Wednesday, February 20, 2019


The New Yorker has just published Isaac Chotiner's interview of Victor Davis Hanson. Hanson, a classics professor and hack fluffer of Trump at National Review and elsewhere, is peddling a new book called The Case for Trump, in which he portrays the president as a tragic hero. Here's a quote from the book:
What makes such men and women both tragic and heroic is their knowledge that the natural expression of their personas can lead only to their own destruction or ostracism from an advancing civilization that they seek to protect. And yet they willingly accept the challenge to be of service ... Yet for a variety of reasons, both personal and civic, their characters not only should not be altered, but could not be, even if the tragic hero wished to change ... In the classical tragic sense, Trump likely will end in one of two fashions, both not particularly good: either spectacular but unacknowledged accomplishments followed by ostracism ... or, less likely, a single term due to the eventual embarrassment of his beneficiaries.
Hanson is arguing that Trump "seek[s] to protect" our civilization, even though he realizes that the struggle to do so will lead to his "own destruction," or to "ostracism" from the very society he seeks to shield from harm. How selfless of Trump!

But that's the problem -- apart from Kool-Aid-drinking fanboys, no one has ever written the sentence "How selfless of Trump!" non-ironically. Even many of his admirers realize that the man has never done a single selfless deed in his life.

Yet here's Hanson in the interview:
I think Trump really did think that there were certain problems and he had particular skills that he could solve. Maybe in a naïve fashion. But I think he understood, for all the emoluments-clause hysteria, that he wasn’t going to make a lot of money from it or be liked for it.
Yes, we all know how willing Trump is to sacrifice money and the praise of others for a Higher Cause.

Reading the interview, you can tell that Chotiner is straining not to say what he really believes, like a Daily Show interviewer, in the hope that Hanson will hang himself. I wouldn't have had the restraint. I would have at least had to ask when in Trump's pre-political life he had ever known Trump to put others' interests ahead of his own. Trump's charity didn't even give money away in return for glory, like every other rich man's charity. Trump just isn't capable of generosity, even with strings attached.

Hanson cites Achilles as an analogue to Trump:
Achilles has elements of a tragic hero. He says, at the beginning of the Iliad, “I do all the work. I kill all the Trojans. But when it comes to assigning booty, you always give it to mediocrities—deep-state, administrative nothings.” So he stalks off. And the gods tell him, “If you come back in, you will win fame, but you are going to end up dead.” So he makes a tragic, heroic decision that he is going to do that.
Yes, the late 1960s draft dodger who called avoiding sexually transmitted diseases his "personal Vietnam" sure seems like someone who'd pursue heroism at great personal cost.

Hanson can't possibly believe any of this, can he? But he likes the way people he doesn't like get roughed up by Trump -- immigrants, Barack Obama, and also, um...
... if you go back and look at the worst tweets, they are retaliatory.

What he does is he waits like a coiled cobra until people attack him, and then he attacks them in a much cruder, blunter fashion. And he has an uncanny ability to pick people that have attacked him, whether it’s Rosie O’Donnell, Megyn Kelly—there were elements in all those people’s careers that were starting to bother people, and Trump sensed that out. I don’t think he would have gotten away with taking on other people that were completely beloved. Colin Kaepernick. People were getting tired of him, so he took him on. All that stuff was calibrated. Trump was replying and understood public sympathy would be at least fifty-fifty, if not in his favor.

No, I mean, if you are going to attack a woman as ugly you want to make sure you at least have public sympathy on your side.

I think so. There are certain women that may be homely.
Hanson likes Trump. He likes Trump's boorish anger=. And while he surely knows that the Trump he describes bears no resemblance to the real thing, he knows no one else can class up Trump flackery the way he can, with all those fancypants classical allusions. He knows the deplorables will believe anything about Trump, and so, in his area of specialization, he'll tell them anything they'd like to hear.


Yes, this happened, but why does it deserve its own new story?

President Trump revived the moniker of “Crazy Bernie” on Wednesday as he greeted the entry of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the 2020 presidential race.

“Crazy Bernie has just entered the race. I wish him well!” Trump said in a morning tweet, using the same nickname he used to deride Sanders when he sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.

The subtext is: Be afraid, haters! The Mighty Trump is nicknaming again! That's also the subtext -- or the text -- of a story published by The Hill yesterday:
Trump working on labels for 2020 Dems: report

President Trump is reportedly working on possible nicknames for his potential 2020 Democratic challengers as the field of nominees continues to grow.

The Associated Press reports that sources close to the president have been working with Trump on labels for specific 2020 candidates. Two sources with knowledge of Trump's 2020 plans told the AP that the president has begun testing nicknames on aides and advisers as he prepares to reveal them publicly.

The president also plans to use early campaign rallies, the sources told the AP, to test the waters for nicknames he may lob at his potential opponents in the months ahead.
Did anyone not expect this? How is it news that he's merely thinking about employing his usual brand of schoolyard insults against the 2020 Democratic field?

This comes from an AP story on Trump's reactions to the Democratic campaign. Democrats, the story suggests, should be very, very afraid of the president's aggression:
In tweets, public remarks and private conversations, Trump is making clear he is closely following the campaign to challenge him on the ballot. Facing no serious primary opponent of his own — at least so far — Trump is establishing himself as an in-their-face observer of the Democratic Party’s nominating process — and no one will be surprised to find that he’s not being coy about weighing in.

Presidents traditionally ignore their potential opponents as long as possible to maintain their status as an incumbent floating above the contenders who are auditioning for a job they already inhabit.

Not Trump. He’s eager to shape the debate, sow discord and help position himself for the general election.
The AP story does call this "a risky bet that his acerbic politics will work to his advantage once again," and does note that "often Trump’s commentary reflects a peculiar sense of disengagement from the events of the day, as though he were a panelist on the cable news shows he records and watches, rather than their prime subject of discussion." But he's still portrayed as the mighty candidate-slayer:
This is the president whose 140-character blasts and penchant for insults made mincemeat of his 2016 Republican rivals. And Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager, said the president aims to use Twitter again this time to “define his potential opponent and impact the Democrat primary debate.”
He's also portrayed as a spectral, menacing nemesis for law enforcement in the layout of yesterday's big New York Times story:

In the war against his investigators, the story says, Trump might be winning:
The attacks on the Mueller investigation appeared to have an effect. Last summer, polling showed a 14-point uptick in the percentage of Americans polled who disapproved of how Mr. Mueller was handling the inquiry. “Mueller is now slightly more distrusted than trusted, and Trump is a little ahead of the game,” Mr. Giuliani said during an interview in August.

... [William] Barr is ... respected among the rank and file in the Justice Department. Many officials there hope he will try to change the Trump administration’s combative tone toward the department, as well as toward the F.B.I.

Whether it is too late is another question. Mr. Trump’s language, and allegations of “deep state” excesses, are now embedded in the political conversation, used as a cudgel by the president’s supporters.
We shouldn't underestime Trump's ability to fight back. But these are hints that the media's respect for Trump might morph into awe over the next year and a half. That shouldn't happen.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019


At the new anti-Trump conservative site The Bulwark, Christian Vanderbrouk wonders whether President Trump will ultimately be condemned by his biggest fans for not being sufficiently authoritarian.

