Friedman and Bruni

The Moustache of Wisdom decides to tell us a thing or two in “Democrats, Start Aiming for the Gut.”  He says Trump’s campaign genius was pushing the right buttons with voters.  In “Sorry, Mike Pence, You’re Doomed” Mr. Bruni says Faust made a better bargain than Donald Trump’s vice president did.  Here’s TMOW:

I was talking the other day to a wise executive friend and he recalled for me something his favorite boss liked to say: When people rise to the top of an organization and get power, they usually do one of two things: “They either swell or they grow.”

Donald Trump has swollen.

Every character flaw he had before taking office — from his serial lying to his intellectual laziness to his loyalty just to himself and his needs — has grown only larger and more toxic as he has been president. He seems not to have grown a whit in the job. He has surprised only on the downside — never once challenging his own base with new thinking or appearing to be remotely interested in being president of all the people, not just his base.

What strikes me most about Trump, though, is how easily he still could become more popular — fast — if he just behaved like a normal leader for a month: if he reached out to Democrats on health care, taxes or infrastructure; stopped insulting every newsperson who writes critically about him; stopped lying; stopped tweeting inanities; and actually apologized for some of his most egregious actions and asked for forgiveness. Americans are a forgiving people.

With the Dow at 22,000 and unemployment at 4.3 percent, oh my God, this guy could actually become more popular outside his base without much effort. That’s scary. But, as I said, it would require Trump doing something he has shown no ability or willingness to do — to grow in office, not just swell.

Still, Democrats would be wise not to count on Trump swelling forever or on Robert Mueller taking him down. Whatever happens, Democrats need to win the argument with at least some Trump/G.O.P. voters. There are many ways for Democrats to counter any new and improved Trump. I’d start by acknowledging a simple fact: Some things are true even if Donald Trump believes them!

That is, Trump’s core base of support — those people who he says would stick by him even if he shot someone “in the middle of Fifth Avenue” — are people who have heard and appreciated all his nativist dog whistles: from his slur that Barack Obama was not born in America to his focus on voter suppression to his restricting transgender people in the military to his reversing affirmative action and imposing immigration restrictions. That white nationalist constituency is beyond the reach — for good reason — of any Democratic candidate.

But Trump did not win, and could not win again, with that group alone. His genius was expanding beyond that nativist core with just enough votes in the right places to get him over the top — by pushing other buttons. These were things that many conservative and centrist voters believe in their guts, even if they don’t articulate them.

Trump connects with these gut issues and takes them in a destructive direction. It’s vital for Democrats to connect with them and take them in a constructive direction.

What issues? Here’s my list:

• We can’t take in every immigrant who wants to come here; we need, metaphorically speaking, a high wall that assures Americans we can control our border with a big gate that lets as many people in legally as we can effectively absorb as citizens.

• The Muslim world does have a problem with pluralism — gender pluralism, religious pluralism and intellectual pluralism — and suggesting that terrorism has nothing to do with that fact is naïve; countering violent extremism means constructively engaging with Muslim leaders on this issue.

• Americans want a president focused on growing the economic pie, not just redistributing it. We do have a trade problem with China, which has reformed and closed instead of reformed and opened. We have an even bigger problem with automation wiping out middle-skilled work and we need to generate more blue-collar jobs to anchor communities.

• Political correctness on college campuses has run ridiculously riot. Americans want leaders to be comfortable expressing patriotism and love of country when globalization is erasing national identities. America is not perfect, but it is, more often than not, a force for good in the world.

Voters don’t listen through their ears. They listen through their stomachs. And when you connect with voters in their guts, they feel respected, and when they feel respected, they will listen to anything — including big issues that are true even if Democrats believe them. Such as the fact that a majority of Americans like Obamacare and want to see it built to last, and a majority of Americans do not like the way Trump is despoiling the environment and bringing back coal.

Indeed, the biggest wind power states in America — Texas, Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota, Oklahoma and North Dakota — are all red states. The Democrats literally have the wind at their backs on health care and clean energy.

But to be heard, they need candidates who can pass a gut check with the more moderate Trump/G.O.P. voters. Just 10 percent of Trump voters would suffice. Trump’s core base is solid, but he’s clearly losing the soft support around his core. Democrats can grow into the soft support — as long as they’re smart and Trump continues to just swell.

