Tuesday, December 18, 2018

TRUMP CAN SURVIVE MULTIPLE INVESTIGATIONS MORE EASILY THAN HE CAN SURVIVE NO WALL

This was the headline at Breitbart an hour ago:



I can't imagine worse optics for a president whose support derives overwhelmingly from white nationalism and xenophobia, although it seems as if he has no choice:
President Trump on Tuesday retreated from his demand for $5 billion to build a border wall, as congressional Republicans maneuvered to avoid a partial government shutdown before funding expires at the end of Friday....

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders on Tuesday said Trump did not want a government shutdown and that the administration had identified “other ways” to fund a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border....

With Democrats near-unanimously opposing Trump’s demand for $5 billion for the wall, Republicans lacked a path to pass it because they could not assemble the 60 Senate votes needed to advance a Homeland Security spending bill.
I don't know what "other ways" there are to fund the wall -- wall bonds? crowdfunding? cryptocurrency? -- but Trump's unshakable base might finally begin to abandon him if he can't persuade them that he'll get it built eventually. Investigations and associates' guilty pleas seem to be the biggest threats to Trump, but his approval numbers are likely to be unbudgeable as long as the deplorables think he'll deliver on his promises, with the wall being Promise #1. If they lose faith in him on this subject, his support within his party may drop so fast that even GOP lawmakers will be willing to defy him.

And on the same day Trump is caving on the wall, there's also this:
The Trump administration on Tuesday issued a final rule that bans so-called bump stocks, devices that allow semiautomatic weapons to fire more rapidly, saying tens of thousands of them around the country must be destroyed or surrendered to federal law enforcement....

The rule will take effect after 90 days, a senior Justice Department officials told reporters, explaining, “At that point, it will be illegal to have a bump stock–type device. They will be considered a machine gun.”

“We expect most owners will comply with the law and follow instructions or hand them in to ATF," the official added.
Many gun owners don't even like bump stocks, but when it comes to guns and shooting accessories, they despise being told what to do, especially when the law seems to require confiscation. Here's some of the reaction at Free Republic:
Practically no one will turn them in.

****

Ultra-socialist Massachusetts did the same thing — letter in the mail (to every license-holder since they didn’t know who even had bumpstocks) ordering you to turn it in at the local PD. No option for reimbursement.

Admirable move, Donald. Following in the footsteps of Mass.

****

Is he King now?

****

Shame on Trump for doing anything to appease the gun takers. What is needed is for licensed holders to be able to travel interstate without committing a crime.

****

He is officially a one term president.

****

He's doing something so illegal even the Obama Administration refrained from doing it.

****

We have gone from “Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings” to “Every time a nut commits Murder using a Gun we lose our God Given Rights”.

****

The couple of times I used a friend’s, I was very unimpressed, so I don’t know why serious owners were buying them.

With that said, I expect more than a few owners will claim they were stolen from their trucks or were accidentally dropped into a lake or pond.

****

This will cause many otherwise law abiding American citizens to become felons by default. Next thing likely to harm Americans is the new bill to allow violent and career thugs to be released from prison early and many newly minted criminals to not be sent to prison when Trump signs the pending Prison Sentencing guideline reform legislation and reportedly costing tax payers an additional $850,000,000 yearly.

Is Trump trying to knock himself out of the next election? I for one am having to reevaluate just how much I can continue to support this President with his growing penchant for supporting liberal positions and causes.
Donald Trump isn't a smart man, but I thought he was better that this at keeping his base satisfied. He's really slipping.

TO REPUBLICANS, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS THE PUBLIC INTEREST

Robert Reich believes he's found the key to Donald Trump's pathology:
After two years of Trump we may have overlooked the essence of his insanity: His brain sees only private interests transacting. It doesn’t comprehend the public interest.

... absent a public interest, there can’t be conflicts of interest.

So when lobbyists representing the Saudi government paid for an estimated 500 nights at Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel within a month of his election, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman rented so many rooms at the Trump International Hotel in Manhattan that its revenues rose in 2018 after years of decline, Trump saw it as half of a private transaction.

The other half: Trump would continually go to bat for Saudi Arabia and the Crown Prince, even after the Senate passed a resolution blaming the Crown Prince for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi....

So someone donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee and subsequently received a $5 billion loan from the Energy Department. What’s the problem? Both parties got what they wanted....

Collusion means joining together in violation of the public interest. If Trump’s brain comprehends only private interests, even a transaction in which Putin offered explicit help winning the election in return for Trump weakening NATO and giving Russia unfettered license in Ukraine wouldn’t be collusive.
I think that's an accurate assessment of what motivates Trump. His business interests. His ego. Not the national interest.

But how different is that from the thinking of ordinary Republican officeholders who haven't been CEOs? Trump cares about himself, and about the Trump Organization, which he regards as an extension of himself. Republicans care about the Republican Party -- not as a vehicle through which to govern America effectively, but as a path to power, and to even greater wealth for the rich people who fund them.

Paul Krugman writes:
... on Friday, Reed O’Connor, a partisan Republican judge known for “weaponizing” his judicial power, declared the [Affordable Care Act] as a whole ... unconstitutional. Legal experts from both right and left ridiculed his reasoning and described his ruling as “raw political activism.”

... the Republican assault on health care is just the leading edge of an attack on multiple fronts, as the G.O.P. tries to overturn the will of the voters and undermine democracy in general.

... a growing number of positions in government agencies are being occupied by right-wing partisans who care nothing, or actively oppose, their agencies’ missions. The Environmental Protection Agency is now run by people who don’t want to protect the environment, Health and Human Services by people who want to deny Americans health care.

... Remember when the role of the Senate was supposed to be to “advise and consent”? Under Republican control it’s just plain consent — there is almost literally nothing Trump can do, up to and including clear evidence of corruption and criminality, that will induce senators from his party to exercise any kind of oversight.

... When Democrats threaten to win elections, they rig the voting process, as they did in Georgia. When Democrats win despite election rigging, they strip the offices Democrats win of power, as they did in Wisconsin. When Democratic policies prevail despite all of that, they use apparatchik-stuffed courts to strike down legislation on the flimsiest of grounds.

As David Frum, the author of “Trumpocracy,” warned a year ago: “If conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. They will reject democracy.” That’s happening as we speak.
In 1987, Margaret Thatcher said, "you know, there's no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first." It's been argued that the quote is less harsh when read in context, but context doesn't help. She believed in individuals, in families, and in charity. But she strongly implied that there's no public interest, no public stewardship that's the government's responsibility.

If you believe that, as most modern Republicans in America seem to, then why not destroy public institutions? It starts with the institutions of the welfare state, but after that, why assume that any long-standing institution meant to preserve the common good deserves not to be trashed?

Donald Trump doesn't care about the common good, in a way that seems pathological, but the reason he's risen from nowhere to become the leader of his party is that his philosophy doesn't differ very much from contemporary mainstream conservatism. There is no such thing as society. There is no such thing as the public interest. So take whatever you can grab.

Monday, December 17, 2018

REMEMBER, THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN BRAGGED IN 2016 ABOUT TRYING TO SUPPRESS THE BLACK VOTE

The biggest story of the day is this:
The Russian influence campaign on social media in the 2016 election made an extraordinary effort to target African-Americans ... according to a report produced for the Senate Intelligence Committee....

The report says that while “other distinct ethnic and religious groups were the focus of one or two Facebook Pages or Instagram accounts, the black community was targeted extensively with dozens.”

... Whether such efforts had a significant effect is difficult to judge. Black voter turnout declined in 2016 for the first time in 20 years in a presidential election....
More:
It turns out that African Americans were targeted with more Facebook ads than any other group, including conservatives.

