Sunday, March 31, 2019


Is this is a fit of pique? Or is it a long-planned pander to the GOP's xenophobic base ahead of the 2020 election?
The United States is cutting off aid to the Northern Triangle, otherwise known as the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, the State Department told CNN Saturday, one day after President Donald Trump said they had "set up" migrant caravans for entry into the United States.

"We were paying them tremendous amounts of money. And we're not paying them anymore. Because they haven't done a thing for us. They set up these caravans," Trump said Friday.
This is obviously counterproductive.
President Trump’s plan ... breaks with years of conventional wisdom in Washington that the best way to halt migration is to attack its root causes....

Cutting off aid is “shooting yourself in the foot,” said Adriana Beltr├ín, the director of citizen security at the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights research group that tracks aid closely....

The decision turns American policy in the region on its head. Not only will it cut development and humanitarian assistance, but it will also halt joint law enforcement efforts, such as anti-gang units vetted by the United States, that had been supported by Republicans and the Trump administration until now....
This raises the "stupid or evil?" question that often comes up when we discuss Republican policies. An obvious guess is that aides who aren't stupid -- cough Stephen Miller cough -- concocted this plan as a way to induce more people to head for the U.S. border, thus making even casual observers in America believe there's a border crisis, just in time for the 2020 election. The plan was then sold to Trump because it's just the kind of policy he likes: It's simplistic, it's vengeful, it's heartless, and it's tight-fisted. In other words, it hits all the pleasure centers in Trump's brain that don't involve sex or golf.

What's odd, though, is that the three nations have been very cooperative with the U.S.:
... just a day before Mr. Trump made the comments, the United States signed a border security agreement with the three Central American governments intended to increase cooperation against human trafficking and organized crime.
The Honduran government ... emphasized its "solid and positive" bilateral relationship with the United States, adding that relations between both countries were strengthened this past week when Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez and US national security adviser John Bolton met at the White House.
And these nations aren't just cooperating with the U.S. on hemispheric policy -- notice how a couple of them have really tried to kiss Trump's ring:
To win favor with Washington, Guatemala followed the Trump administration in moving its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem last year. Honduran President Juan Orlando Hern├índez said last week that his government was opening a trade office in Jerusalem, which he called “a first step” toward moving his country’s embassy.
Seriously? Jerusalem? That isn't even enough to stave off Trump's wrath?

This is a warning to anyone waiting for a pardon from Trump for Russiagate crimes: It doesn't matter what you've done for him or how you've deferred to his wishes. Loyalty isn't enough.

Trump doesn't feel debts of gratitude. Trump won't do you a solid if you've done a solid for him. Maybe you'll get a pardon if Trump thinks pardoning you will piss off the liberals. But he won't do it in return for anything you've done for him. He doesn't operate that way. Trump believes that Trump is owed. Trump doesn't owe back.

Saturday, March 30, 2019


So now we have our first #MeToo account of what is usually referred to as Joe Biden's "handsiness," from Lucy Flores, a formeer candidate for lieutenant governor of Nevada:
As I was taking deep breaths and preparing myself to make my case to the crowd, I felt two hands on my shoulders. I froze. “Why is the vice-president of the United States touching me?”

I felt him get closer to me from behind. He leaned further in and inhaled my hair. I was mortified. I thought to myself, “I didn’t wash my hair today and the vice-president of the United States is smelling it. And also, what in the actual fuck? Why is the vice-president of the United States smelling my hair?” He proceeded to plant a big slow kiss on the back of my head. My brain couldn’t process what was happening. I was embarrassed. I was shocked. I was confused. There is a Spanish saying, “tragame tierra,” it means, “earth, swallow me whole.” I couldn’t move and I couldn’t say anything. I wanted nothing more than to get Biden away from me. My name was called and I was never happier to get on stage in front of an audience.
We're being reminded that Biden has a documented history of doing this sort of thing. We've also been reminded recently that Biden's record is antithetical to the values of most Democrats now.

