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This week we saw that the Republican Party — not just Trump — is the problem

Republican National Convention: Day Three Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

So much has been written and said about Donald Trump’s manifest unfitness for office that at this point there's hardly any reason to dwell further on it. But a national convention isn’t just about a single candidate. It’s about an entire political party coming together.

And the truly striking thing about the Republican Mistake By The Lake in Cleveland this summer isn’t the nonsense coming from Trump, his kids, his favorite soap opera actors, and that one avocado farmer — it’s the nonsense coming from the Republican Party’s "establishment."

A broad range of perfectly mainstream Republican Party politicians — Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Attorney General Pam Bondi of Florida, and so forth — revealed a political party that, completely apart from Trump, is utterly debauched.

A rotten party

Not everything in American conservatism is toxic, but the convention has revealed a profound and genuinely unusual intellectual and moral rot in the Republican Party: a weakness for outlandish conspiracies and a preference for talk-radio antics over the necessarily-somewhat-dull work of practical politics. Trump is not so much the cause of this rot as the man who simply has the daring to punch the tree and send it tumbling down. The run-of-the-mill elected officials and the rank-and-file delegates who cheered them on did the damage.

Lost in the debate over the propriety of the convention’s loud and lusty "lock her up" chants, for example, has been insufficient focus on the basic ridiculousness of the argument.

Hillary Clinton’s email server, after all, has already been extensively investigated by a team of FBI agents and federal prosecutors. She’s not going to be locked up because she’s not going to be put on trial because James Comey, a Republican and George W. Bush administration veteran, determined that, given the facts, "no reasonable prosecutor would file charges."

Under the circumstances, why on earth should she be locked up? Are Comey and the whole FBI in on the cover-up? Why?

They don’t know and they don’t care to ask. Or they do know and they just don’t care that they’re wrong. Or something.

The economy is terrible but Indiana is great

In his speech near the beginning of Wednesday’s festivities, Gov. Walker proclaimed that "liberal Washington insiders created our problems and Hillary Clinton is the ultimate liberal Washington insider."

By contrast, thanks to bold conservative reforms in his home state, "today more people are employed in Wisconsin than ever before."

Pence echoed him with the observation that "for years we’ve had fundamental problems in America that get talked to death in Washington, DC, but they never get solved and they even get worse."

By contrast, thanks to bold conservative reforms in his home state, "there’s more Hoosiers going to work than ever before."

Here are some fun facts:

As you may have guessed, employment across the United States is at an all-time high. This is true in states experiencing Republican Party government — but also in states experiencing Democratic Party government. The exception to the rule is a handful of states with heavy economic dependence on natural resource extraction who are experiencing a small mini-slump due to the current trend of cheap energy which benefits most Americans but harms some communities.

Before writing about this I looked these numbers up so I could give an accurate picture of the situation. When Republican governors notice that their state's economy is doing pretty well, what do they do before making broad-brush assertions about the national economy? Do they ask other Republican governors and see that their states are doing well too? Do they then check and see if things are okay in states with Democratic governors?

It’s okay to admit that the current labor market situation is decent. The country has plenty of problems.

But they don’t know and they don’t care to ask. Or they do know and they just don’t care that they’re wrong. Or something.

A loopy national security policy

Nothing circulating in mainstream Republican Party foreign policy is as outright dangerous as their nominee’s views on NATO and the Baltic states. But the common denominator across Trumpkins and establishmentarians is phenomenally stupid.

Speaker after speaker after speaker has proclaimed — to uproarious applause — that we need a leader who isn’t "afraid" to "call the enemy by its name: radical Islamic terrorism."

This is fine for the peanut gallery. But knowledgeable experts broadly agree that using this phrase would be counterproductive in terms of America’s relationship with governments in majority-Muslim countries and in terms of the propaganda war in the Islamic world. It’s very understandable that Joe Republican back home doesn’t know this. It’s not really all that understandable that Donald Trump doesn’t get it, but the GOP chose to nominate an uncommonly lazy and ignorant person, so it is what it is.

But what’s Chris Christie’s excuse? What’s Pence’s excuse? Walker’s?

Did any of them ever actually ask anyone, "Hey, what is the reason Obama doesn’t say that?"

They don’t know and they don’t care to ask. Or they do know and they just don’t care that they’re wrong. Or something.

The party of Trump

There is a palpable discomfort with Trump among many of the establishment politicians who are supporting his presidential campaign.

Ryan’s speech introducing Pence lavished praise on his character and commitment to conservative ideas that were entirely absent from his main address to the convention. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell delivered a rote statement that said electing Trump would be good because it would let senate Republicans govern. Even loopier speeches from elected officials like Christie or Florida Gov. Rick Scott didn’t dwell on making Mexico pay for a wall, banning Muslim immigration, opening up libel laws, abrogating NATO and NAFTA, or other signature Trump themes.

But these establishment speeches were, on their own terms, fairly bonkers.

Their slams on Clinton veered, repeatedly, into tinfoil hat territory. They were completely out of touch with the state of the economic recovery. They relied heavily on the idea that President Obama could defeat ISIS through rote incantation of magic words. And while they avoided most of Trump’s big crazy policy ideas, they did so mostly by avoiding speaking about any policy ideas at all.

The problem wasn’t Trump’s relatives or Scott Baio; it was largely the delegates themselves. Rank and file activists reared on a generation’s worth of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News sat through a pathetic conclave in which governors and senators stooped to talk-radio antics in a desperate quest for applause, only to be trounced by Laura Ingraham — a real deal talk radio host who, even more than Trump himself, perfectly captured the mood of a party that’s become completely indifferent to the work of governance.


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