Monday, September 30, 2019


Mitch McConnell continues to say that House managers will be allowed to present their impeachment case in the Senate. This is from Roll Call:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reiterated on Monday that he is bound by Senate rules to take up articles of impeachment if they are presented by the House.

“Under the Senate rules, we’re required to take it up if the House does go down that path, and we’ll follow the Senate rules,” McConnell said. “It’s a Senate rule related to impeachment that would take 67 votes to change.”
But here's the asterisk:
He said, however, that, “how long you’re on it is a whole different matter.”
So there you have it.
That points to the ability of majority Republican senators to set ground rules for the trial or to potentially adopt a motion to dismiss any charges against President Donald Trump during the early stages of a Senate trial.
The latter is what's going to happen unless Democrats start raising hell well before impeachment reaches the Senate. They should be accusing McConnell of having just this in mind. They should be warning that McConnell plans to "sweep this under the rug." They should do this relentlessly -- maybe not now, but as soon as a successful impeachment vote appears inevitable -- and hammer away at this point until McConnell and other Republican Senate leaders are being faced with the question "Do you intend to conduct a vote to dismiss without holding a full trial?" every time they set foot in public.

Democrats should stress that Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton had full trials in the Senate. They should argue that failure to conduct a full trial is a mockery of what the Framers intended. They should make McConnell's plan seem unpatriotic.

It's not Democrats' style, but they can do this if they try.


As House Democrats pursue impeachment, thet worry that voters in swing districts might not like what they're doing. Politico reports:
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her top deputies laid out the strategy during a private conference call Sunday afternoon. The plan ... underscores longstanding concerns that an impeachment push could jeopardize some of the toss-up seats in 2020 that helped the party win the majority last year.
A New York Times story echoes these concerns:
ANAHEIM, Calif. — Orange County was the epicenter of the 2018 House Democratic takeover, where Republicans lost four seats in what was once the heart of Ronald Reagan conservatism in California. On Saturday night, as three of the victorious Democrats were honored at an annual political dinner, a new battle was on everyone’s minds: How to protect those gains in 2020 by selling voters on the impeachment inquiry of President Trump.
Democrats are worried that voters in these swing districts might resent them for pursuing impeachment. But the Times finds that much of the worrying is being done by pro-impeachment voters, who are concerned that other voters might be anti-impeachment.
That Democratic messaging challenge came into sharp relief during interviews with voters like Donna Artukovic, a retired teacher who was volunteering at the Orange County dinner. Ms. Artukovic expressed nervousness about what an impeachment battle could mean for Democratic candidates.

“I am afraid it’s going to hurt them,” she said. “A lot of people — even who don’t like Trump — don’t like impeachment.”
And, in fact, the response to the impeachment probe seems to be quite positive in these districts.
In some of the more affluent districts that Democrats flipped last year, the first-term lawmakers have received reassurance in recent days that they are making the right decision. [Congressmen Harley] Rouda, [Mike] Levin and [Gil] Cisneros all said in separate interviews that the calls and emails that had come into their offices in the last week had been overwhelmingly in favor of pursuing impeachment.

And Representative Dean Phillips of Minnesota, who was the first freshman lawmaker to come out for the investigation last Monday, said that he received a number of calls from Republicans and independent voters who had pressed him to hold the president accountable.
In a separate Times story, we read about Democratic congressman Max Rose, who represents Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn, and whose district gave President Trump 58% of its vote in 2016, and who hasn't backed an impeachment inquiry. He's supposed to be vulnerable because of the inquiry, but the Times can't seem to find anyone who backed Rose in 2018 and is now thinking of rejecting him based on the perception that Democrats are being too aggressive.

Once again, we have a liberal voter worried that her fellow voters are less liberal:
Marguerite Rivas, a professor at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, said she had voted for Mr. Rose and was disappointed with his careful approach. But she accepted it so long as his vote was not needed for impeachment....

“I would rather he play to the middle and get re-elected as a Democrat,” Professor Rivas said as she left Kings Arms Diner.
And another Rose voter who wonders why Rose is being so cautious:
... Arthur Alinovi, ... now retired from a job at a bank, ... voted for Mr. Rose. He said he was disappointed in what he perceived as Mr. Rose’s preoccupation with holding onto his seat.

“There are more things in life than being a senator or congressman,” Mr. Alinovi said.

Still, Mr. Alinovi said Mr. Rose’s hesitation was not likely to make him change his vote.

“I wouldn’t vote for a Republican if my life depended on it,” he said.
And here's a Republican who likes Rose personally but wouldn't vote for him if his life depended on it:
... Junior Barone ..., 70, a retired police officer, said he had met Mr. Rose during the campaign, when Mr. Rose visited the tavern. Mr. Barone had bought him a drink and invited him to chat; he found him likable. And, he said, he agreed with Mr. Rose’s call for more information on the impeachment inquiry.

But Mr. Barone, a staunch supporter of Mr. Trump, said that would not sway him to vote for Mr. Rose. “I like him,” Mr. Barone said. “The only thing I don’t like about him is he’s a Democrat.”
In fact, to judge from this story, the risk to Rose seems to be from voters who might withhold support precisely because he's cautious:
Sally McMahon, a founder of Fight Back Bay Ridge, an activist group in southern Brooklyn, said Mr. Rose seemed overly focused on appealing to Republicans on Staten Island, at the cost of preserving support among progressives in Brooklyn. The district’s Brooklyn neighborhoods accounted for most of Mr. Rose’s margin of victory.

“If he does not come out for impeachment, I have a write-in candidate,” Ms. McMahon said.
Times reporters go to a lot of diners, and I recognize that they don't come away from these forays with representative samples of voters. Nevertheless, they don't seem to be finding voters who are rejecting Democratic members of Congress because impeachment is now on the table -- and it's obvious that that's the story they want to tell, or at least expected to uncover. Hey, maybe they aren't finding those voters because most swing voters actually understand why an impeachment inquiry is justified.

Sunday, September 29, 2019


We continue to be told that a significant number of Republicans in Washington are fed up with President Trump and wish they could be rid of him. A few days ago, Republican strategist Mike Murphy said that if there were a secret ballot, as many as 30 Republican senators would vote to convict Trump in his impeachment trial. Former Republican senator Jeff Flake subsequently said there would be "at least 35" GOP votes to convict if the ballot were secret.

Ross Douthat says GOP staffers are feeling the same way.
Ask an intelligent Republican staffer ... what happens if Trump is re-elected, and you’ll get a heavy sigh, a thousand-yard stare and then a hopeful “Well, maybe we can just pretend he isn’t there ...?”

This is the state of Republican politics with impeachment suddenly looming. People are ready for the after, the reckoning to come, the attempted restorations and Trumpisms-without-Trump, the great Nikki Haley-Tucker Carlson brawl.

But if Trump survives impeachment and somehow gets re-elected, there will be no after Trump, not yet and not for four long years. Instead Trump will bestride his party like a decaying colossus, and his administration’s accelerative deterioration will be the G.O.P.’s as well....

Outside the ranks of the truest Trump believers, most Republicans anticipate very bad things in 2022 and 2024 if the Trump Show continues uninterrupted. And most would happily fast-forward through that show....
Douthat argues that Republicans should muster the 20 Senate votes needed to convict Trump, even though he knows it won't happen.
Start with Mitt Romney, add the four retiring Republican senators, plus the most embattled purple-state 2020 incumbents, plus a clutch of Republicans most at risk in 2022, plus the handful of the senators who don’t face the voters till 2024 ... and then you’re just a few Republicans of principle away from 20.