And we're regularly reminded that Biden is a terrible campaigner. Savvy people tell us that his fall is inevitable -- the often-repeated elevator version of this is that Biden's first day as a candidate will be his best day. He'll announce with great fanfare, he'll shoot up in the polls, and then, as the days go by, he'll become his own worst enemy, losing ground and ultimately failing again.

But a lot of what's supposed to make Biden fail is already known, and he still has an impressive lead the polls. (His only rival right now for the top spot is Bernie Sanders -- another candidate who's widely assumed to be headed for a fall, but that's a discussion for another day.) The polls suggest that Biden is the strongest candidate against Donald Trump, and the strongest in a three-way race with Howard Schultz.

I'm sure the savvy people believe that the #MeToo stories might persuade Biden not to announce his candidacy, or will sink him once he's in the race. But what if they don't? What if Biden has Trump-like Teflon and can survive all of this?

I don't think Joe Biden really is our Donald Trump. I think Biden would like to be the decent guy he is in his descriptions of himself. I think his ideas have evolved over the decades. I think he could be a sexual predator who's a strong champion of women's rights, like Bill Clinton. He's not Trump, who not only relishes revenge and divisiveness but wants to rally his voter base around revenge and divisiveness. Trump wants to make America a nastier, meaner place. Biden, I think, believes his own recent liberal rhetoric, even if he frequently hasn't lived up to it.

What if a large percentage of the Democratic electorate doesn't care? I don't just mean older white voters. I mean older non-white voters as well.

Notice who's most supportive of Biden in the latest Quinnipiac poll:

In a massive field, Biden has nearly half the black vote. He's at 44%; the two African-American candidates in the race combine for only 9%.

And I've told you several times about a recent focus group of black female voters in South Carolina, in which one participant described nominating Biden as "the closest we can get to a 3rd term for Obama w/o electing Michelle," and others were very dismissive of negative information about Biden.

I think older and less ideologically fervent Democrats of all races might be more forgiving of Biden. They didn't come of age in the 21st century; they may not on board with the idea that past sins are unforgivable.

And if we're talking about black voters, we should recall the polls showing that they were less likely to want Virginia governor Ralph Northam to resign after a blackface photo of him surfaced than white voters were.

I don't believe that every Donald Trump supporter is a racist, though I agree that every one is accepting of racism, by definition. Every one is also accepting of mean-spiritedness and corruption and treason. Trump takes no pains to conceal these aspects of his presidency and his life. And yet his fans believe that they're not supporting all this.

I don't believe that every Joe Biden supporter is a part of an anti-liberal, racist, sexist backlash. More significantly, I think Biden, unlike Trump, has been trying since 2008 to paper over his worst offenses. If Biden voters behave like Trump voters and tell themselves that he's never been the person he clearly has been, it's more understandable, because, in public, he's trying not to be that guy.

Thus, I believe it's possible that every bad thing about Joe Biden will come to light and his fans still won't abandon him. They'll be like Trump's fans after the many incidents that should have ended his campaign. And there may be enough of them, in a huge primary field, to win him the nomination, and to leave us with a tainted candidate going into the general election.

So what do we do if none of this drives Biden out of the race? What do we do if Biden gets a pass from his voters the way Trump did, or the way Northam has?

It might not happen, but it's a possibility we shouldn't rule out.

Friday, March 29, 2019


Matt Bai -- yes, he's still around, writing a largely unread regular column for Yahoo News -- is a Trump-skeptical journalist who's ashamed of being one:
... this might be a good moment to step back and ask some hard questions about who we’ve become, as journalists, in the Trump era.

... I don’t agree with my former New York Times colleague David Brooks, who says we all made fools of ourselves with this Russia business....

That said, I think we have to admit an inescapable and uncomfortable truth about the Trump presidency more generally, which is that the media that covers him is almost unrecognizable from the media that covered every previous president. He’s just right about that.

