Monday, October 14, 2019


In the #NeverTrump online journal The Bulwark, Jonathan V. Last looks at the video shown at a right-wing conference this past week in which a stylized President Trump slaughters his domestic enemies in a church, and describes it as something new for American conservatism. He writes:
Last week I wrote a column asking if this—the underwater poll numbers, loss of the House, impeachment, awful reelection prospects, abandonment of America’s allies—is what Trump supporters had signed up for....

The video is the answer to my question: This—the video—is what Trump voters signed up for.

They don’t care about Syria, or tariffs, or the Russians, or the Wall, or anything else that we traditionally think of as policy goals. They don’t even care about judges or abortion or free trade.

They care about hurting their domestic enemies.

... for a percentage of them that is greater than zero, a video about Trump killing politicians and celebrities and journalists they don’t like isn’t a regrettable side-effect of Trump’s presidency.

It’s the entire point of Trump’s presidency.

Take anyone you can think of as a mainstream Republican or conservative over the last two generations of American life—Ronald Reagan, the Bushes, Bob Dole, Mitch McConnell, Newt Gingrich, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Mitt Romney, Jesse Helms, John McCain, Dick Cheney, Richard Shelby, Barry Goldwater—and a video like this is unthinkable.
I read that and thought: What about the 1985 poster depicting Ronald Reagan as Rambo?

Last acknowledges it:
The closest you could get is “Ronbo.” But the point of Ronbo was that Reagan was butched up to fight America’s foreign enemies.

You will note that in the Trump video, he’s not killing Assad, or ISIS fighters, or Putin, or Kim, or Xi, or avatars of any of America’s foreign foes. That would be kind of ridiculous. But also, beside the point

Because for many of this president’s supporters, the glorious promise of Trump is the feeling they get imagining him hurting the Americans they despise.
Apparently, Last has never seen Rambo: First Blood, Part II, or at least he's never watched it all the way to the end. He seems unaware of the scene that takes place when -- spoiler alert -- Rambo returns from successfully completing his mission, after being abandoned by rear-echelon "bureaucrats," who've decided not to offer any further support:

As everyone who saw the movie in the mid-1980s knew, Rambo's targets in that scene were stand-ins for all the people stateside -- anti-war liberals and others -- who allegedly forced soldiers in Vietnam to "fight with one hand tied behind their backs" and, as Rambo says at the end of the first movie in the series, "wouldn't let us win."

Back then, the domestic enemies were in addition to the foreign foes, but after the Cold War ended and the post-9/11 Middle East order became a muddle, domestic opponents took over first place as the right's true targets.

But we've been the right's enemies for a long time. We were Ronbo's enemies, too.


In the email account I set up for this blog years ago, I mostly get junk. Late last month, I received this unsolicited message:

AMPFest is the gathering where that now-notorious video was shown:
A video depicting a macabre scene of a fake President Trump shooting, stabbing and brutally assaulting members of the news media and his political opponents was shown at a conference for his supporters at his Miami resort last week, according to footage obtained by The New York Times.

Several of Mr. Trump’s top surrogates — including his son Donald Trump Jr., his former spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders and the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis — were scheduled to speak at the three-day conference, which was held by a pro-Trump group, American Priority, at Trump National Doral Miami. Ms. Sanders and a person close to Mr. Trump’s son said on Sunday that they did not see the video at the conference.

The video, which includes the logo for Mr. Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign, comprises a series of internet memes. The most violent clip shows Mr. Trump’s head superimposed on the body of a man opening fire inside the “Church of Fake News” on parishioners who have the faces of his critics or the logos of media organizations superimposed on their bodies. It appears to be an edited scene of a church massacre from the 2014 dark comedy film “Kingsman: The Secret Service.”
If you haven't seen it, here's the video. It's appalling. The massacre starts at 0:33.

The Times description of the event is accurate -- the scheduled speakers, according to the event's website, included Sanders, Trump Jr., and Governor DeSantis -- and also the likes of Loomer, who gets equal billing with Florida's governor on the site.

You remember Loomer.
Loomer, 26, has suggested several shootings may have been "false flag" operations, and said, "I’m not buying it. At all," after CNN, liberal benefactor George Soros and former President Barack Obama and former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said they received suspicious packages last year. Cesar Sayoc, the Florida man who mailed a series of crude pipe bombs, received a 20-year prison sentence for those matters....

Loomer lost her online privileges with Uber and Lyft after a 2017 Twitter rant against Muslims a day after an Islamic man drove a truck into a crowd in New York City, killing eight and injuring 11 others.

"Someone needs to create a non Islamic form of Uber or Lyft because I never want to support another Islamic immigrant driver," Loomer wrote at the time in one of several posts.

"Then let me be the first to say I never want another Muslim entering this country EVER AGAIN," she wrote on Twitter in 2017.