In voting to remove Trump (and to bar him, as an impeachment can, from simply running for president again immediately), these 20 would allow the other 33 Republican senators to stand by him, thank him for his service and promise to Make America Great Again themselves. And the more ambitious among the latter group of senators would then compete to succeed Trump, while his wrath was concentrated against the treacherous 20.
(A minor quibble: Republicans would need 21 anti-Trump votes, not 20, because Joe Manchin will vote to acquit. Trump's approval/disapproval numbers in West Virginia are 59%/38%, according to Morning Consult.)

As I've been saying, Republicans can't vote to acquit -- certainly not if they're facing primary challenges. No, not even the Republican who seems most likely (at least in theory) to cross over.

Polls suggest that Democrats' change of heart on impeachment has moved public opinion in their favor, but for Republican voters, the scandal confirms what they've long believed -- that Trump is the target of a shadowy Democratic/mainstream media/Deep State plot to drive him from office. If Trump actually did shoot someone on Fifth Avenue, some Republicans might -- and I emphasize might -- vote to remove him from office. But to GOP voters, this story confirms every paranoid right-wing rant from the last three years.

But if Trump is reelected after surviving impeachment, that doesn't mean he'll get through another four-year term. I said a few days ago that Democrats won't get a second shot at impeaching Trump before the election -- if they impeach in the fall, it won't be politically possible for them to come back next spring and say the now want to impeach on, say, the Stormy Daniels payoff. But if Trump wins again, I predict he will be impeached a second time, simply because (a) Democrats are likely to hold the House in 2020 and (b) a victorious Trump, like a badly behaved teenager, will keep testing the limits until he does something brand new that will clearly warrants impeachment.

If he beats the rap now and wins a second term, he'll have no more fights to fight. He'll need something to give zest to his life. (It certainly won't be legislation.) So he'll up the ante -- he'll do something more appalling than he's done now, because he has a psychological need to be embattled.

Douthat, Flake, and Murphy suggest that many Republicans hope Trump will self-impeach. If he wins a second term, I think they'll get their wish. And maybe the next high crime -- possibly occurring at the same time as a recession and bad 2022 or 2024 poll numbers for the GOP -- will move a few Republicans in the Senate to the conviction camp.

Saturday, September 28, 2019


Philip Bump of The Washington Post believes that Mitch McConnell might simply refuse to conduct a Senate trial if the House impeaches President Trump.
There exist Senate rules of procedure that dictate how impeachment trials should be run. As Michael Dorf, Robert S. Stevens professor of law at Cornell Law School, put it in an email to The Post, the rules include a “a lot of ‘shall’ language” — language that gives McConnell and the Republican majority a lot of flexibility in how they conduct a trial.

Or whether they conduct a trial at all....

“As a practical matter,” he continued over email, “the Majority Leader will have substantial discretion on the process, if any, he fashions in response to the articles.”

“If any.” In other words, impeachment trials are themselves one of those “what the norms dictate” activities of the Senate. McConnell could simply decide against holding a trial at all. Nothing goes on television. No more evidence comes to light. From a majority leader who simply declined to hold a vote on a presidential Supreme Court nominee, it’s far from inconceivable.
That was my first thought as well. But as the L.A. Times reported yesterday, "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Friday that if the House does vote for impeachment, the Senate 'has no choice' but to hold a trial to decide whether to remove Trump from office." McConnell said the same thing to NPR months ago: "If it [impeachment] were to happen, the Senate has no choice. If the House were to act, the Senate immediately goes into a trial."

McConnell is sleazy, but a bait-and-switch isn't his style. Before he blocked Merrick Garland, he told us he was going to do it -- hours after Antonin Scalia's death, he announced that no Obama appointee would clear the Senate.

So I assume McConnell has calculated that his party and Senate caucus will benefit more from holding a trial than from refusing to hold one. I just don't know how he plans to conduct it.

Is the word "immediately" in that NPR interview a clue? There have been two presidential impeachment trials in U.S. history, and neither one took place immediately after the House vote. Bill Clinton was impeached by the House on December 19, 1998; the Senate trial began on January 7, 1999. Andrew Johnson's impeachment vote was on February 24, 1868. The impeachment court convened in the Senate on March 5, but the trial didn't begin until March 30.

It wouldn't surprise me if McConnell is being very literal when he says he intends to begin the trial "immediately" -- and I mean within hours of the House vote. I could imagine that he wants to catch the House managers flat-footed by rushing the trial. Remember how McConnell nearly got an awful Obamacare replacement bill passed in 2017:
... Republican senators nearly passed Trumpcare with only 50 votes after no hearings, no bipartisan outreach, and so little transparency that even most of them had no idea what would be in it until a few hours before their middle-of-the-night roll call.
And remember how the Trump tax bill cleared the Senate later that year:
The 490-page bill was unveiled only hours before a middle-of-the-night vote early Saturday, without the typical debate expected for such a sweeping package that will affect nearly all Americans. It was approved to applause from Republicans in the chamber, but the Democratic side was empty, senators long gone....

McConnell, questioned afterward about the closed process, defended his legacy.

“This has gone through the regular order,” he told reporters. “There have been multiple hearings, mark-ups, an open-amendment process. Everyone had plenty of opportunity to see the measure.”

Democrats balked at that assertion, noting the bill was still being changed as late as Friday evening, with scribbled notes in the margins. McConnell dismissed their complaints as the language of defeat.

“You complain about process when you’re losing,” he said.
I think that's how he'll conduct a Senate impeachment trial: with haste and with no transparency about process, except within his own caucus. (Chief Justice John Roberts, who's constitutionally required to preside over the trial, will also be let in on his plans, but not the Democrats.) I think McConnell might want the trial, or at least key parts of it, to take place in the middle of the night -- when he says the Senate will take up impeachment "immediately," he might mean that the trial will start literally hours after the House vote, possibly at 11:00 P.M. or midnight.

The goal of this and other McConnell maneuvers will be to humiliate the Democrats, to watch them squirm as he makes a mockery of the process while piously claiming he's doing his constitutional duty, all with a barely concealed shit-eating grin.

One benefit of this for McConnell is that viewers won't watch live and gavel-to-gavel. The TV footage most people will see, on both mainstream news and Fox, is Democrats howling with impotent rage at his trickery. If he pulls this off, right-wing voters will love it; everyone else will regard Democrats as hapless.

I'm not saying that Democrats shouldn't impeach. I'm saying that they should be ready for this, and be gaming out McConnell's plan now, so they can do whatever they can to thwart it. Maybe they should start accusing him of bad faith well before the impeachment vote -- it's not as if that would be presumptuous. If they loudly express doubts about his willingness to conduct a fair trial, maybe they can force him to be fair, or at least a tiny bit fairer than he was planning to be. They shouldn't get caught by surprise. McConnell will make a mockery of the process unless he's pressured not to. That's obvious.


UPDATE: This HuffPost story suggests what could happen:
The Republican leadership issued a memo Saturday clarifying that the Senate must take action if the House of Representatives approves articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. The statement came in response to concerns that the Senate could simply refuse to hold a trial.

“There is no way we could somehow bar the doors and prevent the managers from presenting the articles to the Senate,” stated the memo, which was obtained by HuffPost. “The rules of impeachment are clear on this point.”

... McConnell could call a vote on a motion to dismiss, which would effectively amount to a vote to acquit Trump of wrongdoing.
That's McConnell's plan, I think: House managers present their case, a motion to dismiss passes on a party-line vote, trial's over.