There are days now — a lot of them — when I open the up the homepages of the New York Times and the Washington Post in the morning, scroll down a bit, and have the odd sensation that I’m reading the organ of an opposition party, with one headline after another trumpeting the moral depravity of the administration.

Even last weekend, as news broke that Mueller wouldn’t be recommending any further charges against the president or his aides, the front pages pivoted instantly to other, ongoing investigations and breathlessly assured us the scandal would not go away. After two years of innuendo, Trump couldn’t be allowed his due for a day.
Let me stop Bai right there. Why was Trump's "due for a day" a complete suspension of all negative coverage? Sure, he was inevitably going to take a victory lap, but was it the responsibility of the press to help him do that? The press "pivoted instantly to other, ongoing investigations and breathlessly assured us the scandal would not go away" because there are other, ongoing investigations and Trump scandals won't go away. Besides, we haven't even seen the report that Bai believes entitled Trump to a holiday from bad news coverage. All we've seen is a brief summary by a partisan hack.
... I can’t help nodding along with one of my idols in this business, 79-year-old Ted Koppel, when he decries the drift of our best media toward a kind of reflexive advocacy.

It’s not that I think Trump has a lot of redeeming qualities as a president. It’s that I think we’ve been played.

You see, Trump doesn’t hate the media — not really. He’s spent a lifetime manipulating and cultivating reporters. He talks to them, even now, more than any of his recent predecessors, by a lot.

But Trump very skillfully drew us into a fight. He cast the “fake news” as his enemy, and we responded exactly as he knew we would — in kind. He goaded us into becoming outright advocates, into jeopardizing what little remained of our public trust.
That's not how it happened. Before Trumped glommed on to "fake news" as a catchphrase, he was proving himself not fit live among civilized people -- calling Mexican immigrants rapists, launching gutter-level attacks on John McCain and a physically disabled journalist, making crude remarks about women who weren't deferential to him. Prior to that, he'd spread racist conspiracy theories about Barack Obama's birth. He didn't goad the media into treating him as a blight on the political landscape by attacking the media -- he did it by attacking common decency.
And now we’re playing to our own audience, just like him.

This is Trump’s superpower. He has an innate talent for bringing out the worst versions of everyone else, so that everyone ends up as compromised as he is, or at least somewhere on the continuum.
Prior to Trump, it wouldn't have taken much for any of the disgusting true stories about Trump to sink his political career. But "Trump's superpower" isn't "bringing out the worst versions of everyone else" -- it's his ability to strike a chord with millions of citizens who turn out to be worse than we ever realized they were, thus neutralizing ordinary journalistic efforts to hold him accountable. That's the reason the press has sometimes seemed shrill -- the evidence of Trump's rank unfitness is in plain sight, and it doesn't seem to matter.


The breast-beating of Bai and David Brooks leads me to conclude that just as some members of the elite commentariat cheerlead for a political stance shared by very few ordinary Americans -- liberalism on social issues accompanied by fiscal conservatism -- some elite pundits also dislike Trump but feel really bad about it, another pairing of beliefs that's rare among ordinary citizens.

As many observers have noted, the American populace has quite a few people who are fiscally and socially liberal, quite a few who are fiscally and socially conservative, and quite a few who are socially conservative but fiscally liberal (i.e., they're wary of modern morality and multiculturalism, but they believe in the social safety net). The only people in the fourth category, socially liberal and fiscally conservative, seem to be elitists like Howard Schultz and many elite commentators.

Similarly, the U.S. population has many people who love Trump and are proud of it, many who despise Trump and are proud of it, and many who support Trump but don't like him personally. Only in the elite media are there people who dislike Trump and feel bad about it.

Poll after poll demonstrates that the public still doesn't believe Trump is in the clear -- today it's the NPR poll, in which 56% of respondents say that "questions still exist" about Trump's conduct, while only 36% say he's been cleared of wrongdoing. There's also the Pew poll, in which 64% of respondents say that Trump has definitely or probably done something illegal, while 72% think he's definitely or probably done something unethical.

