Marine Le Pen Should Get Tips From the Democrats

by Cinzia Croce

As soon as it was clear that Emmanuel Macron would be facing Marine Le Pen in the final round of the French presidential election, the other major candidates immediately closed rank behind Macron in an effort to keep Le Pen from reaching the Élysée. The only exception was Jean-Luc Mélenchon – the far left candidate – who initially said he wanted to see the official results before conceding, but eventually declined to endorse either candidate, deeming them both unacceptable. The reason offered for supporting Macron – who has never held elected office and founded his political party only a year ago – has little to do with Marine Le Pen as a candidate, or even her particular political program. Rather, it has everything to do with a negative consensus about her political party, the National Front.

Marine’s party was founded by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in 1972, to unite various nationalist and reactionary movements on the political right. The party attracted monarchists, Vichy nostalgists, ultra-conservative Catholics, and other fringe elements. Jean Marie Le Pen added to the toxicity of his party by repeatedly trying to minimize the horrors of the Holocaust. Consequently, for most of its history, the National Front was deemed an untouchable party, and operated at the margins of French politics.

In 2011, Marine took over the party leadership from her father and began the process of reforming the National Front and bringing it into the mainstream. She purged many of the unsavory elements within the party, even going so far as to expel her own father. Despite all of her efforts, Marine is being held accountable for what François Fillon – the defeated presidential candidate for the French Republican Party – described as the National Front’s “history of violence and intolerance” — and Marine herself indirectly acknowledged the anchor weight that is her party on her political aspirations by resigning as its leader a day after reaching the runoff.  Continue reading

The Trump Train Enters Rocky Terrain

by Cinzia Croce

The Trump Train charged out of the station in January with vigor and determination — and for about three weeks, it was barreling down the tracks at an impressive pace. Between a flurry of executive orders and a Supreme Court nomination applauded by all factions of the Republican Party, Trump delighted both his supporters and those who had been very skeptical of him during the campaign.

And then the train began to slow down.

The first victory Trump’s opponents scored was halting his temporary travel ban. It was a setback in terms of implementing his agenda but, politically speaking, Trump came out in a very strong position. He delivered on his promise to halt immigration from countries that are havens for Islamists, his opponents were shown to put the interests of foreign nationals above the security concerns of Americans, and if — God forbid — another terrorist attack were to take place, Trump could credibly claim that he tried to protect Americans but the Democrats and their simpatico judges stopped him. Continue reading

The Perks of Being a Carnival Barker

by Cinzia Croce

There was only one time I seriously considered dropping my support for Donald Trump: when he selected Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate. My reaction was very visceral, and was mostly due to Pence’s reputation as a hardcore social conservative. Trump had managed to marginalize social issues during the Republican primary –- something that I thought I would never live to see. For the first time in a long time, the GOP primary debates were not dominated by questions about the age of the earth, the definition of marriage, or abortion. I was on cloud nine, and Pence threatened to bring me back to earth. As soon as Trump confirmed him as his vice presidential pick, I could see the Democrats salivating at a fresh opportunity to revive the War on Women, raise the prospect of the LGBT community being stripped of their newly acquired civil rights, and distract from Trump’s powerful economic message. My heart sank. I was also not impressed with Pence’s performance during the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act controversy, where he somehow managed to anger all sides of the debate, and often came across as unsure, looking like a deer in the headlights as he dealt with a hostile press. I feared that Trump had made a fatal mistake on the scale of John McCain’s mistake in choosing Sarah Palin as his vice president — I even went as far as labeling Pence as the male Sarah Palin.

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I am thrilled to have been proven wrong. As I predicted, the Democrats did try to turn Pence into politically radioactive material. Within a day of Trump’s announcement, the Democrat-designated mudslingers and their media helpmates began their familiar attacks, which were very effective in the past. But this time they gained no traction. Unlike in the case of John McCain, who threw Palin to the wolves and stepped away, Trump helped to blunt the attacks against Pence by drawing attention to himself, allowing his running mate to fly under the radar. After the GOP convention, Pence barely received any coverage, and was free to focus on his key task of bringing home recalcitrant Republicans. Whether inviting Russia to produce Hillary’s infamous emails or getting into an extended spat with Khizr Khan, Trump never ran out of new shiny objects to keep all eyes on him, leaving the Democrats talking to themselves about Pence. Continue reading

Let the Age of Pragmatism Begin

by Cinzia Croce

The first round of Senate confirmation hearings for Donald Trump’s nominees is now in the history books, and it is clear that the incoming president intends to make good on his promise to change Washington. Rex Tillerson and Generals James Mattis and Robert Kelly walked away having established themselves as strong, accomplished, serious men with records of success in their individual endeavors.  Even Dr. Ben Carson — who seemed an admittedly odd choice to head HUD — reassured, pledging to bringing a fresh look to programs whose structure has not been examined in decades, despite, in many cases, having failed to meet the expectations of activists.

