Monday, February 29, 2016


The Atlantic's Peter Beinart is urging liberals to cross party lines and vote for Marco Rubio, in order to save America from Donald Trump:
... if I lived in any of the nine Super Tuesday states that allow non-Republicans to vote in their GOP presidential primary, I would cross over -- forfeiting my chance to cast a ballot for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders -- and vote for Rubio. Other liberals should do the same. Those who can should write him checks. Whatever it takes to stop the nomination of Donald Trump.
Here's Beinart's argument:
... Once Trump is nominated, America will have crossed a line.

A man who does not respect constitutional limits and who preys upon vulnerable minorities will lead one of the two major parties. The consequences, though hard to measure, could be profound. A few days ago in Iowa, fans at a high-school basketball game chanted, “Trump,” at the opposing team, which comprised Latino, African American, and Native American players. They wielded the name of the man who could become president as a racial slur. Protesters at Trump’s rallies have been beaten. Last year, in Boston, two men beat a Hispanic man with a metal pipe while yelling, “Trump was right.” Just imagine what might happen if were Trump nominated or, God forbid, elected. In myriad ways, America would become an uglier, scarier place.

If Rubio won, by contrast, the Republican Party might be stabilized. The terms of debate between the two parties would remain roughly the same.
But if Republican voters are about to nominate Donald Trump, and the only thing standing in the way of that is intervention on the part of non-Republicans, why would we want the terms of debate between the two parties to remain roughly the same? If I'm a woman married to a violent, reckless man, and just as I'm about to leave him he pulls a gun on me, but he's prevented from killing me only because a neighbor intervenes, should I stay because the worst-case scenario was averted? Like the abusive husband, hasn't the GOP conclusively demonstrated that it's crazy and dangerous? Will it really be "stabilized" if outsiders prevent Trump's nomination?

The Republican Party needs to live with the shame of nominating Donald Trump. The political establishment needs to live with the knowledge that it spent years in denial about how much extremism there is in the GOP until Trump emerged and made that extremism impossible for even the most obtuse observer to ignore.

I agree with Beinart that liberals need to enlist in the effort to stop Trump. But the time to stop him is in November, not now. Republicans are making their choice, and they should do that unimpeded. And then we all need to step back and assess the damage to America from what they've done, and place the blame where it belongs: with Republicans.


Beinart' says that a major difference between the two candidates is that "Rubio respects the Constitution, and in particular, the Bill of Rights. Trump does not." But is that true? Matt Yglesias tweets:

As usual, Rubio used a lot of weasel words, back in November, but here's what he said:
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) seems to be going further than even Republican frontrunner Donald Trump in advocating the crackdown of U.S. Muslims. He doesn’t just want to consider shutting down mosques, as Trump says, but wants to shut down “any place where radicals are being inspired.”

“It’s not about closing down mosques. It’s about closing down any place — whether it’s a cafe, a diner, an internet site — any place where radicals are being inspired,” Rubio said on Fox News’ The Kelly File on Thursday night when asked if he agreed with Trump. “The bigger problem we have is our inability to find out where these places are, because we’ve crippled our intelligence programs, both through unauthorized disclosures by a traitor, in Edward Snowden, or by some of the things this president has put in place with the support even of some from my own party to diminish our intelligence capabilities.”

“So whatever facility is being used -- it’s not just a mosque -- any facility that’s being used to radicalize and inspire attacks against the United States, should be a place that we look at,” he continued.
There's also Rubio's implicit support for torture, as expressed in a debate last month:
"I believe the world is a safer and a better place when America is the strongest power in the world, and I believe only with a strong America will we defeat this radical group, this apocalyptic group called ISIS," said Rubio.... "If we capture any of these ISIS killers alive, they are going to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and we're going to find out everything they know, because when I'm president, unlike Barack Obama, we will keep this country safe."

Later in the debate, Rubio reaffirmed his pledge to keep Guantanamo's doors open.... "We must keep America safe from this threat," Rubio added. "And yes, when I am president of the United States, if there is some place in this country where radical jihadists are planning to attack the United States, we will go after them wherever they are, and if we capture them alive, they are going to Guantanamo."
Was Rubio really hinting at support for torture at Gitmo? Peter Beinart, please notw that a pundit you respect certainly thought so: Peter Beinart.

But now Beinart thinks Rubio understands constitutional restraint. Let's just say I have my doubts.

ALSO: Please see "Rubio Suggests Re-examination of Waterboarding," from 2011:
Saying that the U.S. government "can learn from a successful operation like you can learn from a mistake," Sen. Marco Rubio said it is time to revisit the issue of waterboarding....

Florida's Republican senator, speaking by telephone Thursday, wasn't endorsing the technique, but he did say the success of the operation that killed Osama bin Laden provides a good opportunity to question how the intelligence was derived that made it happen.

"We need to find out how this information was gathered," Rubio said. He was referring to whether waterboarding -- or simulated drowning -- and other "enhanced interrogation" techniques used during the Bush administration helped the CIA learn about the courier who led to bin Laden's hide-out in Pakistan.

"Again, this is not for the purposes of saying we were right and you were wrong; it's for understanding what works and what doesn't," he said.
Trust him? I don't.


Joe Scarborough is trying to distance himself from Donald Trump:
Donald Trump's failure to explicitly disavow the Ku Klux Klan and former Grand Wizard David Duke is "disqualifying," Joe Scarborough declared on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Monday.

"It’s breathtaking. That is disqualifying right there. To say you don’t know about the Ku Klux Klan? You don’t know about David Duke?" the co-host said during the opening segment of the show after remarking upon Trump's feigned ignorance of the group and Duke during an interview with CNN on Sunday, two days after he explicitly disavowed the group in a news conference.
Scarborough also published op-ed in The Washington Post today on the same subject:
They weren’t hard questions to answer.

“Do you condemn David Duke? And the Ku Klux Klan?”

A simple “yes” would have worked. But on Sunday, Donald Trump swatted away the easy answers and instead feigned ignorance about the KKK and its most infamous Grand Wizard. The Republican frontrunner’s failure to provide what should have been a simple answer has raised even more disturbing questions about the man who is on course to lock down the GOP’s nomination for president.
In the op-ed Scarborough sounds high-minded in his denunciation of bigotry:
The first question is why would Trump pretend to be so ignorant of American history that he refused to pass judgment on the Ku Klux Klan before receiving additional information? What kind of facts could possibly mitigate a century of sins committed by a violent hate group whose racist crimes terrorized Americans and placed a shameful blot on this nation’s history?
But, for Scarborough, it's also about victory for his party:
These are questions that have no good answers for a Republican Party on the verge of nominating a man who sounds more like a Dixiecrat from the 1950s than the kind of nominee the GOP needs four years after losing Hispanics by 44 percent, Asian-Americans by 47 percent, and black Americans by 87 percent.
And, ultimately, this is more about rescuing Scarborough's own reputation than it is about condemning Trump. Scarborough was widely criticized after Harry Shearer posted a tape of excessively chummy off-the-air chat during a town hall forum Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski hosted for Trump. Scarborough's credibility took a hit, and he's trying to rescue it.

But he's not doing that in an honest way. In the op-ed, Scarborough writes:
Sunday’s distressing performance is just the latest in a string of incidents that suggest to critics that Donald Trump is using bigotry to fuel his controversial campaign. The most explicit of all examples was his December proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States. Mika Brzezinski, my “Morning Joe” co-host, called that political promise “frightening” and our debate with Trump got so heated that I eventually hung up on the candidate during the interview.
Scarborough links to a New York Times post about the March 8 broadcast -- but the Times post says Scarborough didn't hang up on Trump. Nor did Scarborough specifically refer to the Trump's racism when he became angry with Trump:
After Mr. Trump repeatedly interrupted questions about his plan to ban Muslim immigration from the co-host Mika Brzezinski, Mr. Scarborough scolded Mr. Trump for not allowing the hosts to ask the candidate questions and, finally, threatened to send the program into a commercial break if Mr. Trump did not stop speaking.

