Watching Republicans has never been so fun. But voting for them…

My old friend’s father might find the state of his beloved party a little confusing. He wouldn’t be alone

14 November 2015

9:00 AM

14 November 2015

9:00 AM

Washington DC

A friend of mine asked his father, aged 82: ‘Dad, at this stage of life, what do you enjoy most?’ Dad replied: ‘Voting Republican and being left alone by your mother.’ Surely an unimproveable definition of bliss.

My friend told me this in the 1980s, long before the Republican nomination contest turned into reality TV. Would his dad still enjoy voting Republican? Look what choices he’d have — from among nearly 20 candidates, a veritable embarrassment of riches. Or is it best that Dad has since gone to his eternal rest and has been spared seeing what has happened to his once-beloved GOP?

In Paris last week, chatting with a journalist friend esteemed for his deep knowledge of American politics, I asked a bit warily, ‘Er, what are you all saying about M. Trump over here?’ I braced for an elegant excoriation. But Philippe only shrugged, beautifully, as only the French can, and said mildly, ‘Well, we think it’s…’ here he may have inserted a slight puh, ‘…a bit strange.’

D’accord. I told him that many of us, aussi, are finding it all a bit fruity, even as one must stipulate that it makes for good theatre. It wasn’t so long ago that a rerun of the movie Casablanca would garner quadruple the ratings of a political debate. Now we can barely wait for the next one, to see if M. Trump will remark on the prodigious output of Senator Rubio’s sweat glands; or the commentator’s menstrual cycle; or Ms. Fiorina’s putative facial resemblance to a horse.

Of course, it’s possible that we’re paying such close attention in order learn where the candidates stand on immigration, on China’s new passion for creating islands out of reefs in the South China Sea, and on whether we should arm kindergarten teachers with AK-47s or Glock 9s. Well, only a year to go until the election. How quickly it’s gone by! What have we learned on the Republican side?

Should we have been surprised that M. Trump would consume all the oxygen in every room? Spy magazine got it perfectly back in the 1980s when it dubbed him a ‘short-fingered vulgarian.’ What more need be said? But yes, it was bracing to hear him denigrate the war record of John McCain, America’s pre-eminent war hero. And who’d have predicted he would declare that Megyn Kelly should have stayed in her red tent instead of moderating the first debate?

What was surprising was that he should have attained frontrunner status. This development left the punditariat to huff that Trump’s base consisted of — to put it as demographically as they could — ‘non-college-educated white males’, this being punditariat-speak for ‘troglodyte’ and ‘prole’. And to shrug — if less elegantly than Philippe — on the Sunday-morning TV shows and tell everyone to relax; that Donald Trump would not be the nominee of the Republican Party. It would pass, like an outbreak of herpes.

And yet The Donald is very much with us. He has not passed. He is a very persistent case of herpes. The Sabbath gasbags can only offer another bit of cold comfort, that (finally!) the short-fingered vulgarian has been overtaken by… oh dear… Dr Carson, the somnolent but sweet-natured neurosurgeon who doesn’t believe in evolution. Or abortion. Or gun control. Or… but look, everyone relax. Ben Carson is not going to be the nominee of the Republican party. OK?

Something seems to have gone rather wrong with the script. This is not where we were supposed to be at this point. The run-up to the primaries was supposed to be a calm and orderly rehearsal for the anointing of Jeb Bush. Who better to run against Bill Clinton’s wife than George W. Bush’s brother? Or, if you prefer, than George H.W. Bush’s son?

A year ago, at a gathering of bigwigs in Washington, a speaker brought down the house by saying that Jeb Bush’s candidacy shows the Bush family’s commitment to No Child Left Behind. (NCLB was an education bill pushed through the Congress by George W., back in the days when presidents got stuff pushed through the Congress.)

