Today is yet another Republican debate featuring nine people in the main event with Chris Christie just squeaking back in and Rand Paul barely avoiding getting relegated to the minor league. The field has effectively narrowed down to just three people (Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio) and you can expect to see them sparring with one another, with Jeb Bush and Ben Carson struggling to act as if they are still relevant.
Matt Taibbi sets the stage:
This one promises to be a lively affair, with some pundits predicting a brawl between onetime snuggle-bunnies Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Trump recently called Cruz a “maniac,” prompting Cruz, who has depressed us all with his repeated overenthusiastic 80s pop culture references, to tweet back a link to Michael Sembello’s “Maniac” song from Flashdance.
Ben Carson, returned from an extended trip abroad taken in the wake of a string of bizarre and controversial public comments – the campaign version of taking a semester off to “find yourself” – will need to do something drastic to stop his freefall in the polls. Even Republican voters seemed freaked out at the lack of foreign policy knowledge he displayed in the last debate. So expect him to try to force-feed references to things he’s recently learned about the Middle East, like that it is hot and you need a passport to visit it.
Marco Rubio was being set up in the press a month ago or so to be the establishment challenge to Trump, but his numbers have plateaued. Ted Cruz cunningly went after Rubio in the last debate with a passing mention of sugar subsidies. Expect Rubio to turn the tables this time and focus his blowdried boy-rage act at Cruz, who is his chief obstacle to winning Beltway support in the fight to dethrone the Donald.
There has been a lot of talk in the last few days about what happened at a focus group of 29 supporters of Donald Trump convened by Frank Luntz to talk about their preferred candidate. According to reports, it seemed like nothing would shake their allegiance, to the extent that over half of the group would ditch the Republican party and vote for Trump as an independent if he chose to run as such. I finally came across an extended segment showing what happened.
One has to bear in mind that Luntz is not an impartial opinion gatherer. He is a Republican partisan and operative whose main claim to fame is that he uses focus groups to find out the best language to message the appalling polices of the Republican party in order to sell them to the general public. He has the ability to place a heavy finger on the scales to get a result he wants and to that extent I am never sure whether the outcomes of his focus groups are genuine or manufactured through careful selection of participants, leading questions, and editing of footage.
But whatever Luntz’s motivation, what these people said is worth listening to and it conforms to one’s worst fears of the nature of the people who are flocking to Trump.
One of the people who took part Michael Wille was not actually a Trump supporter but pretended to be one in order to get in and troll the group and he explains how he got in. He is the young bearded guy with glasses between the woman in black who spoke first and the woman wearing a leopard-skin design jacket.
So what did Wille feel about his experience?
In a strange way, Wille said, he now wants Trump to win the nomination. But only so that the businessman can lose by a landslide in the general election, and make an enduring point to the members of the Republican Party.
“I want him to get the nomination to get completely destroyed in the general. The older generation in my party needs to understand we can’t have this pro-war, anti-immigrant nonsense anymore… we need to lose this [election] in order to ever win again,” Wille said. “He needs to get destroyed in order for us to understand the path forward. Hillary is probably going to be the next president, and I don’t like that at all.”
Wille considers himself a libertarian and has worked at the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation. In the 2012 election cycle, he worked on Romney’s campaign in Ohio.
“We haven’t learned the lesson from that election—we’ve gone the exact opposite direction. We’re never going to win again unless we trend more libertarian,” Wille said.
Wille said he left the focus group “terrified” by the dozens of Trump supporters there who ganged up on him whenever he tried to object to The Donald’s policies. Midway through, it struck him that the GOP has no chance of winning in 2016.
“On everything Trump said, they would automatically go into defense mode,” he told The Daily Beast. “We’re definitely going to lose. The party is going to fracture—these guys are so committed to Trump, they are going to defend him no matter what.
Wille captures the dilemma that the Republican party finds itself in, saddled with a candidate that even right-wing Heritage Foundation conservatives find so distasteful that they hope he will lose big. Even Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far-right National Front party, thinks that Trump’s xenophobia goes too far and rejects any comparison with him.
What a strange election.