The Overton Straitjacket? (The Santorum Interpolation? The Huckabee Propinquity?)

by John Holbo on July 12, 2015

I completely agree with John Fund. No wait, let me back up. Belle and I were just talking about this. (Our planes passed, heading in opposite directions, and we held up little notes to the windows.) Wouldn’t it be funny if Trump were a double agent?

Our way of thinking about it wasn’t quite like Fund’s. He presumes Trump is motivated by desire for Canadian-style health care. We hypothesized there could be some money in it. The Clintons are rich. Surely they could just be paying him off with cash or promises of favors or whatever.

But the interesting thing about the Trump situation, structurally, is this. As I noted in this post,

Here’s a non-obvious (perhaps because it is incorrect) thought about the dynamics of having a right-wing dominated by its extreme right-tip, to the point where it doesn’t really have much of anything but a right-tip. You’d think it would automatically NOT be like that. You’d think such a dominant right-tip would not only generate a more moderate middle but also an ‘acceptable’ right to its right. That is, whatever is the center of political gravity – which is now on the extreme right – would sort of end up ‘moderate’, by definition, so long as you adopt a relative definition … But this doesn’t actually seem to be the way of it. Rather, what we get is this big weight of conservative opinion, this huge clump of conservative grass-roots, right at the edge of what is considered at all acceptable, in US political discourse. There is a very narrow range of things you can say without being, on the one hand, a RINO squish; or, on the other hand, having to say it was all ‘taken out of context’ when David Corn or Media Matters gets wind of it.

The Trump candidacy is a good illustration of this odd dynamic. It’s hard for the right-wing to deal with Trump because he is saying things that are 1) totally unacceptable; 2) not that far from things that are completely acceptable, to the point where it’s maybe not acceptable to totally deny them; 3) there’s no bright line between the two. So it isn’t actually illogical – even though it’s absurd! – for Trump to argue that Jonah Goldberg is just a RINO. (Trump is saying things large segments of the conservative base think are kind of obvious. Goldberg is saying he is unacceptable. Only a RINO would presume to vote a big segment of the base off the island. Goldberg is a RINO.)

Belle and I decided it should be a Ludlum novel. So we need a Ludlum title. The Overton Straightjacket is already a perfect Ludlum title, so we should probably run with that. But maybe other options should be considered. The idea behind ‘Santorum Interpolation’ and ‘Huckabee Propinquity’ would be that you have a situation in which Clinton is very worried about one of the more extreme candidates, so she hires someone to be juuuuust a liitttle more extreme, thereby slotting someone unacceptable into the debate. (Both of Ted Cruz’ names are one syllable so he’s sadly unworkable in Ludlumian titular conjunction.)

A good twist would be that conservatives working furiously to stop this thing from happening figure out, at the last minute, that Trump isn’t a double agent for Hillary. (So they can’t stop him just by somehow snipping the line to Hillary.) He’s a triple agent working for Jeb!, unbeknownst to Hillary! Makes a crazy kind of sense.

Maybe it should have more of a mock-Chesterton vibe. The Man Who Wasn’t Thursday.

I do like this line from Goldberg: “He is like William Jennings Bryan, only his cross of gold has an all-you-can-eat buffet under it, and looks remarkably like a capital ‘T.’” That makes me want to write an alt-history in which Bryan’s famous cross of gold speech is basically like some boilerplate from Atlas Shrugged. In my novel, Bryan is pushing trimetalism. He has invented a new alloy, Bryan Metal, which – if only he is allowed to pay in silver – will allow the construction of superfast railways, allowing poor farmers in the West and Mid West to bring their goods to market more efficiently. But the trusts in the East, in conjunction with the owners of the existing railroads, are trying to stop him. William McKinley must be some kind of socialist, I guess?

{ 48 comments }

1

Collin Street 07.12.15 at 4:38 am

He has invented a new alloy, Bryan Metal, which – if only he is allowed to pay in silver – will allow the construction of superfast railways, allowing poor farmers in the West and Mid West to bring their goods to market more efficiently.

I want to play in this campaign.

