Monday, September 16, 2019

TUCKER CARLSON, YOU MAY BE THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN SAVE US NOW

CNN reports:
The US has told at least one US ally in the Middle East, that they have intelligence showing that the launch was “likely” coming from staging grounds in Iran, but they have not shared that intelligence yet....

A US official separately tells CNN that the US has assessed that the attack originated from inside Iran. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.
So it's war then? Hard to tell:
President Trump said Monday that he wants to avoid war with Iran, a day after warning that the United States was "locked and loaded" in response to attacks on Saudi oil facilities.

“Do I want war? I don’t want war with anybody,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office Monday afternoon during a meeting with the crown prince of Bahrain, later adding: “We have the strongest military in the world.”
Trump might back down, or possibly he'll launch one strike for show and then get bored. Or he might go for it. There's reason to be concerned.

To get us out of this, we may have to rely on -- God help us -- Trump's buddy and adviser Tucker Carlson. Carlson said this on his show back in June:
Since 9/11, the U.S. has spent trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives trying to remake the Middle East in our image. It's sad to say it out loud, but we have to, it hasn't worked. Many of us thought it would, but it hasn't.

By every measure, our foreign wars have ended in dismal failure for the United States, however noble their intentions and some did have noble intentions.

Donald Trump was one of the rare Republican politicians honest enough to admit this. He said it out loud three years ago, and promised not to repeat the same mistakes if elected President and partly because he said that he was elected President.

Now something fascinating is happening. The very people, in some cases, literally the same people who lured us into the Iraq quagmire 16 years ago, are demanding a new war, this one with Iran. The President, to his great credit appears to be skeptical of this -- very skeptical.

... in Washington, there are no real consequences for being wrong. And as a result policymakers are. They make the same mistakes again and again, and it's certainly not just Lindsey Graham.

At "The New York Times" left-wing warmonger Bret Stevens is also calling on America to sink the Iranian Navy. Many on the left are for it. John Bolton cheers him on from within the White House. Bill Kristol nods with approval from outside the White House.

None of these people will admit their actual intentions.
(Yes, he called Bret Stephens a "left-wing warmonger," and said "the left" wants war with Iran.)

Around the same time, the Daily Beast reported this:
A source familiar with the conversations told The Daily Beast that, in recent weeks, [Carlson] has privately advised Trump against taking military action against Iran. And a senior administration official said that during the president’s recent conversations with the Fox primetime host, Carlson has bashed the more “hawkish members” of his administration.

... In recent weeks, he has questioned whether war with Iran would be “in anyone’s interest.”

... During a Monday night segment devoted to the recent attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, Carlson invoked the faulty intelligence leading up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Fox News host compared Pompeo’s “misplaced certainty” that Iran attacked the tankers to former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s now-discredited claim that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

“We’re still paying a price for that,” Carlson said.
This could pose a serious dilemma for Trump, considering what he's hearing from the other people he trusts the most:
... his advisers on Fox & Friends, the Fox News morning show that shapes his worldview, are urging him to take military action against Iran....

“I think this cannot go without retribution,” said Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade on Monday.

“They have provoked us before,” co-host Steve Doocy chimed in. “Think about the tankers they have seized, they shot one of our drones out of the sky, and now it looks like this, even though the Houthi rebels are saying, ‘Oh we did it, 100%.’ Yeah, right.”

“The drone attacks, extremely disturbing from a security standpoint: What stops it from happening here?” Kilmeade added. “We have to keep the Strait of Hormuz open, and we’ve got to protect the world’s oil supply.”
Who'll win this battle for Trump's heart and mind? It's horrible to be rooting for Carlson, who, unlike the other two, is not just a right-wing hack, he's a white supremacist right-wing hack. But alas, he may be our best hope.

WHY CAN REPUBLICANS BE RADICALLY OUT OF STEP WITH PUBLIC OPINION WHILE DEMOCRATS CAN'T BE MODERATELY OUT OF STEP?

Democrats are being warned that relitigating Brett Kavanaugh's appointment to the Supreme Court would be bad for them politically.




(@clairecmc is Claire McCaskill, who lost her Missouri Senate seat just after the Kavanaugh was confirmed.)

Democrats didn't regain the Senate in 2018, though they won a large number of seats in the House, and did very well in state and local races. And yet there's fear if Kavanaugh becomes an issue again, even though polls in 2018 showed that a plurality of Americans disapproved of his confirmation (scroll down here).

Meanwhile, Republicans position themselves on the wrong side of public opinion on multiple issues, even when the numbers are overwhelmingly against them:





That's from a new CBS News poll. Only 16% of Americans think climate change is not a problem, and only 18% think it doesn't need to be addressed -- which is the Republican Party's position.

We're told that Democrats need to run away from unpopular positions -- in favor of reparations or eliminating private health insurance, for instance -- and maybe that's true. But why is it true -- or to put it another way, why isn't that true for Republicans?

The Republican Party's position is that no gun law should be tightened -- despite the fact that universal background checks have support approaching 90%, as do red-flag laws, while an assault weapons ban and even gun registration have the support of large majorities of Americans. How do Republicans get away with this?

Approximately three-quarters of Americans support hiking taxes on rich people. Republicans are unalterably opposed. How do they get away with that?

I think it's because Republican voters hear a simple, clear message from the news sources they trust every day: The people opposing you are Democrats. To get what you want, vote against Democrats. Vote for Republicans. And so all the people in the tiny minority who support maintaining the gun show loophole and keeping taxes low on the rich and doing nothing on climate change turn out to vote. Other conservatives who don't agree with these extreme positions also turn out, because the tribal solidarity gets them pumped up. Add in Democratic voter suppression, gerrymandering, and the Electoral College, and Republicans win.

Mainstream news sources, by contrast, tell Democratic voters that the problem is the system, or Washington, or gridlock, or Congress. Many lefty news sources say both parties are equally to blame for our problems. What's rarely heard is this message: It's the Republicans. Vote them out and things will be better. So it's hard to turn out voters who oppose Republican policies, and hard to keep them focused on the goal of keeping Republicans out of office.

Democrats need the slack to be able to endorse ideas that don't have widespread support. As it is, they're at risk when they endorse mildly unpopular ideas, while Republicans aren't at risk when they endorse extremely unpopular ideas. That's where we are as a nation.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

DONALD TRUMP'S KAVANAUGH CONSPIRACY THEORY

Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly's new book, The Education of Brett Kavanaugh, will be published on Tuesday. In The New York Times, Pogrebin and Kelly reveal some of what they learned about Kavanaugh, including this:
During the winter of her freshman year ... [Deborah Ramirez] and some classmates had been drinking heavily when, she says, a freshman named Brett Kavanaugh pulled down his pants and thrust his penis at her, prompting her to swat it away and inadvertently touch it....

We also uncovered a previously unreported story about Mr. Kavanaugh in his freshman year that echoes Ms. Ramirez’s allegation. A classmate, Max Stier, saw Mr. Kavanaugh with his pants down at a different drunken dorm party, where friends pushed his penis into the hand of a female student. Mr. Stier, who runs a nonprofit organization in Washington, notified senators and the F.B.I. about this account, but the F.B.I. did not investigate and Mr. Stier has declined to discuss it publicly. (We corroborated the story with two officials who have communicated with Mr. Stier.)
The president of the United States is not taking this well. He's proposing that the Justice Department should treat the work of these reporters as a crime:




But please note what Trump thinks is the purpose of this revelation:
They want to scare him into turning Liberal!

They are trying to influence his opinions.
What's Trump getting at? I think he's arguing that this is an attempt to do what a lot of right-wingers (including Trump?) believe was done to John Roberts. Here's a column that appeared at Glenn Beck's Blaze in 2015:
Has Supreme Court Justice John Roberts been blackmailed or intimidated?

... Justice Roberts and the Supremes upheld Obamacare - again...

Is it impossible to believe that Obama and his socialist cabal that learned from Saul Alinsky that “the ends justify the means” would hold something over a Supreme Court justice’s head?