Due to lacklustre debate performances, and unfortunate off-the-cuff remarks (of yet another gun slaughter at a school, Mr Bush shrugged, ‘Stuff happens’) his campaign is in what his father used to call ‘deep doo-doo’. The headlines are asking Will He Drop Out? and Is It Over For Jeb Bush? To add oomph coming out of the starting gate, his campaign adopted as its trademark Jeb!, the exclamation mark becoming a part of his name. Alas for his admirers — to say nothing of the big donors — Jeb! has turned into Jeb? Oh dear.

The cliche in American politics is that one week is an eternity. So it is premature to pronounce the candidacy dead. His political action committee is sitting on $100 million, ready to be converted into Hillary attack ads once the real show begins in February. That kind of dough could put the ! back in Jeb.

To add another layer of irony, Mr. Bush has now been eclipsed by his former protege, Senator Marco Rubio. As the current headline puts it: Is Rubio the Republican Obama? Which is to say: is our best shot in 2016 a version of the man who captured the country’s imagination in 2004 — a charismatic person of colour with an exotic background and hardly any experience at governance?

Obama’s resume consisted of ‘community organiser’ and two inconsequential years in the US Senate. Rubio’s voting record is said to be the worst in the Senate. Bush got off the only bon mot of his campaign in the last debate when he taunted Rubio: ‘Is it [the Senate] like a French work week?’ Touché!

As to background, Obama’s grandfather was a Kenyan goatherd. Even diversity-lusting Democrats were left momentarily speechless on learning that qualification. Mr Rubio’s parents are Cuban-born and Castro-fleeing. His father was a bartender, his mother a hotel maid. He married a former cheerleader of the Miami Dolphins football team. His children are picture-perfect. A campaign manager would give his eye-teeth for a client like that.

But there is untidiness: his French work ethic in the Senate, questions about finances. Oh, and a close friend of Mr Rubio’s — unidentified, and small wonder — was quoted on the subject of his true feelings about his senatorial job: ‘He hates it.’ Thanks, amigo.

These flaws don’t feel fatal, especially in the context of the current baying for ‘authenticity’ in our candidates. What’s more ‘authentic’ than a worm in a delicious apple? Though as we prepare to bite, we should remember that the only thing worse than finding a worm in an apple is finding half a worm.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Christopher Buckley wrote speeches for Vice President George H.W. Bush. His new novel, The Relic Master, is out in December.

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Show comments
  • Golly. Again I struggle to find any meat in a Spectator piece which has great material as its subject matter and could – and should – be interesting. I also know a fair bit about the US political scene. Nothing here on immigration, nothing on Cruz, nothing on the debates controversy, nothing on Rand Paul, nothing on differing ideological strands amongst the GOP field, in fact very little really on anything. What is the point of this piece? As a former presidential speechwriter, Buckley presumably knows how to write … did a sub-editor mess this article up? Who knows?

    • 1Gandydancer

      As a former presidential speechwriter for G.H.W. Bush I wouldn’t assume any such thing. Nepotism is a better guess.

      • C_Before_E

        Kinda like Jeb!’s nepotism. What a dull, clumsy candidate.

  • BillRees

    This is a narcissistic piece by someone who is presumably trying to sell his book.

    It doesn’t tell us anything useful about the GOP Presidential campaign and all its observations are superficial.

    Trump, incidentally, whether you love him or hate him, seems to be the one candidate who is forcing everyone to take seriously the illegal immigration crisis in the USA, which threatens to overwhelm the country.

    He should be taken far more seriously, and with far less sneering.

    • 1Gandydancer

      And Rubio’s flipping to pro-Amnesty doesn’t get a mention either.

      “Short-fingered”? Buckley thinks this is a real bon mot, but what does that even mean?

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    As an unabashed Republican I share my point of view regarding Mr. Donald Trump.

    Donald Trump is the most popular candidate among any of the US candidates for President, He is so popular what ever Television appearance he makes the ratings are the highest for that slot in that TV station.

    Donald Trump’s popularity lies in the fact that he is the first Candidate in recent history to fund his own campaign without the need for donations from vested parties. It has shown that a candidate can be free of making promises to special interest groups well before he or she becomes President.