Vanderbrouk writes about the emergency declaration:
While Trump may have stumbled upon his declaration as last resort, for his supporters, the “state of emergency” is an organizing principle. And if his presidency ends in failure and disgrace, his former supporters will likely blame him for lacking the fortitude to extend the logic of emergency to its authoritarian conclusion.
Trump made his emergency declaration in defiance of congressional Democrats and now intends to watch its fate play out in the courts, but some of his fans are impatient for more. As Vanderbrouk writes,
Fox Business host Lou Dobbs, who boasts 1.9 million Twitter followers and the attentive ear of the president, channeled the spirit of Grand Moff Tarkin in his plea for Trump to stamp out his congressional opposition. “I really believe that the way forward here is for him to declare a national emergency, and simply sweep aside the recalcitrant left in this country. They have — they have obstructed, resisted, and subverted for far too long,” Dobbs editorialized before a national audience.
And then there are these guys:
... even now some on the right are calling on [Trump] to forge ahead in defiance of a negative court ruling. Josh Hammer, a former federal law clerk, wrote last month that “It Is Past Time For Trump To Openly Defy A Federal Court.” Others like White House aide Stephen Miller and failed Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore have decried what they call “judicial supremacy,” which is another way of describing precedent-setting judicial review.
But as I regularly point out, Trump doesn't seem prepared to engage in this level of defiance. He's not making moves to dissolve Congress. He's not rejecting the notion that federal court decisions are binding on him.

So far, his base is okay with that. I think that's because he attacks his enemies in a way that's brimming with self-confidence and is so entertaining to base voters that they believe (a) he'll win on everything eventually and (b) it's a great ride until he does. They're not demanding true authoritarianism of him.

Vanderbrouk thinks this might not last much longer:
Expectations for deliverance have been raised, but met with dashed hopes and despair. Into the breach could be a greater yearning for a sovereign who will slip the bonds of the Founders’ constraints and rescue the nation by whatever means necessary.

And as the president’s political credit rating approaches junk status, it will be important to distinguish between Donald Trump, disgraced charlatan, and Trumpism, the movement that hungers for a strongman and now reserves judgment on his fitness for the role.
I think the Trumpist movement will give Trump a pass on his failure to bring forth the MAGA utopia at least up until he's about to leave office, and maybe afterward -- he's just so personally inspirational to the deplorables that they'll continue to assume any failings on his part are the result of stabs in the back by their enemies.

But the next Trumpist leader won't have Trump's reality TV and pro wrestling trash talk skills. The next one will have to deliver. And it's quite likely that the next one will know how to deliver. He or she will understand how to seize authoritarian power, and will eagerly do what Dobbs and Hammer and Miller now want.

But for now we have Trump, who's such a rock star in the eyes of his base that he gets away with not being the great dictator.


This story from the Montgomery Advertiser has been getting a lot of attention:
The editor of a small-town Alabama newspaper published an editorial calling for "the Ku Klux Klan to night ride again" against "Democrats in the Republican Party and Democrats [who] are plotting to raise taxes in Alabama."

Goodloe Sutton — who is the publisher of the Democrat-Reporter newspaper in Linden, Alabama — confirmed to the Montgomery Advertiser on Monday that he authored the Feb. 14 editorial calling for the return of a white supremacist hate group.

"If we could get the Klan to go up there and clean out D.C., we'd all been better off," Sutton said.

Asked to elaborate what he meant by "cleaning up D.C.," Sutton suggested lynching.

"We'll get the hemp ropes out, loop them over a tall limb and hang all of them," Sutton said.
Goodloe Sutton has been a small-town journalist for more than half a century. He and his wife won nationwide acclaim in the 1990s when they uncovered corruption in the office a local sheriff, who was sentenced to prison time for his offenses.

That's admirable, and now Sutton keeps a local paper going when many others have folded. But Sutton is a crank and a bigot. This isn't the first time an editorial like this has appeared in his paper. In fact, this is probably not the paper's most racist editorial.

I've been looking in the paper's archives, and it didn't take me long to find equally offensive pronouncements. Here's one from May of last year:

When parents who are uneducated get a mindset on what's best for a school, watch out world.

Tribal rules from the dark continent will not suffice.
I don't quite understand the point being made here. Something something communism, something something teachers' unions, something something television and cellphones rot the brain. But it all seems to get back to the values of "the dark continent" -- a term for Africa that was used even in polite society when I was a child (and I'm a bit younger than Goodloe Sutton).

Here's one from 2015. It concerns Terri Sewell, a black congresswoman.

Again, blacks are collectivists:
Republicans believe in capitalism and the free enterprise system. Barack Obama and Sewell believe in the government running all business, industry, education, health care, and banking.
We move on from there to the slave trade (all King George's fault), and then to this:
In the South, the plantation owners fostered social, family, and religious life for the slaves.
Sklavery in the South was good for blacks. Of course that idea would show up.

Here's another one from 2015:

Not having grown up in America, Barack Obama harbors no pride in this country. He thinks of it as a welfare state where the money source is unlimited....

We could tell Obama was nothing but a shallow yard boy out of his element after his first speech eight years ago.

Why did not the television news shows jump on this hard?

Their Ivy League bosses told them to stay off the boy.
Yes, "the boy."

There's far more than I've unearthed here. And yet Alvin Benn, a reporter from the Montgomery Advertiser -- not the one who wrote the story about the Klan editorial -- praised Sutton in a 2015 USA Today story:
Weekly newspapers represent the heart and soul of small communities, and Goodloe Sutton is doing the best he can to keep The Democrat-Reporter off life support....

His bare-bones office staff is without an advertising executive to keep the weekly’s bottom line above water, and he’s seeking anyone with selling experience to consider the paper as a future.
Benn praised Sutton even though he knew that the man's work could be poisonous.
He’s still as irascible as ever and his racial references in headlines and stories still upset many of his readers although some dismiss them as examples of “Goodloe being Goodloe.”

On March 19, his main big-letter headline blared off the paper’s front page with: “Selma black thugs murder Demopolite Saturday night.” That would be a resident of Demopolis, Ala., population 7,500, and the largest city in Marengo County.

“What if they were white thugs from Selma, Goodloe?” I asked him. He didn’t respond to that question, but I seemed to detect a wink from him.
A wink! It was just Sutton being "irascible"! Nothing to see here!

Monday, February 18, 2019


On the subject of Andrew McCabe, Republicans have found the magic word:
Senator Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, vowed on Sunday to investigate whether the top officials at the Justice Department and the F.B.I. plotted an “attempted bureaucratic coup” to remove President Trump from office, and said he would subpoena the former F.B.I. director and the deputy attorney general if necessary.

Mr. Graham, Republican of South Carolina, was reacting to an interview in which the former F.B.I. deputy director, Andrew G. McCabe, confirmed an earlier New York Times report that the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, had suggested wearing a wire in meetings with Mr. Trump and that Justice Department officials had discussed recruiting cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Mr. Trump from office.
Alan Dershowitz called this "an attempt at a coup d'etat." Fox talking heads repeatedly called it a "coup" attempt, as did the rest of the right-wing media.

But what's being described wouldn't have been a coup. A coup would be tanks on the White House lawn and generals inside arresting the president and his subordinates. Using the 25th Amendment to remove a president is a process that's so cumbersome, and so full of choke points, that it might have been more difficult than a genuine coup.

