Let’s face it: Those guys who have taken over a federal building at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in remote eastern Oregon haven’t exactly caused an uprising of support. Instead of rallying everyone around their cause — which in case you don’t know is to take back massive swaths of land from the U.S. government — they’ve brought on mainly ridicule.
Punsters have been having a field day, calling this self-styled armed militia group “Vanilla ISIS” or “Y’all Qaeda.” In other words, these protestors are widely viewed as kind of pathetic. Law-enforcement officials have thus far chosen not to drag them out, and many are questioning this waiting game. They wonder out loud, very out loud, why this little band of white guys gets such kid-gloves treatment, comparing that with the heavy-handed police response aimed at protestors of color. Good question.
Another good question is why so many of the Republican presidential candidates are tiptoeing around any condemnation of these lawbreakers. Yes, some of them have delicately pointed out that what these people are doing is wrong, but what we’re not hearing from the right are thundering denunciations and demands the intruders be removed by force if necessary. Not even from Donald Trump.
Of course, the Trumpster may be distracted by a concern that he might not win the Iowa caucuses. There is a developing impression among the political experts, pardon the oxymoron, that Ted Cruz may end up No. 1 in Iowa. The state is crawling with religious conservative true believers, and there are many indications that Cruz may be their guy. Of course, there is the contrarian view that the Donald has the Ted just where he wants him.
If Cruz is perceived as the favorite and doesn’t win by a big margin, then he will have lost the expectations game. Imagine Donald Trump as the underdog. As for the other underdogs traipsing around the state, chances are they’ll be fighting for the scraps. Ben Carson stands to lose a lot if he doesn’t do well, particularly with his fellow evangelicals. Jeb Bush will surprise many with anything but a dismal showing, and so will the others.
Hillary Clinton has the same expectations problem on the Democratic side. If she doesn’t clobber Bernie Sanders, it will be a setback even if she prevails. The question for the D’s is whether Sanders can convince his supporters, who skew young, to go to the caucuses and skip a night at the bar. If he does pull off that miracle, then the Bern would be hot and could roar into New Hampshire, where he’s, uh, expected to do well. It does get confusing in my world. But then, that’s why they pay me the small bucks.
Here’s another insight that you can only get here: Let’s go back to the “YeeHawdists” in Oregon. They got bored and there wasn’t much to do. So these hardy survivalists were surviving by watching TV. And what were they watching? Fox News — what else?
Now comes the analysis based on my years of experience: I will go out on a limb here and say that when President Barack Obama was shown at the White House announcing his gun-control executive orders, none of the guys watching broke out into cheers. Not even the tears shed by POTUS affected them, unless by “affected” we mean that they shouted ugly profanities and possibly slurs. The president emphasized expanded background checks. One has to wonder how many of these heavily armed individuals actually could pass a background check, or will be able to once the cops charge them with a slew of crimes as they should.
One more perceptive observation: I’ll bet that most of the milquetoast militiamen holed up in that building are Donald Trump supporters. Anybody want to take a poll?
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.