There was one consistent theme throughout the testimonies: pragmatism over ideology. After decades of ideological warfare paralyzing Washington, the Trump Administration promises to reassess where we are as a country and chart a new, sustainable course both at home and abroad instead of pursuing ideological purity or utopia.

During the campaign, Trump’s opponents warned that his ego was very fragile, making him susceptible to flattery. If elected, we were warned, he would surround himself with lackeys — “yes men” who would indulge his impulsive, reckless, childish behavior, putting the country — no — the entire world at risk. The hearings effectively debunked the caricature. No one can call General Mattis a lackey or fear that he would not stand up to Trump. The same is true of General Kelly, and Tillerson.

Yet instead of being reassured that Trump is not filling the Cabinet with flunkies, his opponents have switched tactics: they point to areas where the nominees diverge from the president-elect and wring their hands about the divisions and tension or whether it will lead to chaos. There will be no honeymoon, it seems: every decision Trump makes will be cast in a negative light. If his nominees had gone before the Senate and agreed with Trump’s views to the letter — especially with respect to Russia — his opponents would have issued dire warnings that the Kremlin is about to take over our government. Continue reading

Hillary Clinton Is the Empty Suit In the Race

by Cinzia Croce

With a month to go before the end of the long process of selecting the next president of the United States,  it should be clear to every voter by now that Hillary Clinton cannot run on her record.

Initially, Hillary and her supporters claimed the moral high ground. She was the experienced, knowledgeable candidate with a plethora of specific policy positions running against an unaccomplished “reality star.” But on closer inspection, her vaunted experience turned out to be a series of titles she was able to obtain because she was married to Bill Clinton. Her knowledge and policy proposals turned out to be the same old talking points that the American electorate has heard for decades and have produced a declining middle class, $20 trillion in debt and a foreign policy in shambles.  Whenever Hillary is asked about she has accomplished in her decades of public service, she replies with a vague statement about “fighting for women and children,” or something like that. When pressed for more details, she might mentions the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which was first championed by Ted Kennedy, not her — or that, as Secretary of State, she traveled to 112 countries. If taking credit for other people’s initiatives and accumulating a record number of travel miles were achievements, then Hillary would have a stellar record to run on — but they aren’t, and she doesn’t. Continue reading

Cheer Up, Trump Fans!

by Cinzia Croce

After the first presidential debate four years ago between President Obama and Mitt Romney, the president’s supporters were frustrated with their candidate for not bringing up Romney’s infamous “47%” remark. Last night, it was Trump’s supporters’ turn to feel frustrated: somehow, their candidate neglected to mention some of the most familiar attacks on Hillary Clinton — particularly, about Benghazi and the Clinton Foundation.

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Four years ago, I argued that bringing up the 47% remark — or Bain Capital — would have simply provided a prepared Romney an opportunity to respond with a rehearsed line before an audience of millions. Last night, Trump denied a prepared Hillary an opportunity to respond to the Benghazi accusations and attacks over the Clinton Foundation and spin them to her advantage. The Clintons’ greatest asset has always been Republicans who can’t help but overplay their hand. It helped Bill Clinton survive the Monica Lewinsky scandal, for instance. And last night, Hillary made use of her best comeback to questions about her stamina when she reminded the audience about her 11 hour testimony before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, itself a product of Republican overreach. Partisans are disappointed — but undecided voters were probably relieved not to hear the all too familiar attacks.

Continue reading

Roundtable: The State of the Race and the Question of the Status Quo

by Cinzia Croce and Alex Knepper

After a month off, we’re back and ready for an unforgettable general election season. Our ’roundtable discussion’ format was well-received last month when we discussed the Pence VP nomination, so we’ve decided to use it again as we dissect the state of the race…

AK: So, the race always goes into a bit of a lull period between the conventions and the debates, but it appears that there is not going to be any ‘pivot,’ and a Hillary landslide looks more likely than a Trump victory at all, at this point. I see you being a good soldier for Trump when you debate, but — I’ve gotta wonder: are you resigning yourself to defeat? Do you see a way for Trump to turn it around, given what we know about his MO?