In other words, ordinary people don't feel bad about believing all this time that Trump is a sleazebag -- because they still believe he's a sleazebag. Only the likes of Matt Bai and David Brooks feel bad about that.


Sure, I'm all for subpoenas.
At a Thursday briefing, senior House Democratic staff ... emphasized that [Attorney General William] Barr all but refused to give [House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold] Nadler an unredacted copy of the [Mueller] report....

It's all setting up a major confrontation next week if the Justice Department doesn't send the full Mueller report to Congress by Tuesday, as six committee chairmen have demanded.

The next step, the staffers said, would be a subpoena. "We'll have more to say on April 3," one staffer said.
Acting through proper channels is good -- but I also think it's time for members of the public to break out the chicken suits.

Trump administration officials and Republican House and Senate memmbers -- particularly the nine GOP members of the House Intelligence Committee who have demanded that Adam Schiff step down as chairman -- ought to be followed around by citizens in chicken suits asking whether the administration is too chicken to let the public read the full Mueller report. People in chicken suits should show up near Mar-a-Lago the next time the president visits. And while I'm generally opposed to restaurant harassment of Republicans -- driving them out of public accommodations just engenders sympathy for them, and does nothing to change the way they do their jobs (look at Sarah Sanders) -- I think clucking at them in public places would be a nice form of protest.

I say this in part because the president of the United States, in what can only be called a really early campaign rally in a state he fears losing in 2020, attacked Schiff's manhood last night.

(In fact, Schiff has competed in triathlons in the past decade, something I imagine would be beyond the abilities of Trump's children, never mind Trump.)

If we're having tests of manhood, we should put this in terms of courage: You won't release the report? Gutless wonder. What are you afraid of? What are you afraid we'll read?

Chicken suits. Let's do it.

Thursday, March 28, 2019


Even though the country agrees with Adam Schiff, Republicans continue to attack him as unfit to serve:
The House Intelligence Committee devolved into bitter infighting Thursday, as all nine Republicans demanded Chairman Adam Schiff resign his post....
All nine! The unanimity here is almost North Korean.
"We have no faith in your ability to discharge your duties," said Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), who led the House's Russia probe last year. Conaway said Schiff's insistence that there was ample evidence of collusion were "incompatible with your duties as the chairman of this committee."
So who's in on this? Must be a lot of Democrat-hating wingnuts.
The committee's Republicans include ranking member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who has battled with Schiff over the direction of the panel's Russia probe when Republicans led it in the last Congress. They also include Conaway, Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, a former CIA officer, and Reps. Elise Stefanik of New York, John Ratcliffe of Texas, Mike Turner of Ohio, Chris Stewart of Utah, Brad Wenstrup of Ohio and Rick Crawford of Arkansas.
(Emphasis added.)

Will Hurd? You mean the guy who shared a "Civility in Public Life" award with then-congressman Beto O'Rourke after the two of went on a largely livestreamed 1,600-mile road trip from San Antonio to Washington, D.C., singing Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" and sharing their mutual love of Whattaburger along the way?

In theory, it's swell to extend a hand across the aisle. But since then, Hurd has made clear that he'll vote for Trump over his driving buddy if O'Rourke is the Democratic presidential nominee in 2020 (fair enough -- Hurd is still a Republican), and now Hurd has joined in this assault on Schiff (which isn't party loyalty as usual -- it's McCarthyite). I guess there's only so much civility you're allowed when you're a Republican and it's Antichrist-hunting time.


According to the developing narrative of this moment, President Trump was riding high after Attorney General William Barr's letter seemed to clear him of all charges in the Russia investigation, but then Trump and his administration spoiled the celebration by going off on tangents. Here's Politico:
OVER THE LAST WEEK, the TRUMP ADMINISTRATION has taken several tactical and political steps that would be seen, in any other administration, as such massively stupid political blunders that one would wonder if someone is asleep at the switch.

