GELFAND’S WORLD - What you have to understand about the news is that sometimes what is news is not really important. Let's take Vivek Ramaswamy, Republican candidate for president, as the current example. To understand his monumental lack of importance, you would need to consider how many levels down he is as news, based on what is likely to happen in the real world.
Let's consider likely outcomes. The first is that the Republican candidate is likely to lose to whatever Democrat runs against him for president in 2024. That's not an attempt to taunt or game the issue, it's just the likely probability. Somewhat over eighty million American voters turned out in 2020 to vote against Donald Trump. It's not far fetched to suggest that the majority were strongly motivated by fear of a second Trump term. A few of them may fail to vote, but the motivation will continue to exist.
The next level is that Ramaswamy is highly unlikely to win the Republican nomination. He is a newcomer who committed the cardinal sin for Republicans of leaving a written record of attacks on the former president. He has been called on it as recently as Sunday, August 27 on Meet the Press. He has also been called on it in the column you can read here. Attacking Trump for just about anything is the greatest violation in the eyes of Republicans, at least in the eyes of enough of them to kill your chances at the polls.
Polling among Republican voters shows that, unless something remarkable occurs, Trump is going to cruise to the Republican nomination with little opposition, or at least very little effective opposition. Even after his no-show at the first debate, Trump continues to poll at a majority of Republican voters.
And of course, if by some weirdness in the time-stream, Donald Trump fails to win the nomination (maybe half a dozen or a dozen of his co-defendants in the Georgia case cut a deal and plead to felonies), and this moves enough Republicans into the not-Trump camp, then DeSantis or the former governor of Arkansas (what was his name, anyway?) will be more likely to take the essentially useless nomination. And this possibility is down at the one-in-a-thousand level.
So why are the major news media and the Sunday TV interview shows going all-in on the Ramaswamy candidacy? The answer is that they have airtime to fill, and a front page to print, and there wasn't a lot else going on in the weekend hours. There were no monstrous fire storms or hurricanes or even much in the way of assassinations -- at least that we know about. The important stories such as global warming are chronic and intractable, so we're left with what is essentially gossip over the back fence.
And anyway, the beginning of the primary season, signified by the first presidential debate, used to be big news, so the reflexes continue to fire and old habits don't die.
One thing I noticed: There were a lot of people who didn't bother to watch the debate. We made excuses about having other things to do, but I would hazard a guess that most of us just felt distaste for the process. Who wants to see Ron DeSantis after all the grotesque things he has done? Who can work up any interest in Nikki Haley, particularly considering her chances, which have to factor in how negative the Republican voters are towards women and people a shade darker than themselves? Where do we think she is going to finish in the first primaries?
But there were a couple of moments in that Republican debate that are worthy of comment, although not for reasons that the Republican Party would like.
The first, and most awful, was the response to the question of whether any candidate buys into the reality of human caused global warming. Let me interject one point here. Global warming as the product of human action is no longer some proposed theory. It is established fact. But when asked the question, not a single hand went up.
In so responding, the candidates have established the Republican Party as the assassin of the world's future generations. They have also made clear their own contempt for the Republican voter. Such reactions by candidates amount to fear of retaliatory voting by the smallest minded voters amongst us. Chris Christie has to know better, but he dare not say anything. Ramaswamy made his fortune in the high tech field, so we might expect that he understands at least what a partial differential equation looks like, even if he may have trouble solving some of them. But he too is spouting the same nonsense, even if he couches his answers in slightly different words.
A serious question that will have to wait for a different news cycle is what the next Joe Biden presidential term is going to look like. That question is bound up with the question of what legislative support (or opposition) Joe will enjoy. But it also involves the core question of what the Biden philosophy and program will be.
Good questions, but they were not for this news cycle, except in a minor excerpt featuring Bernie Sanders on Meet the Press.
Instead, we got a long (perhaps I should type it as lonnnnggggg, or just write "interminable") interview featuring Chuck Todd talking to Vivek Ramaswamy. Right after the debate, Ramaswamy was attacked by commentators as being rude, long-winded, self-contradictory, and basically a jerk -- like the relative who comes to dinner and won't leave anybody alone as he waxes on about his favorite topics.
Ramaswamy was every bit as bad as they were saying. In response to straightforward questions about clear statements in made in his recent book, he just bullshitted. But he did so by stringing long sentence after long sentence, challenging the interviewer to "Read the book," after which the interviewer said, "We did." Ramaswamy is trying to take a page from the Donald Trump manual, which is to lie with a straight face, going so far as to deny outright the clear facts that are typed out right there on the television screen.
