Kevin Drum

Donald Trump Insulted Every Evangelical in Iowa Last Night

| Fri Nov. 13, 2015 12:24 PM EST

Apropos of Donald Trump's temper tantrum in Fort Dodge last night, a number of people have hastened to make the point that you can't blame it on the fact that Trump is now losing to Ben Carson. He's not losing. He's just not as far ahead as he used to be. That's true enough, on a national level. But in Iowa—which is where Trump was speaking—he really is losing. The Iowa GOP is heavily dominated by evangelicals, and they love them some of that old time Ben Carson. Trump, by contrast, apparently doesn't understand evangelicals even slightly. I suppose he doesn't run into them much in New York developer circles. For example, here's part of yesterday's attack on Ben Carson:

"He goes into the bathroom for a couple of hours and he comes out and now he's religious," Trump said. "And the people of Iowa believe him. Give me a break. Give me a break. It doesn't happen that way. It doesn't happen that way....Don't be fools, okay?"

But this is precisely how evangelicals think it happens. Trump is bluntly insulting every evangelical in the audience with this show of temper. He just doesn't get it, and it's driving him nuts.

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Go Ahead, Make Your Best Case Against the Oxford Comma

| Fri Nov. 13, 2015 11:59 AM EST

Atrios is singing my song:

The one "grammar debate" I don't get is the Oxford Comma debate. Of course there should be one. There's no argument for leaving them out, and a million obvious ones for including them. There is no debate. Include it, barbarians.

I've never gotten this either. Even if the lack of a final comma creates ambiguity only one time in a hundred, why not use it for that one time in a hundred? It's completely harmless the other 99 times, isn't it? Seriously: what's the argument against the Oxford comma?

This Election Is Not About the Economy

| Fri Nov. 13, 2015 11:16 AM EST

Ezra Klein says America is doing a whole lot better than Republican presidential candidates make it sound:

They would be surprised to find that unemployment is at five percent, America's recovery from the financial crisis has outpaced that of other developed nations, the percentage of uninsured Americans has been plummeting even as Obamacare has cost less than expected, and there's so much money flowing into new ideas and firms in the tech industry that observers are worried over a second tech bubble.

....This leaves Republicans with two problems. The first is that the economy simply isn't as bad as they're making it out to be — and so the apocalyptic rhetoric may well run into month after month of good jobs numbers during the general election....The second is that Republicans are increasingly focused on economic problems they don't really know how to solve, and don't have much credibility to say they will solve.

This is all completely correct, but I think there's an interesting point buried here: Republicans aren't really talking about the economy when they adopt this "apocalyptic" rhetoric. In fact, so far this hasn't been an election about the economy at all.

It's a culture war election. The topics that have really driven the campaign so far are illegal immigration, political correctness, abortion, Obamacare, Vladimir Putin, the war on Christianity, and so forth. By contrast, the attacks on the economy mostly feel pro forma and are used primarily to add flavor to the real issue driving Republican voters. And right now, that issue is the apparent feeling among many conservatives that the America they love is spiraling down the drain, becoming weak and dependent and altogether too brown.

Obviously this has been building for years, but it feels like this is the first election in which it's really front and center. Of course, if America is really sinking into socialism and social degeneration, then the economy must be doing badly too. So all the candidates do their best to make it sound like Democrats have driven us into a ditch. That's normal politics, but this year it's also a stand-in. When they say the economy is doing badly, what they really mean is that America is doing badly. And their audiences are eating it up.

The Strain of Losing to Ben Carson Has Finally Driven Donald Trump Crazy

| Fri Nov. 13, 2015 12:58 AM EST

From a Republican strategist upset about the state of the primary race:

We’re potentially careening down this road of nominating somebody who frankly isn’t fit to be president in terms of the basic ability and temperament to do the job. It’s not just that it could be somebody Hillary could destroy electorally, but what if Hillary hits a banana peel and this person becomes president?

So there you have it: The only thing worse than electing Hillary Clinton president is the possibility of not electing Hillary Clinton president.

A few hours later, as if to prove this guy's point, Donald Trump staged a 95-minute meltdown (video above) apparently brought on by the ungodly strain of making four campaign appearances in four days:

He said he would "bomb the s---" out of areas controlled by the Islamic State....He accused Hillary Rodham Clinton of playing the "woman's card," and said Marco Rubio is "weak like a baby." He signed a book for an audience member and then threw it off the stage....And he spent more than 10 minutes angrily attacking his chief rival, Ben Carson, at one point calling him "pathological, damaged."

Gone was the candidate's recent bout of composure and control on the campaign trail....An hour and 20 minutes into the speech, people who were standing on risers on the stage behind Trump sat down. The applause came less often and less loud. As Trump skewered Carson in deeply personal language, a sense of discomfort settled on the crowd of roughly 1,500. Several people shook their heads or whispered to their neighbors.

