When the venerable New Yorker publishes a left-leaner’s profile of Tom Cotton that nominates the state’s junior senator as heir to Donald Trump, it qualifies as a thing.
And what is that thing? It’s merely the prospect that two presidents could come from small-town Arkansas.
If Trump proceeds to four or eight years as president, he will embed his conservative outsider American chauvinism on a presumably prevailing segment of the Republican Party. Only Cotton, at present, seems willing and positioned to pick up that essence and run with it.
Bob Corker, Jeff Flake, Ben Sasse, John Kasich — they’ve made beds separate from Trump’s. Cotton, as lawyer-author Jeffrey Toobin’s new magazine profile relates, has made Trump his strange bedfellow, both from natural alliance and for tactical reasons.
As Toobin puts it, Cotton offers a future of Trumpism without Trump. That mainly means the same policies and the same belligerent attitude but fewer nutty tweets and outrageous affronts.
For several years Cotton has been considered the Republicans’ best young “fusion conservative” prospect, meaning one able to appeal to establishment Republicans and insurgent far-righters at the same time. No less than Steve Bannon, the fiery king of the angry far-right movement at war with the “deep state,” told the New Yorker that only one man could connect at once with the Council on Foreign Relations and Breitbart News. That one man is Cotton.
It’s as simple as that Cotton:
• Waves the establishment resume of war service and Harvard learning.
• Appeals both to establishment neo-conservatives and Trumpsters with a belligerent, bellicose and testosterone-driven view of America’s rightful muscular dominance in the world.
• Has more polish and policy command than Trump, if not, oddly, as much ability to relate and connect to regular folks, considering that Cotton comes from Yell County and Trump from Queens and Manhattan.
• Shares with Trump a conservative and nationalist populism on domestic economic issues and immigration that — always in Trump’s case; sometimes in Cotton’s — seems to resent the political establishment.
Cotton is quoted in the article saying rich people in urban high-rises look down and think immigration is good for the economy, but that poor folks in small towns think differently as they look around at ground level for work and an uncrowded emergency room. He dismissed conventional wisdom’s supposed virtue of “elite, bipartisan consensus,” saying the establishment’s refrain that it is the only solution is seldom borne out.
Cotton has been called Trump’s favorite senator. The New Yorker article advances that characterization.
Bannon is quoted talking about Cotton’s spending time in his White House “war room.” He also says that Cotton was the person who recommended Marine Gen. John Kelly, first for Homeland Security and then chief of staff.
And the junior Arkansas senator is quoted in the article talking about a chat he’d had about Dreamers — and about tying their widely supported legality to limits on legal and chain immigration — at dinner recently with Trump and Kelly.
By the way, Cotton granted Toobin close personal access — even taking him to meet the folks in Dardanelle —and tells him, on the question of whether Trump might appoint him to head the CIA, that he would always take the president’s call. (That’s “take a call,” not necessarily “answer the call.”)
Finally, Toobin opens with an anecdote about Cotton’s speaking a few weeks ago to a Republican gathering in Sebastian County and saying that, when Steve Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel and Saturday Night Live make fun of Trump, they’re making fun of good Arkansas Republicans.
That falls somewhere between demagogic nonsense and truth.
A wealthy Manhattan real estate businessman and media celebrity holds very little in common with a regular guy in Arkansas, and the conditions that Trump gets lampooned for — megalomania, narcissism, utter dishonesty — are not evident as raging afflictions among the Arkansas citizenry.
But what I hear from the local mechanic, the local repairman and the local fellow fighting cancer is that Trump could succeed if “they” — meaning the establishment and supposed elites, especially the media — would let him. But they won’t let him, they say, because Trump challenges the fat and corrupt status quo.
They dismiss Trump’s ignorant or bellicose blunders as matters not of personal failing, but of forgivable inexperience, failed earnestness and the absence of a silver forked tongue as exhibited by Clinton and Obama, whom they positively cannot stand.
Trump is the rich Manhattanite who can’t play the guitar or much sing but is winning all the CMA awards anyway because the lyrics are so good, so real.
I think what the New Yorker is trying to say is that Cotton might be a better songwriter and a more genuine if uninspired performer.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was inducted into the Arkansas Writers’ Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at email@example.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.