Three of the four most-liked Facebook posts put up by the Russian influence effort came from an account called Blacktivist that urged the community to be more cynical about politics. African Americans were urged to vote for Green Party candidate Jill Stein throughout the month before the 2016 election. A post on Oct. 29 that year declared: “NO LIVES MATTER TO HILLARY CLINTON. ONLY VOTES MATTER TO HILLARY CLINTON.” A message on Nov. 3 added: “NOT VOTING is a way to exercise our rights.”

On Twitter, four of the Russian agency’s five most‐retweeted accounts catered exclusively to African Americans.

On Instagram, all five of the most-liked posts created by the Russians were aimed at African American women. They included the hashtags #blackpower, #blackpride, #unapologeticallyblack, #blacklivesmatter, #icantbreathe, #riot and #blackgirlskillingit.
Now, perhaps it would be rash to conclude that the Trump campaign colluded in this effort, but as Jennifer Palmieri reminds us, the campaign bragged about extremely similar vote suppression efforts in a Bloomberg story published in October 2016:
Instead of expanding the electorate, [Steve] Bannon and his team are trying to shrink it. “We have three major voter suppression operations under way,” says a senior official. They’re aimed at three groups Clinton needs to win overwhelmingly: idealistic white liberals, young women, and African Americans.... [Clinton's] 1996 suggestion that some African American males are “super predators” is the basis of a below-the-radar effort to discourage infrequent black voters from showing up at the polls—particularly in Florida.

On Oct. 24, Trump’s team began placing spots on select African American radio stations. In San Antonio, a young staffer showed off a South Park-style animation he’d created of Clinton delivering the “super predator” line (using audio from her original 1996 sound bite), as cartoon text popped up around her: “Hillary Thinks African Americans are Super Predators.” The animation will be delivered to certain African American voters through Facebook “dark posts”—nonpublic posts whose viewership the campaign controls so that, as [Brad] Parscale puts it, “only the people we want to see it, see it.” The aim is to depress Clinton’s vote total. “We know because we’ve modeled this,” says the official. “It will dramatically affect her ability to turn these people out.”

The Trump team [is making an] effort to ... drive down black turnout in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood with targeted messages about the Clinton Foundation’s controversial operations in Haiti....
Funny how the Russians and the folks in the Trump campaign -- who, I'll remind you again, never colluded -- had precisely the same idea. Great minds think alike!

DID ANTI-GERRYMANDER NEW JERSEY DEMOCRATS JUST MAKE REPUBLICAN GERRYMANDERS MORE LIKELY?

Democratic leaders in the New Jersey state legislature are scrapping a plan that would have gerrymandered the state on their party's behalf, in response to objections that came from fellow Democrats as well as Republicans:
Legislative leaders in New Jersey announced this weekend they would not move forward with a proposal to redraw legislative districts that would have essentially written gerrymandering into the State Constitution....

The proposal was opposed by numerous political factions: Republicans, progressives, nonpartisan pollsters, Gov. Philip D. Murphy, who is a Democrat, and Eric H. Holder Jr., the former attorney general under President Barack Obama who is the current leader of a national group combating gerrymandering.
When news stories about the gerrymandering proposal appeared last week, Kevin Drum, with tongue in cheek, expressed support for the plan, for a very specific reason:
I am all for this. Is that because I’m a political hack who eagerly looks forward to giving Republicans a taste of their own medicine? Of course not. It’s more that ... it would ... oh hell. Yes, that’s part of it. The prospect of watching Republicans whine and moan about this is really pretty delightful.

But here’s the real reason: this is the only thing that will ever get the Supreme Court off its butt to do something about gerrymandering. I’m dead serious here. Conservatives on the Supreme Court aren’t likely to ever address gerrymandering until it’s crystal clear that Democrats can be every bit as ruthless and shady as Republicans. As long as red-state Republicans pass bill after bill screwing Democrats, while blue states like California and New Jersey and New York do nothing, there will always be a majority on the Supreme Court to shrug it off as a “political” question and do nothing.
There's a case before the Supreme Court right now, concerning a pro-GOP gerrymander in Wisconsin and a pro-Democratic gerrymander in Maryland. Would a New Jersey gerrymander have tipped the Court toward rejection of gerrymandering across the board?

I doubt it. Even if New Jersey Democrats had gone ahead with their plan, there are far more opportunities nationwide for Republicans to gerrymander, because Republicans, even after the 2018 midterms, have a "trifecta" -- control of the governor's mansion and both houses of the state legislature -- in more states than Democrats, as Ballotpedia notes:
Entering the 2018 midterm election, Republicans had a [+18] state trifecta lead: of 34 states with trifectas, 26 were Republican and eight were Democratic. But after the votes were counted, Democrats increased their trifecta total with a net gain of six, and Republicans declined to 23 trifectas (a net loss of three).
Republicans still have a 23-14 lead in trifectas. And even though Democrats now have trifecta control in New York State as well as California, more Americans (42.1%) still live in GOP trifecta states than in Democratic trifecta states (34.4%). Republicans continue to have trifectas in some big purple (and potentially purple) states -- Florida, Ohio, Texas. Therefore, if the Supreme Court upholds gerrymandering, Republicans will have more opportunities to take advantage of it.

If you want to argue that rejecting the New Jersey gerrymander hurt the anti-gerrymander cause in the courts, you might also have to argue that anti-gerrymander referendums hurt the cause. Four of them passed this year -- in Michigan, Colorado, Missouri, and Utah. That's a good thing -- but it's likely to lead the High Court to conclude that gerrymandering is a problem that the system can solve on its own, through normal democratic processes, without judicial intervention.

I'd still like the Supreme Court to intervene, but I don't think that was likely even before New Jersey scrapped its gerrymander. Better to just keep fighting them all, on behalf of democracy.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

IF YOU'RE NOT A LOYAL REPUBLICAN, ARE YOU ALLOWED TO BE AN AMERICAN?

I'm a few days late getting to this clip, but it seems to be going semi-viral, so I'll just say a few words about it. It's Donny Deutsch on MSNBC this past Wednesday, talking about Donald Trump's legal troubles:



Deutsch says:
The word "blood" is important, and what's interesting, we've been focusing, rightfully so, on Russia, on the payments to these women. Let me say this unequivocally, as a guy who spent most of his career in business in New York, in the advertising business, in the real estate business, in the fashion business. It's a small world. Donald Trump, in the industry of real estate developers, which is kind of a -- bit of a slimy business to begin with, was known as the bottom of the bottom of the bottom of the food chain. I have heard story after story. This is a criminal guy. You have to do a dotted line to Letitia Jones [sic], the [incoming] attorney general of New York, who came out today and said, "Oh, we're just starting with this foundation, we're starting with the organization." Russia and Stormy Daniels are the least of his problems. To your point: What is going to put him in jail eventually, what is going to destroy everything he has ever built and his children, is a thirty-year dishonest criminal enterprise. That is what -- one thing will take him out of the presidency. The other thing will ruin him forever.
Deutsch may not know the name of the state's newly elected attorney general (it's Letitia James), but he's in a position to know about Trump's career -- and I think he's right, at least, that this is what should destroy Trump, what really might take him down, more than Russia or adulterous affairs. I continue to believe that this is America and we don't punish the folks in the upper echelons anyomre, but maybe we'll make an exception for Trump and his family.

