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Live from the Republicans' Self-Made Gehenna: Paul Krugman vs. Larry Summers on whether the prospect of a President Trump is that much more dangerous and damaging than the prospect of a President Rubio or a President Cruz. I see three factors in play:

  1. A President Trump is scarier, yes.
  2. A Republican-nominee Rubio or Cruz is more likely to be elected than a Republican-nominee Trump.
  3. A President Trump is--if democracy survives the disease--a plague that is likely to generate immunity to similar episodes thereafter. A President Rubio or Cruz raises the chances of an even scarier President Supertrump in the future--unless you think carpet-bombing foreigners at random and more tax cuts for the rich while you starve infrastructure will make America more prosperous, safer, and less neurotic. Which I don't.

I find (1) dominating. So I'm on Larry's side of this one, narrowly...

Paul:

Paul Krugman: Clash of Republican Con Artists: "So Republicans are going to nominate a candidate who talks complete nonsense on domestic policy...

...who believes that foreign policy can be conducted via bullying and belligerence; who cynically exploits racial and ethnic hatred for political gain. But that was always going to happen.... The only news is... the candidate... is probably going to be Donald Trump.

Establishment Republicans denounce Mr. Trump as a fraud.... But is he more fraudulent than the establishment trying to stop him? Not really.... Donald Trump is a ‘con artist,’ says Marco Rubio--who has promised to enact giant tax cuts, undertake a huge military buildup and balance the budget without any cuts in benefits to Americans over 55.... ‘There can be no evasion and no games,’ thunders Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House--whose much-hyped budgets are completely reliant on ‘mystery meat’... trillions of dollars... closing unspecified tax loopholes... unspecified spending cuts. Mr. Ryan also declares that the ‘party of Lincoln’ must ‘reject any group or cause that is built on bigotry.’ Has he ever heard of Nixon’s ‘Southern strategy’; of Ronald Reagan’s invocations of welfare queens and ‘strapping young bucks’ using food stamps; of Willie Horton?... There’s a reason whites in the Deep South vote something like 90 percent Republican, and it’s not their philosophical attachment to libertarian principles.

Then there’s foreign policy, where Mr. Trump is, if anything, more reasonable--or more accurately, less unreasonable-t-han his rivals. He’s fine with torture, but who on that side of the aisle isn’t? He’s belligerent, but unlike Mr. Rubio, he isn’t the favorite of the neoconservatives... responsible for the Iraq debacle. He’s even said what everyone knows but nobody on the right is supposed to admit, that the Bush administration deliberately misled America into that disastrous war.... It’s Ted Cruz, not Mr. Trump, who seems eager to ‘carpet bomb’ people, without appearing to know what that means....

So why is this con job different from any other?... The establishment’s problem with Mr. Trump isn’t the con he brings; it’s the cons he disrupts.... First... the one where they pose as a serious, grown-up party honestly trying to grapple with America’s problems.... That party died a long time ago.... [The] Trump phenomenon threatens the con the G.O.P. establishment has been playing on its own base... in which white voters are induced to hate big government by dog whistles about Those People, but actual policies are all about rewarding the donor class. What Donald Trump has done is tell the base that it doesn’t have to accept the whole package... [of cuts to] Social Security and Medicare, and... [lower] taxes on the rich. Outraged establishment Republicans splutter that he’s not a real conservative, but neither, it turns out, are many of their own voters....

I find the prospect of a Trump administration terrifying, and so should you. But you should also be terrified by... Rubio... or... Cruz.... As I see it... we should... welcome... Trump... [as] a con man... acting as a whistle-blower on other people’s cons. That is... a step forward...

Larry:

Larry Summers: Donald Trump Is a Serious Threat to American Democracy: "Comparisons between Donald Trump and Mussolini or Hitler are overwrought...

...[but] Trump’s rise does illustrate how democratic processes can lose their way and turn dangerously toxic when there is intense economic frustration and widespread apprehension about the future. This is especially the case when some previously respected leaders scurry to make peace in a new order -- yes Chris Christie, I mean you.

The possible election of Donald Trump as president is the greatest present threat to the prosperity and security of the United States. I have had a strong point of view on each of the last ten presidential elections, but never before had I feared that what I regarded as the wrong outcome would in the long sweep of history risk grave damage to the American project. The problem is not with Trump’s policies, though they are wacky in the few areas where they are not indecipherable. It is that he is running as modern day man on a horseback—demagogically offering the power of his personality as a magic solution to all problems—and making clear that he is prepared to run roughshod over anything or anyone who stands in his way....

There are precedents in American politics for Trump... Joe McCarthy, George Wallace, and Huey Long... each mined the all too rich veins of prejudice, paranoia and excess populism that lie beneath American soil. Yet even at their highest points of popularity, none of these figures looked like plausible future presidents. One shudders to think what President Huey Long would have done during the Depression, what President Joe McCarthy would have done at the height of the Cold War, or what President George Wallace would have done at the end of the turbulent 1960s.... Niall Ferguson suggests that William Jennings Bryan is the right precursor for Trump. This comparison seems unfair to Bryan who was a progressive populist but not a thug.... I doubt that democracy would have been threatened if Bryan had beaten McKinley...

I do note a certain inconsistency in Larry's argument here: (1) Larry says comparisons of Trump to Mussolini are overwrought. (2) Larry says comparisons to (a) George Wallace, (b) Joe McCarthy, and (c) Huey Long are not adequate. (3) And Larry says comparisons to William Jennings Bryan--much less of a disturbing figure than McCarthy, Wallace, or Long--are simply ludicrous.

I agree with Larry on (3). I would move (2c) into (3)--I disagree with Larry and see Huey Long as much more like William Jennings Bryan than like George Wallace. As for (2b), I agree with Larry because I see Trump as a much more powerful figure than Joe McCarthy. And as for (2a), I agree with Larry because I see Trump as a more malignant figure than George "I won't be out-jiggered again" Wallace.

So: Worse than Wallace, but better than Mussolini. Where in there is the appropriate historical figure to serve as a benchmark?

And, come to think of it, my thinking on this has been changed by the past 24 hours. For at the end of last night's debate:

(4) Cruz, Rubio, and even Kasich pledged to support Trump in the presidential election if he wins the nomination.

So now we have, apropos of whether Cruz and company are less to be feared than Trump:

  1. A President Trump is scarier, yes.
  2. A Republican-nominee Rubio or Cruz is more likely to be elected than a Republican-nominee Trump.
  3. A President Trump is--if democracy survives the disease--a plague that is likely to generate immunity to similar episodes thereafter. A President Rubio or Cruz raises the chances of an even scarier President Supertrump in the future--unless you think carpet-bombing foreigners at random and more tax cuts for the rich while you starve infrastructure will make America more prosperous, safer, and less neurotic. Which I don't.
  4. Cruz and company are happier with and are willing to work for a victory for Trump over Hillary Rodham Clinton.

So let me change my mind: Cruz and company (even Kasich!) are worse than I had imagined. I'm (narrowly) on Paul's side on this one...

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