Tonight’s Democratic presidential primary debate will be boring as compared to the GOP WHannabes reality TV spectacle. That’s a good thing. Also, the House Freedom Caucus demand transparency … for everyone else…. (More)

“Both elements of the Trump Effect will be absent”

CNN expects lackluster ratings for tonight’s Democratic primary debate debate, at least as compared to the GOP WHannabes debates earlier:

“Viewership for the first two GOP debates was an anomaly in a highly unusual Republican nomination cycle. While I won’t predict ratings for this debate, we expect the audience to be significantly smaller,” said CNN Washington Bureau Chief Sam Feist.

Tonight’s debate will compete with two Major League Baseball playoff games, as well as network prime time series. But Andrew Tyndall says most of the ratings difference will reflect the absence of Donald Trump:

“Apart from the minor complications of the start of the fall TV season and the baseball playoffs, for the most part the difference between the size of the ratings for the two CNN debates – Democratic vs Republican – will be a quantification of the Trump Effect. How much has Donald Trump’s presence increased interest in Campaign 2016 beyond the traditional political hardcore?” said Andrew Tyndall, television analyst and author of the Tyndall Report.

Tyndall argued that the Republican debate had such astronomically high viewership because it attracted Democrats, Republicans and the apolitical who tuned in because “politics aside, it had elements of a reality TV elimination contest.”
“The Democratic debate holds little interest for Republican-leaning viewers, except for the novelty of a genuine socialist on the national stage. It holds little interest for reality TV viewers, since it promises little ad hominem drama and few prospects of outrageous behavior. Therefore both elements of the Trump Effect will be absent,” Tyndall wrote. “When Donald claims credit, as I am certain he will, for the difference in the two sets of ratings, he will be entitled to do so.”

Democrats make comparatively boring television

The New Republic’s Brian Beutler agrees … somewhat:

We surely have Donald Trump to thank for the disparity. Had he sat out the race this year, he would have deprived Fox News and CNN of his singular combination of fame, media savvy, insensitivity, and cringe-inducing combativeness. But even absent Trump, Republican primary debates would probably draw bigger audiences than their Democratic counterparts. It isn’t wrong or biased to say that Democrats make comparatively boring television. But that isn’t a strike against Democrats, either. It’s a reflection of the fact that the Republican Party, unlike the Democratic Party, is dominated by reactionary voters, which makes its candidates prone to saying or doing outrageous things out of a sense of necessity.

And while he doesn’t discuss tonight’s debate, the New York TimesDavid Brooks makes the same point:

Over the past 30 years, or at least since Rush Limbaugh came on the scene, the Republican rhetorical tone has grown ever more bombastic, hyperbolic and imbalanced. Public figures are prisoners of their own prose styles, and Republicans from Newt Gingrich through Ben Carson have become addicted to a crisis mentality. Civilization was always on the brink of collapse. Every setback, like the passage of Obamacare, became the ruination of the republic. Comparisons to Nazi Germany became a staple.
Politics is the process of making decisions amid diverse opinions. It involves conversation, calm deliberation, self-discipline, the capacity to listen to other points of view and balance valid but competing ideas and interests.

But this new Republican faction regards the messy business of politics as soiled and impure. Compromise is corruption. Inconvenient facts are ignored. Countrymen with different views are regarded as aliens. Political identity became a sort of ethnic identity, and any compromise was regarded as a blood betrayal.

“Desperate for someone to carry their liberal priorities”

I think that by calling it “a sort of ethnic identity,” Brooks tries to downplay the identity politics at the heart of conservatism. As Corey Robin wrote in The Reactionary Mind:

[Conservative ideas] have always been, at least since they first emerged as formal ideologies during the French Revolution, battles between social groups rather than nations; roughly speaking, between those with more power and those with less. To understand these ideas, we have to understand that story. For that is what conservatism is: a meditation on – and theoretical rendition of – the felt experience of having power, seeing it threatened, and trying to win it back.

You can see that in the far-right’s latest arguments about Paul Ryan:

Even a self-congratulatory book outlining how Mr. Ryan and two other Republican House leaders drafted Tea Party candidates to help them take over the House in 2010 – Young Guns – is being recast by some as a manual of how to be traitorous to conservatism.

“Tryouts for speaker continue,” Phyllis Schlafly, founder and chairwoman of the conservative Eagle Forum, said in a statement Friday, when Mr. Ryan was escaping Capitol Hill for the week. “The kingmakers are so desperate for someone to carry their liberal priorities that they are trying to force Congressman Paul Ryan into a job he does not want.”
But House Republicans and their staff say millions of Republican primary voters have their opinions shaped by sites like, which define a version of the conservative position of the moment, then whip their readers into a frenzy, imploring them to oppose anyone who takes a different position.