Let's review Section 4 of the 25th Amendment. (I recommend doing this for your right-wing relatives when they start using the "c" word.)
Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.
So it's not as if a handful of FBI agents could unilaterally declare the president unfit. It had to be the VP and most of "the principal officers of the executive departments" -- the Cabinet. These were Trump appointees. Fox News reports that James Baker, a former FBI lawyer, claimed that a couple of Cabinet members were already on board:
“I was being told by some combination of Andy McCabe and Lisa Page, that, in a conversation with the Deputy Attorney General, he had stated that he -- this was what was related to me -- that he had at least two members of the president’s Cabinet who were ready to support, I guess you would call it, an action under the 25th Amendment,” Baker told the [House Oversight and Judiciary] committees [in closed-door testimony].
Two? Wow. There are fifteen Cabinet-level departments. The 25th Amendment says eight of them have to declare the president unfit to serve, plus the vice president.

But even if that happened, we'd have been far from done.
Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office...
So the president can just say he's fit to serve. He gets to veto this assertion of his unfitness. Then he's president again!

... unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.
Okay, the same folks who said he was unfit at first would have to insist they were right and the president is wrong. (Remember, we're talking about Trump appointees, acting at a time when angry Trump supporters would be howling in the streets for their heads.)

But let's imagine that they stuck with their original assertion. Then what?
Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.
Right -- the declaration that the president is unfit serve has to be upheld by a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress. This is harder than impeachment, which requires only a simple majority in the House, followed by a two-thirds vote in the Senate. And when this plan was allegedly afoot, both houses of Congress were solidly Republican. How the hell were the alleged plotters going to get a two-thirds vote against Trump under those conditions?

Tanks on the White House lawn would probably have been easier.

Sunday, February 17, 2019


So this happened a couple of days ago:
President Donald Trump poked fun at his Democratic presidential challengers in a since-deleted Twitter video posted Friday afternoon....

The video features the ubiquitous song “Everbody Hurts” by R.E.M. overlaid on footage from the State of the Union address. The footage features shots of Democrats like California Rep. Eric Swalwell, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, California Sen. Kamala Harris and others.

The video was first created by Twitter user “CarpeDonktum,” whose bio section reads “Eternally Sarcastic Memesmith specializing in the creation of Images and Videos. I tweet and meme in support of Donald Trump. Posted content is 100% original.”
The point is that all of the Democrats in the clip look sad or disgruntled. That's it -- that's the whole joke. And yes, the president retweeted it.

We can say what we always say -- "Can you imagine if Obama..." etc., etc. But notice that this is a fanboy's measure of success for Donald Trump: He makes Democrats sad. (Also Mitt Romney, but much of the right sees him as an honorary Democrat.)

The vast majority of what Trump says in the clip is standard State of the Union platitiudes. There's also Trump's promise that America will never become socialist, and a boast about the employment rate. This is edited so it appears that Democrats hate job growth, but it's a reminder of one reason Republicans in 2018 didn't run on the economy, and why Trump spends much more of his time talking about other matters: In real life, Democrats aren't against jobs. The GOP base can't truly savor the unemployment figures in part because they don't induce liberal tears. That's why the base is much more excited about the wall.

As Gateway Pundit notes, members of R.E.M. complained about the video, and the band's music publisher successfully lobbied for the removal of the original CarpeDonkum tweet, which Trump had retweeted. (Someone needs to tell R.E.M. about the YouTube video above, and about another Twitter user's repost of the video.) Eventually CarpeDonkum updated the video with a new soundtrack: the unofficial right-wing national anthem, Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA." The president (or some staffer with the keys to his account) then tweeted the recut version:

That's what American patriotism is to conservatives: liberals being upset.

I don't like conservatives and I think they're destroying America, but I want better policies, and that's what I want to cheer for. Sure, I'd be thrilled if a number of these SOBs went to prison or lost elections, but that's not what I crave most. If you were happy on Election Night 2008, I bet it was less because John McCain and Sarah Palin lost than because someone you thought would do good things for America won. Our joy was seeing that family take the stage in Grant Park, not in watching McCain and Palin concede.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I think that's a difference between us and the right. Our primary goal isn't conservative tears.

Saturday, February 16, 2019


Here's a story that got attention this week:
... a Wyoming lawmaker who helped defeat a bill to repeal capital punishment used the novel argument that Christianity was founded on the death penalty, in the sense that Jesus was crucified by the state as a criminal.

“The greatest man who ever lived died via the death penalty for you and me,” State Sen. Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne, told the Casper Star-Tribune. “I’m grateful to him for our future hope because of this. Governments were instituted to execute justice. If it wasn’t for Jesus dying via the death penalty, we would all have no hope.”
That may have sounded peculiar to a lot of you, but not to me. Here's a photo I took in Pennsylvania in late October 1988:

The Democratic candidate for president at that time was Mike Dukakis -- the last major-party candidate to be a declared opponent of the death penalty. He was attacked for this by the George H.W. Bush campaign, and then -- as is so often the case -- a mainstream-media journalist, CNN's Bernard Shaw, joined the pile-on by asking Dukakis a shocking debate question about his wife: "Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?"

Dukakis lost Pennsylvania by less than two and a half points. In fact, Dukakis won only ten states plus the District of Columbia. No major-party nominee has dared to be positioned as a death penalty opponent ever since.

Should we support the death penalty because Jesus was subject to it? Seems silly to me. But it's an old idea.


This seems like a smart move:
Heading into the week-long President’s Day recess, the office of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is distributing a spreadsheet to members logging a host of wide-ranging local projects potentially threatened by Trump’s effort to shift funds from military construction coffers to the border wall.

The list — nearly 400-projects long — features a number of ventures in GOP districts. It includes maintenance facilities for F-35 stealth fighters at Eielson Air Force Base outside Fairbanks, Alaska; the operation of a middle school at Fort Campbell, Kentucky; and funds to replace a training maze at Fort Bragg, N.C.

“We have to smoke out as many Republicans as possible by making the case that projects in their backyard are in jeopardy and will likely be raided to help pay for Trump’s ineffective and politically motivated wall,” said a senior Democratic aide.
Also, as Jen Hayden of Daily Kos noted yesterday, some of the money that would be diverted to wall construction could be coming from funds intended to build or upgrade housing for servicemembers and their families, some of which is in abysmal condition:
Where is Trump going to draw $8 billion from? $3.6 billion of it will come from funds that were intended for military construction projects—new and improved housing for military families, many of whom live in squalid conditions, including housing full of mice and mold. Only days ago, lawmakers held a hearing to discuss the conditions of housing for military families, and what the families described was the stuff of nightmares. From the Washington Post:
Crystal Cornwall, a Marine Corps spouse, told lawmakers about termites falling though light fixtures at an air base in Mississippi and mice chewing through infant pacifiers at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
And that is nothing compared to what Heather Beckstrom’s family has endured.
At Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Heather Beckstrom believes her daughter’s epilepsy, her son’s cancer diagnosis and her other son’s cleft palate are linked to the untreated sewer water from a chronically overflowing toilet that sent several inches of water gushing onto the floor. It occurred so frequently and forcefully, she said, that a water line was visible on the stucco from the outside.
Foreign Policy called the decision to divert these funds a “slap in the face to military families.”
“Having the president declare a national emergency in order to use [military construction] funding just days after a horrible SASC hearing on the terrible state of privatized military housing is a slap in the face to military families,” said Loren DeJonge Schulman of the Center for a New American Security. “The trade-off may not be direct—it’s not clear what the funding might have otherwise done—but it’s an ugly symbol of priorities.”
But will voters in Trump Country care? We know how few are abandoning Trump even after being punished by his trade policies. His support among Republicans is 87% in the latest Fox News poll. It's 85% in the latest Politico/Morning Consult poll.