“Go to break, go to break right now,” Mr. Scarbourough eventually demanded.

When Mr. Trump kept talking, Mr. Scarborough interrupted him: “Hold on, Donald. You got to let us ask questions. You can’t just talk.”

Mr. Trump kept talking anyway. “I’m not just talking,” he said.

As the exchange intensified, a clearly displeased Mr. Scarborough repeatedly tried to stop Mr. Trump from speaking over him.

“Go to break, then, Joe,” Mr. Trump said, tauntingly.

So Mr. Scarborough did. The segment abruptly ended.

After the commercial, the program returned with Mr. Trump still on the phone, tamer this time, answering questions from the hosts of “Morning Joe.”
(Emphasis added.)

Also see this CNN story:
MSNBC then cut to commercial and returned, with Trump, who took questions from the "Morning Joe" panel.
So Scarborough never "hung up on" Trump in response to Trump's bigotry.

And Scarborough's claim in the op-ed that "our debate with Trump got so heated" raises a question: What do you mean "our debate," Joe? The clip doesn't show what happened after Scarborough cut to commercial, but it shows the conversation leading up to that moment -- and in that conversation, Scarborough says nothing to Trump until he complains about Trump's rudeness, not about his bigotry. Brzezinski conducts the interview solo. She asks about bigotry, but Scarborough remains silent, then complains that Trump is talking too much, not that he's preaching hate. Watch:

In the op-ed, Scarborough writes:
The day I hung up on Donald Trump, I asked on air, “Is this what Germany looked like in 1933?”
To his credit, Scarborough did say that -- though he didn't have the guts to say it to Trump while Trump was on the air. He let Brzezinski do all the talking.

Yes, Scarborough denounced Trump's bigotry. However, this doesn't put Scarborough's relationship with Trump in a better light. I'd say it puts it in a worse light -- Scarborough has acknowledged that Trump is a hatemonger, based on statements Trump has never walked back, yet Scarborough and his co-host are still cozy with Trump, as that off-air town hall audio made clear.

And Scarborough still can't really condemn Trump. Look at the headline for today's Trump segment on the Morning Joe website:
Joe to Trump: Clean this up before Super Tuesday
You really have to stop this, Donald. You have one more chance. I'm serious this time.

No, that's not how you respond to a hatemonger -- with yet another mulligan. But this is Joe Scarborough we're talking about, so we should expect no less.

Sunday, February 28, 2016


Donald Trump is the man of the hour, and according to Ross Douthat, Barack Obama and liberalism are to blame:
THE spectacle of the Republican Party’s Trumpian meltdown has inspired a mix of glee and fear among liberals....

What it hasn’t inspired is much in the way of self-examination, or a recognition of the way that Obama-era trends in liberal politics have helped feed the Trump phenomenon.
Now, Douthat is a reasonable man, so he wouldn't put all the blame on Obama and liberals:
Such a recognition wouldn’t require letting the Republican Party off the hook. The Trump uprising is first and foremost a Republican and conservative problem: There would be no Trumpism if George W. Bush’s presidency hadn’t cratered, no Trumpism if the party hadn’t alternated between stoking and ignoring working-class grievances....
You can define immigration as a "working-class grievance," but Islamophobia? Birtherism? The alleged repulsiveness of Megyn Kelly's "wherever"? I don't think these have anything specifically to do with Republican neglect of the proletariat.
But Trumpism is also a creature of the late Obama era, irrupting after eight years when a charismatic liberal president has dominated the cultural landscape and set the agenda for national debates....
Really? Do tell.
First, the reality TV element in Trump’s campaign is a kind of fun-house-mirror version of the celebrity-saturated Obama effort in 2008.
And this was unique to Obama? Wait, here's Douthat's qualification of that statement:
Presidential politics has long had an escalating celebrity component....
Gee, ya think?
But the first Obama campaign raised the bar.
Higher than Reagan did? Ross, I post these images all the time. Do I really have to post them again?

... now we have the nearly-inevitable next step: presidential politics as a season of “Survivor” or, well, “The Apprentice,” with the same celebrity factor as Obama’s ’08 run, but with his campaign’s high-middlebrow pretensions stripped away. If Obama proved that you can run a presidential campaign as an aspirational cult of personality, in which a Sarah Silverman endorsement counts for as much as a governor or congressman’s support, Trump is proving that you don’t need Silverman to shout “the Aristocrats!” and have people eat it up.
Again, you're talking about campaigning with a "celebrity factor" as if Barack Obama invented that, when the GOP twice ran a candidate who'd been a Hollywood star for decades. And Trump isn't running as a celebrity. He's a celebrity who's running as a self-made billionaire strongman. He's not making a big deal of his TV show. He's not showing up in Super Tuesday states with Gary Busey and Meat Loaf. In fact, it's Ted Cruz who's campaigning with the Duck Dynasty guy, and it was Mike Huckabee who hung out with Ted Nugent all the time.

And if we're going to talk about personality cults, how much influence has the posthumous Reagan cult had on the GOP electorate's susceptibility to Trump? Elsewhere in the column, Douthat refers to the '08 Obama campaign's imagery as "quasi-religious" -- but what in American politics more resembles a religion that Republican worship of Reagan? Reagan cultism has set a bar other campaigns struggle to clear. Obama hasn't come close.

Douthat also blames Obama for Trump's authoritarianism:
He’s also proving, in his bullying, overpromising style, that voters are increasingly habituated to the idea of an ever more imperial presidency -- which is also a trend that Obama’s choices have accelerated. Having once campaigned against his predecessor’s power grabs, the current president has expanded executive authority along almost every dimension: launching wars without congressional approval, claiming the power to assassinate American citizens, and using every available end-around to make domestic policy without any support from Congress.
And this happened in a complete vacuum, right, Ross? On domestic policy, it had nothing whatsoever to do with the near-boycott of the Obama presidency by Republicans in Congress -- right, Ross? And regarding foreign affairs and the threat of terrorism, what Obama has done -- drone-killing Awlaki's son, taking out bin Laden -- still hasn't been enough to prevent Republicans from claiming that he's weak and feckless and "leading from behind." It's as if the GOP is begging him to be a carpet-bombing, waterboarding strongman. Maybe that's the reason Trump thinks he doesn't have to respect constitutional restraints?

Oh, and also, according to Douthat, it's Obama's fault that Trump is trying to appeal to voters in the Republican bloc:
... [Trump] is rallying a constituency that once swung between the parties, but that the Obama White House has spent the last eight years slowly writing off. Trump’s strongest supporters aren’t archconservatives; they’re white working-class voters, especially in the Rust Belt and coal country, who traditionally leaned Democratic and still favor a strong welfare state.
(Well, they favor it for themselves, though not so much for Those People. But never mind.)
These voters had been drifting away from the Democratic Party since the 1970s....
Yes, starting when Obama was in middle school. But it's still his fault that he's not begging them to vote for him!
... but Obama has made moves that effectively slam the door on them: His energy policies, his immigration gambits, his gun control push, his shift to offense on same-sex marriage and abortion. It was possible to be a culturally conservative skeptic of mass immigration in the Democratic Party of Bill Clinton. Not so anymore.
If Douthat wants to say that Trump is battling for blue-collar whites because Democrats have decided it's futile to try to win them over, that's fine. But even if Democrats have ceded blue-collar whites to the GOP, how does that justify Trump's decision to appeal to them with demagoguery and racism?

Here's a comparison. We know that Republicans effectively ceded the black vote to Democrats starting in the late 1960s and early 1970s. What if Democrats had responded by embracing a violent strain of black nationalism? Would Douthat say that was justified because, well, the GOP gave up on black voters? If a Democratic presidential front-runner had cheered violent attack on white protesters at his rallies, would Douthat say that was cool, because the GOP's Southern strategy meant that Democrats weren't responsible for their own actions?