However, I have some disagreements with what Deutsch says next:
And on top of that, the political incentive for every U.S. attorney in New York or in Virginia to do it is: This guy showed up and tried to undo what 250 years of people have been dying for in this country -- who we are, what we stand for. So there is a moral imperative. What we are about. What our grandfathers died for. Democracy. He single-handedly is the first guy in our lifetime to try to undo that, and he is going to pay for that the rest of his life as they pick apart his criminal enterprise. This is the very, very beginning of the story.
I agree with this characterization of Trump -- he really is a guy who's willing to take America down, though it's not clear if this is because he's loyal to foreign autocrats who might throw him some business or because his politcal philosophy is a crackpot stew of isolationism and compulsive fight-picking with foreign governments. He's also an illiterate narcissist who thinks that the work and thought that his predecessors put into their stewardship of America was a lot of hooey, and was no substitute for the unerring genius of his gut. And his narcissism prevents him from caring about institutions the rest of us rely on, from NATO to birthright citizenship.

But it's odd for Deutsch to describe the anti-Trump fight in terms of patriotism, because in America it's never considered patriotic to challenge the Republican Party. Ever since 1968, or maybe 1964, or maybe the McCarthy Era, it's been an article of faith in Heartland America that the GOP is the party of patriotism and its opponents are all dissenters and rootless cosmopolitans, if not outright traitors. Right now, the Democrats, anti-Trump Republicans, and non-politcal investigators seeking to bring Trump to justice really are the patriots -- but much of the country doesn't believe that, and never will. It ought to be the case that Trump's opponents are seen now as the people with the monopoly on patriotism -- but I think the exact opposite is still closer to our political reality. That's why The New York Times keeps interviewing all those old white men in Pennsylvania diners. It's why so much of the politcal press is concerned about the fate of The Weekly Standard and the possibility of a 2020 primary challenge to Trump. They're rooting for a revival of the American party, as they see it -- the GOP.

New York and Virginia are parts of blue America. It's good politics in those states to go after Trump. But the effort should be seen as more -- as an attempt to save America. Deutsch is right about this -- but I don't think America gets it.

JUST A REMINDER OF WHO LED THE POLLING A YEAR BEFORE THE LAST IOWA CAUCUSES

Charlie Pierce has a point:



It's too soon to take Iowa polling seriously. Do you know who was leading the GOP field in Iowa a year or so before the 2016 caucuses? According to one poll, it was Mike Huckabee:
Mike Huckabee has a slight lead with 17%, followed by Rand Paul at 14%, Jeb Bush at 13%, Chris Christie and Ted Cruz at 10%, Paul Ryan at 9%, Scott Walker and Bobby Jindal at 7%, and Marco Rubio at 3%.
That was a Public Policy Polling survey in February 2014; the current Democratic numbers are from the Des Moines Register and CNN. The PPP numbers really didn't come close to predicting the outcome of the caucuses, and not just because Donald Trump was excluded. Here were the results:



Very, very different from the polling a year early. So we should all remain calm.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

DOES BETO 2020 EQUAL MORE VOTES FOR JILL STEIN?

The Iowa caucuses won't happen for a year, but some progressives are determined to sandbag Beto O'Rourke now, as Politico notes:
Now that Beto O’Rourke is looking at a presidential campaign, he is coming in for a flurry of hits from the left.

The criticism — ranging from O’Rourke’s membership in the centrist New Democrat Coalition to his acceptance of campaign money from oil industry employees — has so far been confined largely to social media, newspaper opinion pages and online message boards. But as O’Rourke considers running for president in 2020, his potential opponents are quietly taking stock, plotting lines of attack they believe could weaken the Texas congressman in a crowded primary field....

O’Rourke simultaneously shrugged off — but further fueled — the criticism Friday by sidestepping the opportunity to embrace the progressive mantle after a town hall meeting here....

Asked if he is a progressive Democrat, O’Rourke told reporters, “I don’t know. I’m just, as you may have seen and heard over the course of the campaign, I’m not big on labels. I don’t get all fired up about party or classifying or defining people based on a label or a group. I’m for everyone.”

O’Rourke’s supporters ... point to his support for Medicare for All and for leftist drug, military and immigration policies. And they were buoyed by the release of a straw poll by the progressive advocacy group Mo
We should have real discussions about all of these things if O'Rourke runs --we should seriously weigh everyone's positions, obviously. A possible risk, however, is that one candidate will be defined by the purist left as the most offensive sellout candidate -- and that person might wind up on the ticket anyway, because the Democratic Party is much more than a collection of Jacobin-reading social democrats. And then the purist outrage will be cranked up to maximum levels.

O'Rourke could be the candidate these folks decide they love to hate. Here's a Twitter poll from Howie Klein:



As for me, I'll vote for whichever Democrat makes it through the primaries. I'd prefer a progressive, but the candidates I'd fight the hardest against would be the hardcore corpocrats -- Mike Bloomberg, of course, and a name you're not hearing yet, but you will: Howard Schultz, who has a book coming out in February with the very campaign-y title From the Ground Up: A Journey to Reimagine the Promise of America and who's probably thinking very seriously of running, in all likelihood on the "we have more will than wallet" platform he articulated in June on CNBC:
Without naming names, Schultz said in a "Squawk Box" interview: "It concerns me that so many voices within the Democratic Party are going so far to the left. I say to myself, 'How are we going to pay for these things,' in terms of things like single payer [and] people espousing the fact that the government is going to give everyone a job. I don't think that's realistic." ...

"I think the greatest threat domestically to the country is this $21 trillion debt hanging over the cloud of America and future generations," Schultz said. "The only way we're going to get out of that is we've got to grow the economy, in my view, 4 percent or greater. And then we have to go after entitlements."
O'Rourke, Biden, and maybe a couple of other probably 2020 Democratic aspirants from the world of politics are a few steps to the right of serious progressivism, but they're not talking like this. I'm comfortable with the idea of any of them at the top of the ticket. But if the nominee is Schultz or Bloomberg, I'll really have to hold my nose to vote Democratic. (I'll do it, though, because the Republican Party is a sinkhole of awfulness and it has to be removed from power.)

The demonization campaigns against O'Rourke, Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, and others have the potential to put a lot of votes in Jill Stein's column in 2020. I hope the purist energy is divided several ways, so we don't have the level of outrage during the general election campaign that we had in 2016, when the hate was concentrated on one person -- please, no fart-ins at the convention this time, folks.

Maybe Jill Stein will simply get the same number of too-good-for-the-Democrats votes no matter who tops the Democratic ticket, assuming it's not Bernie Sanders. Maybe every other candidate will inspire approximately the same amount of purist contempt. It'll just be something we'll have to work around in order to win.

Friday, December 14, 2018

THE OUTRAGE METER MIGHT BE ABOUT TO MOVE, BUT I DON'T THINK WE'RE THERE YET

So now we're talking about the inaugural:
... President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee ... paid the Trump Organization for rooms, meals and event space at the company’s Washington hotel, according to interviews as well as internal emails and receipts reviewed by WNYC and ProPublica.

During the planning, Ivanka Trump, the president-elect’s eldest daughter and a senior executive with the Trump Organization, was involved in negotiating the price the hotel charged the 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee for venue rentals. A top inaugural planner emailed Ivanka and others at the company to “express my concern” that the hotel was overcharging for its event spaces, worrying of what would happen “when this is audited.”

If the Trump hotel charged more than the going rate for the venues, it could violate tax law....

“The fact that the inaugural committee did business with the Trump Organization raises huge ethical questions about the potential for undue enrichment,” said Marcus Owens, the former head of the division of the Internal Revenue Service that oversees nonprofits.
Also:
The criminal probe by the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office ... is examining whether some of the committee’s top donors gave money in exchange for access to the incoming Trump administration, policy concessions or to influence official administration positions....

Giving money in exchange for political favors could run afoul of federal corruption laws. Diverting funds from the organization, which was registered as a nonprofit, could also violate federal law.
And:
Federal prosecutors are examining whether foreigners illegally funneled donations to President Trump’s inaugural committee and a pro-Trump super PAC in hopes of buying influence over American policy, according to people familiar with the inquiry.

