Saturday, April 30, 2016


Mike Bloomberg thinks he performed a public service by denouncing demagoguery in his commencement address at the University of Michigan, but what he really did was enable the true demagogues by saying this:
Democracy and citizenship will always require constant vigilance against those who fan the flames of partisanship in ways that consume us and lead to, in Washington’s words, “the ruins of public liberty.”

We have certainly seen such figures before, in both parties. In the 1930s, there was the despotic Huey Long in Louisiana and Father Coughlin in Michigan, who blamed “Jewish conspirators” for America’s troubles. Then came Charles Lindbergh in the ’40s, Joe McCarthy in the ’50s, George Wallace in the ’60s and Pat Buchanan in the ’90s. Every generation has had to confront its own demagogues. And every generation has stood up and kept them away from the White House. At least so far.

In this year’s presidential election, we’ve seen more demagoguery from both parties than I can remember in my lifetime. Our country is facing serious and difficult challenges. But rather than offering realistic solutions, candidates in both parties are blaming our problems on easy targets who breed resentment. For Republicans, it’s Mexicans here illegally and Muslims. And for Democrats, it’s the wealthy and Wall Street. The truth is: We cannot solve the problems we face by blaming anyone.
Bloomberg has always harbored the dream of winning the presidency as an independent, and this fantasy has made him stupid. Long, Coughlin, and the rest of the people he names certainly were demagogues, but their problem wasn't partisanship, if you define that as excessive loyalty to a political party. Coughlin and Long were Democrats who opposed Roosevelt. Wallace also attacked fellow Democrats. The targets of McCarthy and Buchanan included fellow Republicans.

But Bloomberg has to put the problem of demagoguery in these terms, because he's determined to demonstrate that Both Sides Do It (but those in the "sensible center" don't). He tells us that "candidates in both parties are blaming our problems on easy targets who breed resentment. For Republicans, it’s Mexicans here illegally and Muslims. And for Democrats, it’s the wealthy and Wall Street." Yes, but Bernie Sanders doesn't want to shut down Wall Street or deport all rich people. He wants to turn America into Denmark, not Democratic Kampuchea. By contrast, it's not crazy to think that Donald Trump really does want to turn America into Putin's Russia.

Bloomberg says, "We cannot solve the problems we face by blaming anyone." But we also can't solve the problems we face by blaming everyone indiscriminately. Some people are more responsible than others. When we grade on a curve to ensure that we ascribe demagoguery equally to each party, we lose the ability to tell which are the politicians who are genuinely endangering democracy and which are just the passionate defenders of ideas that are a bit outside the bounds of "respectable" politics. Bernie Sanders is in the latter category. Donald Trump is in the former. And Bloomberg is trying to make us unable to see the difference.

Bloomberg passionately defends the superrich, but I know the other issues he cares about: climate change, gun violence, infrastructure spending. Why does Bloomberg think we can't act on these issues? Preposterously, he blames social media:
Today, elected officials who decide to support a controversial policy don’t just get angry letters, phone calls and faxes. They also get millions of angry tweets and Facebook posts denouncing them in the harshest possible terms. This is democracy in action. But this kind of instant condemnation also makes elected officials afraid to do things that, in their heart of hearts, they know are right.
I don't know of very many Democrats who are afraid to act on climate change or infrastructure. Many are emboldened to act on gun violence. And I keep hearing that there are Republicans who understand the seriousness of these problems.

Do those Republicans, assuming they exist, fear angry tweets? No -- they fear primary challenges from candidates further to their right. They fear the wrath of organizations funded by Republican billionaires. Remember how Barney Frank described the Republicans in Congress a few years back: "Half of them are Michele Bachmann. The other half are afraid of losing a primary to Michele Bachmann."

Donald Trump is a businessman who's picked up a lot of terrible ideas from the right-wing media. Mike Bloomberg is a businessman who's picked up a lot of terrible ideas from the centrist media. Trump is a lot more dangerous and a lot more ignorant. But Bloomberg is nearly as much of a know-nothing on this subject as Trump is on every subject.


Wall Street Journal headline:

New York Times headline:

Yup, same speech.

Here's the Journal version:
Republican front-runner Donald Trump, campaigning in California following fresh primary victories, called for party unity during an address at the state’s GOP convention....

“We have to get together as a party because it is a tougher road to the presidency for the Republicans,” Mr. Trump said. “And you really have to pick somebody that knows what is happening, that is really, really good. I accept the position.”
Here's the more believable Times version:
... Mr. Trump spoke little of California or its June 7 primary. Rather, he wrestled with whether he wanted to begin healing the fractured party he was seeking to lead. Mr. Trump, the Republican front-runner in the presidential race, mocked his conservative critics and his current and former rivals as dumb, “disgusting” and losers. He claimed at least twice that he could win even if the party did not come together. And with some conservatives still uneasy about his beliefs, he breezily dismissed questions about his principles.

“Folks, I’m a conservative, but at this point, who cares? We got to straighten out the country,” he said at a subdued luncheon of party activists who seemed more curious about seeing a celebrity than enthusiastic about their potential presidential nominee.

During the same speech, though, he called for party unity to defeat Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic standard-bearer.

Mr. Trump’s remarks offered a vivid illustration of the current state of his campaign: As he edges closer to the nomination, he is under pressure to curb his hard-edged language and exude a more statesmanlike demeanor. But the continuing attacks from other Republicans plainly rankle him, and he appears to have little appetite to make peace with his critics.

“Ideally we’re going to be together,” he said. But then he said: “I think we’re going to win even if we’re not together. There are some people I honestly don’t want their endorsement.”
The Journal story does tell us that Trump "derided attempts by some in the party to deny him the nomination" and "mocked attempts by rivals Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich to form an alliance against him." But the conclusion is that he sincerely wants peace.

Well, I guess what they want to believe at the Journal -- cross your fingers and hope this isn't a debacle for our dear, dear Republican Party. Me, I'm sticking with the Times story.

Friday, April 29, 2016


I've argued in the past that there might not be much unrest at the Republican convention in the event of a convention challenge to Donald Trump -- I don't think the pro-Trump forces, as tough as they think they are, want to mix it up with riot cops using military-grade weapons. On the other hand, I could imagine foolishly riot-minded (but unarmed) anti-Trump lefties showing up in Cleveland with mayhem on their minds. In that case, the pro-Trump tough guys might have foes they don't fear.

I say that after reading this:
Hundreds of demonstrators filled the street outside the Orange County [California] amphitheater where Donald Trump held a rally Thursday night, stomping on cars, hurling rocks at motorists and forcefully declaring their opposition to the Republican presidential candidate.

Traffic came to a halt as a boisterous crowd walked in the roadway, some waving American and Mexican flags. Protesters smashed a window on at least one police cruiser, punctured the tires of a police sport utility vehicle, and at one point tried to flip a police car.

One Costa Mesa police officer was struck in the head by a rock thrown by a protestor, authorities said. The officer wasn't injured because he was protected from by his riot helmet.
And this:
When Chris Cox rolls into Cleveland in mid-July with other motorcycle-riding supporters of Donald Trump, he plans to celebrate the billionaire's coronation as the Republican presidential nominee. He also counts on joining protests if a battle over the nomination ensues....

Bikers For Trump is part of a diverse array of groups coordinating to hold thousands-strong protests and marches if the real-estate mogul is denied outright victory at the Republican Party’s nominating convention in Cleveland.

The risks of confrontation and violence surrounding Trump events were highlighted again on Thursday, when around 20 people were arrested following clashes between anti-Trump protesters and police outside a rally for the candidate in California....

Citizens for Trump co-founder Tim Selaty says he will have activists filming events inside the convention center and broadcasting them live on social media "to document every move." ...

Truckers for Trump says it has 4,000 members and that more than 1,000 are committed to driving their big rigs to Cleveland.

The pro-Trump groups say they are not seeking confrontation but fear that opponents of their candidate might start trouble.
I don't get the point of anti-Trump riots. Even top officials of Trump's own party think he's going to lose the general election. Protest him, sure -- but is violence necessary? Make your point and let him lose.

