Sunday, May 26, 2019


Ross Douthat writes essentially the same column his colleague Bret Stephens wrote a day earlier: Trumpism is triumphant worldwide, therefore liberalism is in serious trouble. The only difference is that Stephens believes Trump will win in 2020, while Douthat thinks "Trump remains eminently beatable" -- but only because of his own personal flaws, not his illiberal ideology.

Stephens, as I noted in my last post, thinks liberalism would stand a chance if liberals weren't so damn liberal -- they should be more like Tony Blair and Bill Clinton! Douthat's position is a variation on that theme, but he puts it in terms of rigid allegiance to a range of liberal ideas:
... on our op-ed podcast, The Argument, ... my colleague and co-host David Leonhardt interviewed Pete Buttigieg, the Midwestern mayor running for president with promises to build bridges between the heartland and the coasts. Leonhardt pressed Buttigieg on whether that bridge-building might include compromise on any social issues, and the answer seemed to be “no” — in part because Mayor Pete argued that on abortion and guns and immigration most middle Americans already agree with Democrats, that the liberal position is already the common ground.

The strategic flaw in this reading of the liberal situation is that politics isn’t about casually held opinions on a wide range of topics, but focused prioritization of specifics. As the Democratic data analyst David Shor has noted, you can take a cluster of nine Democratic positions that each poll over 50 percent individually, and find that only 18 percent of Americans agree with all of them. And a single strong, focused disagreement can be enough to turn a voter against liberalism, especially if liberals seem uncompromising on that issue.

Here's what Shor points out:

But why is it that "a single strong, focused disagreement can be enough to turn a voter against liberalism, especially if liberals seem uncompromising on that issue"? The same doesn't seem to be true of conservatism.

Approximately 90% of all Americans, including an overwhelming majority of Republicans, support background checks for all gun sales. Republicans are, as Douthat puts it, uncompromising on that issue. A recent poll showed that 67% of all Americans oppose the overturn of Roe v. Wade, including nearly half of all Republicans. Republicans are relentless in their efforts to undermine Roe. Polls show that approximately 70% of Americans -- including, in some surveys, a majority of Republicans -- support tax increases on the wealthy. The Republican Party cuts taxes on the rich whenever it can. President Trump's wall is opposed by 60% of Americans, and 81% of Americans support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Republicans won back the presidency by becoming more ideologically extreme on immigration.

Douthat believes that liberals need to compromise on guns (or abortion or climate change, or some other issue or set of issues), because support for liberalism is extremely fragile. He probably has a point. But for some reason, Republicans don't need to do that -- in fact, Republicans can support a range of unpopular policies and never suffer for it at the ballot box.

Why is this? I think in part it's because Republicans -- and other conservative/white nationalist parties worldwide -- are much better at hijacking the symbols of patriotism. They have stronger branding because they're shameless about waving the flag and defining both the members of the tribe and the enemies of the tribe. There's a clear "us" and "them," and these parties hammer home the message that they're on "our" side (even when they aren't).

Liberal parties -- and, in Europe these days, some established conservative parties -- struggle to find a non-white-nationalist equivalent to this. In America, Democrats don't marshal patriotic symbols the way, for instance, FDR's National Recovery Administration did:

The pre-Trump GOP seized the flag in the Nixon years and has never let it go, and now America's party of white nationalism is the party seen for years as the party of patriotism.

Democrats shouldn't need to make compromises and tradeoffs in a desperate attempt to retain voters -- Republicans never do this. Democrats need to find a way to get large numbers of people to rally around the idea of being Democrats.

Saturday, May 25, 2019


Bret Stephens, a liberal basher and Trump critic, believes the president will be reelected next year, based on international precedent, and you can see why he'd think so:
More than 600 million Indians cast their ballots over the past six weeks in the largest democratic election in the world. Donald Trump won.

A week ago, several million Australians went to the polls in another touchstone election. Trump won.

Citizens of European Union member states are voting in elections for the mostly toothless, but symbolically significant, European Parliament. Here, too, Trumpism will mark its territory.

Legislative elections in the Philippines this month, which further cemented the rule of Rodrigo Duterte, were another win for Trumpism. Ditto for Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election in Israel last month, the election of Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil last October, and Italy’s elevation of Matteo Salvini several months before that.

If past is prologue, expect the Trumpiest Tory — Boris Johnson — to succeed Theresa May as prime minister of Britain, too.
Stephens means, of course, that Trump-like figures triumphed, or are likely to triumph, in all of these elections. So why not Trump himself in 2020?

Naturally, Stephens blames liberalism:
The common thread here isn’t just right-wing populism. It’s contempt for the ideology of them before us: of the immigrant before the native-born; of the global or transnational interest before the national or local one; of racial or ethnic or sexual minorities before the majority; of the transgressive before the normal. It’s a revolt against the people who say: Pay an immediate and visible price for a long-term and invisible good. It’s hatred of those who think they can define that good, while expecting someone else to pay for it.

When protests erupted last year in France over Emmanuel Macron’s attempt to raise gas prices for the sake of the climate, one gilets jaunes slogan captured the core complaint: “Macron is concerned with the end of the world,” it went, while “we are concerned with the end of the month.”
But in democracies we regularly require that citizens pay a short-term price for a long-term good defined by those in power. Somehow America survived the sacrifices needed to fight World War II and the Cold War without electing a Trump. And the president who put "minorities before the majority" by enfranchising Southern blacks was rewarded in the short term: Lyndon Johnson won a massive landslide in 1964.

Stephens recognizes flaws in his argument, but dismisses them:
You may ... think that conservatives are even guiltier than liberals and progressives of them-before-us politics: the 1-percenters before the 99 percent; the big corporations before the little guy, and so on.
Well, yes.
But the left has the deeper problem. That’s partly because it self-consciously approaches politics as a struggle against selfishness, and partly because it has invested itself so deeply, and increasingly inflexibly, on issues such as climate change or immigration. Whatever else might be said about this, it’s a recipe for nonstop political defeat leavened only by a sensation of moral superiority.
But Hillary Clinton didn't run on a promise to enact the Green New Deal or abolish ICE, and she still lost Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. And Democrats mostly ran in 2018 on expanding access to health care, which is not "politics as a struggle against selfishness." Democrats are also arguing for relief from the high costs of education -- again, not an anti-selfishness policy position. In fact, most conservatives argue that the Democratic message is "free stuff"; Stephens thinks it's exact opposite. Either way, Democrats are bad. Trump, of course, is asking Americans to sacrifice for his trade wars, and his supporters are fully on board.

Is there a way out for opponents of illiberalism? Stephens thinks so:
It needn’t be this way. The most successful left-of-center leaders of the past 30 years were Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. They believed in the benefits of free markets, the importance of law and order, the superiority of Western values, and a healthy respect for the moral reflexes of ordinary people. Within that framework, they were able to achieve important liberal victories.

Political blunders and personal shortcomings? Many. But neither man would ever have been bested by someone like Trump.
"Neither man would ever have been bested by someone like Trump"? So why was Bill Clinton's wife, with Bill as a top adviser, bested by Trump?

Here's the real problem: Citizens of America and other Western countries tolerated some sacrifices demanded by elites for the greater good because those elites managed to provide a fairly decent life for most people, while giving them reason to hope that their children would have a bright future. Tony Blair and Bill Clinton may be Stephens's model liberals, but because they did little to reverse Thatcherism and Reaganism, they kept us on the glide path to the hypercapitalist, radically unequal present, where life is good for the few who can get cushy jobs steering the global economy and is not so good for everyone else. If liberalism can now wrest sacrifices from the people who haven't lost ground in the past few decades, it can survive and pursue the kinds of projects Stephens believes are sure to be unpopular. But that's a tall order -- the rich and powerful won't give up what they've got without a fight to the death. And if liberals can't get the rich to sacrifice, then the world really will look more or less the way Stephens describes it, and illiberalism will continue to win.