Sorry -- if Douthat is looking to blame someone for Trumpism, he should blame Trump. He should blame a Republican-leaning propaganda machine that thought it could rouse the rabble with proto-Trumpian rhetoric without inspiring those mobs to take the rhetoric literally. He should blame the Republican Party for willfully throwing sand in the gears of America's government, because punishing a Democratic president is more important than doing what's right for American citizens. Trump is not Obama's fault.

Saturday, February 27, 2016


The New York Times story "Inside the Republican Party’s Desperate Mission to Stop Donald Trump" is fun to read, because it's clear that the entire Republican Establishment remains frozen like a deer in headlights, unable to react effectively to the demagogic fraud who's about to run away with the party's presidential nomination.

But I think some people are reading too much into this:
... the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has laid out a plan that would have lawmakers break with Mr. Trump explicitly in a general election.

... Mr. McConnell has begun preparing senators for the prospect of a Trump nomination, assuring them that, if it threatened to harm them in the general election, they could run negative ads about Mr. Trump to create space between him and Republican senators seeking re-election. Mr. McConnell has raised the possibility of treating Mr. Trump’s loss as a given and describing a Republican Senate to voters as a necessary check on a President Hillary Clinton, according to senators at the lunches.

He has reminded colleagues of his own 1996 re-election campaign, when he won comfortably amid President Bill Clinton’s easy re-election. Of Mr. Trump, Mr. McConnell has said, “We’ll drop him like a hot rock,” according to his colleagues.
Kevin Drum responds:
Mitch McConnell is the ultimate transactional politician. He never bothers with fancy justifications for what he wants to do; he just tells reporters that his goal is stop x or push y because it's what he wants, and that's that. It's almost refreshing in a way.

So if he's seriously suggesting that Republicans in significant numbers might break with Trump and hand the election to Hillary Clinton, he's probably serious. He doesn't play 11-dimensional chess. I've been frankly dubious about all the promises I've heard from conservatives about abandoning Trump even if he wins the nomination, and I still am. I think most of them will eventually invent some reason to "reluctantly" pull the lever for him thanks to their existential horror of a Hillary Clinton presidency. But who knows? If McConnell is up for it, maybe it's a more serious possibility than I think.
Do you think that's what McConnell is doing? Threatening to throw the presidential election to save his Senate colleagues' phony-baloney jobs?

Nahhh. He's going to put a wet finger in the wind and determine how Trump is doing. If Trump's getting clobbered in the polls, Senate Republicans will run away from him. If he's doing okay, he'll be their best friend. Whatever.

Unless Trump puts David Duke on the ticket, I think the polls all the way are going to predict the usual 52%-48% American presidential election, and I think it's possible Trump will be on the winning end of that. So McConnell and his Senate colleagues probably won't have to go for this. But it's a Plan B.

Friday, February 26, 2016


A few people saw this coming, though I didn't believe the rumors:
Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey endorsed Donald J. Trump on Friday, a major turn in a wild race and one that gives the New York businessman a significant boost as he heads into the pivotal “Super Tuesday” contests.
A couple of days ago, Jon Ward of Yahoo Politics said it could happen:
Now some in New Jersey are already speculating that Christie could endorse Trump in order to curry favor with the GOP frontrunner in the hope of being named attorney general.
But still, I was surprised -- and not just because Trump's had very few endorsements from mainstream pols, or because Christie said some disparaging things about Trump before dropping out of the race.

One reason I was surprised is that the Christie campaign collaborated with Jeb Bush's campaign to try to take down Marco Rubio before the New Hampshire primary. Trump regarded Jeb as his sworn enemy. (And still does, apparently -- Trump didn't stop insulting Jeb even after Jeb dropped out.) So, to Trump, that's all forgotten? And what about Christie? It's that easy for him to switch allegiances?

But that's Christie's style, isn't it? We think of him as the big bully, the tough alpha male -- but he really likes groveling before men with a stronger claim to top-dog status. On behalf of Jeb, who was supposed to be the big man in the race, he was willing to be the muscle, the guy who abused Marco Rubio (a job clearly too rough for the well-bred Bush). And now Christie's backing the candidate who really is the big man.

I noticed this Christie tendency a year ago, when he was in the news for hanging out with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones at an NFL game. It struck me that, with Jones, Christie seemed rather desperate to belong. Watch the Vine:

At the time, I wrote:
What I see is a doughy, overeager man-child -- the kind of comic figure who might be played by Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, or Josh Gad -- trying to hug an adult who's half-ignoring him (note the failed high-five). Nothing wrong with a little awkwardness in a moment of bro-camaraderie, but Christie just seems so needy. I'm not saying that every president needs to have Barack Obama's cool, but in this moment Christie seems like a guy utterly lacking in gravitas. A would-be president should look like The Man (Substitute the female equivalent for Hillary or Liz Warren.) A presidential aspirant shouldn't look like someone who's thinking, "Holy crap, I can't believe I'm with The Man!"
Of course, Christie was also like that in the presence of President Obama. Now, remember the circumstances: It was October 2012. Christie had just given a speech on Mitt Romney's behalf in which he'd said this about the president:
“You’ve been living inside 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. for the last four years,” Christie said. “If you don’t think you can change Washington from inside the White House let’s give you the plane ticket back to Chicago you’ve earned.”

Christie riled up the Richmond crowd saying that Obama is arrogant for believing he can’t change Washington politics.

“If he believes that, then what the hell is he doing asking for another four years?” Christie said. “We’re happy to give you a bus ticket to the outside, Mr. President.”

Christie added that Obama is “blindly walking around the White House looking for a clue.”

“He’s like a man wandering around a dark room, hands up against the wall, clutching for the light switch of leadership and he just can’t find it.”
Then Hurricane Sandy happened. Obama went to New Jersey, and the following week Christie's tone changed completely:
“It’s been a great working relationship,” Mr. Christie said.

“I cannot thank the president enough for his personal concern and compassion for our state,” he added during a brief news conference. He said it was “my honor” to turn the podium over to the president and then stood just behind him, occasionally nodding and smiling at his jokes.
They didn't exactly hug, at least on camera, but Christie looked soulfully into Obama's eyes:

But the alpha male before whom Christie's groveling has been the most painful is Bruce Springsteen. As The Atlantic's Arit John wrote in 2014:
Politicians rarely like to look pathetic, and yet New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is unapologetically devoted to Bruce Springsteen, the Jersey-born rock icon who doesn't seem to like him all that much....

... every time Christie mentions the Boss, he's reminding us that his idol has mocked and refused to meet him more than once.... it's weird to see a politician publicly open himself up to rejection.

... Springsteen -- far more liberal that the Republican governor -- refused to meet the governor until November 2012, when they hugged at a Hurricane Sandy benefit concert. Christie admitted to crying about it.
Christie was tweeting out Springsteen playlists even after Springsteen went on The Tonight Show and performed a nasty Bridgegate-themed version of "Born to Run" with Jimmy Fallon.

The big lug likes bigger, more powerful lugs. He wants to be their beta male. And now he's endorsed the guy who, in his own mind, is the biggest lug of all. We really shouldn't be surprised at all.


UPDATE: As requested in comments by Pragmtic Idealist, here are Scut Farkus and Grover Dill, the bullies from A Christmas Story.

PI writes:
You'll be amazed at the resemblance. Grover Dill has a typical Christie expression and Scut Farkus has a dead animal pelt on his head.
I see PI's point.


Under pressure to release his tax returns, which might reveal that he's not as rich as he claims, Donald Trump changes the subject, implausibly but brilliantly:
Donald Trump’s disclosure that his tax returns have been under review by the Internal Revenue Service for the past 12 years reflects a “very unusual” level of scrutiny by tax authorities, according to a former Internal Revenue Service agent who now works as an accountant for wealthy people.