... These all seem, to some degree, to be self-defeating. And they are all grabbing headlines in a week where PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP should be riding high after the letter from A.G. BILL BARR.



But the administration and the GOP lost the public even before Trump interrupted his victory lap this way. Three polls, all of them begun before the administration turned to the issues named in the Politico post, revealed that the public still doesn't believe Trump is innocent.

When asked specifically about accusations of collusion and obstruction of justice, 48 percent of poll respondents said they believed “Trump or someone from his campaign worked with Russia to influence the 2016 election” ...

Fifty-three percent said “Trump tried to stop investigations into Russian influence on his administration” ...
Politico/Morning Consult:
The poll shows a plurality of voters, 47 percent, think Trump “tried to impede or obstruct the investigation into whether his campaign had ties to Russia” ... Thirty-nine percent don’t think Trump tried to impede the investigation....
And now CNN:
A majority (56%) says the President and his campaign have not been exonerated of collusion, but that what they've heard or read about the report shows collusion could not be proven. Fewer, 43%, say Trump and his team have been exonerated of collusion....

Nearly 6 in 10 Americans want to see Congress continue to pursue hearings into the findings of Mueller's report. Just 43% feel Congress ought to end the investigation completely following the release of Barr's summary of Mueller's findings.
The GOP certainly tried hard enough to manufacture consent on this issue. The party spent days attacking media figures and Democratic officeholders who'd described the Trump campaign's activities as collusion. Much of the mainstream press agreed that this naming and shaming was justified. But others in the media pushed back, and high-profile Democrats like Adam Schiff didn't back down.

Maybe this would have worked for the GOP under somewhat different circumstances, but the public has never liked Donald Trump, and even many of those who do like him don't think he's honest or trustworthy. He has no credibility when talking about his own misconduct, especially when his deference to Vladimir Putin is so obvious. Beyond that, the GOP's shaming and silencing messages were crafted to appeal to the party base only. The message was: We told you so. All along we said that Trump skeptics were evil, and we were right. In a country where most people are Trump skeptics, that wasn't a message likely to win converts.

The process of turning victory into defeat didn't begin when the president decided to reopen the issue of healthcare. It began when the Republican Party mocked anyone who'd ever suspected Trump is corrupt. That's most of America. Now a plurality of America, if not a majority, has rejected the spin.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019


Politico's Kyle Cheney offers some hints as to the length of the Mueller report:

And there's this:

Judge Andrew Napolitan made that claim on Cavuto Coast to Coast; subsequently, Brian Kilmeade said on Fox & Friends that the report is 675 pages long.

Bob Woodward says he can only guess:
Veteran journalist Bob Woodward said Monday he is not aware of any leaks regarding the length of special counsel Robert Mueller's final report for the Russia investigation.

During an interview on MSNBC, Woodward guessed it will be very long, perhaps thousands of pages in length....

"God is in the details here," Woodward added. "And this is under dispute, and so let's look at it. I have no idea, and no one I've talked to has any idea or will say how long it is. It might be thousands of pages."
But there's one clue that might be significant (or might not be).

Two publishers have plans to issue instant books as soon as the Mueller report is released (if it ever is). One will be published by Scribner, a division of Simon & Schuster, in conjunction with The Washington Post. It was announced late last month, with a projected publication date of March 26; the revised date on the book's Amazon page is April 30, but that's described as a "placeholder."

The projected page count, according to the Amazon listing, is 720 pages.

The other edition is from a smaller publisher called Skyhorse. This edition was also announced in late February, with a projected publication date of March 26 and a revised "placeholder" date of April 30.

Projected page count for that edition, according to Amazon: 960 pages.

These may be guesses. On the other hand, these publishers may have information from reliable sources about the report's approximate length. They need to have plans in place in order to publish quickly -- they need to know how much paper to reserve, and so on -- so while they may be overestimating just to be on the safe side, they may know authoritatively that the report is long.

