Monday, May 07, 2018

McCain, Palin and the GOP Descent into Insanity

When John McCain selected Sarah Palin - the idiot of Wasilla - as his vice presidential running mate, he likely sealed his own defeat in 2008.  For many now former Republicans, Palin's selection began the exodus from the GOP and her proud embrace of ignorance, religious extremism and dog whistle calls to white supremacists embodied what has now come to define the Republican Party.  McCain in his twilight still does not fully accept his responsibility for paving the way for Donald Trump and transformation of the Republican Party into something foul and toxic.  But as a piece in New York Magazine notes, history may see McCain's horrible mistake as a pivotal moment in setting the course for the train wreck now consuming the nation.   I had long respected McCain who had been held prisoner at the "Hanoi Hilton" with a long time friend of mine, but his selection of Palin was just too much to stomach and helped confirm my support for Obama. Here are article highlights:
When historians — or, really any of us — look back at President Trump’s ascent to the presidency, they will identify many moments over the years, big and small, that could be identified as warning signs of the catastrophe to come.
But in purely political terms, one other moment leaps to mind: the day in 2008 when John McCain upended expectations by picking then-Alaska governor Sarah Palin to be his vice-presidential running mate. It’s not as if Republicans hadn’t worn the badge of anti-intellectualism before (see: Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush). But Palin personified a dangerous new strain. She (infamously) didn’t read much; put forth few policy positions beyond “drill, baby drill”; excelled at whipping up crowds into a frothing frenzy; and attacked Barack Obama in brazen, personal terms. Stylistically, she seemed to be almost completely at odds with McCain, a deeply conservative traditionalist who prefers military wars to cultural ones.
But by and large, the GOP base adored Palin. Its loving embrace of such an unhinged figure was an early sign that the Republican Party was far more willing to tolerate qualities once thought to be disqualifying for public life than many people understood.
Throughout the campaign, and since, McCain has steadfastly defended Palin. But in a story reported from his Arizona ranch, . . . . reports that McCain does have regrets about his VP pick. The reason for his discontent — which he has elaborated on in an upcoming book and movie — is that he wishes he had trusted his instincts and picked Joe Lieberman instead.
[I]it’s striking that, even at this late stage, McCain won’t admit that Palin represents the same variation of grievance politics he now abjures.
McCain, who President Trump has taunted in grossly personal terms (“I prefer war heroes who weren’t captured”) has been one of the few Republicans to consistently take on the president. He has attacked Trump’s “spurious, half-baked nationalism” and furiously criticized his continuous praise of Vladimir Putin. And while he often votes for the president’s priorities, making his everlasting “maverick” label something of a joke, he was the deciding “no” to kill Obamacare repeal in the Senate, an act of apostasy that has earned Trump’s perpetual ire.
[McCain is] also out of sync with the GOP base in most other ways. He’s a national-security hawk in a time of Republican isolationism, a centrist on immigration in a party full of America Firsters. Beyond his policy positions, McCain is out of step in another important way: he wants Republicans to step back from the toxic, grievance-based ideology that now dominates the party.
McCain framed the problem as a bipartisan one. But it’s the Republican party where “the bombastic loudmouths” have really gained control in recent years, culminating in the party’s surrender to President Trump. John McCain has always called himself a maverick, but he’ll end his life as all but an outcast.
It is facile to draw a straight line from Palin to this sad state of affairs. But it is striking that, even now, McCain cannot, or will not, fully reckon with the forces he helped unleash.

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