... I think the Obama Crime Family meets with ... Justice Roberts and they offer both a carrot and stick. They threaten to expose something terrible like an affair, or corruption, or malfeasance, or immorality that would shock the nation, ruin their career, destroy their legacy, cost their marriage, destroy their relationship with their children and leave them unemployable by any respectable law firm or lobbyist. That’s what’s behind door number one.

Or if you see the light and vote Obama's way, they get to continue playing national leader and hero, their legacy is untouched.... That’s what’s behind door number two.

Which would you choose?
The author of that column was Wayne Allyn Root -- a guy who once argued that Barack Obama never attended Columbia University, then argued that he attended after applying as a foreign student. After the Charlottesville white supremacist rally, Root theorized that the killers of counterdemonstrator Heather Heyer were "Probably paid actors & infiltrators hired by Soros." Root was the opening speaker at a 2018 Trump rally, and he was recently thanked by Trump when he wrote that Israelis see Trump as like "the King of Israel" and "the second coming of God."

When Root wrote about Roberts, he didn't propose a specific theory, but others, at sites such as Spookd Blog and Liberty Born, have asserted that Roberts was being blackmailed because there were questions about the process by which he and his wife adopted two children in the early 2000s. I won't bore you with the details, but one news report claimed that the children were adopted in Latin America, though it's now understood that they were adopted in Ireland. It's been claimed that the adoptions were in violation of Irish law. The Drudge Report claimed in 2005 that The New York Times was looking into the adoption.

Oh, and by 2018 the conspiratorialists were "reporting" that John Brennan and James Clapper were in on the blackmail that led to Roberts's decision to side with Obamacare supporters. The sourcing, as you'd expect, is somewhat less than airtight.
Tapes released by Federal Judge G. Murray Snow — preserved on a Whistleblower Soundcloud page — show real estate billionaire Timothy Blixseth explaining Brennan and Clapper’s surveillance program to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and detective Mike Zullo. The existence of this surveillance program has been corroborated by Wikileaks’ “Vault 7” release and by the public comments of former CIA and NSA contractor Dennis Montgomery, who says he worked on the program for Brennan and Clapper....

On the explosive tapes, Blixseth walks Arpaio and Zullo through the details of the program on a computer screen. At one point, the three begin pulling up specific names of targeted individuals....

“John Roberts, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, was hacked,” Blixseth tells Arpaio and Zullo.
I don't think Trump has a detailed knowledge of right-wing conspiracy lore (I don't think he has a detailed knowledge of anything), but I wouldn't be surprised if he believes at least the outlines of the Roberts blackmail story. It's hard to see how the adoption story could have changed Roberts's vote. Charlie Pierce, in 2015, hinted at a much more believable explanation for why Roberts voted the way he did:
Purely as a political matter, Chief Justice John Roberts did the Republican party great good yesterday when he laughed the absurd King v. Burwell out of the Supreme Court. Now, the various Republican candidates can rouse the fury of The Base without ever having to present an alternative. And, also, by ruling the way he did, Roberts blunted the edge of any Democratic attacks about the future of the Court itself.
I think that's why Roberts voted to uphold Obamacare in 2012 as well. In that year in particular, the hope of getting rid of Obamacare was seen as a great turnout motivator for Republican voters. Roberts, I think, voted to keep the law in place for that reason -- he wanted Republicans, not Democrats, to express their outrage at the polls.

But Trump, I think, believes someone put the arm on Roberts, and is trying to do the same to Kavanaugh. Though if the Kavanaugh story is out already, how can The New York Times and the rest of the Liberal Crime Family blackmail him with it?

Saturday, September 14, 2019

IS THERE A SUPERCUT OF TRUMP SAYING "GODDAMN"?

The Washington Post's Julie Zauzmer notes that for an evangelical hero, Donald Trump sure says "goddamn" a lot.
... on Thursday night ... he joked about “goddamn windmills” while talking with House Republicans in Baltimore about energy policy....

Trump has been urged in the past to cease using this particular word. A state senator from West Virginia, Paul Hardesty, told Politico in August that he got calls from three constituents after one Trump rally alone. He wrote a letter to the White House: “Never utter those words again.”

At that rally, the president had told a North Carolina crowd about the Islamic State, “They’ll be hit so goddamn hard,” and had recalled warning a businessman, “If you don’t support me, you’re going to be so goddamn poor.”
This matters to evangelicals, at least in principle.
“I certainly do not condone taking the Lord’s name in vain. There is a whole commandment dedicated to prohibiting that,” said the Rev. Robert Jeffress, a Texas megachurch leader who is one of Trump’s most outspoken evangelical advisers and supporters. “I think it’s very offensive to use the Lord’s name in vain. I can take just about everything else, except that,” when it comes to off-color language.

... Timothy Jay, a retired psychology professor[, has] made it his business for 40 years to be the world’s leading expert on swear words.

“I’ve done surveys where I ask people: What’s the most offensive word?” Jay said. “Some [religious] women would say the word ‘f---,’ but they wouldn’t say ‘Jesus Christ.’ Some of my interviewees have said, ‘We could say ‘f---’ and ‘s---’ at home, but we weren’t allowed to use profane language.”
So evangelicals are more upset by profanity (taking God's name in vain) than obscenity (vulgar words referring to sex or excretion). And yet they love Trump. So maybe this doesn't really bother them?

On the other hand, maybe this isn't a big problem for Trump because most evangelicals don't know that he frequently says "goddamn." If you don't watch every Trump speech, you might never hear him say it -- clips in which he says "goddamn" aren't likely to be highlighted on the news. They certainly won't show up on Fox or on religious broadcasts.

So Democrats, where's the supercut? I don't mean a supercut of all of Trump's cursing -- "bomb the shit out of them" and so on. Those supercuts already exist. I mean just a supercut of Trump saying "goddamn."

Don't make it fun or entertaining. Make it seem deeply disturbing. Make it seem like a warning to God-fearing people about Trump. Maybe the "goddamns" themselves should be bleeped (but only partially, so the use of the word is still obvious).

Spread the supercut around on Facebook. Target it to evangelical voters in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Maybe wait until fall 2020.

If you dissuade just a few of these voters from voting for Trump again, it's worth doing. Isn't it?

Friday, September 13, 2019

PICK YOUR CANDIDATE, PICK YOUR SMEARS

Here's Greg Sargent in full Eeyore mode:
The question isn’t merely whether Biden has the stamina for a grueling campaign, or whether Biden will be able to handle debates with Trump.

It’s also whether Biden or indeed other Democrats are prepared for the massive onslaught of absolutely brutal and distortive attacks that Trump and his propaganda apparatus will wage on this particular front — attacks that you can be certain will include all sorts of shamelessly propagandistic media manipulation and outright disinformation tactics....

For a taste of what this will look like, watch the disgusting video that the Trump campaign released after Hillary Clinton fell ill in 2016. It juxtaposes terrorist imagery with footage of Clinton coughing, stumbling outside her campaign van, and even a shot of a frail Clinton struggling to climb stairs. This whole line, as Media Matters documented, was heavily amplified by right-wing media.

That will look like video of a knitting session compared with this time, which will likely include full-saturation levels of deliberate disinformation. Look at this distorted video of Nancy Pelosi slowed down to look drunk, and imagine distorted videos of Biden’s rambles.

We might even get deepfakes — ultra-sophisticated computer-altered videos — done by somebody, somewhere, making Biden look even more frail, committing verbal stumbles he never actually committed.

Such things will be spread widely across social media, with the help of platforms not self-policing adequately, and shared with tens of millions of people via the Twitter feed of the president of the United States.
Sargent is correct -- but the right will attack whoever is the nominee in a devious and underhanded way, exploiting any potential weakness, and probably using deepfakes to bamboozle the voters.

Will there be deepfakes suggesting that Biden is in frail health? Sure. The deployment of the distorted Nancy Pelosi video makes that clear. But recall that the video was identified as doctored almost immediately after it was released. It was thoroughly discredited. It hasn't done any damage to Pelosi. She's still Speaker.