Their estimates, Nadler's, and Judge Napolitano's all seem to be in the same ballpark. If they're right, the report is a hell of a lot longer than William Barr's letter.


UPDATE: The New York Times says the report is "more than 300 pages long."


I'm so old I remember this story, from last month:
The Trump administration is launching a global campaign to end the criminalization of homosexuality in dozens of nations where it's still illegal to be gay, U.S. officials tell NBC News, a bid aimed in part at denouncing Iran over its human rights record.

U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, the highest-profile openly gay person in the Trump administration, is leading the effort, which kicks off Tuesday evening in Berlin. The U.S. embassy is flying in LGBT activists from across Europe for a strategy dinner to plan to push for decriminalization in places that still outlaw homosexuality — mostly concentrated in the Middle East, Africa and the Caribbean.

“It is concerning that, in the 21st century, some 70 countries continue to have laws that criminalize LGBTI status or conduct,” said a U.S. official involved in organizing the event.
When it was announced, I was a tad skeptical.

How's it working so far? Not very well, judging from today's news:
Brunei could start whipping or stoning gay people to death next week when strict new laws are introduced, human rights groups have warned.

The tiny oil-rich nation already implements Sharia laws, with homosexuality punishable with up to ten years in prison.

But from the start of next month the government plans to amend the penal code to mean LGBT people and adulterers could be stoned to death....

Brunei first announced the measures in 2013 but implementation has been delayed as officials worked out the practical details and in the teeth of opposition by rights groups.
I see no comment from the U.S. government in this story or any other story on the subject, or on the State Department website or I see no evidence of U.S. opposition.

The alleged initiative was obviously meant as a swipe at Iran and not much more, despite Grenell's claims to the contrary last month. It was obvious we'd never hear about it again. Now here we are, with a country that's not Iran about to tighten the screws on LGBT residents (and possibly execute some), with the Trump administration saying nothing so far.


Politico reports that the president is feeling his oats:
President Donald Trump is acting like he just hit the lottery.

In a private lunch with Senate Republicans on Tuesday, a rejuvenated Trump laid out an ambitious legislative agenda....
What's in the ambitious legislative agenda? An infrastructure bill? Climate change legislation? A comprehensive plan to deal with the opioid crisis?
The president urged his party to swiftly pass a new North American trade deal, said he would pursue an “excellent” pact with China...
International agreements -- of course. Trump believes that every international agreement negotiated by a previous administration is a ripoff; this stems from one of the few ideas applicable to politics that Trump had prior to his late-life infatuation with Fox News: his belief that all counterparties in all negotiations are out to screw him. (This is projection, of course. He's the one who cheats every counterparty he can. However, since every foreign negotiator he's dealing with as president has more relevant dealmaking experience than he does, he can't find a way to screw them.)

So what else is on Trump's legislative agenda?
... [he] even called on the GOP to formulate a new health care plan as he seeks to invalidate the Affordable Care Act.
This demand was not met with wild enthusiasm.
Not everybody was that eager: "I want nothing to do with this," said one Republican senator scarred from the failed attempt to repeal the health law in 2017.
Also see The New York Times:
The president used the closed-door meeting in the Capitol for a rambling, unscripted recitation of his legislative priorities, and repeated his intention to make the subject of health care a major issue over the next two years. That pronouncement elicited a muted response, according to a person in the room.
This comes as Trump is burning the lifeboats and going all in on total repeal of Obamacare, which, as Politico reports, is making members of his Cabinet nervous:
The Trump administration’s surprising move to invalidate Obamacare on Monday came despite the opposition of two key cabinet secretaries: Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Attorney General Bill Barr.

