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Friday, October 28, 2016

What will Trump do with his alt-right martyrdom?

by digby

I wrote about their possible future plans for Salon this morning:
After the final debate last week I wrote a rather dark and ominous piece predicting that Donald Trump’s abandonment of the democratic norm that the loser of the election accepts the results portended serious trouble. I quoted Republican strategist Steve Schmidt who said this on MSNBC in the wee hours of the morning:

I think he plans on being martyred. I think in his martyrdom he’s going to wave the bloody shirt and he’s going to go out and say through a party of grievance and resentment that “we were cheated and this was stolen,” and he’ll have a critical mass for a UKIP-style third party that splits off from the Republican Party. Who knows where the funding for Trump TV will come from, but it will be a media designed to undermine the democratic foundations of the United States and the credibility of our elections processes. Vladimir Putin couldn’t hope for anything better than that.

It sounded over the top, but not any more over the top than anything else Trump has done in this election. After all, Nigel Farage, leader of Britain’s right-wing UKIP party, has appeared at rallies with Trump and was seen in the spin room at the debates. Trump’s campaign CEO, and by all accounts, his chief strategist in the closing days of the race, is Breitbart chief Steve Bannon, a major figurehead of the American alt-right, who is closely aligned philosophically with European white nationalist groups like UKIP. So Schmidt’s prediction may have some truth to it.

On Thursday, Joshua Green published an inside look at the GOP candidate’s campaign operation in Bloomberg Businessweek and it reveals that Trump and company have some big plans after the election, whether they win or lose. Those plans and may very well involve something along the lines that Schmidt outlined.

The big headlines that came out of the piece were about an anonymous staffer spilling the beans that the campaign hopes to suppress the vote among three key groups of the Democratic base: millennial Sanders voters, younger women and African-Americans. There was a lot of breathless commentary about this, and understandably so since the Republicans have made a fetish of vote suppression for decades. They are doing it all over the map this time too, including organizing for intimidation at the polls.

But the “suppression” they’re talking about in the Bloomberg article isn’t technically what we think of as vote suppression. They’re just targeting a very negative campaign at certain Clinton voters to try to get them to stay home or vote third-party. This isn’t really news. I wrote about it a couple of weeks ago, although I couldn’t have imagined at the time they would seriously try to target African-Americans, the most loyal Democratic voting bloc.

Trump’s campaign has been relentlessly negative all along, so this isn’t really much of a shift. This is the candidate who claimed in a national presidential debate that Hillary Clinton has “tremendous hate in her heart,” and compared her to the devil. He routinely says she is “guilty as hell” of unnamed crimes and promises to send her to prison if he wins the election. It’s hard to get more negative than that. Bringing up her speeches to Wall Street or some quote from the 1990s or her husband’s past behavior is actually pretty tame. And it’s also ridiculous. Millennials, younger women and African-Americans are more committed than other demographics to Clinton at this point. They are far less likely to bolt her campaign than, say, white independents who’ve drifted to the Democrats because of Trump’s terrible campaign. But addressing that group would require Trump to change course in some way, and that’s just not something he’s willing to do.

The real story in Green’s piece was what the organization built around the Trump campaign plans to do next if Trump doesn’t win. Trump’s “entrepreneurial” history is pretty spotty as we know, and he doesn’t seem to have affiliated with people who are any sharper than he is, so this whole thing may end up being just another right-wing grift when all is said and done. In fact, I would say the odds favor that outcome. Trump sees a revenue stream, with all those groupies coming to rallies and sending money to the campaign, and figures he can keep the con going for a while. His brand is in major trouble and he’s going to have to find some other way to keep the cash flow going. Apparently his fundraising has dried up, which can’t be good news.

But on the off chance that Steve Bannon or Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner are actually serious about building a real political movement out of the ashes of this bonfire, this article offers some insight into what they have in mind. It focuses on the digital campaign called “Project Alamo” they’ve built with the help of the Republican National Committee (which seems to have foolishly turned over its donor list to Trump). Trump’s operatives believe they rule the internet through Reddit and Facebook and see a formidable political empire in the making. By partnering with Bannon’s Breitbart operation, the budding global arm of the alt-right media, they think they can expand their populist uprising. Apparently, it’s already happening in Britain:

In early October, the editor-in-chief of Breitbart London, Raheem Kassam, a former adviser to Nigel Farage, announced he would run for leader of UKIP. His slogan: “Make UKIP Great Again.”

Is this a realistic goal? It’s hard to say. But it must be keeping the GOP establishment up at night. If the Trump campaign has been about anything, it’s been about lighting a match to the Republican establishment and setting it on fire. If these alt-right arsonists manage to splinter the party for their own power and profit, they may end up winning even if they lose.