Sure, Republicans will try to deepfake a Biden health video, if he's the nominee. If it's Elizabeth Warren instead, the deepfake probably won't concern her health -- she's far too vigorous. Instead, it will probably "show" her admitting that she used her descent from a Native American ancestor to advance her career. If the nominee is Bernie Sanders, it will "show" him lavishing praise on Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro (whom he's actually denounced) or expressing some other implausibly excessive opinion more suited to Stalin that to a believer in Denmark-style democratic socialism.

These fakes will be quickly debunked, although some in the GOP base will still believe they're genuine. The originals will be unearthed. Participants will affirm that the audio is fake. There'll be other video of the faked moments that doesn't show the allegedly incriminating details. The fakes won't work.

(My pet theory is that the real risk of deepfakes is not that we'll believe videos that aren't real, but that we'll stop believing in inconvenient videos that are genuine. For instance, pro-cop conservatives will denounce every police brutality clip as a fake -- and many people will believe them.)

The reason for concern, in Biden's case, is not that he'll be subject to dishonest attacks on his health -- it's that he'll seem unhealthy in real time. Republicans won't need to frame it -- we'll see it. Republican attacks won't matter as much as the raw video.

Or maybe a large percentage of our aging population won't care, the way 46% of the public didn't care that Trump admitted to felony sexual assault on a genuine video.

Whatever the risks might be if we choose Biden as a nominee, there'll be risks in choosing any of the alternatives. No matter what, the GOP smear machine won't rest.

MAYBE WINNING DEBATES IS OVERRATED

I think New York magazine's Eric Levitz has a point:
Would You Leave Joe Biden Alone With Trump?

The Democratic frontrunner cannot speak in complete sentences when he is feeling tired or defensive. And 90 minutes of debate is enough to make him tired. And a reference to something that he said about race in the 1970s is enough to make him defensive.

These were my three main takeaways from the Democratic Party’s third presidential primary debate in Houston on Thursday. And they’ve left me rather apprehensive about the prospect of the Democrats sending Joe Biden into battle against Donald Trump next year. A three-hour debate can be tiring. But a 14-month campaign would seem considerably more so. If Biden can’t keep his talking points straight for an entire evening, what shape will he be in after running the gauntlet between today and his televised showdowns with the president next fall? And if a pointed question from an ABC News anchor can reduce him to spasms of anxious blather, how well will he hold up when Trump comes after his family?
I'm an Elizabeth Warren fan who nevertheless thought Biden did a decent job of defending healthcare incrementalism in the opening moments of last night's debate. I'll admit I turned the TV off before the now-viral moment Levitz is talking about, which is being mocked for incoherence, for a supposedly outdated reference to a "record player" (but hasn't vinyl been making a comeback for years now?), and even for racism.



Levitz says we need a better debater going up against Trump. I'd wholeheartedly agree -- if I didn't remember 2016.

Here were the polls in the aftermath of the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in 2016:



Go to Wikipedia and scroll down for the numbers on all three debates. Clinton won every debate overwhelmingly.

In the end, what good did that do her?

I think Elizabeth Warren would beat Trump in every debate. She's getting good notices for last night -- she deftly interwove the political and personal; she had energy and a command of the facts.

But there's a large percentage of the electorate that doesn't want a smart president, especially a smart woman. I'm not sure a smart man would do better. Too much of the electorate distrusts intelligence. To those who like him, Donald Trump comes off as a backslapping, gregarious Big Man on Campus. That's a type Americans have always gravitated toward. Poll respondents might acknowledge that Warren debated better, but their gut reaction might be that they liked Trump more.

Or at least that's what might happen if 2016 is a model. At this point, I don't think it is. I think much of the public (though not the persistent 40% of his base) sees Trump as an unhinged guy you cross the street to avoid. In that case, any decent Democrat might outpoll him on Election Day, perhaps even after weak debates.

I think Biden's gaffes humanize him in the eyes of many voters. Some of them liked the fact that Trump wasn't polished and now like the fact that Biden isn't. Polish is what elites have. They don't like elites.

I don't know what will work in 2020. I'm just not sure that nominating a bad debater is a guarantee of defeat for the Democrats. It could conceivably work out better than nominating a good one.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

ON GUNS, REPUBLICANS AREN'T AFRAID OF THE NRA -- THEY'RE AFRAID OF THEIR OWN VOTERS

Ted Cruz says what a lot of Republicans are thinking.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) warned on Thursday that congressional action to stop gun violence would not stop mass murders, would demoralize the nation, and could elect Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) president.

Speaking at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast, Cruz was asked about background checks and discussions between the Trump administration and a bipartisan group of Senators.

Cruz warned that any such action could cost Trump re-election. "Republicans abandon the Second Amendment and demoralize millions of Americans who care deeply about Second Amendment rights, that could go a long way to electing a President Elizabeth Warren,” he predicted.
After this summer's wave of mass shootings, some people have expressed surprise that the NRA -- weakened, under investigation, and generally in disarray -- still seems to hold sway over the thinking of the president and most elected Republicans on the subject of guns. It's the money, right?

I don't think it is the money. I think Republicans are afraid that the NRA worldview has been internalized by so many of their voters that it functions on its own as a check on any Republican who might dare to vote for gun control legislation. I think if the NRA ceased to exist tomorrow, this no-retreat, no-surrender approach to gun laws would still hold sway with a large number of the party's base voters. And even GOP base voters who may not care that much about guns want to see the liberals squirm every day. Vote on a liberal priority and you're doing the opposite of what those voters want.

Of course, support for some gun control measures, such as universal background checks and red flag laws, approaches 90% in the country as a whole. Even majorities of Republicans support these measures, according to some polls.

But Republican politicians fear the wrath of the 10%. Do they need to? If these voters are generally conservative, where are they going to go? They won't vote for most Democrats in any case, though they may stay home. On the other hand, some of these Republicans might win a few votes if they moderated their stances on guns, or at least on the most popular gun proposals.

But they don't dare. They're afraid of their base. And they'd be afraid of their base even the NRA closed up shop.

TRUMP IS GOING TO BE SO TICKED OFF WHEN THEY DON'T GIVE HIM THE NOBEL FOR THIS

This is classic Trump: Tear up a deal with great fanfare, denounce it as the worst deal ever made, then, after a long period of denunciation, make moves to replace it with ... essentially the same deal.
President Donald Trump has left the impression with foreign officials, members of his administration, and others involved in Iranian negotiations that he is actively considering a French plan to extend a $15 billion credit line to the Iranians if Tehran comes back into compliance with the Obama-era nuclear deal....

The deal put forward by France would compensate Iran for oil sales disrupted by American sanctions.... In exchange for the cash, Iran would have to come back into compliance with the nuclear accord it signed with the world’s major powers in 2015. Tehran would also have to agree not to threaten the security of the Persian Gulf or to impede maritime navigation in the area. Lastly, Tehran would have to commit to regional Middle East talks in the future.
John Bolton opposed this move, but now he's gone, so Trump can make moves toward a headline-grabbing photo op with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani. Nobel, here we come!

Except they won't give Trump a Nobel Peace Prize for, in effect, replacing the furniture he broke. They might give a Nobel to Emmanuel Macron for setting this in motion. That's going to tick Trump off.

But then he gets to complain about being cheated out of a Nobel. The base will love that!

****

For years we've been told that Donald Trump has no fixed ideology, and we should expect him to tack to the center, or even to the left, if he thinks it will win him more adulation and votes. On domestic issues, that's always wrong. He won't give us a real infrastructure program because Democrats would actually like one -- Chuck Schumer would praise him and vote for the bill. Trump can't have that. His base wants liberal tears. (Not to mention the fact that Mitch McConnell will never sign off on a real infrastructure program because it would send the signal that government can do good things.) The same is true on guns -- I see that we're back to arguing that the president's position on gun regulations is unclear, but he won't agree to new gun laws because his base demands that he continue owning the libs on this issue.