Friday, May 24, 2019


Mediaite reports:
Fox & Friends did the right thing Friday morning in swiftly correcting the record after Fox Nation hosts and frequent Fox News guests Diamond & Silk made remarkably disparaging remarks about Speaker Nancy Pelosi....

Co-host Steve Doocy ... not[ed] that Trump has finally given Pelosi a nickname, “calling her Crazy Nancy.”

Lynnette “Diamond Hardaway” answered with “Well, listen, we are all questioning her mental capacity.” Rochelle “Silk” Richardson followed up with “She always looks like she is a nonfunctioning alcoholic and she slurs her words and rambling over her words. What I don’t understand this lady is almost 80 years old, one of the most powerful women in the world.”
Or as Contemptor's Gary Legum put it:
Fox News “personalities” Diamond & Silk forced Fox & Friends into a rare correction Friday morning.

... they launched a couple of smears of Pelosi that appear to be based on a video that was deceptively edited to make it appear the Speaker was slurring her words and couldn’t speak in complete sentences.

“She can’t even form a complete sentence without looking perplexed and confused,” said Lynnette “Diamond” Hardaway, to a rousing “Uh-huh” of agreement from Rochelle “Silk” Richardson.
Here's the segment:

First of all, it's obvious that Doocy fed Diamond & Silk the reference to "Crazy Nancy" so they could talk about the video, and about how drunk and unstable Pelosi allegedly looked. They were allowed to go on at great length about this.

Contemptor's Legum picks up the story:
Sometime after the segment ended, Doocy issued a correction. Having not known what Diamond and Silk were talking about with Pelosi, he looked on and read the headline of a story there to the audience...
Here's what Doocy said:
During the Diamond and Silk segment they mentioned Nancy Pelosi. I was unfamiliar with what they were talking about. I’m looking at There's a story: ”Manipulated videos of Nancy Pelosi edited to falsely depict her as drunk spread on social media. And according to a report from The Washington Post, experts believe the original video was slowed down to 75% from the original and that her pitch was also manipulated in order to present her under the influence." Not a real video. It’s doctored.

Oh, please. Fox & Friends did not do "the right thing" in this case, and it was not "forced ... into a rare correction."

To believe that, you have to believe that none of the hosts went into this morning's show aware of the debunking of this videos, which was a huge story last night and into this morning. How plausible is that? These people are deceivers, but they're not idiots. They knew the video was fake, but they also know this kind of thing is catnip to their audience. They were determined to put out a segment taking it seriously, but left that job to rodeo clowns Diamond & Silk. Then, after a while, there was Doocy saying he's shocked, shocked, that it's a put-up job -- thus assuaging the fears of all those mainstream advertisers who don't want to put their product son Fox if they think it's turning into InfoWars.

This is good cop/bad cop. It's not Fox being responsible.


Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders want to damp down the impeachment talk, largely because they fear it will hurt Democrats in 2020 if they're seen as being obsessed with bringing down the president.

Meanwhile, at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, as Peter Baker of The New York Times notes, there's this guy:
The idea was to talk about relief for farmers hurt by tariffs, with a couple of them standing behind him in cowboy hats. But it did not take long on Thursday for President Trump to go off on “Crazy Nancy” and “Crying Chuck” and “treason” and the effort to “take me down.”

The last time a president was threatened with impeachment, he made a point of not talking about it. This one cannot stop talking about it. Where Bill Clinton tried to appear above the mud fight, leaving it to aides and allies to wage the battle for him, Mr. Trump is determined to get down into the mud himself and wrestle with his enemies at every turn.

... out of strategic calculation or personal obsession, or both, the president has engaged in the battle with Congress so intensely that he has made it the all-consuming preoccupation of his presidency.
The president's fixer, Attorney General William Barr, has been given unilateral power to declassify documents, even over the objections of other agencies of the government -- all in order to more effectively "investigate the investigators" who looked into the misdeeds of Trump and his associates. And all agencies have been ordered to cooperate with this counter-investigation.

Trump isn't afraid to be seen as fixated on this, just as he isn't afraid to be seen as abandoning efforts to actually pass some legislation. After he walked out of the infrastructure meeting with Pelosi and Schumer, smart people said that the walkout would make it clear to the American public that Democrats are serious about governing and Trump isn't, but all that is in danger of being forgotten as the Trumpers cite doctored videos suggesting that Pelosi is a drunk, while Pelosi makes disparaging statements about the president. The Pelosi-Trump beef is what we're talking about. Infrastructure, the subject of the aborted meeting, has been forgotten.

And Trump is fine with that. Democrats fear being seen as unserious about governance. Trump doesn't care.

I'll grant that Democrats probably have a point -- Trump's poll numbers aren't very good, and most of the country doesn't want him reelected. It would probably be good for Trump to seem more serious, and it would be good for Democrats to focus on legislation.

But I'm told that Democrats have been focusing on legislation:

My response to Klain:

Get the word out. Talk about the bills on TV. Do targeted ads online describing the legislation. End each ad with a scary two-shot of Trump and Mitch McConnell, the men responsible for digging the grave where all these bills are buried.

Or just keep focusing on bringing down the president. Trump doesn't think focusing on the fight will hurt him in next year's elections. Maybe Democrats shouldn't either.

Thursday, May 23, 2019


The Party of Ideas is spreading thoughtful critiques again:
Distorted videos of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), altered to make her sound as if she’s drunkenly slurring her words, are spreading rapidly across social media....

The video of Pelosi’s onstage speech Wednesday at a Center for American Progress event, in which she said President Trump’s refusal to cooperate with congressional investigations was tantamount to a “coverup," was subtly edited to make her voice sound garbled and warped. It was then circulated widely across Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.

One version, posted by the conservative Facebook page Politics WatchDog, has been viewed more than 1.4 million times, been shared more than 32,000 times, and garnered 16,000 comments with users calling her “drunk” and “a babbling mess.” ...

“There is no question that the video has been slowed to alter Pelosi’s voice,” said Hany Farid, a computer-science professor and digital-forensics expert at University of California, Berkeley.
This story, from The Washington Post, makes note of several similar fake videos that have had a wide viewership recently. It's clear who posted them, but it's not clear who created them.

Is it the Russians? What I've been thinking for some time is: Who needs the Russians? They've shown us -- and by "us" I mean the Republican Party -- what works. They've demonstrated what riles Americans up. They've demonstrated that a distortion of the truth can be ludicrous while going extremely viral.

This video and similar recent videos could have been Russian productions -- but anyone can learn to do this stuff. Russians have brought this virus to America, just as they've brought it to many other countries; Americans are perfectly capable of transmitting it now. The Russians can now interfere with American politics (and the 2020 election) without ever lifting a finger themselves.


A few days ago, I compared support for servicemembers accused of war crimes to support for cops accused of police brutality. Right-wingers routinely rally around accused cops, so why shouldn't we expect widespread conservative support for accused members of the military?

I've been thinking that a difference between bad servicemembers and bad cops is that in the military culture it's appropriate to distance yourself from bad actors, whereas cops invariably circle the wagons to protect one another. A story in The New York Times today suggests that the military's culture is sometimes no more honorable than cop culture:
Stabbing a defenseless teenage captive to death. Picking off a school-age girl and an old man from a sniper’s roost. Indiscriminately spraying neighborhoods with rockets and machine-gun fire.

Navy SEAL commandos from Team 7’s Alpha Platoon said they had seen their highly decorated platoon chief commit shocking acts in Iraq. And they had spoken up, repeatedly. But their frustration grew as months passed and they saw no sign of official action.

Tired of being brushed off, seven members of the platoon called a private meeting with their troop commander in March 2018 at Naval Base Coronado near San Diego. According to a confidential Navy criminal investigation report obtained by The New York Times, they gave him the bloody details and asked for a formal investigation.