    He is also popular for his strong anti Obama policies and that Mr. Trump is pro Constitution.

    When it comes to foreign affairs US candidates are generally weak as seen in many debates. Mr. Trump is caught in a catch 22. He has promised to normalize relations with Russia and China while stating that he will bring back the jobs lost to China and India.

    Mr. Trump wants to reverse many aspects of outsourcing, in order to recharge the US economy. Consumers maybe willing to pay a dollar or two more if the product is manufactured in the United States and Americans are employed.

    Many businesses both domestic and foreign want to locate to the US and do business here if and only if the regulations and taxes that are so prohibitive are removed,. Under Obama the US has some of the world’s highest Corporate tax.

    In order for Mr. Trump to open alliances with China and Russia while curtailing outsourcing is going to be a juggling act of diplomacy

    • Donald Trump is the most popular candidate among any of the US candidates for President
      Not with *me* he isn’t. Crass, insufficiently informed, uneducated in the political foundations of our country and in the policies of our time, thin-skinned, sexist (a word I almost never use, but in his case I’d have to ignore the evidence of his behaviour not to use it), and with an undue sense of entitlement simply because he’s fabulously rich — no, he does not speak for me. I want a genuine defender of the American way of life. Trump ain’t it. My choice, if I could have my choice ideally, is Carly Fiorina.

      • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

        Not for me and not based on TV ratings. When Mr.Trump has appeared on CNN, CNBC, FOX, the number of viewers were so high during that hour that it became the most watched hour in years for that station. That is how much Mr. Trump is popular.

        I agree he is rough regarding manners but he is also the CEO of five hundred corporations. 99% of them extremely successful. About 4 of then filed for Chapter 11 (reorganization) out of 5 hundred. the skill needed to be a successful business man takes diplomacy with other CEO’s and to make tough decisions that a leader has to make.. During the tough times manners are the last issue.

        Take Obama in 2008. he was the “golden boy” of good behavior. he would promise one thing to one group and then promise exactly the opposite to another. Trump is consistent. Obama is so bad that historians will judge the US before, during and after the tenure of Obama. Did you see the Obama trade package? it is 100 pounds and 5500 pages long. Obama Care is 2 thousand pages long and has gutted our insurance sector, and Obama was the epitome of good manners when he ran,.

        • Trump is not worthy to hold our highest office. How about Ambassador to China, if that makes you happy?

          P. S. The fact that Obama was not and is not worthy, either, is no argument for the Toupée.

          • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

            So far the reasons you do not like trump and I quote:
            ” he isn’t. Crass, insufficiently informed, uneducated in the political foundations of our country and in the policies of our time, thin-skinned, sexist”….with an undue sense of entitlement simply because he’s fabulously rich”
            followed by
            “possibly the only self-toupée in history, but it looks like a toupée all the same”

            To me those are very superficial reasons. He wears a wig? so does Michelle
            He is rich? so are a good deal of all the politicians
            bad manners?
            when you write “uneducated” what do you mean? he got a few million dollars from his father and made it into 10 billion dollars. That takes brains.
            He is for the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 10th amendments of the constitution.
            he has been far more articulate about our foreign policy, our open borders and has answered questions placed to him very intelligently. He may not be the perfect candidate. but I am not looking for perfection, I am looking for a leader who can get us out of this Titanic like mess that we are in. Mr Trump for me can do that.

            if you want to choose your next president on good manners, good looks and whatever you issue is with the American way of making money then please go ahead. but I have made my choice.

          • I’m not looking for perfection either. But (among other things) Trump is very cavalier about other people’s freedoms: are you acquainted with his threat (I don’t know whether he has launched them yet) of lawsuits against those in the press — such as Rich Lowry speaking on cable TV or Jonah Goldberg of National Review, on and off Twitter — criticizing him? How about the threatened lawsuit against the T-shirt manufacturer with mild but unloving comments about Donald? (Google it.)

