever needs repair) and reasserted his dominance by coming up with a conspiracy theory for how the Republican nomination was actually stolen from him — by the news media! As he explained to Politico’s Glenn Thrush: “I think many of the mainstream media players are liberal Democrats. They intend to vote for Hillary. They believed Donald was the easiest candidate for Hillary to beat. And I think many of them wanted him to win the nomination. I don’t think it was innocent decision making behind this.”
I take back what I wrote earlier about his fickleness. He is 100 percent constant — in his adoration and exaltation of Ted Cruz.
Tags: The Moustache of Wisdom