Thursday, January 28, 2016

In GOP-world, It Is All About Dominance

Josh Marshall drills down into the guts of Donald Trump's appeal to the Republican base on Talking Points Memo.

Pundits and political obsessives tend to get distracted by process and policy literalism. But politics generally and especially intra-Republican political battles are really about demonstrating dominance - not policy mastery or polling leads but a series of symbols and actions that mark the dominating from the dominated.

I've seen various people say, 'Well this is awful for Trump. He's missing his opportunity to make his closing argument to Iowa caucus-goers!' But that's not getting what's happening. Maybe this will be a disaster for Trump. But it won't be because he missed out on 15 minutes of airtime.

The misunderstanding is similar to all the other times over the last six months when observers thought Trump had tripped himself up by violating some political taboo, showing he didn't understand some basic policy issue or just flat out lying about something in a easily demonstrable way. Focusing on these indicators is like watching an opera and fixating on the libretto rather than the score. Yes, it's part of what's happening. But it's not what's generating the energy and motion. It's just a ripple on the surface of a deep sea. How much do you need to know German to get Wagner?

In an election dominated by national security, this kind of demonstration of power and dominance has a profound impact. That is why the 'Swift Boat' attacks in the 2004 presidential election were so devastating. Whether anybody really believed all these slurs and claims about John Kerry wasn't really the point. What was deadly was his seeming inability to defend himself.

That was a dozen years ago. But this driving force of Republican politics has only become more salient and central as the GOP has become increasingly dominated by core constituencies animated by anger and resentment that things to which they believe they are entitled are being taken away from them.

Trump doesn't apologize. He hurts people and they go away. He says things that would kill a political mortal (ban members of an entire religion from entering the country) and yet he doesn't get hurt. Virtually everything Trump has done over the last six months, whether it's a policy proposal or personal attack, has driven home this basic point: Trump is strong. He does things other people can't.

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