But instead of launching an investigation that day, the troop commander and his senior enlisted aide — both longtime comrades of the accused platoon leader, Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher — warned the seven platoon members that speaking out could cost them and others their careers, according to the report.

The clear message, one of the seven told investigators, was “Stop talking about it.”

The platoon members eventually forced the referral of their concerns to authorities outside the SEALs, and Chief Gallagher now faces a court-martial, with his trial set to begin May 28.

But the account of the March 2018 meeting and myriad other details in the 439-page report paint a disturbing picture of a subculture within the SEALs that prized aggression, even when it crossed the line, and that protected wrongdoers.

According to the investigation report, the troop commander, Lt. Cmdr. Robert Breisch, said in the meeting that while the SEALs were free to report the killings, the Navy might not look kindly on rank-and-file team members making allegations against a chief. Their careers could be sidetracked, he said, and their elite status revoked; referring to the eagle-and-trident badges worn by SEALs, he said the Navy “will pull your birds.”

The enlisted aide, Master Chief Petty Officer Brian Alazzawi, warned them that the “frag radius” — the area damaged by an explosion — from a war-crime investigation of Chief Gallagher could be wide enough to take down a lot of other SEALs as well, the report said.
President Trump has had Gallagher released from the brig and moved to "less restrictive confinement" as he awaits trial. Trump wants to pardon Gallagher and other servicemembers accused or convicted of crimes.

Some of Trump's extreme acts won't necessarily be imitated by other Republicans in the future -- but I think embracing war criminals will. No one in the GOP's target demographic questions the virtue of cops no matter how unarmed civilians cops kill, and no matter how many unjustified beatdowns by cops are caught on cellphone video. Nothing ever shakes heartland white America's faith in the cops, even the very cops responsible for these acts of brutality. So why wouldn't those Americans treat war criminals the same way?

Also, the GOP needs to distinguish itself from the Democratic Party on the issue of support for the military. Democratic politicans and voters now routinely express strong support for the troops. More and more Democratic candidates are veterans. In recent years, it's become difficult to patriot-bait Democrats on this issue.

So support for war criminals will become the GOP's way of distinguishing itself from the other party: You say you support the troops, but do you support these troops? No, I didn't think so.

Eventually, it will be deemed unpatriotic to expect servicemembers to respect their own code of conduct. Only peacenik America-hating liberals will do that.

This may degrade the culture of the military, but hey, there are elections to win, and that's what's most important, isn't it?

Wednesday, May 22, 2019


As Washington Monthly's Nancy LeTourneau notes, this morning's tantrum by President Trump seemed awfully scripted:
Trump was scheduled to meet with Democratic leaders at the White House on Wednesday morning to continue their discussion about infrastructure.
But just before the meeting, Nancy Pelosi, fresh from a confab with her caucus on the subject of impeachment, accused the president of engaging in a cover-up. After that:
When Democratic leaders arrived at the White House, Trump walked into the room, went on a five-minute rant about ongoing investigations, and then walked out. He proceeded to the Rose Garden where he held a supposedly impromptu press conference, refusing to govern until Democrats stopped their investigations. They claim that it was Pelosi’s remarks about a cover-up that triggered it all.
But if this was a spontaneous reaction to Pelosi's words this morning, why had it already been teed up by the White House staff, with a tendentious placard?

Trump just didn't have a plan the Democrats would accept. (His alleged plan was said to include $1 trillion in budget cuts, which means there's no way Democrats would accept it, and the White House can't promise any cooperation from Republicans, who have no interest in any infrastructure plan.) That's Chuck Schumer's theory, at least:

LeTourneau writes:
That fits with my assumption that Democrats entered these discussions about infrastructure knowing that Trump would either back out or fail to rally his own party around the issue. Whenever Trump fails, his response is to lie, deflect, and blame. Because he was failing on infrastructure, he decided to blame the investigations being carried out by Democrats.
I'm not sure that's really what happened -- but if it is, then Pelosi should mess with Trump's head by becoming very interested in a Trump promise from a couple of days ago:
President Donald Trump previewed the release of a “great healthcare plan” in four weeks, in an interview Monday with a local Pennsylvania media station.

“We’re coming up with a great healthcare plan that if we win back the house, keep the Senate, keep the presidency, we’re going to have fantastic health care,” Trump said. “And the plan is coming out over the next four weeks.”

The president spoke with WBRE reporter Andy Mehalshick in Pennsylvania following a rally in Lycoming County.

Trump vowed that his plan would take care of previous-existing conditions, and would be better than Obamacare.
Trump is as likely to emerge in the next four weeks with an actual healthcare plan as he is to get through War and Peace, or even a three-page briefing memo with no pictures. But Pelosi should seize on this and say she really, really doesn't want to be at an impasse with Trump, and doesn't want Americans to wait until 2021 if Trump has a really great healthcare plan, so could he keep her apprised of how the plan is coming along? She should bring it up every day.

Some Democrats and progressives will freak out if she does that. I understand. But it's fine, because there will be no plan. Pelosi won't be offering to compromise because it's vaporware, so there's nothing to compromise on. Or if she shames Trump into cobbling something together, it will undoubtedly be worse than the last healthcare plan Republicans floated, or exactly as terrible, so rejecting it will be easy and pain-free.

Why the hell not? Embarrass him. Pretend to take his empty promises seriously.


A couple of days ago, during a Pennsylvania rally, President Trump tried out a ridiculous new line of attack on Joe Biden:
“He's not from Pennsylvania,” Trump said. “I guess he was born here, but he left you folks. He left you for another state. Remember that, please....He left you for another state, and he didn't take care of you, because he didn't take care of your jobs. He let other countries come in and rip off America. That doesn't happen anymore."
It's ridiculous because Biden left the state with his family when he was ten years old. That's not a difficult fact to unearth -- it's right there on Biden's Wikipedia page. (I know Trump doesn't know how to use a Web browser, but surely someone who works for him does.)

Yesterday Biden fired back:
Former Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday responded to President Donald Trump’s attempts to undermine his ties to Pennsylvania by playing up his connection to another key voting bloc: the working class.

“Yesterday, Trump tried to attack me at his campaign rally by saying I abandoned Pennsylvania. I’ve never forgotten where I came from,” Biden, the Democratic primary front-runner, wrote on Twitter.


I have a couple of thoughts about this.

First this was a terrible, embarrassing gaffe on the president's part -- or at least it should have been seen that way. In reality, the next time we get a "news analysis" of Trump's attack rhetoric, we'll be told, as we always are, that he's awesomely brilliant at demeaning nicknames and other insults. We'll be told that every critic and potential 2020 opponent fears the mighty power of Trump's putdowns. And it's not true. In this case, Trump faceplanted. No one quotes his "Alfred E. Neuman" insult for Pete Buttigieg. No one outside the right-wing fever swamps has picked up on catchphrases Trump loves and regularly repeats, such as "presidential harassment," or "18 angry Democrats" for the Mueller team.

So, as I've said a few times here, maybe Trump isn't really good at this. But no pundit will ever question his skills.

My other thought is that, while I don't appreciate Joe Biden's "fever will break" notion of Trump as an aberration, I'm grateful that he takes the fight to Trump. I hope he's inspired other 2020 Democrats to do the same.

Before Biden entered the race, the conventional wisdom was that Democratic presidential hopefuls shouldn't focus on Trump -- they should talk about issues, because that's what worked for Democratic candidates in the 2018 midterms.

But there's a difference between the midterms and the 2020 presidential election: the midterm Democrats weren't running for Trump's job. The 2020 hopefuls are literally running to defeat Trump. Maybe Biden is leading, at least in part, because, more than the other candidates, he seems ready to confront the guy he's running against. Maybe the other candidates took the wrong lesson from the midterms.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019


Paul Waldman is right:
We may discuss the demographic challenges the GOP faces as the party of white people in an increasingly diverse America, and what effect it might have on the next election.