The inquiry focuses on whether people from Middle Eastern nations — including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — used straw donors to disguise their donations to the two funds. Federal law prohibits foreign contributions to federal campaigns, political action committees and inaugural funds.
This seems ... corrupt. And illegal. But as I regularly say, President Trump will probably weather all scandals until his poll numbers start to drop from the levels where they've been for months; they're holding steady despite a wave of recent revelations. Trump's supporters don't think he's a saint and have factored a certain amount of corruption and immorality into their assessment of him from the beginning. Is there any reason to believe any of them will start wavering now?

The Stormy Daniels/Karen MacDougal payoffs were never likely to upset them. They've known from the beginning that Trump is a horndog, and the notion that rich horndogs pay money to conceal infidelities probably gives them a secret thrill -- oooh, this is how the superrich live! I know that campaign finance laws were violated, but our campaign finance laws make absolutely no sense to average Americans -- when you can give millions anonymously to a super PAC but only $2700 directly to a candidate, don't expect ordinary citizens to even try comprehending campaign finance logic. The payoffs should be the subject of one article of impeachment, but they won't turn anyone pro-Trumpers against him.

This is a bit more likely to upset them. It's self-dealing and palm-greasing. Ordinary people can understand that. Unfortunately, I'm not sure it will strike most Americans as worse than the usual level of corruption (even though it is). The idea that a president shouldn't make money from being in office ought to be a core element in our sense of how America works, but it isn't. And the inaugural isn't one of the patriotic ceremonies we cherish. If Trump were to skim profits off a Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, then maybe the national conscience would be shocked. But inaugural corruption doesn't rise to that level.

I think at some point Trump will have to be held accountable, even though there won't be a single Republican willing to remove him from office until his poll numbers drop further. I still hope public opinion will change -- but I doubt this will have much effect.

I GUESS RUDY NO LONGER BELIEVES IN "BROKEN WINDOWS"

Donald Trump's ex-lawyer Michael Cohen has now been sentenced to hard time, and the guy who's currently Trump's personal lawyer believes the process has been unfair:
... the president’s current lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, contends that the scandal is overblown entirely.

“Nobody got killed, nobody got robbed... This was not a big crime,” Giuliani told The Daily Beast on Wednesday. He added, sardonically, “I think in two weeks they’ll start with parking tickets that haven’t been paid.”
That's an odd thing to hear from a guy who, as mayor of New York City, made his name by ordering crackdowns on minor crimes.
Giuliani and his [first] police commissioner, William Bratton, ... sent hundreds of police officers into the subways to crack down on turnstile jumpers and vandals....

Police ramped up misdemeanor arrests for things like smoking marijuana in public, spraying graffiti and selling loose cigarettes.
Bars without cabaret licenses were fined thousands of dollars if people were caught dancing. There was a twenty-five-fold increase in the fine for jaywalking, part of a crackdown that was so contrary to the spirit of New York that even the cops objected to it.

So Rudy didn't always think it was a bad idea to focus on crimes that were not "big."

It was all part of the "broken windows" theory of law enforcement.
The broken windows theory is a criminological theory that visible signs of crime, anti-social behavior, and civil disorder create an urban environment that encourages further crime and disorder, including serious crimes. The theory thus suggests that policing methods that target minor crimes such as vandalism, public drinking, and fare evasion help to create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, thereby preventing more serious crimes.
There's reason to believe that the theory was seriously flawed -- crime went down dramatically in Giuliani's New York, but at the same it decreased significantly in cities across the country, including cities where similar policies weren't in force.

But I'm sure Giuliani still believes in "broken windows." And if you believe in the theory, you know that one of the arguments made in favor it could apply to Trump World. Here's George Kelling, one of the authors of an influential Atlantic article that helped popularize the theory:
Going after petty crime led the police to violent criminals, says Kelling: "Not all fare beaters were criminals, but a lot of criminals were fare beaters. It turns out serious criminals are pretty busy. They commit minor offenses as well as major offenses."
That's similar to what's happening now -- you nab people for relatively minor offenses and you're led to much worse crimes by those people and their associates, and the associates of their associates. Doesn't Rudy Giuliani want to stand up for the forces of law and order and civilization, and against the forces of societal decay?

Thursday, December 13, 2018

HERE COME THE CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD EMOTION TRUTHERS

You may have seen this yesterday:
Christine Blasey Ford made her first public statement since testifying against Brett Kavanaugh in September to present Sports Illustrated's Inspiration of the Year Award to Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar of sexual abuse.

"Rachael Denhollander, I am in awe of you and I will always be inspired by you," Ford said in the video. "In stepping forward you took a huge risk and you galvanized future generations to come forward even when the odds are seemingly stacked against them."

"The lasting lesson," Ford continued, "is that we all have the power to create real change and we cannot allow ourselves to be defined by the acts of others."

The video posted late Tuesday by Sports Illustrated is the first time Ford has spoken out since she testified in September in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee about her allegation that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her when they were both in high school.
To certain right-wingers, the video proved one thing: Blasey Ford wasn't really emotional during her Senate appearance -- her emotions were utterly fake.

Here's Thomas Lifson at the American Thinker:
Blasey-Ford's scared little girl voice has disappeared in first public statement since her Senate testimony

When Professor Christine Blasey-Ford testified against the Supreme Court nomination of then-Judge Brett Kavanaugh, my very first impression was that her voice sounded fake. She sounded like a scared little girl, her voice tremulous, creating an impression of sadness and vulnerability – just the thing to create sympathy. I immediately wondered if this was some sort of act, or if her mental state was somehow altered for her performance on national television. As a former professor myself, I wondered how on Earth she could command a classroom with that scared little girl voice.

For the first time since her testimony, we now have the opportunity to hear her voice, and guess what! She doesn't sound at all like the witness whose fear and suffering moved so many Democrats and feminists. She sounds like a grown-up, a professor, indeed.
As evidence, Lifson presents the video of Blasey Ford's opening statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee ...



... and her Sports Illustrated video:



I listen to the first few seconds of each video -- and Blasey Ford sounds exactly the same. The only difference in the Senate video is that her voice quavers and changes pitch as she tells her story. This is called -- oh, what's the technical term? -- human emotion. She's recalling her own trauma, before a room that includes many people hostile to her. She's on a national stage for the first time in her life. In the SI video, none of this is true. She's on tape, presumably working with a sympathetic crew. She's months past her national debut.

Right-wingers really say these things, and while the people who create the propaganda may not believe them, the audiences do.

Rush Limbaugh seconded this notion on the radio today. I don't have the audio, and that's probably just as well, because the transcript is pretty awful:
This is totally different! Let me read this the way Blasey Ford would have said it during the Kavanaugh hearings, okay? As best I can, anyway.... Okay. Three, two, one. (impression) “In stepping forwaaard? You took a huge risk? And, uh, you galvanized future generations to come forwaaaard EVEN when the odds are (Gasp!) seemingly stacked against them? (panting) The lasting l-l-lesson is that we all have the poweeer? To create real change, and we cannot allow ourselves to be defined by the acts of others?”

... [Not] one word on the uptick. Not one.
Maybe this wouldn't be plausible to the Lifson and Limbaugh audiences if the audiences were capable of feeling human emotion, apart from rage and self-pity. As it is, they absolutely believe this crap.

EVERYTHING IS FALLING APART FOR TRUMP EXCEPT HIS POPULAR SUPPORT

President Trump is an unindicted co-conspiracy, hounded by the special counsel and the Southern District of New York. He was owned this week in a televised metting with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. His party lost forty seats in the House. He's struggling to find a chief of staff.