            This man does NOT believe in the First Amendment. He believes that we should bow and scrape or otherwise expect to be stifled.

            That is NOT someone I want as president of the United States!

          • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

            Good for Trump! he is my man.
            I am SICK AND TIRED of the mealy mouthed liberal press. I have also heard them try to bully him. Twist what he has said.

            I am no friend of the parasitical Sycophantic Media that kisses up to the current corrupt bunch in Washington D.C.acting like parrots, being the Voice of Washington D.C. the inner circle of elites. and the sequested population of Hollywood

            I live in a nationally registered Historic home. In May of this year Hollywood made a film in my town (they made 3 films in total) and used my home to interview the actors and actress, crew including filming parts of this house in a period piece. Incredibly narcissistic, and when they want to be polite they literally drip with sweetness. Actress Gugu was a lady though the crew were astonished I did not know her,. I only knew her when I met her as a person and not an actress.

            I have seen that arrogant snobbish elitist attitude of the Media and they have lost a lot of rating for their poor news coverage, their selfie programs, the lack of talent
            Good for Trump.

          • Your man is a bully, never mind the press. And the people I named ARE NOT LIBERALS. Trump can’t take criticism from any side, from any one, even when it’s deserved. His basic problem is that he is immature, esp. in the give-and-take of politics. I do not want such a person in the office with the most power.

          • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

            Considering the across the board wanton destruction of the of the US Economy
            -The brazen Shredding of the US Constitution and all that it stand.

            -Throwing open our borders to hordes of Illegal aliens

            -The massive rise of the federal government right down to the term of “Tsars” used for government officials

            -The 2 thousand page Obama care and the 5500 page Obama trade that must be read, understood and debated by the legislative branch in order to either ratify it or veto it which by its very nature makes that process impossible.

            -Washington D.C. beholden to the elite and not to the people making the US a bona fide Plutocracy (A government run by the elite) and not even a shred of a Republic

            -The apologetic foreign policy of Obama where as symbol of that our President bowed to the Soudi Royal family. A deed the US has never done. No previous President since George Washington ever lowered his head to royalty. not since the American Revolution.

            And that “Callipygian” is just some of the reasons
            I will take my chances with Mr. Donald Trump.

          • Pioneer

            The people have lost control of the government.
            It has also happened in many countries in Europe.

          • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

            The word of Lincoln at the Gettysburg Address

            “A government of the people, by the people, for the people”.

            Then there is that unwritten contract between the Federal Government and the states. The feds take care of our borders and defend the nation. The states stay within that union knowing that the representative government works for the people and not for the elite

            Once that contract is broken and the people cannot fix that then they have the right to
            Self Determination as stated by Woodrow Wilson at the Versailles Treaty in his 14 point speech:
            ‘”National aspirations must be respected; people may now be dominated and governed only by their own consent. Self determination is not a mere phrase; it is an imperative principle of action. . . . ”

            Texas was an independent nation for 10 years before she decided to join the Union. She is one of the few states that has the right to secede, especially if Texans cannot work with Washington D.C. That is an inalienable right of man as stated

            In the Declaration of Independence:
            “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation”


            :”We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness….”

            That is why from the American revolution in 1776 to the Free speech movement in the 1960’ to the “counter culture movement”. to the Bill of rights the power rests with the people of America and not solely in the government.

          • Pioneer

            He has been relentlessly criticized, which he dealt with extremely well.

            To say he cannot take criticism is absurd.

            The US is in critical condition, someone needs to get a very firm grip very soon, or there will be catastrophe.

            Trump seems to be the only one capable of doing that. You don’t have to like him as a person.

          • I don’t know why you think he ‘seems to be’ the only one capable. Have you listened to the others? Apparently not.

          • Pioneer

            “I am looking for a leader who can get us out of this Titanic like mess that we are in. Mr Trump, for me, can do that.”

            He seems the only capable of it.

          • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

            If Mr. Trump took a few million dollars his father left him and made it into 10 billion dollars there is hope in him
            ‘If Mr. Trump is the leader of 5 hundred corporations with 496 of them extremely successful he has leadership skills that we need and he has worked with CEO’s across the globe.
            If Trump cannot fix this problem then we have to think of separating from the power of Washington D.C. and leave them with the 19 trillion dollar debt while new nations form with better management.

          • Pioneer

            It is a strange looking hairdo. What has that got to with it?

          • Just mentioned it in passing. My objections to him have been plainly stated and they make sense.

            Personally I’d like Fiorina, but I’d accept Cruz, Rubio, or Christie if they’re nominated: the others don’t seem to have a chance.

      • Pioneer

        Sadly,Carly is a RINO.

        • Nonsense! Gosh, are you a conservative or not? I have to wonder.

      • douglas redmayne

        CarlCarl Fiorina is awful ad rich.

    • douglas redmayne

      Only a stupid American like you would regard a rich man trying to buy the presidency as virtuous. I bet you are one of these turds who wants to stop abortion as well?

      • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

        Your language is ugly and rude. That disqualifies you in judging others about their moral standing when you lack any.

        • douglas redmayne

          You are obviously too think to be able to distinguish how someone communicates from their actions. It is the latter which determines moral standing but as you are a Republican you clearly don’t understand and think morality is about judgement. How primitive and thank God we have no turds like you in our country.

  • Dear me, Mr Buckley (and I esteem your late father highly, as an NR reader from way back and a fan of The Redhunter), do you do anything but sneer?

    Rubio our version of Obama? How on earth could you compare the genuine freedom-lover to the fraudulent spectre veneered in sheer ego that is the current president? Oh, but you had a crush on him, didn’t you?

    Don’t worry: you’re not metaphorically shot as a deserter. Just outed as a not very rigorous mind. And why should you be? Liza Minelli isn’t Judy Garland. Lisa Presley isn’t Elvis. Old sins may have long shadows, but so do achievements.

  • Lambie

    Mr. Buckley writes that “Mr Rubio’s parents are Cuban-born and Castro-fleeing.” Only the first part of that statement is correct. Mr. Rubio’s parents entered the US well before Castro came to power.

  • Shorne

    Now here’s a thought, if you look at a pack of cards it will likely as not contain a joker. This is an allusion to the Court Jester a person who existed for hundreds of years and was employed by Emperors, Kings etc. and was given a free hand to mock and criticise his employer if he felt the need arose. Perhaps if this role still existed for republican (small ‘r’) figures it might act as a check on some of the more outlandish statements and actions. Donald Trump for example ‘if that was a wig you could sue the maker’, ‘Hispanics and women are actually allowed to vote you know’ and so on.

    • douglas redmayne

      Not a bad idea.

    • goodsoldier

      Obama wouldn’t be able to handle it.

  • Curnonsky

    Speaking of elderly fathers, how would your sainted father William F Buckley Jr. have felt knowing his son supported a piece of work like Obama? Still feeling good about that, Chris?

  • Lorenzo

    Christopher Buckley: America’s entry in the Upper Class Twit of the Year contest.

    • goodsoldier

      Buckley is like Fredo: ‘I’m not stupid, I’m smart!’

  • seangrainger

    Hemingway would have shot himself earlier if he had caught himself using “excoriate”. The stupid word doesn’t mean anything in English or real life. It should have been automatically subbed out but that doesn’t excuse you.

  • seangrainger

    Oh dear we really do need Alistair Cooke back don’t we. And “No” management there is no one in the BBC or UK newspapers up to the job especially the drear Justin Webb. Colleen Graffy could do it.

  • truewest

    So Carson doesn’t believe in evolution. Or abortion. Or gun control. How are these beliefs reason to be disqualified as President?
    If candidates now require interpretations of the Bible by progressive, collectivist, humanist philosophy; or if candidates must deny human life up to and including live birth like Planned Parenthood; or if candidates must surrender of your rights to self protection to a wait for police to get to you before you are killed, I guess Carson is not your man.