But what mainstream journalists and commentators almost never do is suggest that Republicans have a moral obligation to reach out to liberals, to assure them that the party understands them, cares about them and wants what’s best for them.

We talk about Democrats that way all the time. Reaching out to those “heartland” voters, those salt-of-the-earth Middle Americans, those working-class whites — in short, anyone who hasn’t voted for Democrats in a while — is framed as both strategically vital and just the right thing to do.

... when was the last time you heard a sage pundit opine that Trump is making a terrible mistake by not speaking more directly to the needs and desires of African American women or people who live in large cities or college students or any other group whose members are more likely to vote for Democrats?

You’ve never heard it. Yet it’s a lecture given constantly to Democratic politicians and the voters who support them.
Why the double standard? Waldman has some thoughts:
One explanation: Republicans don’t even bother to pretend that they care about the votes of liberal Americans, or even about their fate. Democrats try to get health insurance for people in red states and write environmental plans that include help for coal communities, but Republicans don’t ask how their policy choices might hurt people who don’t vote for them — unless it’s to figure out how they screw those voters even more. They don’t try to show “respect” for liberals, and they don’t publicly agonize about their inability to “connect” with them.

After a while, it stops even occurring to people in the media to ask whether Republicans need to do more “reaching out,” and they don’t chastise those Republicans for not doing it. Democrats, on the other hand, act like they have a responsibility to represent all Americans, so they're constantly told that they're falling short in fulfilling that responsibility.
What he says is correct -- but it's not the reason Republicans aren't told to do outreach. They aren't because they've been "working the refs" for decades, persuading mainstream journalists that they have a liberal bias simply because they're not ordinary heartlanders. They've sold the members of the mainstream press on the notion that they're not real Americans -- and that the liberal or non-white or coastal citizens in their audience aren't real Americans either.

Journalists have, to a large extent, internalized that worldview. They don't expect Republicans to reach out to people like us because they believe that we're not Americans -- and that they themselves aren't, either.

It's induced self-hate. And it's working.


I think Michelle Goldberg is right to be concerned about this:
What worries me about Biden — above and beyond policy disagreements — is that, in contemporary politics, the quest to find an electable candidate hasn’t resulted in candidates that actually win....

“My heart still belongs to Howard Dean because of his passion, but my head says Kerry is the one who can get elected,” a voter told The New York Times in 2004....

Four years later ... Republicans ... went with John McCain, who’d often infuriated the party’s base, but whose campaign emphasized his general election viability. A poll in January 2008 showed that he was seen as the most electable of the Republican candidates, and one of his advertisements claimed that he could “rally the conservative Reagan coalition while appealing to independent voters to win in November.” ...

“The only reason I’m supporting Romney is because he can win the election,” a conservative voter in Iowa told The Washington Post in 2011.
None of those candidates really were electable. Barack Obama didn't seem electable, but he was. The same was true for Donald Trump.

Democratic voters think Joe Biden is the most electable. But is he? Do they really like him? If he's not the candidate they really want, will he inspire enough enthusiasm to win?
On Saturday afternoon, at Joe Biden’s official campaign kickoff rally in Philadelphia, I asked every attendee I met why they were supporting, or at least considering supporting, the former vice president. Often, they mentioned other people whom they thought Biden might appeal to. Again and again, they said they cared about beating Donald Trump above all else.

“On my list of 10 things, 1 to 10 is beat Donald,” said Shyvette Brown, 63. “Health care is 11. And everything else comes after that.” Brown said that she likes Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, but 2016 made her think that Americans aren’t ready to elect a woman. “I don’t like it,” she said. “I don’t think it’s fair.” But given the stakes, she wants the surest possible bet. “We can’t play. This is all or nothing. This is the end game right here.” ...

“There’s two parts of me,” said Shelby Ferguson, a 22-year-old who just graduated from Temple University. “The political science major part of me that is trying to be as rational as possible,” and figure out who can rally Middle America to beat Trump, she said. “That part of me is saying Joe.” But she’s also someone who just left school and is worried about student loans and health care, and that side of her thrills to Warren and Bernie Sanders.
Is it possible to poll this phenomenon? After asking Democrats which candidate they'd vote for, could a pollster please ask them who their favorite candidate is? Or find some other way to determine their preferences if they weren't trying to second-guess everyone else?

Is there unacknowledged support for Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders? For Kamala Harris or Cory Booker? Is support for Biden passionate or pragmatic? Can't we find answers to these questions?

It might not matter -- the debates are coming up, then voter interest will increase as the first contests approach. Someone new might break through.

But it would be nice to challenge the narrative that Biden has this in the bag, because the longer we say that, the truer it'll be. That's a problem if he's not really the most electable.


Margaret Sullivan, the former public editor of The New York Times who's now a media analyst at The Washington Post, wrote this last week:
Trump won’t stop coining nasty nicknames for his foes — but the media must stop amplifying them.

... Journalists may not be able to ignore these nicknames altogether, but they should stop doing Trump’s dirty work for him: amplifying their power through prominent placement and frequent, unquestioning repetition.

... Cover them as part of a story? Examine and analyze them? Sure.

But don’t constantly repeat them, don’t treat them as “all in good fun.”

And don’t give them prominence without context.
Sullivan's criticism is limited to the media's coverage of Trump's schoolyard-bully nicknames. But what about his other forms of trash talk? Shouldn't the press think twice about amplifying those?

And while Sullivan believes it's fine to cover Trump's nicknames if your aim is to "analyze them," what if you're "analyzing" Trump's insult comedy and the conclusion you reach is "Trump is really awesome at this"? That's what happened yesterday in the Post, in a piece by Ashley Parker and Robert Costa:
The narrator in chief: Trump opines on the 2020 Democrats — and so much more

President Trump assessed the 2020 Democratic primary field in the unvarnished style of a cable news pundit — or as a brash sports radio host belittling the opposing team’s roster.

He dismissed former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke as “made to fall like a rock,” asking: “What the hell happened?”

He reduced Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to an offensive nickname and a single sentence: “Pocahontas, I think, is probably out.”

And he opined on the relative merits of former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.): “Bernie’s crazy, but Bernie’s got a lot more energy than Biden, so you never know.”

... Trump’s handicapping of the Democratic presidential race is one part of his much broader role as the country’s de facto narrator in chief — inserting himself into nearly every major cultural moment or controversy, and putting his own commentary and jeers at the center of the conversation.

... Trump’s desire to capture the nation’s collective attention can make him seem inescapable — a cascade of alerts on a phone, the all-caps headline on cable news, and the unavoidable presence at work and family gatherings alike. Voters may love him, they may hate him, they may even mute him — but he never disappears.

... Nonstop, bite-size news cycles, along with social media platforms like Twitter, allow Trump to dominate the nation’s discourse in a way that his predecessors could not.
And at Sullivan's old paper, there was Peter Baker, writing this:
... President Trump has grown increasingly willing in recent months to say in public what most of his predecessors tried to keep behind closed doors.

His is the profanity presidency, full of four-letter denunciations of his enemies and earthy dismissals of allegations lodged against him. At rallies and in interviews, on Twitter and in formal speeches, he relishes the bad-boy language of a shock jock, just one more way of gleefully provoking the political establishment bothered by his norm-shattering ways.
This story, from Glenn Thrush of the Times, at least puts Trump's trash talk in the context of a partywide campaign of ostracism:
President Trump attacked Representative Justin Amash as a “total lightweight” and “loser” on Sunday, a day after the Michigan Republican said Mr. Trump’s behavior as president had reached the “threshold for impeachment.”

The president’s attacks reinforced Mr. Amash’s isolation within his party, as even the Republican lawmakers who might be most sympathetic to his position avoided stepping forward to join him....