His presidency seems to be falling apart -- but public support for that presidency isn't. This is from Fox News:
Overall, 46 percent of voters approve of the job Trump is doing and 52 percent disapprove. In January, it was 45-53 percent. Moreover, approval has barely budged all year, staying within the narrow range of 43 to 47 percent.
I know, I know -- it's Fox. But Fox, as I've said for years, oversees a respectable poll. The Fox poll isn't Rasmussen. Its results are very close to the results of other pollsters.

Trump's Real Clear Politics average hasn't really budged since late spring. Look at the right side of this chart:



On May 1, Trump's approval and disapproval numbers, according to Real Clear Politics, were 43.3%/52.8%. On July 1, they were 43.4%/51.9%. On September 1, they were 42.2%/54.1%. Now they're 43.1%/52.2%.

CNN's latest poll is worse for Trump than Fox's -- job approval is 39%/52% -- but the CNN poll has always been one of Trump's worst polls, and his numbers have remained fairly steady since spring:



Emerson has Trump at 43%/47% -- in October it was 43%/50%, in August 38%/53%. NPR/Marist has Trump at 43%/49% -- in October it was 41%/53%, in early September it was 38%/54%.

And the Gallup approval numbers are even more shockingly steady:



So if you're waiting for the moment when it dawns on Trump's supporters, or at least his soft supporters, that he's a crook, a traitor, and incompetent, and that they'd be better off unloading him, that's just not happening yet. Maybe it will happen in a week or a month, but for now the fans, including the ones who are supposedly not superfans, seem unmovable.

Here are Nixon's Gallup numbers, by the way:



They're steady, like Trump's -- until just after the second inaugural, at which point they undergo a severe, irreversible slide.

Will that happen to Trump now? Maybe if Democrats in the House can package their findings in a more vivid way than Robert Mueller and the Southern District. Maybe if there are new revelations that are shocking and easy to grasp.

I continue to believe that this time is different -- if we drive Trump from office, it won't be at a time when even supporters are abandoning him. We'll have to roll right over them. And in the future, they'll never accept the notion that Trump deserved it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

THE TRUMPS TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE BUSHES' GOOD GRACES

I'm reasonably certain that the Trump family would have steered clear of anything with the Bush name on it prior to George H.W. Bush's funeral. But the Bushes graciously invited President Trump and his wife to Poppy's funeral -- and now the Trumps are returning the favor by using a naval vessel named after Bush as a backdrop for some self-serving propaganda on Fox:
WEDNESDAY: FLOTUS Sits Down With Hannity for Exclusive Interview Aboard USS George HW Bush

First lady Melania Trump will sit down with Sean Hannity Wednesday for an exclusive interview aboard the USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier.

Hannity will also take viewers behind the scenes with Mrs. Trump as she visits military bases and speaks with personnel....
They know that Bush the Elder is much more widely admired than President Trump. They want reflected glory, and they're shameless enough to go out and grab it. And, of course, the shameless sycophant Hannity is on call and ready to help.

DOES TRUMP HAVE ONLY THREE MOTIVES?

Is Paul Krugman right about this?







I'm not sure about this. One of Krugman's commenters is right, I think:



I don't think Trump wants the wall just because he regards it as a macho response to unauthorized immigration. I think he's a genuine racist who believes that non-Europeans live in shithole countries and need to be contained so they won't kill or otherwise harm us, violently or by means of the diseases they inevitably spread to us. On that level, I think Trump's hardline immigration policies are, in his mind, "things that Trump does because they're actually in the national interest."

There's also what he learned from mentors, starting with his father -- meanness generally, and specifically, I think, the notion that all counterparties screw you, so you should screw them first. (That's a big reason Trump loves tariffs and always wants to terminate and renegotiate deals made with other countries.)

And there's -- I'm straining for an "m" word here -- methodical predecessor erasure:



Although maybe that's about manhood -- how can Trump be the alpha among alphas if there have been other presidents and they've accomplished stuff?

Beyond that, I'm stumped. Is there anything that doesn't fall into these categories?

NANCY PELOSI MIGHT BE THE NEW RBG

Nancy Pelosi negotiates and talks trash like a boss:
Nancy Pelosi was on fire with her fellow Democrats.

Minutes after a very public showdown with Donald Trump on Tuesday over his border wall with Mexico, the House minority leader returned to the Capitol and railed against the president in a private meeting with her colleagues.

... she went for the most sensitive part of Trump’s ego.

“It’s like a manhood thing with him — as if manhood can be associated with him,” Pelosi deadpanned. “This wall thing.”
And although many conservatives think Trump won yesterday's livestreamed Oval Office session, as I noted yesterday -- and Trump has gotten more rave reviews since then, from, among others, Rush Limbaugh, Fox's Kayleigh McEnany, and the Daily Beast's Matt Lewis -- it's widely conceded that he failed yesterday, and reports say even he knows it:
On Tuesday night’s edition of Hardball, [Eli] Stokols [of the Los Angeles Times] told host Chris Matthews that Trump was “frustrated” following the meeting, during which Trump reportedly ignored the advice of his aides, and was goaded into taking ownership of any government shutdown that might occur.

“It sort of spiraled out of control, and when the President left the Oval Office after Pelosi and Schumer left,” Stokols said, “a number of people saw him, he stormed out of the Oval, walked into an anteroom just off the Oval Office, and had in his hand a folder of briefing papers, and he just scattered them out of frustration, threw them across the room and expressed frustration to the people who were present.”
If there was any doubt as to whether Pelosi would lock up the speakership, that's gone now.

So is it time for a new Pelosi narrative? I don't understand why Democrats and lefty commentators and activists have never tried to make Pelosi a broadly popular feminist heroine, the way they've championed Ruth Bader Ginsburg as "the Notorious RBG." For years they've allowed conservatives and the mainstream press to characterize Pelosi as a witchy, shrewy harridan. There's been no pushback.

Now there seems to be pushback.



Pelosi is smart, tough, fearless, and effective. She should have been someone the Resistance championed. Maybe that will finally happen now.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

TRUMP: STILL PLAYING TO THE BASE AND APPALLING EVERYONE ELSE

The president had an on-camera discussion with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer this morning. It's getting some bad reviews:





Maybe this was a tactical blunder. But, of course, Trump's fans don't think it was. They're not going to criticize Trump, obviously, but often when he screws the pooch they tactfully look the other way, changing the subject to something like FISA warrant abuse or the New Black Panthers. Right now, quite a few of them seem to be pumped.

Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit:
FIREWORKS! TRUMP Blasts Pelosi and Schumer on Border Wall Funding — Shuts Pelosi Down!

WOW!

President Trump met with Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer Tuesday in the White House.

Pelosi was asked to speak after Trump gave an opening statement on the wall.

TRUMP BLASTED HER!

Chuck Schumer jumped in!

TRUMP BLASTED HIM!

This was AMAZING VIDEO!
The Right Scoop:
This is epic. Trump, Schumer and Pelosi just argued on national TV for what seemed like forever about a potential government shutdown over border security and the wall being built. Honestly, it was amazing.

... I love how Trump held his ground against Pelosi and Schumer on the border wall.
Katie Pavlich at Townhall:
Trump Forces Chuck and Nancy to Debate Him in Front of America, They Didn't Like It

... After some back and forth with the Democrat leaders, Pelosi started to panic and said they should not continue in front of the press.

"I don't think we should have a debate in front of the press on this," Pelosi said.

"Its called transparency Nancy," Trump shot back.

President Trump then continued, leading Schumer to later argue the same.

