Monday, March 25, 2019


Here's the 13th and last of Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals:
Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.

Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.
And here's the GOP right now:
Republicans clamored for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff's head Monday, demanding he give up his gavel or resign from Congress as part of their campaign of revenge against Democrats who pursued and promoted allegations of collusion between President Donald Trump and the Russian government.

Trump and senior White House aides, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and other allies of the president on Capitol Hill raced to paint the California Democrat as an overeager disciple of a theory debunked by the Justice Department in a summary of special counsel Robert Mueller's findings released Sunday.

Schiff was pummeled repeatedly on Fox News and other right-leaning media during the last two days. Trump himself picked up on the anti-Schiff tirade, retweeting a "Fox and Friends" interview where the California Democrat was excoriated.

... Top Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway called for Schiff to resign immediately. And Donald Trump Jr. — who bristled over Schiff's question's after a closed-door interview with the House Intelligence Committee in 2017 — tormented him on Twitter.

"Has anyone heard from slimy Adam #fullofschiff Schiff today?" he wrote. "I mean it must be embarrassing to have have [sic] spent the last 2 years as the leader of the tinfoil hat brigade and have it all come crashing down so quick. I’m legitimately concerned for his mental state."
Schiff isn't the only GOP target -- the Republican National Committee is circulating a mocking supercut of Democrats and liberal media figures talking about collusion, while Tim Murtaugh, the communications director of the Trump for President campaign, is doing a lite version of Michael Cohen's old act, thuggishly attempting to intimidate news producers who've booked accusers of Trump and his circle.

But the focus is on Schiff. That doesn't surprise me -- as I've said many times, right-wingers love Alinsky, while liberals don't even read him.

Schiff is barely known to the public, and he should just ride out the storm. There's only a risk for him if idiot mainstream pundits conclude that these fine, upstanding Republicans have a legitimate grievance. But so far Robert Mueller's ambiguous conclusions on obstruction have led at least some of the mainstream press to acknowledge that Republicans are exaggerating Trump's vindication. (We'll see how long that lasts.)

Poor Adam Schiff. If he were a Republican under comparable Democratic attack, he'd be on the verge of superstardom. They'd be talking about a presidential run or a berth on the Supreme Court. Upsetting the other side would make him famous, even if he's not the most charismatic guy. As it, some of us will continue to nod quietly in agreement when he's on cable news, while the rest of the Democratic electorate -- the non-watchers of MSNBC -- remains unclear on who he is.

Soon I guess he'll start showing up in almost as many evil-Democrat memes as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Maxine Waters. Eventually the wingnuts might not even have room to fit Nancy Pelosi.


Mr. Trump’s aides warned him not to react to the findings with a sense of triumphalism, people close to him said.

-- Mark Landler and Maggie Haberman in The New York Times

The outcome is a huge political victory, and Trump will use it to bludgeon the media and Democrats for the next 18 months.

--Mike Allen at Axios
Allen goes on to write, "Much of the country will probably agree with him." Is that true? I think the part of the country that already agrees with him on everything will agree with him. I think people in the middle will agree that he's been exonerated, because Republicans are still better at spin, as they have been for decades.

But will the Americans who aren't right-wing partisans really care? On the campaign trail, even with partisan crowds, Democrats aren't hearing a lot of questions about Mueller and Russia.
At events across early primary states, voters asked about health care and school shootings and immigration. Questioners were far less likely to address the report by the special counsel....
Trump may be experiencing a real victory -- or he may be experiencing a Bush-takes-Baghdad victory, which didn't save George Bush the Elder in 1992 and almost didn't save his son in 2004.

The Democrat who emerges as the presidential nominee in 2020 will have serious ideas about health care, gun violence, climate change, immigration, inequality, and many other issues. Trump's message might still be "NO COLLUSION!" in all caps. That might be his entire agenda -- to wreak vengeance on the people who confronted him about Russia. (That plus the wall.)

If "NO COLLUSION!" is Trump's "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED," maybe it will be enough to get him over the hump in 2020 -- but it's quite possible that he'll seem like someone who's disengaged, and oblivious to the concerns of ordinary Americans, like Poppy Bush in '92. The Democratic nominee -- even if it's an elder like Warren, Biden, or Bernie -- will be the one talking about the future.

And imagine if Trump takes vindictiveness as far as his sycophants suggests. Imagine if he now decides to order a new investigation of Hillary Clinton, as the New York Post's Michael Goodwin recommends, or of officials in the Obama administration, which is the recommendation of Devin Nunes. I don't think he will, though we can't rule it out. If so, he'll delight people who were already 100% certain to vote for him, while seeming utterly disconnected from the concerns of the rest of us. This could possibly be a moment of hubris from which Trump will have a terrible fall.


AND: Right on cue, here's Lindsey Graham preparing to launch an actual witch hunt.
The South Carolina Republican announced Monday he will investigate whether the Justice Department and FBI influenced the 2016 election to stop Trump, arguing it has not been appropriately probed in comparison to the Trump campaign's interactions with Russian officials.

Graham specifically cited the decisions made to surveil the Trump campaign in 2016 and its handling of the uncorroborated Steele Dossier.

“I’m going to get answers to this. If no one else cares, it seems that Republicans do. Because if the shoe were on the other foot, it would be front page news all over the world. The double standard here has been striking and quite frankly disappointing,” Graham said....

Graham's list of grievances ran long during a 30-minute new conference on Monday morning: He complained about anti-Trump bias in federal law enforcement agencies, lack of media interest in the FBI and DOJ’s handling of the election, why Trump wasn’t informed former campaign aide Carter Page was being watched and what role James Comey played in the saga....

The investigation would look into “whether those who believed that the FBI and the Department of Justice were playing politics, that they wanted Clinton to win and Trump to lose, that somebody can satisfy them,” Graham said. “By any reasonable standard, Mr. Mueller thoroughly investigated the Trump campaign. You cannot say that about the other side of the story.”
We're being told that an obsession with Russia and the Mueller probe was very damaging politically for Democrats going into 2020 (even though an obsession with alleged Hillsry Clinton scandals wasn't damaging at all to Republicans in 2016). When this is the first of several payback investigations directed at Democrats and law enforcement, will media hand-wringers say it's a terrible strategy for the GOP?

(I hope it is. It will certainly impress and energize the right, but only voters who were going to vote Republican anyway. For everyone else, I hope it will seem lo, petty, and vindictive.)

Sunday, March 24, 2019


Jennifer Rubin writes:
... let’s say for the sake of argument that the [Mueller] report shows: 1.) Trump hired multiple campaign officials who had, collectively, more than 100 contacts with Russians and solicited a hostile foreign power’s help in winning the presidency; 2.) Trump lied repeatedly about his pursuit of a business deal with a hostile foreign power while running for president; and 3.) Trump took a slew of actions (from misleading the public to seeking leniency for Michael Flynn to intimidating witnesses in plain sight) that, if committed by anyone other than the president, would be grounds for indictment. Do the Republicans plan on running in 2020 under the banner: Leave the Russian patsy in power — or What’s a little obstruction between friends?

Seriously, that's the Republican message: There was no collusion, and it's no big deal if there was because Russia hates gays, loves fossil fuels, and despises Europe -- just like us. So we should be Russia's friends.
If so, they will have to defend not simply Trump’s criminal innocence but also his fitness to serve after committing all of the above. They’ll have to explain why none of that rises to the level of “high Crimes and Misdemeanor,” and why the country should allow him to continue as the chief executive charged with enforcement of the nation’s laws and the Constitution. Even in the best-case scenario for Trump, the facts we know about already are damning; in a world without a political party reduced to know-nothing cultists, they would be disqualifying for office.
But the GOP is not "a political party reduced to know-nothing cultists" -- it's "a political party reduced to know-nothing cultists" plus people with such intense negative partisanship that they'd vote for a Charles Manson/John Wayne Gacy ticket if the ticket promised to lock up Hillary Clinton.
That’s not all. Maybe before the 2020 election we’ll learn the results of the Southern District of New York investigation(s) on allegations of conspiracy to violate campaign finance laws, defraud banks and cheat on taxes, and other possible crimes. Are Republicans going to back a president who’s found responsible for any or all or those, or, if the investigation is not complete, back a president who, in his second term, could be found to have committed multiple financial crimes?
What’s the defense? Hey, everyone pays off mistresses and files false campaign finance statements!
Yes. The public already thinks all politicians are crooks, and all wealthy men are cheating horndogs. A large subset of the GOP voter base is supposed to care about character and traditional morality, but these people are Trump's most unswerving loyalists, because, to them, character and traditional morality mean hating Muslims and Mexicans and wanting Hillary Clinton locked up.
What gets lost in the discussion of impeachment vs. indictment and the presence or absence of a felony is the reaffirmation that Trump’s conduct — be it lying about his Russian business interests or trying to decapitate investigations — is in no sense acceptable for someone sworn to “take care” that the laws are enforced. He’s a menace to the presidency and to the rule of law and patently unfit to hold presidential powers. The Fox News hosts and their zombie audience will deny this, but what about “respectable" Republicans who like the tax cuts and judges but find most everything else objectionable? I suppose they could descend further into intellectual hackery and support reelection, but you’d think they’d at least consider looking for a nominee without an ocean liner full of baggage.
Nope. Why should they? The zombie Fox News audience would throw a fit if the party tried to jettison Trump, and Trump has an excellent chance of winning next year, especially in a three-way race, which seems inevitable.

Besides, I think Rubin's sense that there's a bright line between Fox-fed "know-nothing cultists" and "respectable" Republicans is erroneous. It's not just Pennsylvania rural diner customers and old retired duffers on Florida's Gulf Coast who think the Russia story is made up and Hillary Clinton was the real colluder -- it's guys in C-suites, who also watch Lou Dobbs and Sean Hannity, and who are no smarter than the diner-dwellers. It's officers in local Republican parties who avidly read QAnon posts. It's young legislative staffers who text n****r jokes to their friends.

The problem isn't Trump -- it's the Republican Party. The rot is just too deep.

Saturday, March 23, 2019


We don't know what's in the Mueller report, but we know Robert Mueller is through indicting people -- if you had a Donald Junior perp walk in the office pool, sorry, you don't get to collect your winnings. Right-wingers are already claiming vindication, while liberals and the non-conservative media assert that President Trump's legal woes are just beginning, what with all those other investigations going on.

You may have noticed that I don't write very much about Russiagate or Mueller. Partly that's because I don't have the deep mastery of the subject that, say, Yastreblyansky does. But I also don't believe in saviors. I don't believe that bad political circumstances get resolved when heroes ride to the rescue, smiting wrongdoers and setting everything to rights.

In the Bush years, a lot of smart people believed that Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation of Plamegate would would sink the president. I remember meeting a high school classmate of my wife, now older and radicalized, who talked about the Fitzgerald investigation and said of Bush, "He's going down!" A much more popular blog than mine, Firedoglake, encouraged its readers every day to wait eagerly for "Fitzmas."

Fitzmas was a flop. The Mueller investigation has been more fruitful -- but in both cases the outcome has been the same: No one vital to the administration, or personally close to the president, has been brought down. Claims by supporters that the president is untouched by the scandal don't sound insane.

Watergate spoiled us. No scandal has worked the way Watergate worked in the years since, and for the foreseeable future nothing will. We certainly won't bring a Republican president down the way we did then -- whoever said that Nixon would have survived if Fox News had been around during Watergate was absolutely right. Also, remember that Watergate happened in what was effectively still the '60s era. We live in the apparently endless Reagan and post-Reagan era. Sacred cows aren't slain. Masters of the universe -- Jamie Dimon, Jeffrey Epstein, Robert Kraft, even Michael Jackson -- don't go to jail. They're better at defending themselves, and they're more ruthless -- plus, we don't like to jail the men at the top. Which is why I believe that no Trump or Kushner will ever spend a day in jail.

Prosecutors and investigators won't save us -- no, not the Southern District or the New York State attorney general, and not Jerry Nadler or Adam Schiff. They'll try, and they might draw blood, but we can't count on them for a deus ex machina.

We have to save ouselves.

Now, I also don't believe in savior politicians. Barack Obama didn't save us, and we won't be saved by Bernie or Beto or Kamala or even Mayor Pete. We do have to elect the Democratic nominee in 2020, but after that we have to fight on issues as if we haven't accomplished anything by electing the Democrat, because on many issues the system just wants to revert to the mean, and the mean is plutocratic conservatism. (It's not as bad as full-blown Republican conservatism, but it still needs to be fought.)

We have to save ouselves at the ballot box and in our congressmembers' in-boxes, we have to demonstrate when necessary, and we have to keep repeating this exhausting process until we've actually turned the damn battleship a few inches. I'm 60 now and I'm not sure I'll live to see change for the better, and I say that knowing my mother lived to the age of 90 and I might, too.

A few prosecutors won't save us. Committee subpoenas won't save us. Rachel Maddow and Emptywheel won't save us. A new president will only do a tiny amount of saving. We need to beat Trump -- he won't be driven from office any other way. But that's only a small part of the work we need to do.

Friday, March 22, 2019


Matt K. Lewis, right-leaning commentator for the Daily Beast and CNN, is being deservedly dragged for this tweet:

Here's the obvious rebuttal to this, from the Census Bureau:
Urban areas make up only 3 percent of the entire land area of the country but are home to more than 80 percent of the population. Conversely, 97 percent of the country’s land mass is rural but only 19.3 percent of the population lives there.
Brooklyn (71 square miles of land) contains more people than Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota combined (245,792 square miles total). We could make similar comparisons all across the country.

But let's take Lewis's idea seriously. Look at the map at the top of the post. Now look at this map:

I see a lot of red on this map, too. But it's not a map of the 2016 election -- it's the county-by-county map of the 2008 election. In that election, Barack Obama won the Electoral College 365-173. He won the popular vote by 7 points. His popular vote margin was nearly 10 million. He won unambiguously.

But look at all the red. A clear majority of the landmass on the map is red.

Does Matt Lewis think we should have handed the 2008 election to John McCain, because of much land McCain Country included? And if not, why not?

Tell us, Matt.


Many Americans have expressed approval of the swift action by the New Zealand government to ban assault weapons in the wake of the Christchurch massacre. To the Washington Examiner's Philip Klein, this is "chilling":
Democrats celebrating New Zealand gun ban expose the Left's authoritarian impulses

New Zealand's decision to swiftly ban guns in the wake of Christchurch shooting has been drawing praise among Democrats — in the process revealing the Left's chilling authoritarian impulses.

... it has been absolutely chilling to witness how many American liberals and prominent Democrats cheered the actions of the government of New Zealand. Even as liberals often insist that nobody is talking about taking away guns, many applauded the decision of a government to quickly confiscate weapons from law-abiding citizens without any debate or legal arguments.
All gun control is "chilling" to right-wingers, but why is this being called "authoritarian"? The Encyclopaedia Britannica defines "auithoritarianism" as "any political system that concentrates power in the hands of a leader or a small elite that is not constitutionally responsible to the body of the people."

But the government of New Zealand is "constitutionally responsible to the body of the people." New Zealand is a democracy. And the moves being made by the government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern are taking place well within legal bounds.

As CNN notes,
Ardern can essentially announce there will be new gun laws because she and her coalition -- among her Labour Party and the nationalist New Zealand First party and the Green Party -- control the Parliament. They still have to write and debate new laws, but since the one governing coalition controls the one house of government, there's a good chance they'll succeed.

Also, unlike in the US, there is bipartisan support for the new assault weapons ban. The opposition party in New Zealand has endorsed quick action to ban assault weapons. The brake on the actions of the New Zealand Parliament is that if voters don't like what they do, they'll pick a new party in the next election.
The legislation is not in place yet, but as The New Zealand Herald explains,
Legislation giving effect to the ban will be rushed through Parliament under urgency – Ardern expected the new law to be in place by April 11.
"Urgency" is an established part of the New Zealand legislative process:
The House of Representatives sometimes goes into “urgency” to make progress on business additional to what would be possible under the normal rules for sitting hours and progress of business.

A Minister may move an urgency motion for specified business, particularly bills. The motion can be moved without advance notice, and is not debated by the House, although the Minister must inform the House why the Government wishes to take urgency.
The website of the New Zealand parliament is inviting comment on the proposed changes (a brave move, in my opinion -- I'm sure there have been some extremely vile comments from the American gun community and the international white separatist community). This isn't being done in a ham-fisted way.

So "authoritarianism," in Klein's piece, means "stuff we conservatives don't like." We already that conservatives use the term "fake news" to mean "news stories we don't like." We know they use "socialism" to refer to "government policies we don't like, whether or not they decrease private ownership of the means of production." (To the right, everything a liberal wants is socialism. Hell, I'm old enough to remember the 1990s, when everything Bill Clinton wanted, even the very centrist stuff, was described as "socialism.")

So "authoritarianism" is another right-wing euphemism. Klein is just stomping his feet and demanding that the right have its way on everything -- if not, he'll fascist-bait his political opponents, and eveyone on his side will nod in agreement.


We know the Republicans cwant to dominate our political system much more than they want to preserve democracy -- gerrymandering, vote suppression, and eleventh-hour efforts meant to thwart the will of any Democrats who manage to get elected in purple states all make that clear. But now we see that Republicans are prepared to keep winning presidential elections in perpetuity without ever winning the popular vote

The Washington Examiner David Drucker reports:
Senior Republicans are resigned to President Trump losing the popular vote in 2020, conceding the limits of the flamboyant incumbent’s political appeal and revealing just how central the Electoral College has become to the party’s White House prospects.

Some Republicans say the problem is Trump's populist brand of partisan grievance. It's an attitude tailor-made for the Electoral College in the current era of regionally Balkanized politics, but anathema to attracting a broad, national coalition that can win the most votes, as past presidents did when seeking re-election amid a booming economy. Others argue that neither Trump, nor possibly any Republican, could win the popular vote when most big states are overwhelmingly liberal.

“California, Illinois, and New York, make it very, very difficult for anybody on our side to ever again to win the popular vote,” said David Carney, a Republican strategist in New Hampshire. Asked if he expects Trump to defy the odds next year, Carney said flatly, “No,” but added, “the president shouldn’t worry about it. Two hundred seventy — that’s what people remember.”
I've read a lot of high-minded defenses of the Electoral College; many liberal writers, most recently New York magazine's Eric Levitz and Jamelle Bouie of The New York Times, have thoroughly rebutted those defenses.

But I want to direct your attention to the wording of right-wing rhetoric on the Electoral College. Above, a GOP strategist warns that “California, Illinois, and New York, make it very, very difficult for anybody on our side to ever again to win the popular vote.” (Never mind the fact that the second most populous state is Texas. Purple Florida is third, followed by New York, purple Pennsylvania, and then Illinois.)

Recently, President Trump tweeted this:

Levitz, Bouie, and others make clear that you can't win the popular vote in a presidential election just by winning big states or big cities. I think most of the Electoral College's defenders know that, though I'm sure Trump doesn't.

But these aren't just arguments meant to seem logical. At the risk of stating the obvious, they're meant to suggest that the invasion of the "real America" -- "Smaller States & the entire Midwest," in Trump's words -- could come to our presidential elections as well, if Democrats get their way. The right already rejects the notion that city dwellers and residents of big states are Americans, because we vote liberal and many of us are non-white. The Electoral College argument is the standard argument made by right-wing fearmongers -- drug-addled urban criminals will lay siege to suburbs and rural communities, an immigrant "invasion" is coming over the border -- extended to the processes of democracy. "They" will have too much power unless the Electoral College remains in force. "They" will take over.

We won't win this argument with logic. It's going straight to the fear centers of the conservative brain.

Thursday, March 21, 2019


Politico reports:
President Donald Trump has a low approval rating. He is engaging in bitter Twitter wars and facing metastasizing investigations.

But if the election were held today, he’d likely ride to a second term in a huge landslide, according to multiple economic models with strong track records of picking presidential winners and losses.

Credit a strong U.S. economy featuring low unemployment, rising wages and low gas prices — along with the historic advantage held by incumbent presidents.
We can't dismiss the possibility -- maybe even the likelihood -- of a Trump win. Nine of the last twelve elected presidents who ran for reelection won.

But some of the numbers these prognosticators are slinging around strain credulity.
Yale economist Ray Fair, who pioneered this kind of modeling, ... shows Trump winning by a fair margin in 2020 based on the economy and the advantage of incumbency.

“Even if you have a mediocre but not great economy — and that’s more or less consensus for between now and the election — that has a Trump victory and by a not-trivial margin,” winning 54 percent of the popular vote to 46 for the Democrat, he said.
No one has won the popular vote in a presidential election by 8 points since 1988, and Fair is predicting this for a president who lost the popular vote last time and who can't get his approval numbers above the low 40s.

We're told:
Fair’s model also predicted a Trump win in 2016 though it missed on Trump’s share of the popular vote.
That's putting it mildly -- as Fair wrote in December 2016,
The final ex ante prediction below was for the Democrats to receive 44.0 percent of the two-party vote. It looks like Clinton will receive 51.1 percent of the two-party vote, so the error is 7.1 percentage points.
That's quite a miss.

Here's an even wilder prediction:
“The economy is just so damn strong right now and by all historic precedent the incumbent should run away with it,” said Donald Luskin, chief investment officer of TrendMacrolytics, a research firm whose model correctly predicted Trump’s 2016 win when most opinion polls did not. “I just don’t see how the blue wall could resist all that.”

... Luskin’s current model — which looks at GDP growth, gas prices, inflation, disposable income, tax burden and payrolls — has Trump winning by a blowout margin of 294 electoral votes.
In case you're confused, Luskin makes clear in this video that he means Trump will get 294 more electoral votes than the Democrat -- a 416-122 electoral vote margin, in other words.

Again, no candidate has been blown out that decisively in the Electoral College since 1988.

Let me explain what would have to happen for this prediction to come true. I'm looking at a list of the most and least Republican states in the 2016 presidential election. Reading off the list starting with the least Republican states, you get D.C. (not a state, of course, but it has three electoral votes), then Hawaii, Vermont, California, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, and Washington State.

If the Democrat wins only those states, he or she will exceed 122 electoral votes -- and even if that's close enough for Luskin to claim his model was right, the model assumes the Democrat won't win three states in which Trump got less than 40% of the vote in 2016: Rhode Island, Illinois, and Oregon. Luskin's model also assumes that the Democrat will lose New Mexico, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Colorado, Virginia, and Minnesota, all of which gave Trump less than 45% of the vote.

Sorry, that won't happen.

These guys put a lot of faith in the notion that the standard measures of the economy reflect how ordinary people feel about economic trends. The numbers were great going into 2018, but Republicans lost many seats in the House, as well as in governors' mansions and state legislatures. That's because ordinary Americans aren't really sharing in the boom times.

The economy still might be good enough to carry Trump to victory, along with the power of incumbency, gas prices, and other factors these analysts measure. But unless Democrats pick a godawful candidate, or Howard Schultz takes even more votes from the Democrats than polls now suggest (while taking next to none from Trump), the president won't win in a blowout.

Nevertheless, he really might win.

By the way, Luskin in 2016 was all over the map: His model predicted a Trump win, but at the last minute he predicted that his own model was wrong and there was a 51% likelihood that Clinton would win, albeit with a plurality of the popular vote.

He added:
If Trump wins, it will be with a majority of the popular vote (75% certainty).
So he made three predictions and one was right. I'm not going to put too much stock in what he's saying now.


Axios's Mike Allen thinks this is a scoop:
Scoop: Biden advisers debate Stacey Abrams as out-of-the-gate VP choice

Close advisers to former Vice President Joe Biden are debating the idea of packaging his presidential campaign announcement with a pledge to choose Stacey Abrams as his vice president.
I don't get it. I told you this might happen two days ago, based on a CNN story posted on Monday:
As he prepares for a possible run, Biden has hunkered down for strategy sessions with a tight knit group of advisers and held meetings with top Democrats and elected officials. One subject of discussion has been the early selection of a running mate, which one aide said would help keep the focus of the primary fight on the ultimate goal of unseating Trump.

Last week, Biden stirred speculation as he met privately with Stacey Abrams....
So: not really a scoop.

Jonathan Chait thinks this is "a brilliant idea for both" Biden and Abrams. I think it might work, though I can't tell.

In the process of explaining why he thinks it's a genius move, Chait repeats some conventional wisdom:
The pairing would make Biden’s race feel more serious. Political reporters have approached a Biden race with the unstated assumption that his polling lead is an artifact of high name recognition. His best day will be his first, and he will slowly gaffe his way to irrelevance, as he has with every previous race. Paradoxically, he is a polling front-runner who needs to get the press corps to take him seriously.
What I've never understood is why smart people believe a Biden run in the aftermath of his tenure as vice president will work out exactly the way his previous runs did. He may be the same Biden, but his stature within the party is very different. To state the obvious, in 1988 and 2008, he hadn't spent eight years as the second in command to a president who's still extremely popular among Democrats. Now he has. How can that not make a difference in how voters perceive him?

Imagine if, instead of selecting George H.W. Bush as his running mate in 1980, Ronald Reagan chose one of the other people on the short list, which included such names as Howard Baker, Jack Kemp, Richard Lugar, and Paul Laxalt. Imagine if one of those men, or someone else on the list (remarkably, former president Gerald Ford was under serious consideration) went on to serve eight years as Reagan's VP. Do you think Bush would have secure the 1988 Republican presidential nomination with relative ease, winning 42 contests and 68% of the popular vote? Do you think Bush could have won at all?

In 1988, Bush had a stature he didn't have in 1980 -- he'd spent eight years as the loyal subordinate of a president Republicans greatly admired. You couldn't judge his chances in a presidential nominating contest simply by referring back to his failed 1980 run. But that's how many people assess Biden as a potential candidate.

Yes, but what about the gaffes? I acknowledge that there will be gaffes in a Biden presidential run. But isn't Donald Trump the best possible candidate to run against if you're gaffe-prone? Since 2015, Trump has, on a near-daily basis, set out to establish the proposition that there are no gaffes anymore in politics, at least if you're a white man with an ego -- you just ignore the horrified reactions and plow through as if nothing is wrong, and everyone eventually accepts the notion that you didn't do yourself any damage. Biden has a fairly outsize ego too, and if he's going to commit gaffes, or what used to be called gaffes, he might as well commit them running against someone who'll commit even more of what used to be called gaffes. In that way, if perhaps not in other ways, he really might be the right candidate for the moment.


Grab the world's tiniest violin and play a sad song for President Trump's aides:
Aides struggle to see strategy in Trump’s Conway, McCain fights

The president has repeatedly forced people around him to make painful choices between their loyalties.

... With a single insult-filled morning tweet, tapped out from the White House residence before 8 a.m., the president extended his dispute with [Kellyane] Conway’s anti-Trump spouse, George, into a bewildering second day. By the afternoon, Trump had complemented it with new attacks on a dead man: the late Republican senator and war hero John McCain. Speaking in Ohio, Trump declared that he “never liked [McCain] much ... [and] probably never will.”

... the saga has left even White House aides accustomed to a president who bucks convention feeling uncomfortable.
Oh, boo hoo. So what's the theory as to why Trump is doing this?
Some people close to Trump speculated that he might be consciously trying to remake the news environment — creating a bizarre spectacle to displace criticism of his tepid response to the massacre of dozens of Muslims in New Zealand, the timing of the administration’s decision to ground Boeing’s 737 Max jets, and frenzied anticipation around the expected release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report.
But Trump lives in the Fox News bubble, where there are no complaints about his response to the New Zealand massacre (his fans have no sympathy for the victims, or for any Muslims). The bubble dwellers don't associate him with the Boeing situation, and they think the Mueller investigation is a wi... do I even have to say it?

I agree with George Conway that Trump has narcissistic personality disorder. I don't agree with those who believe that Trump's attacks on Conway, renewed attacks on McCain, and incessant tweeting last weekend are a sign of mental deterioration or dementia.

Trump is just bored.

Maybe "bored" isn't the right word exactly. He has no battles to fight -- the Mueller report hasn't landed, the shutdown is over, the midterms and the Brett Kavanaugh fight were months ago, the North Korea initiative crashed and burned, the 2020 presidential campaign is just beginning (with too many names for Trump to remember, much less spell or pronounce correctly -- how the hell do you say or spell "Buttigieg"?), and there won't be any significant legislation from this divided Congress anytime soon (surely you didn't think Trump was seriously putting together an infrastructure plan).

Under those circumstances, what do you expect Trump to do all day? Read briefing books? Familiarize himself with issues? He's Donald Trump! He doesn't do that!

And since we're between the sorts of news cycles in which Trump is automatically important -- the way he was during the shutdown, and the way he will be when the Mueller report drops -- Trump has to be asking himself: How do I sustain my brand? The obvious answer: Twitter beefs! Fight with someone! Then fight with someone else! The base loves it! The base thinks it's presidential!

And as long as the base loves Trump, Republicans in Congress have to remain loyal to him or risk primary challenges the next time they run. (Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia, who recently attacked Trump, is 74 years old, has Parkinson's disease, and won't be up for reelection until 2022, assuming his health holds up. No Republican looking at an election sooner than that wants to be Trump's enemy.)

So to sum up: Why the feuding and tweeting? It builds the brand, it keeps the GOP loyal, and it's something Trump can do when he's bored.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019


Right-wingers are attacking Elizabeth Warren and other Democrats for seeking to abolish or circumvent the Electoral College. Charlie Pierce offers a history lesson:

That's true. A November 1, 2000, story in the New York Daily News was headlined "Bush Set to Fight Electoral College Loss." Premised on the notion that Al Gore, not George W. Bush, might win the Electoral College and lose the popular vote, the story quoted a Bush aide about the campaign's response if that happened:
"The one thing we don't do is roll over," says a Bush aide. "We fight."

How? The core of the emerging Bush strategy assumes a popular uprising, stoked by the Bushies themselves, of course. In league with the campaign - which is preparing talking points about the Electoral College's essential unfairness - a massive talk-radio operation would be encouraged. "We'd have ads, too," says a Bush aide, "and I think you can count on the media to fuel the thing big-time. Even papers that supported Gore might turn against him because the will of the people will have been thwarted.

"Local business leaders will be urged to lobby their customers, the clergy will be asked to speak up for the popular will and Team Bush will enlist as many Democrats as possible to scream as loud as they can. "You think 'Democrats for Democracy' would be a catchy term for them?" asks a Bush adviser.
Maybe they wouldn't have been able to persuade Electoral College electors -- who are usually party stalwarts -- to switch their votes. But we know they would have tried, because they told us.

Which is why Dave Weigel is right about a hypothetical future election in which a Republican wins the popular vote and loses the Electoral College:

In 2000, if Gore had won the Electoral College while losing the popular vote, and if the GOP perceived that Democrats had a structural advantage that made a similar outcome likely in future presidential cycles, not only would Republicans have been agitating to get rid of the Electoral College, they would have browbeaten Democrats and the mainstream media into supporting the move. They've always been good at that, while Democrats and the media have always been fearful of being attacked by the GOP. If they were unable to prevent the electors from choosing Gore, they might have refused to certify the results of the electoral vote. Even if they didn't go that far, they would have made abolishing the Electoral College the #1 topic of conversation in D.C. throughout the transition and the first few months of the Gore presidency, painting opponents of change as haters of democracy. They also would have treated Gore as an illegitimate president, hamstringing him from Day One, using the circumstances of his victory as an excuse. It wouldn't be long before angry consumers of conservative media were bombarding Democrats in Congress with furious messages demanding the end of the Electoral College. Support for the status quo would be portrayed as left-wing extremism. The Electoral College would have been gone or neutralized by '04.


Fast-forward to today. Here's Matt Schlapp -- head of the American Conservative Union and husband of Mercedes Schlapp, the Trump administration's director of strategic communications --, using the Electoral College debate to make fact-free claims of voter fraud enabled by "open borders" Democrats:

You know why the popular vote's been diminished, Sandra? It's because you literally have Democrats who want to have an open Southern border. They don't want to have borders in our country. When people get released into the interior of our country and they're here illegally, they then want to give them a credential like a driver's license, and then in Kamala Harris's home state of California they have changed all the voting rules so that it is very easy for people who are not on the voting rolls to vote. Or people remain on the voting rolls after they are dead, or after they're no longer eligible to vote.
People talk about that crazy senile Donald Trump insisting that he lost the popular vote only because millions of ineligible people voted for Hillary Clinton. It's widely assumed that he believes this because he's experiencing mental deterioration to go along with his lifelong ego fragility. Smart people laugh this off -- but here's a GOP operative saying the same thing, with, as Lis Power notes in the tweet, no pushback from the "straight news" interviewer on Fox. This will be a mainstream argument going forward not just against a compassionate immigration policy, but against abolishing the Electoral College. And a majority of white America will probably think it makes perfect sense.


We've heard this before -- most notably when Roger Ailes was let go -- but Vanity Fair's Gabriel Sherman is telling us once again that Fox News really might change soon:
... the network’s opinion hosts and the news division ... have been fighting a cold civil war since Roger Ailes was ousted in July 2016. Fox journalists, bristling at being branded an arm of the Trump White House, are lobbying Fox News C.E.O. Suzanne Scott and President Jay Wallace to rein in Fox & Friends, Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs and [Jeanine] Pirro. “Reporters are telling management that we’re being defined by the worst people on our air,” a frustrated senior Fox staffer told me....

The outcome of that civil war will be decided by Fox Corporation chairman and C.E.O. Lachlan Murdoch. Rupert’s oldest son took over the smaller media company that emerged out of the Murdochs’ $71 billion deal to sell their entertainment assets to Disney.... staffers believe he is likely to nudge the network away from its close marriage to Trump. Sources close to Lachlan pointed out that Lachlan is a libertarian conservative, not a MAGA diehard, who in private has expressed annoyance at Trump. “He doesn’t like Trump,” one person who has spoken with Lachlan told me. “There’s a lot of talk of the direction of the network changing under Lachlan,” the senior Fox staffer told me....

Ultimately, creating some distance from the president may be the first step in a larger strategy. Some believe it’s only a matter of time before the Murdochs sell Fox News. “Everyone thinks they’re going to sell it. It’s too small to be independent,” [an] anchor [close to Hannity] told me.
I'll believe this when I see it -- but if the plan is to sell off Fox News, that might explain why Fox recently suspended Jeanine Pirro. The anti-Muslim remarks that led to her suspension were hardly new -- Media Matters has compiled a list of similar remarks going back years -- but if you're hoping to sell a division to another media giant with a significant presence in the Middle East, or with Middle Eastern investors, you might want to make a show of reining in a Muslim-bashing commentator.

(It's widely believed that Saudi prince Al-Waleed bin Talal owns a substantial stake in the Murdoch empire, but his investment was never as great as many people believe, and he's sold off his shares.)

Or it could be that Pirro was suspended to send a message that Fox really is independent of Trump. (Of Trump's favorites, Pirro is undoubtedly the least profitable for Fox, much less so than Hannity or the Fox & Friends crew.)

I don't know who would believe that Fox is truly putting distance between itself and Trump after this suspension, but Fox is trying to sell itself as something other than what it is lately. The goal might not be a sale of the division so much as greater advertising revenue. In the weeks leading up to a recent confab with ad buyers, Fox bought many bus ads in New York City promoting itself as the #1 cable news channel in every region of the country, not just in Red America.

(Bigwigs don't ride buses in New York, of course, but they see these ads, which function here the way highway billboards do in the rest of America.)

Now that Fox has sold most of its entertainment properties to Disney, Fox News is part of a new, smaller, standalone company called Fox Corporation, which is being publicly traded. Maybe the Murdochs think Trump is a millstone likely to drag down the share price.

I don't believe there'll really be major changes at Fox. I think the hope is that small, insignificent steps will bamboozle investors and advertisers. But we'll see.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019


Matt Yglesias is right:
The demobilization of the resistance is a dangerous mistake

The Women’s Marches over-awed Donald Trump’s Inauguration. Protesters at airports checked the initial version of Trump’s travel bans. Ordinary Americans’ phone calls and door knocks defeated multiple attempts to roll back the Affordable Care Act. It all sent a clear message during Trump’s first two years in office: Resistance works.

Engaged protesters were not able to block the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act or Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, but they did render both toxically unpopular. The resistance spurred an unprecedented level of interest in special elections, swinging seats across the country, and powered Democrats to sweeping wins in the 2018 midterms.

And then it stopped. There was no mass mobilization to call senators in advance of the resolution blocking Trump’s border emergency declaration. There were no crowds on Capitol Hill. There are no reports of Republican senators canceling town halls because they’re afraid to face angry crowds demanding a floor vote on the anti-corruption bill HR 1. There are no protesters demanding that Trump accede to Congress’s request for his tax returns in part because no request has been made.

The resistance has demobilized. And for Democrats, it’s probably a huge mistake.
Yglesias sees Democrats on Capitol Hill no longer bothering "to activate grassroots participation to shape the course of events," possibly out of fear that the grassroots will demand impeachment. He also thinks resistance energy has been dissipated by controversy surrounded organizers of the Women's Marches.

But I think the loss of momentum is our own damn fault. Our side regularly concludes that if you win just one election, everything will get a whole lot better right away, and ordinary citizens can just stand down. That was the widespread belief after Barack Obama won in '08. Obama had fired up the grassroots during his campaign, but then there was no citizen pushback when Republicans in Congress used every means at their disposal to block his agenda. There was no effort to push him to the left when he chose to compromise. And there was no countervailing force when the Tea Party rose up and helped lead the Republican Party to huge congressional victories in 2010. (Democrats could barely bring themselves to vote in 2010. Why bother? We had Obama, right?)

Rank-and-file Democrats aren't engaging in resistance now because the party did well in 2018, and now there's a whole new election cycle starting up, with some of our favorite cast members from the previous election cycle. (Beto! Maybe Stacey!)

I see this even among lefties who regard themselves as too progressive for the Democratic Party. The Bernie Sanders movement in 2016 was premised on the notion that Sanders would be elected and his very left-wing agenda would just ... happen. To be fair, that wasn't as unreasonable as the Ralph Nader lunacy of 2000 -- if you really believed he could win, what Congress do you think he'd be working with, and how much of his agenda could possibly be enacted?

But that's how our side thinks. Republicans are the opposite -- they always believe they're besieged, even when they control most of the government. The conservative media encourages this siege mentality. Even when Republicans are effectively unopposed, the right-wing rank-and-file is told that enemies are everywhere -- in Hollywood, in academia, in godless, gender-fluid cities.... So ordinary Republicans never let their guard down, even when their party is winning every battle it fights. We let our guard down when we haven't even started winning yet.


Joe Biden is clearly on the verge of announcing his presidential candidacy, and I think this really might work for him:
As he prepares for a possible run, Biden has hunkered down for strategy sessions with a tight knit group of advisers and held meetings with top Democrats and elected officials. One subject of discussion has been the early selection of a running mate....
Any names?
Last week, Biden stirred speculation as he met privately with Stacey Abrams, a Democratic rising star who ran for governor in Georgia last fall and is weighing another run for office -- potentially even the presidency. Biden requested the meeting, according to a person familiar with the sit-down....

A person familiar with the meeting said Biden and Abrams discussed a variety of topics on policy and politics, including whether she intends to run for Senate next year. The vice presidency was not formally discussed during their meeting, two people familiar with the meeting tell CNN.
Well, if they've already been discussing this, then maybe they didn't need to have another formal discussion.

This might be a way to take the age issue off the table (Abrams is 45) -- but it's also a way for a white guy to preempt the non-white and female candidates in the race -- hey, vote for me and you get diversity, too. That's dispiriting -- a couple of months ago, this seemed as if it would be a race with many top-tier female and non-white candidates, but now, with Biden and Bernie Sanders dominating the polls, and Sanders and Beto O'Rourke leading in fund-raising, it's turning into another pale-male sausagefest.

Democrats familiar with [Biden's] plans say he intends to unveil a roster of prominent supporters, including black leaders whose endorsements are seen as critical to his candidacy, as the race moves beyond Iowa and New Hampshire.
Do endorsements work anymore? For the Republicans in 2016, they didn't -- going into primary season, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio had far more key endorsements than the rest of the field, and it didn't matter. Hillary Clinton seemed to have more black support than Obama early on in the 2008 race. So this may not matter.

But I keep thinking back to the Twitter thread I posted a couple of weeks ago. A political operative was observing a focus group of black female Democratic voters in South Carolina, and he saw that Biden was quite well liked.

Negative information about Biden didn't really change any minds:

Picking Abrams early would help him too. But if it works, so much for real change at the top of the ticket.

In recent decades, a couple of candidates who were struggling to stay in the race chose running mates late in the primaries. In July 1976, Ronald Reagan chose Senator Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania, a fairly liberal Republican. He was supposed to help Reagan win Pennsylvania delegates at the convention, but that didn't work out -- one Pennsylvania delegate flipped to Reagan, but Mississippi's delegation flipped from Reagan to Ford.

In late April 2016, Ted Cruz announced that Carly Fiorina would be his running mate. A week later, Cruz dropped out of the race.

Those seemed like desperation moves. Picking a running mate early doesn't seem desperate. I'm surprised more candidates haven't tried it -- but I think you have to seem like a formidable candidate in order to attract an impressive running mate. Why would anyone want to commit early to a possible also-ran?

So this seems like a power move on Biden's part -- but I'll be sorry if it's the reason white malehood wins another nomination.