Driving the dramatic action were the administration’s domestic policy chief, Joe Grogan, and the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, Russ Vought, according to three sources with direct knowledge of the decision. Both are close allies of White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who helped to engineer the move.
Mulvaney is a right-wing ultra who I'm sure is perfectly content to see Obamacare repealed and replaced with "Eat your gruel, peasants!" But Trump seems sincere about replacement. He's trying to turn this stance into a meme:
President Donald Trump declared Tuesday that his Republican Party "will soon be known as the party of health care," doubling down on his administration's most recent legal efforts to undo the Affordable Care Act.

"Let me tell you exactly what my message is: The Republican party will soon be known as the party of health care," the president told reporters on Capitol Hill ahead of his meeting with Senate Republicans. "You watch."

Ahead of his remarks on Capitol Hill, Trump expressed a similar sentiment on Twitter, writing in an online post that "the Republican Party will become 'The Party of Healthcare!'"
Trump is an amoral cynic and liar, but he's also an ignorant dolt who gets all his knowledge of issues from Fox News. I think he's never stopped believing the Obama-era Republican line on health care: We can give everyone real coverage inexpensively using mechanisms of the free market. This line was uttered for years by people like Paul Ryan, who as a political cynic makes Trump look like an amateur. But I think looked into Ryan's doe eyes all through the Obama years and really believed him -- and still does.

Trump can't force Republicans to fight this battle again -- they won't be browbeaten into cobbling together another transparently awful plan -- but Trump will probably campaign on the promise to deliver a plan, even as no plan emerges and he fights to take coverage away from millions. Go for it, Mr. President.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019


In this column, David Brooks discovers new vistas in bothsidesism:
The sad fact is that Watergate introduced a poison into the American body politic. Richard Nixon’s downfall was just and important, but it opened up the mouthwatering possibility that you don’t need to do the hard work of persuading people to join your side. Instead, you can destroy your foes all at once through scandal.

Politics since Watergate has been defined by a long string of scandals and pseudo-scandals — Iran-contra, Whitewater, Valerie Plame, Benghazi, Solyndra, swift-boating. Politico last year compiled a list of 46 scandals that were at one time or another deemed “worse than Watergate.”

The nation’s underlying divides are still ideological, but we rarely fight them honestly as philosophical differences. We just accuse the other side of corruption. Politics is no longer a debate; it’s an attempt to destroy lives through accusation.

The political media, especially on TV, now has a template it can apply whenever a scandal looms into view, to hook viewers into the speculative story line....

All the players slip into their assigned roles.
I'll stop there. Brooks tells us that in the post-Watergate era we've had "scandals and pseudo-scandals," which suggests that he believes some of the scandals are phony and some are legitimately troubling. But then he goes all pox-on-both-your-houses: Paying attention to even a legitimate scandal is attempting to "destroy your foes all at once through scandal" rather than "do[ing] the hard work of persuading people to join your side" (which, in any case, isn't how change happens in American politics anymore -- you make change by getting your side to outvote the other side, after which you pass your agenda with the resultant majorities).

Brooks flattens the distinction between Swiftboating and Iran-contra (or Russiagate), as if they're all little more than excuses for people to posture and play the politics of personal destructiom. (Sometimes they are just that -- Swiftboating certainly was -- and sometimes they're partly that, but also a response to legitimate wrongdoing. But to Brooks, it doesn't matter -- in every case, we're just being mean to one another.)
The accused’s political opponents assume maximum guilt.
In the case of Russiagate, I didn't assume maximum guilt. I assumed guilt. In fact, I still assume guilt.
It’s all a wonderful game. You don’t have to know anything about a boring policy subject like economics, poverty or foreign affairs. You can have a long career in politics and media by simply treating public life as an arena of life-or-death gossip.
And if you're David Brooks, you don't have to know anything about a boring policy subject like the specific details of any of these scandals. You don't have to discriminate between the ones that were truly phony and the ones that revealed real political and moral rot. You just have to condemn everyone who took any of the scandals seriously and say, "I'm a morally superior person! You're a terrible person who's destroying America!"