2

Colin Danby 07.12.15 at 4:42 am

In his Scopes summation Bryan presents an extended exegesis of Nietzsche via Darrow’s defense of Leopold & Loeb. Conclusion: All Holbo threads are the same. Hypothesis: Bryan was a double agent.

3

NickM 07.12.15 at 4:49 am

The Trump Singularity

4

Marshall 07.12.15 at 5:12 am

it doesn’t really have much of anything but a right-tip

You’ve been out of the country a lot lately; the right wing extends much farther into the bushes than you seem to imagine. Clive Bundy is well to the right of anybody found sitting in D.C. Here on the Oregon coast, Confederate flags are unusually common just now … can’t possibly have anything to do with Southern Pride.

5

John Holbo 07.12.15 at 5:21 am

“Here on the Oregon coast”

Fun fact! That plane flight I just mentioned? I was flying back from Eugene, OR. Obviously no Confederate flags at the Saturday Market, however.

6

rootlesscosmo 07.12.15 at 5:42 am

Richard Condon’s 1959 novel The Manchurian Candidate, and the 1962 John Frankenheimer film based on it, were premised on what was then a fairly familiar trope of Cold War liberalism: that Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist witch hunt was so damaging to American institutions that he might as well have been a Communist agent. The novel and film take this literally–the scheming anti-Communist played by Angela Lansbury is actually a Communist agent, though it turns out she’s planning to double- or triple-cross her Red masters. (If you decide to watch the movie–and I recommend it–pay attention to the terrific music score by David Amram.)

7

Chris Marcil 07.12.15 at 6:55 am

The Goldberg Variation?

8

Bruce Baugh 07.12.15 at 7:13 am

That Goldberg line is good enough that I wonder who wrote it for him – if they can do that fairly reliably, they’ll have a good run.

As for the novel:

Shards of Overton would be good for someone else. But for Ludlum…The Arpaio Ascendancy. Or The Koch Criterion.

9

Adam Roberts 07.12.15 at 8:04 am

Not entirely on-topic, but just to note that Robert Ludlum is responsible for one of my favourite ever actually-published-in-a-book sentences: ‘His eyes slid down her dress.’

10

John Holbo 07.12.15 at 8:56 am

‘His eyes slid down her dress.’

That’s a pretty good bad sentence!

11

Phil 07.12.15 at 10:13 am

“It was no surprise to find you were a pygmy. All the same, I couldn’t keep my eyes off you. They made your jumper all sticky, I had to wipe it down with my hankie.”

12

Cassander 07.12.15 at 11:30 am

The promise here, that the far right dominates the republicans, is at least as silly as the notion that the far left dominates the democrats. The republicans are led by Boehner and and McConnell, both a match for Harry Reid, no republican as far from the center as Pelosi has anything like her position. The party has nominated a moderate in every election since 88. If you think the party that nominated Mitt Romney “doesn’t really have much of anything but a right-tip.” then you need to get out more.

13

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© 07.12.15 at 11:44 am

Cruz Control
~

14

kingless 07.12.15 at 11:49 am

Don’t make promises you can’t keep, John.

15

cassander 07.12.15 at 12:26 pm

On the subject of the name though, I suggest “The Rhinoceros Deception” for Ludlum. If Ian Fleming wrote it, he’d come up with good bridge pun, but the best I can do is “Knave of Trumps”. Clancy would call it “Preserve, Protect and Defend”.

16

Marshall 07.12.15 at 2:12 pm

Well, obviously. Non-overlapping majesteria.

17

Frank Wilhoit 07.12.15 at 2:15 pm

“Strait” and “straight” are not the same word.

18

John Holbo 07.12.15 at 2:19 pm

Ah, that’s what’s known as a typographical error of sorts. You mean to do one thing but sort of get confused and do something else.

19

jake the antisoshul soshulist 07.12.15 at 2:21 pm

“His eyes slid down her dress”.
I think I actually saw that in a Stuart Gordon movie.

20

Josh Jasper 07.12.15 at 3:45 pm

If only Trump’s dialog was as good as an Ayn Rand protagonist’s!