CC: As far as I am concerned, the Trump candidacy is a win no matter what happens on election day. He has changed the debate within the Republican Party, and I don’t see the party going back to the Bushes or the same stale policy prescriptions that were so soundly defeated during the primary. Besides, while I understand your eagerness to call the race in August, I think it is premature. I believe Trump is probably 4 or 5 points behind, and that is not insurmountable. The race is in Trump’s hands; he needs to demonstrate that he can be disciplined, that he is serious, and that he has the temperament to be president. If he does, he wins. If questions about his temperament continue to dominate the news, he loses.
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AK: How many chances at-bat does he get? We’re under 3 months away from the election. It seems to me that the debates are the only chance he has now to make up for it — he’s not going to stop being who he is; he has to demonstrate he can meet the moment in a high-stakes atmosphere. But every time he tries to ‘pivot,’ he ends up sticking his foot in his mouth 48 hours later. I think what we’re seeing really is his temperament, he’s a 70-year-old man, he’s been successful with this approach all his life — why would he change now? It’s not in Trump’s character. He is who he is. Then again, it wasn’t in his character to pick Pence. Pence at least provides Trump supporters a ray of hope insofar as he indicates that Trump is willing to buck his gut if he thinks the moment calls for it.

CC: Actually, it is not that hard for Trump to avoid “sticking his foot in his mouth”. All he needs to do is follow Hillary’s script: deliver a scripted speech every 2 or 3 days, avoid interviews, press conference and leave Twitter to the professionals. Freelancing at rallies is what gets him in trouble. He likes to have fun with the crowd, he likes to entertain. But the time for fun is over. He has to show a level of seriousness that can only be delivered through set policy pieces.

AK: He can’t help lashing out at his critics, though. He loves causing a stir, there’s no shortage of people talking about him, and it’s not only fun for him, but habitual. Everything in his life has taught him that it pays off to remain on offense and that no critic should be allowed to get away with being ‘unfair’ to him. It’s not that he can’t deliver solid attacks on Hillary or that he can’t deliver policy proposals, but that he can’t not mouth off. It’s in his nature. And that is why I have said since from the beginning — if Trump gets the nomination, the election is going to end up being about Trump and whether he’s fit for the presidency, because his behavior is not in any meaningful sense an act, as much as some people want to believe it is.

CC: Above all, I think Trump likes to win. It is clear from the polling that his usual tactics are not working. We will find out whether an old dog can learn new tricks.

AK: I think he wants to win the election, but not actually govern. I think he wants it to be close enough that he can claim the election was stolen from him. If he loses in a landslide then he looks like a loser, but if he loses by a few points, then he can talk his supporters into thinking he lost only because of fraud.

CC: I don’t believe we have a legitimate process, and I felt this way long before Trump came on the scene. We have the appearance of democracy, but the reality is that the deck is very much stacked in favor of maintaining the status quo. All Trump has done is shine the light on the unfair process and made more people aware. As far as Trump not wanting to govern, I think there are few issues he cares about like trade and that he would genuinely would like to renegotiate NAFTA and other agreements if for no other reason to prove himself as the greatest deal-maker in history.

AK: Who in the history of politics has ever arranged a system to work against their desires? Of course the deck is stacked in favor of the status quo. Trump supporters’ beef isn’t the stacked deck — it’s with the nature of the status quo. As with everything in Trumpworld, ‘fairness’ is clearly determined by whether you like it. Which is fine — that’s how a lot of politics goes, after all. But Trump’s character says to me that he’s not a guy who tries to un-rig systems but rather a guy who tries to re-rig systems for the benefit of him and his friends.

CC: Yes, Trump supporters are unhappy with the status quo and want to change it. When do we get the opportunity to discuss policies and the record of the status quo? Look at the so-called “national security experts” who have endorsed Hillary. Do they talk about their failed record? Of course not, they talk about Trump’s temperament or lack of knowledge. Their expertise certainly has not produced a safer America or world. But they don’t want to be held accountable so they have invented the issue of Trump not having the proper temperament. Who gets to define what is the proper temperament? The status quo. Very convenient.