If anything, unrest makes his voters more inclined to turn out for him:
Monmouth University was polling Republicans in Florida as the events in Chicago unfolded, and so they added a question to their survey. “As you may know, Donald Trump cancelled a rally in Chicago Friday night where protesters and his supporters got into confrontations,” Monmouth asked. “Does what happened there and Trump’s response to it make you more likely or less likely to support Trump, or does it have no impact on your vote for the Republican nomination?”

The responses? Eighty-eight percent of those who replied said it either made no difference or made them support Trump more.
And the general public is somewhat more likely to blame the anti-Trump side than Trump himself, as a March CBS poll noted:
Most registered voters overall have heard a lot about these incidents of violence, and they are more likely to blame the protesters and Trump supporters equally. Forty-three percent of registered voters blame both sides, while 29 percent of voters think it's the protesters who are mostly to blame for these incidents and 23 percent mostly blame Donald Trump's supporters.
The public is wary of Trump, so he'll share the blame for any unrest. But violence doesn't help the anti-Trump side -- at best, the public feels disgust at both sides. Oh, and also: You're taking your life in your hand and putting others, possibly including innocent people, at risk. So what's the point?


The decline of America and the rise of Donald Trump fill David Brooks with despair:
According to a Pew Research poll, 75 percent of Trump voters say that life has gotten worse for people like them over the last half century.

... The suicide rate has surged to a 30-year high.... A record number of Americans believe the American dream is out of reach. And for millennials, social trust is at historic lows.

Trump’s success grew out of that pain, but he is not the right response to it. The job for the rest of us is to figure out the right response.
So what does Brooks plan to do?
That means first it’s necessary to go out into the pain. I was surprised by Trump’s success because I’ve slipped into a bad pattern, spending large chunks of my life in the bourgeois strata -- in professional circles with people with similar status and demographics to my own. It takes an act of will to rip yourself out of that and go where you feel least comfortable. But this column is going to try to do that over the next months and years. We all have some responsibility to do one activity that leaps across the chasms of segmentation that afflict this country.
In other words, this:

That's not going to end well. It's probably not going to end up with Brooks on a chain gang, amusing as that might be. More likely it'll resemble a project Brooks praises in his column:
James Fallows had a story in The Atlantic recently noting that while we’re dysfunctional at the national level you see local renaissances dotted across the country. Fallows went around asking, “Who makes this town go?” and found local patriots creating radical schools, arts festivals, public-private partnerships that give, say, high school dropouts computer skills.
I respect Fallows more than I do Brooks, but what Fallows did was literally drop from the sky onto struggling communities, much in the manner of Donald Trump, but with a smaller private aircraft:
This article appears in the March print edition alongside the cover story, “Can America Put Itself Back Together?” -- a summation of James and Deb Fallows’s 54,000-mile journey around America in a single-engine plane.
Fallows celebrates such interventions as this:
In Holland, Michigan, the family-owned Padnos scrap-recycling company works with a local ministry called 70x7 Life Recovery to hire ex-prisoners who would otherwise have trouble reentering the workforce.
That sounds like a way to stop the bleeding in a struggling community; it doesn't sound like a way to nurse a community back to robust health.

But at least Fallows is talking about changes that are concrete. There's one thing you can count on with Brooks, and this won't change even if he boards a Greyhound in Pittsburgh to look for America: his "solutions" will always be gaseous abstractions.
We’ll probably need a new national story. Up until now, America’s story has been some version of the rags-to-riches story, the lone individual who rises from the bottom through pluck and work. But that story isn’t working for people anymore, especially for people who think the system is rigged.
Of course, that's not true for a lot of Americans, who trace their roots in this country back to forebears who were passionate union members, and sometimes actual socialists. In any case, what was driving them wasn't a "story" as much as it was a concrete desire to feed their families. Maybe they came over here believing a tale of streets paved with gold, but they were disabused of that notion right away. But at least there were jobs -- and good jobs are what's missing now, not some sort of common national myth.

We’ll also need to rebuild the sense that we’re all in this together. The author R. R. Reno has argued that what we’re really facing these days is a “crisis of solidarity.” Many people, as the writers David and Amber Lapp note, feel pervasively betrayed: by for-profit job-training outfits that left them awash in debt, by spouses and stepparents, by people who collect federal benefits but don’t work. They’ve stopped even expecting loyalty from their employers. The big flashing lights say: NO TRUST. That leads to an everyone-out-for-himself mentality and Trump’s politics of suspicion. We’ll need a communitarianism.
Notice what's missing here? An assessment of blame. The problem, according to Brooks, is dispersed evenly: we're all inadequately communitarian. The problem isn't that people with jobs to offer screw their workers over, or that people who claim they'll train you for a job just take your money and leave you in the lurch. It's all just a general malaise, and your annoying spouse is just as much to blame as the company that shipped all the local jobs overseas.

Brooks can't make sense of this because his conservatism prevents him from blaming people with power more than people who don't have any. So he falls back on states of mind and ascribes them to everyone in society equally. Blaming everyone means blaming no one -- there's just a miasma, and we're all breathing it.

That's not right. Someone's winning right now, and doing so by wielding power to the detriment of the people who are losing. Brooks will be exposed to that fact on his travels to the Real America -- but he'll refuse to see it.

Thursday, April 28, 2016


(UPDATE: Will Ferrell now says he won't be involved in this project.)

I'm still angry at what Ronald Reagan did to this country, but I'm not amused by this:
Sources tell Variety [that Will] Ferrell is attached to star as President Reagan in ... “Reagan.”

Penned by Mike Rosolio, the story begins at the start of the then-president’s second term when he falls into dementia and an ambitious intern is tasked with convincing the commander-in-chief that he is an actor playing the president in a movie....

Ferrell is no stranger to political humor having portrayed former President Bush several times over the years on “Saturday Night Live.” ...
Reagan has the first signs of Alzheimer's, and that's supposed to be funny? In my twenties, sure, I joked about Reagan being a simpleton -- but real dementia isn't amusing. It's miserable and it impossible awful burdens on caregivers -- and the fact that Ronnie's principal caregiver was Nancy Reagan, a woman I didn't think much of either, doesn't change how I feel.

If you're having trouble understanding why I've gone softhearted on this, imagine a film in which the source of humor is the mental impairment of Gabby Giffords after she's been shot in the head. I'd be outraged at that. I'd be outraged at people who treated it as light entertainment.

And Hot Air's Allahpundit has a point:
Frankly, if they’re going to milk it for laughs, I hope they’re savage about it. No mercy. The worst would be if they spend 100 minutes having Reagan drooling on himself and then give Ferrell some poignant humanizing Oscar-bait-ish scene in the final 10 about struggling with memories so that critics will walk out pulling their chins about the “surprising empathy” the film showed.
Really, just don't do this.


On the other hand, I think Sonny Bunch of the Washington Free Beacon misses the point with these "Four Political Comedy Pitches to Help Hollywood Prove Conservatives Wrong" ("wrong" referring to the belief that Hollywood is always reverent toward liberals and Democrats and contemptuous of conservatives and Republicans):
Our nation’s horniest ex-president and his billionaire buddy, Jeffrey Epstein, hop on board the famed Lolita Express in order to settle a bet: who can seduce a supermodel on every inhabited continent first? Whacky hijinks ensue....

Long before he became president, Barack Obama was a member of the most powerful teen troop in all Hawaii: THE CHOOM GANG. After a night of ‘sweet-sticky Hawaiian buds’ and ‘green bottle beer,’ Obama and his pals can’t remember where they left the future president’s grandma’s sweet-ass El Camino. Turns out they didn’t lose it: It was stolen by a rival gang, one that will stop at nothing to discover the source of the Choom Gang’s powerful weed! ...

After eight long years of Gen. Squares McDork in the White House, the Kennedy Bros are finally going to Make The White House Fun Again. Unfortunately, all is not well between Jack, Bobby, and Teddy: They’re fighting over women again! ...