“Never a fan of @justinamash, a total lightweight who opposes me and some of our great Republican ideas and policies just for the sake of getting his name out there through controversy,” Mr. Trump wrote in a midmorning Twitter riff that included, among other things, criticism of the “Fake News Sunday Political Shows” and boasts about his judicial appointments and health care policies.

“Justin is a loser who sadly plays right into our opponents hands!” he added.
We're told about a primary challenge to Amash and a statement of denunciation from Ronna Romney McDaniel, head of the Republican National Committee. We're also told that Ronna's uncle Mitt has distanced himself from Amash's talk of impeachment, and that no other congressional Republican has endorsed Amash's comments.

But in that case, why is the headline "Trump Calls Representative Justin Amash a ‘Loser’ Over Impeachment Talk"? Amash is being shunned by most of the Republican Party -- but the press regards Trump's insults as uniquely powerful, so they're the focus.

Sullivan wrote about media coverage of Trump's nicknames. Unfortunately, the problem is much bigger than that -- and it's not getting better.

Monday, May 20, 2019


After reading the Mueller report, Congressman Justin Amash of Michigan declared that President Trump has committed impeachable offenses. Naturally, he's now persona non grata in his party:
A Republican state representative plans to challenge U.S. Rep. Justin Amash....

State Rep. Jim Lower, R-Greenville, announced this morning that he would run for the 3rd Congressional District seat Amash has held since 2011 and would forgo a race for a third term in the state House....

Amash became the first Republican to voice support for impeachment. Trump attacked Amash on Sunday on Twitter, calling him a "loser" and saying Amash only made the remarks to get attention....

Lower described himself as "pro-Trump" in making his announcement.
Jonathan Chait believes that Amash could end Trump's presidency:
... Amash is contemplating a presidential candidacy with the Libertarian Party. “I would never rule anything out,” he said in March. A real right-wing third-party challenge, by a Republican (who hails from a swing state) would be a nightmare for Trump’s reelection. And the more Republicans attack Amash, the more they close the door on any chance he can return to Congress, where he mostly votes with them, and push him instead to run against Trump. The short-term goal of discrediting Trump’s critics may bring with it a much larger long-term cost.
It would be nice to believe this, but the overwhelming majority of Republican voters would not consider Amash a "real" right-winger, especially not after Trump and the GOP noise machine began publicizing these apostasies:
Amash voted "present" rather than "yes" or "no" on the 2011 Full Year Continuing Appropriations Act, which provided for the cessation of federal funding to Planned Parenthood. He explained, "Legislation that names a specific private organization to defund (rather than all organizations that engage in a particular activity) is improper and arguably unconstitutional" ...

Amash supports decreasing U.S. military spending, and believes there is significant waste in the military spending of the U.S. Department of Defense....

In 2014 he was one of eight members of Congress who voted against a $225 million package to restock Israel's Iron Dome missile defenses, which passed with 398 members in support....

Amash joined 104 Democrats and 16 Republicans in voting against the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which specified the budget and expenditures of the Department of Defense ... calling it "one of the most anti-liberty pieces of legislation of our lifetime".... Amash co-sponsored an amendment to the NDAA that would ban indefinite military detention and military trials so that all terror suspects arrested in the United States would be tried in civilian courts....

Amash has expressed opposition to political gerrymandering. He said in 2018, "I firmly believe there should be an independent process for drawing districts. They should be based on geographic considerations, and they should be as compact and contiguous as possible...I always felt the maps should be drawn in a way that is less political and more based on geographic considerations." ...

In July 2018 House Republicans introduced a resolution supporting the officers and personnel of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Amash was the only Republican in the chamber to vote against the resolution.... He tweeted, "The House voted today on an inane resolution regarding ICE. The resolution makes several dubious claims and denounces calls to abolish ICE. I wouldn't abolish ICE without an alternative, but there's no reason to treat a federal agency as though it's beyond reproach and reform." ...

Amash supported a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, saying that the "real threat" to traditional marriage and religious liberty is government, not gay couples....

Amash has been a frequent critic of the National Security Agency's anti-terrorism surveillance programs....

He voted against the 2011 reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act....
Oh, and did I mention that he's of Palestinian and Syrian descent?

Amash will win the votes of a few #NeverTrumpers in the commentariat. He'll also win the usual libertarian voters, and maybe a few disaffected lefties. (He wants to end federal marijuana prohibition.) But he won't be seen as a genuine conservative alternative. It would be nice to think so, but that won't happen.


Last Friday, Pete Buttigieg was a guest on Hugh Hewitt's radio show. One exchange from that show has received a lot of attention:
HH: ... Let’s go to policy now. A very blunt question, because you talk about going to every Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Indiana when you were running statewide. Should Jefferson-Jackson dinners be renamed everywhere because both were holders of slaves?

PB: Yeah, we’re doing that in Indiana. I think it’s the right thing to do. You know, over time, you develop and evolve on the things you choose to honor. And I think we know enough, especially Jackson, you know, you just look at what basically amounts to genocide that happened here. Jefferson’s more problematic. You know, there’s a lot to, of course, admire in his thinking and his philosophy. Then again, as you plunge into his writings, especially the notes on the state of Virginia, you know that he knew that slavery was wrong.

HH: Yes.

PB: And yet, he did it. Now we’re all morally conflicted human beings. And it’s not like we’re blotting him out of the history books, or deleting him from being the founder fathers. But you know, naming something after somebody confers a certain amount of honor. And at a time, I mean, the real reason I think there’s a lot of pressure on this is the relationship between the past and the present, that we’re finding in a million different ways that racism isn’t some curiosity out of the past that we’re embarrassed about but moved on from. It’s alive, it’s well, it’s hurting people. And it’s one of the main reasons to be in politics today is to try to change or reverse the harms that went along with that. Then, we’d better look for ways to live out and honor that principle, even in a symbolic thing.
Notice the setup for that question: "Let’s go to policy now." Doesn't "policy" suggest that Hewitt is about to ask a question about war with Iran or financial regulation or health care? Instead, it's about what Democrats call their intraparty gatherings. Hewitt is such a dishonest person.

Buttigieg gives the right answer: Jackson is a bad guy. Jefferson is, by turns, great and a deeply flawed. In the case of the dinners, can't they be named after someone else? It doesn't tear down the monuments or rewrite the history books. It's just a reconsideration of who deserves to be honored at these events.

Why did Hewitt ask this question? Does he seriously believe this is one of the key issues of the 2020 campaign? No. He thinks it's a useful gotcha for the right-wing character assassination machine.

He's right. On Saturday, the New York Post published this:
Pete Buttigieg wants Thomas Jefferson events and buildings renamed

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg called for everything honoring Thomas Jefferson to be renamed.

“Yeah, we’re doing that in Indiana. I think it’s the right thing to do,” Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said in a Friday radio interview with conservative host Hugh Hewitt.
"Everything"? That's not what he said. But that's how the right-wing press chews up and spits out nuance.

Cut to last night, when Buttigieg appeared on a Fox News town hall. Of course he was asked about this again -- it's such a burning issue -- and of course his answer was distorted on Fox & Friends this morning:

Brian Kilmeade: "What a clown. Should we really be trying to erase our country's history? Would we be a country without those men we're trying to erase?"

In a follow-up, a guest says says of Buttigieg's opinion on this subject, "it showns how radical the Democratic base has become that this is what constitutes pandering to them."

And for good measure, the main Fox story about the town hall carries this headline:
Buttigieg takes on Trump, pitches four new tax hikes in Fox News Town Hall
And what are the "four new tax hikes"?
On fiscal policy, Buttigieg pushed for four distinct tax hikes when asked about the deficit, saying he favored a "fairer, which means higher" marginal income tax, a "reasonable" wealth tax "or something like that," a financial transactions tax, and closing "corporate tax loopholes."
Not one of these would be paid by the average Fox viewer. But that's the key takeaway from town hall, according to this story.

