Beltway Briefing

The top five stories from US politics today.

1. Tim Pawlenty became the first Republican White House hopeful to start showing television adverts in Iowa, the state that holds the first contest in the presidential caucus and primary calendar. The 30-second advert was aired today, and will run til 3 July at a cost of $50,000.

Pawlenty is concentrating a lot resources in Iowa, where he needs a strong finish in February to win the GOP nomination. He formally announced his bit for the presidency at an event in Des Moines, Iowa, last month. He will spend about 15 days in the state next month ahead of an important straw poll in Ames on 13 August.

 

2. Michele Bachmann will also be descending on Iowa, where she will officially launch her presidential campaign on Monday. Several weeks of keeping a low profile mean that Bachmann is still riding the positive wave of her strong performance in last week's primary debate.

Her conservative credentials as the grassroots Tea Party candidate mean she is likely to do well in Iowa. The fact that she was born in the state and lived there until she was 12 will also help. The announcement might even take place in Waterloo, the place of her birth.

3. Republican women rushed to defend their party after a prominent Democrat said the party was waging "a war on women". Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Florida representative and the new chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said last month that the opposition's anti-woman stance would "not only restore but possibly help us exceed the president's margin of victory in the next election."

It is obviously a sore point for a party whose top ranks are dominated by white men. Women -- notably not including Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann -- jumped to defend the GOP.

"The Republican agenda is indeed pro-woman," said Kristi Noem, representative for South Dakota. "It is pro-woman because it is pro-small business, pro-entrepreneur, pro-family and pro-economic growth."

Expect the battle for the female vote to heat up.

4. Predicatbly, the love-in between Jon Huntsman and President Barack Obama is coming to an end. Huntsman wrote that Obama was a "remarkable leader" after he was appointed to serve as ambassador to China. He distanecd himself from these words on Fox News' Hannity show last night:

 

Asked if he still thinks the president is a "remarkable leader", Huntsman said: "No. I think he has failed in a number of ways both in terms of economic governance and stewardship and also internationally."

He added: "I wrote that after I was appointed. I thought he was a remarkable leader for appointing a Republican to a position as important and sensitive as the U.S. ambassadorship to China."

5. Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona congresswoman who was shot in the head in January, is to release a joint memoir with her husband, Mark Kelly.

They will collaborate with author Jeffrey Zaslow, who worked on Randy Pausch's bestselling The Last Lecture. The book will focus on their separate careers (Kelly is a Nasa astronaut) and their relationship, including the moment that Giffords was shot as she spoke to consituents in Tucson, in an attack which killed six people and injured 12. Kelly said:

After thinking about it, and talking about it, we decided it was the right thing to do to put our words and our voices on paper and tell our story from our point of view. It's been really touching to us to see how much support there is for Gabby and her recovery, and how much interest there is in how she's doing and her story.

Giffords, pictured below before and after the shooting, is undergoing outpatient treatment after being released from a Houston hospital last week.

giffords

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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How Donald Trump is slouching towards the Republican nomination

There was supposed to be a ceiling above which Trump’s popular support could not climb.

In America, you can judge a crowd by its merchandise. Outside the Connecticut Convention Centre in Hartford, frail old men and brawny moms are selling “your Trump 45 football jerseys”, “your hats”, “your campaign buttons”. But the hottest item is a T-shirt bearing the slogan “Hillary sucks . . . but not like Monica!” and, on the back: “Trump that bitch!” Inside, beyond the checkpoint manned by the Transportation Security Administration and the secret service (“Good!” the man next to me says, when he sees the agents), is a family whose three kids, two of them girls, are wearing the Monica shirt.

Other people are content with the shirts they arrived in (“Waterboarding – baptising terrorists with freedom” and “If you don’t BLEED red, white and blue, take your bitch ass home!”). There are 80 chairs penned off for the elderly but everyone else is standing: guys in motorcycle and military gear, their arms folded; aspiring deal-makers, suited, on cellphones; giggling high-school fatsos, dressed fresh from the couch, grabbing M&M’s and Doritos from the movie-theatre-style concession stands. So many baseball hats; deep, bellicose chants of “Build the wall!” and “USA!”. (And, to the same rhythm, “Don-ald J!”)