A president beset by crises at home and abroad comes face to face with a truly unstoppable foe: a rabbit that can swim. And he’s out for blood! ...
Hasn't Hollywood already gone there with Clinton, in Primary Colors? And haven't there been a thousand books and miniseries that portrayed the Kennedy brothers as sex addicts? As for Obama, well, there's this:

A Choom Gang feature film? I say bring it on. Maybe Kal Penn should do it.

Hollywood may not make a lot of feature films poking fun at Democrats, but high-level Democrats have never been spared by liberal comics. Prior to the current GOP civil war, I don't think that was ever true about right-wing comics and Republican politicians. We my not be nice to the opposition, but we're not reverent toward our own.


When all you have is an outdated NASCAR strategy, everything looks like a Bubba:
Democratic strategist Dave “Mudcat” Saunders believes Donald Trump will beat Hillary Clinton like a “baby seal,” and that working class whites who haven’t already left the Democratic Party for cultural reasons will due so now for economic ones.

“I know a ton of Democrats -- male, female, black and white -- here [in southern Virginia] who are going to vote for Trump. It’s all because of economic reasons. It’s because of his populist message,” Mudcat told The Daily Caller Wednesday.

Saunders has experience working with Jim Webb, helping getting him elected to the U.S Senate in 2006 and advised his failed bid for the presidency in 2016. Saunders was also an advisor to John Edwards in his 2008 presidential bid. The Democrat strategist is renowned for connecting politicians to “Bubbas” -- white, working class Southerners.
So now it's a baby seal? The simile has changed since Politico talked to Saunders in early March, but otherwise the talking point seems just as phony and canned:
“I think Trump could beat her like a tied-up billy goat,” said Mudcat Saunders, a rural Democratic strategist who’s supporting Bernie Sanders. “There are many areas in key swing states like Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania that look like Sherman went through and didn’t burn anything. Empty factories, empty buildings, few opportunities for young people. It’s sad. It should be no surprise to anybody that voters in those areas are gravitating to Trump.”
The economic argument here isn't off base, as I'll explain later, but before we start wringing our hands and assuming Saunders is right about the political strategy, let's recall the Saunders schtick and track record:
Webb's longtime strategist, Dave "Mudcat" Saunders, is an even more ardent fan and defender of the Confederacy. As the New Yorker reported in 2008, Saunders "sleeps under a Rebel-flag quilt, and when challenged on such matters he has invited his inquisitors to 'kiss my Rebel ass' -- his way of making the point that when Democrats are drawn into culture battles by prissy liberal sensitivities they usually lose the larger war."
In 2006, Saunders thought the following was a winning message when an anti-gay marriage amendment was on the Virginia ballot:
"I'm pretty sure I ain't a queer. And I've never had queer thoughts, but I do have several queer buddies who called me and asked me to help. I think it's blasphemy to put this on the ballot and try to divide God's children for political gain. God loves them queers every bit that he loves the Republicans."
The amendment Saunders opposed passed 57%-43%, so trying to fight it via gay-baiting wasn't particularly effective. (His presidential candidates -- Edwards and Webb -- haven't set the world on fire, either.)

Oh, and did I mention the fact that Saunders endorsed Republican Ken Cuccinelli for governor in 2013 over Democrat Terry McAuliffe, based on the belief that the Koch-affiliated Cuccinelli wasn't a corporatist?

Saunders has one idea: that if Democrats prostrate themselves before rural whites and offer to lick their hip waders, electoral success will follow. Never mind the fact that in the last two presidential elections a citified, urbane black Democrat won two convincing victories -- Saunders is still out there flogging this idea.

I'll admit that I thought Hillary Clinton would talk more about (and to) the white working class in this race. I remember her connecting with whites in blue-collar bars in her 2008 race against Obama, and I assumed that she was going to try to add the Obama coalition to this base of support rather than focusing as much as she has on non-white voters and women. I don't see why she can't do both, and maybe in the general election campaign she will.

But if not, it's quite possible that it won't matter. Saunders says he knows a lot of Democrats in southern Virginia who back Trump? I'm guessing that those same voters, regardless of party affiliation, have been voting Republican for a while -- Saunders is from Roanoke, and while Obama beat Mitt Romney 59%-38% in Roanoke City, he lost to Romney 62%-36% in nearby Roanoke County. In fact, he lost a lot of southern Virginia:

Yet he won more populous and urbane counties, and won the state overall by 3 points.

You know the size of Clinton's lead over Trump in Virginia? It's 13 points, according to the Real Clear Politics average. It's 7.4 in Pennsylvania, which Obama won in 2012 by a bit more than 5. It's 2 points in North Carolina, which Obama lost by 2. Shall I go on?

Saunders has a strategy built for the 1990s. It doesn't apply anymore. It's certainly unlikely to apply in a race against Trump, who's alienating Hispanics, young people, and women (including suburban Republican women) much more effectively than Clinton is alienating Bubba.


Donald Trump gave a foreign policy speech yesterday that repeatedly contradicted itself and was generally incoherent. It was, of course, praised by such pro-Trump media outlets as Breitbart and the New York Post. The surprise -- at least for me, because I'm old enough to remember when conservatives were unabashed, chest-thumping warmongers and hated sandal-wearing dirty hippie peaceniks -- is that these publications praised Trump for realism and restraint.

The Post:
Donald Trump gave his first foreign-policy speech on Wednesday, attacking President Obama and Hillary Clinton for their “reckless, rudderless and aimless” strategies while vowing, if elected, to take a more ­restrained, non-interventionist ­approach....

Setting up a November showdown with Clinton — who is more hawkish than Obama — Trump sought to portray himself as a disciplined leader who would steer clear of nation-building at the expense of US interests.
Hmmm -- I could have sworn that somewhere along the line I read one or two New York Post articles praising the ultimate wannabe nation-builder, George W. Bush. Is this a faulty memory?
He pledged his presidency would focus on “regional stability -- not radical change” -- in the Middle East.
So we're basically comfy with all the regimes in the Middle East now? I wish the right would include us on these memos.

The Breitbart piece is even more shockingly non-bloodthirsty:
[Trump's] ideas were cheering to a younger generation, weary of the endless wars-for-democracy of the Bush 43 administration, as well as the foolishly sovereignty-smiting policies of the Clinton and Obama administrations....

In his 38-minute address, Trump got right down to it: “It’s time to shake the rust off America’s foreign policy. It’s time to invite new voices and new visions into the fold, something we have to do.”

That is, indeed, the sort of new broom that the voters have been looking for; it has animated not only the Trump campaign but also, we can observe, the Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) campaign.
And apparently Nixon and Kissinger are cool again on the rabid right:
Trump’s speech today to the Center for the National Interest (CFTNI), an old-line “realist” think tank in DC, was well received. CFTNI was once known as the Nixon Center, as in, the 37th president, and it still includes on its board such legendary Nixon foreign-policy hands as Henry Kissinger.

Not surprisingly, Trump’s hard-nosed policy ideas were a tonic to grizzled Nixonian realpolitikers.
To angry rightists, that, apparently, is now a good thing.

I suppose Trump is trying to do what Nixon did in 1968. Like Nixon, he wants to portray the Democratic Party as a party of weakness while simultaneously attacking unpopular Democratic foreign policy interventions from the left. The result seems as insincere as Nixon's 1968 claim of a secret plan to end the Vietnam War -- but maybe centrists and the generally war-weary will hear what they want to hear in Trump's message, while voters with bloodlust focus on the calls for torture and the claim (also heard in this speech) that ISIS will be swiftly and brutally eradicated ("they’re going to be gone. And soon").

You see the doubletalk in Trump's appearance this morning on the Today show: He might nuke ISIS, he says, but in the nicest possible way:
"I don't want to rule out anything. I will be the last to use nuclear weapons," the Republican presidential front-runner told NBC's "Today" at the end of a telephone interview. "It's a horror to use nuclear weapons. The power of weaponry today is the single greatest problem that our world has. It's not global warming, like our president said. It's the power of weapons, in particular nuclear."

