Oh dear, Republicans. This weekend was a wild one (and wildly embarrassing) for the GOP presidential campaign. The frontrunner quoted Mussolini and hedged on the question of the KKK; the supposedly mainstream establishment alternative, meanwhile, tried insinuating that the frontrunner had a small penis. Voters in a dozen states will try to make sense of all of this tomorrow on Super Tuesday. Notes on the state of the race:
The Donald and the Duke: Donald Trump was asked on CNN to condemn the racism of David Duke, former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. (Duke recently said that he supported Trump's candidacy and told a white nationalist audience that anyone who voted against Trump was committing "treason to your heritage.")
"Will you unequivocally condemn David Duke and say you don't want his vote or that of other white supremacists in this election?" the reporter asked.
Trump declined to condemn Duke, saying repeatedly that he didn't know anything about Duke or white supremacist groups. "I don't know," Trump said.
"I have to look at the group, I can't condemn a group I know nothing about." (Note: the reporter brought up the KKK three times, mentioned David Duke half a dozen times, and made multiple references to "white supremacist groups.") Trump said that he would "do research on them, and certainly I would disavow if I thought there was something wrong."
If this looks like a wink and a nod to the loyal base of support that Trump gets from white supremacists, well ... yes. Trump of course knows who Duke and the KKK are, and he knows what white supremacist groups are (if he literally doesn't know who they are, he probably shouldn't be running for president!). This has long been a strategy for mainstream politicians dependent on the nastier elements of white populism for support — play footsie with white supremacist base voters and when pressed, say you don't know who they are.
Trump later sorta-kinda backtracked, pointing to a previous statement he made on Duke, irritatingly telling a journalist, "I disavow, okay?" Now, he's saying his earpiece wasn't working during the CNN interview (although he repeated Duke's name and "white supremacist groups" several times).
All of his GOP rivals slammed Trump's remarks, and rightly so. One would hope that demurring on the KKK would be disqualifying for the Republican nomination for president, but Trump will test that theory. It's not hard to see what Trump is doing here: he's bobbing and weaving and talking out of both sides of his mouth just enough to play to everyone he needs to play to: racist voters have enough to infer that Trump is their guy; mad-as-hell Tea Party types who like Trump can watch as the evil forces of "political correctness" treat Trump unfairly (and Cruz and Rubio join the liberals in righteously condemning him); and Trump has backtracked just enough to make nice with more mainstream GOP voters who are open to Trump but would never vote for someone like David Duke.
Other odds and ends: Trump's father may have been a member, or at least a fellow traveler, of the Klan himself. According to his second wife, Trump kept a copy of Hitler's speeches in a cabinet by his bed, which he liked to read from time to time.
The Donald and Il Duce
Trump retweeted a tweet that quoted Trump, but actually used a quote from Benito Mussolini, the former fascist dictator of Italy ("It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.")
Behind the polls and desperate, Marco Rubio says Trump is orange, has small penis
A lot of conservatives were desperate for Rubio to attack Trump directly and he delivered during the debate last week, going hard after Trump as a "con man" with shady business dealings. Rubio went after Trump for his scam school, Trump University, and for his bankruptcies. And he said Trump was just a spoiled rich kid. He also went nativist, saying that Trump was guilty of hiring foreign human beings and wearing clothes made in foreign countries. It wasn't a KO, but Rubio landed some punches. And the "con man" line seemed to be making headway. Which makes sense: attacks work best when they hit on a real weakness, when they have an element of truth (no one knows this better than Trump himself, a master of poking a bruise; see Bush, Jeb, "low energy.").
Apparently jazzed by talk of "Marcomentum," Rubio got a little carried away over the weekend and lost the thread of his attacks. Instead of relentlessly hammering the substantive "con man" assault, Rubio tried to imitate Trump. He is now trying to become an insult comic. Trying to mimic the frontrunner is typically treated as an act of total desperation (and weakness) by a struggling candidate. This is especially true when it comes to a mainstream politicians imitating Trump. Rubio, a disciplined politician peddling a sunny and optimistic message, suddenly started making pee-pants and dick jokes. It has begun to feel more like an assault on his own dignity, rather than on Trump himself.
First Rubio said that Trump applies a lot of makeup and probably tinkled in his pants.
Then the Rubio comedy routine went orange: Rubio said that Trump has "the worst spray tan in America." He said, "Donald Trump likes to sue people. He should sue whoever did that to his face." And he said, "Donald is not going to make America great, he's going to make America orange."
And then he went blue: "Now the other thing he says, he's always calling me Little Marco. And I'll admit he's taller than me. He's like 6'2, which is why I don't understand why his hands are the size of someone who is 5'2. Have you seen his hands? They're like this [imitates wee hands]. And you know what they say about men with small hands? [Dramatic pause while crowd gasps.] You can't trust them."
I don't pretend to understand the desperate and frightened crisis of masculinity that seems front and center in these Republican primaries. Perhaps Rubio gets points for making the subtext into text. Forget policy, this is a dick-measuring contest.
But I don't think this is going to work, and in fact I predict this is a disaster for Rubio. Trump's whole identity, his whole brand as the PR folks would say, is being an outrageous buffoon. Rubio was supposed to be the serious candidate. Now he's making canned wee-wee/pee-pee jokes that will probably only get LOLs from people not old enough to vote. He's making insult comedy jokes that wouldn't make the B stage in Vegas. He's descended into full adolescent mode. It's sad, strange, humiliating, gross, and pathetic. Because if you want a vulgar buffoon candidate, you're already going to vote for Trump. This is like the New Yorker putting a line drawing of boobies on the cover to try to compete with porno mags. Rubio has turned himself into a joke.
It's also a distraction from the attack that had a chance. Plenty of GOP voters might legitimately worry that Trump is a con man; no one cares what his face, or his hands, or his — other parts — look like.
And note that Rubio is trying to turn himself into Trump just as Trump is getting endorsements that might allow him to inch toward the mainstream. The other winner here: Cruz. He's staying out of the fray and letting Trump and Rubio pummel each other. Both look like nasty children right now and are hurting themselves as much their rival, so that probably redounds to Cruz's benefit.
The Rubio campaign was proud of their dick joke and put it on YouTube:
People who run for the president of the United States of American are the worst people in the United States of America
Charming portrayal of Gov. Chris Christie in the New York Times:
Mr. Christie had attacked Mr. Rubio contemptuously in New Hampshire, calling him shallow and scripted, and humiliating him in a debate. Nevertheless, Mr. Rubio made a tentative overture to Mr. Christie after his withdrawal from the presidential race. He left the governor a voice mail message, seeking Mr. Christie’s support and assuring him that he had a bright future in public service, according to people who have heard Mr. Christie’s characterization of the message.
Mr. Christie, 53, took the message as deeply disrespectful and patronizing, questioning why “a 44-year-old” was telling him about his future, said people who described his reaction on the condition of anonymity. Further efforts to connect the two never yielded a direct conversation.
GOP in crisis
The Republican party is in meltdown mode watching the rise of Trump, seemingly helpless to stop him. They have visions of a contested convention dancing in their heads. We'll see. Even if they could pull it off (sure seems like Trump will have the majority of the delegates on the first vote), backroom shenanigans will infuriate Trump backers if the Donald wins the most popular votes. But if Trump wins, Republicans fear, the general election will go to Dems in a blowout, possibly allowing them to retake the Senate in the process. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is already advising GOP senate candidates that they can and should distance themselves from Trump, the New York Times reports:
At least two campaigns have drafted plans to overtake Mr. Trump in a brokered convention, and the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has laid out a plan that would have lawmakers break with Mr. Trump explicitly in a general election. ...
While still hopeful that Mr. Rubio might prevail, Mr. McConnell has begun preparing senators for the prospect of a Trump nomination, assuring them that, if it threatened to harm them in the general election, they could run negative ads about Mr. Trump to create space between him and Republican senators seeking re-election. Mr. McConnell has raised the possibility of treating Mr. Trump’s loss as a given and describing a Republican Senate to voters as a necessary check on a President Hillary Clinton, according to senators at the lunches.
He has reminded colleagues of his own 1996 re-election campaign, when he won comfortably amid President Bill Clinton’s easy re-election. Of Mr. Trump, Mr. McConnell has said, “We’ll drop him like a hot rock,” according to his colleagues.
And then there's this, from the same report:
“There’s this desire, verging on panic, to consolidate the field,” said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a former supporter of Mr. Bush. “But I don’t see any movement at all.”
Oh yeah, and Ted Cruz accused Trump of being mobbed up. Kinda got lost in the shuffle.
Darkness on the Edge of Clown
Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman, who campaigned hard for Christie and served as his campaign's national finance co-chair, is not happy with his endorsement of Trump. (Correction: This post originally misidentified Meg Whitman as a former New Jersey governor, but that would be Christine Todd Whitman — who, incidentally, is also lambasting Christie over the Trump endorsement)
Spoof of a Trump cap from Judd Legum of ThinkProgress: