Archive for June, 2016
Almost forgotten in the other storylines of the 1968 Democratic Convention was the two-hour boomlet (or so it seemed) to run Ted Kennedy in place of his assassinated brother, Robert. Theodore White recounts the moment (p. 351-354), noting that it was briefer, more fleeting, and far less likely than the press coverage that Tuesday evening made it seem. Kennedy would never allow himself to be seen actively courting such a movement, and the forces needed to make it happen were too unlikely as allies.
He then delivers, in a footnote, his damning indictment of the press and its coverage of that non-development:
It has always seemed to me unfair to criticize the floor reporters of television for behavior forced on them by the commercial competition of their networks. To report a convention from the floor, the networks choose their best political correspondents…Turned loose in the compact space of the convention floor, with dozens of Governors and Senators, scores of Congressmen, political bosses, old contacts and political freshmen, they are as happy as dogs in a meat market. No one can escape their cameras and microphones; nor do many delegates want to escape a televised interview…
Delegates thus lived in an echo chamber; and so, as a matter of fact, did the reporters themselves. Floor reporters are turned loose on a chase, and the director in the control room calls the course, the story-line they must chase. On the convention floor, someone can always be found to say anything, and it remains only for good direction to put the fragments together in dramatic form. Neither the delegates nor reporters can be blamed; only the mechanism and its programming, which calls for competitive and rival drama to hold audience.
If the script that night had called for the discovery and dissemination of a Southern revolt, or the candidacy of Lester Maddox, the reporters could have delivered that to the nation, too – all carved out of truth, from the lips of authentic and honest men on the floor.
This is something to bear in mind as we head towards Cleveland, with Trump’s poll numbers beginning to tank and his fundraising outlook getting bleaker. There will be reports of incipient revolt, of blocs of delegates withholding their support, of Rubio and Kasich (who retain control over their delegates) trying to organize Cruz delegates to deny Trump the nomination on the first ballot.
With the increasing likelihood of violent events taking place outside the hall, and the necessity of word-of-mouth organization of the delegate inside the hall, things have changed less than people think, even with the advent of social media. We’ve seen how those media are highly susceptible to the manipulation of a very few influential practitioners with many followers.
Add to that the fact that, unlike in Chicago in 1968, the press will be actively looking for stories designed to make the Republicans look bad. Certainly, the press’s favorite story-line already is the failure of the party to unite. They will find ample fodder for that claim, and any other they decide they need on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday evening.
All expected [Chicago Mayor Richard Daley] to be with Humphrey; but his silence reminded politicians of old-time Boss Richard Croker of New York. Once, at one of Tammany’s boisterous Fourth of July parties, when everyone else broke into singing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” an associate noticed that Boss Croker was not singing, and asked why. “He doesn’t want to commit himself,” growled a crony.
— Theodore H White, The Making of the President 1968
In the aftermath of Wednesday’s terrorist murders in Tel Aviv, each of the campaigns of the presumptive nominees issued a statement. They each read, in tone, about as you would expect them to read, but the content is very different.
Hillary Clinton’s reads like a fairy standard pro-forma press release from the State Department. It reads, in full:
I condemn the heinous terrorist attack in Tel Aviv today. I send my deepest condolences to the families of those killed and I will continue to pray for the wounded. I stand in solidarity with the Israeli people in the face of these ongoing threats, and in unwavering support of the country’s right to defend itself. Israel’s security must remain non-negotiable.
For comparison, here’s the actual standard pro-forma press release from the State Department:
The United States condemns today’s horrific terrorist attack in Tel Aviv in the strongest possible terms. We extend our deepest condolences to the families of those killed and our hopes for a quick recovery for those wounded. These cowardly attacks against innocent civilians can never be justified. We are in touch with Israeli authorities to express our support and concern.
I condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the outrageous terrorist shootings that took the lives of at least four innocent civilians and wounded at least twenty others in Tel Aviv yesterday.
The Israeli security forces’ investigation is ongoing, but some facts have already emerged — and they are grim.
Just as fast as the condolences arrive from the civilized world is the praise arising out of the uncivilized one. Hamas praised the attack, calling the attackers “heroes.” Reports out of Hebron indicate that residents of the terrorists’ hometown lit up the night sky with celebratory fireworks. One Palestinian “news organization” even referred to the shootings, in which the assailants dressed up as observant Jews, as a “Ramadan treat.” The leader of Hamas called the injured terrorist a “hero.” How despicable!
The American people stand strong with the people of Israel, who have suffered far too long from terrorism. Israel’s security is a matter of paramount importance to me and the American people.
We understand all too well the unspeakable horror that terrorism unleashes. To address it — and address it we must! — we must recognize the parallel horror of the culture of religious hatred that permeates many Palestinian quarters. From schools that indoctrinate toddlers to grow up to kill Israelis to the daily menu of hate that spews forth from various “news organizations,” change is long overdue in the Palestinian territories.
Let us begin the arduous task of creating a future where peace can take root and terror finds no refuge.
I express my deepest condolences to the families of the four Israelis who were murdered, as well as my wishes for a speedy recovery to the wounded.
There’s nothing pro-forma about that, and it indeed reads just like something that Trump would say or tweet, down to the trademark “How despicable!” It places blame directly on – get this – the terrorists and the people who encourage them, rather than on Israel or “the occupation,” and while it mentions Hamas by name, it refers to “the Palestinian territories” all together, implicitly including the PA and Abbas as guilty parties.
If you’re a supporter of Israel, it’s almost impossible to imagine a statement more sympathetic to Israel, more discouraging to the deceitful Palestinian leadership, or with greater moral clarity.