... Alan Olsen, the managing partner of Greenstein Rogoff Olsen & Co. LLP, an accounting firm in Fremont and Palo Alto, California that caters to wealthy Silicon Valley clients ... said that Trump’s revelation about 12 years of audits is something of a bombshell itself. “If the IRS examines your tax return and finds no issues they will not audit your return again for two years,” he said. “If returns are properly prepared, the IRS typically goes away.”
Mitt Romney, as I'm sure you know, has been baiting Trump on this subject:
The issue moved to the top of the agenda this week after Mitt Romney ... said in an interview with Fox News that Trump’s tax returns may contain a “bombshell.” Romney speculated that Trump’s personal tax documents might show that he is not as wealthy as he has claimed. On Thursday night, Romney needled Trump again, posting on Twitter: “No legit reason @realDonaldTrump can’t release returns while being audited, but if scared, release earlier returns no longer under audit.”
(National Review is now citing a business writer's claim that Trump is worth only $150 to $250 million.)

But Trump, instead of merely stalling for time, has decided -- apparently for the first time -- to claim persecution. That's what's brilliant:
Trump’s disclosure, which emerged during a contentious GOP debate on Thursday in Houston, Texas, was a departure from prior statements about his tax returns. He has previously suggested to interviewers that his campaign was working on preparing the returns for release and that the process was time-consuming because of their complexity.

“For many years, I’ve been audited every year,” Trump said Thursday night. “Twelve years or something like that.”

After the debate, Trump suggested to CNN interviewer Chris Cuomo that there might be an unsavory reason the IRS has targeted him -- because he’s a “strong Christian.”
Rank-and-file right-wingers hate the IRS -- and I mean they hate the IRS much more than even the average American hates the IRS. Wingers especially despise the IRS because they've been goaded to do so by the conservative movement and the right-wing media. Recall that last fall a resolution was actually introduced in the House to impeach the IRS commissioner:
House lawmakers have moved to impeach IRS Commissioner John Koskinen over accusations he obstructed investigations into the IRS targeting scandal that consumed the agency in 2013.

Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz on Tuesday filed articles of impeachment against Koskinen, accusing him of stonewalling the probe into the agency's alleged targeting of conservative groups ahead of the 2010 and 2012 elections.

Conservatives have been clamoring for the White House to fire Koskinen, who was not at the IRS during the alleged targeting but has been in charge of the agency since December 2013....

The filing came just hours after Koskinen faced off with Senate lawmakers over the targeting scandal, and just days after the Justice Department announced it would not bring charges against Lois Lerner or any of the other IRS officials involved in the processing of applications for tax-exempt status.

Lerner admitted to directing her division to use search terms such as "tea party" to help identify organizations to devote extra scrutiny to, and blamed budget cuts for not being able to do an even and thorough review of all applications. The officials also filtered for terms like "progressive," but not with the same frequency.
Rabble-rousing organizations on the right -- the people who for years have believed that they could stir up high levels of resentment among conservative voters without turning those voters into an angry, uncontrollable mob (i.e., the Trump base) -- have been pushing for Koskinen's impeachment. I'm talking about Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform and other Kochite organizations:

Hatred of the IRS has also been ginned up in the Obama years by mainstreamers like Peggy Noonan, who wept for Catherine Engelbrecht -- "a nice woman, a citizen, an American" -- whose organization True the Vote ran into trouble with the agency when it sought tax-exempt status despite its naked partisanship.

And yes, the right thinks the IRS has targeted Christians in the Obama years. Here's Tucker Carlson in 2014 claiming an "assault on people of faith" because the IRS was asked by the Freedom from Religion Foundation to ensure that candidates weren't endorsed from pulpits in tax-exempt churches. (Headline at "Atheist Non-Profit Group Colludes with IRS to Crack Down on Churches.") Here's Fox's Todd Starnes declaring in 2013 that "Several well-known religious organizations say they were targeted by the Internal Revenue Service, including the ministry founded by famed evangelist Billy Graham and a 180-year-old Baptist newspaper." Here's a 2013 Breitbart story: "James Dobson: IRS Stonewalled Christian Family Org for Being 'Critical of the President.'"

That's what Trump is claiming, too -- and if you're a right-winger, you're probably already primed to believe every such story already, so why not?

Trump claims his audits go back twelve years -- all the way back to the Bush administration, in other words. But I bet angry right-wingers won't do the math, and even if they do, he's gotten away with being critical of George W. all this time, so why stop now? Transcending both parties is part of his brand.

I bet Trump will never release additional tax documents. And I bet he'll get away with it.


First off, a fact check on last night's Republican debate:
From the opening moments of the debate, Mr. Rubio pounced. Deploying his own up-by-the-bootstraps biography, the Florida senator assailed Mr. Trump for hiring hundreds of foreign workers at his tony resort in Florida and passing over Americans who had applied for the same jobs.

“My mom was a maid in a hotel,” Mr. Rubio said. “And instead of hiring an American like her, you’ve brought over 1,000 people from all over the world to fill in those jobs instead.”
"An American like her"? Well, yes and no. From Marco Rubio's campaign site:
Marco’s mother, Oria Rubio, was approved for an immigration visa in Havana, Cuba at the U.S. Embassy on May 18, 1956. She arrived in Miami, Florida on May 27, 1956 with Marco’s dad, Mario. She became a naturalized citizen of the United States on November 5, 1975.
So she was here for nineteen years before she became a U.S. citizen. According to Rubio's memoir, she worked as a maid both before and after becoming a citizen. But for nearly two decades she wasn't "an American" -- she was a non-citizen immigrant living and working in America.


But did Rubio's attacks on Trump last night have an effect? The consensus over at Fox is summed up in the headline Fox Nation gives to a Doug Schoen column at
The Marco Rubio Everyone Had Been Waiting For Finally Woke Up At Houston Debate ... But It's Still a Trump World
Schoen lavishes praise on Rubio:
He was sharp, articulate, cutting, passionate and bold.....

But what was different on Thursday night was that Rubio showed real backbone.
But it doesn't matter:
... it won’t be enough to change the alignment of the candidates....

More so than with any other candidate, Trump’s voters make up their minds early. They are committed to him and after big wins in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, Trump has shown that his base will turn out to vote for him even though they’re largely from groups that don’t typically vote in primaries (lower income, high school educated). And with leads in every Super Tuesday state except for Texas where Cruz is slightly ahead, there’s no reason to think that Thursday night’s debate changes the trajectory.

... it’s a Trump world and the rest of the candidates are just living in it. We better get used to it.
In a Frank Luntz focus group on Fox, the respondents said Rubio won the debate -- but when Luntz polled the group and Rubio won by acclamation, Luntz said:
And yet what I don't understand is you've all been talking about Trump for the last ten minutes. Why is Trump dominating the converation?
That's Rubio's problem in a nutshell. He didn't win as Rubio. He won as the guy who attacked Trump. Later in the clip (which I can't embed), Luntz asks, "What is it about Rubio that he did so well?" Two people answer: "He was able to attack Trump." Even when Rubio wins, he wins being defined by Trump. He doesn't come off as his own man.

Frankly, he doesn't come off as a man at all. One woman who talks about Rubio describes him this way:
Rubio is charming. He's got a little boyish face, he come across as just that all-American boy.
While a man who's skeptical about him says this:
Rubio's a great orator. It was like student council tonight. But didn't we just elect an orator twice in a row? How do you feel about that?
Republicans have two contradictory views of President Obama -- he's an all-powerful totalitarian willfully destroying America, and he's a feckless lightweight who's completely overmatched, even though he's pretty good at reading speeches off Teleprompters. This man invokes the latter image to condemn Rubio. That's not good for Marco.

At The New York Times, Frank Bruni writes this:
Almost each of [Rubio's] attacks on Trump made good sense. All were entirely fair. But as they piled up higher than even the most majestic Trump-envisioned border wall could ever reach, he came across as strident, mocking, condescending, bratty.

