Meet SAM: The Safe Space For Trump-Hating Republicans, At Least Until Trump's Out Of Office
The current Republican Party is full of white supremacists, indicted grifters, and Donald Trump. It's frankly embarrassing to hang with them if you're an old-school conservative who just wants to help rich people avoid taxes. So maybe it's time to move on? Facebook kindly targeted The Atlantic political editor Garance Franke-Ruta with ads this weekend about a shiny new political party, SAM. What is SAM? SAM stands for the "Serve America Movement," and it offers an alternative to both major parties, which it claims "only care about money and power." That sounds like a more accurate criticism of Republicans, who try to ignore the outcomes of elections when they don't outright steal them. SAM is instead pushing the "both sides suck" argument, which makes us wonder if it's a Jill Stein front.
But no, it's moderately worse than that. Business Insider reported back in April that SAM is the work of former staffers from George W. Bush's non-award-winning administration. Bush was previously the title holder of "Worst President Ever" until Trump, who was the next Republican to win. I detect a pattern. Some Democrats like to get nostalgic about the Bush era because of its noticeable lack of Scaramuccis. And yes, Bush himself seems like a decent, non-mobbed-up guy who shares candy with Michelle Obama. But Bush is also the same former president who supported Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation to the Supreme Court and lobbied wavering senators on his behalf. (He probably gave them candy too.) The rage-drunk Justice was also a Bush guy. Forgive my skepticism but I have trouble believing SAM could be anything but warmed-over neo-conservatism.
SAM does differ from the current GOP in a couple ways: The party supports Americans actually voting and is against gerrymandering, which is arguably how indicted slimeball Duncan Hunter kept his House seat. (And how MANY OTHER Republicans kept their House seats.) Its other major platforms seem focused more on the so-far impossible dream of making a third party competitive. Stein now has company in arguing for ranked-choice voting and easier ballot access for kooks. SAM also opposes "sore-loser" laws that prevent a candidate who lost the primary from running as an independent or with a third party in the general. I personally have no problem with "anti-political stalker" laws. We told you "no" already. Go away. Don't turn this election into a Lifetime "woman in jeopardy" movie.
Today in political advertising on FB...apparently this is a group of former Bush staffers both sidesing it. https://t.co/pqRf9IbET7— Garance Franke-Ruta (@Garance Franke-Ruta)1544990905.0
SAM's chief strategist Reed Galen, who was deputy campaign manager for both John McCain and Arnold Schwarzenegger, wrote a piece with Alana Dunagan for The American Interest that was a load of "both-sides" BS. Take a gander at this:
While the turbulent 1960s, with its spate of assassinations and unrest, shook our democracy and politics to the bone, those times did not cause large numbers of us to question the fitness of the two major parties to be the custodians of our democracy. Today is different.
Republicans race-baited their way to the White House in 1968 and cheated their way to re-election in 1972. But that was a long time ago. It's easy for history to get rewritten by nostalgia. But what about today is so different?
In one sense, the bitterness and rancor of the 2016 presidential election was only the most recent reflection of an ongoing deterioration in our political culture. But the election itself was also an extraordinary political inflection point. In the main, voters held extremely negative views of both candidates. That fact, coupled with the polarizing races they ran, exacerbated disdain for the entire political system and have indelibly changed how Americans see one another.
They're claiming Hillary Clinton ran a "polarizing campaign"? Her slogan was literally "Stronger Together." It's not "polarizing" to point out that your Republican opponent is a racist nut bar with ties to Putin. The actual story of the 2016 election is about the Republican Party turning a blind eye to Trump's fundamental unfitness in exchange for tax cuts and far-right judges. This isn't nostalgia at work. It's a deliberate attempt to scrub the stink off the GOP and pull Democrats into the mud with them.
Orrin Hatch made similar self-serving comments in his good riddance address last week. He sounded like a retiring mobster lamenting how unsafe the neighborhood's gotten. "The children can no longer safely play in the streets during the gang hits I've ordered."
With the Republican Party's march toward anger, isolationism, and racially toned nationalism, and the Democrats' reactive swerve toward an explicit embrace of socialism.
"Racially toned nationalism"? Why can't anyone say "racist"? They didn't come up with that word just to describe Louis Farrakhan. Democrats have also not embraced "socialism." If freshman congressperson Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez makes the entire party "socialist," then Steve King makes all Republicans Nazis.
So far, the most prominent candidate to run for anything under SAM's banner was former Syracuse mayor Stephanie Ann Miner, and not just because her initials are also "SAM." She challenged Andrew Cuomo in November's New York governor's race and, naturally, lost big time. She did win a recognized ballot line for the party, which was probably the whole point.
Miner is a former Democrat, which gives some credence to SAM as a bipartisan movement, but its leadership is still predominantly GOP-aligned. SAM's CEO is Sarah Lenti, whose personal site still describes her as an adviser to GOP leaders. She was a director at the National Security Council under Condoleezza Rice, and she's worked with Bush, McCain, and Mitt Romney.
I get the sense SAM is a temporary endeavor, a "safe space" for embarrassed Republicans who feel no shame or responsibility for what the GOP has become, even without Trump.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."