The problem, of course, is that it’s coming from Donald Trump, who’s been more than a little malleable in his public statements. The question about any statement issued by Trump isn’t whether it’s good or bad, but whether he’ll even admit tomorrow that he said it. It’s usually prudent to at least apply Trump’s own 25% contractor discount.
What’s to be learned here isn’t much about either campaign. It’s about the dangers of committing too early to a side without bothering to extract concessions, which is what the #NeverTrumpers have done. As I’ve written before, there are excellent reasons for voting for Hillary, or voting for Trump, or voting for some third or fourth or fifth-party candidate. Reasonable people can come to different conclusions about the result of that calculation. (My own mind isn’t made up, and it’s got a complex calculation with only one output: what’s the best scenario for Constitutional conservatism surviving as an organized political force by 2020?)
It’s not just how someone eventually votes, it’s what they do with their leverage before they vote. The #NeverTrumpers have effectively thrown away all of that leverage, insisting that it’s better if Clinton is elected than Trump, leaving her no incentive to try to win their votes. What you end up with is statements like the one above, which say absolutely nothing, and could have been issued by an administration whose actions have been unprecedentedly hostile to the Jewish State. It’s worse than a crime, it’s a blunder, because it’s exactly the same mistake we see the Jewish community at large as having made for generations.
In a complex year like this one, like 1968 in many ways, such a simple calculation leaves a lot out: how far can Hillary move to being pro-Israel without losing even more voters to the openly Israel-hostile Bernie? does at least saying #NeverTrump put more pressure on delegates at the RNC to ditch him for a better candidate? But I don’t see where any of the #NeverTrumpers are really using that as a negotiating ploy, they really mean it, and since they’ve persuaded everyone that they really mean it, Hillary has no reason to do more than she’s done, letting everyone read into her statements whatever they want. I’m sure some conservative, pro-Israel #NeverTrumpers will persuade themselves that this tepid bland press release actually represents something acceptable or even laudable.
But you don’t have to be Boss Croker to see that by holding out, by at least making Clinton work a little bit for your vote or half-vote, you at least have the chance to move her in a more pro-Israel direction.
Ever since Donald Trump won Indiana, those seeking to nominate a non-Don have been hoping to find a way to stave off his nomination at the convention in Cleveland.
Mostly, these ideas entail finding some way to get enough delegates to defect from Trump – either by voting for someone else or by abstaining – to deny him a first-ballot win. It’s no secret that many delegates pledged to Trump on the first few ballots are actually Cruz supporters, so the belief is that Trump will never be stronger than on that first ballot.
A long-time member of the Rules Committee, Curly Haugland, argues in his book, Unbound, that by law and national party rules, all delegates to the convention are not, in fact, bound. This is probably true functionally, but it will take some persuading, and a great deal of that persuading will probably take the form of rules fights, which will happen in both the Rules Committee and on the floor.
While there have been no confirmed reports of an organized attempt to nominate Cruz in place of Trump, rumors have been intensifying.
This is an exceedingly dangerous game that Cruz and his delegates may be playing.
I was there for the 2012 Denver Republican County Assembly, a descent into rules-chaos which few of the delegates understood, orchestrated by many in the Ron Paul faction. Rightly or wrongly, they felt themselves greatly aggrieved by the party “establishment,” and didn’t have much investment in playing by rules they felt guaranteed them to lose.
The Denver Post’s Spot blog was still writing about it weeks later.
This can be done right, but it will take preparation.
If there’s a productive way of getting another nominee at the convention – and if Cruz delegates are willing to settle for someone other than Cruz in order to make that happen – then it could be beneficial. This will mean a simple rules fight that everyone can understand, and that everyone can understand what it means.
I remember the 1980 Democratic Convention, when the Ted Kennedy forces wanted to unbind the delegates on the first ballot. Everyone understood what that meant, and that if they won, it would likely lead to Kennedy being the nominee.
The motion lost, as did the renominated President Carter in the fall, but nobody walked away wondering what they had just seen, or feeling that someone had tried to pull a fast one.
If instead, it’s a floor fight that nobody watching on TV at home understands, that just ends up dividing the party further and using floor speeches to attack party leadership and its institutions in the guise of “The Establishment,” then it won’t help in the long run or the short run.
Doing things that way, tying the convention floor up in knots without a clear path to victory, and attacking the party as corrupt or untrustworthy, it will remind Republicans of the Cruz they distrusted and disliked in the first place, the one who drags the party into losing battles and then blames everyone else for his strategic miscalculations, the one who wanted to be Robespierre, but failed to account for Trump’s Napoleon.
Moreover, those optics are a trap for Republicans. Democrats are planning disruptive, possibly violent protests outside the hall. Combined with chaos on the convention floor, it would cement the impression among voters of a party in disarray, a nominee being crowned on bayonets. It would be the Democrats in 1968 in Chicago all over again.
It’s possible that this is ok with Cruz, and ok with a lot of his supporters, who want to be seen as the leaders of the Conservatives in Exile within the party. They figure that after Trump loses, they’ll be in a position to seize the party and nominate Cruz; their model is Reagan in 1976, or Goldwater in 1960. But Ford didn’t enter the ’76 convention with enough delegates, and Goldwater’s tactics in ’64 left the party bitterly divided.
If the Cruz people want to do this right, they’ll start telegraphing their intent publicly well beforehand. They’ll explain what it is they want to do and why. They’ll come up with a plausible reason – John Fund has suggested the tax returns could provide one. They’ll do so with a minimum of personal attacks and rancor. If they’re able to succeed in pushing it to further ballots, they’ll be prepared for the possibility that Cruz can’t get a majority, either, and will support some other non-Don for the nomination.
That’s if they care about doing this right.