Friday, September 27, 2019


Megan McArdle thinks Senate Republicans might abandon President Trump, under certain circumstances:
... if public opinion turns in favor of impeachment, the Republican senators currently muttering “Nothing to see here, move along” may easily find their “questions” about his “troubling” behavior ripening into a firm belief that the president needs to go. Trump will have no party loyalty or longstanding relationships to fall back on; if voters are on board, Republicans will defenestrate Trump with great speed and greater joy.

For that to happen, though, a clear majority of the public must back impeachment. Not a mere plurality, or even a slim majority, but somewhere north of 60 percent of Americans saying they want the president removed. That would spare GOP senators the difficult choice between conscience and political expedience: A pro-impeachment majority that large would mean losing not only the presidency but also the seats of many senators who voted to keep Trump in office.
I have my doubts about this, and if there is a tipping point, I don't think it's 60%.

Remember the race for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination? When it was getting underway, the Iraq War was extremely unpopular: in a May 2007 New York Times/CBS poll, 61% of respondents said the U.S. should have stayed. Two months later, 62% told Gallup that the U.S. should have stayed out of Iraq. A CNN poll in the summer of 2007 found that disapproval of the war was at 64%.

And yet apart from Ron Paul, who was reflexively anti-interventionist, no Republican turned against the war. The war might have been opposed by nearly two-thirds of the country at the time, but no Republican apart from Paul would dare to take a position associated with the hated Democrats. The war was a hill John McCain died on in November 2008.

There's another reason that Republicans in Congress won't abandon Trump during this impeachment process: It's likely to take place well before primary season. I'm not referring to the presidential primaries, although it may precede those. (Democrats are talking as if they might have articles of impeachment drafted by the end of October.) I'm talking about House and Senate primaries. Every Republican who defies Trump runs the risk of losing to a Trumpite primary challenger. Even GOP senators who aren't up for reelection in 2020 will want to avoid a mass defection. They can't actually allow Trump to be convicted in the Senate, because every Republican with an upcoming primary would potentially have to pay for that act of heresy, even the ones who remained loyal.

I'm presuming that Trump will retain the support of Republican voters by a comfortable margin no matter what the impeachment process unearths, just as the Iraq War retained the support of GOP voters (and only GOP voters) throughout the waning days of the George W. Bush presidency. Trump would have to do something really extreme by GOP standards to lose favor with his base -- like, say, signing a gun control bill.


I was telling you last night that Frank Bruni had written the worst impeachment column so far, and now here's David Brooks writing his version of the same column.
Yes, Trump Is Guilty, but Impeachment Is a Mistake

This political brawl will leave Trump victorious.
I still give Bruni the edge -- his whimpery tone ("Impeachment should terrify you") gives his column an extra dollop of awfulness. Brooks, at least, doesn't wet himself in the process of writing.

Brooks smugly ignores the arguments of impeachment advocates.
This will probably achieve nothing....

Usually when a leader takes a big risk, it’s because there’s a big upside. But Nancy Pelosi is taking a giant risk and there is little upside. At the end of this process Trump will probably be acquitted by the Senate. He will declare himself vindicated and victorious in his battle against The Swamp. An ugly backlash could ensue — in both parties.
Impeachment supporters don't expect a conviction. What we hope for is a process of public education. Voters will learn a great deal about the president's misdeeds and will watch Republicans in Congress cover up for him in real time. If Brooks is skeptical that the process will work as intended, he's free to argue that. But he ignores what advocates are actually expecting and assumes we naively anticipate a Senate victory.
This is completely elitist. We’re in the middle of an election campaign. If Democrats proceed with the impeachment process, it will happen amid candidate debates, primaries and caucuses. Elections give millions and millions of Americans a voice in selecting the president. This process gives 100 mostly millionaire senators a voice in selecting the president.
Except it doesn't because, as Brooks just told us, the Senate won't vote to convict. Nor does it cancel the 2020 election, even in the unlikely event that the Senate does convict. Brooks isn't arguing against impeachment in this case, he's arguing against impeachment under any circumstances. Whose cockamamie idea was it to give a bunch of elitists the right to remove a president between elections? Oh, right -- the Framers.
As these two processes unfold simultaneously, the contrast will be obvious. People will conclude that Democrats are going ahead with impeachment in an election year because they don’t trust the democratic process to yield the right outcome.
Foreign interference, voter suppression, the fact that 40% of the presidential elections in the 2000s have ended with the popular vote loser in office -- no, we don't trust the democratic process to yield the right outcome. But we also don't think impeachment will remove Trump from office -- though if it does, there's still an election scheduled.
... According to a Quinnipiac University poll, only 37 percent of Americans support impeachment.
That poll was conducted from last Thursday through Monday. More recent polls from YouGov, Business Insider/SurveyMonkey, Morning Consult, and NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist show support for impeachment equaling or exceeding opposition.
Democrats are playing Trump’s game. Trump has no policy agenda. He’s incompetent at improving the lives of American citizens, even his own voters. But he’s good at one thing: waging reality TV personality wars against coastal elites. So now over the next few months he gets to have a personality war against Nancy Pelosi and Jerrold Nadler.
As long as Trump is in office, we'll all be playing his game. But Trump doesn't win his game every time. He regularly goes bankrupt. He sues and loses. Right now, he's losing this battle. Trump fights everyone he doesn't like every day. You can try to ignore it or you can punch him in the mouth. He's not used to getting hit. He got hit this week, hard.
... This could embed Trumpism within the G.O.P. If Trump suffers a withering loss in a straight-up election campaign, then his populist tendency might shrink and mainstream Republicans might regain primacy. An election defeat would mean the people don’t like Trumpism. But the impeachment process reinforces the core Trumpist deep-state message: The liberal elites screw people like us. If Trump’s most visible opponents are D.C. lawyers, Trumpism becomes permanent.
This is ridiculous. Mainstream Republicans are as likely to say "The liberal elites screw people like us" as Trumpists. See Richard Nixon, or Ronald Reagan. Even nice old Poppy Bush.

They're going to say liberal elites screwed Trump if we beat him fair and square in November 2020. Hell, they're going to say it if he wins.
Democrats are running against a man whose approval rating never gets above 45 percent. They just have to be normal to win.
I think Brooks's definition of "normal" is Joe Biden. Now look at what the Trumpers have been trying to do to him. Forgive us if we don't think victory is inevitable, even with the "normal" candidate topping the ticket.

And, of course, this is Brooks's message: Democrats have to be normal to win. Republicans, on the other hand, can win with a candidate who's a criminal and a freak. This is Democrats' problem to solve.

Okay, yes -- this one's bad also.

Thursday, September 26, 2019


Many terrible pundits will write terrible columns about impeachment in the coming weeks and months, but in the contest for the absolute worst column on the subject, this Frank Bruni piece is already the one to beat.
Why a Trump Impeachment Should Terrify You

What’s just and what’s wise aren’t always the same.

President Trump deserves to be impeached. But the prospect terrifies me, and it should terrify you, too.

