If Donald Trump wanted to invent a caricature of his opponents, he might spin a tale of GOP Establishment fixtures holding a secret meeting with decidedly non-conservative billionaires at a posh island resort to plot against him.
According to the Huffington Post, that’s exactly what happened at the American Enterprise Institute’s annual World Forum last weekend:
Apple CEO Tim Cook, Google co-founder Larry Page, Napster creator and Facebook investor Sean Parker, and Tesla Motors and SpaceX honcho Elon Musk all attended. So did Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), political guru Karl Rove, House Speaker Paul Ryan, GOP Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.), Cory Gardner (Colo.), Tim Scott (S.C.), Rob Portman (Ohio) and Ben Sasse (Neb.), who recently made news by saying he “cannot support Donald Trump.”
Along with Ryan, the House was represented by Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (Mich.), Rep. Kevin Brady (Texas) and almost-Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), sources said, along with leadership figure Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.), Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas) and Diane Black (Tenn.).
Philip Anschutz, the billionaire GOP donor whose company owns a stake in Sea Island, was also there, along with Democratic Rep. John Delaney, who represents Maryland. Arthur Sulzberger, the publisher of The New York Times, was there, too, a Times spokeswoman confirmed.
“Little Pinch” Sulzberger was there, too? It’s like this thing was dreamed up as a deliberate P.R. faceplant, to drive everyone who isn’t currently trying to steam “Jeb! 2016” bumper stickers off their cars into Trump’s arms.
Those who rail against the Republican Establishment as the ineffectual housepets of the Left — content with their status as well-funded perpetual losers who slowly consolidate the Left’s blitzkrieg advances across the American political spectrum — will go into convulsions before they get halfway through the HuffPo article. It sure does look like the bipartisan establishment setting aside nominal political differences to protect its turf, exactly the way populist revolutionaries on both the Left and Right accuse them of doing.
Are any of the folks who complain about the corrupting influence of billionaires on American politics going to denounce this meeting, or is it OK for billionaires to work hand-in-glove with party leadership, provided they’re plotting the demise of a leading Republican presidential candidate?
The “secret” nature of the meeting came from its off-the-record status, and the lack of invitations for journalistic coverage, not a conspiracy to keep the very existence of the confab quiet. It’s one of many well-known regular events whose details and guest list are kept private. The Huffington Post article spends much of its word count on trying to guess who the more secretive attendees were, based on the flight schedules of the huge swarm of private jets that descended upon the island.
The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol was there, cheekily declaring, “it’s off the record, so please do consider my Tweets from there off the record” on Twitter.
Presumably, Kristol was having fun with critics by cribbing from the Communist Manifesto to describe the purpose of the meeting:
A specter was haunting the World Forum–the specter of Donald Trump. There was much unhappiness about his emergence, a good deal of talk, some of it insightful and thoughtful, about why he’s done so well, and many expressions of hope that he would be defeated.
The key task now, to once again paraphrase Karl Marx, is less to understand Trump than to stop him. In general, there’s a little too much hand-wringing, brow-furrowing, and fatalism out there and not quite enough resolving to save the party from nominating or the country electing someone who simply shouldn’t be president.
“The key task now is less to understand Trump than to stop him?” That’s lousy strategic advice — maybe it would be a good idea to read less Karl Marx, and more Sun Tzu.
It’s also disrespectful to Trump’s voters — a fairly clear way of saying those bums don’t matter, so there’s no reason to get a handle on why they’d stop listening to the people who pushed John McCain and Mitt Romney as Republican candidates, and climb aboard the Trump Train.
The only substantial info HuffPo could glean about the agenda was a presentation by political guru Karl Rove, who got the 2012 election so wrong that he famously melted down live on the air when the results came in:
A highlight of the gathering was a presentation by Rove about focus group findings on Trump. The business mogul’s greatest weakness, according to Rove, was that voters have a very hard time envisioning him as “presidential” and as somebody their children should look up to. They also see him as somebody who can be erratic and shouldn’t have his (small) fingers anywhere near a nuclear trigger.
Sources familiar with the meeting — who requested anonymity because the forum is off the record — said that much of the conversation around Trump centered on “how this happened, rather than how are we going to stop him,” as one person put it.
So Bill Kristol was wrong about the meeting — they did focus on understanding how Trump happened, not just figuring out how to stop him.
As for Rove’s insight about Trump being hard to imagine as president, that doesn’t seem to have slowed him down much so far, even though he has been attacked on that basis by Republican rivals, especially Marco Rubio. Wasn’t one of the major takeaways from 2012 that identification and empathy are at least as important to voters as “looking presidential?” Mitt Romney looked so presidential he could have walked right onto the stage at the animatronic Disney Hall of Presidents, and it didn’t save the day for him.
Maybe the think-tank lesson to draw from Rove’s focus groups is that a substantial portion of the Republican electorate, and some Democrat crossover voters, are fed up with a polished Establishment that doesn’t work for them — indeed, it actively preys on them, while handing out lavish subsidies for such boondoggles as expensive electric sports cars – and they’re looking to hit back at that establishment. They’re gravitating to the guy they’re not “supposed” to vote for. They want a fight. They don’t trust the judgment of the people who said they could create a better world, given enough political power. They aim to misbehave.
There was reportedly an interesting scuffle on the electoral sidelines too, pertaining to the digital encryption controversy:
At one point, [Senator Tom] Cotton and Apple’s [Tim] Cook fiercely debated cell phone encryption, a source familiar with the exchange told HuffPost. “Cotton was pretty harsh on Cook,” the source said, and “everyone was a little uncomfortable about how hostile Cotton was.” (Apple is in the midst of a battle with the Justice Department and the FBI over an encrypted iPhone that belonged to one of the San Bernardino shooters.) Cook did not attend the Rove session, or otherwise take part in any political organizing, emphasized a source close to Cook.
That Apple-FBI battle is a tremendously important and difficult question, with major implications for the future of both national security and individual privacy, whichever way it is decided. If only the government’s most onerous demands upon us were made in the name of national security… or the people on Apple’s side of the argument could rouse themselves to fight the countless other ways Big Government wants to monitor and manage our lives.
Trump’s candidacy might not be such a big deal, if the Republican Party had been thinking and speaking along those lines more effectively, these past seven years… and the eight years before that.