A grizzled man in camouflage pants and combat boots, whose T-shirt – “Connecticut Militia III%” – confirms him as a member of the “patriot” movement, is talking to a zealous young girl in a short skirt, who came in dancing to “Uptown Girl”.

“Yeah, we were there for Operation American Spring,” he says. “Louis Farrakhan’s rally of hate . . .”

“And you’re a veteran?” she asks. “Thank you so much!”

Three hours will pass. A retired US marine will take the rostrum to growl, “God bless America – hoo-rah!”; “Uptown Girl” will play many more times (much like his speeches, Donald J’s playlist consists of a few items, repeated endlessly), before Trump finally looms in and asks the crowd: “Is this the greatest place on Earth?”

There was supposed to be a ceiling above which Trump’s popular support could not climb. Only a minority within a minority of Americans, it was assumed, could possibly be stupid enough to think a Trump presidency was a good idea. He won New Hampshire and South Carolina with over 30 per cent of the Republican vote, then took almost 46 per cent in Nevada. When he cleaned up on Super Tuesday in March, he was just shy of 50 per cent in Massachusetts; a week later, he took 47 per cent of the votes in Mississippi.

His rivals, who are useless individually, were meant to co-operate with each other and the national party to deny him the nomination. But Trump won four out of the five key states being contested on “Super-Duper Tuesday” on 15 March. Then, as talk turned to persuading and co-opting his delegates behind the scenes, Trump won New York with 60 per cent.

Now, the campaign is trying to present Trump as more “presidential”. According to his new manager, Paul Manafort, this requires him to appear in “more formal settings” – without, of course, diluting “the unique magic of Trump”. But whether or not he can resist denouncing the GOP and the “corrupt” primary system, and alluding to violence if he is baulked at at the convention, the new Trump will be much the same as the old.

Back in Hartford: “The Republicans wanna play cute with us, right? If I don’t make it, you’re gonna have millions of people that don’t vote for a Republican. They’re not gonna vote at all,” says Trump. “Hopefully that’s all, OK? Hopefully that’s all, but they’re very, very angry.”

This anger, which can supposedly be turned on anyone who gets in the way, has mainly been vented, so far, on the protesters who disrupt Trump’s rallies. “We’re not gonna be the dummies that lose all of our jobs now. We’re gonna be the smart ones. Oh, do you have one over there? There’s one of the dummies . . .”

There is a frenzied fluttering of Trump placards, off to his right. “Get ’em out! . . . Don’t hurt ’em – see how nice I am? . . . They really impede freedom of speech and it’s a disgrace. But the good news is, folks, it won’t be long. We’re just not taking it and it won’t be long.”

It is their removal by police, at Trump’s ostentatious behest, that causes the disruption, rather than the scarcely audible protesters. He seems to realise this, suddenly: “We should just let ’em . . . I’ll talk right over them, there’s no problem!” But it’s impossible to leave the protesters where they are, because it would not be safe. His crowd is too vicious.

Exit Trump, after exactly half an hour, inclusive of the many interruptions. His people seem uplifted but, out on the street, they are ambushed by a large counter-demonstration, with a booming drum and warlike banners and standards (“Black Lives Matter”; an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, holding aloft Trump’s severed head). Here is the rest of the world, the real American world: young people, beautiful people, more female than male, every shade of skin colour. “F*** Donald Trump!” they chant.

After a horrified split-second, the Trump crowd, massively more numerous, rallies with “USA!” and – perplexingly, since one of the main themes of the speech it has just heard was the lack of jobs in Connecticut – “Get a job!” The two sides then mingle, unobstructed by police. Slanging matches break out that seem in every instance to humiliate the Trump supporter. “Go to college!” one demands. “Man, I am in college, I’m doin’ lovely!”

There is no violence, only this: some black boys are dancing, with liquid moves, to the sound of the drum. Four young Trump guys counter by stripping to their waists and jouncing around madly, their skin greenish-yellow under the street lights, screaming about the building of the wall. There was no alcohol inside; they’re drunk on whatever it is – the elixir of fascism, the unique magic of Trump. It’s a hyper but not at all happy drunk.

As with every other moment of the Trump campaign so far, it would have been merely some grade of the cringeworthy – the embarrassing, the revolting, the pitiful – were Trump not slouching closer and closer, with each of these moments, to his nomination. 

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism