Sunday, January 31, 2016


This is just incredibly sad:

MAJOR GARRETT, CBS: Can Jeb Bush be a surprise story here on caucus night?

JEB BUSH: Yes, 'cause the expectations are so low. [Laughs.]

GARRETT: Well, you have succeeded there, governor.

BUSH: [Raises fists in mock-triumph.] Mission accomplished!
I don't root for Bushes, but watching Jeb wallow in his own failure this way just makes me feel embarrassed. He's a human being, and I can't stand watching him do this to himself.

Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire, please: If you have an ounce of compassion and you're considering casting a vote for Jeb, for the love of God, please don't.

The final Des Moines Register Iowa poll has Jeb at 2%. Two percent! That's good! That's such a terrible showing that it might persuade him to give up at long last. Oh, but the final Gravis poll has him at 6%. Really, people, 6% of you can't vote for him! It would be cruel! He'll feel he has to keep going at least until the Florida primary, and that's on March 15. Can we really bear to watch him abase himself this way for another month and a half?

And the same goes for New Hampshire. The latest CNN/WMUR poll says Jeb is at 6%, mired in 6th place. This is a state that should be more establishment-oriented than Iowa, so it's fine if 6% of you vote for him there -- it's a low enough number that it should help him get the message that he's not wanted. But the new Boston Herald/Franklin Pierce University poll says he's at 10% -- and tied for third! No, New Hampshire! You mustn't prolong the agony that way!

Really, folks -- think of it as an intervention. You have to help him quit. He's not capable of quitting on his own.


Many people have looked at the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and concluded that officials would never allow something like that to happen in a predominantly white community, or allow it to go on for as long as it has without a solution.

I agree that the crisis is worse than it would have been in a white community. But are we sure that in a white community it would never happen at all?

I ask because, as The New York Times notes today, people are still being killed by Takata airbags -- an assault on the safety of ordinary people that's not race-specific -- and the response by Takata, car manufacturers, and the government seems as slow and inadequate as the response to the poison water in Flint:
More than a decade after the first confirmed rupture of a Takata airbag in Alabama, and despite a vast recall spanning 14 automakers, a stark reality remains: Tens of millions of people drive vehicles that may pose a lethal danger but have not been repaired or ... have not even been recalled.

Since 2000, Takata has sold as many as 54 million metal “inflaters” in the United States containing ammonium nitrate, an explosive compound that regulators believe is at the center of the problem.... About 28 million inflaters in 24 million vehicles have been recalled. And of the 28 million recalled inflaters, only about 30 percent have been repaired. The rest of the inflaters, about 26 million, have not been recalled.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has stepped up its scrutiny of the problem, after a series of missteps over nearly a decade, but has stopped short of an immediate recall of all Takata airbags containing the compound. The agency does not have the authority to order people to stop driving the cars and has not advised people to avoid driving them....

Car manufacturers, at the same time, have been reluctant to sound alarms. They would face huge costs if they needed to provide loaner cars for millions of owners. Of the 14 manufacturers affected by the Takata recalls, not one has offered a blanket policy of supplying loaners.
You may have known that the recalls have been proceeding slowly, but did you assume that we've at least identified all the cars that are at risk? Nope. The last American to die as the result of a defective Takata airbag, Joel Knight of Rock Hill, South Carolina, did so last month, and his vehicle hadn't been subject to a recall.

I agree that it's been a lot easier for the government in Michigan to get away with poisoning the people Flint because most of them are black, and therefore, to a lot of Americans, they're "others." But Joel Knight was white, and the law of averages suggests that most of Takata's victims in this country are white as well. The powerful -- in government and private industry -- might avoid treating fellow elitist whites with this sort of contempt, but they have plenty of contempt for the rest of us non-elitists, even though race plays a factor in how that contempt is distributed.

Let's face it: The powerful think they're bulletproof. They think they can get away with pretty much anything. This is a global phenomenon -- and they do get away with a hell of a lot. And while it's still easier to unleash contempt on communities that don't get much respect, why would they be shy about trying to take advantage of white people, too?

Saturday, January 30, 2016


There was a great exchange yesterday on Twitter about the way the political press plays favorites. I particularly love the comment by Chris Hayes:

Rubio is an obvious media favorite -- probably because members of the GOP establishment clear have made it clear to the media that he's their favorite.

But there's another toddler who's long been a favorite of political journalists, and they're still trying to will him to victory. Check out this story in The Hill about a new New Hampshire poll (emphasis added):
Donald Trump continues to hold a strong lead in the early-voting state of New Hampshire while his Republican presidential rivals battle for a distant second place in a new poll.

The real estate mogul is supported by 27 percent of likely GOP primary voters in the Granite State, leading his nearest rivals by 15 points in a Suffolk University poll released Thursday.

Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich tie with 12 percent apiece, followed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at 11 percent and Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) at 10 percent....

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is within striking distance at 6 percent in the latest poll, which has retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson at 5 percent and businesswoman Carly Fiorina at 4 percent.
Christie is in 6th place. He's 21 points behind Trump. He's 4 points behind the guy who's in 5th place. He's only 1 point ahead of Ben Carson.

But he's within striking distance! No, really, he is!

C'mon, Chris, you can do it....

Friday, January 29, 2016


David Brooks wishes America had conservatives willing to advance an agenda like the one being proposed by British's Tory prime minister, David Cameron:
In Britain David Cameron ... gave a speech [this month] called “Life Chances.” Not to give away the ending or anything, but I’d give a lung to have a Republican politician give a speech like that in this country....

He laid out a broad agenda: Strengthen family bonds with shared parental leave and a tax code that rewards marriage. Widen opportunities for free marital counseling. Speed up the adoption process. Create a voucher program for parenting classes. Expand the Troubled Families program by 400,000 slots. This program spends 4,000 pounds (about $5,700) per family over three years and uses family coaches to help heal the most disrupted households.

Cameron would also create “character modules” for schools, so that there are intentional programs that teach resilience, curiosity, honesty and service. He would expand the National Citizen Service so that by 2021 60 percent of the nation’s 16-year-olds are performing national service, and meeting others from across society. He wants to create a program to recruit 25,000 mentors to work with young teenagers.

To address concentrated poverty, he would replace or revamp 100 public housing projects across the country. He would invest big sums in mental health programs and create a social impact fund to unlock millions for new drug and alcohol treatment.
Does Brooks even understand that an American politician who proposed an agenda like this would be deemed a big-government leftist? Yes, a couple of pieces of this might fit into a conservative agenda -- but only if the programs funneled clients to religious-right charities, or the vouchers were meant to deprive unionized government workers of jobs. But the way this is described, it's what Americans, or at least conservative Americans, would describe as pure socialism.

But Brooks isn't the only righty who's surprising me by talking like a big ol' red. Over at the Washington Free Beacon, Matthew Continetti has read the Brooks column as well as this debate post-mortem by Charles Krauthammer, and he's taking issue with a declaration by Krauthammer:
My personal preference is for … the reform conservatism that locates the source of our problems not in heartless billionaires or crafty foreigners, but in our superannuated, increasingly sclerotic 20th-century welfare state structures.
Continetti, I'm surprised to learn, doesn't blame every ill in America on welfare.
Candidates for president in both parties this year, for example, have been shocked at the extent and toll of opioid and meth addiction. Did welfare state structures give us that? And if so, how? And wouldn’t any serious attempt to address the problem require more government involvement -- at the very least more police to interdict the drugs and imprison the dealers? Another pressing issue is mental health. Does the welfare state drive young men insane? I think not. But I do think that here, as well, government will have to do more rather than less to treat the mentally ill and commit those that are a hazard to themselves and to others.
As he gets wound up, Continetti sounds almost Sanders-esque:
The men and women who feel left behind in or cut off from the global economy didn’t necessarily get to where they are because of the welfare state. They got there because work disappeared, and they didn’t have the skills or resources or energy to cope. Unfortunately but crucially, in the absence of family, community, and tradition, the welfare state is the only attachment -- impersonal, uncaring, but present -- these people have. Republicans forget this fact at their peril.

Indeed, it seems that voters are tempted by figures like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders precisely because of their intuition that the challenges facing America are much greater than any one set of causes or institutions, and do not conform to the division between government and the market that framed political life during the twentieth century. The welfare state may be superannuated and sclerotic -- this is government we’re talking about here -- and it is no doubt part of what can only be described as our collective demoralization. But it is only a part. And it may be part of the answer, too.
Brooks and Continetti aren't actually on the same page -- Continetti recognizes that jobs for which many workers are qualified seem to gone forever, while Brooks, by contrast, sneers at what he calls "the Bernie Sanders approach" to social problems: "Focus on economics. Provide people with money and jobs and their lifestyles will become more stable. Marriage rates will rise. Depression rates will drop."

And yet: Continetti is a right-winger for welfare, and a right-winger who thinks capitalism doesn't make all economic ills magically better. Brooks is a right-winger who pleads for the expansion of government social programs, however misguided. How bad must social conditions in America be if these guys are talking this way? Or is it just that they've noticed that some of the disaffected and addicted are white people?


Senator Elizabeth Warren wants us to know that the federal government does an inadequate job of enforcing the law when the lawbreakers are wealthy corporations. Criminal charges are avoided, fines are wrist-slaps, other penalties allowed by the law are sidestepped. Warren points this out in a new report titled "Rigged Justice: 2016: How Weak Enforcement Lets Corporate Offenders Off Easy."

Accompanying the report is a New York Times op-ed titled "One Way to Rebuild Our Institutions" -- and here's where all this touches on the 2016 presidential race.

In the Times op-ed, Sanders Warren writes:
WHILE presidential candidates from both parties feverishly pitch their legislative agendas, voters should also consider what presidents can do without Congress. Agency rules, executive actions and decisions about how vigorously to enforce certain laws will have an impact on every American, without a single new bill introduced in Congress.

... the [Obama] administration’s record on enforcement falls short....

Presidents don’t control most day-to-day enforcement decisions, but they do nominate the heads of all the agencies, and these choices make all the difference....

The lesson is clear: Personnel is policy.

Legislative agendas matter, but voters should also ask which presidential candidates they trust with the extraordinary power to choose who will fight on the front lines to enforce the laws.
With these passages, Warren steps into a debate Democrats and liberals have been having for some time. Isn't Hillary Clinton more realistic than Bernie Sanders about what a Democratic president could accomplish over the next four years? What chance is there for the Sanders agenda if there's a GOP House and quite possibly a GOP Senate? And if Sanders can't get any of his wish list through Congress, what's the point of nominating him? As Jonathan Chait recently wrote,
Those areas in which a Democratic Executive branch has no power are those in which Sanders demands aggressive action, and the areas in which the Executive branch still has power now are precisely those in which Sanders has the least to say.

Warren is clearly saying: This, at the very least, is the point of nominating Sanders. This is a power he'll have.

Warren also semi-endorsed Sanders in a speech on the Senate floor last week, as Salon's Sean Illing has noted:
On Thursday, [January 21,] the sixth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, Warren gave a speech on the Senate floor....

While it’s not explicit, it’s impossible to miss the thematic overlap between Warren’s message and Sanders campaign....
...“We are headed into another presidential election and I speak out today because I’m genuinely alarmed for our democracy…It is time to fight back against a complete capture of our government by the rich and powerful.”
The most revealing part of the speech was the end. Warren came as close as she has -- or perhaps will -- come to officially endorsing Sanders. “A new presidential election is upon us,” Warren said, “The first votes will be cast in Iowa in just eleven days. Anyone who shrugs and claims that change is just too hard has crawled into bed with the billionaires who want to run the country like some private club.”
And now she's semi-endorsing again. She might as well make it official soon.


In comments, Yastreblyansky says:
Huh--if memory serves, presidents have to get their nominees to important posts through Congress before they can serve, and Warren became famous when Obama was unable to put her in the position he wanted her in. Is Warren telling us Sanders can do better than Clinton (or Obama) at that?
Good point.


Ted Cruz had one particularly bad moment in last night's debate:
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.) told the moderators of the Republican presidential debate at Iowa Events Center on Thursday that he might just take his ball and go home.

His threat to leave the stage came after he accused Fox News’ questioners of encouraging his rivals to attack him.

“I would note that the last four questions have been, ‘Rand, please attack Ted. Marco, please attack Ted. Chris, please attack Ted. Jeb, please attack Ted.”

Cruz’s comment provoked loud boos from the audience. His critique of the debate questions came after former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) was asked about how his plans to confront the jihadist group ISIS would differ from those put forth by Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.)

Moderator Chris Wallace offered a retort to Cruz.

“It is a debate sir,” Wallace said.

Cruz wasn’t satisfied with Wallace’s response.

“No, no, a debate actually is a policy issue,” Cruz said. “But I will say this, gosh, if you guys say -- ask one more mean question I’m going to have to leave the stage.”

It was unclear if this was a real threat, a badly delivered joke, or a shot at Donald Trump....

Well, obviously it was a shot at Donald Trump, or at least an expression of Trump envy -- hey, he can be petulant and walk away, why can't I? I think it's clear that it was also meant as a joke (in a serious/not serious way). But the audience couldn't tell it was a joke. It came off as self-pity.

But why should that be a problem for Cruz? It's never a problem for Trump. Trump's approach to the debates has been one long pity party, from his initial spat with Megyn Kelly to his complaints about debate length to his boycott last night. And yet he gets away with it. Why?

For that matter, why does Cruz get away with self-pity at other times? Here's Charlie Pierce writing about Cruz on the campaign trail, in moments that were clearly much more favorably received than last night's failed joke:
[Cruz] glistens ... when he gets all whispery and moved by his own words, describing his own martyrdom at the hands of liberals, and the media, and the leaders of his own party. A lone warrior, "constitutionalist fighter," as he says. He glistens more brightly when he's calling the president " imperial dictator like we've had the last seven years," or narcissistic and self-involved. He glistens more brightly when he talks about the seven battles he's fought against the right to choose and against marriage equality. He brags about the victories he's won as regards the former issue before the members of that same Supreme Court, which he calls "activists" when he talks about the decision in the latter question of which he doesn't approve. He glistens more brightly when he talks about "bearing the stripes" of his vain attempts to destroy the Affordable Care Act, and about "bearing the stripes" of defeating a very reasonable immigration reform bill that had passed the Senate. He glistens more brightly when he talks about how he has stood tall and dared to call "radical Islamic extremism" by that name. He glistens, Ted Cruz does.
Here's the difference between Trump and Cruz: Trump has been such a relentless bully, to the delight of Republicans, that he can get away with just about any amount of self-pity, for any reason. The voters are certain that he's a tough guy. They know he's not a sniveling whiner (even when he clearly is a sniveling whiner).

Cruz doesn't have carte blanche to whine in the same way. He can't always get away with it. When can he get way with it? When he's whining about being attacked by Antichrists -- evil forces his audiences think are also attacking them. He's a victim of the president's executive orders! He's a victim of the Affordable Care Act! He's a victim of political correctness because he wants to say "radical Islamic extremism"!

Cruz has limited immunity on whining. He can feel sorry for himself when he's feeling sorry for himself in ways Republican voters feel sorry for themselves. But when he's complaining about Chris Wallace and Megyn Kelly, Republican voters can't relate.

Trump has unlimited immunity. He's seen as an across-the-board tough guy. So he can whine about anything at any time.

Yes, Ted, it's unfair, because any idiot can see that Trump isn't really all that tough.

But don't whine about the unfairness. You can't get away with it.

Thursday, January 28, 2016


If the latest skirmish between Donald Trump and Fox News is an embarrassment for Fox, Rupert Murdoch and his sons are seeing to it that Roger Ailes personally takes the blame, according to New York magazine's Gabriel Sherman:
As Fox News and Donald Trump barrel toward their competing events tonight, Rupert Murdoch and his two sons, Lachlan and James, are making sure people know that this crisis is on Roger Ailes. “Rupert is letting Roger handle this,” a source close to Murdoch said earlier on Thursday. Murdoch, according to another source close to the company, is "really upset about this."

What this means is that, at least publicly, the Murdochs seem to want to isolate the PR nightmare to Ailes and Fox. The surreal spectacle of Fox's feud with the GOP front-runner is becoming a test of Ailes’s management abilities....
This matters because Ailes is extremely good at the horrible thing he does. If you're a white person and every one of your relatives over the age of sixty is now a raging wingnut, it's because the product Ailes has created, that uniqe combination of pseudo-information, entertainment, outrage, hatemongering, and eye candy, works on old white people's brains like an addictive drug. Ailes knows precisely what heartland senior citizens' bliss point is, and he's found it consistently for twenty years. Once he's gone, a successor really might not be able to keep creating the evil magic.

And it's not clear that his successors will even want to. Which might just rid America of the single most noxious influence on its politics.

The backstory, as Sherman noted a couple of weeks ago, is that Rupert Murdoch brought in his sons to oversee Ailes at Fox last year, but Ailes pitched a fit:
... three sources say Ailes threatened to quit this summer when Murdoch elevated his sons, Lachlan and James, to take over the media empire. After their promotions were announced, Ailes put out his own statement on Fox Business that declared he would continue reporting directly to Rupert. Eventually, an uneasy accord was reached: Rupert gave Ailes a new contract, but Fox issued a follow-up press release clarifying that Ailes would report to Rupert as well as Lachlan and James.
As The Hollywood Reporter has noted, James and Lachlan Murdoch "are known to have differing political views from their conservative father."
You can see how that could lead to some tensions:
James is an environmentalist who led News Corp's campaign to be a carbon-neutral company. His wife once worked for the Clinton Foundation. Ailes, a fierce climate-change denier, openly badmouthed James to friends and colleagues. He's called him a "fucking dope" and "Fredo," according to sources.
But remember, these are the boss's sons. They know they're the heirs apparent. They were told they'd be put in charge of Ailes -- and then they weren't. It seems likely that they'd be pleased to see Ailes humiliated, if not canned.

And now, according to Sherman, Ailes hasn't been well and Poppa Rupert has intervened in the running of Fox:
According to four high-placed Fox sources, Murdoch is upping his presence at Fox while Ailes has become less visible to anchors and producers, signaling a shift that marks a new chapter in the network’s history. The most visible change is that, since June, Murdoch has been attending Ailes’s daily executive meeting held on the second floor of Fox headquarters. The secretive afternoon gathering in Ailes’s conference room is attended by about a half-dozen of the network’s most senior lieutenants. It’s where some of the most sensitive decisions about running the channel are discussed.

... “[Rupert]’s marking his territory,” one person briefed on the matter told me. “There’s a little bit of a pissing match with Roger. Rupert is basically saying, ‘I know you built this place, but I own it and I’ll remind you of that by coming here.'”
To some extent, this is because Ailes isn't well:
Meanwhile, Fox hosts and producers tell me Ailes has been a somewhat diminished force at the network. In 2014, he took an extended leave of absence after a health scare. He still has trouble walking and rarely ventures out of his executive suite. A friend who ran into Ailes in Palm Beach over the holidays remarked that he was using a walker. “He seems detached and removed,” one Fox personality tells me. “He’s not around as much,” says another friend of Ailes. “He doesn’t have as many meetings with talent.”
One result, says Sherman, is that Fox is all over the map regarding Trump -- sometimes supporting him, sometimes hostile to him. Daddy Rupert apparently wants Fox to be the voice of the GOP establishment:
Several other prominent conservatives I’ve spoken with grumble that Murdoch is pushing Fox to be openly hostile to Trump and Ted Cruz at the same time the channel boosts Establishment candidates, most prominently Marco Rubio. “I’ve joked to people that they’ll be doing a segment about kumquats in China and somehow they’ll mention Rubio,” one Cruz ally told me. Another conservative activist pointed out that Fox gave Rubio the first interview opportunity following Obama’s Oval Office address on ISIS last month. Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, it should also be noted, has been one of the most aggressive Trump and Cruz critics.
Last summer, according to Sherman, Murdoch tried to get Fox to stop fawning over Trump -- but Ailes stuck with him. Now Ailes has alienated Trump -- and if the ratings suffer, even just tonight's debate ratings, he's going to be blamed for that by the Murdochs.

Rupert's interventions haven't really hurt Fox very much so far, but Fox's response to the wingnut insurgency has been a mess, and no Murdoch seems to know what to do about that. And yet it looks as if Ailes is being set up for a fall. If Ailes goes, or continues on in a diminished role, it's possible that the Murdochs might destroy what Ailes has built.

Which would be awesome for America.

So maybe someday we'll thank Trump someday for being the straw that broke Fox's back.


The results from this ABC/Washington Post poll that grabbed the headline involve Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump:
Clinton Seen as Winner in November; A Trump Presidency Inspires Anxiety

Most Americans expect that Hillary Clinton would prevail against her leading GOP opponent in November, while Bernie Sanders’ chances are rated less well. The thought of Donald Trump as president inspires high levels of public anxiety.....

With Trump as the GOP nominee vs. Clinton, 54 percent of Americans say they’d expect Clinton to win; among registered voters (a more GOP-leaning group), Clinton has 52 percent support. Clinton’s seen by much wider margins as beating Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio....

Seven in 10 say they’re “anxious” about the idea as Trump as president, including 51 percent who feel that way strongly.
But the result I find striking is the nation's comfort level with Bernie Sanders:

Of the candidates tested, only Sanders comes out ahead in terms of comfort vs. anxiety: Fifty percent of Americans are comfortable with the idea of a Sanders presidency vs. 43 percent who are anxious about it. Americans are more nervous than calm about Cruz (-8 points), and slightly more concerned about Rubio and Clinton (both -5).
I would have expected the low anxiety level to be the result of general public unfamiliarity with Sanders, but 93% of respondents are willing to venture an opinion on him. I also would have thought that Trump, Clinton, and Cruz would arouse anxiety, but Rubio less so, because he's tried to position himself as a rational candidate even while staking out very conservative positions. But no -- in addition to Democrats and liberals, moderates, urbanites, and women feel anxiety when they imagine a Rubio presidency.

Bernie? He makes only Republicans, conservatives, and rural voters very anxious. (Well, whites, too, but it's close -- 44% comfortable, 49% anxious.) Moderates are surprisingly at ease with Sanders (55%-38%), more so than they are with Hillary Clinton (51%-47%). Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump are all very much in negative territory with moderates.

I assumed that if non-fans had formed any impression of Sanders, he was likely to be seen as a wild-eyed, fist-shaking, angry old radical -- a somewhat more crotchety Bill Ayers. But apparently Americans see him as reasonable and non-threatening.

Maybe he's seen as just an earnest advocate for ordinary folks. Maybe respondents know some of his ideas (socialism!) and don't think they sound so crazy.

And maybe he's less anxiety-inducing because he seems like your grandfather. He's not the only senior citizen who could be on the ballot in November -- he's 74, Trump is 69, Clinton is 68, and, by the way, Mike Bloomberg is 73 -- but unlike the other seniors, he's not even trying to conceal the fact that he's old. Unlike the others, he's not trying to look as if he's merely middle-aged. Sure, he's in reasonably good shape and he's obviously vigorous, but he's definitely an old guy. So maybe America's thinking, How much harm could he do?


Here's an editorial about Bernie Sanders from Investor's Business Daily, where opinions are even further to the right than on The Wall Street Journal's editorial page. The IBD editorial previews a line of argument that will probably be used against Sanders if he's the Democratic presidential nominee: not just that he's a socialist, but that he's been a shiftless layabout all his life (the title of the editorial is "Bernie Sanders, the Bum Who Wants Your Money"), as well as -- although the phrase isn't used -- a community organizer.
Despite a prestigious degree, however, Sanders failed to earn a living, even as an adult. It took him 40 years to collect his first steady paycheck -- and it was a government check.

“I never had any money my entire life,” Sanders told Vermont public TV in 1985, after settling into his first real job as mayor of Burlington.

Sanders spent most of his life as an angry radical and agitator who never accomplished much of anything. And yet now he thinks he deserves the power to run your life and your finances -- “We will raise taxes;” he confirmed Monday, “yes, we will.”

One of his first jobs was registering people for food stamps, and it was all downhill from there.

Sanders took his first bride to live in a maple sugar shack with a dirt floor, and she soon left him. Penniless, he went on unemployment. Then he had a child out of wedlock. Desperate, he tried carpentry but could barely sink a nail. “He was a shi**y carpenter,” a friend told Politico Magazine. “His carpentry was not going to support him, and didn’t.”

Then he tried his hand freelancing for leftist rags, writing about “masturbation and rape” and other crudities for $50 a story. He drove around in a rusted-out, Bondo-covered VW bug with no working windshield wipers. Friends said he was “always poor” and his “electricity was turned off a lot.” They described him as a slob who kept a messy apartment — and this is what his friends had to say about him.

The only thing he was good at was talking ... non-stop ... about socialism and how the rich were ripping everybody off. “The whole quality of life in America is based on greed,” the bitter layabout said. “I believe in the redistribution of wealth in this nation.”

... He finally wormed his way into the Senate in 2006, where he still ranks as one of the poorest members of Congress. Save for a municipal pension, Sanders lists no assets in his name. All the assets provided in his financial disclosure form are his second wife’s. He does, however, have as much as $65,000 in credit-card debt.

... His worthless background contrasts sharply with the successful careers of other “outsiders” in the race for the White House, including a billionaire developer, a world-renowned neurosurgeon and a Fortune 500 CEO.

The choice in this election is shaping up to be a very clear one. It will likely boil down to a battle between those who create and produce wealth, and those who take it and redistribute it.
This echoes a couple of articles that ran at FrontPage Magazine in the fall --"Bernie Sanders Lived Off Unemployment, Couldn't Get a Non-Government Job" and "Bernie Sanders Spends $2 Mil on Ad to Tell Americans He Never Worked for a Living." (That's not what the ad in question says, but never mind.) A lot of this is based on a Politico profile of Sanders that ran last summer (which, incidentally, mentioned other jobs Sanders held, as a teacher, psychiatric aide, and researcher for the Vermont Department of Taxes).

Could this line of attack work? I think it might fall flat. Obviously, the use of the phrase "community organizer" to refer to Barack Obama makes right-wingers' blood race, but it didn't defeat him in 2008 or 2012. The IBD editorial says that Sanders still has credit card debt -- but would voters care about that? Marco Rubio has also been attacked for mismanagement of his personal finances and, while he's not exactly killing it in the polls, he's still the strongest Republican candidate not named Trump or Cruz, and if he's not doing better, it's because he's an underwhelming candidate overall, not because voters think he's a deadbeat. Rivals are launching a lot more attacks on Rubio's Senate attendance record than on this.

I have to wonder Sanders's early life will actually be relatable to a lot of people. Yes, maybe the Sanders financial struggles were a matter of choice, but I'm not sure that distinction will register with Americans who themselves are trying to cobble together enough income to live. Economic forces are the major reason so many Americans are struggling, but a lot of people do make less-than-pragmatic choices along the way that they might think are a big reason they're not better off. They might think Sanders's life isn't all that different from their own.

Struggling Americans might, unfortunately, respond better to Donald Trump, the late-night get-rich-quick infomercial pitchman of politics, the guy who promises that your life can be as sweet as his. But I don't think they'll hold Bernie's career meanderings against him.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


After a jihadist attack against European or U.S. interests, we're always told that security is being tightened at obvious U.S. terrorist targets. I hope the same thing is happening now.

As you probably know by now, several of the wildlife refuge occupiers in Oregon have been arrested, and one has been shot and killed:
Oregon standoff spokesman Robert "LaVoy" Finicum was killed and other leaders of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation were arrested Tuesday after the FBI and state police stopped vehicles about 20 miles north of Burns.

Authorities did not release the name of the person who died at the highway stop, but Finicum's daughter confirmed it was Finicum....
Initial reports said that Finicum was resisting arrest, but militia backers had a different story:
State Rep. Michele Fiore (R-Nevada) and the “Bundy Ranch” Facebook page shared similar accounts of Finicum’s fatal shooting, each claiming the rancher had been shot with his hands up while his friends were arrested.

The local media said that report had been debunked by a backer of the occupation:
Robert "LaVoy" Finicum ... was shot and killed after he charged police during a roadside stop north of Burns on Tuesday, according to a man on Facebook who claims to be the driver of one of two vehicles involved in the highway shooting.

Mark McConnell posted a video to Facebook Wednesday morning, recounting the Tuesday afternoon scene that led to Finicum's death....
But some folks on the right didn't believe this:
Finicum ... was shot and killed after he charged police during a roadside stop north of Burns on Tuesday, according to a man on Facebook who claims to be the driver of one of two vehicles involved in the highway shooting.” That’s the 411 from Les Zaitz, senior investigative reporter at Problem: Mark McConnell’s Facebook page is now blank. As is the deceased’s daughter’s Facebook page.... As of this writing, we only have Zaitz’ description of McConnell’s video....

The screen cap from Mr. Finicum’s daughter [now wiped] Facebook page does, presenting a very different not-to-say inflammatory picture of events surrounding her father’s death.

But McConnell has posted a second video, and Travis Gettys of Raw Story has uploaded it to YouTube:

McConnell -- who was taken into custody, questioned and released -- recorded a second video early Wednesday morning, saying that Payne told him that he and Finicum got into an argument in the pickup after the rancher fled the police stop.

He said Cox told him that Finicum crashed into the snowbank, jumped out of the manual transmission diesel pickup with the rear wheels still spinning and charged toward law enforcement officers.

The bodyguard said Cox and Payne each told him that Finicum charged toward officers before he was shot, and he explicitly denied that the rancher had surrendered or complied with law enforcement.

“He was not on his knees, none of that,” McConnell said. “He was none of that nonsense. You know, that was a miscommunication on somebody else’s part. But he went after them. He charged them. You know, LaVoy was very passionate about what he was doing up here.”
But I think a certain number of angry, armed people in America just aren't going to believe this account (or this one, which echoes McConnell's story). They're going to believe that this was the government murder of a man who had his hands up.

Somebody who thinks this was murder will try to avenge Finicum's death. I guarantee it. Given the way these folks think, the target could be any federal facility anywhere in America, or it could be any federal worker, or a member of that worker's family. There's a limit to how much can be done, but security really does need to be tightened at federal facilities after this. Anti-government extremists are crazy, so people are in danger now.

TRUMP VS. AILES: COWARD VS. COWARD? (updated a few times)

So Donald Trump says he really won't debate tomorrow night:
MARSHALLTOWN, Iowa -- Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump abruptly announced here Tuesday that he would not participate in Thursday’s scheduled debate, escalating his off-and-on feud with Fox News Channel and throwing the GOP campaign into turmoil....

So far, Trump’s untraditional moves have only expanded his support, but his threatened boycott leaves him open to criticism that for all his tough talk he is ducking face-to-face confrontations with his opponents and scrutiny from the Fox moderators....

Trump long has objected to the participation of Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly as one of the three moderators, claiming she has treated him unfairly with both her questioning of him at last August’s debate and her commentary since then.
We don't know whether Trump's backers, or potential backers (the polls suggest that late-deciding voters are breaking toward him), will see this as an act of cowardice or toughness. To me it looks as if he just doesn't have the guts to face Kelly.

But as New York magazine's Gabriel Sherman notes, Trump's apparent cowardice seems to be matched by the cowardice of Roger Ailes:

Wow -- is Ailes really dispatching high-level emissaries to beg Trump to reconsider?

This comes from a Trump source, so it may not be true. But if it is true, or close to the true, why is Ailes negotiating at all? Why isn't he just saying to Trump, "Fine, go fuck yourself"?

Sherman writes that Trump is exploiting tensions within Fox:
One clear sign of the gravity of tonight’s development is the sense of confusion that is swirling throughout Fox. The network is split between Kelly's allies like Brit Hume and conservative anchors that are furious that Kelly -- who graces the cover of Vanity Fair this month -- has become the face of the network. An anchor fumed that Kelly hosted Michael Moore on her program tonight and the lefty filmmaker defended her against Trump. “That would be like Rachel Maddow laughing along with Charles Koch as he trashed Hillary Clinton!" the anchor said.
And, more important, Trump, according to Sherman, is acting on the understanding that he can threaten Ailes's alpha-dog status on the right:
For Ailes, the risks are less immediate, but potentially as consequential to maintaining his power. No matter how loudly GOP candidates complained about Fox’s loutish politics in private, none risked taking Ailes on in public for fear of losing access to this crucial constituency -- until Trump, that is. Even if Trump's boycott backfires, he's already achieved a historic victory: Exploding the myth that a Republican candidate can't openly challenge Fox.
And, obviously, Trump may be turning large parts of Fox's audience against Fox, because of their newfound loyalty to Trump. Ailes seems to be thinking he can't risk that.

And Ailes hasn't been well:
... in recent months Murdoch has been attending news meetings at Fox in the wake of a health scare that forced Ailes to take an extended leave of absence. Succession planning at Fox is very much on Murdoch's agenda. If Ailes loses his grip on the Trump situation -- and right now it looks like he is -- Murdoch will have another reason to worry about the stability of his most valuable asset.
Maybe this isn't about fear of Kelly. Trump might think he'll be able to extract some concession from Fox -- maybe something far short of Kelly's removal as a moderator -- after which he can declare victory. And maybe Fox is weak and fearful enough to let him do that. We'll see.


UPDATE: Trump polls his decision on Twitter and the results suggest that this may be backfiring.



UPDATE: On the other hand, judging from a new Gabriel Sherman report, Ailes is desperate and Fox is in chaos:
This morning, Joe Scarborough reported that Ailes called Trump's daughter Ivanka and wife, Melania, to get through to the GOP front-runner. But Trump is saying he'll only talk to Rupert Murdoch directly. In a further challenge to Ailes's power, Bill O'Reilly is scheduled to host Trump. Last night, Ailes directed Sean Hannity to cancel Trump's interview. O'Reilly's refusal to abide by a ban adds a new dynamic to the clash of egos. For O'Reilly, this is an opportunity to take back star power from Kelly. Sources say O'Reilly feels he made Kelly's career by promoting her on his show, and he's been furious that Kelly surpassed him in the ratings.
I don't know how much real damage any of this does to Fox, but it's fun to watch these SOBs squirm.


UPDATE: Wow, I missed this:
MSNBC host Joe Scarborough said Monday that he would rather "set himself on fire" than go on the debate stage because of Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly's bias.

Scarborough bashed Kelly, framing her as a biased journalist the morning after Donald Trump announced he'd skip Thursday's GOP presidential debate out of protest to Kelly's inclusion as a moderator.

Scarborough's "Morning Joe" program played a series of Fox News clips showing Kelly criticizing Trump's decision to skip the debate hosted by Fox.

"That is just good, unbiased journalism. And if I were a candidate, I certainly would want that person asking me questions in a fair and balanced way," Scarborough deadpanned with sarcasm.

"As I've said before, I would rather set myself onfire in front of the Fox News studio than go on the debate stage with that."
We all know that Scarborough is a Trump bootlicker, but he's not even pretending to be anything other than that anymore.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


Donald Trump got two big endorsements today. One was from Jerry Falwell Jr., who heads Liberty University, the school founded by his father. The other was from this guy:
Arizona's tough-talking "Sheriff Joe" Arpaio endorsed Donald Trump for president on Tuesday, lending his support as an outspoken opponent of illegal immigration to the GOP front-runner six days before Iowa's caucuses....

Arpaio -- who rose to conservative fame with his aggressive roundups of undocumented immigrants and attention-grabbing tactics like clothing inmates in pink underwear -- signaled his support when he introduced Trump at a Mesa, Arizona, rally late last year.
A lot of people have looked at the rise of Donald Trump and concluded that something new and terrible has happened to the Republican Party -- all of a sudden, a respectable party has been hijacked by conspiracy-mongering nativist know-nothings in thrall to a neo-fascist. How could this possibly have happened to the Grand Old Party in such a short amount of time?

The answer, of course, is that Trumpism didn't come out of nowhere. It's been around for a long time -- and it's been tolerated for a long time within the Republican Party. Actually, tolerated isn't the right word -- in the GOP, a neo-fascist like Joe Arpaio can become a power broker who's regularly courted by "respectable" Republicans.

The Trump endorsement is hardly Arpaio's first. Arpaio endorsed Arizona's current governor, Doug Ducey. He's endorsed members of Congress even in other states -- Pete Sessions in Texas, Raul Labrador in Idaho. His endorsees don't always win -- he picked Mitt Romney in the 2008 presidential race and Rick Perry four years later -- but no Republican, as far as I can tell, ever turns down an Arpaio endorsement. In fact, Republicans kiss his ring in the hopes of getting a nod from him -- not just Michele Bachmann in the 2012 race, but John McCain twelve years earlier.

Republicans treat him as a power broker despite the fact that he's a thug:
Since Arpaio first took office in 1993, cases involving him or his office have cost taxpayers $142 million in legal expenses, settlements and court awards....

There were enormous court awards for deaths in the jails, some of which were so large they were paid by insurance companies, instead of the county.

His deputies arrested journalists for writing about him, and taxpayers paid for it.

He arrested and a former county attorney filed charges against sitting judges, supervisors and county employees in 2008 and 2009. All of the cases fell apart. All of the targets sued and settled.
And a racist:
United States District Court Judge G. Murray Snow, an appointee of George W. Bush, has done Arizona and the nation a great service by chronicling, in meticulous detail, the unconstitutional harassment and racial profiling Hispanic people have been suffering at the hands of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. On Friday afternoon, on the eve of a holiday weekend, Judge Snow released a 142-page ruling which concludes that Sheriff Arpaio's well-publicized roundup policies violate both the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.

... Not only did Arpaio routinely violate federal law and the constitutional rights of Latinos in his County-- including the rights of undocumented immigrants-- he also blatantly violated the terms of a prior court order on the topic.
Did I say he's a thug?
Thousands of lawsuits and legal claims alleging abuse have been filed against Arpaio’s department by inmates -- or, in the case of deaths in detention, by their families. A federal investigation found that deputies had used stun guns on prisoners already strapped into a “restraint chair.” The family of one man who died after being forced into the restraint chair was awarded more than six million dollars as the result of a suit filed in federal court. The family of another man killed in the restraint chair got $8.25 million in a pre-trial settlement. (This deal was reached after the discovery of a surveillance video that showed fourteen guards beating, shocking, and suffocating the prisoner, and after the sheriff’s office was accused of discarding evidence, including the crushed larynx of the deceased.)
And when he and his subordinates aren't violating the civil rights of non-whites, abusing prisoners, or arresting journalists, they're investigating claims that President Obama wasn't born in America -- y'know, just like Trump.

Trump isn't new. Joe Arpaio has been talking like Trump for years, but he's also acted on the beliefs that Trump, so far, has only talked about.

If you have a party in which Joe Arpaio has been a star and power broker for years, and you've done nothing to challenge him, then you have no reason to be surprised when Donald Trump is your all-but-official presidential nominee. It's that simple.


It's been obvious for a while that Republicans won't blame themselves if Donald Trump is their presidential nominee and he goes down in flames in November. It's clear that they'll say he hijacked the party. It's certain that they'll dissociate themselves from his angry voters, none of whom, they'll tell us, were in any way inspired by decades of Republican rhetoric.

And now it's clear that they won't even blame themselves collectively for failing to stop Trump. They won't kick themselves for not coalescing around a safer choice in the primaries.

As this New York Times story suggests, they'll just blame Jeb Bush:
The party elders had hoped that one of their preferred candidates, such as Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, would be rising above the others by now and becoming a contender to rally around....

[But the] establishment candidates and their allies have spent approximately $35 million attacking one another, and there is no sign that they plan to relent anytime soon....

Many in the party say they believe the assault by Mr. Bush against Mr. Rubio has been particularly damaging.

Mr. Rubio has stepped up his complaints in recent days about the ads from Mr. Bush and his supporters. Rubio aides have been working aggressively behind the scenes to portray the attacks as strengthening Mr. Cruz and Mr. Trump, highlighting, for instance, an article in The Weekly Standard that argued that Mr. Bush would be to blame if Mr. Trump became the nominee.
Right -- according to The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes, the problem isn't that some of the mid-level establishment candidates won't drop out for the good of the party (and the country), and it's not that what was once regarded as a "deep bench" of extraordinary political talent turns out to be a collection of uninspiring hacks. The primary villain is Jeb:
In the "fight" between Donald Trump and conservatism, Trump has had few better allies than Right to Rise, the super PAC supporting Bush's candidacy. There will be plenty of blame to go around if Trump ends up as the Republican nominee, but Right to Rise will have earned a prominent chapter in those histories: cable and network television gave Trump endless hours of free publicity; influential conservative voices explained away his liberalism, excused his excesses, and legitimized his crazy; and Right to Rise, like an all-pro right guard, helped clear a path for Trump by blocking several of his would-be tacklers, in particular Marco Rubio.

This was no accident. It was the plan.

"If other campaigns wish that we're going to uncork money on Donald Trump, they'll be disappointed," Mike Murphy, chief strategist of Right to Rise, told the Washington Post in August. "Trump is, frankly, other people's problem." In an October interview with Bloomberg, he said: "I'd love a two-way race with Trump at the end."

It's entirely possible that there will be a two-way race with Trump at some point before the nomination is decided. But it's nearly inconceivable that the other candidate in that head-to-head contest will be Jeb Bush.
Power Line's Steven Hayward is also fed up:
... isn’t it time we got rid of the Bush family in politics for good? Look, George H.W. Bush is a very decent man, but his political malpractice in the White House -- squandering the Reagan legacy on purpose --opened the door for Bill Clinton. George W. Bush is another decent man, with much to recommend him, but he left the Republican Party even more demoralized than his dad, and for similar reasons. Now Jeb may be responsible for killing off the most electable conservative candidate in the field and leaving us with Trump.

No more Bushes, please. Let’s clear all of our fields of every Bush we can find, and drench the dirt with Roundup (before the EPA bans it) so they never come back.
Look, it pains me to defend a Bush, but, folks, what the hell did you expect to happen this year?

You got the campaign finance laws of your dreams from carefully chosen corporate bootlickers on the Supreme Court, one result of which is that anyone who can raise a lot of money can stay in a presidential race forever, so it was all but inevitable that the presidential field would include at least one old bull with far more fundraising ability than voter appeal. If it hadn't been Jeb, it would have been Mitt Romney . Do you think he would have approached this campaign in a dainty, respectful manner? Mitt Romney, the guy whose well-funded "death star" destroyed the campaigns of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich four years ago? Yes, maybe he would have directed his fire at Trump as well. (Not that attacks on Trump have done any good.) But do you think he would have sat idly by while a little pissant like Marco Rubio racked up good poll numbers?

The amusing thing about all this is what it says about other issues on which Republicans have strong opinions. Republicans say free markets invariably lead to excellent outcomes. Well, the GOP presidential contest is an awfully free market. How's that working out? And Republicans also say that the best deterrent to crime is widespread ownership of guns by private citizens, because, in the event of a crime, those citizens will use their weapons in a safe and responsible way, killing and injuring only the people who deserve it. Well, the Republican presidential field is a big mess of people all firing their campaign weapons every which way, but the bad guy is somehow unscathed and a lot of the so-called good guys seem to be mortally wounded. Maybe professional policing isn't such a bad idea.

The Republican Party didn't want to do anything collectively to stop Trump. Its candidates won't sacrifice their ego trips to make his nomination less likely. Republicans have been telling us for years that Ayn Rand is right about selfishness being virtuous. Jeb and the rest of the also-rans are just embodying that philosophy, and these are the results.


In last night's Democratic town hall on CNN, Bernie Sanders was asked by an attendee to explain what he means when he calls himself a socialist. This has led to eye-rolls from Sanders skeptics:

My opinion is more along these lines:

No, I don't think this a "crackpot theory." Back in 2010, a Harris poll found that 40% of Americans thought President Obama was a socialist, including two-thirds of Republicans. In a poll that same year from James Carville's Democracy Corps, 55% of respondents overall said Obama was a socialist.

Democrats got their clocks cleaned that year in the midterms. But two years later, Obama won reelection fairly handily.

I agree with James Poniewozick that overuse by the right has blunted the impact of the word "socialist," except among people who'd never vote for a Democrat anyway. And don't forget, if you're in your late thirties or younger, even "communist," a label the New York Post recently tried to apply to Sanders, isn't much of an insult -- if you're that age, you've spent your entire adolescence and adulthood in a post-communist world. The Berlin Wall fell 26 years ago.

The most striking thing about the answer Sanders gave last night was its sense of decency. I think that blunts the line of attack quite a bit:
QUESTION: Yes, Senator, some of your detractors have called you a socialist on occasions, and you don't seem too troubled by that, and sometimes embrace it. I wondered if you could elaborate on that...

SANDERS: ... Sure...

QUESTION: ... And just to show us what the comfort level you have your definition of it so that it doesn't concern the rest of us citizens.

SANDERS: Well, what Democratic Socialism means, to me, is that economic rights, the right to economic security is - should exist in the United States of America. It means to me that there's something wrong when we have millions of senior citizens today trying to get by on $11, $12,000 a year Social Security. It means there's something wrong when the rich get richer, and almost everybody else gets poorer. It means there is something wrong, and government should play a role in making sure that all of our kids, regardless of their income, are able to get a higher education.

Which is why I'm calling for free tuition at public colleges and universities, and why we have to deal with this horrendous level of student debt that people are having.

Now, what's going on in countries around the world, in Scandinavia, and in Germany. The ideas that I am talking about are not radical ideas. So, what Democratic Socialism means to me in its essence is that we cannot continue to have a government dominated by the billionaire class, and a congress that continues to work for the interest of the people on top while ignoring working families.

What this campaign is about, and what I believe, is creating a government that works for all of us, not just a handful of people on the top. That's my definition of Democratic Socialism.

I think Sanders would eventually have to augment this stock answer by reassuring the public that he doesn't want the government to nationalize private industry. But apart from that, it's an answer that makes him seem compassionate and grandfatherly, not scary.

Steve D thinks Sanders will have to explain this "every day" if he's the nominee. Um, I think that newfangled wireless and all the other modern communication doodads -- what do the kids call that really new one? The "Internet"? -- will transmit his answers to the public effectively. After a while, we'll have his answer and accept it or not.

I don't think "socialism" is the word he has to fear. The word he has to fear is "taxes."

Here's the full answer to a question about whether the Sanders health plan will require a tax increase:
SANDERS: Yes, we will raise - we will raise the - we will raise taxes, yes, we will. But also let us be clear, Chris, because there's a little bit of disingenuity out there, we may raise taxes but we are also going to eliminate private health insurance premiums for individuals and for businesses.
If Sanders is the nominee, the "we will raise taxes, yes, we will" part of that answer will become as famous as John Kerry's "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it," through attack-ad repetition. The second part will be ignored.

But if Hillary Clinton is the nominee, the GOP will attack her on taxes, too:

The attack is likely to stick to Sanders, however, because he's talking about a more activist government than Clinton is. The question is whether his rebuttals would be effective. They might be. We don't know. He answers most questions by talking about how ordinary people have been shafted. He blames the powerful. That resonates with a lot of voters. Enough voters? It's not clear yet.

I think Republicans who try to attack Sanders as a socialist may find that the word has lost its impact. "Taxes"? That's an evergreen. That's a line of attack that never goes out of fashion.

Monday, January 25, 2016


In a Daily Beast story about a possible Mike Bloomberg third-party presidential run, Bill Kristol floats the possibility of a four-way race:
Presented with a scenario where Bloomberg enters due to Sen. Bernie Sanders winning early Democratic primary states, and Trump dominating the Republican field, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol told The Daily Beast that he and other conservatives would recruit a fourth candidate.

"And a Weekly Standard/National Review pro-Constitution, pro-life, hawkish candidate could win. Working on who that would be," Kristol said, citing "quiet and very preliminary discussions" that he has had with other conservatives.
Kristol's not the only righty thinking like this. At Power Line on Saturday, Steven Hayward speculated that the 2016 election could resemble the election of 1824:
... I wonder whether we might have four major candidates in the event of a Trump-Sanders or Trump-Clinton matchup -- Bloomberg plus an “independent” Republican candidate (I’d guess it might be Romney)? Then the election we’d most resemble was 1824, when there were four major candidates running. That election was settled in the House of Representatives in favor of John Quincy Adams, even though Andrew Jackson won the most popular votes. One could imagine this happening again, with Trump, Clinton, or Bloomberg getting the most votes, but a Republican dominated House picking the “independent” Republican candidate. (Let’s hope to God it isn’t Jeb Bush.) One can imagine today’s Jacksonian candidate (Mr. T) being just as outraged as Jackson was at such an outcome. If you think things were bitter after the messy outcome of the 2000 election between Bush and Gore, just wait.
Even though a candidate from his party would win, Hayward recognizes that this would arouse anger. Bill Kristol, however, thinks it's a nifty idea. He cheerily tweeted a link to the Hayward post yesterday.