Trump continued, "I will be the last to use it. I will not be a happy trigger like some people might be."

"I will be the last," he said. "But I will never, ever rule it out."
Yeah, he might nuke 'em, but the idea horrifies him:

Is this going to be enough red meat for the angry Trumpers? Is it too much red meat for swing voters -- or maybe not enough? Are Bernie-or-Bust thinkpiece writers at Salon going to start telling us that Trump is the war skeptic who'll take up the Sanders banner against Hillary D. Ripper? We'll see.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


Ted Cruz is on course to lose the Republican nomination, but he's making a big, almost certainly futile effort to change the narrative with this stunt:
Ted Cruz announced Wednesday that Carly Fiorina will be his vice presidential nominee if he’s the Republican Party’s pick for president.

If nominated, "I will run on a ticket with my vice-presidential nominee, Carly Fiorina," the Texas senator said at an Indiana rally before the crowd began chanting "Carly."

The two appeared together in an hour-long event in Indianapolis....
Aaron Goldstein of The American Spectator makes an obvious point:
What I love about this impending decision is how much it will bug Donald Trump....

It is only a matter of time before Trump makes another disparaging remark about Fiorina. When he does, watch Trump's numbers crater in Indiana and Nebraska. Then California really comes into play. After all, Fiorina is a familiar face with Republicans in California for her efforts against Barbara Boxer in 2010.

Trump can't help himself. He views women as sex objects, not as people with any intellectual capability or character. Ask Megyn Kelly. Or Heidi Cruz.
All that is true -- except, of course, the part about Trump's numbers cratering and California coming into play. Trump will still be riding high no matter what awful, sexist things he says about Fiorina, because a large percentage of Republican voters either approve of Trump's sexism or shrug it off.

But that's not true of the rest of the electorate. Whatever Trump says about Fiorina will reinforce Hillary Clinton's message that a vote for Trump is a vote for misogyny. Cruz and Fiorina, in other words, are setting up to Trump to provide embarrassing Trump footage for Clinton attack ads.

What else can you say in response to that? Hey, thanks, you two!


A lot of people believe that Donald Trump is refusing to transform himself into a plausible general-election candidate, but I think he believes this is precisely how he's going to make the transition:
At the very end of a news conference commemorating his absurdly dominant Tuesday night performance, Donald Trump accused Hillary Clinton of playing “the women’s card” and said, “If [she] were a man, I don’t think she’d get five percent of the vote.”

On MSNBC’s Morning Joe [today], Trump was asked about Clinton’s comment during her own Tuesday night victory speech that “if fighting for women’s health care and paid family leave and equal pay is playing the woman card, then deal me in!”

Trump responded by trotting out the sexist “shouting” trope that is often deployed against Clinton.

“I haven’t quite recovered, it’s early in the morning, from her shouting that message,” Trump said. “And I know a lot of people would say you can’t say that about a woman because, of course, a woman doesn’t shout, but the way she shouted that message was not -- ooh. I just, that’s the way she said it.”

On ABC’s Good Morning America, Trump recycled another sexist line from his Tuesday night speech -- that if Clinton were a man, she wouldn’t be doing as well as she is.

“It’s not sexist, it’s true,” he said. “It’s a very, very true statement. If she were a man, she’d get five percent.”

Finally, on CNN’s New Day, Trump offered up this doozy -- “When I came out, I was competing against 17 very capable people… and a woman.”
I don't think this is Trump simply refusing to adjust his tone even though he knows he has to make changes as a general-election candidate. I think he thinks he is making changes -- but in target rather than in tone. If I'm right, his idea of a "pivot to the general" involves a ratcheting up of sexism, directed particularly at Clinton. I think his belief is that establishment types are wrong to think this won't work -- after all, they're the ones who said he couldn't get away with describing Mexican immigrants as rapists or calling for a ban on Muslims. Trump, I suspect, thinks talk like this is taboo only because of "political correctness," not because it actually is politically counterproductive.

“I haven’t even started on [Clinton] yet," Trump told Jimmy Fallon back in January. In March, he said the same thing on Fox & Friends: "I haven't started on Hillary yet. That will be interesting." Last week on Fox & Friends, Trump's son Eric said of his father and Clinton, "He’s going to go after her in a way that no one has gone after her before.”

Trump thinks the vast majority of us hate Hillary Clinton, and hate her in a sexist way -- we just won't say in public that we think she's a hag and a shrew and has an annoying laugh and a shouty voice, at least until he breaks the taboo and says it all for us. (Also: Benghazi! Monica! Emails!) I don't know at what point he's going to realize that "political incorrectness" works best in all-Republican environments. I hope that doesn't dawn on him until the night of November 8, 2016.


Bernie Sanders joined the presidential race last year with a critique of politics across the board -- but as the race has gone on, his campaign has increasingly seemed like a vendetta against Hillary Clinton, who, in his rhetoric, becomes more of a representative of politics as usual than the Republicans he'd have to beat in November.

Ted Cruz and John Kasich entered the race arguing for the superiority of somewhat different strains of Republican politics -- but they've largely become focused on the goal of stopping Donald Trump.

Sanders, Cruz, and Kasich got blown out yesterday. The big winners were Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, who have plenty of negative things to say about their primary challengers -- Trump in particular (to put it mildly) -- but who have made it clear for some time now that they're gearing up for a fight with each other:
Looking past their fading rivals, the two even taunted each other in dueling election-night events. Mrs. Clinton chided the Republican’s penchant for harsh language by saying that “love trumps hate.” Mr. Trump was more bluntly dismissive of Mrs. Clinton, saying her appeal boiled down to her gender.

“Frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she would get 5 percent of the vote,” Mr. Trump said.
I know that Sanders, Kasich, and Cruz define themselves as more electable than the people they're challenging in their own parties. To that extent, they're focused on the fall. But the main Sanders selling point right now is that he's purer than Hillary Clinton, not that he's better than Trump or the other Republicans. And Cruz and Kasich just seem to be vehicles for the GOP establishment's desperate efforts to derail Trump rather than Clinton.

Voters who wanted to stop the party front-runner lost yesterday. Voters who want the party front-runner to take the battle to November won.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


The Daily Beast's Barbie Latza Nadeau reports that Donald Trump has a new friend:
Matteo Salvini, Italy’s most openly racist politician and leader of the far-right Northern League party, loves Donald Trump. And The Donald apparently loves him back.

Salvini, who has called German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s policy to accept Syrian refugees a disaster, and who has been pictured with a bulldozer on the edge of Roma camps, tweeted a selection of pictures of himself at a Trump rally in Philadelphia. In one, he poses with the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination in what appears to be a somewhat awkward “thumbs up” moment with the caption, “Go, Donald, Go!”

... The Italian politician is widely known in Italy and throughout Europe for his radical right-wing rallies, during which it is common for him to slip on a black shirt to pay homage to the Fascist era. His rallies have often included people waving photos of Benito Mussolini, who he has praised for his “efficiency” and “dedication” to the country.

It must be noted that Salvini and Trump also share a common anti-immigration attitude, and after the meeting said they were in “total agreement” on closed borders. Salvini ... also idolizes Vladimir Putin....

Nadeau wrote this about Salvini last month:
The message was lost on no one when Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy’s xenophobic Northern League, slid a black T-shirt over his button-down white work shirt to address a crowd in Rome’s Piazza del Popolo on Saturday, calling for the overthrow of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in one of the most visceral anti-government, anti-Europe demonstrations the Italian capital has seen in years.

The square was full of followers.... Some waved the Russian flag, others held signs with black-and-white photos of Italy’s favorite fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, whose Black Shirts proved to be the most influential political force in Italian history. Flags with the black Celtic cross -- a universal sign for neo-Nazis -- fluttered in the wind above the crowd.
Some of what Salvini does is merely vile:
Italy's first-ever black minister was immediately at the centre of a virulent controversy as her appointment was deplored by the rightwing Northern League.

Cecile Kyenge, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, takes on a new portfolio for racial integration. She is one of two naturalised Italians in the government, both elected for the centre-left Democratic party (PD)....