That’s not to say that it’s the wrong move. Arguably, it’s the only move, at least in terms of fidelity to the Constitution and to basic decency. From the moment that Trump stepped into the office of the presidency, he has degraded it — with words that a president has no business speaking (or tweeting); with ceaseless lies; with infantile and often unhinged behavior; with raging conflicts of interest; with managerial ineptitude; with a rapacious ego that’s never sated; and with foreign dealings that compromise America’s values, independence and interests. How can principled lawmakers not tell him, in the most emphatic manner available, that enough is enough?
I know what you're thinking: Well, the lede is awful, but he's right about Trump, isn't he? Read on, though, and you'll see why that counts for nothing.
... Any scenario is possible, including one in which impeachment redounds to Trump’s benefit and increases the chances of his re-election, because he paints himself a martyr, eludes conviction in the Senate, frames that as exoneration and watches his fans mobilize and turn out as never before.
I shouldn't single out Bruni, because a lot of people say this, but I would welcome a moratorium on the following talking point: Impeachment will help Trump because it will energize his base. Folks, everything energizes Trump's base. A random tweet from a Trump-skeptical pundit at three in the morning can lead the Trump base to paroxysms of rage. Please understand one basic truth: Trump's base is maximally energized all the time, and will be energized no matter what's going on. You can't lull them. You can only outvote them.
And a second Trump term wouldn’t just be the sadly suboptimal byproduct of a noble stand; it would be disastrous. Morally as well as practically, limiting this unfit, amoral, unsteady man’s time in the presidency takes precedence over any small cluster of sentences written centuries ago.
Constitution, schmonstitution.
But while an impeachment’s impact on November 2020 is unknowable, its effect on us as a nation is almost certain. A dangerously polarized and often viciously partisan country would grow more so, with people on opposing sides hunkering down deeper in their camps and clinging harder to their chosen narratives as the president — concerned only with himself — ratcheted up his insistence that truth itself was subjective and up for grabs.
And none of that would happen in the absence of impeachment in (checks notes) an election year when Donald Trump will be running against a Democrat. Right. Got it.
That’s not a reason to blink, but it’s a reality to brace for. At a juncture when we so desperately need to rediscover common ground, we’d be widening the fault lines. Bringing the country together afterward would call for more than a talented politician; it would demand a miracle worker. None of the Democratic presidential candidates qualify.
"None of the Democratic presidential candidates qualify" -- nice backhand slap there, Frank. I wonder who Bruni thinks could bring us together. My guess is John Kasich or Jim Mattis.
Impeachment should terrify you because it would mean a continued, relentless, overwhelming focus on Trump’s lawlessness, antics, fictions and inane tweets.
In other words, it would be like every day in America since the summer of 2015?
He would win in the short term — and all Americans would lose — because as long as most of the oxygen in Washington is consumed by the ghastly carnival of this barker, there’s too little left for the nation’s very real problems and for scrutiny of his substantive inadequacy in addressing them.
Yes, and we were thisclose to bipartisan agreement on all of America's problems until impeachment mucked it up!
From the House Republicans’ persecution of Hillary Clinton through the permanent hysteria of House Democrats under Trump, Washington has devolved ever further into a place where process muscles out progress, grandstanding eclipses governing and noise muffles any meaningful signal. To be engaged in politics is to be engaged in battle — and that shouldn’t and needn’t always be so.
Ahh, yes -- "the permanent hysteria of House Democrats under Trump." I know, right? You know what House Democrats say about Trump? They say: "From the moment that Trump stepped into the office of the presidency, he has degraded it — with words that a president has no business speaking (or tweeting); with ceaseless lies; with infantile and often unhinged behavior; with raging conflicts of interest; with managerial ineptitude; with a rapacious ego that’s never sated; and with foreign dealings that compromise America’s values, independence and interests." No, wait -- those are the words of Frank Bruni, a few paragraphs up.

Please explain this to me, Frank: If Trump is as awful as that, why is House Democrats' distaste for him "hysteria"?

Oh, never mind. Go on:
Where’s the infrastructure plan that we’re — oh — a quarter-century late in implementing? Where are the fixes to a health care system whose problems go far beyond the tens of millions of Americans still uninsured? What about education? Impeachment would shove all of those issues even further to the margins than they already are.
Where are all those things? I think some of them were passed by the House and are now in a shredder in Mitch McConnell's office. Why don't you ask him, Frank?
During the Democratic primary and then the general election, the Trump melodrama and the Trump spectacle would overshadow all else.
So ... just like four years ago?
If you’re horribly offended and utterly exhausted by Trump, you’re tempted to cheer impeachment as long-sought justice and prayed-for release and forget that it’s just the prelude to the main act, which is a trial in the Senate. That chamber is controlled by Republicans, who, based on current conditions, are as likely to convict Trump as they are to co-sponsor Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax.
Raise your hand if you knew that.
So Trump’s supporters would wind up furious that he was put through what they regarded as an overwrought exercise with a foregone conclusion...
And when are Trump's supporters not furious?
... while the frustration of Trump’s detractors would be exponentially multiplied.
Unless impeachment provides the 60% of Americans who don't want Trump reelected with a vivid reminder of (a) his criminality and (b) Republicans' complicity, just before an election campaign. Anti-Trump voter outrage at the entire GOP wouldn't be frustrating to me.
... Meanwhile, Trump. How vulnerable will drawn-out impeachment proceedings make him feel? How impotent? How desperate? To flex his power, vent his fury or distract the audience, what would he do? He’s untethered by scruple. He’s capable of anything. Maybe it’s not just a culture war that he’d whip up. Maybe it’s the real thing.

Certainly he’d do all he could to persuade Americans of the nefariousness of Democrats, and absolutely his strategy would be to smear the people, the procedures and the institutions arrayed against him as utterly unworthy of trust. If holding on to power meant ruling over rubble, so be it. Trump is beholden only to Trump, and he’d simply declare the rubble gold dust.
Let me make a prediction: Sooner or later, someone -- quite possibly Frank Bruni -- will write a column arguing that Trump is an odious, appalling, loathsome, morally bankrupt person who is incontrovertibly unfit to be president -- yet America can't possibly endure what would happen if he were defeated, so we should all vote for him and hope he's reelected. That would be Bruni's argument here taken to its logical extent.

The worst -- Bruni's column is the worst, at least so far.

David Brooks, top that.


As the impeachment inquiry got underway, Yastreblyansky expressed the concern that Democrats in the House are effectively dropping their efforts to hold President Trump accountable for other crimes and abuses.

Knowing that the Senate is certain to acquit, he wrote this about the purpose of impeachment:
... busting Trump must ... serve a function of public education, as busting Nixon did, because too many people don't see what he did as particularly wrong, and point the way to some needed reforms, like requiring presidential candidates to be transparent with their finances and presidents-elect to divest, and tightening the definitions of emoluments and nepotism, and protecting federal civil servants from intimidation and retaliation by political appointees, and so forth. Somehow separating DOJ from the White House. These things are desperately needed, and the impeachment inquiry provides the basis for understanding them (as the Watergate affair really did stimulate important reforms in election regulation).
He also thought the likely timing of a quick, narrowly focused impeachment process was wrong:
Tactically ... the correct time for an impeachment is in spring 2020, when it's already clear who the Democratic nominee is and the Republicans, with little in the way of primaries to occupy them, aren't prepared, and the correct subject matter for an impeachment is the president's conduct as enabled by the Republican party. It doesn't really matter who our nominee is, from this perspective, as long as the public has a picture of Trump doing whatever he wants, from getting the Air Force to pour per diem expense money into Turnberry to assisting Saudi Arabia in committing crimes against humanity for the sake of a loan on easy terms, while the Republicans passively watch.

Not something the general public stops thinking about before Christmas 2019, after the Senate finds him not guilty of doing some weird thing.... Something they start thinking about in the weeks before the Republican convention and first inter-party debates.
Initially, I was fine with a tightly focused impeachment process:

But the more I think about it, the more I don't like the sound of this:
House Democrats are coalescing around a strategy to narrow the focus of their impeachment inquiry to President Donald Trump's interactions with the president of Ukraine....

Although there is no explicit deadline to act and no decisions have been made, some Democrats said they were hopeful articles of impeachment could be considered by the end of the year or even sooner.
"We gotta move fast," Rep. David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat and committee member, told CNN.

The fear, Democrats say, is that the longer the Ukraine controversy hangs out there, the more likely it is to die down - and the public could lose interest.
It's as if they know that the Ukraine story isn't inherently interesting to ordinary Americans, who might not even be able to grasp why the president's behavior was unlawful.

I don't think it's important to time impeachment as carefully as Yastreblyansky proposed, but why the rush? I can't help wondering whether Pelosi and others just want to get it over with because they assume that most voters oppose impeachment (true, though that can change, as it did during Watergate). I suspect that the Pelosi faction wants most of the public to forget impeachment by Election Day 2020. I fear they're going along only because -- as The Intercept's Ryan Grim explained a couple of days ago -- the most active rank-and-file Democrats, the ones who make campaigns possible, have been haranguing Democratic House members about impeachment (with the implicit threat that they won't join campaigns in 2020 if there's no effort to impeach), and because the failure to impeach has led to an increasing number of primary challenges from disgruntled progressives. I worry that Pelosi et al. just want to toss us an impeachment and get it over with.

However, this approach has the support of a lot of Very Smart People:

Chris Matthews says:
Right now is a vital moment in American history. The Democrats in the House of Representatives have to seize that moment and not let it get away, away to other topics, other areas of complaint, other misdeeds by this president.
Why? Why do Beltway insiders think this is the most devastating charge that's been leveled against Trump?

I agree with Matthews about this:
So don't let this historic abuse of presidential power get driveled away in a fog of subpoenas, document demands, deadlines, and eroding headlines.
The Democratic approach to impeachment up till now has been terrible: demands for documents that are never provided and witnesses who either don't show up or don't talk, endless waits for courts to rule -- it's not working.

But the risk of impeaching now strictly on Ukraine is that this is the only shot Democrats will get before the election -- if they impeach on this, the public will infer that Russia, the Stormy Daniels payoff, and even emoluments aren't impeachable.

I think the public has already come to that conclusion about Russia, regrettably, and the Stormy Daniels story seems like a consensual-adultery scandal, the kind of thing voters are inclined to give a president a pass on. But Democrats shouldn't give up on emoluments. They're very easy for voters to understand.

While the impeachment process will be all about Ukraine, we're told that other investigations won't be suspended.
Democrats had been focusing their impeachment inquiry effort on allegations of self-dealing and obstruction of justice. Under the proposed plan, House committees would continue to pursue probes of those issues.
Pelosi says Ukraine is paramount, but at least seems willing to consider other subjects:
“This has clarity and understanding in the eyes of the American people,” Pelosi told her leadership team, according to a source with knowledge of the meeting. “If we do articles, then we can include other things.”
Good -- they should at least vote on articles of impeachment that cover other areas. Democrats are going to lose the trial in the Senate, so what's the point of waiting until they have an airtight case? Just get a range of Trump's corrupt acts out there -- or at least a representative sample. Ukraine isn't enough to convey the broad sweep of Trump's unfitness to serve.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019


Headline in The New York Times a little more than a week before the 2016 election:

Headline in the Times on March 24 of this year, after the release of the attorney general's summary of the Mueller report:

Now compare the headlines at the Times, The Washington Post, and NPR at this moment, after the release of the White House transcript of President Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky:

We live in an era when quite a few people get their news mostly from headlines. As I was reading the transcript, I realized that the major news outlets -- or at least the Times -- could have headlined the story more or less like this:

Maybe it's because centrists and not just those awful progressives seem to be upset about this story, but the headlines from the major news outlets are unambiguously bad for the president. I can't blame Trump and his team for expecting better press -- at key moments, they've gotten it. They're not getting it now. This time is different.


The Washington Examiner reports:
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, speaking to rank-and-file Democrats in a closed-door meeting in the Capitol basement, said the whistleblower complaint involving President Trump’s phone call with the president of Ukraine convinced her it’s time to conduct a formal impeachment inquiry.

“Right now, we have to strike while the iron is hot,” Pelosi told Democrats, according to a source in the room.
The problem is, the iron was significantly hotter back in the spring. I'm hearing a lot today about a new Reuters/Ipsos poll, conducted Monday and Tuesday, that shows a drop in support for impeachment:
It ... found that 37% of the American public thinks Trump should be impeached, down from 41% in a similar Reuters/Ipsos poll that ran earlier in September. This compares with 44% in a poll that ran in May, after the Trump administration released portions of the Mueller investigation on Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
A story in May said that the pro-impeachment number in that Reuters poll was 45%, compared to 42% opposed. (The discrepancy might be because Reuters measured support two ways, among all respondents and among registered voters.) What's striking about that poll is that impeachment had plurality support. The conventional wisdom is that every poll ever conducted on impeachment of President Trump reports a greater number of Americans opposed to impeachment than in favor -- but that one showed the opposite. This was a few weeks after the release of the redacted Mueller report, and the preferred media story was that the report was a huge bust for advocates of impeachment. A pro-impeachment poll didn't fit the master narrative.

Now the numbers are 37% pro-impeachment, 45% against (all respondents), and 39% pro-/47% anti- (registered voters).

However, it's possible that the numbers will change -- only 19% of respondents have heard "a great deal" about whistleblower story, and 47% "know little" about, haven't heard anything, or declined to answer. Please note:
Support for impeachment is higher among those adults who said they have been closely following the Ukraine news. Among those with a high level of familiarity, 5 out 10 said they think Trump should be impeached, while 4 in 10 said he should not.
And we start with more Americans inclined to believe that Trump is the guilty party. In response to the question "When it comes to the situation with President Trump, Joe Biden, and Ukraine, which of the following comes closest to your opinion?" the response "President Trump is trying to smear Joe Biden ahead of the 2020 presidential campaign" gets 39% of all respondents and 43% of registered voters, while "Joe Biden is trying to cover up a potential scandal that could hurt him in the 2020 presidential campaign" gets only 26% of all respondents and 29% of registered voters.

So we're winning the spin war. Let's build on that.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019


I wrote a post called "Does Trump Want to Be Impeached?" and now I learn that Ross Douthat is asking the same question.
Does Donald Trump Want to Be Impeached?

Four reasons the president might welcome articles of impeachment.
Douthat begins by citing Meghan McCain's husband:
That Donald Trump actually wants to be impeached is an argument that Ben Domenech, the publisher of The Federalist, has been making for some time — that the president isn’t stumbling backward toward impeachment, but is actually eager for the fight.
Or it may be that Domenech is projecting his own eagerness on Trump:

On Domenech's last point, I don't think the increasing number of swing-district Democrats who are embracing impeachment are doing so because they're listen to lefty podcasts. They seem able to know when it's prudent to agree with progressives and when it isn't -- they're not reflexively prog, but unlike Pelosi and other left-centrist elders, they're not reflexively anti-prog, either. They feel they can make a strong argument for this to their voters, so they're going for it.

(I continue to believe that the bad poll numbers for impeachment aren't etched in stone -- it feels to me like the kind of opinion people express to pollsters because they need to say something, not because it's visceral for them. All Republicans and some Democrats think impeachment is a mistake, so that feels like the consensus opinion, which makes it the safe, middle-of-the-road opinion to express to pollsters. This can change if public figures change the way they talk about impeachment. It may be changing now.)