Hayward just seems to be speculating, but Kristol actually seems interested in making this happen. I'm not sure why -- could you guess the outcome of a four-way race (let's say Trump/Sanders/Bloomberg/Romney) in any given state? I really can't imagine how it would turn out. The lat two minor-party candidates to win any electoral votes whatsoever, George Wallace in 1968 and Strom Thurmond in 1948, had segregation on their side, so each won several Southern states. What reason would any state have to prefer Mitt Romney, say, over the major-party candidates?

I say this because Kristol's dream candidate would have to win at least one state to be eligible for choice by the House of Representatives, according to the procedure laid out in the Constitution for elections in which no candidate gets to 270 electoral votes. (See Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, as modified by the 12th Amendment.) If no one gets to 270, the election goes to the House -- but only the top three candidates in the electoral-vote count can be considered by the House. So Kristol's "real" Republican would have to win a state (or a presidential elector committed to another candidate would have to become what's called a "faithless elector" and vote for Kristol's choice). Also, Kristol's choice would have to have at least the third-best electoral-vote total (if all four candidates win electoral votes, #4 gets booted before the election goes to the House).

At that point, Kristol is right -- the House can choose any of the three, even the candidate who finished a distant third. Each state, regardless of size, gets one vote. Republicans control 33 House delegations -- the states in various shades of red on the map below. Democrats control only 14 -- the blue states below. (Three are split -- the pink states.)

But will every state agree to go with the establishment Republican rather than Trump? Remember, these are House Republicans we're talking about -- a lot of them are really, really crazy. In states with a close party split, will Trumpite Republicans break from Romney Republicans? Would that let the Sanders Democrats steal a win?

And what if it does work? What if House Republicans agree to hand the presidency to third-place Mitt Romney -- who, running against Trump, might lose every red state except Utah? You think the public is just going to tolerate a presidential victory in the House by a guy who won only 6 electoral votes?

I don't know if the Sandersites would do much more than send a lot of angry tweets. But the Trumpites? I think they might lock and load -- literally.

Yeah, right, Bill -- that would be really swell for America.


Yesterday, Zandar -- a Bernie Sanders skeptic -- quoted this Jonathan Chait post from last week:
The Sanders campaign represents a revolution of rising expectations. In 2008, the last time Democrats held a contested primary, the prospect of simply taking back the presidency from Republican control was nearly enough to motivate the party’s vote. The potential to enact dramatic change was merely a bonus. After nearly two terms of power, with the prospect of Republican rule now merely hypothetical, Democrats want more.
Really? Is it true that "the prospect of simply taking back the presidency from Republican control was nearly enough to motivate the party’s vote"? There's a lot of weight in that word "nearly." I'd say that the Democrats absolutely "wanted more" in 2008 -- if we'd been content with "simply taking back the presidency," we'd have gone with the seemingly safe choice, Hillary Clinton, instead of the black guy with Hussein for a middle name, the guy who (as conservatives never stop reminding us) talked about "fundamentally transforming the United States of America."

We wanted big changes then, too. I'm not convinced that Sanders voters expect much more than a lot of Obama voters did eight years ago.

I agree with Chait that this doesn't seem like a great time for progressive shouts of "Be realistic -- demand the impossible":
Those areas in which a Democratic Executive branch has no power are those in which Sanders demands aggressive action, and the areas in which the Executive branch still has power now are precisely those in which Sanders has the least to say. The president retains full command of foreign affairs; can use executive authority to drive social policy change in areas like criminal justice and gender; and can, at least in theory, staff the judiciary. What the next president won’t accomplish is to increase taxes, expand social programs, or do anything to reduce inequality, given the House Republicans’ fanatically pro-inequality positions across the board. The next Democratic presidential term will be mostly defensive, a bulwark against the enactment of the radical Ryan plan. What little progress liberals can expect will be concentrated in the non-Sanders realm.
As Zandar reminds us:
The political reality is that the House, the Senate, and 24 states are under total GOP control, along with 70 of 99 state legislatures and 31 governor's mansions. Until that is fixed, even the most left-friendly president won't be able to get things done.
It was more realistic, I suppose, to expect big change in 2008. But I don't think expecting more than is possible is anything new -- a lot of 2008 Obama voters expected a lot more than we got.

And obviously this is the way a lot of us are in America right now. It's not just that the two poll leaders on the Republican side are extreme and crazy -- they imply that nothing is impossible for conservatives, and their voters believe it. Donald Trump says he can deport every undocumented immigrant, make Mexico pay for an absolutely impermeable border wall, and not only defeat ISIS but get away with impounding other people's oil. Ted Cruz is running on the premise that his party, on seizing the Senate, should have instantly overturned Obamacare and ended deficit spending, the president's veto power notwithstanding, and that if there'd been more Republicans like him in the Senate, it absolutely would have happened.

But maybe raising unrealistic expectations is just how successful politicians motivate voters nowadays. And maybe it works out: Obama promised more than he delivered, but he delivered a lot; Republicans in the Tea Party era promised to reclaim America at the national level and failed at that (so far), but they seized (and fundamentally transformed) many of the states.

At this point, even Hillary Clinton is overpromising on a few issues. Maybe -- hello, Jeb and Marco -- you just can't win without doing that these days.

Sunday, January 24, 2016


Every Donald Trump hater has a theory about how you'd really beat Trump if you were serious about it. Here's Ross Douthat's theory:
... think back to that misty time, two years gone, when one of Trump’s current rivals -- Chris Christie, that’s the one -- was seen as the presumptive Republican front-runner. What was the basis of Christie’s appeal? Simply this: He was a jerk, but he was your jerk. He was rude -- but to people who deserved it. He was an S.O.B. -- the S.O.B. the country needed.

Then think about why the “Bridgegate” scandal was devastating to his image.

... it devastated Christie because it flipped his brand. Instead of the jerk who looks out for the average guy, he became the jerk whose allies had stuck it to commuters. Instead of the tough guy fighting for you, he became the tough guy whose goons would mire their constituents in traffic for a pointless little feud.

Now apply that model to the Inevitable Nominee....

To attack him effectively, you have to go after the things that people like about him. You have to flip his brand.
Douthat goes on to explain how you apply this approach to Trump:
Tell people ... about all his cratered companies. Then find people who suffered from those fiascos -- workers laid off following his bankruptcies, homeowners who bought through Trump Mortgage, people who ponied up for sham degrees from Trump University....

Find the people hurt by Trump’s attempts to exploit eminent domain: The widow whose boarding house he wanted to demolish to make room for a limo parking lot, the small businessmen whose livelihoods he wanted to redevelop out of existence.
But here's the problem: Most of that is out there. It's been out there since Trump rose to the top of the polls. His voters don't care. His voters don't care about anything he said or did before he seemed to become "their SOB."

That's because Douthat is mistaken about what brought Christie down in the eyes of national Republican voters. It wasn't that he had come to be regarded as an SOB for the wrong side -- that may have been what Jersey voters thought, but that wasn't his problem with Republicans nationwide. Christie's problem with Republican voters across the country was that he had stopped seeming like an SOB at all.

First he embraced President Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Then, after Bridgegate, he was apologetic (or at least he apologized for what he was shocked, shocked, to learn his staffers had done). When you saw him on TV, he wasn't yelling at a union teacher -- instead, his political survival was being discussed by Rachel Maddow, or Joe 'n' Mika. He'd been brought low. He was no longer the guy who put his enemies on the defensive.

Then he compounded the problem by spending a year as the head of the Republican Governors Association. No longer was he the video bullyboy you saw on Fox News every couple of weeks. He was too busy roaming the country doing favors for influential Republicans, in the hope that they'd help him in the presidential race.

Republican voters may not know about the ordinary Americans who've been victimized by Donald Trump, but they've seen him attack people Megyn Kelly and Ted Cruz -- people they like. It hasn't bothered them. They've seen him attack John McCain on the one aspect of McCain's career they still respect, his military service. It hasn't upset them. In New Hampshire, Jeb Bush is running ads in which the father of a child with cerebral palsy expresses disgust at Trump's attack on a disabled reporter.