Yeah, Tommy — pandering to people who voted for Trump is the way to go.  SURE it is.  Here’s Mr. Bruni:

The other day, from the Naval Observatory in Washington, you heard a howl of such volume and anguish that it cracked mirrors and sent small forest animals scurrying for cover. Vice President Mike Pence was furious. He was offended. Someone — namely, my Times colleagues Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns — had dared to call him out on the fact that he seemed to be laying the groundwork for a presidential bid.

Problem No. 1: His president is still in the first year of his first term. Problem No. 2: That president is Donald Trump, who doesn’t take kindly to any glimmer that people in his employ are putting their vanity or agenda before his. Just ask Steve Bannon. Or Anthony Scaramucci. They were too big for their britches, and Trump snatched their britches away.

The Times report put Pence in similar peril, so he pushed back with an operatic outrage that showed just how close to the bone it had cut. When a story’s actually wrong, you eviscerate it, exposing its erroneous assertions without ever breaking a sweat. When it’s a stink bomb at odds with your plotting, you set your jaw, redden your face and proclaim it “disgraceful,” never detailing precisely how.

That was Pence’s route. And his rancor, I suspect, reflects more than the inconvenient truths that Martin and Burns told. It’s overarching. It’s existential. On some level, he must realize that he’s in a no-win situation. Without Trump he’s nothing. With Trump he’s on a runaway train that he can’t steer or brake. If it doesn’t crash, Trump can scream down the tracks straight through 2020. If it does, Pence will be one of the casualties.

So why has Pence formed a political action committee, the only sitting vice president ever to do so? Why is he taking all these meetings, building all these bridges? I guess there could be some imaginable future in which Trump falls and Pence is left standing strong enough to soldier on. But mostly he’s in denial, and he’s living very dangerously.

Many Republicans wonder if Trump will remain in the picture and viable in 2020. He could implode — even more than he already has, I mean. He could be run out of town, one way or another. He could stomp off. The scenarios are myriad, and to prepare for them, Pence indeed needs an infrastructure and a network of his own. But there’s simply no way to assemble those without looking disloyal to Trump and courting the wrath of alt-right types who know how to go on a Twitter jihad.

Other would-be successors to Trump aren’t in the same bind. They don’t owe Trump what Pence does. They never pledged Trump complete allegiance. Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, whose unofficial 2020 campaign commenced even before Trump’s inauguration, can raise money, stage news conferences, take up residence on CNN and pick apart Trump’s proposals all he wants. It won’t endear him to Trump’s base, but it won’t make him a marked man.

Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska can style himself as a humble, homespun remedy to Trump’s cupidity and histrionics. Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas can take a calibrated approach, more hawkish than Trump on foreign policy but eager to link arms with him on immigration.

Pence, though, is squeezed tight into a corner of compulsory worship. And despite his behind-the-scenes machinations, he has done a masterful job of appearing perfectly content there.

In news photographs and video, you catch other politicians glancing at the president in obvious bafflement. Not Pence. Never Pence. He moons. He beams. It’s 50 shades of infatuation. Daniel Day-Lewis couldn’t muster a more mesmerizing performance, and it’s an unusually florid surrender of principles.

I’m not referring to policy and the fact that before he agreed to become Trump’s running mate, he blasted Trump’s proposed Muslim ban, tweeting that it was “offensive and unconstitutional,” and fiercely advocated free trade. I’m referring to Pence’s supposed morality.

He trumpets his conservative Christianity and avoids supping alone with any woman other than his wife, then turns around and steadfastly enables an avowed groper with a bulging record of profanely sexual comments.

He publishes a testimonial, “Confessions of a Negative Campaigner,” in which he invokes Jesus while vowing never to repeat such political ugliness in the future, then turns around and collaborates with a politician whose ugliness knows no limit.

No wonder he wants and expects a reward as lavish as the White House itself: He sold his soul. But I don’t think he studied the contract closely enough and thought the whole thing through.’

There’s no political afterlife in this equation, just the loopy, mortifying limbo in which he and so many of Trump’s other acolytes dwell.

Maybe the howling is cathartic. Won’t change a thing.

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