But back to Mr. Douthat. What's are his four reasons Trump might want impeachment?
First, if the Democrats impeach him they will be doing something unpopular instead of something popular. ... the current shape of public opinion is the boring, basic reason that Trump seems to want to be impeached more than Nancy Pelosi wants to impeach him: The Democratic agenda is more popular than the Republican agenda (whatever that is), the likely Democratic nominees are all more popular than Trump, and so anything that puts the Democrats on the wrong side of public opinion may look better, through Trump’s eyes, than the status quo.
Trump doesn't believe his agenda is unpopular. He doesn't believe the Democratic agenda is popular. He doesn't think he'd lose to any Democrat other than Biden, maybe. He thinks there are two kinds of people in America: (1) Trump supporters and (2) a motley assortment of Hollywood weirdos, soy boys, dark-skinned second-class citizens, and foreigners voting illegally, who somehow cast three million more votes for Hillary Clinton than for him in 2016. (I'm sure he thinks the largest of the groups is the undocumented contingent.) He's not thinking, "Hey, our agenda has no real answers for a shrinking middle class whose wages have been flat or falling for forty years and who are now sinking in a morass of debt, job uncertainty, and opioid addiction, while Democrats have pricey but clearly compelling ideas, so let's gin up a distraction." He's not smart enough for that.
Second, Trump is happy to pit his overt abuses of power against the soft corruption of his foes. ... Trump has always sold himself as the candidate of a more honest form of graft — presenting his open cynicism as preferable to carefully legal self-dealing, exquisitely laundered self-enrichment, the spirit of the spirit of “hey, it’s totally normal for the vice president’s son to get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by the Ukrainians or the Chinese so long as every disclosure form gets filled out and his dad doesn’t talk to him about the business.”
I think, like every Republican candidate, and like every dyed-in-the-wool Republican voter, Trump genuinely believes that if he does it, it's not illegal or immoral, and if Democrats do exactly the same thing, or even commit a minor infraction -- making a slight bow to a Saudi leader, wearing a tan suit, playing golf -- it's a hanging offense. I don't think he's parsing this in an "honest graft/dishonest graft" way. If he and one of his sons did exactly what he says Joe and Hunter Biden did, it would be fine, because it's him.
Third, an impeachment battle would give Trump a last chance to solidify his hold on the souls and reputations of his possible Republican successors. ... He knows that he could well lose the next election, but there’s no reason a mere general-election defeat will prevent him from wielding power over the Republican Party, via Twitter and other means, for many years to come. And what better way to consolidate that power (or at least the feeling of that power) in the last year of his administration than seeing all his would-be successors, all the bright younger men of the Senate especially, come down and kiss the ring one last time?
I don't think Trump really believes he can lose in 2020 -- and if he does lose, he'll be on to the next thing, or the thing he would have been doing if he'd lost in 2020 2016 (sniping at Democrats on Fox while planning a rival network and continuing to try to build huge towers in countries run by corrupt dictators). In the moment, he'll want Marco Rubio kissing his ring, but not in a "one last time" sense, because he doesn't believe it's over. (In fact, I think if he loses in 2020, he'll immediately declare his 2024 candidacy.)
Which brings us to the last reason Trump might kind of like to be impeached: Because the circus is the part of politics that he fundamentally enjoys. ... I’m pretty sure that when he ranted on Twitter about the “Twelve Angry Democrats” and “WITCH HUNT” and “NO COLLUSION,” he was more engaged, more alive, more fully his full self than at any point during the legislative battles over tax reform or Obamacare repeal.
I think Douthat is absolutely right about this -- but I don't think he fully grasps the implications. As I said in my post, Trump has a danger addict's need to experience risk until he goes too far. Which means that if he survives this and is reelected, he'll do something even more impeachable. He'll keep testing the limits until he's brought down. He can't help it. He needs the high.


Yastreblyansky writes:

Last night, seven newly elected House members who are being described as "national security Democrats" published an op-ed in The Washington Post in which they raised the possibility of impeachment hearings.
Our lives have been defined by national service. We are not career politicians. We are veterans of the military and of the nation’s defense and intelligence agencies. Our service is rooted in the defense of our country on the front lines of national security....

If these allegations are true, we believe these actions represent an impeachable offense. We do not arrive at this conclusion lightly, and we call on our colleagues in Congress to consider the use of all congressional authorities available to us, including the power of “inherent contempt” and impeachment hearings, to address these new allegations, find the truth and protect our national security.
A couple of days ago I predicted that the Ukraine whistleblower story wouldn't amount to anything, because of Nancy Pelosi's fear of a left-centrist voter backlash against impeachment and because rank-and-file voters aren't likely to understand what the fuss is about. And yet now we're being told that impeachment seems "almost inevitable."

What changed? There's no polling evidence I know of that suggests voters outside the progressive community are actively pro-impeachment now. There's no polling evidence suggesting that voters consider this a bigger scandal than Russiagate or emoluments or porn-star payoffs. And -- despite a lot of optimistic talk -- there's no reason to believe that even a single Republican in Congress will support impeachment or vote to convict in the Senate. (Mitt Romney's words are characteristically mealy-mouthed: "If the President asked or pressured Ukraine's president to investigate his political rival, either directly or through his personal attorney, it would be troubling in the extreme." And I swear I can hear Susan Collins quietly wringing her hands somewhere off in the distance.)

Yet impeachment is on the table now. Why? Nancy Pelosi is still the same person she was a week ago, when impeachment was being slow-walked at her insistence. Pelosi still fears Republicans and Reagan Democrat, Obama/Trump voters in Michigan diners.

But she's accepting this because now she can sell the pursuit as centrist. It's about global stability and international alliances. If you want to use the term, Trump is being accused of high crimes and misdemeanors in a neoliberal way.

But wait -- wasn't Russiagate also about global stability? Yes, but those awful progressives seized on it and never let go. That Maddow woman talked about it every night. Blue-collar retires eating pancakes don't like her! They also don't like Hillary Clinton, or at least they didn't like her enough to maintain the Democrats' blue Electoral College wall in 2016. This story involves Joe Biden. Rural diner customers like Joe Biden.

Or maybe the explanation is in that op-ed by the seven first-term Democrats:
[President Trump] allegedly sought to use the very security assistance dollars appropriated by Congress to create stability in the world, to help root out corruption and to protect our national security interests, for his own personal gain.
This is about money appropriated by Congress. Pelosi cares because her toes have been stepped on.

Also, Republicans agree with Democrats on these global security measures, so Pelosi assumes she has permission from the GOP to object to the misuse of the funds.

She doesn't -- Republicans will close ranks around the president. But I'm glad she's come around, even if it should have happened a long time ago, in response to other abuses.

Monday, September 23, 2019


Axios's Alexi McCammond reports on a disheartening focus group:
APPLETON, Wis. — Elizabeth Warren's left-wing populism is gaining popularity among some swing voters here, but they're not ready to embrace her for 2020.

... In a small, all-women focus group, some participants suggested President Trump would win on personality if the contest was between him and Warren — and that their doubts about her aren't based on substance.

These were the main takeaways from our Engagious/FPG focus group last week, which included 7 women who flipped from Barack Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016, and 2 who switched from Mitt Romney to Hillary Clinton.
This is a tiny group of people who may not be at all representative of Midwestern female swing voters. Nevertheless, what they said was dismaying:
... Most of the group preferred a left-leaning set of policies to a right-leaning set when no names were attached. But when listening to Warren talk about them in clips from the last debate, they were skeptical of her....

"I like what she had to say, but I still think she's — sorry — a bitch," said Jill T., a 56-year-old Trump voter, who later indicated that she preferred the left-leaning policies to right-leaning policies....

"Everything she said was great, but to me it's like, right, that's not going to happen," said Sandy D., a 62-year-old Clinton voter.