And it was impossible not to wonder if he was doing precisely what Chris Christie had when he tried to take Rubio down in the debate just before the New Hampshire primary: bloodying his adversary at a cost of seriously wounding himself.

... when music gets that ugly, everyone involved can wind up sounding equally bad....

What’s more, Rubio undercut his considerable efforts so far to be -- and to label himself as -- the candidate of optimism, uplift, positivity.
I'll agree with "bratty." Rubio never comes off as an grown-up. (Trump is infantile, but comes off as an adult who's childish.)

As for the rest of what Bruni writes, I don't think Rubio comes off as dark and angry the way Christie did -- he doesn't have enough depth. He's a pretty boy, but he's an uncharismatic one.

Molly Ivins wrote that Michael Dukakis "has got no Elvis"; Rubio isn't quite Dukakis, but he doesn't have much Elvis. He's young the way JFK and Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were when they ran, but he never comes off as wise or sage the way Obama in particular can, and he doesn't have the touch of bad boy that JFK and Clinton did. All could seem mature and steady, despite their youth. Rubio lacks that ability. He just seems like a really bright kid giving a speech and struggling to stand up straight. (Go back to the video of last night and watch him fidget during the national anthem.)

Rubio might have hurt Trump a little bit, though I think it's too late for that. But he still didn't give enough Republican voters enough reason to vote for Rubio. I'm not sure he can.


But before you ask: Yes, I still think Rubio would win a general election against either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. At that point Rubio would have the entire GOP Establishment behind him, as well as the mainstream media. He'd have a huge money advantage if his opponent was the super-PAC-less Sanders. And while Rubio can seem like a politician with only enough talent to thrive in the minors, Clinton clearly isn't a natural politician at all. And she'll have trouble making him look like a callow little boy the way Trump does -- the risk is that, if she tries that, sexists in the GOP, the media, and the electorate will say she comes off as a nagging old hag. He'd still win. But he's probably too weak a primary candidate to get the chance this year.

Thursday, February 25, 2016


Today, Jon Ward at Yahoo Politics tries to explain why the candidate most temperamentally suited to attack Donald Trump, Chris Christie, never even tried. The excuses given by Christie aides don't pass the smell test:
I spoke with three different close advisers to Christie this week about their internal deliberations inside the campaign. Unlike any other candidate, Christie had knockout punching power, so why didn’t he go straight for the king of the hill rather than trying to outlast the other Trump alternatives?

... Even if Christie could have made an impact, his counselors said, they weren’t sure it would have helped them.

“Is it a confrontation for confrontation’s sake? Was that going to accrue to our benefit or to someone else’s benefit?” the adviser asked.

Another top Christie adviser said, “A lot of times we were playing a short-term game. We were playing to get into the next debate.

“Nobody wants to be a suicide bomber,” this adviser said. “Then you’ve decided you’re part of a cause and not a candidacy.”
But Christie was a suicide bomber, except that the person he wounded while blowing up his own campaign was Marco Rubio, not Trump. In fact, after Rubio and Christie both finish out of contention in New Hampshire, "suicide bomber" is precisely how Rupert Murdoch described Christie:

And the question "Was that going to accrue to our benefit or to someone else’s benefit?” is ridiculous because, as The New York Times reported a few days before Christie's attack on Rubio, the Christie campaign was collaborating with the Jeb Bush campaign on tag-team Rubio attacks:
Frustrated and flailing as his candidacy threatens to slip away, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey is embarking on a scalding effort over the next week to discredit Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, the man he blames for undermining his campaign and whose ascendancy he deeply resents.

And Mr. Christie has a secret ally: Jeb Bush.

... Members of the Bush and Christie campaigns have communicated about their mutual desire to halt Mr. Rubio’s rise in the polls, according to Republican operatives familiar with the conversations.

... A division of labor seems to have taken hold. While a well-financed “super PAC” supporting Mr. Bush assails Mr. Rubio on television and in the mail, Mr. Christie has increased the critiques on the campaign trail.

“Jeb can’t do that sort of stuff,” said an adviser to Mr. Christie, referring to the New Jersey governor’s slashing “boy in the bubble” attack on Mr. Rubio and his comfort with political street fighting. “They don’t have the weapon.”
The excuses don't hold up. Digby might have the real answer:
... maybe the truth is really that Christie is one of those bullies who only picks on people who can't fight back. Trump would have fought back and I'd imagine it wouldn't have been pretty.
With Trump, it would have been personal. Maybe that's why all these guys hold back -- Christie, Rubio, the billionaires who vastly prefer other Republicans but refuse to go after Trump. The candidates can handle political attacks, the billionaires can handle smash-mouth business tactics. -- but Trump's ad hominem attacks threaten their precious egos. They can't handle that.


Donald Trump's takeover of the Republican Party is nearly complete -- a development that leads The New York Times to ask: But what does this mean for our dreamy boyfriend, Paul Ryan? At the Times, Ryan is still the real head of the party, even if he's temporarily in exile:
Speaker Paul D. Ryan, chairman of the Republican National Convention, recent vice-presidential candidate and the highest elected Republican in the country, has one goal for this year: to form a conservative policy agenda for the Republican presidential nominee to embrace.

If that nominee is Donald J. Trump, that may be a waste of time.

... On nearly every significant issue, Mr. Trump stands in opposition to Republican orthodoxy and his party’s policy prescriptions -- the very ideas that Mr. Ryan has done more than anyone else to form, refine or promote over the last decade.

If the billionaire New York businessman captures his party’s nomination -- which seemed increasingly possible after a decisive victory in Nevada on Tuesday night — he will become the titular head of the Republican Party, and lawmakers like Mr. Ryan will be expected to fall in line for the balance of the campaign. It is something that many in the party think may be impossible.
Paul Ryan recant? Never!
... Mr. Ryan’s positions embody the modern institutional Republican Party. He has been a crucial promoter of free trade on Capitol Hill, which Mr. Trump opposes. Mr. Ryan supports taking away money from Planned Parenthood -- a central target of Republicans for years -- while Mr. Trump has said the group provides needed care to women. Eminent domain, the right of the government to seize private property for public use? The concept is despised by Republicans. Mr. Trump, who has used eminent domain to try to demolish an older woman’s home in Atlantic City to build a parking lot, calls it “wonderful.”

There is more: Mr. Ryan is the architect of his party’s plan to rein in spending on entitlement programs, which Mr. Trump has said is the reason the party lost the White House in 2012, name-checking Mr. Ryan in his swipe. Mr. Ryan supports all forms of domestic energy development, but Mr. Trump has called for colonizing Iraq’s oil reserves through military intervention.
I'm not sure I see the area of disagreement in that last sentence -- the two positions aren't mutually exclusive. Nor are the positions of Trump and Ryan all that far apart on Planned Parenthood, now that Trump also wants the group defunded. But never mind.
... This week, as Mr. Trump is once again bashing conservative notions, Mr. Ryan’s House is holding a series of members-only ideas forums on poverty, health care and other issues. Mr. Ryan also gives speeches and conducts television and radio interviews pretty much wherever he goes these days. But for now, Mr. Trump has the bigger microphone.
Savor that last sentence: But for now, Mr. Trump has the bigger microphone. Savor the phrase for now.
Presidential candidates come, presidential candidates go, but the insider elite clique will endure, dammit!

In that clique, Ryan is as titanic a figure as Trump is to the GOP hoi polloi. The politics writers of The New York Times are as uncritical in their worship of Ryan as the mobs who hoot and holler at Trump rallies.

This, by the way, is the lead story on the front page of today's print Times. It's sending a message that Donald Trump may win the Republican presidential nomination, but he won't be allowed to leave a permanent mark on the party, because the Village will declare that the Trump moment was just a bad dream the minute it's over. We'll be told that the Republican Party is all better now, and was never inherently sick to begin with -- like Linda Blair in The Exorcist, it still has an innocent sinless soul, and it behaved badly only because it was possessed by a demon.