"Let's debate, let's debate in private," he pleaded.
The public -- apart from Republicans, of course -- is on Pelosi and Schumer's side: According to a recent NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist poll, 50% of Americans think the wall should "not be a priority at all" and only 28% think it should be an "immediate priority"; 57% of Americans think the president should compromise on the wall rather than insist on it if that might lead to a shutdown. But Trump wanted this confrontation to be on everyone's TV. He wanted to thump his chest and take credit for any shutdown. That's what his base thinks is leadership.

This happens as a Republican pollster is reporting that Trump's emphasis on hard-line immigration talk helped sink Republicans in the midterms:
... post-election data compiled by GOP pollster David Winston reveals the extent to which Trump, in highlighting immigration over the economy, sunk his party’s House majority.

As an issue, immigration made independents 59 percent less likely to support GOP candidates, compared to 29 percent more likely; the issues of the border and the caravan, specifically, made independents 47 percent less likely to support Republicans, compared to 28 percent more likely. Independents were 87 percent less likely to support candidates who backed Trump.
Keep playing to the base, Mr. President.

TRUMP SEEMS TO HAVE AN OBVIOUS CHOICE FOR CHIEF OF STAFF -- TWO, IN FACT

We know why there's a chief of staff crisis in the Trump White House. As The New York Times reports, a certain pair of insiders wanted to be rid of John Kelly, the current chief of staff:
Several of [Trump's] aides expressed frustration that months of intense campaigning to replace John F. Kelly — an effort led by Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the president’s elder daughter and son-in-law — resulted in yet another chaotic staffing scramble....
Ayers was Ivanka and Jared's choice:
Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner lobbied for months for Mr. Ayers to be chief of staff.
They had concluded that something had to be done:
Ms. Trump and Mr. Kushner’s efforts on behalf of Mr. Ayers were widely seen as a coup attempt, started on behalf of a president who was unhappy with Mr. Kelly but could not bring himself to fire him.
(To me that seems more like adult children deciding to do the decision-making on behalf of a struggling elderly parent.)

One potential replacement for Kelly doesn't seem to want the job, even though he has what seems to be the most important attribute:
[Treasury Secretary Steven] Mnuchin ... has earned the confidence of the president and his children from his time on the 2016 presidential campaign.... But a person familiar with Mr. Mnuchin’s thinking said that he was more interested in keeping the job he has now.
Another potential candidate really seems to want the job, but he doesn't have that all-important attribute:
Representative Mark Meadows, Republican of North Carolina, who is the hard-edge chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, is also in the running for the job. He does not enjoy the same confidence of the Trump children that Mr. Mnuchin does. But he is the only person to express public interest in replacing Mr. Kelly.
One person who's been mentioned would seem to have no chance at the job:
... Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor and head of the Trump transition team, ... angered Mr. Kushner for sending his father to jail while he was a federal prosecutor.
And Kelly, of course, got crosswise with ... well, you know who:
Mr. Kelly, meanwhile, is said to be furious with Ms. Trump and Mr. Kushner. One senior administration official said that Mr. Kelly was known to have kept written notes about Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump and the things that they had done or requested, which he conspicuously left on his desk in view of his staff.
It seems to me that there's an obvious replacement for Kelly -- or two obvious replacements. Just give Jared and Ivanka the chief of staff job. They already seem to be doing it. Sure, they're incompetent -- they thought the Ayers promotion was a done deal, and were apparently blindsided when Ayers said he didn't want the job -- but they have Trump's confidence and they already behave as if they run the place. So let them run it officially. They insist on being backseat drivers, so hand them the keys and let them drive.

Monday, December 10, 2018

MIND-READING FOR ANGRY REPUBLICANS

In the New York Post, F.H. Buckley, a law professor and former Trump speechwriter who's no relation to William F., concludes that his liberal neighbors are engaging in hate speech, which he knows because he can read their minds:
Why ‘No Hate Here’ signs are actually pretty hateful

My walks with my dog take me to a quiet off-street, with middle-class houses made expensive because they’re inside the Beltway. Their owners are mostly youngish attorneys who work as assistant-deputy-director-somethings in some government department or other.

Two of the homes feature “No Hate Here” signs.

... What’s going on?

Someone came up with the label “virtue signaling” to describe the psychological impulse behind these signs. The idea is that people who put them up want to tell you how noble they are. But that doesn’t sound right. Virtue-signalers aren’t in any way in doubt about their own virtue. What they really want to do is signal how depraved others are.

It’s about vice signaling, not virtue signaling.

A couple of people on the block are Trump supporters. Those signs are likely meant for them.
Buckley hasn't asked the people who posted the signs why they posted them. He hasn't asked them whether they're motivated by Trump specifically -- or exclusively. It's a plausible theory, but there's a lot of hate in the world.

Buckley continues:
There’s no interaction between the two groups, and the signs are meant to keep it that way.

A couple of years back there used to be Fourth of July street picnics there. But the shindigs haven’t happened the last couple of years, and I don’t think I’ll see them again soon. Vice signaling breaks up communities, and there’s a lot of it today.
Buckley offers no evidence to support his assertion that the signs are the reason there haven't been July 4 picnics in the neighborhood. It could just be because the Fourth fell in the middle of the week the last couple of years, or it could be because whoever organized past picnics moved away, or didn't feel like doing it anymore.

But liberals are haters, and you know who else they hate? The military, according to Buckley. How does he know that? He just does.
One of the people on the street is an ex-Special Forces veteran, with a Purple Heart from Iraq. That used to be a real signal of virtue. Now I’m afraid it marks him as a prime example of “toxic masculinity.” He’s the sort of man about whom freshmen are warned in college classrooms across the land.

The courses are meant to help men examine their own biases and behaviors in order to cut down on misogyny and gender-based violence. My veteran friend is a hero, but I expect that progressives would think him a prime candidate for toxic-masculinity brainwashing.
Buckley "expects" that that's true, and that's all the evidence he needs. (I have no idea what this has to do with "No Hate Here" signs.)

And what about trans people? Liberals only stick up for them because they're haters.
When the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, there were no great protests from social conservatives.
Except from the conservatives who refused to comply with the ruling, but whatever.
What is curious, however, is how social liberals turned on a dime to take up transgender rights. After their victory, they immediately took up the cause of a vanishingly tiny number of Americans, the better to blame their opponents. In the permanent cultural wars against conservatives, there’s always one more river to cross.

What these examples have in common is vice signaling. I can’t see inside their hearts, but what I do know is that the people with their “No Hate” signs sow more division than they do comity.
Buckley says he "can't see inside" liberals' "hearts," though he certainly writes as if he does -- he just knows that support for trans people was merely a ruse to allow us to keep hating. He's never asked anyone about this, and he offers no other evidence supporting the assertion, but it's true.

And liberals do all these things because we secretly know everyone hates us.
Vice signaling is a defense mechanism, meant to displace liberal guilt. There was a moment, shortly after the 2016 election, when liberals realized that ordinary Americans had turned against them, and that they had reason to do so.
What was the evidence of that? The fact that our candidate won the popular vote in the presidential election?
Allied to the teachers unions, the liberals had permitted our schools to descend to Third World standards. They supported an immigration system that imported economic immobility. They welcomed a regulatory morass that gave elites jobs but that placed a stumbling block in the path of those who sought to get ahead.

Liberals saw all that — and then they forgot it. Rather than blame themselves, it was much easier to transfer the guilt to conservatives. That’s how vice signaling became the language of liberal politics.
Man, this guy is the greatest mentalist of all time!



Buckley is an editor at The American Spectator, where his recent pieces have included "Mean Girl" (an attack on The New Yorker's Jane Mayer), "Venomous Fish-Wife" (a brief appreciation of Kim Jong-un's insult of Hillary Clinton), and "Failure to Pass the Manliness Test" (a swipe at Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau). I think Buckley himself is rather fond of "vice signaling." In fact, his entire Post column is an example of it. He really wants to signal how depraved others are. Why does he want to break up communities this way?