"I think she brought across good points, but it's whether or not she'll be able to follow through on what she's saying," said Alicia K., 44.
These women appear not to think a woman can be president:
"Warren won’t be looked upon as a leader because she’ll be presiding over a House and Senate full of men," said Nicole W., a 33-year-old Trump voter. "I’m worried she won’t be taken seriously."

Others brought up foreign leaders, like North Korea's Kim Jong-un, who might view Warren as weak and therefore think "we can do whatever we want and they can’t stop us," as one woman put it.

And one of these female voters said Warren might fail as president because she'd be "too emotional," and others worried she'd be viewed as a "pushover."
Let me put this another way: These focus-group participants think Warren might be seen as "too emotional" and a "pushover," and might be taken advantage of by Kim Jong Un -- at a time when our president is Donald Trump. But for people with 1950s-style gender views, only women are ever "emotional."

Here were the two sets of ideas the participants were told about, with no candidate names attached:
The left: Imposing an annual 2% tax on every dollar of net worth above $50 million, and 3% on every dollar of net worth above $1 billion; taxing at 7% corporations with profits above $100 million; canceling $50,000 in student loan debt for every person with a household income under $100,000; and passing a Medicare for All plan and make large corporations and wealthy people pay for it.

The right: Building a border wall, banning citizens from certain countries from traveling to the U.S., imposing tariffs on goods coming from China and Mexico to force more favorable trade deals with the U.S., and weakening the Affordable Care Act to ultimately dismantle it.
Seven of the nine participants preferred the left-wing ideas. (And one of the participants who chose the right-wing ideas was a Romney/Clinton voter.)

The panel like Warren's ideas, but...
Alicia K., 44. ... likes Warren "because she seems strong-willed." But if Trump started talking about helping people pay for student debt and taxing corporations, she said be on the Trump train next year.
During the campaign, Trump might actually "start talking about helping people" that way. How do we break it to Alicia K. that if he does that, he's lying to her?


In Politico Magazine, Michael Kruse tells us something we already know: When Donald Trump thinks a fight is over, he just starts another one.
On July 24, as special counsel Robert Mueller’s uneven testimony came to a close, Donald Trump clearly was feeling triumphant. He gloated and goaded on Twitter. He stood outside the White House and crowed. Mueller had done “horrible” and “very poorly,” the president said on the South Lawn. He called it “a great day for me.” He was, after all, rid, it seemed, of perhaps his first term’s preeminent enemy.

It took him less than 24 hours to flip to the next big fight.

Because on July 25, according to reports, Trump pressured repeatedly the leader of Ukraine to help rustle up potential political ammunition on Joe Biden....

... those who know him best say this is merely the latest episode in a lifelong pattern of behavior for the congenitally combative Trump. He’s always been this way. He doesn’t stop to reflect. If he wins, he barely basks. If he loses, he doesn’t take the time to lie low or lick wounds ... when one tussle is done, Trump reflexively starts to scan the horizon in search of a new skirmish.

“If he’s not in a fight, he looks for one,” former Trump publicist Alan Marcus told me this weekend. “He can’t stop.”
Kruse's story has its share of macho quotes:
“Trump is a predator,” Republican strategist Alex Castellanos asserted last spring. “When something enters his world, he either eats it, kills it or mates with it.”
But although Kruse doesn't emphasize this point, a pattern emerges: Trump fights until he loses. Then he moves on to another arena and resumes fighting, until he loses again.

The problem for Trump is that now he can't move to a more important arena. He's in the championship match. If he loses now -- if he has a compulsion to fight until he loses -- then he has nowhere to go but down.

Here's the pattern, as Kruse describes it. As I say, Kruse doesn't take note of the pattern, so I'll emphasize the passages he doesn't emphasize.
... as the owner of the USFL’s Generals, he fought … everybody. Arrogant, impulsive and ill-informed, Trump wasted no time starting to fight with his fellow team owners in the second-tier outfit. He then set his sights on the larger, richer, much more powerful National Football League.... He sued the NFL—and he lost. “Everyone let Donald Trump take over,” one of the owners said. “It was our death.”

Trump, though, hadn’t even waited for the verdict to shift his focus. Two months before the upshot in court, he kickstarted his next fight....

Mayor Ed Koch. His No. 1 antagonist all decade long.

For several years, Trump had been looking down from his Trump Tower perches,... watching broken Wollman Rink sitting dormant in Central Park. The city had been fumbling in its efforts to fix it....

He made his pitch. He wanted to take over the rink and make it work....

And he did. The rink opened later in the year to great fanfare in the city and around the country. Beyond the specific accomplishment, though, the entire endeavor let Trump fan his feud with Koch. It was a milepost in their sour, never-ending back-and-forth, Trump calling Koch a “moron” and a “disaster,” Koch calling Trump a greedy bully, all of which only intensified later in the decade when Koch spurned Trump’s demands for more tax breaks for his plot on the Upper West Side....

The ‘90s were no different.... He fought his lenders and creditors in a desperate attempt to stay solvent.... He picked a fight with casino analyst Marvin Roffman (and lost). He picked a fight with Atlantic City resident Vera Coking (and lost).
And on and on. Sure, Trump always failed upward -- eventually he became a TV star, then a commentator for America's most politically influential media outlet. And then he became president.

He always emerges from failure in reasonably good shape, so his instincts are to fight until he fails. That's why I think he wants a fight right now. He's a danger junkie who wishes congressional Democrats weren't so easy to beat. Maybe now they won't be. Maybe they'll impeach him. I think he'll like that.

But Trump can't fail upward now. He's the president of the United States -- he can only fall.

Instinctively, he may want to. If so, we should impeach him, then beat him at the polls. That's what he wants, isn't it?

Sunday, September 22, 2019


President Trump and his crew think the whistleblower story is now working to his advantage:

They're doing their best to make this about Biden. Here's the lead story at right now:
California Rep. Devin Nunes predicted on Fox News' "Sunday Morning Futures" that Joe Biden's campaign is likely coming to an end -- all because of newly resurfaced reports about his possible misconduct in Ukraine....

Nunes, speaking to anchor Maria Bartiromo, said a whistleblower's allegation that President Trump had acted inappropriately during a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will ultimately backfire, and shine a light on Biden's own possible misconduct....

"So now that these have been resurrected, I don’t know who came up with the scheme -- maybe this whistleblower really is not a partisan. We want to hear from that whistleblower, but it sure looks like the scheme has backfired. And, like I said, it looks like this is the end of Biden’s campaign. I really do... his lead is basically down to zero."
Here's the Trump campaign tweeting a video that intercuts an angry Biden response to a reporter's question about the story with Biden's boast in an earlier public appearance of having pressured Ukraine to remove prosecutor Victor Shokin (Team Trump assumes its fan base won't know that the prosecutor was globally regarded as corrupt):

What's ironic about all this is that Biden -- the only major Democratic presidential candidate who thinks he'll be able to work easily with Republicans if he's elected -- is the first candidate to be treated the way Republicans will treat any Democrat who manages to be elected president. The current thuggishness has the stylistic hallmarks of Trump, but notice that much of the party is closing ranks around Trump and trying to turn this into a smear on Biden. The GOP's propaganda arm, Fox News, is all in on the smear.

Joe, this is what your presidency will be like starting the moment you're sworn in. Every other top Democrat understands what's coming if they win. None of them expect to deal with the opposition party in good faith. They know that the fever won't break after the campaign is over.

You've gotten the first real taste of what a Democratic presidency will be like starting in 2021, if it happens. Any second thoughts about your plans to pal around with Mitch McConnell and the rest of the gang?