However, on foreign policy, he actually has some leeway. Here's why: Sometime in George W. Bush's second term, it became clear that even the GOP electorate was turning against the Iraq War. In the Obama/Tea Party years, Republicans pretended that they'd never liked Bush or the war. Ron Paul and then Rand Paul had begun forging a viable alternate Republicanism that made room for skepticism about war. This strain of conservatism had always existed, but in the decades-long Reaganite backlash to Those Damn Hippies and their anti-war tendencies, it had been pushed to the margins. To be a good Republican, you had to love war because -- again -- liberal tears.

But in recent years, Democrats and liberals have become less reflexively anti-military. Sure, we hated the Iraq War, but we supported other interventions. We like the troops. And now we're more bellicose toward countries such as Russia, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Syria than the Republican president is.

And now one of Fox's top hosts, Tucker Carlson, preaches (however cynically) a Paulite foreign policy. This week he proclaimed that John Bolton is "a man of the left." And he's one of the people President Trump clearly turns to on foreign policy.

I don't think the Trump base has a consistent foreign policy worldview. I think they'd still cheer on a Reagan/Bush demonization campaign aimed at a swarthy foreign foe. But they're also embracing Carlson's skepticism about war and intervention. Meanwhile, Democrats are against stupid wars, but not against intervention altogether.

So there's no clear course of action that Trump must avoid because it will please Democrats and liberals. He can drop bombs and he can make deals. If he drops bombs, the base will think he's a macho man. If he makes deals, the base will think he's the alpha male of dealmaking.

That gives him a surprising amount of leeway -- so expect a lot of (inept) dealmaking.


Wednesday, September 11, 2019

THE CRUELTY

The cruelty is the point.
A 12-year-old Bahamian girl was separated from family at a South Florida airport after fleeing the destruction of Hurricane Dorian and was sent by U.S. Customs officials to a Miami Gardens shelter for abused or abandoned children.

Kaytora Paul, 12 — accompanied by her godmother — had flown from Nassau to West Palm Beach Sunday night after being evacuated from the hurricane-ravaged Abaco island. However, when the two landed in Florida, U.S. Customs and Border Protection transferred them over to Miami International Airport and ultimately separated the pair because the woman wasn’t the child’s biological parent, the girl’s mother, Katty Paul, told the Miami Herald Tuesday.

Officials also refused to give the girl’s biological aunt, who had come to pick her up at the airport, custody....
And no, this isn't likely to be rectified quickly:
The mother, although having arrived in Miami on Tuesday, can’t pick her up. Paul was told she had to go through the process of applying to be her daughter’s sponsor with HHS. In order to get custody of her daughter, Paul would have to collect documentation that would prove she’s her mother — like a birth certificate, government identification as well as proof of address. In the past, this process has taken anywhere from weeks to months.
Trump defenders, who routinely overlook the legitimate risks to migrants in their home countries, have argued that migrant family separations are the fault of parents rather than the Trump administration -- if the parents don't want to risk separation from their children, they shouldn't make the journey in the first place.

But what's their argument here? That if the Pauls didn't want this child separated from family, they should have lingered on a devastated island where they have nothing? They shouldn't have been born in a hurricane-prone location in the first place? They should have been born white and European?

Ultimately, I blame Republican voters, because nothing of this nature ever stabs at their conscience.

I know, I know: My intemperate response to this is our real problem. I'm helping to destroy America because I can't disagree with political opponents without being disagreeable. So I guess I'm the bad guy here.

IF THERE'S A BOLTON BOOK, IT WON'T MATTER

A lot of people seem to believe that John Bolton will blow the lid off the Trump administration now that he's been fired. Here was Lawrence O'Donnell last night:
Lawrence O’Donnell said newly fired national security adviser John Bolton just might become “one of the richest authors in history” if he writes a tell-all book about working inside the White House of President Donald Trump....

“John Bolton is in a position to write and deliver the most explosive Trump book ever, which means it would be one of the bestselling books in publishing history,” O’Donnell said....

O'Donnell said:
“Tonight, in their New York offices, major book publishers are probably staying late, trying to calculate how many millions of dollars they can offer John Bolton now if he can deliver an inside-the-Trump-White-House book that will hit bookstores in the final months of the presidential campaign when such a book would have maximum sales potential.”
In The Atlantic, David Frum is urging Bolton (and other former Trump national security aides) to talk:
Men such as Rex Tillerson, Jim Mattis, H. R. McMaster, and now John Bolton have all had important pre-Trump careers—and all have post-Trump reputations to consider. Yet even after the unhappy culmination of their work for Trump, they have all continued to protect him. They know he is unfit for the job—morally, intellectually, psychologically. But they keep silent....

Their duty is to speak.

... as national-security officials, all have been party to decisions that exposed fellow Americans to the risk of their lives. Much less is asked of any of them now. They are asked only to risk their quiet retirements—their after-careers of speaking engagements and seats on boards of directors. Is that so dear?

Speak! Speak! Tell the truth, all of it—not just adjectives and conclusions, but the actual details of the self-dealing by Trump, of the security risks he presents, of his inattention and ignorance. Speak so that people feel it, so that people understand it, so that people can do something about it while there is time. “History isn’t kind to the man who holds Mussolini’s jacket,” Ted Cruz reportedly told friends in 2016. Cruz was right.
Frum's Atlantic colleague Graeme Wood suspects that Bolton will speak out:
Most Trump appointees have left quietly, and have begun murmuring their discontent only after a decorous interval. Bolton’s dismissal has come after an unusually long prelude of disrespect.... Bolton might not observe the same period of silence. In talking to his former associates, I heard many marvel at his energy. He wakes up before dawn to plot against his adversaries. He accepts every invitation to write op-eds and go on television to ridicule those who disagree with him. Trump has, in firing Bolton, made an enemy of a man incapable of rest and letting grudges go. Tomorrow morning he will wake up and start plotting, as he usually does. It’s 3 a.m. Do you know who your ex–national security adviser’s enemies are?
But if Bolton decides to talk, will it matter? What will happen if Bolton writes a tell-all book and it's timed for the election, as O'Donnell suggests?

On his show last night, O'Donnell compared the potential impact of a Bolton book to that of Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury and Bob Woodward's Fear. How did those books affect the public's opinion of Donald Trump?

Fire and Fury was published on January 5, 2018. On that day, according to the Real Clear Politics average, 40.4% of Americans approved of the president and 55.9% disapproved. Once the book had been out a month, Trump's numbers were 41.5% approval, 54.5% disapproval -- the approval number was still low, but it was a point better than it had been at the time of the book's publication, and the disapproval rating was a point less. Fire and Fury appears to have had no negative impact on public perception of Trump.

Fear was published exactly a year ago, on September 11, 2018. How did that book affect public opinion? On the day of the book's publication, Trump's RCP numbers were 41.0% approval, 53.5% disapproval. A month later? They were 43.2% approval, 53.0% disapproval. There was a two-point gain in approval.

Bolton can speak out, but it won't matter. Trump's approval rating changes slightly depending on immediate circumstances. It drops when he's been particularly distasteful, as he has been for the past couple of months. It dropped when there was a long government shutdown. It rose after the 2017 GOP tax cut was passed.

But books don't have much impact. For the most part, critical books about Trump are read by people who already dislike him. They don't move the needle.

It would be nice to learn what Bolton has to tell us, even if Bolton is a mad neoconservative warmonger. But the public's perception of Trump won't change as a result.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

TRUMP IS NO DOVE, BUT I STAND BY "WAR-AVERSE," WITH AN ASTERISK

I'm told I tweeted the wrong thing today:



Some responses were a tad harsh:



I shouldn't have said "war-averse." Trump is averse to starting new wars.

It's not because he's a dove. I think this is correct:



But I think the generals tell him that every new war he's considering will be difficult -- months if not years of combat, lots of American deaths, with an ongoing military presence ultimately necessary. And I'm sure Trump thinks: I can't even have a nice quick war in a shithole country like Venezuela? Or Iran? Aren't they Muslims in Iran? Aren't all Muslim countries primitive?