Pelosi wants to put Republicans in Congress on the spot, but I think the vast majority in the House, and all but one or two in the Senate, will be resistant. They'll correctly calculate that GOP voters won't be upset about the diversion of funds even if it affects them personally. Trumpism is a Higher Cause. I'm sure most of Trump's base will remain loyal.

Friday, February 15, 2019


Nate Silver does a deeper dive into recent polls than I recently did, and he concludes that President Trump is harming his chances of a 2020 victory:
Trump Keeps Doubling Down On The Same Failed Strategy

... If Trump follows through on the emergency declaration, he’ll be doing something that large majorities of Americans oppose — and he’ll be doing it right as his job-approval ratings had begun to rebound following the partial government shutdown in December and January.

... Polls as tracked by show an average of 32 percent of Americans in favor of the declaration and 65 percent opposed.

... the strategy suggests that Trump didn’t learn any lessons from the shutdown. His approval rating, which was 42.2 percent on the day the shutdown began, bottomed out at 39.3 just as the shutdown was ending. It has since mostly recovered to 41.5 percent, however. Despite Trump’s having capitulated to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in agreeing to reopen the government for three weeks, the sky didn’t fall and the base stuck with Trump.
That's Silver's first point: that Trump caved, yet his base stuck with him.
... Among Republicans, Trump’s approval rating was steady at roughly 88 percent before, during and after the shutdown. Among Democrats, it was also largely unchanged. Among independents, however, his approval rating plunged from about 39 percent just before the shutdown to 31 and 32 percent in two polls conducted in the midst of it, before recovering to 38 percent once the shutdown was over.
That's Silver's second point: that when Trump does unpopular stuff, like forcing a government shutdown, independent voters turn against him.

As Silver notes, Trump needs independents to win in 2020:
Trump won independents by 4 points in 2016 — 46 percent went to him and 42 percent went for Hillary Clinton. Had they gone for Clinton by 4 points instead, she would have won the national popular vote by 4 or 5 points, and won Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida and possibly Arizona.
So he should stop doing stuff that alienates independents, because their support is conditional -- unlike the support of the base, which is unwavering.

The emergency declaration is just the kind of thing that alienates independents, Silver says. But is it? The shutdown touched a lot of ordinary Americans' lives -- air travel was disrupted, national parks were closed, and so on. Americans not a government payroll who are living paycheck to paycheck could relate to unpaid government workers who couldn't make the rent.

The emergency declaration isn't like that. It's an abstraction, and it'll probably be blocked in court, at least for a while. It won't stir up active outrage.

On the other hand, Trump needed to do something to persuade his base that he's still determined to build a wall. He could have just said he'd scrape together some other appropriations; his base would have bought that. But, as Axios's Jonathan Swan says, "President Trump liked the idea of declaring a national emergency because it's the maximalist, most dramatic option." Swan says that Trump believes "the reprogramming of funds to allow more wall spending, without declaring an emergency, would have been complicated to explain to voters." This is wrong -- if Trump said that was his brilliant plan to get the wall, the base would have believed it. In any case, he chose drama.

I think Silver's analysis is basically correct: Trump will continue to do whatever fires up the base, even if it alienates independents. That seems good for Democrats going into 2020. But Trump's political instincts aren't terrible -- he grasped that a second shutdown wouldn't play well, even though the base would have been delighted. And I think he has intuited that the emergency declaration might poll badly but won't inspire a visceral reaction among wary independents.

I could be wrong about this. But I predict that if he sinks his reelection chances, it will be as a result of other base-friendly behaviors, and that this won't be a factor.


President Trump plans to declare a national emergency in order to get his wall built. Democratis in the House will then vote to block him, and they'll force a vote on the same measure in the Senate.

The conventional wisdom is that the Senate might join the House in rejecting the emergency declaration. That's preposterous.

The New York Times explains what's about to happen:
Under the National Emergencies Act, the House and the Senate can take up what is called a joint resolution of termination to end the emergency status if they believe the president is acting irresponsibly or the threat has dissipated. Representative Joaquin Castro, Democrat of Texas and the head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said late Thursday that he was ready to introduce such a resolution if Mr. Trump followed through.

... the law says that if one chamber passes such a resolution, the other one must bring it up for a vote within 18 days. Though Democrats are in the minority in the Senate, they would need only a handful of Republicans to join them to pass the resolution there and send it to Mr. Trump’s desk. It is easy to imagine a half-dozen or more Republican senators joining Democrats out of concern for the precedent that Mr. Trump’s declaration will set.
It doesn't matter, because Trump will veto the resolution, and there's no way there'll be a two-thirds vote in both chambers to override the veto. But why is it "easy to imagine a half-dozen or more Republican senators joining Democrats out of concern for the precedent that Mr. Trump’s declaration will set"?

I don't care how many Republicans have expressed concern about this move. I don't care how much hand-wringing Marco Rubio and Susan Collins have done. There would need to be four GOP votes against the emergency declaration, and that won't happen.

Looking at the polling, you'd think Senate Republicans might have some cover to oppose the president -- GOP voters have somewhat wary of the emergency declaration idea, according to polls.
... in a CNN/SSRS poll released earlier this month ... only 64% of Republicans thought the President should go ahead -- a figure far lower than Trump's approval numbers with GOP voters.
In a Fox poll released this week, 74% of GOP respondents said they'd support an emergency declaration; 87% approve of the job Trump is doing as president.

But GOP voters have been less than solid in their support for a Trump emergency declaration because the president hadn't issued the declaration yet. Once he does, support among the party's voters will shoot into the nineties. On immigration, Republicans think we're at war, and that's how public opinion on war works. Recall the polling before and after the Iraq War started:
Gallup found that from August 2002 through early March 2003 the share of Americans favoring war hovered in a relatively narrow range between a low of 52 percent and a high of 59 percent....

Not surprisingly, Republicans (75 percent in favor) backed war more strongly than did Democrats (only 40 percent)....

Even many Americans who favored war were not demanding it. Gallup asked those who supported attacking Iraq whether they would be upset if President Bush decided not to go to war. Roughly half said no....

Once Operation Iraqi Freedom began on March 19, support for the war surged to 72 percent in Gallup’s polling....

More than nine out of ten Republicans supported the decision to go to war....
That's what will happen once Trump signs the declaration -- GOP support will top 90%, and scared Senate Republicans will fall in line. The Senate won't embarrass Trump by rebuffing him on this.

Thursday, February 14, 2019


Media Matters has a supercut of Fox hosts conceding that President Trump's fight for the wall is primarily about reelection:

Fox contributor Dan Bongino explicitly said that Trump’s insistence on building a wall is about giving him a "political victory,” stating, "This is not about immigration. I think everybody at this table knows this.” Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy claimed Trump needs a wall "because he needs to start running for re-election." Fox’s Tomi Lahren argued, “When President Trump listens to his instincts on this, he is right, which is why he won the election in 2016. He will win on it again in 2020....”
The voters in Trump's base hate and fear immigrants, but they hate and fear Democrats more. We're the enemy. We're always the enemy. We were the enemy in the Bush years, when the right loved the Iraq War, torture, and Gitmo primarily because we hated them. We were in favor of going into Afghanistan, so the Bushies had to start another war, just to piss us off (not that they minded).

In the end, it's always about us: owning us, inducing our tears, keeping us out of power.


Amazon withdraws:
Amazon on Thursday canceled its plans to build an expansive corporate campus in New York City after facing an unexpectedly fierce backlash from some lawmakers and unions, who contended that a tech giant did not deserve nearly $3 billion in government incentives.

The company, as part of its extensive search for a new headquarters, had chosen Long Island City, Queens, as one of two winning sites, saying that it would create more than 25,000 jobs in the city.

But the agreement to lure Amazon stirred an intense debate about the use of government incentives to entice wealthy companies, the rising cost of living in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods, and the city’s very identity.
What a shame! The Amazon deal was already helping the community, and by "community" I mean "real estate speculators, some of whom have never even set foot in the neighborhood." Here's a New York Times story from late December:
... in early November, news broke that Amazon would build a vast campus in the neighborhood and hire more than 25,000 employees.

The deal ... has been greeted with euphoria among real estate brokers who have seen a sudden gold rush of interest in the local condo market.

Some inquiries have come from Amazon employees, but since only a few hundred will arrive in 2019, most buyers have been investors and New Yorkers looking to relocate to a neighborhood on the rise.

... the rush has fueled concerns that a gentrifying neighborhood will become even less affordable, as “tech bros” push out the working class....

Kayla Lee put on a hard hat and took a large work elevator to the roof of Corte, an eight-story condo building under construction where she is the sales director....

The apartments Ms. Lee, a broker for Modern Spaces, shows at Corte are barely framed out and will not be habitable till next October. They range from $560,000 studios to penthouses selling for nearly $3 million.

Since the Amazon news, Corte has raised prices about $30,000 per apartment; more increases are planned.

... One overseas buyer bid $2 million for an apartment without seeing it. When Ms. Lee took 30 minutes to respond, he raised his offer by $20,000. He is now in contract.
A Wall Street Journal story noted that brokers "are renting vans and packing them full of clients eager to view multiple buildings, or holding group tours in Chinese." There are a lot of Chinese-speaking city residents, particularly in Queens, but I strongly suspect that these particular Chinese speakers aren't among them.

But hey, how can you pass up the opportunity to live like the folks in Silicon Valley?

The unemployment rate in Queens County is 3.4%. Queens and the rest of the city will do fine without Amazon. And Amazon will probably find another city willing to fork over $3 billion -- though it would be great if that didn't happen.


In The New York Times, Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman describe an administration that's trying to limit its losses:
Trump Puts Best Face on Border Deal, as Aides Try to Assuage an Angry Right

In pursuit of a wall, President Trump ran into one. A single-minded drive to force Congress to finance his signature campaign promise has left Mr. Trump right back where he started, this time seeking a way to climb over the political barrier in his way after trying to charge through it did not work.

As he inched closer to reluctantly accepting a bipartisan spending compromise without the money he demanded for his border wall, Mr. Trump offered no acknowledgment on Wednesday that his pressure tactics had failed even as aides sought to minimize the damage by tamping down criticism on the right.

One call was made to Lou Dobbs, a favorite of Mr. Trump’s whose Fox Business Network show he often tries to catch live. Another was placed to Sean Hannity, the Fox host who regularly talks with the president. The message: Mr. Trump deserved support because he still forced concessions that he would never have gotten without a five-week partial government shutdown.

Even so, it was arguably the most punishing defeat Mr. Trump has experienced as president....
Meanwhile, Politico's Gabby Orr describes a president who's playing up his opposition to abortion in order not to lose the support of immigration-obsessed Evangelicals:
... Trump’s recent public focus on abortion ... has delighted his evangelical Christian supporters. During his State of the Union address last Tuesday, Trump used vivid imagery to claim that New York’s new abortion law would “allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth.” And he accused Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, who’s backed similar legislation in his state, of wanting to allow medical providers to “execute” babies after birth.

Abortion is a somewhat unlikely new cause for a president who years ago called himself “very pro-choice” and did not make the issue a central theme of his 2016 campaign. But people close to Trump say that he has developed an increasingly sincere passion for the cause.

That passion also conveniently dovetails with what they call a concerted recent effort to energize white evangelicals who might otherwise be turned off by the concessions Trump appears poised to make to Democrats who have refused to meet his demand for $5.7 billion in wall funding. In need of a boost with his base, Trump is turning increasingly to social and religious issues.
Both of these stories proceed from the assumption that Trump is struggling with his base. But is he?

A look at recent Trump job approval polls collected by Real Clear Politics suggests that Trump is making a comeback. During the shutdown, Gallup had Trump's approval disapproval numbers at 37%/59%. Now he's at 44%/52% -- 8 points under water rather than 22. Politico/Morning Consult had Trump at 41%/56% during the shutdown (-15); now he's at 45%/51% (-6). Fox had him at 43%/54% (-11) and now has him at 46%/52% (-6). The Hill's HarrisX poll had him at 44%/56% (-12) and now has him at 47%/53% (-6). And while even Rasmussen had him down by double digits during the shutdown (44%/56%, -12), he's now at 50%/49% (+1).

A couple of polls still show Trump struggling -- Economist/YouGov (41%/57%, -16), Reuters/Ipsos (39%/57%, -18) -- but the trend is obvious. Trump is averaging 43.6% approval -- still a weak number, but close to his 46.1% popular vote total in 2016.

The base doesn't think he lost. The base believes that he'll find a way to build the wall -- or that construction is already well under way. Trump is also benefiting from a lot of news (Ilhan Omar, the Green New Deal, Virginia) that plays in the right-wing media as confirmation of the belief that Democrats are a satanic force bent on destroying America and Western civilization.

Trump is trying to minimize his losses, but the numbers suggest that he's not losing at all -- his fans still think he's a winner, and all they really care about is that he despises Democrats as much as they do and never stops fighting them, regardless of the outcome. Baffling as it is to the rest of us, he retains the loyal support of nearly enough people to steal a second presidential election. That's unlikely to change in the next 21 months, so we have to work hard to outvote the diehards.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019


Howard Schultz on CNN was a ratings flop.
CNN's town hall Tuesday night with former Starbucks CEO and possible independent presidential candidate Howard Schultz finished third in the cable news ratings race, according to early numbers from Nielsen Media Research.

Both Fox News and MSNBC drew more viewers.

Laura Ingraham's "The Ingraham Angle" won the time slot with 2.47 million total viewers, while MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell drew 2.21 million. CNN attracted 1.04 million viewers during the time slot.

In the 25-54 age group sought out by advertisers, Ingraham's show had 464,000 viewers, compared to "The Last Word" on MSNBC with 366,000 viewers. CNN's town hall finished third with 351,000.
So Schultz drew barely over a million viewers, and 351,000 in the 25-54 age range.

By contrast, how did Kamala Harris do last month?
California Sen. Kamala Harris drew a bigger-than-usual audience to CNN Monday night for her first town hall appearance as a presidential candidate.

The hourlong program, featuring Harris answering questions from a studio audience, drew nearly 2 million viewers — 75 percent above CNN's four-week average in the 10 o'clock hour. The news channel says the audience of 1.95 million was the largest for a single-candidate town hall in CNN history.

Harris' appearance, a week after she announced she'll run for president in the 2020 Democratic primary, also carried CNN to the top spot in the key news demographic of adults 25-54. The town hall averaged 712,000 viewers in the demo, well ahead of its cable-news competition on MSNBC (404,000) and Fox News (395,000).
So Harris's audience was approximately double the size of Schultz's. Genius move by CNN to give him the second town hall and not Warren, Booker, or someone else with an actual following.


