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How The Republicans Got Into This Mess: 4. The Path To Trump

The Republicans have faced a persistent dilemma - how to unite a disparate coalition of rich people who want lower taxes, businessmen who want less regulation, social conservatives horrified by gay rights and other changes in our society, gun rights advocates, global warming "skeptics" and other people who just don't like the Democrats with some kind of a coherent political "philosophy". As I have pointed out, the effort to do this under the banner of "conservatism" involved a considerable amount of deception and abuse of the English language. This, in turn, led politicians to tell the public things that the public wanted to hear but that the politicians knew were wrong.

High on the list was concern about the "national debt." With the exception of the unusual Clinton years, the national debt has steadily increased since the 1950's. We owe it in dollars and the government can print all the dollars it wants so that there is no real issue of not being able to "pay off" the national debt. Both parties raise the issue when they are out of power and threaten not to raise the debt ceiling. They also use it to advocate the agendas that they really care about. The Democrats really want to "soak the rich" by raising taxes on every household earning more than $200K per year and periodically argue that the tax increases they want would help "balance the budget". The Republicans really want to cut back the size of CERTAIN PARTS of the federal government and argue that it is necessary to do this to prevent the national debt from growing. In reality, neither party is serious about this. The Republicans would strenuously resist raising taxes on rich people even if it would balance the budget and the Democrats feel the same way about shrinking the government. What the voters hear is lots of politicians who talk about the National Debt as if it were the worst thing since the Bubonic Plague and then go off the Washington and keep increasing the debt exponentially.

Even worse is the rhetoric about the "free market". Republicans extol the virtues of the free market and admonish voters that the "creative destruction" which leads many small businesses to fail and many employees to become jobless is actually a good thing because it sets the stage for new enterprises and technologies. Then, when Wall Street gets in trouble, a Republican administration panics, soils its pants, plans a rescue "bail out" and rushes to Wall Street with Hefty bags full of cash with no strings attached so that the very people who created the financial mess get to feel no pain. Voters ask - "what happened to "creative destruction"? why is it so good for me and my friends to be destroyed and so bad for the Wall Street guys who make the big political campaign contributions?"

The Tea Party (and Bernie Sanders) are - to a degree - responses to the correctly perceived dishonestly of modern politics. Voters sense that under the carefully parsed speeches of politicians there is a deep reservoir of bovine excrement. In short, the public is being lied to and - as Lincoln said - "you can't fool all of the people all of the time."

Every so often, the curtain is lifted and we get to see the workings of Washington in the form of a scandal like the Abramoff affair. Kevin Spacey channels what we all know is true about politicians in a hugely popular TV series. No matter how careful politicians are to measure every word of each public statement and walk the fine line necessary to get reelected, the public comes to believe it is all a big lie.

Then, out of the ashes of failed political rhetoric, Trump emerges. And the one thing you must admit about Donald Trump is that he is not careful about what he says. In fact, his speeches seem more like streams of consciousness than political statements. So the public - not surprisingly - finds this refreshing and even entertaining and his popularity grows. The contrast between his off-the-cuff style and the meticulously parsed and constipated "statements" of most politicians is breathtaking. And - as a jury lawyer knows - the witness who seems to be spontaneous is believed while the witness who is "over" rehearsed is thought to be lying.

Trump has horrified some Republicans because he is not a "true conservative" but, as we have seen, the definition of a "true conservative is hopelessly elusive. He has pushed a lot of hot buttons and hit upon the concerns of many Americans that free trade and unenforced border "controls" may not be to their advantage. But he has also produced fear and concern on the part of many other Americans. As a result, we are heading into an election between two candidates with the highest net negative public perception ratings in history.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.