YOU'LL BE MY MIRROR

Nick Ayers, Mike Pence's chief of staff, won't become chief of staff to President Trump, reports Maggie Haberman in The New York Times:
As President Trump heads into the fight of his political life, the man he had hoped would help guide him through it has now turned him down, and he finds himself in the unaccustomed position of having no obvious second option.

Nick Ayers, the main focus of President Trump’s search to replace John F. Kelly as chief of staff in recent weeks, said on Sunday that he was leaving the administration at the end of the year. Mr. Ayers, 36, the chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, is returning to Georgia with his wife and three young children, according to people familiar with his plans.
The departure of current chief of staff John Kelly at the end of the year seems to have been arranged (i.e., Kelly seems to have been forced out) on the assumption that Ayers would take the job -- but now Ayers isn't taking the job.

Why couldn't Trump nail down the basic fact that Ayers wanted to leave Washington?

It's not as if Trump has mixed feelings about Ayers:
... two people close to Mr. Trump said that a news release announcing Mr. Ayers’s appointment had been drafted, and that the president had wanted to announce it as soon as possible.
And it's not as if Trump was merely playing Ayers off against other candidates. Hang on and you'll read the creepiest detail in the Haberman story:
Historically, [Trump] has signaled to competing prospects that each one is his choice, and then picks one even as he tells both that they are still in the running.

But this time, Mr. Ayers was the only person Mr. Trump had focused on since he made up his mind to part ways with Mr. Kelly. With a head of blond hair, Mr. Ayers somewhat resembles Mr. Trump in his younger days, a fact that the president often looks for as a positive signal. The president had an unusual affinity for Mr. Ayers, telling aides who expressed concern about Mr. Ayers that he liked him.
And I guess he does vaguely look like the young Trump:





Ayers reminds Trump of himself, so Trump likes Ayers. There's no evidence that Ayers has ever been in Trump's doghouse. I understand why it might be hard to tell Trump something he doesn't want to hear. But Ayers, as Haberman notes, has fuck-you money (or at least "gosh, no thanks" money):
... last year he reported a net worth of $12.2 million to $54.8 million, a sizable sum for a political operative in his 30s who has amassed his own fortune. He accumulated his wealth partly through a web of political and consulting companies in which he has held ownership stakes.
We're told that he "has been seen as a potential candidate for statewide office in Georgia." His future, or at least his immediate future, isn't in Washington. So why couldn't he get across to Trump the fact that he didn't want to take the job? Why couldn't the two of them have had a simple conversation in which Ayers expressed doubt, while Trump recognized that if Ayers wasn't sure, he needed to find another candidate, or he at least needed to give Ayers an ultimatum -- tell me yes or no by a certain date?

I think Trump is such a narcissist that he can't process an answer to a question if it's not the answer he wants to hear. Alternately, Ayers is (as all reports insist) a go-getter and a greasy-pole climber -- he didn't want to risk his good standing with Trump by telling him the truth, even though he'd have to tell him eventually.

Still, it's on Trump. I know he likes to maintain a Hunger Games atmosphere in his workplaces by periodically striking fear in people he likes at other times. I know that attacking enemies on the outside is his cardio -- it's something he needs to do every day.

But can't he have a straightforward conversation with someone who's in his good graces on a subject that crucial to his presidency? Why can't he even manage that?

Sunday, December 09, 2018

WHY THE 2020 DEMOCRATIC PRIMARIES REALLY COULD COME DOWN TO THE TWO OLD GUYS

In a recent Harvard CAPS/Harris poll, the 2020 Democratic primary field was dominated by two old men -- Joe Biden at 28% and Bernie Sanders at 21%. Beto O'Rourke was a distant third, at 7%. Hillary Clinton slipped into third place when her name was included in the survey, but Biden and Sanders were still ranked one and two.

That should mean absolutely nothing -- it's early yet, and Biden and Sanders (along with Clinton) are the most recognizable names. But I wonder if a fresher face really can emerge if, as appears to be the case, it's open season on the lesser-known candidates. In his new subscription newsletter, Charlie Pierce writes:
This is not a healthy thing for me to admit, but I am already sick of the 2020 presidential campaign and it is not yet 2019. I am sick of it because, by all available evidence, nobody learned anything from the 2016 presidential election, and that was one of the most depressing experiences of my career. Just in the first week of December — of 2018, that is — we saw evidence that the elite political press’s appetite for trivial nothingburgers remains fathomless as the New York Times banged the drum (again) about Senator Elizabeth Warren’s DNA test, which is shaping up to be, if not the Hillary Clinton’s e-mails of this cycle, then certainly the Al Gore Said He Invented The Internet thereof. We also saw evidence that there remains an appetite for cannibalism within the Democratic Party. Non-candidate Deval Patrick, the former governor of Massachusetts, dropped out. This was surrounded at the moment by stories painting him as a tool of predatory lenders. Beto O’Rourke met with Barack Obama at roughly the same time that Bernie Sanders was holding a hoedown in Burlington for his supporters. Shortly thereafter, in an amazing coincidence, several progressive journalists flew off the wire at the same time, to borrow an image from the late Senator Eugene McCarthy, writing that O’Rourke was insufficiently progressive to pick up the baton from Sanders’s unsuccessful 2016 primary campaign — and that is assuming that Sanders himself wants to let go of the baton, which is doubtful.
You know the arguments: Kamala Harris is a tool of the carceral state. Kirsten Gillibrand sandbagged Al Franken. Beto O'Rourke is being attacked for accepting as lot of money from employees of oil and gas companies (even though that would seem to be an inevitability in Texas, where a lot of people work in the energy industry.) A Jacobin editor responds to a New York Times opinion piece on the BDS movement by taking a swipe at Cory Booker:



And on and on.

Some of these candidates will weather the attacks -- though I have my doubts about Warren, who's already being urged not to run by The Boston Globe, all while suffering more of the usual racist invective from the right -- "Smoke Signals Say Elizabeth Warren’s Presidential Dreams Are Over," writes the execrable Howie Carr in the Boston Herald, while at PJ Media it's Elizabeth Warren's Political Trail of Tears."

Oddly, no one in the mainstream press, the right-wing media, or the community of lefty online influencers seems to be seriously attacking Biden, while no one in the first two groups seems to have it in for Sanders. (The lefty influencers are presumably on Bernie's side.) Why are Biden and Sanders being left relatively unscathed? Are they seen as harmless old men who won't be a factor when the campaign really gets under way? Is this old white male privilege?

I don't know, but if it continues, while other candidates are under perpetual assault, a party that hasn't won a presidential election with a candidate over the age of 60 since 1948 might be going into battle in 2020 with one of two male septuagenarians who've failed in three presidential races between them. Not all of their potential challengers are young -- Warren certainly isn't -- but Warren is newer to politics than either Biden or Sanders.

Rivals to Biden and Sanders will inevitably be attacked -- but the friendly might be what kills their candidacies, leaving just the old guys to battle it out. I'm not sure that's the outcome we want.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

MARK PENN IS NOT EXACTLY THE REPUBLICANS' BEST ADVOCATE

In an opinion piece for the Fox News website, Mark Penn warns Democrats not to try to impeach President Trump. I confess that before I read the piece I more or less agreed with Penn that Democrats should proceed with caution -- but he's so bad at this that by the time I got to the end of his piece, I was more pro-impeachment than when I started.