Ryan, the Times tells us, is the once and future leader of the GOP. Pay no attention to the man who's actually winning Republican primaries.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016


In the comments to my last post, Erik C. directed my attention to Paul Waldman's warning that Donald Trump "could be tougher in general election than you think."

Waldman concedes that Trump is extremely unpopular with the overall electorate, and that he's particularly offensive to Hispanic and female voters. But he wonders whether Trump might do well in states where Republicans have struggled in recent presidential elections:
... The argument in favor of a Trump victory has two pieces to it, one about demographics and one about the kind of candidate he’d actually be in a general election. The demographic argument says that Trump has an appeal that other Republicans don’t have. We’ve seen again and again how party leaders (and his opponents) have attacked him for liberal positions he’s held in the past (like being pro-choice and saying nice things about single-payer health care), and even some heresies he’s offered in the present (like his bizarre assertion that George W. Bush was president on September 11, 2001 or his criticism of the Iraq War). Trump’s voters, it turned out, didn’t care. Ideological consistency isn’t important to them, because their affection for Trump is based on other things, like their contempt for Washington and the belief that he’s a “winner,” and if he were president he’d spread his winningness over the whole country, through some process that need not be explained.

Since these beliefs aren’t tied to conservative ideology, they could have appeal beyond Republicans. And even if Trump alienates women, his displays of chest-thumping dominance could appeal to lots and lots of white men, particularly those who are lower on the income and education scales (as Trump said after his Nevada win yesterday, “I love the poorly educated”). That could make Trump competitive in Rust Belt states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan that have been in the Democratic column in the last two elections.
I've been saying for quite a while now that the GOP already has a disturbing amount of appeal in states like the ones Waldman lists. All three states have elected GOP senators and/or governors in the Obama years, as have Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Maine (a bastion of moderate Republicanism, but its GOP governor is a crazy, angry wingnut), Colorado, New Jersey, and Florida (another state where Charlie Crist Republicans are giving way to the likes of Marco Rubio and Rick Scott). Trump could break through in many of these states -- but so, I think, could any Republican. Would Trump have more of a breakthrough? The question is whether the people he offends will outnumber the people he thrills.

And that leads to the second part of Waldman's analysis:
It’s the second piece of the puzzle that may be less appreciated at this point. To put it simply, Donald Trump would be a completely different candidate in a general election than the one we see now. Conservatives are justified in being terrified by Trump’s ideological malleability. They look at him and see someone with no true beliefs and no commitments, who will quickly change positions if it suits him. He’s only presenting himself as a conservative Republican now -- to the degree that he’s even doing that -- because he’s running in a Republican primary.

When conservatives think that, they’re absolutely right. He will indeed transform himself once he has a different audience. We don’t have to wonder about that, because he has said so on more than one occasion. “Once you get to a certain level, it changes,” he told Greta Van Susteren a few weeks ago. “I will be changing very rapidly. I’m very capable of changing to anything I want to change to.”

On another occasion, he told voters in Iowa, “When I’m president, I’m a different person. I can do anything. I can be the most politically correct person that you’ve ever seen.” While ordinary politicians try to convince you of their consistency, Trump proudly says that he’ll turn himself into whatever the situation demands. And if it demands someone who has moderate positions, that’s what he’ll be.

Will the voters buy it? We have no way of knowing, because we haven’t seen that version of Trump yet. But we shouldn’t assume that the fact that most of them dislike the current version means they won’t like the next one.
But if Trump makes nice after winning the nomination, he's going to lose quite a bit of his base on style alone. In fact, this has already happened once, though most people missed it. At one point in the fall, Trump tried to tone down the offensiveness of his campaign, promoting his daughter as a strong woman in a position of power in his empire and feeding the press stories about other female executives who worked with him. He also set out to give out mellower interviews.

That turned out to be the moment when Ben Carson overtook Trump in the polls. Carson was hitting a lot of wingnut hot buttons at that time, and that was working for him.

Trump, as we know, went back to being a thug, and he returned to the top of the polls. But that's his problem: In all likelihood, he can't keep his lead with GOP base voters unless he's an apish brawler, and he can't win over the rest of us if he stays that way.

And I haven't even discussed policy changes. Can Trump tack leftward on immigration, or Islamophobia, or torture, or carpet-bombing, or defunding Planned Parenthood, without losing his angry base? And if he doesn't make some of these adjustments, can he win over swing voters?

Trump really needs to thread the needle in a general election. I'm not convinced he can do it. I still think he's a weak general election candidate. But I could be wrong.


Chris Cillizza writes:
On "Morning Joe" Tuesday morning, host Mika Brzezinski threw out an interesting theory: Donald Trump and Marco Rubio are playing nice with one another -- and savaging Ted Cruz -- because a backroom deal has been cut between the two to form a ticket with Trump as the presidential nominee and the Florida senator as the second in command.

I don't think that deal has been cut. But Brzezinski's speculation did get me to thinking about whom Trump might pick as his vice president.
Cillizza goes on to produce an odd list. It doesn't include Ted Cruz, because "The Donald seems to genuinely loathe the Texas senator," yet it does include Carly Fiorina, despite their obvious mutual enmity, as well as Nikki Haley, who used her State of the Union response to attack Trump in front of a national TV audience. Cillizza's other names are more plausible -- Sarah Palin (yes, she's box-office poison, but Trump may not realize that), Florida governor Rick Scott (a fan and a guy who's survived in politics a lot longer than he should have, given his checkered past in the private sector), and businessmen Carl Icahn and Jack Welch.

But one possible choice isn't on Cillizza's list -- in fact, Cillizza's lede almost seems to be an attempt to divert attention from this candidate:

Joe Scarborough.

Recall that in late January, in a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt, Scarborough refused to rule out a VP draft:
HEWITT: If he did ask you. It's just a hypothetical. It's just an if. If he asks you, would you say yes?

SCARBOROUGH: I don't know. I don't think he would ask me. Again, you always get me in trouble with these questions. So let's move on.

HEWITT: No, Joe, pause with me for a second. It makes perfect sense. You're not the first person I've told this to. I've told a number of people. Trump will ask Scarborough to be his running mate. For a whole variety of reasons, especially Florida. And you're not a stranger to Virginia. And you know your way around politics. So just really -- would you say yes?

SCARBOROUGH: I will say this, and I've said this on the air. And so this is not really any secret at all. I'll do anything that will get -- will stop us from eight more years like the past eight years we've had.

HEWITT: Amen. And so if that included saying yes, you'd say yes?

SCARBOROUGH: I think I'd put myself in your category. I would do just about anything to try to get the White House back.

HEWITT: Alright, that's a yes! I mean, that's a yes Joe.

SCARBOROUGH: That's not a yes
Scarborough, however, did subsequently tweet this:

But Scarborough's decision to host a not-exactly-hard-hitting Trump town hall last week led Fox's Greg Gutfeld to speculate:

To be fair, Gutfeld also speculated about other jobs Scarborough might be seeking:

Please note that Gutfeld was tweeting on the night of the town hall -- in other words, before the public heard the fawning between-segments banter of Scarborough, Trump, and co-host Mika Brzezinski, which was leaked by Harry Shearer a few days later. (Go read Matt Taibbi's piece on that shameful event if you haven't already.)

Maybe Scarborough wouldn't want to risk a secure gig by running for VP (although there's been speculation in the past about a possible Scarborough run for the presidency). But I think he's in the mix. Though this is Trump we're talking about, so who the hell knows who'd be on his list?


In a New York Times op-ed, Jacob Weisberg notes that Ronald Reagan was much less doctrinaire than the party that now worships him:
HE supported the biggest amnesty bill in history for illegal immigrants, advocated gun control, used Keynesian stimulus to jump-start the economy, favored personal diplomacy even with the country’s sworn enemies and instituted tax increases in six of the eight years of his presidency.