Politico tells us that Mike Bloomberg has a message for the rest of the 2020 Democratic field: My bankroll weighs a ton.
Billionaire philanthropist Michael Bloomberg is preparing to spend at least $500 million from his own pocket to deny President Donald Trump a second term, according to Democratic operatives briefed on his plans....

“That’ll get us through the first few months,” Kevin Sheekey, a top adviser to the former New York mayor, told POLITICO when asked about the $500 million plan, which is just 1 percent of Bloomberg’s estimated net worth.

“Mike spent $100 million in his last New York City election. And you can do the math as you think more broadly but New York City is 3 percent of the national population,” Sheekey said.
What Sheekey neglects to mention is that the $100 million outlay almost didn't work:
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg pulled out a narrow re-election victory on Tuesday, as voters angry over his maneuver to undo the city’s term limits law and his extravagant campaign spending provided an unexpected lift to his vastly underfinanced challenger, William C. Thompson Jr.

With 99 percent of the vote counted, unofficial returns showed Mr. Bloomberg with 51 percent and Mr. Thompson with 46 percent....

The billionaire mayor had poured $90 million of his own fortune into the race, a sum without equal in the history of municipal politics that gave him a 14-to-1 advantage in campaign spending.
That's a 2009 story from The New York Times, which later said that Bloomberg spent $102 million. ("And the $102 million tab is likely to rise, because the mayor has not yet doled out postelection bonuses to campaign workers, which have routinely exceeded $100,000 a person in years past.")

William Thompson, Bloomberg's opponent, was uncharismatic as well as underfunded, and, as the Times noted, he didn't run a great campaign:
His press releases misspelled his own name; his aides groused about their jobs on Facebook; and his media team was so short on cash that it resorted to running 15-second blink-and-you-miss-it TV commercials.
Yet he came within five points of a mayor who spent nine figures to win and who had a 63% favorable rating in the city, according to a Quinnipiac poll taken just before the election.

So in the Democratic presidential primaries, don't assume that Bloomberg's money will automatically make him a contender against well-funded, well-liked candidates, most of whom have positions on the issues that are more compatible with those of the party electorate than his. Also, he's a septuagenarian white male in a party that values diversity and would probably like to see a fresh face.

The Politico story says Bloomberg has a fallback plan:
If Bloomberg declines to seek the presidency, his intention is to run an unprecedented data-heavy campaign designed to operate as a shadow political party for the eventual Democratic nominee.

... Bloomberg has assembled a political team that, since late November, has been meeting at least once weekly in the Manhattan headquarters of Bloomberg Philanthropies to consider what some aides have called “Plan A” and “Plan B.”

Plan A is straightforward: Bloomberg runs for president as a Democrat.... According to Plan B, Bloomberg uses all the data — ranging from meticulously researched profiles of voters to polling data on the top issues that move the electorate — and field staff to help the otherwise-outgunned Democratic Party nominee to end Trump’s presidency.
I assume Plan B comes with an asterisk: If the Democratic nominee isn't to Bloomberg's liking (Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren), he'll withhold his money and data. He wants to beat Trump, but not with a socialist, for heaven's sake.

I'd like to believe that a Democrat could win with or without Bloomberg's cash and analytics. However, I think most of the candidates would be afraid to refuse his help. Billionaires -- you can't get real change with 'em and you might not be able to win without 'em.


Frank Bruni is scolding Democrats again:
Democrats, Stop Groveling

To triumph in 2020, care less about pleasing all of the people all of the time.

Kirsten Gillibrand confronted a piece of fried chicken in South Carolina over the weekend. She began to eat it with a fork, realized that others around her were using their hands, asked if she should do likewise and ditched the utensils. Reading the reports of this, you got the sense that she would have grabbed that chicken with her pinkie toes if she’d been told to; she would have sucked it through a very large straw if those were the cues. Anything to conform. Anything to please.
I'll pause here and say that if you think the coverage of the 2020 election seems likely to be as abysmal as that of 2016 or 2000, you're probably right.

Back to Bruni:
Cory Booker, in Iowa, fielded a question by a reporter representing a foreign news organization. “Puedes hablar español?” he responded, misidentifying the reporter’s accent, according to a video distributed by David Gelles, a CNN producer. The reporter corrected Booker: “No, Swiss radio.” “Swiss!” Booker exulted. “I do not speak Swiss. I cannot even say Swiss cheese in Swiss.” Vegan humor? Booker is a vegan. He’s also pathetically eager to connect.

Memo to Democratic presidential candidates: Stop it. Just stop it. Lose the sycophancy. Reclaim your dignity.... Don’t invent languages — there’s no such tongue as Swiss — just to win points.
I am shocked, shocked, that a politicial might be "eager to connect" with people!

"Pathetically"? Booker wanted to show off his fluency in Spanish, made a mistake -- omigod, a Democrat committed a gaffe! Maybe we should give it a "-gate" suffix! -- and then, out of mild embarrassment, quipped in a not particularly clever way about the Swiss. As one does when one has committed a minor mistake in conversation. I don't think that was a vegan joke, and I don't think Booker decided to "invent" a language called Swiss. (I sometimes need to think for a second before I remember what languages are spoken in Switzerland, or Belgium for that matter.)

And while we're talking about Gillibrand's approach to fried chicken, which Bruni clearly regards as inauthentic, let's recall this now-forgotten food incident from the 1984 campaign trail, starring the King of Authenticity:
NORTHPORT, ALA. -- President Reagan, doing what millions of Americans do for lunch on the fly, bagged a Big Mac at McDonald's Monday.

"What am I supposed to order?" the president asked aides after reaching the counter of the fast-food outlet near the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, where he had given a campaign speech.
Bruni says that 2020 Democrats are "desperate" and "groveling," and that the candidate field is "lousy with obsequiousness." As is often the case, Bruni doesn't have a good word to say about any Democrat.

With one exception: He likes Nancy Pelosi.
Consider Nancy Pelosi. She’s having a moment in part because she’s speaking bluntly and not afraid to ruffle feathers. (“The green dream, or whatever they call it,” she said when asked about the resolution.) She helped lead the party to triumph last year. She can point the way to an even more important triumph in 2020.
He's Frank Bruni, so of course he praises her for appearing to be dismissive of a progressive idea. But he's also praising her because she "helped lead the party to triumph last year" -- which is odd because he sided repeatedly with Democratic candidates who wanted to dump her.

Here's Bruni in 2017, just after Democrat Jon Ossoff lost to Republican Karen Handel in a highly publicized special House election:
My guess is that Handel’s success owed a great deal to the assertiveness with which Republicans painted Ossoff as a liberal puppet, ready to have Nancy Pelosi pull his strings.
Here's Bruni a few months later, a little more than a year before the 2018 midterms, in a column titled "Democrats, Please Get Ready to Lose":
... one prominent Republican strategist ... marveled that Democrats had done nothing to take away one of Republicans’ most trusted targets: Nancy Pelosi. As long as she remains the Democratic leader in the House and Republicans can describe their opponents as servants of a San Francisco liberal in office for so many decades, they’re in good stead, he said.
Here's Bruni in March 2018, after Conor Lamb won a special House election in Pennsylvania:
[Lamb] blunted Republicans’ favorite weapon against Democratic candidates for the House — they’re just would-be pawns of the dreaded Nancy Pelosi! — by running an ad that made clear that he would not support her as his party’s leader in that chamber.
Funny that Bruni didn't think Lamb was being desperately eager to please centrist Pennsylvania voters with that ad.