Ramaswamy's problem is that he can't lie as well as Trump. Few can.
One additional irritation. Ramaswamy is trying to thread the needle on Trump's 2020 strategy, the one in which Republican voters were encouraged to wait until election day and vote at the polls. Republicans lost a lot of votes that way, whereas the Democrats followed the strategy of "banking" lots of early ballots. Ramaswamy seems to be combining that strategy with the Fox News slime about voting machines being subject to cheating. Ramaswamy solves these Republican problems by outlawing any voting save election day voting. Then he demands that such votes be cast on paper ballots. If you thought that counting ballots electronically took time, wait until you wait for the precinct workers to tally 800 ballots, each with 27 races to count.
History repeating itself?
We should be reminded of the 2016 primary season. It seemed like there was a new challenger in the Republican ranks about every two weeks. Each time, the press would trumpet the new guy, and then there would be a primary, and we wouldn't hear much more after him. I suspect that this round's New Guy won't do at all well in the Iowa Caucuses or in the New Hampshire primary, and that will be that. Who will be next? We might expect the press to start speculating wildly about a Haley challenge. Hey, they have to submit something to the editor.
If not Haley, then who's to say? Maybe some challenger will rise to the front in South Carolina and will thereby solidify the anti-Trump bloc. Then he or she will continue to lose to Trump in all but one of the remaining primaries.
Or maybe something else will happen, but this is where the smart money ought to bet.
This week's fun
It's been fun to watch the more liberal pundits have their way with Ramaswamy. The standard take is that he is like the relative at Thanksgiving dinner who won't shut up and drives everyone nuts. "Irritating" was the commonality amongst evaluations.
The only question remaining is whether Republican primary voters might actually be particularly drawn to irritating candidates. I can think of at least one that these voters actually nominated, so the question isn't as farfetched as it seems at first glance.
A modest defense of Republican support for Trump, that I rapidly take away
It's standard that a political party supports the incumbent. I can remember a like sentiment and policy in the Democratic Party, where loyalty to the elected incumbents was taken to be a given, and not subject to discussion or debate. They called it "getting good Democrats elected," which in practice meant anybody with a D after his name. I've written previously about how Democrats were expected to vote for Paul Carpenter and at the very least stay mum about him, in spite of his record of sleaze. The idea seemed to be that you won't hold onto the legislature in close years if you sacrifice the less perfect among your own. Or we might think about how Joe Manchin makes it possible for the Democrats to have majorities on Senate committees and prevents Mitch McConnell from running things.
So it was normal for Republicans to support Donald Trump in 2020.
The problem is that they haven't been able to jettison this baggage leading up to 2024. With cultist fervor, they still claim Trump as the lawfully elected president of the 2020 term, as much as the facts disagree. So Trump inherits the incumbent's standing. The logic is compelling, if you ignore the fact that Trump lost in 2020 and isn't really any kind of incumbent any longer.
But for many Republican voters, this is the official position based on this alternative logic.
The Republicans could abandon Trump, just as it is possible to abandon an incumbent. But remember that undercutting your own party's leader comes with a cost.
Lots of Democrats and independents abandoned Jimmy Carter after one term, not because he was a crook, but because he failed to land troops on the Iranian coast prior to the election. Some Republicans abandoned George Bush (the senior) when he allowed a tax increase despite his "Read my lips, no new taxes" statement. The result of such abandonment is that the other party takes the White House, and Democrats then have to deal with Ronald Reagan and Republicans with Bill Clinton.
Republicans seem to understand this. Trump actually won the presidency that one time, so they can hope and dream that he could pull it off once more. If they confine their viewing and listening to right wing sources, they may even manage to convince themselves that this is possible. The embarrassing loss in 2020 is waved away as the stolen election. (Or as Trump refers to it, the "stollen" election.)
There is some microscopic intimation that the members of the City Council might be willing to reconsider a vote for Jamie York for the Ethics Commission. Not much, to be sure, but more than zero. (As in, "will the controller renominate her?") Meanwhile, the slightly organized neighborhood council groups have been weak, to say the least, in putting on the pressure. The worst example is an upcoming event which I will write about later, called the Neighborhood Council Congress. Early in the year, I asked that the congress put some reform discussions on their agenda. After all, they have room for 24 (count them) breakout sessions. The congress planning group turned down every suggestion.
A few days ago, I suggested to the leadership that -- should any breakout session get cancelled -- I would like to do a session on the York catastrophe, and I would invite every member of the City Council to appear and answer. You may imagine that I was not greeted with the comment, "That's a great idea! Let's do it!"
More about the Congress and City Council behavior at a later time.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected].)