I also wonder if he doesn't want to start a war because he knows that servicemembers who fight and die in wars are regarded as heroes. They're seen as braver than he's ever been. I know he gives out the occasional medal to a servicemember, but can he tolerate a lot of them fighting and dying and stealing all the glory that rightfully belongs to him?

Or is it just that a war would become more important than the president who started it? After all, it would lead the news every day, rather than whatever Twitter beef Trump is having with a nonwhite female member of Congress or liberal actress.

And, of course, Trump believes the myth of himself that was created by The Art of the Deal. He thinks he can smooth-talk his way to brilliant foreign policy outcomes (even though he's been a complete failure at this since his inauguration). If the generals say he can't drop a few bombs and win a war over a weekend, maybe he can negotiate a peace agreement over the same period of time (without, of course, reading any briefing materials, because that would be hard). Nobel Peace Prize, here we come!

Trump really might not get us into any new wars -- but it's not because he's a good person or a peace lover. He's a terrible person and a would-be warmonger. Fortunately for us, warmongering is not instantly rewarding in the way Trump would prefer. That's all that's preventing a new war.

I THOUGHT JUNIOR WOULD RUN FOR PRESIDENT WHEN THINKING THAT WASN'T COOL

For more than a year, I've been telling you that Donald Trump Jr. will be a serious candidate for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024. Suddenly that idea is all the rage -- Rick Wilson says Junior will win the nomination in 2024, and now McCay Coppins has a cover story in The Atlantic arguing that Junior, and not Ivanka, is President Trump's natural political heir.

But now that everyone's talking this way, I'm not so sure. I agree with Coppins that Ivanka won't carry on the dynasty, much as Daddy would like her to. She's completely out of sync with the GOP. Coppins writes this about the 2016 campaign:
Ivanka kept her distance from the uncouth rallies in places like Reno, Nevada, and Toledo, Ohio. While Trump riled up the country with Muslim-ban proposals and Mexican-rapist panics, she perched herself on a higher plane, where she just wanted to talk about the issues that really mattered to her, like affordable child care and the gender pay gap. Campaign staffers grumbled that Ivanka’s policy preferences were more closely aligned with Aspen weekenders than Rust Belt voters. “People started to realize this wasn’t about Trump’s vision,” one former aide told me. “It was about Ivanka’s ability to feel comfortable in her New York circle.”
Junior connects with the base, according to Coppins. A couple of days ago, I mentioned a rally in Kentucky at which Junior drew only 200 people to a venue with a capacity of 7,000. But if Coppins is to be believed, that was an anomaly:
As the 2018 midterm elections approached, Don decided to get serious about politics....

At the University of Georgia, more than 2,000 young Republicans lined up to hear him speak. At the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland, he was swarmed by fans clamoring for selfies and autographs. Charlie Kirk, the founder of the student organization Turning Point USA, recalled a summit in West Palm Beach that featured conservative A-listers such as Tucker Carlson, Greg Gutfeld, and Jordan Peterson. Don drew a bigger crowd than any of them.

... the stump was where Don really shined. Taking the stage to wild applause from riled-up MAGA-heads, he riffed and ranted and cracked jokes about gender identity....

By November 2018, Don had appeared at more than 70 campaign events across 17 states—and powerful Republicans were abuzz. “I could very easily see him entering politics,” Senator Kevin Cramer told me. “I think his future is bright,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Newsmax’s CEO, Chris Ruddy, told me he’d personally encouraged Don to run for office; Sean Hannity called him “a born natural leader.” Senator Rand Paul went so far as to say that Don was one of the best Republican campaigners in the country. “If you can’t get the president,” Paul told me, “he’s a close second.”

... Cramer ... spent 15 minutes in a phone interview gushing to me about Don’s “accessibility” and “irreverence” and gift for “connecting” with voters. But when I asked him about Ivanka, he paused. “She’s a little bit harder to get,” he replied, politely. “Her faith prevents her from traveling on the Sabbath.” Charlie Kirk was similarly careful when we spoke. While all of Trump’s adult children were helpful to the cause, he told me, “I can honestly say that outside of his father, Don is the No. 1 most requested speaker, and he brings the most energy to the conservative base.”
But Coppins describes a family dynamic in which Dad continues to praise Ivanka (even as he calls his daughter and her husband "New York liberals") while treating Junior with contempt.
His attitude toward each of his adult children on any given day is shaped by how they are playing on cable news. Ivanka tends to draw rave reviews, while Don’s are more mixed, with the president muttering things like “Why did he say that?” and “He doesn’t know what he’s doing.”
Coppins thinks Dad has been warming to Junior lately, though he doesn't present much evidence. It seems likely to me that Trump would try to sabotage his son's moves into politics. Remember this:
When fans began calling on [Junior] to run for mayor of New York City—and Don responded with a bit too much enthusiasm—his father quickly shut it down. “Don’s not going to run for mayor,” he said in an interview with Sean Hannity.
Ivanka would probably try to sabotage Junior as well:
... as Don’s visibility grew, the cold war between him and Ivanka intensified. Now that each had their own teams of allies and advisers, they had grown paranoid that the other’s henchmen were planting damaging stories about them in the press. A few days before the midterms, McClatchy published a story under the headline “Trump Kids on the Campaign Trail: Don Jr. Wows, Ivanka Disappoints.” Ivanka’s camp was enraged, and suspected that Don was behind the story. Later, Don confronted Ivanka over rumors that her team was undermining him in off-the-record conversations with reporters. “Tell your people to stop trashing me to the media,” he said, according to someone familiar with the conversation.
George W. Bush was his family's unloved son and he became president -- but he was mentored by Karl Rove, who believed in him more than his own family did. Dubya liked himself, even if his family didn't. I think Don Jr. has an inferiority complex. Instead of imagining himself as president, he's looked into running for office in the Mountain West, according to Coppins. By Trump standards, that's aiming low.

So while I think Junior should be a contender for the 2024 Republican presidential nominee -- he's stupid, he believes in conspiracy theories, and he's consumed with right-wing rage -- I question whether he'll run, or win if he does run. Dad will never willingly pass the scepter to him. He feels sabotaged within his family. His ego isn't as massive as his father's (or his sister's). I'd almost feel sorry for Junior if he weren't such a horrible person.



Monday, September 09, 2019

TRUMP, A MALIGNANT NARCISSIST, IS NOT VERY GOOD AT NARCISSISM

The president tweeted this a few hours ago:



There's just one problem: As The Washington Post's Philip Bump notes, no recent public poll shows Trump above 88% among Republicans. All of the latest polls show him in the mid- to high 80s -- which seems impressive enough -- but Trump feels the need to bump that number up even more.

As CNN's Daniel Dale has noted, Trump has a habit of boasting in numbers -- and inflating those numbers, even when the correct numbers are already boastworthy. He does it with unemployment statistics and drug price declines. In his business career, he did it with the number of floors in his buildings.

Now that he's president, reporters actually fact-check him in something close to real time, then report on exaggerations like this. But he still keeps exaggerating.

Why is Trump bragging about his favorability within his party? Presumably because he now has three challengers for his party's presidential nomination. It might be embarrassing if one of them were to register a significant vote percentage against him -- but that clearly won't happen. Somewhere between 84% and 88% of Republicans approve of the job he's doing. And yet four state parties are canceling their nominating contests so Trump won't have to run against these three guys.

Wouldn't it be more impressive if he beat these candidates overwhelmingly? But Trump would rather be seen as too scared to run than as the guy who wiped the floor with his challengers.

This is the same president who insisted for an entire week that he correctly reported risk to Alabama from Hurricane Dorian, simply because he couldn't bring himself to acknowledge error. This was a function of Trump's desperate need to be admired -- but he seemed less worthy of admiration than if he'd simply admitted the mistake and moved on. Instead, the people he's trying to impress have spent a week laughing at him -- or worrying that he's too unstable to be entrusted with the nuclear codes.

We know that Trump craves approval -- but the things he does to win approval inspire disapproval. He insists on a ridiculous hairstyle and an embarrassingly fake skin tone so people won't think he is what he is -- a 73-year-old man with something less than a full head of hair. Has he not noticed that many balding septuagenarians have been respected and loved throughout history despite making no effort to conceal their age? Why does he do this?