He was Ronald Reagan.

The core beliefs that got Reagan elected and re-elected were conservative: lower taxes, smaller government and a stronger, more assertive military. But Reagan was also a pragmatist, willing to compromise, able to improvise in pursuit of his goals and, most of all, eager to expand his party’s appeal....

Once in office, Reagan said that anytime he could get 70 percent of what he wanted from a legislature, he’d take it. Today’s congressional Republicans won’t settle even for 99 percent: Their mentality has shifted away from having policies and governing and toward a kind of bitter-end obstructionism.
Weisberg argues that the party has become much more angry, hateful, and dogmatic than Reagan was:
The current field of Republican presidential candidates invokes Reagan as a patron saint, but the characteristics that made him a successful politician seem lost on them. Instead, they’ve turned his party into a swamp of nativism, ideological extremism and pessimism about the country’s future, in direct opposition to Reagan’s example.
But I think Weisberg is looking at this the wrong way. Instead of asking why contemporary Republicans have stopped being like Reagan, he should be asking why they think they're like Reagan, and why they adore a guy with a squishy record like that.

I think it's because they look at Reagan's ability to enrage Democrats and liberals during his eight years in office and find it so profoundly soul-satisfying that they can't see what they would regard as flaws in Reagan's character -- namely, all the moderation and compromise Weisberg describes.

Because they can't bring themselves to notice it, they've never tried to imitate it. They imitate only the things about Reagan they love -- the things that gave the opposition conniption fits.

And they're having the same reaction to Trump now. Trump may be angry and nativist, but he's also skeptical of tax cuts for the rich and wary of certain foreign entanglements. Yet his fans don't seem to see the deviations from orthodoxy. All they see is what excites them -- which is, please note, a Reaganite message reworked for the 21st century (undocumented immigrants as the new welfare freeloaders, ISIS as the new global communism).

Pundits are telling us that Trump's deviations from the GOP script will have a long-term impact on Republican ideology, even if he's not elected president (hell, even if he doesn't win the nomination). I don't buy it. Reagan raised some taxes, negotiated with some evildoers, and legalized some immigrants -- and yet his worshippers never want to do any of those things. Donald Trump will be remembered as the guy who wants to bomb the shit out of ISIS, not the guy who wants to cozy up to Vladimir Putin. He'll be remembered as the guy who wanted a wall, not the guy who wanted a door in that wall. He might be a compromiser and a dealmaker, but he'll be remembered as a guy who drew lines in the sand and never budged, because that's what Republicans want him to be.

The foundation on which modern GOP orthodoxy is built is some of what Ronald Reagan did. The rest of what he did -- the less loathsome stuff -- is ignored. The same will be true for Trump.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016


Tonight, Rachel Maddow quoted this Boston Globe editorial, which urges "unenrolled" voters in Massachusetts -- those who aren't registered with a political party -- to avoid voting in the state's Democratic primary on March 1, because a vote in the Republican primary can be a vote against Donald Trump:
Massachusetts voters must stop Donald Trump

STOPPING DONALD J. TRUMP is imperative -- and not just for his fellow Republicans. In Massachusetts, which votes next Tuesday, unenrolled voters may also vote in the GOP presidential primary. The Globe has endorsed John Kasich, the highly qualified governor of Ohio, and urges unenrolled voters to cast a Republican ballot for him instead of voting in the Democratic primary on the same day.

... For registered Democrats, who cannot take a GOP ballot, Clinton is the better choice. But for everyone else, the GOP primary is where their vote can really make the biggest difference.

... One feature of the Massachusetts Republican primary is that it’s not a “winner-take-all” race.... the more people vote for one of Trump’s opponents, the fewer delegates he’ll receive from Massachusetts.

Trump’s campaign has revived some of the ugliest traditions in American politics, including the scapegoating of religious minorities and immigrants. He has yet to put forth a serious platform of ideas about how he would govern or what a Trump administration would seek to accomplish. Just his nomination by one of the nation’s major parties would be an international embarrassment.
Yes -- and that's why this editorial offends me so much. The Republican Party should be embarrassed. The party is a cancer on America's body politic, and would be even if Donald Trump had stuck to reality TV and never joined the presidential race -- look at the spectacle in Washington right now, as Establishment Republicans announce their unwavering refusal even to consider, even to speak with, a Supreme Court nominee chosen by President Obama.

Republican voters spend their days listening to Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage and spend their nights watching Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity. They've been in a state of total war with the rest of America for years -- if you're not white, or not heterosexual, or not Christian or Jewish, if you fear gun violence or want a rise in the minimum wage or believe that human beings cause climate change, Republicans hate you. Donald Trump has merely taken a portion of that hatred and talked about it out loud. He's the culmination of the last few decades of Republicanism -- and the Republican Party should not be saved from him. The world should see that this is what the Republican Party is. It's not up to us to save the party from the consequences of its own actions.

We're told this in the editorial:
Some Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, meanwhile, seem to be rooting strategically for Trump. According to many pundits, Trump would be the weakest candidate against Clinton or Sanders, and for that reason some Democrats hope he wins the nomination. Some may even cast a mischievous vote for him on Tuesday, seeking to help the eventual Democratic nominee.
Well, yes. That's part of the reason I'm rooting for Trump. I also believe that, in some ways, he'd be a less dangerous president than Marco Rubio or John Kasich. Unlike Rubio, Trump is not promising the elimination of the capital gains tax, which could literally allow some billionaires to pay no income tax whatsoever. And unlike Kasich, Trump is not demanding a balanced budget amendment, which if it had been in effect in 2007, would have made it impossible for Presidents Bush and Obama to stimulate the economy enough to avoid a full-blown 1930s style depression. And that's just a small portion of what we have to fear from a mainstream Republican presidency in the era of the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson. Trump is a menace, but he's far from the only menace in his party.
... as the race turns to Massachusetts, the answer to John F. Kennedy’s question -- “ask what you can do for your country” -- has rarely been clearer: unenrolled voters should pull a Republican ballot and vote for John Kasich because it’s a vote against Donald Trump.
No. The Republican Party is an abusive drunk and deserves to wake up in a pool of its own vomit. We don't have a responsibility to clean it up and make it presentable after what it's done to us, and given what it would like to do to us in the future if given a chance. Why is the Globe so protective of the GOP? Why is it afraid to have the world see it for what it is? I say Trump should win the nomination. Let the party wallow in its own stink.


Republicans in Congress have done some dangerously radical things, but this, if it happens, might top them all:
Mitch McConnell Is Already Threatening To Block The Next President’s Supreme Court Nominee Too

Just hours after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced that he would confirm no one President Obama nominates to fill Scalia’s seat. “This vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President,” according to a statement McConnell released shortly after news of Scalia’s death became public.

Now, however, McConnell appears to be having second thoughts -- not about blocking Obama’s nominee; he’s fully committed to that position -- but about whether it is a good idea to allow the next president to fill the seat either:

That report is from Ian Millhiser at Think Progress, who goes on to point out that quite a few Supreme Court justices are getting along in years, and if enough of them die or retire during the next presidential term and the vacancies aren't filled because the Senate is Republican and the president is Democratic, we may have a Supreme Court that is legally unable to function:
Under federal law, “the Supreme Court of the United States shall consist of a Chief Justice of the United States and eight associate justices, any six of whom shall constitute a quorum,” so if four seats become vacant there will no longer be enough justices to form the quorum necessary to decide cases.
As Jonathan Chait pointed out over the weekend, that really could happen:
The Constitution’s instructions that the Senate “advise and consent” on nominees to the courts and the executive branch has meant different things at different times. Sometimes, the Senate has given the president wide latitude to appoint justices of a similar bent.... Other times, the Senate has withheld its consent from nominees deemed too extreme -- though no party had yet proposed or adopted blanket opposition to any nominee from the opposing party, until now....

