Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Circular Firing Squad

By Rabbi Steven Pruzansky

Much can change in politics, and pretty quickly, but Republicans currently face a choice that is as agonizing as it should be obvious. In a perfect world, the United States would elect as its next president the exact opposite of the present office-holder: a true conservative, advocate of lower taxes and limited government, proponent of the rule of law, a believer in American exceptionalism who sees the US military as a force for stability and good in the world, an advocate of the projection of American strength and values, and a staunch, unabashed, unapologetic supporter of the State of Israel.

A choice between that individual and a Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders is really no choice at all. Clinton is a promoter of none of the above, ethically challenged, with no purpose for her candidacy beyond the pursuit of power and money, and the need for payback to all the contributors to the Clinton Foundation, the world’s largest, most successful and most intimidating pay-for-play scheme. America, as noted here years ago, is in decline, and the election of Bernie Sanders would hasten that decline. He is the living embodiment of Gordon Liddy’s definition of a liberal: “someone who feels a great debt to his fellow man, which debt he proposes to pay off with your money.”

That choice is obvious. But what if that is not the choice, as it increasingly appears likely? What if the choice is between the unpredictable, mercurial Donald Trump and one of the aforementioned? Or,  assuming that Hillary Clinton is not indicted (as she clearly should be) or is indicted and then is pardoned by President Obama (think Friday night, midnight, story buried, and by Sunday all sides claiming it is old news and time for the country to move on)?

Nothing is certain, and a neat, tidy nomination or election does not seem to be in the cards. A brokered convention would be fascinating, with the drawback that this process is already far too long and such would make it even longer. But a giant like Abraham Lincoln was only nominated on the third ballot, and for the first 125 years of American history, brokered conventions were the norm rather than the exception. There are obvious differences, but Trump’s candidacy recalls that of William McKinley in 1896, McKinley also being despised by the party elders. Said one Republican boss during the campaign: “Everyone is against McKinley, except the people.” And then McKinley was nominated on the first ballot and then swept to victory.

Everyone is against Trump – I am not too keen on him myself – except the people. All the wags who have incessantly noted that 65% of the Republican voters in the primaries and caucuses to date have voted against Trump don’t seem to notice that 70%,75%,85% and 95% have voted against the other candidates, respectively. If not for Trump’s personality, temperament, character traits and shallow command of the issues, his string of victories would have sealed the process if another candidate had won those same victories, and the media would have been trumpeting those successes as evidence of “Game Over.” Everyone is against Trump, except for the people. Well, as Winston Churchill sardonically noted: “The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.” And the candidates, all of them without exception, know that, exploit it, and talk to the voters in clich├ęs, empty slogans and sound bites. Candidates who speak the truth to voters – of problems that won’t be solved and needs that will not be satisfied – are also known as ex-candidates.

What is most troubling is that the Republicans have become a circular firing squad, shooting at and trying to kill each other’s candidacy. There is a growing sentiment among many Republicans that they would rather have Hillary Clinton win than Donald Trump win. Said in a more palatable but still illogical way, the most important outcome they seek is a Trump defeat, no matter who else is elected president. It is hard to conceive of a sentiment that is as short-sighted, foolish or self-defeating.

Granted, Donald Trump is a flawed candidate, but it does occasionally seem that the conservative establishment prefers a Democrat victory because it then has something to rail against for four years, to raise money and keep their jobs. It is more difficult for right-wing talk radio or cable news hosts to defend the inevitable failures or missteps of any conservative administration (usually: “it’s not conservative enough!”); it’s just easier to rant against something, especially the liberals, and Hillary Clinton would be a godsend for that industry.

And it is embarrassing that a great country like the United States has a presidential election process that is less dignified than a circus and boasts more clowns than does the circus. But it really comes down to a simple calculation that Republicans should start making now, if they didn’t do it yesterday: by what measure would Hillary Clinton be a better president in anything that Republicans, Conservatives and/or Jews hold dear than any of the current Republican candidates including Donald Trump? I cannot think of one.