21

Bryan 07.12.15 at 3:48 pm

Ayn Rand protagonists have dialog?!?

22

c 07.12.15 at 4:29 pm

Game of Trumps!

23

mjfgates 07.12.15 at 4:41 pm

If Trump was approached by some insane right-winger to make them appear sane, he would just approach them all to make the same deal. He could be collecting from every single other candidate, Adelson, the Kochs, and the official party apparatus, all at once. It’s multiple streams of passive income, just like they talk about in the Amway pitch.

24

Teachable Mo' 07.12.15 at 7:44 pm

Trump: Your Partner’s Ace?

25

Anderson 07.12.15 at 10:10 pm

The Priebus Velleity.

26

John Holbo 07.12.15 at 11:09 pm

The Priebus Velleity is great!

27

John Holbo 07.12.15 at 11:31 pm

” The party has nominated a moderate in every election since 88. If you think the party that nominated Mitt Romney “doesn’t really have much of anything but a right-tip.” then you need to get out more.”

The point that Republicans nominate moderates is fair, but then again not. They nominate establishment figures who are then thoroughly straitjacketed, rhetorically, by the dynamic I point out.

A good proof of that is that the worst possible scenario, from the Republican point of view, is to have both Trump and Kasich on the stage. Kasich is a moderate. This makes him poisonous. But if Kasich is unacceptable and Trump is unacceptable, exactly what is between? How can you disagree with Trump without appearing to do so for Kasich-like reasons? That’s the straitjacket.

28

P O'Neill 07.13.15 at 2:05 am

The Skewness Progression.

29

Jessica 07.13.15 at 2:33 am

The odd shape of the dynamic suggests that the Republican Party functions as something other than to achieve its stated goals or even other than to use those stated goals as camouflage for nothing other than the aggrandizement of the top of the party and its major contributors.
For example, I think the folks running the campaigns have developed into a quasi-independent force whose major goal is to increase their own dominance within campaigns and to increase campaign spending, even when that extra spending has not benefit for apparent or actual Republican Party goals. In this sense, they resemble the worse parts of the American health care system.
Part of why the right wing is so extreme and so unforgiving of the almost-but-not-quite-as-right-wing is because of all those who are marketing conservatism, not for the sake of any conservative principle whatsoever, but just to make money (and power and status) for the marketer. Gingrich is a good example of this.

30

sc 07.13.15 at 2:40 am

@ jessica, 23:

so you think that republican party functionaries are all sort of like General Peckem from Catch-22?

i can see that…

31

Donald johnson 07.13.15 at 1:52 pm

Nostrumpo. Not a Ludlum title, unfortunately.

32

MPAVictoria 07.13.15 at 2:02 pm

“” The party has nominated a moderate in every election since 88. If you think the party that nominated Mitt Romney “doesn’t really have much of anything but a right-tip.” then you need to get out more.””

Ah yes, “47% of the population are useless moochers” Romney definitely ran as a moderate…

33

JohnD 07.13.15 at 2:34 pm

MPAVictoria – doesn’t Romney’s little 47% moment illustrate John H’s point? Romney was saying stuff like that not in public campaigning but to a crowd of Republicans whose money and support he needed. Given his twists and turns, I don’t think Romney believed in anything much other than general enthusiasm for the plutocracy (including himself) but he had to feed his right-wing base with all sorts of nonsense on a regular basis, without getting caught doing so in public.

34

MPAVictoria 07.13.15 at 2:37 pm

Maybe John. I think he really believed that 47% stuff. I guess we will never know for sure.

35

JohnD 07.13.15 at 3:05 pm

To clarify, I think that Romney does (vaguely) believe that the 47% are to some degree inferior – I just don’t think (A) that belief (with Social Security recipients exempted) makes you other than a bog standard Republican grandee and (B) that he would have mentioned this belief without the impulse of needing to talk smack to those more extreme than him.

36

Phil Koop 07.13.15 at 3:21 pm

If Ian Fleming wrote it, he’d come up with good bridge pun … “Trump Coup”, surely?

37

Ogden Wernstrom 07.13.15 at 4:30 pm

The party has nominated a moderate in every election since 88.