A handful of purple-state Republican senators have made conciliatory noises, but it would require 14 Republicans to join with all 46 Democrats to overcome a filibuster of an Obama Court nominee....

If Hillary Clinton wins in November and Republicans retain the Senate, they may feel shamed by their promises to let the voters decide the Court’s next nominee and give her a justice. Or maybe not -- maybe some dastardly Clinton campaign tactic, or reports of voter fraud on Fox News, will make them rescind their promise....

A world in which Supreme Court justices are appointed only when one party has both the White House and the needed votes in Congress would look very different from anything in modern history. Vacancies would be commonplace and potentially last for years. When a party does break the stalemate, it might have the chance to fill two, three, four seats at once. The Court’s standing as a prize to be won in the polls would further batter its sagging reputation as the final word on American law. How could the Court’s nonpolitical image survive when its orientation swings back and forth so quickly?
I think a Democratic Senate in 2017 would ultimately approve a Republican president's Court nominee, although a pick or two might be rejected first. Or maybe the Democrats would just dig in their heels the way McConnell is threatening to. On the other hand, I strongly suspect that a Republican Senate won't approve a Democratic president's nominees no matter who they are, and no matter how long the seat or seats have remained vacant, a stalemate that could well last for two four-year terms.

So we really might not have a Supreme Court by 2024.

At this point, I don't put anything past Republicans.They care about nothing but power (although I'm sure they'd insist that they only act the way they do because they're the sole defenders of a Constitution that's routinely trashed by the Democrats). Republicans are never punished for this at the polls, because Democrats never directly the blame at the GOP, and mainstream journalists and pundits -- and therefore most voters -- routinely decry partisanship in the abstract rather than Republican intransigence. If the next president is Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, this war is only going to get bloodier. And the High Court really might be as casualty.


If you can't beat him, join him:
Ted Cruz said tonight that he would use federal immigration officers to round up and deport all 12 million people in the country illegally -- a markedly tougher stance that he has struck in the past.

“Yes, we should deport them,” Cruz told Fox host Bill O’Reilly. “That’s what ICE exists for. We have law enforcement that looks for people who are violating the laws, that apprehends them and deports them.”

The toughening stance comes after a disappointing, if narrow, third place finish in South Carolina on Saturday, with immigration hardliner Donald Trump strengthening his grip on the race.
The Cruz campaign claims that this is nothing new:
“There’s no change here,” Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said late Monday by email.
But that's not true:
Just five weeks ago, he explicitly rejected the idea of a “deportation force” of the sort proposed by Trump, who has unabashedly called for the federal government to actively round up people in the country illegally.

“I don’t intend to send jackboots to knock on your door and every door in America. That’s not how we enforce the law for any crime,” Cruz told CNN’s Jake Tapper in Iowa.
I guess you can't blame Cruz and other Republican candidates for trying to imitate the most successful candidate in the race. But I've noticed that Trump's competitors imitate him only when he's being a right-wing hard-liner. They imitate him on immigration. And hard-heartedness toward Syrian refugees. And support for waterboarding. And indiscriminate bombing of ISIS strongholds.

They don't imitate him on promising to avoid Social Security and Medicare cuts. Or taxing hedge fund managers. Or questioning the Iraq War. Or disrespecting the George W. Bush presidency.

A lot of pundits believe that by combining heavy-metal conservatism with moderate or even seemingly liberal positions on some issues, Trump has created the secret sauce that makes him such an effective candidate. These pundits think Trump has exposed a widespread dissatisfaction with GOP orthodoxy among Republican voters -- if Trump can attack hedge funders or the Iraq War (or John McCain or Megyn Kelly), then maybe the GOP has been out of step with its voters all along. Maybe the party can never be the same after Trump's exposure of this inconvenient truth.

I disagree. I think Trump's rage and hatemongering are just so satisfying to GOP voters that they give him a pass on deviations from right-wing orthodoxy and attacks on sacred cows. Also, they may have mixed feelings about a few of issues (George W. Bush, the Iraq War), but they're not angry about the orthodox GOP positions on these issues.

In any case, I suspect Trump's rivals are right to shun his moderate stances. Trump can get away with heresy, but I doubt the rest of them can, Look at what happened to Jeb Bush and Rand Paul, or Jon Huntsman four years ago. You need to be willing to stir up the mobs as irresponsibly as Trump does to get away with this, and the rest of them won't quite go there.

So here's an irony: Every four years, Republican presidential candidates compete to out-wingnut one another, a competition that locks the eventual nominee into positions that are too right-wing for a general election. This year it's happening again -- but the candidate pushing the field to the right is the one who isn't really a dyed-in-the-wool conservative.

Trump ought to be pushing the field to the left on a few issues, but he isn't. That just doesn't happen in the GOP.

Monday, February 22, 2016


Why did Jeb Bush fail? Obviously, he ran as "the boring, preordained candidate of his party’s power structure," as Jonathan Chait writes. But Hillary Clinton did the same thing, and she's hanging on. What's the difference between the two?

Chait thinks it's that Clinton is running as the person who'll continue the work of two successful presidents, while Jeb inherited a mantle of failure:
[Hillary Clinton's] strategy is working because Bill Clinton was a successful president, and Obama has been an extremely successful one. There may be shortcomings in both of their records, but both of them managed to govern intelligently, competently, and in a way that looked after a relatively broad spectrum of interests.

George W. Bush’s presidency did none of these things. His administration was an abject disaster both domestically and abroad. Jeb Bush never figured out how to divest himself from his brother’s failure, and by the end reduced himself to running openly as his heir, bringing Dubya to campaign with him in his South Carolina box canyon stand. The Bush disaster presented Jeb with a double trap he could never escape. His brand was poison for swing voters. And conservatives, who had fallen mostly in line with Dubya during his presidency, were forced to disavow him as a heretic by the end so that their ideology could escape the wreckage.
Except that Republicans don't disavow George W. Bush -- far from it. Remember this YouGov poll from last fall?
Eighty percent of Republican voters surveyed say they approve of George W. Bush's tenure as president.

Their feelings toward Bush don't quite match their admiration for Ronald Reagan -- just 29 percent "strongly approve," while 51 percent approve only somewhat. But 85 percent say that Bush did a "good" or "excellent" job of keeping the nation safe....

GOP voters also say by a 4-point margin, 43 percent to 39 percent, that they'd vote for George W. Bush again in 2016 if he were eligible for a third term.

If Republican voters thoroughly reject Bushism, why is a Bush substitute who's not named Jeb doing relatively well, as even Chait acknowledges?
Marco Rubio represents the true continuation of Bushism within the party -- massive tax cuts plus neoconservative foreign policy plus soft-pedaled social conservatism, all sold in a compassionate package with lots of high-profile outreach to Democratic constituencies. Rubio allows Republicans to double down on Bushism without saddling themselves with the liability of the Bush name or, by extension, acknowledging that they still believe Bush’s ideas work.

What killed Jeb Bush’s campaign was first the failure of his brother’s administration, and then the emergence of Marco Rubio to present a more attractive face for its continuation.
But look at the poll numbers above. Republicans still like George W. Bush. Why would they have to lie to themselves about that? Why would they reject Jeb and embrace Rubio?

The reason is that Republicans just want to have a good time hating their enemies. They want someone who seems ready to vanquish those enemies, or at least frustrate them. Rubio doesn't seem like a tough guy, but at minimum he seems to loathe some of the people and institutions Republican voters loathe. By contrast, Jeb spent his campaign conveying the sense that he doesn't hate Common Core, he doesn't hate undocumented immigrants, and so on. Even George W. looks better to Republicans now than Jeb, because he's recalled as someone who made liberals (and those evil terr'ists) squirm.

All Jeb had to do was seem as if he might piss liberals off and hurt a few brown people. He could have been a contender if he'd seemed capable of that. But he looked as if we'd already defeated him. That's why he lost.