WHAT’S A POLITICIAN’S BASE?

 

Apparently in American presidential politics there’s something called a base. The Democrats have one, the Republics have another, and Donald Trump has his very own.

Voters who don’t belong to a base can drift from one candidate to another, but not if you do belong to one. But if you’re a member of one you can’t move to another. That’s because membership in a base is something you acquire shortly after you’re born, like an infant baptismal certificate, or no longer having a foreskin.

A base is what guarantees a candidate people to thank even if she was ‘disappointed’ by the results that “the CNN decision desk is now ready to declare …” Your base is what told you to run in the first place, and what allows you to think that, though a loser, you’re nonetheless still a player.

Your base is like your mother. You can do no wrong, but others can and do wrong you. And a base neither knows nor cares about what you stand for until after you’ve stood for it. This gives you an enormous amount of latitude in selecting policies that might appeal to those swing voters who are not of your base.

Pundits talk about candidates appealing to their base. This is nonsense. If you have to appeal to them they’re not, nor ever were, your base. So the more you have to fulfill one election promise, or walk another one back, the smaller your base must have been. This is why Trump, like every demagogue before him, has no need to look over his shoulder. The size of his base makes appeasement unnecessary.

Does this mean that, in the same way matter can neither be created nor destroyed, no base can ever grow or shrivel? If so, the obvious question is, how does a base ever enter the world or leave it? To which the obvious answer is: with you. Just as there’s a fact of the matter about how many words you’ll speak before you die – and therefore I advise you to husband them well – there’s a fact of the matter about how big your base will be the moment you declare your candidacy. Who were they beforehand? They were your base-in-waiting.

Trump took a look at his and if anything underestimated it. Clinton took a look at hers and vastly overestimated it. It was Sanders who commanded the Democratic base. Like Trump, he could say the stupidest things – and he did – and they loved him all the more for it. But for all that he couldn’t have won. Too old, too pontifical, and too Jewish.

Unlike in America, we don’t have the cult of personality in Canada, probably because our politicians don’t have any. And that seems to be the way we like it. But we do have our base voters. The NDP premier of the Province of Alberta, Rachel Notley, can betray everything the NDP base stands for, but it doesn’t matter because she’s the NDP premier. If it’s base wasn’t loyal, it wouldn’t be called its base.

Appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, belonging to a base is not a sign of being politically engaged. On the contrary, it’s a way of being relevant to the issues without having to think about them. Not unlike in Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia, the Party, or the Great Leader, does all that thinking for you. But this is hardly a criticism. Since few of us are in a position to have an informed opinion about these issues anyway, it’s more efficient this way.

My grandmother was a Bolshevik. My father was a Marxist. So I became a socialist – not that I know or need care what that means – about the same time I lost my foreskin. Since in a healthy democracy somebody has to take this side rather than the other, what difference does it make whether he’s thought about it? It’s not like if we all thought about it we’d all end up on the same side. Think of it like Field Day when you were back in grammar school. Does it really matter whether you’re assigned to the Blue team or the Red team?

Well no, unless some of your friends were given their sashes just before you.

But that’s not a healthy thought-experiment. If I console myself by observing that I like the people on my team more than the people on theirs, I can’t help wondering whether I like them because they’re on my team, rather than the other way around.

And what this shows, once again, is that some things just don’t bear thinking about.

 

 

THE NEXT FOURTEEN YEARS

 

In the words of Shakespeare’s Mark Anthony, “The evil that men do live after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.”

Fortunately it’s the opposite with political prognostications. No one remembers if you get it wrong. But if you get it right, you’re forever cited for being incredibly astute. So yes, it’s a cheat. But it’s only cheating if you can get caught. And as just argued, even if you can be, you won’t be. So here’s my risk-free prognostication for the next fourteen years.

Left and right, anti-Trump and pro-, are orthogonal cuts, though clearly there are orders of magnitude more people in the left-anti and right-pro quadrants than in the other two. The doctrinaire libertarians and anti-Trump Republicans, who make up the right-anti, don’t know where to cast their votes. And the doctrinaire socialists and pro-Trump Democrats, occupying the left-pro, find themselves similarly stymied. So both of these constituencies are out of the picture. This leaves the 2020 presidential to hang on three key contingencies:

1) who the Democrats put up against Trump,

2) who wins the media war between right wing pro-Trump Fox News on the one

side, and left wing MSNBC and anti-Trump CNN on the other, and

3) whether Trump will be evil enough, but also savvy enough, to start a winnable

but not-yet-won war.

The Democrats will need a candidate free of the kind of cement footware that sunk Hilary Clinton. Well let’s see. Joe Biden would clearly make the best President, but he’s probably too sensible to make the best candidate in this era of political infotainment. Bernie Sanders is too old, too pontifical, and too Jewish. Elizabeth Warren lacks the presence to command the enthusiasm needed for a Presidential campaign. Even the most misogynist racist can’t help but love Michele, but she’d be rightly seen as just a front for another eight years for her husband. Oprah would have to answer for every line in every book she ever recommended. And progressives would have to hold their noses for California Junior Senator Kamala Harris, whose tenure as Attorney General for that state did not speak well for her civil libertarian credentials.

That leaves Obama-clone Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Kennedy-spawn Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts. I’d put my money on Booker for the nomination, because Kennedy will want to hold back until ‘24. But in the actual election I’d only bet the family farm on Kennedy. Whites won’t come out for Booker, but blacks will for Kennedy.

By holding Trump’s feet to the fire, CNN has only been doing its job. Unfortunately by doing its job in this age of all-news-is-partisan-news, it’s forfeited its former role as the non-partisan voice in America. So it would come down to CNN versus Fox if there was anyone who tunes into both. But there isn’t. Either you watch Fox because you’re with Trump, or you watch CNN because you’re agin’ him. There’s plenty of room for apathy in America, but none at all for fence-sitting.

But it does come down to which of the two can get out the vote by selling the importance of the outcome. Unless, that is, Americans can be offered, quite independently of policy, some one to get excited about. And that’s where a Jack or Robert Kennedy come back from the grave could be the king-maker.

Trump’s trump card, however, would be the same one played by George W. Just start a winnable but not-yet-won war. It wouldn’t have to be North Korea or Iran. There are plenty of provocable easy pickings out there. But I suspect Trump thinks he can win re-election as a shit-disturber, not as a commander-in-chief. Besides, a bomber jacket just isn’t his style.

So here’s my prediction. It’ll be Trump again in 2020 unless a) Kennedy can be inveigled to run four years ahead of schedule, and b) Trump makes the mistake of thinking he can emerge victorious without first having to start a war.

That said, 2024 looks like a shoe-in for the Democrats. This is because Mike Pence has about as much charisma as your tax accountant, and no new Republican face can emerge while Trump remains the face of the party. So it’s precisely as the Republican establishment worried it would be. A Trump presidency would render the party irrelevant while his presidency lasted, and then doom it for eight years thereafter. That’s both the beauty and the beast of American presidential electoral politics. Image matters. Policy? Not so much.

So if I were an American – which thankfully I’m not! – I’d pray for a) a Joe Kennedy challenge in 2020, and if Trump does realize he needs a winnable but not-yet-won war, that b) some saboteur on his staff recommends Denmark.

Anyhow, remember folks: if I’m right – which I probably won’t be – you heard it here first.