“Our goal is not influence; it is reporting and highlighting stories important to grass roots conservatives,” said Alex Marlow, the editor in chief of Breitbart. “To those in Congress and on the national political stage who want to better understand this constituency’s interests and worldview, we feel Breitbart News is a good place to start. Our focus on issues like spending, trade and particularly immigration are a reflection of the fact that there are massive populations of center-right Americans who do not favor the policies most often associated with the Republican Party establishment.”

The New York Times’s Jennifer Steinhauer continues, noting the irony:

The conservative rap on Mr. Ryan’s fiscal positions is especially curious. As Budget Committee chairman, Mr. Ryan was the author of plans that would convert Medicare into something akin to a voucher plan, where seniors would get government subsidies to purchase private insurance and move away from government-run health care.

He also wanted to turn Medicaid into increasingly tight block grants to state governments, and he also called for drastic cuts in food stamps, Pell grants and many other domestic programs.

But he couldn’t force President Obama and Senate Democrats to implement his draconian vision, so Paul Ryan isn’t a real conservative….

“Distinguishing themselves from the current occupant of the office”

By contrast, the closest the media can come to a Democrats In Disarray narrative is to note that both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are proposing more progressive policies than those President Obama campaigned on or implemented:

A theme likely to dominate the debate, on CNN, is the problem of economic inequality and with it the implicit critique that although Mr. Obama pulled the economy out of the crisis that enveloped it in 2008, the recovery has left the vast majority of Americans behind. That sentiment has manifested itself on the campaign trail in a populist conviction reflected in the major candidates’ positions on topics including trade agreements and Wall Street regulation.

“They may not come out and criticize Obama, but they’ll all be saying, ‘This hasn’t been a good recovery for most people,’ ” said Dean Baker, an economist and a co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
While the emphasis on economic populism can be attributed partly to the nature of a Democratic primary contest, during which candidates try to woo labor unions and the liberal activist base, polls show that there is a broader frustration among voters about income inequality. Sixty-one percent of Americans said they believed only a few people at the top had a chance to get ahead in today’s economy, and 66 percent said income and wealth in the United States should be more evenly distributed, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll from June.

“The American public is anxious and angry and ready for very deep reform across kitchen table issues,” said Felicia Wong, the president and chief executive of the Roosevelt Institute, a liberal think tank. “And that’s really what’s going on in the electorate right now.”
Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said in a briefing last week that Mr. Obama “understands that it is the responsibility of individual candidates to distinguish themselves.”

“That means distinguishing themselves from their competitors,” Mr. Earnest continued. “And in some cases, that means distinguishing themselves from the current occupant of the office.”

So tonight all of the Democratic candidates will probably offer policy packages to address the “kitchen table” needs of hardworking families. That won’t offer the politics-as-bloodsport spectacle of watching the GOP WHannabes try to out-Trump each other … but it will be a lot more useful.


“We’re not deliberately not being transparent”

And if you’ve wondered why the media rarely report an exact number of House Freedom Caucus members … that’s because the group is very secretive:

“It’s like Fight Club,” says Rep. Jim Bridenstine, an Oklahoma Republican and caucus member, referring to a film dialogue in which the first rule is that you don’t talk about it, and the second rule is that you don’t talk about it.

But why all the secrecy?

“We’re not deliberately not being transparent,” Louisiana Republican John Fleming said during a conference call the group held for reporters.

Except that’s not exactly true. One member, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the classified rules, says the caucus believes keeping GOP leaders in the dark could be an advantage as it stakes out its next moves. And while the group’s chairman, Jim Jordan of Ohio, has reportedly been keeping in close contact with Republican leaders, the HFC is still largely a mystery.

Here’s what we know: There are nine founders of the group, and three full-time aides. Members can say they are members, but may not refer to others’ status. It takes 80 percent to take a formal position. There is a meeting after the House’s first votes of the week, with no set location although members have taken a liking to the basement of Tortilla Coast, a Capitol Hill bar.

Oh, and one of the HFC’s big issues is … transparency:

They’ve been causing outgoing House Speaker John Boehner headaches since he was elected to that position. The irony being that he became speaker when Republicans took over the House with the Tea Party wave in 2010.

But would they support Rep. Paul Ryan? The Wisconsin Republican is considered the intellectual leader of Conservatives in the House, and a man with respect from establishment Republicans.

“Don’t know yet,” is what Freedom Caucus member Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., told NPR’s Scott Simon in an interview on Saturday. He said they are sticking with Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., who received the endorsement of the Freedom Caucus this week.

But Mulvaney said that Webster doesn’t have his support because he’s a conservative – insisting that Webster’s voting record isn’t as conservative as he’d necessarily like. “What he’s pushing is a more open and fair system,” Mulvaney said.

So they’re a shadowy cabal demanding “a more open and fair system.” Yeah.


Photo Credit: CNN Graphic


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