Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Regional Elections in France Point the Way for the U.S. in 2016

The surmise is that Trump timed his headline-grabbing announcement about banning Muslims from entering the United States until "we can figure out what the hell is going on" because of a poll in Iowa showing Ted Cruz taking the lead there. This is from yesterday's story by Patrick Healy and Michael Barbaro, "Donald Trump Calls for Barring Muslims From Entering U.S.":
Mr. Trump has a track record of making surprising and even extreme comments whenever he is overtaken in opinion polls by other Republican candidates – as happened on Monday just hours before he issued his statement about Muslims. A new Monmouth University survey of likely Iowa Republican caucus-goers found that Mr. Trump had slipped from his recent top spot in the state, which holds the first presidential nomination contest on Feb. 1. According to the poll, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas earned 24 percent of support, while Mr. Trump had 19 percent and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida had 17 percent. But another Iowa poll released on Monday, by CNN/OCR, showed Mr. Trump with a comfortable lead but Mr. Cruz gaining ground on him.
Over at FiveThiryEight Nate Silver & Co. suss out the meaning of that Monmouth poll in "What If Ted Cruz Wins Iowa?" FiveThirtyEight can't stop drinking the "Trump Can't Win" Kool-Aid. So most of the analysis that one reads there is tilted toward explanations of improbable scenarios where Establishment-worthy candidates like Rubio or Cruz -- now even Chris Christie is being mentioned -- come out on top in the Republican primaries.

This speaks to the hollowness and superficiality of "horse race" reporting, the kind of writing which dominates election coverage in the United States, because it misses the obvious tsunami heading toward the duopoly. People don't believe in the parties and national government anymore. Perpetual war, skyrocketing inequality, institutional racism, partisan gridlock, wage stagnation, rising housing and healthcare costs -- what is there to feel hopeful about?

Establishment analysts pay too little heed to the alienation swelling in the ranks of the average citizen. It is on full display in France where the first round of regional elections took place last weekend and which will finish up this weekend with what everyone is predicting will be a big win for Marine Le Pen's National Front. The National Front will no longer be an also-ran but one of the top two parties in France, replacing the Socialists.

Alissa Rubin laid it all out yesterday in "National Front Gets a Boost in French Regional Elections"; she might as well have been talking about the U.S.:
The National Front not only came in first in the popular vote on Sunday with 28 percent of votes cast nationwide, it was leading races to govern six of France’s 13 regions, decisively in at least two. 
Many factors combined to help Ms. Le Pen’s party in the first round of voting — the second will be held on Sunday — but the overwhelming message was one that the French elites have been reluctant to confront: The political rules that have governed the country for the past 25 years are being reshaped by a wave of nationalist right-wing populism familiar to voters in many other countries, not least fans of Donald J. Trump in the United States. 
Just like Mr. Trump, Ms. Le Pen is shrewdly speaking to voters who feel economically strained, distant from leaders they perceive as elitist and out of touch, and angry or frightened by waves of immigration that they feel threaten their national identity and personal security. Her appeal, which helped her party win political control of a few French cities last year, seems to have only grown since the attacks in Paris last month that killed 130 people, giving the National Front a chance to establish greater credibility by governing key regions, including the area in the north around Calais that has been struggling all year to deal with an encampment of thousands of migrants.
Her success is rooted not just in her ability to modulate her message, cloaking some of her more xenophobic ideas in coded language. She also had the good fortune to come to the political stage at a moment when the traditional parties are splintering, seemingly unable to address the economic woes of the middle class, stem the more negative effects of globalization on the French way of life or convince voters that they are not imperiled by immigration and extremism. Ms. Le Pen has long had proposals on these issues — albeit ones that exclude immigrants from many of the benefits that go to French citizens, or that force assimilation.
The old Socialist Party is “incapable of changing at the moment; it is an empty shell,” said Pierre Haski, the co-founder of the French news site Rue 89. “The Socialists are losing the cities, except for Paris, Lyon, maybe Lille; it’s lost most departments; and it’s going to lose regions after this election. It’s been weakened so that it’s very difficult to imagine it could win the next presidential election.

“And you find the same crisis in the traditional right,” Mr. Haski said. “Sarkozy’s party is in disarray.”
Trump has shrewdly protected his spot at the top of the polls since the summer. And while his Islamophobia is grossly demagogic, it is better politics than demonizing undocumented Latinos who make up a far-larger percentage of the electorate than the 2% who identify as Muslim. Also, Trump has cast his spear at the Achilles' heel of the U.S. Global War on Terror (GWOT). Administration policymakers refuse to acknowledge that the brand of Sunni Islam that is the primary fuel for jihadist terrorism is an export of our chief Arab ally, Saudi Arabia. The U.S. voter has been vaguely aware of this since 9/11, but conflicting messaging of the USG and the shallow reporting by the mainstream press has kept the Saudi role in GWOT from reaching critical consciousness.

Trump has once again proven he can command the direction of the presidential race. And like Marine Le Pen, he remains the candidate who must be beat.

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