Trump is not just a narcissist -- he's an inept narcissist. More people might like him if he didn't do so many preposterous things in an effort to make people like him.

TRUMP TRIES RUNNING FOR REELECTION LIKE A NORMAL INCUMBENT, FAILS MISERABLY

What's surprising to me about the Trump administration's Afghan negotiations is that they're apparently being conducted in an adult manner, more or less -- or at least they were until this past week:
In an interview on Thursday at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, the departing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, argued that it had been clear for years that the only lasting peace would come from some kind of political process between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

He said that his idea of a successful negotiation would be one that “reduces the level of violence” and sets up an intra-Afghan dialogue.

That was the goal of the negotiations that Zalmay Khalilzad, the special envoy for Afghanistan, had been painstakingly negotiating in Doha, Qatar, for nearly a year, and seemed on the verge of achieving. On Thursday, Mr. Khalilzad was in Doha again with Gen. Austin Miller, the commander of the United States forces in Afghanistan, who has also said that he believes the battle between the Afghan government and the Taliban would never be resolved militarily.
Negotiations have been taking place for nearly a year! That doesn't sound Trumpian at all.

Khalilzad said an agreement with the Taliban had been worked out "in principle." But the Afghan government wasn't involved -- and once a draft had been drawn up, the U.S. wouldn't let the Afghan president keep a copy.
The talks between Afghan-born U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban leaders in Qatar, where the insurgent group has a political office, have been so closely guarded that last week Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was shown — not given — the final draft. The Afghan government has been sidelined because the Taliban refuse to negotiate with what they call a U.S. puppet.
But with the Afghan government not on board, Trump decided it was time for the presidential equivalent of a sweeps-week Very Special Episode. He invited President Ghani and representatives of the Taliban to Camp David, wanting to be seen as the master negotiator who wrapped the deal up:
Mr. Trump did not want the Camp David meeting to be a celebration of the deal; after staying out of the details of what has been a delicate effort in a complicated region, Mr. Trump wanted to be the dealmaker who would put the final parts together himself, or at least be perceived to be.
But, as AP reports, the plan broke down several days before Trump announced on Twitter that it wasn't going to happen:
Trump said he axed the Camp David meetings and called off negotiations because of a recent Taliban bombing near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul that killed a U.S. service member, even though nine other Americans have died since June 25 in Taliban-orchestrated violence. But the deal started unraveling days earlier after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani postponed his trip to Washington and the Taliban refused to travel to the U.S. before a deal was actually signed, according to a former senior Afghan official.
The deal wasn't done -- and it wasn't much of a deal:
Far from guaranteeing a ceasefire, the deal includes only a reduction in violence in Kabul and neighboring Parwan province, where the U.S. has a military base.
And now there's no deal, because Trump wanted to rush the process and stage a dramatic moment, probably because the presidential campaign in this country is heating up, with Trump trailing the top contenders in most polls. Attempting to notch a significant foreign policy achievement during election season is normal behavior for presidents -- remember, Nixon went to China in 1972. But you need to be reasonably certain that you'll come away with something. Trump, being Trump, was too impatient. He couldn't let the process play out because he thinks he needs to put points on the board now. He lacks impulse control.

And here's the result:
President Trump’s decision to break off peace talks with the Taliban, at least for now, left Afghanistan bracing for a bloody prelude to national elections this month....
Expect more war, says Kabul University's Abdul Waheed Wafa.
" ... Until [talks] resume again, the Taliban will throw everything they have — with explosions, and with even more pressure on cities under siege. And the U.S. military can pressure back too.”
All because a ratings stunt didn't go as hoped.

But this is not what I expected from Trump. It's a move meant to appeal to people outside his base. I didn't think he'd bother. Unfortunately for him, this kind of thing seems beyond his abilities.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

BRAD PARSCALE BUTTERS UP TRUMP KIDS BECAUSE HE WANTS WORK AFTER 2020

Baghdad Brad Parscale -- the guy who predicts that President Trump can more than quadruple his 2016 support among black voters next year, and also claims that the president can win New Mexico because "Latinos support this president" -- is making another implausible prediction about the GOP beyond 2020:
President Donald Trump’s campaign manager predicted Saturday that the president and his family will become “a dynasty that will last for decades,” transforming the Republican Party while hewing to conservative values.

[He was s]peaking to a convention of Republican Party delegates in Indian Wells, California....

“The Trumps will be a dynasty that will last for decades, propelling the Republican Party into a new party,” he said. “One that will adapt to changing cultures. One must continue to adapt while keeping the conservative values that we believe in.”

Parscale later declined to elaborate on his prediction of a coming Trump “dynasty,” or whether the president’s children could become candidates for public office.

He told reporters after the speech, “I just think they are a dynasty. I think they are all amazing people with ... amazing capabilities.”
You might think I'd agree with Parscale -- after all, I've predicted on several occasions that Donald Trump Jr. has the inside track for the 2024 presidential nomination, a prediction echoed last week by #NeverTrumper Rick Wilson:
Republican political strategist Rick Wilson predicted that Donald Trump Jr., the president's eldest son, will run for office in 2024 and is likely to secure the GOP nomination in a Daily Beast op-ed published Thursday....

"... the clues have been there all along that the real 2024 primary will be between Donald J. Trump, Jr. and everyone else." ...

"He is fluent in the language of whining, dickish grievance-mongering, which has replaced modern conservatism," Wilson said.
Junior certainly is that. I've thought for a while that he looked like a strong candidate for 2024, but then this happened at the end of August:
Donald Trump Jr. ... spoke on Thursday at a rally in Kentucky for Gov. Matt Bevin (R), who is running for reelection in a tight race against state Attorney General Andy Beshear (D).

Local CBS station WYMT reported before the event that “locals expect a memorable turnout.” And indeed it was, but perhaps for all the wrong reasons for Trump.

... according to Louisville radio station WFPL, only about 200 people turned out for the Bevin event at the Appalachian Wireless Arena. The venue has a capacity of 7,000....
I'd been assuming that in 2024 he'd be embraced as the best possible Trump surrogate -- but that sparse crowd tells me that he may be seen by the deplorables as Frank Sinatra Jr. to his father's Chairman of the Board.

Even if he stirs up interest, I don't think he can actually win a general election. Much of America thinks his father is a brilliant businessman -- he played one on TV for fourteen seasons. Junior is ... a guy who hunts big game and trolls liberals on the Internet. To Republicans, that's a strong set of qualifications, but not that strong. There are too many up-and-comers in the GOP political establishment who know how to campaign and troll. They can probably beat Junior in 2024, and some might even be able to win a general election.

And who would win Trump Senior's backing in the primaries? I'm not sure Dad likes Junior enough to back him wholeheartedly. He'll probably regard Junior's candidacy as a manhood challenge.

As for Jared and Ivanka, you know that I don't see any chance of a successful presidential run by either one -- GOP voters regard them as liberal Democrats, while the rest of us regard them as Trumps. Who'd vote for them?

This doesn't mean they won't try to run. Maybe Ivanka will be stupid enough to go for a third-party bid in 2024 or beyond. Daddy would like that. But it won't work. Third-party bids never do, especially by platitudinous trust-funders with no natural political constituency.

Parscale probably hopes he can work for Ivanka (or for Junior) if there's a campaign -- I think that's the reason for the flattery now, unless he's worried that he could be fired in the middle of this campaign if he doesn't flatter the kids sufficiently.

In any case, I think Donald will be the last Trump to win the presidency -- not because the Trump kids will go to prison soon (this is America -- we don't send the economic elites to prison). It's because non-Republicans despise the Trumps and the GOP doesn't like any of the younger ones enough.

Saturday, September 07, 2019

PUT RUSSIA ON THE BACK BURNER AND FOCUS ON TRUMP'S SELF-DEALING

Fairly or otherwise, the Russia probe took on the stink of failure several months ago: Mueller punted on obstruction, much of the public bought the "no collusion" line, no Trump family member was indicted, and the response in the House has been a slow walk. So this just seems sad:
The House Judiciary Committee is preparing to take its first formal vote to define what Chairman Jerry Nadler calls an ongoing “impeachment investigation” of President Donald Trump, according to multiple sources briefed on the discussions.

