By MARC McDONALD
I've always thought Bill Maher is one of the most astute observers of U.S. politics and society. But recently, he said something that I have to strongly disagree with: that, as bad a GOP nominee as Ted Cruz would be, he'd actually be preferable to Donald Trump. I suppose it's a moot point, as Hillary Clinton would likely defeat either candidate. But if I had to choose, I'd take Trump as president over Cruz any day.
Trump is a bigot and he's said a lot of outrageous things on the campaign trail. But frankly, Cruz scares the hell out of me far more than Trump.
If you look at both candidates, they're equally repugnant on a lot of things: from waterboarding to building a big, stupid, pointless wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
But the fact is, Trump actually does have his good points. For example, I actually admired him quite a bit for blasting George W. Bush and the disastrous decision to invade Iraq. Trump used harsh language to slam the Iraq War that could have come straight from the pages of this blog.
On Iraq, Trump said a lot of the same things we've been saying for nearly a decade. And from a nationally televised, high-profile GOP debate stage, no less. Frankly, that took a lot of guts. The rest of the GOP field predictably slammed Trump (I recall one GOP commentator comparing Trump's rhetoric to Code Pink---which was actually true).
Another thing I like about Trump is that he has made it clear that he won't cut Social Security or Medicare. That kind of position is unheard of in today's GOP. It was astonishing for Trump to get on a GOP debate stage and make that kind of campaign promise. In today's Fox News/talk radio extremist GOP, no Republican is supposed to say anything about Social Security or Medicare without advocating either phasing it out, slashing it, or "reforming it."
Once upon a time, I myself was a political reporter. I recall countless interviews I did with various GOP candidates. Without exception, they always showed utter contempt for programs like Social Security and Medicare. Those programs were always near the top of their hit list.
In fact, at one time GOP candidates openly talked about phasing out both programs. It was only after they realized that such a position guaranteed a defeat at the polls that they modified their stance to "reforming" Medicare and Social Security. Frankly, a lot of voters (correctly) didn't even trust them on that position. So many Republicans switched tactics again and simply started taking potshots at both programs. (John McCain, among others, has referred to Social Security as a "Ponzi scheme)."
So it took a big pair of balls for Trump to take the position he did on two of the "Big Government" programs that are always near the top of the GOP's hit list. His position was something that you simply don't hear from any Republican these days.
Trump has also been surprising Liberal on programs like affirmative action. I was astonished a few months ago when I heard him openly support affirmative action in a MSNBC interview. He didn't even hedge his position---he made it clear that he supported the policy. In today's GOP, that kind of position is about as rare as support for Planned Parenthood (another program that Trump has astonishingly had a few kind words for on a GOP debate stage).
Trump has taken a lot of shots from fellow candidates and GOP commentators that he is actually kind of Liberal on some issues. And frankly, that's true. And what's more, the Liberal positions he supports are actually quite important.
One other thing I like about Trump. He has slammed the disastrous, so-called "free" trade policies the U.S. has embraced over the past 30 years. Actually, that kind of position is rare, not just among Republicans, but among Democrats as well. These days, the only kind of politician that could even dare to stand up to the hugely powerful "free" trade lobby is the very sort of candidate Trump is. Someone who is very wealthy and doesn't need the backing of the K Street lobbyists. Keep in mind that much of today's corporate America just loves so-called "free" trade. Companies like Apple have long embraced it. And as a result, the U.S. has lost much of its manufacturing base (most importantly, its once world-beating high-tech manufacturing base).
The "free" trade lobby is one of the strongest and most powerful forces in Washington. For 30 years, it has proclaimed that "free" trade is a plus for America---a claim that has gone unchallenged by the vast majority of politicians in both parties, as well as the corporate media. So, on this important issue, Donald Trump has been a breath of fresh air.
Contrast all this to Ted Cruz. With Cruz, you get all the radical extremist right-wing positions of Trump. But you don't get any of Trump's smart positions. On "free" trade, for example, Cruz is firmly in the pocket of the "same old, same old" crowd. Like Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and virtually every major politician of the past 30 years, Cruz is firmly in favor of embracing "free" trade.
On other issues, ranging from tax policy to waterboarding, Cruz is every bit as extreme as Trump. He's also a Muslim-basher. Recall his scary position to "patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods."
In short, Cruz is just like Trump, minus the latter's occasional sensible positions.
Like Dick Cheney, Cruz is a warmonger. He's made it clear that he has no qualms about launching yet more wars in the Middle East. With Cruz, it's like the lessons of the disastrous Iraq War never even happened. For him, war is always the policy of first resort. Cruz is like Cheney on steroids.
What makes Cruz even more scary is his extreme right-wing interpretation of the Bible and his enthusiasm for embracing what would essentially be a theocracy in America. Like many far-right evangelicals, he has no qualms about ramming his twisted interpretation of "Christianity" down the throats of the rest of us. Say what you want about Trump, but he is clearly no extremist right-wing evangelical.
Last, but not least, I've always suspected that underneath his bluster and red-meat statements, Trump is basically a pretty smart guy. But Cruz clearly isn't very bright or informed at all. I recall when Cruz called for the abolition of five federal agencies, but could only name four. Recall back when Rick Perry made a very similar mistake and was attacked as a lightweight. But after Cruz's bone-headed blunder, I don't recall a similar backlash.
Yes, Trump is scary and extremist at times. But Cruz is a full-time extremist. He's about as Far-Right crazy as it is possible to be. No wonder the likes of hate-wing talk radio show extremists like Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin have endorsed him.
Trump now has most of wingnut radio, much of the right-wing Web media, the powerful corporate "free" trade K Street lobby, and the GOP establishment fighting him. That only makes me prefer him over Cruz even more.