Part I – Talking Heads
Sonny, my Dachshund, was surprised during our Sunday morning walk. I bought three newspapers. He had not seen that much paper pulp since he was a puppy. I was girding myself for the morning political shows on the eve of the Republican National Convention. Devoted as I am to blogging about our nation, I am duty-bound at least to keep the TV on. If it really gets bad, I can turn off the sound, as I do for the Yankees games. In truth, both the television shows and the newspapers are necessary. TV gives you the Whats and newspapers (and books — Shh!) give you the Whys.
The talk shows are for talking points. For example, on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” the eponymous host tossed out a question, such as, “Do you think Mike Pence, the GOP VP pick, will help capture the women’s vote, in view of his opposition to Planned Parenthood?” The guest, Reince Priebus, RNC National Chairman, responded with a pre-set statement he judged to be in the nearest vicinity to the topic, such as “Seventy percent of Americans are against federal funding for abortion.” And so on. After the show returned from a commercial break, the round-table convened. The round-table consists of political operatives from the two major parties – no reason to ask anyone else, right? They continued flinging non sequiturs in a heated manner. It’s probably the worst fifteen minutes in television, and I am including The Kardashians in my calculation.
The shows also give political camps the chance to send up trial balloons, back away from discredited positions and in many cases do both at once. For example, Paul Manafort, de facto Trump Campaign Manager, walked back his man’s infamous ban on all Muslims to a more selective approach. Manafort called this repudiation “a deeper articulation” of Trump’s position. Of course, there’s always time for shredding the outgoing administration, Manafort stating for example that crime in black communities has been worse under Obama’s failed leadership. There is also the humanizing of the candidates, in this year’s election a critical issue for both parties. Thus, Priebus and Manafort offered an “if only you knew him the way I do” pitch for Trump not being the foul-mouthed, hateful bully he plays on television. I’m thankful that Idi Amin is not running.
By far the most revealing comments took place in a Face the Nation roundtable, which fielded representatives of the Wall Street Journal, the Federalist and the American Conservative Union, three right-wing organizations. This group appeared to be a yawner but instead they threw off sparks and heat. In fact, their differences got straight to the heart of the Republican crisis. Ben Domenech, editor of the Federalist, spoke for old guard conservatives, who have rejected Trump as a race-baiting, exclusionary, anti-free trade R.I.N.O; for the camp that considers Pence inconsequential in light of Trump’s non-ideological positions. “The party has traded statesmanship for xenophobia,” and “the party is coming to Cleveland to die,” Domenech said. Matt Schlapp, the ACU Chairman and an enthusiastic Pence backer, smacked back, characterizing him as the kind of Washington elitist the Trump voters have rejected. Schlapp refused to believe that Trump voters are racist. Host John Dickerson asked Kim Strassel, the WSJ writer, to mediate these positions. Her call for party unity was a familiar refrain in the party’s melodrama. Big Tent Republican outlets, like the Wall Street Journal, have chosen not to choose in order to maintain the size of their audiences.
Here’s the thing: People who brand themselves Conservative are in open disagreement and are fighting for control, if not the soul, of the party. Domenech’s and Schlapp’s positions are irreconcilable. Trump is dismissive of the patrician Conservatism Domenech represents. Domenech opposes Trump, and Schlapp, perhaps warily, embraces him. Glenn Beck, who weighed in during a Meet the Press segment, stood closer to Domenech but cast a pox on the Party of Lincoln. He said that he is not voting for Trump; maybe he’ll vote for the Green Party. He added almost tearfully that Republicans who back Trump publicly but disown him privately are inauthentic in his book. Scary when Glenn Beck Starts Making Sense.
TV left these disagreements unexplained. I needed some self-flagellating intellectual to hold forth on how things got this way and how he despairs of the party recovering its Soul. I picked up the Times Week in Review and began to read.