…where “party” is a member of the set {Democratic, Republican, Democratic-Republican, Whig/American, National Union, Progressive and possibly Federalist}, and “88” refers to 1788.

38

krippendorf 07.13.15 at 4:31 pm

@36. Trump’s suit.

39

Francis Spufford 07.13.15 at 5:34 pm

Couldn’t we smuggle in Ted Cruz, Condon-style, as The Canadian Candidate?

40

Ogden Wernstrom 07.13.15 at 5:42 pm

From 2012:
The Romney Aristocracy

From 2008:
The Palin Absurdity

From 2004:
The Halliburton Supremacy

From 2000:
A Connecticut Yankee in King Cheney’s Court (apologies to Twain)
The Gore Judgement

From 1996:
The Dole Drumming (apologies to all)
The Lewinsky Cleaning, or
The “Is” Redundancy

From 1992:
The Arkansan Candidate (sorry, Richard Condon)
The Quayle Quonspiracy

From 1988:
The Kennebunkport Kandidate (oops, Condon again)
The Horton Attribution

Enough. Other authors keep creeping in, and I’m about to arrive at an election year reserved for Orwell.

41

The Temporary Name 07.13.15 at 5:47 pm

Drinking the Goldwater

42

William Timberman 07.13.15 at 5:58 pm

Trump l’oeil

43

stubydoo 07.13.15 at 10:34 pm

Re: “Both of Ted Cruz’ names are one syllable so he’s sadly unworkable in Ludlumian titular conjunction” – Ludlum’s most famous titular character is called Bourne, which I’m pretty sure in the movie version was being pronounced with one syllable.

OK that’s an ugly nitpick even by my standards, so I guess I’ll try to redeem this comment now…

Re John D @35: “Social Security recipients exempted” – since Romney’s 47% speech was actually about electoral math, exempting the elderly (i.e. the people who actually vote) renders it into a level of easily proven absurdity that even Donald Trump can merely forlornly aspire to.

44

Pat 07.14.15 at 6:49 am

MPAVictoria @34, I don’t believe that Mitt Romney is actually capable of “believ[ing]” anything. (I would have liked to offer the W.C. Fields carveout of “I believe I’ll have another drink,” but, more’s the pity, the Mormon thing.)

45

Pat 07.14.15 at 6:52 am

The subject of a double-agent presidential candidate survives for forty comments without someone invoking this Tom Tomorrow strip? I wouldn’t have believed it!

46

Glen Tomkins 07.14.15 at 9:39 pm

It’s true that Trump is an obvious double agent, but not for progressive causes.

Bush asked Trump to come in to the race big in order to stampede the R electorate into sewing up the nomination early.

The alternative for JEB would have been a year of being pushed further and further right by a clown car full of crazies as his competitors for the nomination. He probably would have won in the end, but only after a year of seeming too weak to prevail rapidly over the clown car’s inhabitants. People would keep supporting this or that among the crazies because none of them individually would ever break much past single digits, so it’s a safe way to register disapproval of JEB’s perceived wetness. You know your particular clown doesn’t stand an actual chance, but maybe you get the eventual winner to go a bit more in your direction by sticking with your clown and denying JEB an early sweep.

Trump is consolidated crazy. He’s already jumped to second, and maybe even past JEB. This gives the R electorate a clear immediate choice — Trump or whoever can stop Trump. JEB’s betting that the other crazies will deflate as people have to come out from behind tactical, protest, voting right up front, and they flock to him rather than Trump.

47

hix 07.16.15 at 10:29 pm

What im curious about is the asset disclosure considering Trumps tendency to inflate his fortune.

48

John Holbo 07.16.15 at 11:33 pm

I’m already moving on to anticipating Trump’s move into philosophy, after he finally drops out of the Republican race. (He can’t go back to the “Apprentice”. On to Plato!)

“Plato teaches that the just man does not try to exceed the unjust man. As a philosopher, I will not try to exceed the unjust man ten times more than Plato. THAT is how just I will be. My thing-in-itself will be ten times as unknowable as Kants. With 18 holes of golf.”

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