Democrats, don't do this. Don't prostrate youselves before these bastards. At best, they'll pretend to be civil and then stab you in the back, or set you up to be stabbed in the back by their fellow GOP apparatchiks.

Talking to Republican voters is fine. Many of them may listen respectfully. Some will hear a perspective on the country they've never heard before. Generally speaking, they won't regard it as an opportunity to turn you into a propaganda pinata for the next several days. So do outreach to voters directly -- not through the right-wing press.

Sunday, May 19, 2019


I was momentarily surprised when I read this, but I shouldn't have been. We should have seen it as inevitable.
President Trump has indicated that he is considering pardons for several American military members accused or convicted of war crimes, including high-profile cases of murder, attempted murder and desecration of a corpse, according to two United States officials.

The officials said that the Trump administration had made expedited requests this week for paperwork needed to pardon the troops on or around Memorial Day.
I'm surprised he didn't want to do this during his upcoming Trumpified Fourth of July celebration. But Trump is emotionally a child, and children are never very good at deferred gratification.
One request is for Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher of the Navy SEALs, who is scheduled to stand trial in the coming weeks on charges of shooting unarmed civilians and killing an enemy captive with a knife while deployed in Iraq.

The others are believed to include the case of a former Blackwater security contractor recently found guilty in the deadly 2007 shooting of dozens of unarmed Iraqis; the case of Maj. Mathew L. Golsteyn, the Army Green Beret accused of killing an unarmed Afghan in 2010; and the case of a group of Marine Corps snipers charged with urinating on the corpses of dead Taliban fighters.
In modern America, I think this will delight the armchair warriors of Trump's Fox News base. (The right-wing media regularly covers such cases as monstrous injustices.) I don't think it will impress the rest of the public, and it will horrify a lot of citizens, including many servicemembers and veterans.

But Trump is old enough to have been part of the overwhelming majority of adults in 1971 who backed William Calley:
The American people believe that First Lieut. William L. Calley Jr. was made the scapegoat for the massacre of civilians in the South Vietnamese village of Mylai, according to a poll conducted for the American Broadcasting Company.

The poll of 3,000 persons in all sections of the country by the Harris organization showed that 77 per cent believed Lieutenant Calley was singled out for court‐martial and punishment although the Mylai incident involved others including his superior officers....

Only 24 per cent agreed with the verdict of guilty.
As Rick Perlstein noted in his book Nixonland, letters to the Nixon White House ran 100 to 1 in favor of Calley's release. Nixon ordered Calley transferred from the Fort Leavenworth prison to house arrest while he appealed his life sentence; he eventually served only three and a half years of house arrest.

Calley had the backing of some critics of the war, who believed that the My Lai massacre was ultimately the responsibility of higher-ups. But for the rest of Calley's backers, this story played into the notion that -- as many of them would say in subsequent years -- Americans fought in Vietnam "with one hand tied behind our backs."

The domestic equivalent of this message, in the early 1970s and for many years afterward, was the notion that liberal politicians and judges had made it impossible for the police to fight crime effectively. Hollywood movies glamorized cops who took the law into their own hands, often in Trump's New York. Today, even as urban crime continues to decline and urban populations become more liberal on most issues, the notion persists that cops are being hamstrung by legalistic restrictions on their ability to do their jobs.

Trump's apparent plan to pardon war criminals comes at a time when a disciplinary proceeding is finally taking place in the case of Daniel Pantaleo, the white cop who in 2014 applied a chokehold while arresting Staten Island's Eric Garner, an African-American who was overweight and asthmatic and who died while repeating the words "I can't breathe." The disciplinary proceeding is not a criminal trial because Pantaleo has never been indicted and never will be:
A grand jury on Staten Island declined to indict Officer Pantaleo in 2014. A federal civil rights inquiry has dragged on for years without charges being filed. The statute of limitations expires on July 17, the fifth anniversary of Mr. Garner’s death.
That seems just fine with most white Americans. As an AP-NORC poll noted in 2015,
Black Americans are nearly four times as likely as whites to describe violence against civilians by police officers as an extremely or very serious problem.

... More than 80 percent of blacks say police are too quick to use deadly force and they are more likely to use it against a black person. Two-thirds of whites label police use of deadly force as necessary and nearly 6 in 10 say race is not a factor in decisions to use force.
These are ideas Trump has absorbed throughout his life. His most high-profile lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was a great apologist for violent cops as mayor of New York.

So we really should have seen these Trump pardons coming.

Saturday, May 18, 2019


Carliss Chatman, a law professor, believes our new abortion laws have ramifications in areas outside reporoduction:
We ought to take our laws seriously. Under the laws, people have all sorts of rights and protections. When a state grants full personhood to a fetus, should they not apply equally?

For example, should child support start at conception? Every state permits the custodial parent — who has primary physical custody of the child and is primarily responsible for his or her day-to-day care — to receive child support from the noncustodial parent. Since a fetus resides in its mother, and receives all nutrition and care from its mother’s body, the mother should be eligible for child support as soon as the fetus is declared a person — at conception in Alabama, at six weeks in states that declare personhood at a fetal heartbeat, at eight weeks in Missouri, which was on the way to passing its law on Friday, but at birth in states that have not banned abortion.

And what about deportation? Can a pregnant immigrant who conceived her child in the United States be expelled? Because doing so would require deporting a U.S. citizen....

Once the life is established, can a mother insure a six-week fetus and collect if she miscarries? Will the tax code be adjusted in these states to allow parents to claim their unborn children as dependents at conception? If so, can a woman who suffers more than one miscarriage in a fiscal year claim all of her children?

Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution requires a census every 10 years to count all persons residing within the United States. If a fetus is granted personhood, it should be included in the count.... There is the potential to unfairly skew census data and disproportionately apportion representatives and resources to those states.

These questions highlight the unintended and potentially absurd consequences of sweeping abortion bans.
I think young people should demand their full rights under these laws. If a state declares that life begins at conception, then the young should fill out voter registration forms at seventeen years and three months. Sue the bastards if they turn you down.

Your state says life begins at conception and you have to wait until you're sixteen to get a driver's license? Nope. You deserve a license at fifteen years and three months. Again, lawsuits are in order if this logic is rejected -- it's "natural law," isn't it?

And at twenty years and three months, the bar and the liquor store should take your ID. Sue them, too.

How will this will work out in the courts? I suspect we'll have Schrödinger's personhood, with, as Chatman predicts, personhood states getting credit for fetuses on the census (the Roberts court will certainly approve that) while the same states deny that life begins at conception for the purposes of child support, deportation, insurance, drinking, and driving. (Most people in these states will be conservative, so the folks who run these states might change the voting laws.)

Remember the doublethink the Bush administration demanded when it sent prisoners to Guantanamo (because it was U.S. territory) while claiming that they couldn't be held to U.S. law (because it's not really part of the U.S.)? We'll have something like that with personhood. Eventually, we'll be expected to accept that it all makes sense.

Friday, May 17, 2019


Like everyone else who was paying attention, I groaned when I learned that the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, had entered the presidential race. No one wants him to run -- hell, I voted for him twice and I don't want him to run.

As Jennifer Senior of The New York Times noted yesterday, de Blasio started his run with a trolling effort that went spectacularly wrong:
On Monday, the mayor tried to hold a stunt news conference at Trump Tower. Ostensibly, it was to tout a new city bill that would fine building owners, like our president, if they ran afoul of new greenhouse gas emissions standards. But really, it was to hold a proto-campaign rally on Trump’s turf.

