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The looming presidential primary season is about to be a good test case for the claim that the system is inward looking. That is, what we get in the national media with regards to politics is for internal consumption by the political bubble. They are not trying to sway public opinion, but rather signal things to one another. Like fireflies at dusk, the various nodes of the system use the media to blink to one another. Those outside just happen to see it but are not the intended audience.
This post in Breitbart covering CPAC is an interesting example. Mike Pompeo is running for president, so he shows up to give a speech. In his speech, he promises to throw old people off the Social Security and Medicare system. The reason he wants to do this is he says these systems cost too much. You see, with all the baby boomers retiring, the costs are starting to rise quickly. Therefore, the logical solution is to start throwing old people off the programs. Problem solved!
To a normal person, this sounds as sensible as coming out in favor of slapping children of killing puppies. There is no constituency in favor of cutting Social Security or Medicare funding or even limiting access. Further, old people are the biggest voting block in the Republican Party. Look around at CPAC and you see more gray hair than gray hoodies. He would have been better off giving the speech in Klingon. A reasonable person may think Mike Pompeo is insane.
He is not insane. He is simply a man who has lived his entire adult life inside the system, so he has no idea how normal people sound. He is used to chatting with friends in the system about the need to reduce spending on Americans in order to spend much more on Ukrainians or illegal aliens. For him, this is perfectly normal. He would probably be shocked to learn that there is no constituency for this. After all, everyone he knows thinks something must be done.
Now, Mike Pompeo is a ridiculous person by the standards of normal people, but he is typical of the political class. He is what passes for serious in that world. You see it in the media that serves the people in the system. Real Clear Politics gives him a big thumbs up for being courageous in his call to throw old people into the streets. Time Magazine says he is just the man the Republican Party needs. They are signaling to the system that this is what is good and proper.
If our mass media cared at all about the hoi polloi, the headline in the Washington Post would be, “Jobless Rando Shows Up At CPAC, Rants About Old People.” The New York Times would ask, “Why did CPAC let this weirdo speak?” No serious person, not even the people in the system, thinks Mike Pompeo should be president. No one thinks he has chance to register in the polls. That is not the point. The point is to participate in a debate among the political class.
Speaking of jobless randos, Nikki Haley also showed up at the event to give a speech in favor of killing white people and sending their stuff to Ukraine. She was not quite that explicit, but like Pompeo, she is deeply concerned about people on the other side of the world, but not so much about people in America. Even though she must know this is a losing hand with the voters, she knows it is a winning hand in Washington. Like Pompeo, her campaign is about internal politics.
Of course, CPAC itself is part of the same system. It bills itself as the convention for conservative activists, but in reality it is mostly a tradeshow for the grifters and confidence men who populate the conservative ecosystem. They decorated the event with yokels from flyover country in order to give the impression that they have genuine support among the hoi polloi. In reality the point has always been to promote internal dialogue and signal to the rest of the political system.
The curious thing about all of this, and it jumps out at you with CPAC, is that Trump did the system a huge favor in 2016. CPAC would have gone bust by now without the Trump victory and populist surge. Even with Trump running in 2024, CPAC struggled for an audience this year. The speakers talked to more empty chairs than people, judging from some of the pics people have posted. Without Trump, they are left with zombies like Mike Pompeo to sell tickets.
The same can be said for the entire system. Imagine how insulated and cutoff they would be at this point if Trump never came down the escalator. The Republicans would have selected a goofball like Jeb Bush. Maybe he beats Hillary, maybe not, but the result would have been the same. Large swaths of voters would be wondering what in the hell is going on, but with no way to tell the system. Without Trump, national politics would be even more bizarre than it is now.
That said, the persistence of this internal monologue that is presented to us as democratic politics says nothing really changed. The internal monologue has been more shouty and angry since 2015, but it remains an internal monologue. Once the door is shut on Trump and his voters this election, the internal monologue will return to sounding like an opioid laced talk show on National Public Radio. The people inside it will drift off into the dream world of their own making.
It may already be happening. Chris “Thanks Dad” Sununnu went on the far-left chat show Meet the Press to announce that Trump will not be the nominee. Maybe he was telling tales out of school, but most likely he is stating the general consensus within Washington with regards to the primaries. It brings to mind what Talleyrand famously said about the Bourbons after they were restored to power, “They have learned nothing and they have forgotten nothing”.
What the Republican primary is going to be this time is an argument between the party establishment and the rest of Washington. The former will be insisting that all the Trump stuff is over and it is time to get back to looting the white middle class, while the later keeps pointing to Trump saying, “He’s still here.” Put another way, the voters are now a guest that refuses to leave the party. The political class is debating how best to make them leave and go home.
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