Trump voters don't care.

Why? Because attack like this reaffirm the impression that Trump is an SOB. As long as he seems to be primarily an SOB on the voters' side, they don't care if he's an SOB toward anyone else.

Saturday, January 23, 2016


That other egomaniac Manhattan billionaire with delusions of political grandeur, Mike Bloomberg, is talking seriously about running for president, The New York Times, reports, even though it's clearly an exercise in futility:
Michael R. Bloomberg has instructed advisers to draw up plans for a potential independent campaign in this year’s presidential race. His advisers and associates said he was galled by Donald J. Trump’s dominance of the Republican field, and troubled by Hillary Clinton’s stumbles and the rise of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont on the Democratic side.
Keep reading -- with regard to Hillary, it's not just about "stumbles."
... Mr. Bloomberg, 73, has already taken concrete steps toward a possible campaign, and has indicated to friends and allies that he would be willing to spend at least $1 billion of his fortune on it, according to people briefed on his deliberations who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss his plans.

... Mr. Bloomberg commissioned a poll in December to see how he might fare against Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton, and he intends to conduct another round of polling after the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 9 to gauge whether there is indeed an opening for him, according to two people familiar with his intentions.
I wish I remembered which political journalist on Twitter pointed out that Bloomberg never actually released the results of that polling, or even leaked bits of what the poll uncovered -- which means, this journalist noted, that the poll must have contained nothing to indicate that Bloomberg has a chance of winning.

Oh, but here's my favorite part of the Times story:
Mr. Bloomberg’s aides have sketched out one version of a campaign plan that would have the former mayor, a low-key and cerebral personality, deliver a series of detailed policy speeches, backed by an intense television advertising campaign that would introduce him to voters around the country as a technocratic problem-solver....
Yeah, that's really what America wants this year, isn't it?

Beyond that? Bloomberg is uncharismatic. He's Jewish. He's not very tall. He has a (female) domestic partner whom he's never married. He's East Coast in a boring (Kerry/Dukakis) way rather than a pugnacious (Trump) way.

So what's this all about, besides Bloomberg's ego? Well, in part it's about the extremism, and alleged unelectability, of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, the two front-runners on the GOP side. But beyond that, it's about ... leftist barbarians at the gates. And no, Bloomberg doesn't just mean Bernie Sanders:
If Republicans were to nominate Mr. Trump or Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a hard-line conservative, and Democrats were to pick Mr. Sanders, Mr. Bloomberg ... has told allies he would be likely to run....

At the same time, these associates said, he has grown more frustrated with what he sees a race gone haywire. A longtime critic of partisan primary elections, Mr. Bloomberg has lamented what he considers Mrs. Clinton’s lurch to the left in her contest against Mr. Sanders, especially her criticism of charter schools and other education reforms that he pushed as mayor and has continued to support since leaving office.
With regard to Hillary, I don't think it's just the charter schools. She's made economic-left noises in this campaign, and Bloomberg doesn't like that sort of thing. Recall that he endorsed Barack Obama in 2008, but turned on the president not long afterward because the president was being mean to his precious Wall Streeters:
New York mayor Mike Bloomberg is outraged by Washington's attack on his city's primary source of tax revenue. And he has lobbed in a tit-for-tat plan to hold Congress accountable, too.

Marcia Kramer, WCBS TV:

..."The mayor was so upset about the move ... he responded with a proposal of his own for members of Congress.

"Maybe we should hold back their salaries for a decade or so and see whether the laws they pass work out," Bloomberg said.
Early polling doesn't tell us much about how Bloomberg would do, but there are hints in this Morning Consult poll:
When pitted in a three-way race with former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump gets 37 percent of voters, Democrat leader Hillary Clinton gets 36 percent and Bloomberg, an independent, gets 13 percent....

In a two-way race, Clinton edges out Trump by a 44 to 42 percent margin....
So Bloomberg's presence in the race takes it from a Clinton victory to a Trump victory, although the margins are small. Cruz-Clinton-Bloomberg and Rubio-Clinton-Bloomberg are also surveyed, and we're told that "Clinton’s lead solidifies" with Bloomberg in the race, though we don't see the two-way results for comparison.

However, there's this:
Bloomberg’s favorability rating is +13 among Democrats (33 percent favorable, 20 percent unfavorable), +6 among independents (32 percent favorable, 26 percent unfavorable) and -9 among Republicans (26 percent favorable, 35 percent unfavorable).
Those negative numbers among Republicans are the real problem. Republicans who follow politics closely don't care that he sticks up for big business, or that he presided over a decade of stop-and-frisk policing. They know two things about him: he's a passionate gun-control advocate and he wanted to take away everyone's Big Gulps. I don't care how much money he has, or how centrist his campaign is -- by November, GOP propaganda will make him as hated on the right as Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi. They don't do "Bloomberg gun giveaways" in heartland America for nothing.

So Donald Trump is probably right:
... in an interview with ABC News that aired last weekend, Mr. Trump said he would welcome a presidential campaign by Mr. Bloomberg, whom he called “a friend” and “a great guy.”

Mr. Bloomberg, he predicted, would “take a lot of votes away from Hillary.”

But the fact that Bloomberg is far more likely to run if the race is Sanders-Trump or Sanders-Cruz (would he run if it were Sanders-Rubio?) tells me that Bernie would have a hell of a time winning a general election, in part because of Democrats, and people like Bloomberg who've voted Democratic in the past. There's an awful quote from Ed Rendell in the Times article:
In a three-way race featuring Mr. Sanders and Mr. Bloomberg, Mr. Rendell said he might back the moderate former New York mayor.

“As a lifelong Democrat, as a former party chairman, it would be very hard for me to do that,” he said. “But I would certainly take a look at it -- absolutely.”
There's a lot of talk out there about a plot by centrist Democrats to deny Sanders the nomination. I'm less woried about that than I am about the possibility -- the likelihood? -- that influential Democrats and left-centrist pundits would reject Sanders in a general election, the way many rejected George McGovern in the 1972 presidential race and Ned Lamont in his 2006 Senate race against Joe Lieberman.

Here's some fretting in an MSNBC story:
“I don’t know how you run a campaign in a southern or red state with a democratic socialist at the top of the ticket,” said the campaign manager for one red state Democrat. “It becomes near impossible to separate yourself enough to win over the conservative independents you need to win.”

It’s a similar warning to the one raised this week by Clinton allies Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and Rep. Steve Cohen – and people on the ground and in the trenches working to elect Democrats have an even more tactical view.

“I think it would be a nightmare, plain and simple,” said one former Blue Dog staffer current working on a statewide campaign in a state Obama did not win. “It’s something that’s starting to come up in conversation with decent regularly. People are concerned about what affect it would have on the entire rest of the ballot from state legislators to gubernatorial and Senate races.”
Here's Joe Klein writing for Time:
It is still far more likely that Clinton wins the Democratic nomination than Sanders -- but even Bernie should worry about his party strolling into the general election unwilling to distinguish itself from socialism. Indeed, the Democrats should worry about their attachment to big government, which, in America, has come to mean more unaccountable bureaucracy, like the Department of Veterans Affairs; more inefficiency, like the weird tangle of federal job-training programs, each more irrelevant than the last; and more perverse incentives, like welfare programs that ask for nothing–no personal responsibility–in return from their recipients. Big government is the way I was treated at the post office this afternoon.

So we have this strange election: Republicans race toward know-nothing nativism, and Democrats stumble toward socialism. Both are reactionary, discredited ideas. I want my country back!
That reads as if it's intended to be a Bloomberg-for-president manifesto, even though the former mayor's name isn't mentioned once.

If Sanders is nominated and Bloomberg runs, Morning Joe and the Sunday talk shows are going to be given over to endless denunciations of socialism from the likes of Bob Kerry, Joe Manchin, Joe Lieberman, and Harold Ford. I'd love to think that Democratic voters wouldn't be swayed by all that, but an awful lot of rank-and-file Dems regard themselves as moderates. We know that's the case because our presidential elections skew Democratic even though Gallup regularly finds that far more Americans say they're conservatives than say they're liberals.

No, Bloomberg won't win. But he might gift-wrap the presidency for the GOP, with corporatist Democrats' help.