So given that Brooks is the great mystic who's always in search of ways for America to heal its collective soul, what are his spiritual remedies in this case?
Democrats might approach this moment with an attitude of humility and honest self-examination. It’s clear that many Democrats made grievous accusations against the president that are not supported by the evidence. It’s clear that people like Beto O’Rourke and John Brennan owe Donald Trump a public apology. If you call someone a traitor and it turns out you lacked the evidence for that charge, then the only decent thing to do is apologize.
Republicans and the Sean Hannity-style Trumpians might also approach this moment with an attitude of humility and honest self-examination. For two years they’ve been calling the Mueller investigation a witch hunt. For two years they’ve been spreading the libel that there are no honest brokers in Washington. It’s all a deep-state conspiracy, a swamp. They should apologize for peddling the sort of deep cynicism that undermines our country’s institutions.
Oh sure, that'll happen.


AND: Yastreblyansky has much more. In response to bothsidesism:
In point of fact, there's one party that has endlessly produced scandals out of nothing as a political weapon since Watergate (from Billy Beer to Whitewater, from Benghazi to the private server) and one that doesn't (actual serious laws were broken and the will of Congress thwarted in the moving of weapons from Iran to the Nicaraguan Contras, enormous problems began when the intelligence committee began reproducing the views of the Project for a New American Century instead of actual intelligence product on the way to Iraq). Both sides don't do it.


ALSO: Driftglass digs deep into Brooks's Bush-era oeuvre in which he was spectacularly wrong about the Iraq War and sneeringly dismissive of its critics. Apologies for spoiling the ending, but no "humility and honest self-examination" was forthcoming. To put it mildly.


It may be a coincidence that this happened just after Robert Mueller turned in his report without further indictments, but the Trump administration now appears to believe it can do anything it wants without risking the president's reelection.
The Trump administration on Monday said the entire Affordable Care Act should be struck down, in a dramatic reversal.

In a filing with a federal appeals court, the Justice Department said it agreed with the ruling of a federal judge in Texas that invalidated the Obama-era health care law....

It's a major shift for the Justice Department from when Jeff Sessions was attorney general. At the time, the administration argued that the community rating rule and the guaranteed issue requirement -- protections for people with pre-existing conditions -- could not be defended but the rest of the law could stand.
Smart people didn't see this coming:
Pressed by Senate Democrats at his January confirmation hearing, Attorney General Bill Barr pledged to reconsider the Justice Department's stance on the lawsuit. But legal experts hadn't expected Barr to stake out a more aggressive position than his predecessor Jeff Sessions....
This is such an extreme move that members of the media are actually questioning whether Republicans are engaging in risky behavior in the run-up to the next election cycle. Republicans! As a rule, the press says this only about Democrats.

Sahil Kapur at Bloomberg:
Trump’s move ... could prove to be a gift for Democrats....

The debate over the ACA, which Republicans tried unsuccessfully to repeal in 2017, caused heartburn for the party in the 2018 midterm elections and was a focal point for Democrats on the campaign trail....

Exit polls published by CNN found that health care was the top issue for 2018 voters in House elections across the country. The 41 percent who cited it preferred Democratic candidates over Republicans by a jarring margin of 75 to 23 percent.
Nate Silver:

The Trumpers are in a bubble -- they believe the median American is a Fox News viewer who'll cheer this on. The hubris in this White House may have been building even before Mueller filed his report, but it's only going to increase now. It's possible that what will defeat Trump is what he does in the next year or so, now that he thinks he's untouchable.

Monday, March 25, 2019


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 24, 2019


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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 23, 2019


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

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

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

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

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

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

We have to save ouselves.

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

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

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

Friday, March 22, 2019


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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell us, Matt.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Recently, President Trump tweeted this:

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

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

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

Thursday, March 21, 2019


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sorry, that won't happen.

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

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

Nevertheless, he really might win.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Trump is just bored.

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

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

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

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

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