    He is certainly mine.

    • Lina R

      Why is there higher value placed on an embryo than the lives of all those Americans who are shot dead every year in America? I like Carson – his backstory, manner and no-nonsense attitude to political correctness make him very appealing – but it’s hard to fathom how a neurosurgeon believes the bible contains the origins of mankind.

      • truewest

        Who placed a higher value on embryos? You are merely trying to argue for removal of guns from law abiding people. The fact is the failure of black American males to be men rather than drug dealers, and absentee fathers and to think ghetto culture is cool is how most gun deaths occur in the US.
        Carson knows about gun deaths in America a lot more than you do. He grew up where is was a way of life in Detroit.
        As far as being “hard to fathom”, maybe believing we are nothing but a collection of neutrons, electrons and protons is a bit harder to fathom.

    • g978

      Believing in science would be useful.

      • truewest

        I think his knowledge of medicine and surgery qualifies him as believing in science. Millions of other Christians do however question evolution. They may be wrong. So you think this should disqualify him from brain surgery as well?

    • smoke me a kipper

      I can understand why Carson would not believe in evolution. How could a process that has sustain life for billions of years possibly have delivered something like Ben Carson or Donald Trump? Clearly it could not. Such beings could only be manufactured by some malevolent being

  • jeffersonian

    This reads like the mildly hysterical rant of a metropolitan liberal.

    • smoke me a kipper

      Rant maybe but nonetheless true

  • Bayesian_Rationalist

    The Republican Party is off the spectrum now. They’re so ferociously dedicated to serving extreme wealth and increasing the concentration of power in the hands of a tiny elite group of businessmen and corporate magnates, that their only reliable voting base is the vocal group of fundamentalist, scientifically illterate Christians across the United States.

    • goodsoldier

      What a sophisticated man you are! Wow, some real red meat finally. Go tell’em. he he

  • g978

    The author leaves off President Obama’s resume his time in the Illinois State Senate. So he did have more governing experience than stated.
    What is interesting is that Republicans criticized Obama for alleged lack of experience yet Rubio and Cruz are running for office with thinner or the same resumes. Double standards!

  • George

    The comments on every other article on this site consist of whinging about the dangers of mass immigration of Islam, the subversion of Western cultural values, inept and dishonest government, and totalitarian progressivism. In the comments on this article, readers pile on Trump for breaking the establishment narrative and bringing these issues into the open.

    Whether it’s Hillary, Bush, Rubio, whoever–take your pick–all of them are going to lead by: 1) creating economic growth (insert something about the middle class); 2) being tough on those mean terrorists (read: further destabilization); 3) either taking one side or the other regarding a “cultural issue of great importance;” 4) ???. In short, by sitting in front of the camera as the machine churns.

    Trump is the only candidate even mentioning how globalization and its symptoms affect Middle Americans. He’s the only candidate who is willing to discuss the lives of American citizens in a way that distinguishes them from citizens of any other country in the world. He sounds like an absolute nincompoop doing it. He can’t articulate a truly coherent thought or sound comprehensively informed on any topic. But he doesn’t need to, because any other candidate means more free trade, immigration, taxes, inefficient public spending, pandering to special interests, erosion of US sovereignty, hamfisted foreign policy, and so on. If he gets elected and he’s awful, he can’t be worse than the next sociopathic narcissist.

    Finally, please deliberate before expressing your views about gun ownership in America. The anxiety over violent radical Islam is palpable among commenters on this site, yet don’t hesitate to ridicule Americans for zealously preserving our right to self defense. George Orwell said, “That rifle hanging on the wall of the labourer’s cottage is the symbol of democracy.” Gun violence is a major issue in the US, but it is also relatively confined. I’m aware this is a unique case, but when I see a Muslim beheading a Briton on a daylit street–and I know this sounds brutish, and I don’t have a category like “Muslim” in mind when I write it–I am grateful the American people retain some means of reprisal.