The panel could vote as early as Wednesday on a resolution to spell out the parameters of its investigation....

Advocates of opening a formal impeachment inquiry against Trump have clamored for the Judiciary Committee to more clearly spell out the contours of its investigation -- a move they hope strengthens the House’s hand in a handful of court cases to obtain evidence and testimony against the president.
Ahh, yes, the forlorn hope -- that if you call it an impeachment process, the courts will be more inclined to compel witnesses to testify, because that's the legal precedent. As if the Republicans in the federal judiciary care about precedent, and as if the Trump White House would yield if the courts demanded an end to the stonewalling and withholding of witnesses.

The inability to compel witnesses to testify compounds the sense of failure. Russiagate was a crime, or series of crimes, but to much of America it looks like a conspiracy theory. I don't think it's possible to restore its reputation.

But that's not the only issue the House is pursuing.
In addition to probing potential obstruction of justice by Trump, the Judiciary Committee is weighing allegations that Trump directed hush money payments to women accusing him of extramarital affairs in the weeks before the 2016 election, as well as evidence that Trump has sought to steer U.S. and foreign government spending to his luxury resorts, raising questions about whether he has violated the Constitution's Emoluments Clause.
The Stormy Daniels story is juicier, but it ultimately turns on questions of campaign finance law, which the public can't comprehend and never will. The public hears about multi-million-dollar donations to PACs, and untraceable dark money to organizations that are effectively arms of political campaigns, and all of it's legal, yet a six-figure payoff to a porn star isn't? Nothing about campaign finance passes a common-sense test -- nearly all of it seems corrupt, but only certain payments are probed. Beyond that, the juicy part of this story -- Trump's adultery -- is a forgivable sin in much of the public's eyes, just as Bill Clinton's was twenty years ago.

Emoluments and self-dealing? That's what the House should focus on, for a simple reason: It's a much fresher story. Most of America believes that Russiagate has been dealt with; Trump's consensual dalliances were litigated in the media quite a while back. They're old news.

But stories like this aren't old news:
In early Spring of this year, an Air National Guard crew made a routine trip from the U.S. to Kuwait to deliver supplies.

What wasn’t routine was where the crew stopped along the way: President Donald Trump’s Turnberry resort, about 50 miles outside Glasgow, Scotland.

Since April, the House Oversight Committee has been investigating why the crew on the C-17 military transport plane made the unusual stay — both en route to the Middle East and on the way back — at the luxury waterside resort, according to several people familiar with the incident. But they have yet to receive any answers from the Pentagon.

The inquiry is part of a broader, previously unreported probe into U.S. military expenditures at and around the Trump property in Scotland. According to a letter the panel sent to the Pentagon in June, the military has spent $11 million on fuel at the Prestwick Airport — the closest airport to Trump Turnberry — since October 2017, fuel that would be cheaper if purchased at a U.S. military base.
This is new news -- and it's easy for the public to understand. Everyone knows that previous presidents simply didn't do this. The story of Mike Pence's stay at Doonbeg is easy to understand. Start there and work back to the promotion of Trump properties to aides and foreign governments.

I'd like to see Trump brought to justice on Russia, or on hush money payments, but it won't happen. To the public, those are dead stories. This isn't. Put Russia and Stormy on the back burner and focus on Trump lining his pockets as president.

Friday, September 06, 2019

SO WHAT MADE OUR NIHILISTS IN EXPENSIVE SUITS THE WAY THEY ARE?

In his column today, David Brooks tries to give voice to a representative modern-day Internet extremist of no particular political persuasion (or, rather, of all possible political persuasions). In Brooks's view, today's extremists are Dostoevskian Underground Men. They're warped by -- naturally -- the same societal forces Brooks has been decrying ad nauseam for years.
To know anything about me you have to understand the chaos at the core of my innermost being. I was raised without coherent moral frameworks. I was raised amid social fragmentation and division, the permanent flux of liquid modernity.

Adults in my life have not been trustworthy. Friends have not been trustworthy. Women reject me. I passed through school unseen. You have no idea how ill equipped I am to deal with my pain. I was raised in that coddling way that protects you from every risk except real life....

I yearn for order. Blunt simplicities. Politics provides the Manichaean binaries I can’t find anywhere else, and so I make everything political. Own the libs! Smash the racist right! A war of pure good and pure evil....

Online war is a force that gives life meaning. Hatred gives me that delicious simulacrum of power. Did you really think you could raise me on gourmet coffee and yoga pants and I wouldn’t find a way to rebel against your relativism and materialism? Didn’t you observe the eternal pattern — that if you try to flatten a man to the bourgeois he will rebel by becoming a fanatic?
To quote a better writer (though who isn't one?), today's Underground Man is depraved 'cuz he's deprived (spiritually). Gee, Officer Krupke...

Is that really the reason that there are young people online who want to smash everything they see? Well, it's a theory. But here's what I want to know: How does Brooks explain the existence of the nihilists who weren't born in our fallen age of gourmet coffee and yoga pants?

What formed the soul of Rupert Murdoch, who's injected poison into the political discourse of three continents for nearly seventy years? What about the soul of the late Roger Ailes, who devised the ultimate delivery system for Murdoch's poison?

What made the Koch brothers the way they are? It certainly wasn't cultural liberalism. How about Mitch McConnell? I'm pretty sure he didn't grow up getting participation trophies while his parents shopped at Whole Foods.

Brooks's young Underground Man says,
... I see a world in which my opponents are elite oppressors and my kind are oppressed. They have their exclusive cliques and I am disdained. And here we get to the ultimate injustice: Why are they recognized while I am not? This is the molten core from which my indignation flows. The status quo does not respect me, and therefore I despise it.
Hasn't that been the message of the Republican Party since the rise of Fox and talk radio, if not since the rise of Nixon? That society is run by liberal elitists at their Georgetown cocktail parties? That everyone else, even right-wing billionaires, belongs to an oppressed class? (Remember all the plutocrats who warned a few years back that the Occupy movement and calls to reduce inequality were the moral equivalent of the rise of Hitler?) This is the worldview that Republicans and the right-wing media have weaponized for decades.

And what's the result? The economy, on its present course, will never work well for the young. Most jobs will never pay decent wages. Student debt will continue to be a crushing burden. Climate change can't be addressed, or even acknowledged, because the GOP and the fossil fuel industry won't allow it. The gun lobby blocks regulations that 90 percent of America supports. And then there's racism, police brutality, the demonization of immigrants, and much more.

The elderly, powerful nihilists who run the country don't want these problems solved because they prefer the status quo, even if the world burns. Some young people hate these old nihilists and the world they've made. Others echo the old bastards and want to take their lib-owning nihilism even further.

Yoga didn't make this happen. The dominant nihilists of our era did. Their third wives might do yoga, but they don't. Tell us what made them the way they are, David.

NO, WE WON'T BE RID OF THE GOP AFTER 2020

Michelle Goldberg writes:
Toward the end of his new book, “R.I.P. G.O.P.,” the renowned Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg makes a thrilling prediction, delivered with the certainty of prophecy. “The year 2020 will produce a second blue wave on at least the scale of the first in 2018 and finally will crash and shatter the Republican Party that was consumed by the ill-begotten battle to stop the New America from governing,” he writes.

It sounds almost messianic: the Republican Party, that foul agglomeration of bigotry and avarice that has turned American politics into a dystopian farce, not just defeated but destroyed. The inexorable force of demography bringing us a new, enlightened political dispensation. Greenberg foresees “the death of the Republican Party as we’ve known it,” and a Democratic Party “liberated from the nation’s suffocating polarization to use government to advance the public good.”
Goldberg is skeptical. I'm even more so.