Penn writes:
If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, then perhaps the Democrats on a crusade to impeach President Trump should think twice about the road they are heading down.
Democrats are "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result"? Really? Have they already impeached Trump four or five times? I don't understand.
It’s one thing to hold more investigations and try to get President Trump’s tax returns. It is quite another thing to turn the entire machinery of Congress over to the impeachment process while blocking compromises on health care, immigration, infrastructure and other important legislation.
It's nice that Penn approves of investigating Trump and obtaining his tax returns -- so do I -- but why would proceeding to impeachment require "blocking compromises on health care, immigration, infrastructure and other important legislation"? How can you block something that doesn't exist?
The warning signs of partisanship taken too far come from what happened in 1998 with the impeachment of President Clinton by the House, and from the recent Senate confirmation battle that raged over the nomination of now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

In the Clinton case, voters reacted negatively to Republicans who tried to turn unsavory personal behavior into crimes to support the impeachment of the president in the House of Representatives. Clinton was acquitted on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice at his Senate trial, so the effort to remove him from office failed.
Yes, but in Trump's case, we're not talking about "unsavory personal behavior." Or we're not just talking about it. There seems to have been cooperation with enemies of America who set out to subvert our elections. There are corrupt violations of constitutional prohibitions on presidential profiteering. Oh, and there's also unsavory personal behavior (and coverups of that behavior). Clinton and Trump? Apples and oranges -- or, rather, apples and the world's largest fruit stand.
In the Kavanaugh confirmation fight, voters reacted negatively to Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee who went overboard with Spartacus moments and for the way they handled allegations of sexual misconduct.
They did? All the Democratic committee members who were up for reelection -- Dianne Feinstein, Amy Klobuchar, Sheldon Whitehouse, Mazie Hirono -- won their elections in blowouts. And beyond that, Democrats won back roughly 40 seats in the House.
... Back in 1998, House Republicans considered Bill Clinton an illegitimate president who they believed the American public would support removing from office if Independent Counsel Ken Starr reported that Clinton lied under oath. The Starr report was a blockbuster, complete with graphic descriptions of Oval Office sexual activity between Clinton and then-White House intern Monica Lewinsky and stained-dress evidence.

But the plan backfired. In the 1998 midterm elections, Republicans actually lost seats in Congress as we Democrats used the theme “Progress, not Partisanship,” and the whole imbroglio toppled House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga.
Here's one big difference: The general public liked Bill Clinton in 1998, or at least approved of the way he was doing his job. Gallup had him at 66% job approval just before Election Day 1998. Trump, just before Election Day this year, was at 40%.
... It takes the votes of 67 senators to convict a president impeached by the House and remove him from office. The midterm Senate elections last month will result in a Senate made up of 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats beginning in January.

As a result, if the new Democratic majority that will rule the House votes to impeach President Trump, even if every Senate Democrat votes to convict him they would need to pick up the support of 20 Republican senators to remove Trump from office.

Does anyone seriously think that there are more than a handful of Republican senators at most who would favor Trump’s conviction and ouster, even in the face of a damning report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller?
I don't think there'll even be a handful. I think there'll be no Republican votes at all to convict. (Susan Collins will be very concerned about the charges.)

But we don't know that for sure. The House should investigate, Mueller should keep digging, and maybe -- maybe -- there'll come a time when even Trump voters turn on him. I doubt it, but it could happen.
... So does an impeachment fight that is almost guaranteed to end with President Trump still in the Oval Office benefit Trump or the Democrats?

Does the headline “Trump Acquitted” after a Senate trial help anyone but Trump, albeit after a painful and distracting rollercoaster process?
I've been thinking that a failed impeachment is likely to inflame Trump voters and motivate them to reelect him. But when Penn mentions Kavanaugh, I'm reminded that the Senate fight didn't stop the blue wave. It motivated the GOP base, but Democrats were the clear winners, although maybe it was the reason Democrats lost some high-profile contests.

A failed impeachment could motivate Republican voters -- but it could also show Democratic and swing voters that Trump is clearly unfit to serve, and that the only people who don't get that are Republican officeholders and their voters. I'm still generally against impeachment without a reasonable chance of conviction, but I'm less certain that it would be a disaster for Democrats. It might be a plus, if the case they make is obviously strong to everyone except Republicans.
... The question confronting Democrats at the start of the new year will be whether they want to repeat what the Republicans did in 1998, and whether it will have the same outcome. The most likely answers right now are yes and yes.
Here's what happened after 1998: Republicans won back the White House (yes, by means of a dubious election, but their guy was still declared the winner). They held the House. Two years after that, they won back the Senate. They paid no real price for impeachment -- in all likelihood, it helped them beat Al Gore.

Now, maybe that works only if you're the Republicans. Democrats might need to be more cautious.

Nevertheless, Democrats should investigate the bejeesus out of Trump, and ignore Mark Penn in all things. Here's Penn's recommendation:
The smartest move Democrats could make would likely be to approve some kind of censure motion against President Trump after a few hearings and then say the American people will decide in the 2020 election who should be president for another four years.
Hell no.

Friday, December 07, 2018

TRUMP'S RASMUSSEN TWEET WAS A PATHETIC CRY FOR HELP, BUT NOT FOR THE REASON WE THOUGHT

On Wednesday evening, President Trump tweeted this, quoting a poll number from the shamelessly pro-Republican polling firm Rasmussen:



The media saw a connection between the tweet and the day's other big news story in the capital:



As The Washington Post's Timothy Bella wrote:
Although it’s not unusual for Trump to tweet about his higher-than-average polling numbers from Rasmussen, the timing of the tweet was peculiar, specifically on the day of Bush’s state funeral in which, as The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker noted, the president looked uncomfortable surrounded by all his living predecessors for the first time. The message also came after the themes presented in the eulogies for the 41st president — “His life code was: ‘Tell the truth. Don’t blame people. Be strong. Do your best. Try hard. Forgive. Stay the course,’” remembered Bush biographer Jon Meacham — offered something of a jarring contrast to Trump and his presidency.
But a report today from Jonathan Swan and Mike Allen at Axios suggests that Trump might not have sent this tweet because he felt a desperate need to praise himself after sitting through all the praise for Poppy Bush:
Sharp stock market plunges affect Trump’s psyche, sources close to Trump say. He often asks aides: “What’s the Dow doing today?” A former administration official told Axios that Trump always needs a simple metric to use to brag about his performance. During the 2016 primaries it was the polls. When polls were no longer good for him, he replaced them with the booming stock market. Now that previously trusty measure of success is no longer boast-worthy.
Trump might also have been in a need of a hug from Rasmussen because of the funeral, but it seems likely that he's grasping for a new, or maybe old, metric that proves he's the best because the Dow isn't a reliable source of good news anymore.

But what happens if both the Dow and Trump's poll numbers are bad? The Dow could continue to be a problem for Trump -- but Rasmussen is unlikely to let him down for very long. Besides, as the Post's Philip Bump noted yesterday, it doesn't take much to encourage Trump to pat himself on the back:
This is not the first time that Trump has tweeted a number from an approval poll. In fact, he’s done it about two dozen times.... That frequency allows us to create a sort of Trump Approval Polling Trend chart, stringing together the numbers he’s shared....



One thing you will notice is that the trend is ... mostly flat. Trump’s tweet about his 50 percent approval is at least the seventh time he has celebrated a 50 percent approval rating, which is a bit like Apple repeatedly sending out news releases touting its stock hitting $170. At some point, a canny observer will note that either nothing much is ever changing or that, between those news releases, the stock is seeing some drops.

... [And] we should note that at least three of the times he’s tweeted poll numbers, those numbers have been incorrect, estimated or nonexistent.
So all he needs in order to get that self-esteem boost is a new poll saying he's at 50%, or near 50%. He'll tweet it as a sign of progress, even if he tweeted a 50% poll as a sign of progress a week or two ago. Trump has a fragile ego, but it's fairly for him to find reassurance that, in fact, he's the greatest.