In a New York Times op-ed on Friday, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, the authors of How Democracies Die, listed many of the ways that Republicans have tried to thwart democracy in America:
Since 2010, a dozen Republican-led states have adopted new laws making it more difficult to register or vote. Republican state and local governments have closed polling places in predominantly African-American neighborhoods, purged voter rolls and created new obstacles to registration and voting.

In Georgia, a 2017 “exact match law” allowed authorities to throw out voter registration forms whose information did not “exactly match” existing records. Brian Kemp, who was simultaneously Georgia’s secretary of state and the 2018 Republican candidate for governor, tried to use the law to invalidate tens of thousands of registration forms, many of which were from African-Americans. In Tennessee, Republicans recently passed chilling legislation allowing criminal charges to be levied against voter registration groups that submit incomplete forms or miss deadlines. And in Texas this year, Republicans attempted to purge the voter rolls of nearly 100,000 Latinos.
Levitsky and Ziblatt believe that Republicans do all this because they know their party has a narrow and shrinking base. They say that the only solution is for Democrats to administer a serious drubbing in 2020, at which point Republicans will reassess their anti-democratic ways.

The Week's David Faris doesn't believe that will work. Republicans won't change, he says -- they'll say that their problem was the uniquely off-putting personality of Donald Trump; they'll argue that Trump was too liberal ("had he only built the wall and closed the border and bombed Iran and thrown Hillary Clinton in jail, Republicans would have shown up in greater numbers to save him," Faris imagines them thinking); they'll revert to their old behavior even if party elders conclude that change is necessary, as happened after the 2012 election, when a GOP "autopsy" concluded that Republicans needed to broaden their base, but the Tea Party pushed the party further into the embrace of angry old rural and exurban whites.

Faris concludes that Democrats not only need to win in 2020, they need to take concrete steps to fight the Republican attack on democracy:
... the most important task of the next unified Democratic government isn't policy but rather using perfectly constitutional maneuvers to level the electoral playing field which has so often this century resulted in Republicans gaining power despite winning fewer votes.

Statehood for D.C. and Puerto Rico to rectify their structural deficit in the Senate. Ranked Choice Voting in an expanded House to eliminate the threat of gerrymandering. A massive new voting rights act to crush voter suppression in federal elections and ensure that every American who wants to cast a ballot can do so. Expanding the Supreme Court to restore the balance of power that was altered by the Garland heist.
I think we really do have a crisis of democracy. I think it might require remedies along these lines. But that means that another Democratic president, just like Barack Obama, will have to clean up a mess of Republicans' making before dealing with the problems he or she was elected to deal with.

Obama had the financial crisis, which was the result of Republican aversion to regulation and oversight of the financial industry. He didn't stimulate the economy enough, he didn't provide real mortgage relief, and he didn't send the people who deserved it to prison -- but he pushed through enough stimulus to prevent a new Great Depression, and he saved the auto industry.

All that took a lot of political capital; with what he had left, he passed healthcare reform. For a while there was talk of a second economic stimulus, but that was never going to happen. Republicans wouldn't allow it, and Obama's political standing took a hit with every move he made in his first two years in office.

The next president will have to deal with ongoing healthcare issues, a climate crisis, economic inequality, a student debt crisis, endless wars, opioids ... and maybe a recession. All that and the threat to democracy created by Republicans? That's a lot to deal with. Did even FDR in 1932 have enough goodwill and political capital to take all that on?

A restoration of voting rights and efforts to curb gerrymandering will face resistance primarily from GOP partisans. But expansion of the Supreme Court or the House will also be denounced as radical attempts to rewrite the rules even by many centrists and left-centrists. That's not a reason to reject bold moves, but Democrats -- assuming they win the presidency and the Senate next year, which is far from a safe assumption -- will have to pick their battles. There's a lot that needs to be done.

Saturday, September 21, 2019


The obvious reason that nothing is going to come of the Trump whistleblower scandal is the cowardice of Nancy Pelosi, who fears the wrath of Republicans, and of swing voters open to Republican arguments, because her rise in politics took place in a period when Republicans not only were the dominant political party in America but were also, at times, genuinely popular. It has escaped her notice that Republicans aren't popular anymore -- there are far more registered Democrats than Republicans nationwide, Democrats have won the popular vote in six of the past seven elections, and most polls show that our current Republican president has never won the support of a majority of the public.

But Pelosi, who was elected to Congress a year before George H.W. Bush won the Republicans' third straight presidential election, and who rose to a leadership position the year Bush's son became wildly popular after the 9/11 attacks, doesn't recognize that times have changed. Even the election of Donald Trump was perceived by some of his voters as a rejection of the Republican establishment. Add those voters to the Democrats and independents, and there is obviously a large portion of the country that would receptive to a simple message: Republicans are terrible, and Donald Trump is the worst of all of them.

Pelosi notes that impeachment polls badly, but it has also escaped her attention that Republicans get away with doing unpopular things all the time. Apart from their own voters, no one wanted them to do endless investigations of Benghazi, for instance. But Republicans don't dither and ponder and wring their hands in public -- they just declare their intentions and launch their probes. If you simply act, much of the public will assume that what you're doing is, if not exactly to their tastes, then at least reasonable (even if it isn't). If Democrats had pounced on the Mueller report and simply asserted that it made a clear case for a presidential impeachment (which, of course, it did), if they'd just gone ahead and started the impeachment process, if they'd swarmed onto cable news shows with a unified message that impeachment was incontrovertibly necessary, eventually the public would just get used to the idea, the way so many Americans have gotten used to the idea that our president is an infantile rage monster who posts schoolyard taunts on social media and feels puppy love in the presence of murderous dictators.

But Democrats in Congress don't have the gumption for that, and Pelosi wouldn't allow it in any case. She won't change her mind and allow it in the matter of Trump and Ukraine because she still fears that the ghost of Ronald Reagan will rise up and lead GOP troops to victory in 2020 -- this in a country where poll after poll after poll shows that 60% of Americans don't want the president reelected.

And if you're thinking that widespread public anger will force an impeachment, forget it. The less obvious reason that nothing is going to come of the Trump whistleblower scandal is that the public will never understand why it's important. The public response to the Trump-Russia scandal was muddled, but at least the (non-GOP) public understood that Russia is an enemy. As long as the focus is on Ukraine, which isn't an enemy, most of the public will be confused. The public doesn't understand what's legal and illegal in providing assistance to campaigns. A plutocrat can give millions to a PAC, but no one can give a five-figure donation to an individual candidate -- how does that work? Some contributions are public knowledge, others are "dark money" -- who knows why? And the inappropriateness of foreign assistance to a campaign isn't intuitively obvious. This isn't like breaking into Democratic headquarters during the 1972 campaign. Apart from anti-Trump partisans, most Americans aren't going to have a visceral reaction that this is wrong.

Add the fact that there's just enough international intrigue in what the president wants investigated -- the public might think he has a point. What was Hunter Biden up to in Ukraine anyway? Regular people don't have business dealings like that. It doesn't matter that a non-corrupt investigation in Ukraine cleared him -- it looks hinky, and since Republicans will flood the media with spin doctors while Democrats do their usual terrible messaging job, and parts of the "liberal" press are already echoing right-wing talking points, members of the public who haven't already made up their minds will be in a state of befuddlement at best.

Democrats could tip the balance by confidently and relentlessly asserting that what Trump has done is beyond the pale, and by describing it in a compelling way. In a different world, Democratic talking points could determine how ordinary Americans talk about this story. But that won't happen. So this story will go nowhere.