Matteo Salvini, secretary of the League in Lombardy, called the 48-year-old Kyenge "the symbol of a hypocritical, do-gooding left that would like to abolish the crime of illegal immigration and only thinks about immigrants' rights and not their duties". He said the League was ready to mount "total opposition" to her in parliament.
Some is reminiscent of the ignorance and gullibility of some politicians on the American right:
Reports that an Italian headmaster had banned or postponed Christmas concerts and carols in his school to avoid causing offence to students from other religious faiths have raised a nationwide controversy -- one based on very few actual facts.

Far-right politicians travelled to the Garofani comprehensive school in the small city of Rozzano, near Milan, to express support to Catholic parents protesting against the decision of headmaster Marco Parma.

Matteo Salvini, leader of the anti-migrant and federalist Northern League party, sang Christmas carols and carried nativity scenes in an attempt to exploit the outcry for political purposes.

... However, the outcry bares little resemblance to the facts of the situation.

... The headmaster just decided to add to the traditional Catholic festivities a so-called Winter Concert, to be held on 21 January. Parma also denied press reports that he had banned crucifixes from classrooms.

Reports from staff, some parents and teachers seem to confirm the headmaster's version of events. "No festivity was cancelled, all activities planned for these days were scheduled in September, plus a winter concert to be held in January," Maria Sbrescia, spokesperson for the school's parents, said."
And then there's this:
A frequent guest on TV shows, Salvini has made a name for himself for his anti-Muslim statements.

“Islam is the only religion that creates problems, in Italy, Europe and in the Middle East,” he says in a telephone conversation with Haaretz. “If Muslims are having a hard time coexisting with the rest of the world, the problem cannot be with all the rest of the world. It must be Islam, and indeed the Koran itself is problematic.”

Recently, Salvini made headlines for having organized an anti-immigration rally in his native Milan, on October 18, with his controversial ally: CasaPound....

Salvini seems to be very cozy with the overtly anti-Semitic group CasaPound -- an organization that's openly nostalgic for Mussolini, and two of whose members were arrested in 2013 for allegedly planning the rape of a Jewish girl.

... Questioned about an alliance, Salvini answers: “I really don’t see what the problem is. I don’t have issues with anyone and certainly not with CasaPound.”
About those arrests:
Italian police arrested on Thursday right-wing extremists in several cities on charges of inciting anti-Semitic and anti-foreign hatred and violence and planning to rape a Jewish student.

About 10 people, all between the ages of 21 and 33, were arrested on January 24 in dawn raids in Naples, Salerno and Latina, according to the Italian news agency ANSA....

One recording caught a speaker proposing “to beat and rape a student whose only ‘guilt’ is to be Jewish,” stated the news site

"They were systematically indoctrinating young militants to hate foreigners and Jews at meetings in which, among other things, they discussed Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf," the site quoted Naples Assistant Prosecutor Rosario Cantelmo as saying.

The extremists were charged with crimes including possession of illegal arms and explosives, subversive association, taking part in political street brawls in Naples in 2011 and violent attacks on left-wing activists using knives and firebombs.

Some suspects were placed under house arrest. Central to the investigation are the activities of three extreme right-wing groups, including Casa Pound, whose members around the country have been linked to violent clashes with leftists.

Casa Pound ... takes its name from the American poet Ezra Pound, who sympathized with Fascism and admired World War II dictator Benito Mussolini....
Other Salvini pals?
[Marine] Le Pen’s National Front and other far-right European parties ... gathered in Milan for a conference [in February], hosted by Salvini, of a new group in the European Parliament, the Europe of Nations and Freedom. Its 38 MEPs from groups such as the National Front, the Dutch and Austrian Freedom Parties and Belgium’s Vlaams Belang see the refugee crisis and related security concerns as an opportunity to move from the political fringe to real power....

During the meeting, Salvini posted a selfie on Facebook with far-right leaders including Le Pen and the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders with the caption: “We will not surrender to the clandestine invasion.”
Does Trump know any of this about Salvini? Do any of his advisers know? Hard to say -- it's not a campaign full of well-informed people. But would Trump have a problem with Salvini if he did know all about him? Also hard to say. And that's what's worrying.


I agree with Bloomberg's Margaret Carlson that Donald Trump is not really becoming more presidential:
Trump rallies are almost always the same because the candidate resists advice to grow in his candidacy. A rant about his wins, the polls, the wall, Obamacare, rotten deals and the awfulness the media (which made him). There is always one protester to be escorted out -- though politely now -- and interesting political wear hawked outside, a small demonstration of Trump’s ability to create jobs. As he begins to focus his heaviest insults on Hillary Clinton, the merch has evolved, too. So now you can own a T-shirt adorned with slogans such as “Hillary for Prison,” “Trump the B---ch” or one comparing Monica and Hillary that is too blue to quote.
So I guess Paul Manafort hasn't asked vendors like this guy to make themselves scarce at Trump events:

And I can infer that security still isn't quietly urging attendees like this to cover up in case there are photographers around:

So, no, nothing's really changing in the Trump campaign.

Monday, April 25, 2016


The new GW Battleground Poll is raising eyebrows:
In a head-to-head matchup of each party’s frontrunner, Mrs. Clinton leads Mr. Trump by only 3 percentage points nationally (46 to 43; 11 percent undecided).
That's worrisome -- but please note that the poll claims Clinton would beat Trump among Hispanics by only 17 points, 52%-35% (13% undecided). That would mean that Trump would do better among Hispanics than Mitt Romney did in 2012 (Barack Obama beat Romney 71%-27%). Show of hands: Who (outside of Trump Nation) seriously thinks this will happen? (The recent Latino Decisions poll put the Clinton-Trump margin at 76%-11%, which seems realistic given the 2012 numbers and Trump's rhetoric.)

Only 5% of Battleground Poll poll respondents were Hispanic; 77% were white and 12% black. That's a serious underrepresentation of Hispanics and overrepresentation of whites (Hispanics were 10.8% of the 2012 electorate, while whites were only 71.1%; the white portion of the electorate is expected to drop to 69% this year).

Also, the Harvard IOP Poll has Clinton beating Trump 61%-25% among 18-to-29-year-olds. The Battleground Poll has Clinton beating Trump by only 49%-42% margin among 18-to-34-year-olds. Yes, I know about the "Trump Bros" phenomenon, but the Harvard numbers seem a lot more plausible.

So sorry, I don't trust this Battleground Poll. Believe it if you choose.


Eric Boehlert makes an excellent point about Donald Trump and "authenticity":
Have we ever seen a presidential campaign be so open about trying to unveil a candidate makeover the way we’ve seen Donald Trump’s team tip off his new look in recent days?

Huddling with nervous Republican elites, Trump’s senior aide Paul Manafort recently assured them the candidate’s “image is going to change,” according to a New York Times report. "You'll start to see more depth of the person, the real person. You'll see a real different way," Manafort stressed, according to the Associated Press. Trump to date has been “projecting an image" and "the part that he's been playing is now evolving,” the aide guaranteed members of the Republican National Committee.

... unlike previous instances when pundits and reporters thought they caught prominent candidates trying to change their stripes (especially when Al Gore and Hillary Clinton were the media targets), most of the press hasn’t erupted to denounce Trump for being a would-be charlatan. They haven’t cried out about his lack of genuineness.

The fact is, much of the political press has spent the last nine months touting Trump’s supposed authenticity and praising his allegedly candid campaigning style. But now faced with evidence to the contrary, and faced with evidence coming directly from Trump’s campaign, the same press corps seems unwilling to puncture the previous Mr. Authentic storyline.
This is despite the fact that
For the campaign press, there really is no greater sin than being a phony; than being out of touch with your core beliefs. (Even Mitt Romney got singed by the press in 2012 when he was seen as trying to pull off a costume change mid-campaign.)
I have a theory about this. I suspect that you can be a complete phony and still be described by the political press as "authentic" -- if you appeal to voters who are seen as "authentic." That means white people who live far from the coasts, who didn't have elite educations, and who don't have white-collar jobs or upscale tastes. If your voters like country music and hunting and NASCAR and Applebee's, that makes you authentic, even if you're a complete phony.