Carson wrote in his autobiography that as a young man he....[tried] to stab a friend, only to have the blade stopped and broken by the friend's belt buckle....Trump said he doesn't believe Carson is telling the truth and questioned how a belt buckle could stop a blade. He stepped away from the podium and acted out how he imagined such an attack would happen, with his own belt buckle flopping around.

....And yet Carson is doing well in the polls, Trump said in disbelief. "How stupid are the people of Iowa?" Trump said. "How stupid are the people of the country to believe this crap?"

I remember a lot of people wondering how Trump would handle things if the time came when he was no longer leading in the polls. I guess now we know. It's too much for his ego to stand, and the phenomenal self-discipline he's been showing recently is utterly shattered. Can you imagine what Trump would be like if he ever had a genuinely stressful job, like, um, you know?

POSTSCRIPT: For three months, all the other candidates have been shaking their heads and muttering, "I'm losing to this guy?" Now Trump knows how they feel. And I don't really blame any of them. Trailing either Trump or Carson is enough to make anyone start to doubt their own sanity.

Conservatives Need to Admit That Racism Still Exists

| Thu Nov. 12, 2015 5:33 PM EST

I hopped over to The Corner to see what was going on, and the answer is....political correctness. Here are first few headlines I saw:

The Hidden Cost to Crazy Leftist Domination of Universities

Yale & Missouri: Power Play

The Left Is Starting to Tear Itself Apart: College Coeds Are Like Yazidi Slaves?

Campus Cattle [Actually, I believe the correct term is "veal." -ed.]

The Mugging Continues

Conservatives are really flooding the zone over this. And since there's obviously been some bad behavior on the part of the Yale and Missouri protesters, they have an easy time mining a few days of outrage over it. As for myself, I haven't said much of anything, for a couple of reasons. First, I'm not just a middle-aged white guy, I'm a middle-aged white guy who grew up in Orange County and now lives in Irvine. Off the top of my head, I can remember only one black schoolmate while I was growing up, and pretty much none in the neighborhood I live in now. So I'm not exactly well placed to have any deep insights on interracial relationships.

Second, when things like this erupt, it's often the case that the proximate cause is merely the last in a long series of things that already have everyone simmering. So the provocation itself (say, a fairly anodyne email about Halloween from a residential master) is often easy to mock because it really is sort of trivial on its own. And the reaction ("friends who are not going to class, who are not doing their homework, who are losing sleep, who are skipping meals") can seem absurdly delicate. But fixating on a single incident like this is as silly as trying to figure out why all those European countries really cared so much about Archduke Ferdinand. In both cases, you're missing the forest for the trees.

And this is why the conservative reaction to this stuff always seems so shallow. Sure, students shouldn't scream at people. Sure, professors shouldn't call in "muscle" to kick people out of public spaces. Sure, yet another demand for more diversity training can seem tiresome. Go ahead and criticize all this stuff. Plenty of people on the left have done so too.

But at the same time, if you are going to comment on these affairs, take the time to understand not just the (possibly trivial) proximate cause, but the underlying problems that have been building up for months or years. At least acknowledge what the real grievances are. I haven't spent a lot of time reading about the Yale and Missouri protests, but even I know that there are a whole raft of complaints about racist behavior that have been accumulating for some time. Is it asking too much for conservatives to at least mention this, and perhaps condemn it? Even a "to be sure" paragraph would be better than nothing.

For what it's worth, I think the hair trigger that campus lefties seem to have for all manner of isms often goes too far. It's not just tiresome, it's counterproductive, since it convinces too many people that they shouldn't engage with these issues at all. One wrong word at the wrong time bears too much risk of career or education-threatening blowback—especially in an era when social media can randomly pluck people out of obscurity to become sacrificial lambs. Better to just hunker down and say nothing. Unfortunately, the result is that you lose the engagement of some of the very people it would be most helpful to have on board. Just a thought.

The Chinese Are Coming....To Syria

| Thu Nov. 12, 2015 2:38 PM EST

In a typical election, candidates move from the extreme to the middle as the campaign progresses. If you're a Republican, for example, you start out as a fire-breathing conservative in order to win the early primaries, and then slowly move to the center to win the later primaries and the general election.

Donald Trump has flipped the script, though. Now, you start out outrageous in order to get some attention, and then slowly become more sober-minded in order to appear more plausibly presidential. Will it work? Wait and find out! But it sure looks like Ben Carson has been taking lessons from the master. In Tuesday's debate he seemed to suggest that China had troops in Syria. Today, his business manager and all-around campaign major-domo, Armstrong Williams, took away any possible doubt:

When MSNBC's Tamron Hall told Williams on Wednesday that the Chinese are not in Syria, Williams remained steadfast.