De Blasio couldn’t handle even that. A handful of protesters dominated the proceedings (“Worst Mayor Ever” read one of their signs), and the management pumped loud music, including “Rags to Riches” by Tony Bennett, into the lobby. The mayor had to shout above the din.
But it appears that de Blasio is unfazed and unshameable. (Having an immunity to shame is a useful trait when taking on Trump.) De Blasio trolled Trump in his introductory campaign video, Trump trolled back, and de Blasio just kept trolling:
President Trump and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio traded barbs in dueling videos Thursday after the liberal mayor announced he was running for president -- and told his fellow New Yorker: “We’re coming for you.”

De Blasio, who has taken repeated shots at Trump before, launched another salvo in his campaign announcement video, where he called Trump a “bully.”

... Trump responded with a video from Air Force One, in which he called de Blasio “the worst mayor in the history of New York City” and “the worst mayor in the United States.” He also predicted that de Blasio’s White House dream will “never happen.”

“If you like high taxes and if you like crime, you can vote for him. But most people aren't into that, so, I wish him luck -- but really, you'd be better off if you get back to New York City and did your job for the little time you have left,” he said. “Good luck, do well.”

De Blasio responded a few hours later with an apparent attempt to mimic Trump’s habit of giving his political opponents a nickname.

“Hey, Con Don I saw your video and man you looked really low energy. And you were getting your facts wrong 'cause crime actually has gone down in New York City five years in a row, and our economy is booming, we have the most jobs we’ve ever had in our history. So you obviously aren’t getting your facts straight, and I really think you better rest up because you’re going to need it for the election ahead,” he said.

“We’re coming for you,” he added.
"Con Don"? I would have gone with "Don the Con" myself, although "Con Don" has the benefit of sounding like "condom." But I really like "low energy" and "we're coming for you." De Blasio might be capable of drawing Trump into a pointless beef, one that won't fire up his base any more than they're fired up already (they're at maximum fired-up-ness at all times), but might remind swing voters that Trump is a 72-year-old with the emotional makeup of a third-grade bully (which is what people hate most about Trump).

Do I think de Blasio could win the nomination this way? Or even make his way into contention? No, not a chance. What comes to mind is this Wikipedia page:
Enforcer (ice hockey)

Enforcer is an unofficial role in ice hockey. The term is sometimes used synonymously with "fighter", "tough guy", or "goon". An enforcer's job is to deter and respond to dirty or violent play by the opposition. When such play occurs, the enforcer is expected to respond aggressively, by fighting or checking the offender. Enforcers are expected to react particularly harshly to violence against star players or goalies.

Enforcers are different from pests, players who seek to agitate opponents and distract them from the game, without necessarily fighting them. The pest's primary role is to draw penalties from opposing players, thus "getting them off their game", while not actually intending to fight the opposition player (although exceptions to this do occur). Pests and enforcers often play together on the same line, usually the fourth line.
I don't know if de Blasio qualifies as an enforcer or a pest -- but whichever it is, I hope he keeps it up.

I've been thinking for a while that Democrats need a presidential candidate who can rattle Trump and force himself into pointless fights -- not a candidate who's a serious contender for the nomination, but one who softens Trump up for the eventual winner. De Blasio never seemed like the guy who could do it -- he's generally quite soft-spoken, and even his trash talk is a tad listless (see below). But de Blasio is the mayor of Trump's city and he doesn't like Trump, which means that Trump can't resist getting into a dick-swinging contest with him.

Keep it up, Mr. Mayor. Land a few while you're still in the race.

DON'T BLAME YOURSELF FOR BIDEN'S SUCCESS, ONION GUY (update: or blame Alec Baldwin for Trump's)

Joe Garden, formerly of The Onion, is apologizing for the satire site's portrayal of Joe Biden:
I worked at The Onion for 19 years as a writer and features editor. By the time I left in 2012, the publication had developed its take on Vice President Biden: “creepy but harmless,” with the emphasis on “harmless.”

... I didn’t take him seriously enough to think we were doing anything wrong. I thought of him as little more than a political necessity: the older, more conservative white guy who softened Barack Obama’s image in regions where the prospect of a black president was too radical. A deeper dive on Biden never felt necessary.

I’ve since changed my mind. Today, Biden is the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination.... As I watch him campaign as an old (-fashioned, -school, -old) centrist, I realize how badly we screwed up. Instead of viciously skewering a public figure who deserved scrutiny, we let him off easy.

... I wish we had looked more at his actual career in politics ... and tried to really puncture him, rather than just turning him into a clown. We helped make him more likable by inventing a version of Biden that never existed.
I understand the concern, but I wonder how much effect The Onion's treatment of Biden had on the voters who are supporting him now. Here's a 2016 demographic breakdown of the readership of The Onion and its spinoff sites (ClickHole, A.V. Club, StarWipe and Onion Studios):

More than half of the sites' readers were under the age of 34. Now look at Biden's numbers.

In a recent Emerson poll, Biden was trailing Bernie Sanders in the 18-to-29-year-old age range by 41% to 11%, and trailing among 30-to-49-year-olds 29%-26%. Biden's 8-point lead in the Emerson poll was all from people over 50.

The Onion's readership skews male. Yet in a recent Quinnipiac poll, Biden had more support among Democratic women (46%) than among Democratic men (40%).

Biden's core supporters are older whites and (especially) non-whites. Does that sound like The Onion's readership?

I realize that The Onion's treatment of Biden influenced the way the mainstream media covered him. But a much greater influence was the imprimatur imparted by Barack Obama. He said Biden was okay, so the press didn't delve into Biden's past.

The Onion was a factor in Biden's rise. But I think he'd be in first place now even if The Onion had never existed.


And now here's Politico's Peter Canellos arguing that Alec Baldwin's Donald Trump impression is a gift to the president:
... to look back over the full Baldwin/Trump oeuvre since 2016 is to realize just how tame it is—and, in an important way, what a favor it does the president. Baldwin’s Trump bears a closer resemblance to the befuddled governor on the old “Benson” sitcom than it does “Dr. Strangelove” or “The Manchurian Candidate” or any other of the darker historical figures to whom he’s been compared. In Baldwin’s hands he’s foolish and self-deluded, all right, but he also sometimes seems abashed by the reactions he provokes and the trouble he accidentally stirs up. (“It’s awful. Everything’s falling apart. Sometimes I wish I had never been president,” he moans at the start of an “It’s a Wonderful Life” parody; “All alone again. No one understands me,” he sighs in a skit on his trip to South America.)

By giving Trump qualities he’s shown little evidence of in public—conscience, introspection, even regret— “SNL” does him an enormous favor. It offers a glimmer of sympathy about his motives, inviting the generous assumption that there’s a better and more self-aware man lurking behind the Twitter feed.
There's a fair amount of truth in this assessment, although it jumps the shark in the next sentence:
In portraying the president as a beleaguered figure, it even allows the conclusion that the real threat to democracy isn’t Trump’s venomous rhetoric or disregard for constitutional norms, but the ruthlessness of the Washington system that confronts this blustering, fumbling uncle.
No one reads Baldwin's Trump as a hapless victim of a ruthless system. Those of us who despise Trump don't think he's a hapless victim, and the fans who think the system is out to get him believe he's a capable and powerful superman.

I agree that Baldwin's Trump has too many endearing qualities (if Trump were portrayed appropriately, he wouldn't have any at all). But a Saturday Night Live portrayal of a president isn't what keeps his approval numbers out of the 30s or 20s. The softest presidential imitation in SNL history was Dana Carvey's "wouldn't be prudent at this juncture" portrayal of George H.W. Bush. It was kind enough to the president that he embraced it, striking up a friendship with Carvey that lasted long after Bush's presidency.

And yet Poppy Bush is the only incumbent president to have lost a reelection bid in the past 35 years. So this isn't how we choose our presidents.