Thus, in 2003, Bill Keller could acknowledge in The New York Times that George W. Bush's ranch had been purchased as he was gearing up for his presidential while still insisting that the ranch was a mark of Bush's genuineness:
[George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan] are westerners (Midland, Tex., is truly the West, not the South), with a fondness for the region's open spaces and don't-fence-me-in rhetoric.... As president, Reagan was happiest clearing brush on his mountaintop ranch in California, and Bush loves chain-sawing cedar on his expanse of Texas prairie. Bush is a latecomer to this lifestyle, having acquired his ranch while a presidential candidate, and he is more self-conscious about it. (Reagan disappeared to his ranch and called it vacation; Bush calls his the Western White House and makes it a showcase of his authenticity.)
Yes, Bush was "a latecomer to this lifestyle" and was "self-conscious" about it, but it was nevertheless "a showcase of his authenticity."

I suppose you could read that as skepticism of the image-making on Keller's part, but most of the press took Bush's cowboy act very much at face value. Trump is getting the same treatment.

If blue-collar white men cheer you on, you win: you're "authentic," because they are. Nail that, and afterward you can be as phony as you please.


In an ABC interview released over the weekend, Charles Koch said that he and his brother David didn't think there was any point for them to try to intervene in the GOP nomination fight:
Charles Koch says he won’t “put a penny” into trying to stop Donald Trump, that there are “terrible role models” among the remaining Republican presidential candidates, and that his massive political network may decide to sit out of the presidential race entirely.

"These personal attacks and pitting one person against the other -- that's the message you're sending the country," Koch said in an exclusive interview with ABC News that aired Sunday. "You're role models and you're terrible role models. So how -- I don't know how we could support 'em."
He says he and his brother don't like the trash talk in the Republican campaign and don't appreciate Cruz's talk of carpet bombing. He said that Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric has been reminiscent of Nazi Germany.

But here's what drew the headlines:
Koch went so far as to say the GOP nightmare of another Clinton presidency might be a better alternative to the remaining Republican candidates at this point.

"It's possible," he said.
Which is not to say that the brothers like what Clinton is saying:
'We would have to believe her actions would be quite different than her rhetoric. Let me put it that way,' he said.
Sandersites think they know what's going on:

I believe the Trump part of that argument, but not the Clinton part. Why would the Kochs like Hillary Clinton any more than they liked Barack Obama? Obama's 2008 campaign rhetoric was progressive, but he came into office with an economic team largely drawn from the financial establishment -- and yet the Koch brothers went after him from the very beginning of his term, bankrolling Tea Party groups in order to undermine him. Why would the Kochs' reaction to President Hillary be any different?

I think the reason the Kochs seem sanguine about this year's presidential race is that they more or less agree with a different pronouncement that's common among Sandersites. Here's comedian Jimmy Dore articulating it on a recent Young Turks broadcast:

Jimmy Dore - Hillary a fascist by DailyPolitics

... look how bad the Democrats got their asses handed to them in the midterms. And that's with a popular guy like Barack Obama as president. Hillary Rodham Clinton is the president, they get their ass cleaned even harder in the midterm elections! But, if Trump is president, the Democrats take over the House and the Senate.
I think the Kochs believe Clinton will be easy to demonize as president and then run against in 2018 and beyond. (By the way, I also think they'd make a concerted effort to demonize and run against Bernie Sanders if he became president.)

David Atkins argues that they're playing a long game:
The Koch brothers ... see politics not as a series of pitched electoral battles to implement various legislative aims, but rather as a grand battle of ideologies in which the entire longitudinal direction of a country is determined. If some Republican careers are damaged in the process, so be it. If some (to them) odious regulations are implemented in the meantime, so be it. They intend to win the war over time, even if it means losing the occasional battle....

They know that putting Hillary Clinton into office gives them potentially four years to run oppositional politics....
I think they believe that if they can push a lot of economic and regulatory decisions down to the state and local levels, they'll win, because Kochite Republicans have done extraordinarily well in gubernatorial and legislative elections in the Obama years, and state after state is implementing Kochonomics -- slashing spending, shifting the tax burden to the poor, busting unions, and implementing voting restrictions that will lead to the election of more Kochites in the future.

It appears that the nomination of longtime Koch brothers favorite Paul Ryan is a dream they've given up on, at least this year:
... despite his disagreements with the Republican frontrunners, [Charles Koch] doesn't believe House Speaker Paul Ryan should be selected in July as the party’s nominee....

While Koch said Ryan is “better on the issues” than the remaining field, he doesn’t think it would be appropriate to hand him the nomination as a “white knight” in the event of a contested convention.

“I don’t see how he could win,” Koch said. “If he did, I mean that would create the impression this whole thing is rigged, which -- that's the opposite of the direction we want to go.”
However, Ryan's non-presidential non-campaign -- his effort to be a very visible alternate face of the GOP in the event of a Trump (or maybe Cruz) general election campaign -- dovetails nicely with Koch efforts to win at the state and local levels. Ryan, you see, has put a veneer of moral philosophy on the idea of taking power away from the federal government:
In an interview with David Brody on April 3rd 2012, Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan introduced the Catholic concept of subsidiarity into American political discourse with a distinctly patriotic flourish:
“To me, the principle of subsidiarity, which is really federalism, meaning government closest to the people governs best, having a civil society of the principal of solidarity where we, through our civic organizations, through our churches, through our charities, through all of our different groups where we interact with people as a community, that’s how we advance the common good. By not having big government crowd out civic society, but by having enough space in our communities so that we can interact with each other, and take care of people who are down and out in our communities.”
Ryan is still talking about this, as Kathleen Parker noted a few weeks ago:
Ryan recently spoke to Hill interns of his philosophy in terms of subsidiarity as an organizing principle in both his Catholic faith and his politics.

Politically, subsidiarity is the idea that matters should be handled by the smallest or least centralized competent authority. Similarly, in Catholic social thought, it means that nothing should be done by a larger centralized organization that can be done as well by a smaller organization.

Structurally, this is the argument behind federalism....
That's the message the Kochs want to send if Democrats are likely to hold the White House a while longer: federal power is bad, executive branch power is really bad, and everything should be kicked down to lower levels of government -- where elections are a lot cheaper to buy and Kochite Republicans routinely win. (If the government can be removed from a lot of aspects of American life altogether, that's even better, but that's a lot easier to accomplish at the state level, with Kochites running entire states.)

So, yeah, the Kochs have accepted that they're not going to get a favorite into the White House in 2016, and yes, they might not be sad if they have Hillary Clinton as president -- because they intend to use her as a foil. If you want to know how they expect that to work, read the news from 2009.

Sunday, April 24, 2016


Nate Silver notes that Donald Trump's poll numbers are improving in the home stretch of the primaries, and he suspects that that's because voters are buying Trump's "rigged system" argument:
Donald Trump has had a good run of numbers lately. While his victory in New York this week was expected, he got 60 percent of the vote, more than the roughly 55 percent projected by the polls. He appears headed for victories in Maryland and Pennsylvania, which vote on Tuesday. He’s gained ground in California and is narrowly ahead of Ted Cruz in the first public polls of Indiana. He’s added about 2 percentage points over the past two weeks in our national polling average.

... it’s possible that Trump has moved a few voters into his column with a series of process arguments that he’s been pressing recently. The more restrained version, as you can see in a recent op-ed published under Trump’s name in The Wall Street Journal, is that the candidate who gets the most votes should be the Republican nominee -- that delegates shouldn’t upend the people’s verdict. In public speeches, Trump has taken the argument a step further, describing the GOP’s nomination process as “rigged” and “crooked.”

Polling suggests that a majority of Republicans agree with at least the milder version of Trump’s argument....