"From your perspective and what most people know, maybe that is inaccurate," Williams told MSNBC...."Just because the mainstream media and other experts don't want to see any credibility to it, does not mean some way down the line in the next few days that that story will come out and will be reinforced and given credibility by others," Williams said. "But as far as our intelligence and the briefings that Dr. Carson's been in and I've certainly been in with him, we've certainly been told the Chinese are there."

Carson—or Williams—really ought to tell us who these experts are that keep briefing the campaign on foreign policy issues. Are these the same guys who told him that seizing the Anbar oil fields in Iraq could be done "fairly easily" and that ISIS could then be destroyed in short order? I mean, I like the can-do attitude here, but I'm still a little curious about what the exact battle plan would be. Maybe Carson will share that with us in the next debate.

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Ben Carson: Medical Fraud is Bad, Unless One of My Friends Does It

| Thu Nov. 12, 2015 1:41 PM EST

Ben Carson really, really hates medical fraud. Seriously: "There would be some very stiff penalties for this kind of fraud," he wrote a few years ago, "such as loss of one's medical license for life, no less than ten years in prison, and loss of all of one's personal possessions."

Unless, that is, the fraudster happens to be Carson's best and oldest friend. In that case, you write a letter to the judge saying, "there is no one on this planet that I trust more than Al Costa." And it worked. Costa was a dentist who pleaded guilty to billing insurance companies for procedures he didn't perform, but in the end the judge sentenced him only to a year of house arrest in his 8,300-square-foot mansion.

AP has the story here. But if you want some serious details about this whole case, Russ Choma has them right here at MoJo. Carson, needless to say, insists that Costa was innocent all along and was railroaded by the justice system. That's how things work in Carsonworld. There's the good guys and the bad guys, and Carson knows in his heart exactly who they are. As for facts, I guess they're just chaff thrown out by secular progressives to destroy good Christians.

Ted Cruz Is Not Going to Eliminate the IRS

| Thu Nov. 12, 2015 12:36 PM EST

Ted Cruz wants to eliminate the Department of Commerce, the Department of Energy, the Department of Education, and HUD. Big deal. Even if he could do it, all it means is that all their functions would get divvied up among other departments. Wake me up when Cruz tells us what actual programs he'd eliminate.

But Cruz also thinks he can eliminate the IRS. Or, in any case, "the IRS as we know it." Has anyone asked him just why he thinks this? His tax plan still has a 10 percent income tax. It has a standard deduction. It has a child tax credit. It has an EITC. It includes a charitable deduction. It includes a home mortgage deduction. And there's a business VAT to replace the corporate income tax. So who's going to oversee and collect and audit all this stuff? Tax fairies?

And while we're at it, I'm still waiting to hear more about Carly Fiorina's three-page tax code. Can't we at least see a rough draft?

Ted Cruz Was the Most Tweeted Candidate on Tuesday Night

| Thu Nov. 12, 2015 12:05 PM EST

I'm not even sure what this means, but it's a slow news day and I figure a colorful chart might brighten things up. Everyone loves colorful charts, don't they?

Anyway, a team of wonks from the Monkey Cage has put together a measure of Twitter activity during the Republican debate on Tuesday. Unfortunately, their software chose three shades of teal for three of the candidates, and I sure hope I got them right when I labeled the lines. Ted Cruz was apparently the most talked about by a large margin. This might be due solely to the fact that he got far more talking time than anyone else (13 minutes, vs. 11 minutes for the second-place Donald Trump). Ben Carson was the least talked about, and he also got the least talk time (about 9 minutes).

In any case, by the end of the debate (23:00) the top candidates were Cruz, Kasich, Rubio, and Trump. The other four had all faded to nothing. Oddly, while tweets about most of the candidates ebbed after the debate ended, Cruz continued to take off. His Twitter activity was higher at 11:30 than it was at any time during the debate. Make of this what you will.

Jeffrey Lacker Says Real Wages are Going Up. Is He Right?

| Thu Nov. 12, 2015 11:11 AM EST

Binyamin Applebaum asks inflation hawk Jeffrey Lacker why inflation hasn't risen if labor markets are tight, as he believes:

....There’s this confusion about real and nominal that I think infects the discussion, particularly of wages and slack. Real wages have accelerated over the last year because inflation has fallen and the rate of gain in nominal wages hasn’t changed much. The wage pressures we’ve been hearing about, they show up in the macro data as real wage pressures.

And the historical evidence suggests that there’s some lag before things accelerate as you reduce slack significantly. In 1966-67, we had unemployment at 5 percent, we pushed it to 4, and it was 1967 and 1968 when inflation took off. So there was a significant lag in the way that relationship seems to have worked in the past.

That got me curious: have real wages risen over the past couple of years? My preferred measure is production and nonsupervisory wages, and it looks like Lacker is right. Compared to CPI, the general trend is upward. It doesn't look to me like it's accelerating, but it does seem to be going up.