Thursday, May 16, 2019


Jennifer Rubin believes that extremist abortion laws are backfiring on the GOP:
You can tell which side of the aisle is optimistic about the politics of the abortion bans in Alabama, Georgia, Missouri and elsewhere. When asked about the Alabama ban, Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) (who lost her race for Senate but was then appointed to the seat originally held by the late senator John McCain) ducked. “That’s a state issue. I’m focused on my work here," she insisted....

Meanwhile, the House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) went so far as to publicly oppose the law.... “I believe in exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother, and that’s what I’ve voted on,” he said. The Republican leader who has been hollering for years that Roe must be reversed insisted, “Look I’m not an attorney. I’m not on the Supreme Court.”

One wonders how long it will be before President Trump recognizes this as a political disaster, one that will tie him to the most cruel, farthest-reaching and (from a national standpoint) least-popular abortion law in recent memory.
I can see why Rubin might argue this. It's not just McSally and McCarthy -- there's also Fox's Tomi Lahren:

(It should be noted that Lahren was fired by Glenn Beck's Blaze a few years ago for being pro-choice.)

Pat Robertson also said the Alabama law has "gone too far," although he's making a strictly political calculation:
“They want to challenge Roe vs. Wade, but my humble view is I don’t think that’s the case I’d want to bring to the Supreme Court because I think this one will lose,” Robertson told his viewers on Wednesday....

“God bless them, they’re trying to do something,” Robertson said of Alabama legislators.
Nevertheless, there's seems to be some anxiety about the law on the right. But the apparent concern about these laws is also a form of bamboozlement.

This is how the GOP used to work in the pre-Trump era: Right-wing commentators and certain Republican politicians would advocate (and, where possible, pass) extreme laws, all while using inflammatory rhetoric about their enemies (us) and generally tossing the base the reddest of red meat. Then, particularly on Sunday mornings, the "respectable" Republicans would appear on TV, and their dulcet tones would reassure the rest of public (and nearly all mainstream pundits) that the party was made up of sober, responsible right-centrists who could always be trusted with governance. Extreme laws were passed, extreme narratives were advanced, but mostly on the down low.

Under Trump, Republicans across the board have learned to say the quiet parts out loud (hello, Lindsey Graham) -- but these abortion laws are inspiring them to revert to the old ways. McCarthy wants his party to win back the House in 2020, and the path to that end runs through a lot of suburban swing districts; McSally wants to win her seat outright in a purple state.

So they're saying, "Look, most Republicans are reasonable ladies and gents, not like those awful folks in Alabama (and Ohio, and Missouri and Kentucky and Georgia and ...)." It won't prevent any new state from passing a draconian abortion law. But if they're lucky, it will persuade your swing-voting relatives that most Republicans aren't like this.

They are like this. They voted for Kavanaugh and Gorsuch and Alito and Thomas. When pressed for a favorite Supreme Court justice of all time, they all say Scalia. They just don't want you to think about the implications of that, especially in the voting booth.


The headline statistic here is noteworthy:
Extended term for Trump? No way, most Americans say

The lion’s share of Americans believes that respecting the results of elections and the peaceful transfer of power are essential elements of American democracy, according to a new national poll conducted by Ipsos in conjunction with the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

By a 77%-16% margin, respondents did not think that the 2020 election should be delayed and President Donald Trump given an extra two years in office.
And I suppose we should feel grateful that the people who think Trump's term should be extended include only about a third of Republicans:
There were partisan differences on this question: Democrats said no overwhelmingly, 89%-9%, while Republicans said no by a smaller 62%-31% margin.
And hardly anyone thinks it would be okay for Trump to barricade himself in the Oval Office if he loses:
Just 7% of respondents said that if Trump loses the 2020 election, he should ignore the results and stay in office.
(The total for Republicans is a surprisingly low 11%.)

But I find this unsettling:
Just 33% of respondents agreed with the somewhat authoritarian proposal that to fix the United States, “we need a strong leader willing to break the rules.” Less than a quarter of Democrats (23%) agreed with that statement, but about half of Republicans did (53%).
A majority of Republicans feel this way. That's why we can't change minds on Trump. Every time we point out one of his bad acts, we remind that majority of Republicans precisely why they like him. We think we're criticizing Trump, but what his base hears is that, yes, he is "a strong leader willing to break the rules." When we say he's an obstructor of justice or a taker of emoluments, we're affirming the notion that he's the kind of leader they want.

69% (64% Democrats, 74% Republicans) agreed that “traditional parties and politicians don’t care about people like me.”
It's odd that voters from the party in power are more dissatisfied with "traditional parties and politicians" than voters from the party out of power -- or it would be odd if the head of the in-power party weren't Trump. This tells me that Republican voters are wary even of traditional pols from their own party, which might explain why so many of those pols want to be seen as unsocialized Trump clones (see, e.g., Lindsey Graham at the Kavanaugh hearings).

This and the rule-breaking "strong leader" result above are more evidence that Republicans won't be picking Nikki Haley, John Kasich, or Larry Hogan in 2024. They'll want either an angry outsider (Donald Trump Jr., Laura Ingraham) or someone from within politics who seems willing and able to break the rules and smash the furniture (Tom Cotton, Dan Crenshaw).

In other words: No, the fever won't break.


You might have seen this headline at The Washington Post:
After two faulty Boeing jets crash, the Trump administration blames foreign pilots
If you never went on to read the piece itself -- it's a column by Dana Milbank -- I want to inform you that the headline is deceiving.

Milbank doesn't say that the Trump administration blamed foreign pilots for two fatal crashes. He says that the Trump administration and Republican congressmen blamed foreign pilots for those crashes.

In other words, the racist rot in the GOP extends far beyond the Executive Branch.

Milbank reports on the congressional hearing:
“I’m trying to be respectful because they’re deceased,” Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-Mich.) said of the doomed crews. But, “do we not have concerns not only with the training of pilots in other nations, but the reliability of their logs?”

The acting FAA administrator, Daniel Elwell, shared this skepticism and said he “absolutely” wants to “take a hard look at the training standards globally.”

Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) voiced concern about “the maintenance programs, the pilot experience requirements, the pilot training programs of the air carriers involved.”

And Rep. Sam Graves (Mo.), ranking Republican on the House transportation committee and a pilot (as he repeatedly mentioned), criticized the deceased: They “never pulled the throttles back,” they “were simply going too fast,” they followed “no operating procedure that I have heard of.”

“You have to know how to fly the plane!” Graves said, faulting “pilot error” and “a lot of misidentification” by the crew.

Elwell concurred that the problem should have been “immediately recognizable” to the pilots, but there was “apparent lack of recognition.” He blamed the Indonesians for failing to disable the system and said the Ethiopian crew “didn’t adhere to the emergency [advisory] we put out” and “never controlled their air speed.”

Such basic knowledge is “taught at the earliest stages,” Elwell lectured. “You don’t pull out a checklist.... It is memorized, and you’re tested on it all of the time.”

Sam Graves rejoined the denunciation. “I hate to disparage another country and what their pilot training is, but that is what scares me in all of this: climbing on an aircraft or airline that is outside U.S. jurisdiction,” he said. “It just bothers me that we continue to tear down our system based on what has happened in another country.”
Here's the reality:
The Wall Street Journal reported this week that senior FAA officials failed to review key safety assessments of the MCAS system and that Boeing failed to label the stall-prevention system as a critical component whose malfunction could be catastrophic. MCAS wasn’t even originally mentioned in the plane’s manual. In addition, Boeing had disabled a safety feature designed to warn pilots about malfunctioning sensors related to the system — but it allegedly didn’t inform airlines. Boeing didn’t inform the FAA until 13 months after it discovered it had offered the safety feature as an add-on option instead of standard.
Pay no attention to all that bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo! It's much easier to blame melanin.

What a bonanza for Republicans -- the opportunity to let their racist flag fly and cover up bad behavior by a giant corporation. If these folks could simultaneously bash gays and deny women abortions, this would embody the entire governing philosophy of the GOP.