It ... helps that Trump’s system-is-rigged message is relatively simple and plays into the media’s master narrative of the Republican race as a conflict between the Republican base and the GOP “establishment.”
The problem for Ted Cruz right now is that Republican voters now associate him with the establishment and with insider corruption. First the establishment urged voters to pick him as the anti-Trump candidate, particularly in Wisconsin. Then it became clear that Cruz is really good at delegate finagling -- his people have been at it again this weekend:
Ted Cruz notched another delegate landslide Saturday, stretching his advantage in a competition that might never occur: the second ballot of a contested Republican National Convention in July.

Cruz won at least 65 of the 94 delegates up for grabs Saturday (he may have won more than 65, but Kentucky’s 25 delegates haven’t revealed their leanings)....

On Saturday, he nearly won 19 of 20 seats available in Maine, losing just one to a Trump backer: Gov. Paul LePage. He also won all nine delegates on the ballot in three Minnesota congressional districts, picking up support in the lone state won by Marco Rubio. Cruz also grabbed one of three delegates in South Carolina’s 6th Congressional District, while the other two went to an uncommitted delegate and a supporter of Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Cruz’s biggest windfall, though, came from Utah, where at least 36 of 37 national delegates will be aligned with Cruz, who crushed Trump in the state’s caucuses on March 22.
Cruz seems to be in excellent shape if the convention goes to a second ballot -- but if Silver is right, it seems that reports of what Cruz is doing are drawing enough voters additional voters to Trump that he could win enough pledged delegates for a first-ballot victory, while persuading voters that Trump should win even if he comes in just short of a majority, as Silver notes:
Last week’s NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 62 percent of Republicans thought the “candidate with the most votes in the primaries” should become the nominee in the event that no candidate wins a majority of delegates, compared with 33 percent who said Republicans should choose the “candidate who the delegates think would be the best nominee.” Only 40 percent of Republicans had Trump as their first choice in the same poll, which implies that there’s a group of Republicans who personally don’t prefer Trump but wouldn’t want to deny him the nomination....
If Trump wins this thing, I hope Silver or some other number nerd is able to quantify how much Cruz screwed himself on the first ballot by helping himself on the second ballot. Hey, Ted, you may have been too clever by half.


A New York Times story about possible Hillary Clinton running mates downplays the most likely choice, based on everything I've read -- he isn't named until paragraph 16 -- but it does offer a reason for his selection that may reflect what they're thinking in Clinton Land, even though it seems wrong:
Several Democratic allies say that during the search, the campaign will have to reckon with Mrs. Clinton’s high unfavorability numbers, which may create pressure to choose an inspiring figure like Juli├ín Castro, the federal housing secretary, a rising star in the party.
I'm focusing less on the notion that Clinton will pick Castro because her unfavorables are high, and more on the idea that Castro is "an inspiring figure." Is he? If so, inspiring to whom? Obviously, it would be significant if Clinton picks a Hispanic running mate -- but I'm worried that the Clinton campaign, and political insiders generally, think Castro is inspiring because he seems like someone who should be inspiring. My guess is that the vast majority of Americans, and even Hispanic Americans, haven't felt inspired by his story, simply because he appears to be a run-of-the-mill ambitious young pol who happens to be Hispanic, and he has a very low-profile job by D.C. standards, combined with adequate but not -- to make the obvious comparison -- Obama-level political skills.

Castro doesn't have a rags-to-riches story -- his father was a schoolteacher, and both parents were political activists -- and his family has been in America for nearly a century, since his grandmother came here from Mexico as an infant in 1920. That may be a very relatable story for Hispanic voters, but I don't know if it's inspiring. It's got less melodrama than Marco Rubio's story (immigrant parents who worked in menial service jobs) or even Ted Cruz's (not just immigration but parental substance abuse and paternal abandonment, all made right, we're told, through the intervention of Christ). And Rubio struggled in this campaign, while Cruz hasn't been able to close the sale.

Castro might be a fine running mate, and he'd give Democrats a ticket suitable for America in 2016. But this has been a bad year for candidates -- starting with Hillary Clinton -- who hoped they'd get a boost just from not being white males. (See, for instance, Carly Fiorina and Bobby Jindal.) So if it's Castro, I hope he has strengths we haven't seen yet.

Saturday, April 23, 2016


Kathleen Parker thinks Bernie Sanders has been awfully rude to black people:
African Americans in the South can’t get a break when it comes to voting, as history can’t deny.

After all they’ve endured through slavery, Jim Crow and the fight for civil rights, their voices are still treated dismissively by tone-deaf politicians who would ask for their votes....

This month, having lost massively to Hillary Clinton across the Southeast, [Bernie] Sanders commented that the bevy of early Southern primaries “distorts reality.” In other comments soon thereafter, perhaps covering for what was obviously a lapse in political acumen, he clarified that those early states are the most conservative in the country.

Not really. And not really.

While some segments of the South are undeniably conservative, Dixie is also home to a large and reliably Democratic cohort -- African Americans. Many of the most liberal people serving in today’s Congress were elected by Southerners, and especially black Southerners. The reality is that Sanders failed to earn their votes in part by treating the South as a lost cause.
In the same column, Parkers also questions the racial attitudes of the Clintons:
But the Clintons, too, have been dismissive toward black voters when things didn’t go their way. During the 2008 primaries when it was clear that Barack Obama would trounce Hillary Clinton in South Carolina, Bill Clinton remarked that Jesse Jackson also had won the state in 1984 and 1988.

No one needs a translator to get Clinton’s meaning. His next hastily drawn sentence -- “Jackson ran a good campaign. And Obama ran a good campaign here” -- did little to distract from the implication that Obama would win because he was black....

Hillary Clinton got herself into a hot mess when she asserted that President Lyndon Johnson was responsible for the Civil Rights Act, which many saw as dismissive of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy. She scrambled to explain herself and mitigate the damage, but feelings once hurt are hard to mend.
None of this remarkable in and of itself -- but why is Parker, of all people, suddenly concerned with the feelings of black voters? After all, she's the columnist who questioned Barack Obama's Americanism this way in 2008:
"A full-blooded American."

That's how 24-year-old Josh Fry of West Virginia described his preference for John McCain over Barack Obama. His feelings aren't racist, he explained. He would just be more comfortable with "someone who is a full-blooded American as president."

Whether Fry was referring to McCain's military service or Obama's Kenyan father isn't clear, but he may have hit upon something essential in this presidential race.

Full-bloodedness is an old coin that's gaining currency in the new American realm. Meaning: Politics may no longer be so much about race and gender as about heritage, core values, and made-in-America. Just as we once and still have a cultural divide in this country, we now have a patriot divide.

Who "gets" America? And who doesn't?

The answer has nothing to do with a flag lapel pin, which Obama donned for a campaign swing through West Virginia, or even military service, though that helps. It's also not about flagpoles in front yards or magnetic ribbons stuck on tailgates.

It's about blood equity, heritage and commitment to hard-won American values. And roots.
"Blood equity"? Seriously?

I've read enough right-wing bushwa over the years to have a pretty good sense of how Parker would reconcile these two columns if you challenged her. She'd insist that she was concerned not with Obama's race, but with the question of whether his values were shaped by American experiences -- his own and his forebears'. She'd piously insist that she, too, recognizes slavery and Jim Crow as great stains on America's character. She'd probably insist that, as far as she's concerned, the civil rights struggle showed that black people were fighting for "American values" for generations. (No, really -- the more respectable right-wingers have all memorized a speech like this.) Obama, she'd say, was a latecomer to all this, what with being Kenyan by "blood" and all.

Never mind the fact that, as Greg Mitchell has written,
...  Obama, in fact, is half-white, is related (god help us) to Dick Cheney, and can trace his family back as far as McCain in America -- to George Washington, even. And speaking of "generations of sacrifice": Obama’s grandfather fought in World War II.
Obama isn't the only government figure Parker has deemed inadequately American. Here's what she wrote about Elena Kagan in 2010:
The magnificent author and son of the Great Santini, Pat Conroy, began "The Prince of Tides" with these words: "My wound is geography. It is also my anchorage, my port of call."