Clinton would continue and escalate the class and racial warfare in America. (Is there a more racist slogan today than “Black Lives Matter”?) Clinton would accelerate the distribution of free stuff and the redistribution of wealth that has crippled the American economy and stifled the income potential of the middle class. Clinton has already bartered the global interests of the United States for personal profit, and was a bust as Secretary of State, having left office with American statecraft in shambles with enemies emboldened and allies frustrated and angry. She has surrounded herself with Muslims with radical ties and is beholden to hundreds of millions in Muslim money that underwrites her “foundation.” Her America will not be for sale; parts have already been sold.

On Israel? It is true that Trump is an unknown – “unpredictable” is his term, not to mention “neutral.” But how can that be compared to Hillary Clinton’s overt hostility to Israel from her disdain for Israel’s PM (haranguing Netanyahu with 40 minutes of relentless invective for bidding out apartment construction in the northern part of Yerushalayim, which, of course, hasn’t even happened in reality) and her discomfort with Israel’s right of self-defense to pressuring Israel to make even more suicidal concessions to the Arabs to create another “Palestinian” state in the quixotic hope that such will satisfy the Arabs’ lust for Israel’s demise (a lust, by the way, that, the local Arabs aside, most of the Arab world has abandoned in order to join forces with Israel against their common enemy, radical Islam). And that enemy, it should be noted, grew and flourished on Hillary Clinton’s watch.

Can anyone imagine Donald Trump embracing and praising Suha Arafat after she just accused Israel of poisoning the water wells of the Arabs in order to kill Arab children, as Hillary Clinton infamously did? I can’t, even if Suha is not his type.

And even if Trump has not been the extraordinary businessman he claims he is, Hillary Clinton has been a serial incompetent, a failure in every post she has held, who has advanced in life through sweetheart deals, political payoffs, threats, bluster, her husband’s coattails, and an overly generous media. Is there another candidate who would be allowed to get away with shutting out the media, taking no questions from inquiring, objective reporters day after day after day?

Sadly, Ronald Reagan has decided once again to sit out this election, and thus a choice has to be made among the candidates who are running. Jewish Democrats (the choice of adjective and noun are intentional; most are Democrats who happen to be Jews, not Jews who happen to be Democrats) will vote for Hillary Clinton. All the Jewish Democrat politicians will be singing her praises, puffing her record to make her into an honorary Jew, and proclaiming her love for Israel to their voters who have no memory and no interest in acquiring one. Most Jews will fall for it because that is what they always do. They will vote for the Democrat because that is what Jews – largely estranged from the Torah – have done in every election since 1924. It is an unblemished record of willful blindness and self-marginalization.

But Republicans have a choice. Possibly bad is better than definitely bad by any standard. It would be a great race if Charles Krauthammer (R) ran against Joe Lieberman (D) but that is not happening. We should beware of Republican bigwigs who, like Shimshon of old, would bring the idolatrous temple crashing on their own heads as long as their enemy suffers as well. Shimshon was justified; the bigwigs are not.

Trump detractors should be mindful of the fact that any Republican presidential candidate has an uphill battle against any Democrat candidate. The Dems have a near 200 electoral vote lock before any election begins, owing to their control of most of the largest states because of their large urban, unionized and minority populations.  They only need another 70 electoral votes. A disenchanted Republican base that does not vote or the rise of a third-party conservative candidate will ensure a Clinton victory, which, absent an indictment that sticks, is the strongest possibility now in any event.

Bismarck characterized politics as “the art of the possible.” People who are frustrated by today’s political scene, the nastiness, the human foibles on grand and daily display and the superficiality of the electorate are numerous but probably not the majority of Americans. Are the other Republican candidates preferable to Trump? I think so, but I have only one vote, and by the time New Jersey votes (I think our primary is in December 2021) it won’t matter.  But our Sages taught (Megila 31a) that the old and wise can build by tearing down, while the impetuous youth can destroy when they think they are building. Be wise. Don’t tear down unless you know what you are building in its place.

Those who wish to lose the election in order to save the party will wind up losing the election and the party, not to mention the country.

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