But I agree with Bruni about Pelosi: She's just let criticism wash over her. She knows what she's doing and she trusts her own judgments.

In other words, she doesn't pay attention to criticism from the likes of Frank Bruni. I hope more Democrats follow her example.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019


Here's a well-known quote from Donald Trump's first book, The Art of the Deal:
The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration—and a very effective form of promotion.
You could argue that if it's hyperbole, it's not truthful, and you'd be right, of course. But Trump did this in business for years. In some ways it was harmless -- it was meant to gull the rubes (us) so we'd believe that Trump was an amazing dealmaker and that everything he touched was the absolute best. His counterparties in those deals generally knew how much he was lying, or at least had lawyers who did. On the other hand, the poor schlubs who worked for him and didn't get paid, or got paid a fraction of what they were promised, were genuinely victimized by "truthful hyperbole" -- it was hyperbole about how much money they'd earn, which in other contexts is called "fraud." (See also Trump University.)

Still, none of this had implications for the broad general public until Trump turned to politics. Now this is his M.O. as president of the United States. And he doesn't just use hyperbole to describe everything as "the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular" -- he uses it to describe things as terrible or horrifying. Every deal negotiated by a predecessor -- NAFTA, the Iran deal -- is "the worst deal ever made." Enemies are "horrible people."

And then there's this:

That's not what Northam said, as I told you late last month. He was talking about mothers, in consultation with doctors, making medical decisions about non-viable fetuses, or fetuses with severe deformities, after birth.

Kalli Joy Gray watches the clip and tweets: "This is how you get people to shoot up abortion clinics. Saying total lies like this." Charlie Pierce writes:
This is an appeal to a movement that already has a body count built up through clinic bombings, clinic shootings, and the assassination of doctors and clinic personnel. That's not even to mention the vandalism, arson, and stalking that have been visited on these clinics and their employees. [Trump] starts talking about Northam's "executing" beautiful, innocent babies and somebody out there with a gun may postpone his trip to Comet Pizza in D.C. and make a side trip to Richmond instead.
But remember, Trump didn't start this. Long before he weighed in on Northam's remarks, Marco Rubio tweeted, "I never thought I would see the day America had government officials who openly support legal infanticide." Ben Sasse said, “In just a few years pro-abortion zealots went from ‘safe, legal, and rare’ to ‘keep the newborns comfortable while the doctor debates infanticide.’” And in the right-wing media, there was this headline from Gateway Pundit: "SHOCK: Democrat Virginia Governor Ralph Northam Endorses the Murder of Babies — AFTER THEY ARE BORN!"

Long before Donald Trump became a politician, Republicans were engaging in this sort of (un)truthful hyperbole. (Ask Al Gore, who never said he invented the Internet.) It's only fitting that the deceitful hyperbole guy wound up as the head of the GOP, because the GOP has been, for years, the deceitful hyperbole party. They were destined for each other.


During the 2018 midterm campaign, several Democratic House candidates pledged not to vote for Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House. Many commentators who claimed to have the Democrats' best interests at heart agreed that Pelosi should go.

Pelosi is speaker now, and what are Republicans doing?
The Republican Party has a new trio of Democratic villains: Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez....

The NRCC has sent out thousands of emails trying to tie vulnerable Democrats to Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib and Omar. And the committee's website makes it appear as if these backbench members are running the House. While the NRCC still regularly bashes Pelosi, GOP lawmakers and aides privately acknowledge that Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib and Omar are their main focus now.
The argument during the campaign was: Announce that Pelosi won't pusruse the speakership and you'll deprive the GOP of a target for attacks. But the GOP will always find a target for attacks. The GOP will always demonize some Democrat.

In August, I told you that Republicans at all times have one or more Antichrists warming up in the bullpen. Ocasio-Cortez seemed to be the obvious choice. She hadn't even won a general election and she was being demonized in Laura Ingraham monologues, while being challenged to debate by Ben Shapiro, Candace Owens, and Katie Pavlich. I did add this:
Ocasio-Cortez might not become the main target of the Republicans -- but only because there's always Maxine Waters. Or Hillary Clinton. Or ...
I wasn't counting on Omar and Tlaib. But it doesn't matter. There's a always someone. And there would have been even if Pelosi had been dumped for a centrist white guy like Tim Ryan.

This is also why Democrats shouldn't imagine that they'll avoid demonization if they pick the least controversial candidate for president. Even if that happens, someone else will be the demon, and that person will be hung around the candidate's neck. It might not even be someone in politics -- it could be a celebrity or a TV news person or someone who's made news at a liberal arts college. There's always an Antichrist.

Monday, February 11, 2019


I've been less critical of the #NeverTrumpers than Charlie Pierce, but it appears that he was right all along. Pierce writes today:
More than a few people have been bothered by my consistent skepticism about the good faith of most Never Trump conservatives. If any of them had abjured 40 years of insane Republican economics, and 40 years of weaponized bigotry, and 40 years of vote-tampering under the color of law, and if any of them had evinced a desire to change American conservatism from a profitable poisonous grift to an actual governing philosophy that didn't require a Thorazine the size of a manhole cover, I'd have felt differently....

But, through it all, I had the sense that most of them were more concerned with damage to the brand than with the damage to the republic.
Damage to the brand? I think that's what some of them cared about, whether the brand was conservatism, Republicanism, or both. But I think Pierce is closer to the mark as he continues. He quotes an essay Erick Erickson published this morning, titled "I’ll Be Voting for President Trump and Vice President Pence in 2020."
President Trump delivered on tax reform. He delivered on regulatory rollbacks. He delivered on undermining Obamacare. He delivered on moving the embassy in Israel. He delivered on withdrawal from the Paris Accord. He delivered on withdrawal from the Iranian agreement. He delivered on shifting American foreign policy focus to the Western Hemisphere to deal with Venezuela, Cuba, and other hotspots. He delivered on solid executive appointments, including to the judiciary.
Pierce translates this:
Grab all the pussy you can as long as more of the wealth gets pushed upwards. Conspire and collude with thuggish autocrats as long as I can maintain control over every woman's ovaries. So Ryan Zinke can steal everything in Interior that isn't nailed down? The Eighth Commandment can take a seat while we carve uranium out of the Grand Canyon. What's three dozen indictments compared to hearing Justice Brett Kavanaugh's pronouncements for the next 30 years? Render unto Caesar the crooks that are Caesar's.
Exactly. The main problem the #NeverTrumpers, or at least Erickson and his kind, had with Trump was that they were afraid he wouldn't be fully on board with the mean-spirited, avaricious, bigoted, rapacious program of the contemporary GOP. He might not be a pro-plutocrat tax cutter or a vote stealer or a gun fondler or a deregulator or an abortion restrictor -- or he might sign on to the agenda but manage it so ineptly that its long-term acolytes couldn't win elections anymore.

Now Erickson knows that he can trust Trump with the vast majority of the GOP's program. He also knows that he has no choice for 2020 -- Trump won't lose the nomination, so it's either Trump or (nooooooo!) a Democrat.

The Cause is always paramount. The purpose of life is to bring us ever close the day when the Fox/Koch/NRA/Norquist/religious right counterrevolution has fully triumphed. To Erickson and others, Trump threatened to postpone Utopia. Now he doesn't. MAGA!