Those 13 words imprinted on my brain when I first read them years ago and have stuck with me. Somewhat oddly, they came to mind upon the nomination of Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court.

... though we are what we do, what we do is not all of what we are. We are also products of place. Where we grew up and how we experienced the physical environment of our formation are also a part of who we are.

What is Kagan's geography? What is her anchorage, her port of call?

Coincidentally, she shares the same home town as the other two women on the court. Assuming Kagan is confirmed, all three women will hail from New York. Kagan grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Sonia Sotomayor is from the Bronx and Ruth Bader Ginsburg is from Brooklyn.

... spending one's formative years walking past the infamously crime-riddled Murder Hotel en route to school, as Kagan did -- and, say, walking past the First Baptist Church to ballet class -- are not the same cultural marinade.

... It seems remote to unlikely that a woman whose life has involved Baptist churches and ballet slippers would find herself on a track to today's Supreme Court, though that ought not to be the case. Women are not of one cloth. (As a footnote, retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor grew up between El Paso and an Arizona ranch and is a famously good dancer.)
Kagan had an immigrant grandfather who, as The New York Times told us, "manufactured and sold hats and clothing in New York." I thought we were a nation of immigrants. I thought conservatives, in particular, cherished entrepreneurship and small business owners.

But to Parker, I guess, you'd have to be the right kind of small business owner -- Protestant and steeped in the blood of either the Civil War or Western expansion. And I guess she'll welcome black Southerners into that group of Real Americans when it suits her (i.e., when she can use them as a club to beat a liberal).

The Clintons, ultimately, come off reasonably well in Parker's column on Sanders:
Clinton ... has more than paid her dues, and African American voters have rewarded her loyalty. For his part, Sanders not only confirmed African Americans’ concerns about his disconnect from their daily lives but also was badly mistaken about the South’s distance from reality.

In the South, black votes matter -- a lot -- and no one has understood this better than the Clintons.
A lot of people would agree with Parker on this, but it's an odd column for her to write, given her history. Then again, the Clintons and the Rodhams are "full-blooded" Americans by Parker's standards, while Sanders is -- well, what's his "anchorage"? What's his "cultural marinade"? Not a lot of Baptist churches in there, right, if you know what I mean?

Friday, April 22, 2016


The Tory mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has dredged up a couple of old slurs against President Obama in an opinion piece calling for a British exit from the European Union:
Boris Johnson has criticised the US president Barack Obama and suggested his attitude to Britain might be based on his “part-Kenyan” heritage and “ancestral dislike of the British empire”.

Writing a column for The Sun newspaper the outgoing Mayor of London recounted a story about a bust of Winston Churchill purportedly being removed from White House.

“Some said it was a snub to Britain. Some said it was a symbol of the part-Kenyan President’s ancestral dislike of the British empire -- of which Churchill had been such a fervent defender,” he wrote.
In fact, the Churchill story is Johnson's lede:
Something mysterious happened when Barack Obama entered the Oval Office in 2009.

Something vanished from that room, and no one could quite explain why.

It was a bust of Winston Churchill -- the great British war time leader. It was a fine goggle-eyed object, done by the brilliant sculptor Jacob Epstein, and it had sat there for almost ten years.

But on day one of the Obama administration it was returned, without ceremony, to the British embassy in Washington.

No one was sure whether the President had himself been involved in the decision.

Some said it was a snub to Britain. Some said it was a symbol of the part-Kenyan President’s ancestral dislike of the British empire -- of which Churchill had been such a fervent defender.
Actually, plenty of people could "explain why" the bust "vanished from that room." Here's a fact check Glenn Kessler wrote for The Washington Post early last year, when Ted Cruz brought up the subject:
The Winston Churchill bust in question was originally provided in July 2001 by then Prime Minister Tony Blair as a loan to President George W. Bush. The bust, now almost 70 years old, was made by English sculptor Sir Jacob Epstein, and Bush said he would keep it in the Oval Office. Various news reports at the time said the bust will be returned once Bush left office.

The White House residence, meanwhile, has another bust of Churchill, also sculpted by Epstein, which was given to President Lyndon B. Johnson on Oct. 6, 1965, (Here’s Lady Bird Johnson’s diary entry about the gift, which was facilitated by Churchill’s wartime friends, including Averell Harriman.)
Following along so far? There were two Churchill busts. One was always scheduled to be returned at the end of George W. Bush's term.

It's not completely clear why it was given to Bush in the first place:
In 2012, the Obama White House said the gift in 2001 occurred when the residence bust “was being worked on at the time” but The Fact Checker did not find a reference to that in news reports. Still, at the news conference accepting the gift, Bush told reporters it came about because he lamented to the British ambassador that “that there was not a proper bust of Winston Churchill for me to put in the Oval Office.” So one could wonder why the president would say that when he already had virtually the same bust sitting in the residence.
In any case, the bust given to President Johnson remains in the White House. Here's a photo of President Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron -- Johnson's fellow Tory and political frenemy -- examining the bust in July 2010:

But what's up with that bit in Johnson's op-ed about "the part-Kenyan President’s ancestral dislike of the British empire"? Is Johnson channeling Newt Gingrich and Dinesh D'Souza?

Probably not. In fact, it's likely that this idea originated with the British. Here's a Telegraph story about the return of the Bush-Blair Churchill bust, written when Obama had been in office less than a month:
Churchill has less happy connotations for Mr Obama than those American politicians who celebrate his wartime leadership. It was during Churchill's second premiership that Britain suppressed Kenya's Mau Mau rebellion. Among Kenyans allegedly tortured by the colonial regime included one Hussein Onyango Obama, the President's grandfather.
In a 2010 New Republic article, James Mann stated flatly that this was a British idea:
... the idea started with the British, those former colonialists, who have repeatedly invoked Kenya to explain every perceived slight from the Obama administration.

... I first ran across the Kenya paranoia a few weeks after Obama was sworn in. Gordon Brown, then the British prime minister, was coming to Washington, and a British television reporter asked to interview me about Obama’s views of the world. “He has different roots than all other presidents,” the reporter said. “He doesn’t have ties to Europe.”

... “Revealed: Why Obama Loathes the British” screamed one article in the Daily Mail a few months ago. The article rehashed the history of British colonials and the Mau Mau rebellion.

... You can’t get more exalted than Sir David Manning, who was Britain’s ambassador to Washington from 2003 to 2007. Yet earlier this year, in testimony to a House of Commons foreign affairs committee, he reached low by warning that Obama “comes with a very different perspective” from other presidents.

“He is an American who grew up in Hawaii, whose foreign experience was of Indonesia, and who had a Kenyan father,” Manning said. “We now have a Democrat who is not familiar with us.”
The reference to the Mau Mau is particularly absurd, according to David Anderson, an Oxford professor and author of Histories of the Hanged: Britain’s Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire.
To portray the Obama family as being part of Mau Mau is stir-fry crazy. Let me explain why: The Obama family come from western Kenya, which is about as different from Nairobi and the Kikuyu area as Utah is from New York City. And it’s almost as far way. They come from an area where there was no rebellion, there was no Mau Mau. So while his father and his grandmother may well have been nationalists -- I’m sure they were -- they weren’t directly involved in the Mau Mau rebellion.

The other thing is, if you’ve read anything about Churchill, you’d know that, although he was the head of the government at the time of the Mau Mau rebellion, he was trying as best he could to get the British in Kenya to negotiate and to end the fighting. Churchill was not supporting or condoning the violence. He is actually one of the few British politicians who comes out of this smelling of roses.
James Mann notes that the Daily Mail story (“Revealed: Why Obama Loathes the British”) actually raised the question of whether Obama's anger at the BP oil spill was the result of familial contempt for the British -- as if a massive oil spill isn't reason enough for anger. A Kenyan relative of the president was actually asked about this. She assured the Mail interviewer that Anglophobia wasn't the source of Obama's anger. The quote was buried near the end of the story.

So, no, Johnson is unlikely to be echoing American bigots. He's far more likely to be echoing British bigots.