It's not that I reject the possibility of a blowout Democratic victory in 2020 -- that could happen, as could a Trump win and everything in between. (My prediction: a Democratic victory that's well short of a landslide.) It's that Republicans will regroup very quickly in the face of defeat, just the way they did after the 2008 election.

A Democratic win won't mean that the country is suddenly progressive. Alexander Agadjanian of the MIT Election Lab notes in The Washington Post today that Joe Biden is the leading presidential candidate among Democratic voters who score highly on measures of racial resentment, even as he's also the favorite of African-American voters. That's a reminder that there are still quite a few Democratic voters who aren't progressive. I think there should be enough anti-Trump votes to put a more progressive Democratic nominee than Biden over the top in 2020, but the racial resenters (many of whom also score high on measures of sexism) won't welcome everything a progressive president does. They'll be susceptible to right-wing propaganda during the new presidency. (We can't vote Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media infrastructure out of existence.) And, of course, even if the president is Biden, the right will cry "Socialism" -- and even some anti-Trumpers who voted Democratic will believe the propaganda.

If the Senate is still Republican, the next president will struggle to advance an agenda. If Democrats sweep Congress and the president is a progressive, there'll be moves to make serious change on climate, inequality, taxation, gun policy, and a host of other issues -- but many voters, including some who were Trump, won't like the price tags on these items. Some will believe that national bankruptcy is imminent. Some will think all their guns or hamburgers will be confiscated overnight by jackbooted thugs. And remember, all this could be happening in a cooling economy, or one that's already in recession.

Goldberg writes:
... Greenberg sees an omen for the Republican Party in California. It’s hard to remember now, but the state was once the heartland of conservatism, nurturing the political careers of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. From 1968 to 1988, it voted Republican in every presidential election, and regularly elected Republican governors.

But in 1994, California Republicans, fearful of changing demography, campaigned for Proposition 187, a ballot initiative meant to make life miserable for undocumented immigrants. It won — though courts blocked its implementation — but it also turned expanding constituencies in California against Republicans. Today the party has been reduced to an irrelevant rump faction in state politics.

... California can ... be seen as a sign of how a political party can drive itself to ruin by making a cruel, doomed stand against the coming generation.
But that transition wasn't effortless. As late as 2003, Republicans engineered a recall of a Democratic governor and got one of their own, Arnold Schwarzenegger, elected, and then reelected. He governed as a right-centrist, but only after running a Trumpian campaign.

A new Democratic president will confront a lot of problems. On climate, firearms, race, and gender, the angry right will be ready to pounce as soon as the solutions can be portrayed as requiring too much sacrifice. And the new president will stumble sometimes. The right will try to exploit every misstep.

We need to make the transition to a post-Republican America. But it won't be universally accepted overnight. It will be a slow, difficult process.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

AS LONG AS HE HAS AN ELECTION COMING UP, TRUMP WILL KEEP PENCE AROUND

Yahoo News has a story about President Trump's relationship with his vice president and, well, now we know where the Nikki Haley rumors are originating:
Current and former Trump and Pence advisers interviewed for this story, as well as my forthcoming biography of Pence, “Piety & Power: Mike Pence and the Taking of the White House,” consistently described a personal relationship between Trump and Pence that is warm but somewhat aloof. Pence has a lane that he sticks to in the White House — conservative social policy — but he is not considered to be as influential as people like Jared Kushner or Stephen Miller.

But the relationship between their political teams has soured greatly in the past year, according to a dozen Trump and Pence aides and Republican advisers familiar with the dynamic. In particular, rumors that Kushner and Ivanka Trump wanted to consider replacements for Pence — specifically trying to find a woman running mate to help win back the suburbs in 2020 — have worried the vice president’s camp, according to Trump and Pence campaign advisers who spoke on background for this story.
Naturally, it's Jared and Ivanka pushing Trump to pick a running mate who elicits few liberal tears. They have a point, obviously -- if Trump were sensible, he'd consider a running mate who appeals to swing voters. But Trump wants to own the libs, and he's also terrified of alienating the evangelicals before the 2020 election. So despite the lack of rapport, Trump will keep Pence around -- the president might humiliate Pence, but he won't dump him.

I was about to tell you that Trump might get rid of Pence after November 2020 if he wins reelection -- who needs Goody Two-Shoes at that point? -- but then I remembered that Trump doesn't really believe he'll be forced to leave office after two terms. He'd happily create chaos by running through a series of replacement and/or "acting" vice presidents -- but I think he believes he'll need Pence around when he runs for his third term.

That, at least, is one explanation of the following:
One former adviser to Trump and Pence noted that Trump would more warmly embrace the vice president in public if Pence simply announced that he wasn’t planning a run for president. Trump, the former adviser noted, hates aides who display more ambition than him.

“All of this would go away if he announced he wasn’t running for president in 2024,” the former adviser said.
Why should this matter to Trump? It could just be because can't stand having anyone around who has an ambition equal to his own (and, of course, if Pence is elected in 2024, that will mean he's president and Trump isn't, a thought that, I'm sure, is simply intolerable to Trump). But I also believe Trump doesn't think he'll ever have to leave office. Kim Jong Un is head of state for life. Xi Jinping is head of state for life. Why not Trump?

So Pence's job is safe, for as long as he can endure humiliations like the trip to Doonbeg. But Pence seems to tolerate being abused quite well. So he'll stick around.

THE THREE VARIETIES OF REPUBLICAN THOUGHT

Today offers an extraordinary opportunity to witness the wide range of contemporary Republican thought. There's short-term resentment:
In the Oval Office at lunchtime on Wednesday, Donald Trump held a briefing on Hurricane Dorian. At one point, the president held up a National Hurricane Center (NHC) map from 29 August, displaying the hurricane’s track and intensity.

Bizarrely, someone had apparently used a Sharpie ... to add a black loop falsely extending the hurricane’s path from Florida to Alabama. It was apparently a belated effort to justify Trump’s previous baseless claim that the latter state could be affected.
(Trump was criticized for the Alabama claim, and contradicted by the National Weather Service. He's been seething ever since.)

There's also near-term resentment:
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said Wednesday that during a recent visit to a migrant detention facility he drank from a toilet that also served as a water fountain and that the water was "actually pretty good."

"I actually went into that cell where it was reported that they were advised they had to drink out of the toilet,” King told a crowd of about 80 people at a town hall in Eagle Grove, Iowa. "I took a drink out of there. And actually pretty good."

King’s story was in reference to conditions inside immigration detention facilities in Texas that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, as well as members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and others have described as abysmal.
King is responding to assertions Ocasio-Cortez made two months ago:




And then there's long-term resentment:
The Trump administration is rolling back requirements for new, energy-efficient lightbulbs....

The new standards ... were set to go into effect in January 2020 and gradually phase out incandescent and halogen bulbs used for items such as bathroom vanities, recessed lighting and candle-shape lights, to be replaced with energy-efficient, LED versions, which are illuminated by light-emitting diodes.
Republicans have been upset about energy-efficient lightbulbs for years. When Michele Bachmann ran for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, anger about energy-efficient lightbulbs was a centerpiece of her campaign.
Few issues get Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) going quite like lightbulbs. At campaign stops across the country, she has repeatedly denounced a 2007 law that required manufacturers to develop energy-efficient lightbulb varieties. Bachmann sees the law as an affront to American values. “I think Thomas Edison did a pretty patriotic thing for this country by inventing the lightbulb,” she told a New Hampshire audience in March. “And I think darn well, you New Hampshirites, if you want to buy Thomas Edison’s wonderful invention, you should be able to!”
At times it seemed as if Republican anger on this issue was fading -- in 2014, Politico ran a story titled "Lights Out for the Light Bulb Battle?" -- but no grievance ever dies on the right.

I would be unfair to say that the Republican Party has run out of ideas. It has plenty of ideas, such as ... um ... cutting taxes on the rich, and ... er ... cutting regulations on rich corporations, as well as ... oh ... stirring up anger about guns, gays, and abortion so voters will keep reelecting Republicans who'll cut taxes and regulations on the rich and big corporations.

But apart from that, there are just resentments -- new, not so new, and old. That's Republican thought.