The real and (mostly) imagined scandals of Hillary Clinton received more coverage during the 2016 campaign than the very real, very serious should-have-been-scandals of Donald Trump. The standard explanation is that most political insiders assumed that Clinton would win, so the press was getting a head start on holding the next president accountable.

In an ideal world, a presidential election with no incumbent wouldn't be a referendum on one candidate rather than the other. Sometimes, as in 2008, it's a referendum on the previous president. That was a year when Democrats were fortunate: George W. Bush was so reviled, and John McCain had done so little to distance himself from Bush, that much of the public was voting against the status quo. The outcome that year is also a tribute to the Obama team's campaign skills; the 2012 election was also a referendum on the incumbent Obama's opponent, who was successfully (and accurately) portrayed as a rich elitist with no ability to feel the pain of ordinary citizens.

But far more presidential elections in recent years have been referendums on Democrats -- even when the Democrat on the ballot isn't in office. The 1988 election was a referendum on Mike Dukakis rather than the Reagan/Bush record. The 2004 election was a referendum on John Kerry, alleged Swift Boat liar. The 2000 election was a referendum on Al Gore and the sins ascribed to him (earth tones! lying about inventing the Internet!); oddly, after Bill Clinton's polarizing presidency, that election wasn't a referendum on the Big Dog.

It wasn't a referendum on Clinton because Clinton was very popular as he left office, just as Barack Obama was popular in 2016. In both cases, the right-wing noise machine knew it had to make the election a referendum on the Democratic candidate rather than the sitting president (or the Republican candidate). In both cases, the mainstream media eagerly fell in line.

But surely this election will be referendum on the incumbent, won't it? The 2018 midterms were about Trump. How can 2020 not be?

Well, we're seeing signs that it will be a referendum on the Democrat. Here's the lede of a Washington Post news analysis:
Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s presidential rollout has been upended by questions about why she called herself Native American decades ago. The governor and attorney general of Virginia are under fire for darkening their faces in a racist cultural appropriation that has rocked the state and placed their careers in limbo.

The past week has seen a combustible collision of politics focused on racial and ethnic identity, highlighting how much the national discourse is being fragmented not only by partisan loyalties, but also by factors innately personal.

As both the Warren and Virginia cases show, Democrats are engaged in a vigorous debate over how to talk about identity politics at a time when the country’s growing diversity is scrambling the electoral map, and as a diverse field is gathering to run for president.
Warren's presidential rollout hasn't been upended, as far as Democratic voters are concerned; she's meeting enthuasiastic crowds and she's being asked questions about issues, not about ancestry. But the media perception of her rollout is that it's been upended, just as the media perception of Amy Klobuchar's rollout is that she's gravely wounded by reports of tyrannical behavior as a boss. Kamala Harris is in trouble because her record as a prosecutor wasn't ideally progressive, and because her stated desire to get rid of private health insurance is assumed to be too frightening for the heartland.

Oh, and the whole party is doomed because ideas Democrats are discussing are believed to be too progressive. Politico headline: "Republicans Can't Wait to Debate ‘Medicare for All.’" Axios headline: "Trump's Lifeline: Democrats' Socialism Surge." Headline for an opinion piece by National Journal's Josh Kraushaar:

The Democrats and their ideas should be vetted. But some of this isn't vetting -- it's the media telling us that Democrats are outside the Overton window (while Trump is presumably within the window, because as president he has a large part in defining where the window is).

The right will work hard to assassinate the Democratic nominee's character and marginalize his or her ideas. That's to be expected. But the mainstream press doesn't have to cooperate. Yet apparently it will.

Does the MSM assume, again, that the Democrat will inevitably be the winner? I don't think so -- the press was burned by 2016 and now realizes that Trump can win an election. I'd say that the press is no better at resisting the ref-working of the right than it was in 2016 or 2000 or 1988. Also, the plutocrats are coming off the sidelines and attacking economic progressivism, with the Beltway press parroting every corpocrat's complaint.

So the 2020 election really might be a referendum on the Democrat, and on Democrats in general, while Trump skates.

Sunday, February 10, 2019


Nice work, Gallup. I hope you're proud.

And here are some headlines from the online right:

All this is based on an alarmist, clickbait-y blog post from Gallup's chairman, Jim Clifton:
What If There Were 42 Million at the Border?

Here's a good question about caravans: How many more are coming?

Gallup asked the whole population of Latin America. There are 33 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Roughly 450 million adults live in the region. Gallup asked them, "Would you like to move to another country permanently if you could?"

A whopping 27% said "yes."

So this means roughly 120 million would like to migrate somewhere.

The next question Gallup asked was, "Where would you like to move?"

Of those who want to leave their Latin American country permanently, 35% said they want to go to the United States.

The Gallup analytics estimate is that 42 million want to come to the U.S.

Forty-two million seekers of citizenship or asylum are watching to determine exactly when and how is the best time to make the move. This suggests that open borders could potentially attract 42 million Latin Americans. A full 5 million who are planning to move in the next 12 months say they are moving to the U.S.
Gallup was pushing this story back in November. As I noted at the time; Breitbart responded then with a scare story titled "Gallup: Five Million Central Americans Want to Move to U.S."

But the Gallup story at the time included a caveat:
... unlike the caravan of Central American migrants who are currently on the move, most people who desire to migrate will never try to make their way to the U.S. Desire remains only that. Gallup typically finds that the percentage of those who have plans to move is substantially lower than the percentage who would like to move, and even fewer are actively making preparations to do so.

Central America is no different in this regard. For example, in Honduras, whose residents make up a large percentage of the migrant caravan, about half of adults (47%) say they would like to move to another country permanently if they could, but about 9% are planning to move in the next year -- and 2% are actively preparing to do so.
In the post cited by Trump, which appeared on Friday, the chairman decided to leave all that out, presumably in order to induce maximum right-wing outrage. (Also omitted: the fact that not everyone who claims to be "actively preparing" a move will actually follow through. Also, the survey doesn't distinguish those who plan to migrate in a strictly legal fashion from those who don't.)

And as a point of comparison, let's go to Gallup's Migration Research Center and see how many Americans want to leave the country.
... the 16% of Americans overall who said in 2017 and again in 2018 that they would like to permanently move to another country -- if they could -- is higher than the average levels during either the George W. Bush (11%) or Barack Obama administration (10%).
And what's their preferred destination?
In 2018, more than one in four Americans (26%) who would like to move named Canada as the place they would like to go, up from 12% in 2016.
So let's run the numbers. The population of the U.S. is approximately 328 million. If 16% want to move somewhere else permanently and 26% of the would-be movers want to go to Canada, that means more than 13 million Americans would like to move to Canada. The total population of Canada is approximately 37 million. (Maybe Canadians should build a wall.)

The estimated number of Americans who want to move to any country is more than 52 million. It was also in the tens of millions during the Bush and Obama presidencies.

But the State Department says that, as of 2016, there were only 9 million (non-military) U.S. citizens living abroad. Which means that the vast majority of the tens of millions of Americans who wanted to leave in the Bush and Obama years didn't leave. The same is likely to be true of the 52 million who want to leave now. And the same is likely to be true of the Latin Americans who say they want to leave. Even the ones who claim to be making plans aren't all going to emigrate.

But Gallup effectively recycled the numbers and got mentioned in a lot of ooga-booga stories in the xenophobic press, so it's all good, right?