Loomer has been banned from Facebook, Twitter, Uber, Lyft, GoFundMe, Venmo and PayPal accounts. She briefly chained herself to a door at Twitter's New York offices in protest over her ban....

Loomer suggested Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., one of two Muslim women elected to the House, married her brother to obtain U.S. citizenship.

The left-leaning Right Wing Watch reported that Loomer solicited contributions for her independent journalism efforts using the same mailing address used by United West, an organization considered an anti-Muslim hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
A history like that ought to consign her to the far fringes of the right. But the right has no fringes. It's all mainstream. Hell, the president of the United States also spreads that conspiracy theory about Omar's marriage.

So it makes perfect sense that a Republican governor and a Republican president's son and former press secretary would appear at an event with not just Loomer but also Mike Cernovich, best known for spreading the Pizzagate conspiracy, and Wayne Allyn Root.

On the landing page for AMPFest, this message now appears:

But one of the speakers at AMPFest was Carpe Donktum, a man known as "Trump's favorite meme-maker," whose website features videos by TheGeekzTeam, the maker of the church slaughter video.

The church video isn't on Carpe Donktum's site -- but a similar video by TheGeekzTeam appears there:

In this video, Trump attacks George Soros, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and various news organizations, while dogs with Pepe the Frog heads go for the throats of Elizabeth Warren and Nancy Pelosi.

In the modern Republican Party, this is regarded as perfectly normal. In the modern Republican Party, the fringe is the mainstream.

Sunday, October 13, 2019


Matt Taibbi has written a long post in which he argues that, oh, sure, President Trump is awful, but not nearly as awful as the U.S. intelligence community, which is the most malign force on the planet and which is attempting to remove Trump by means of a coup. I don't have the strength to rebut this point by point, but I would like to address this:
Four intelligence chiefs in the FBI’s James Comey, the CIA’s John Brennan, the NSA’s Mike Rogers, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, presented an incoming president with a politically disastrous piece of information, in this case a piece of a private opposition research report.

Among other things because the news dropped at the same time Buzzfeed decided to publish the entire “bombshell” Steele dossier, reporters spent that week obsessing not about the mode of the story’s release, but about the “claims.” In particular, audiences were rapt by allegations that Russians were trying to blackmail Trump with evidence of a golden shower party commissioned on a bed once slept upon by Barack Obama himself.

... For the next two years, the “claims” of compromise and a “continuing” Trump-Russian “exchange” hung over the White House like a sword of Damocles....

Imagine if a similar situation had taken place in January of 2009, involving president-elect Barack Obama. Picture a meeting between Obama and the heads of the CIA, NSA, and FBI, along with the DIA, in which the newly-elected president is presented with a report complied by, say, Judicial Watch, accusing him of links to al-Qaeda. Imagine further that they tell Obama they are presenting him with this information to make him aware of a blackmail threat, and to reassure him they won’t give news agencies a “hook” to publish the news.

Now imagine if that news came out on Fox days later. Imagine further that within a year, one of the four officials became a paid Fox contributor. Democrats would lose their minds in this set of circumstances.
There's a simple rebuttal to this: Taibbi hypothetical Judicial Watch dossier would be one big lie, and would be very easily debunked. Barack Obama doesn't have links to al-Qaeda. No intelligence report that would be even remotely credible to anyone outside the Fox/talk radio/GOP cult could possibly demonstrate that Obama has such ties. By contrast, the Steele dossier is full of accurate information -- on Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign, on previously unacknowledged contacts between Trump associates and Russians, on efforts to do business in Russia that Trump tried to conceal, and so on. There are incorrect and unproven assertions in the dossier, but it's not the massive collection of untruths that Taibbi's Judicial Watch dossier would have been.

But if you're Matt Taibbi, you think Russiagate is a lie, and while you think Trump is guilty of the Ukrainegate charges, you assert that "the issue is how guilty, in comparison to his accusers."
I don’t believe most Americans have thought through what a successful campaign to oust Donald Trump would look like. Most casual news consumers can only think of it in terms of Mike Pence becoming president. The real problem would be the precedent of a de facto intelligence community veto over elections, using the lunatic spookworld brand of politics that has dominated the last three years of anti-Trump agitation.
Taibbi concludes:
CIA/FBI-backed impeachment could also be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If Donald Trump thinks he’s going to be jailed upon leaving office, he’ll sooner or later figure out that his only real move is to start acting like the “dictator” MSNBC and CNN keep insisting he is. Why give up the White House and wait to be arrested, when he still has theoretical authority to send Special Forces troops rappelling through the windows of every last Russiagate/Ukrainegate leaker? That would be the endgame in a third world country, and it’s where we’re headed, unless someone calls off this craziness. Welcome to the Permanent Power Struggle.
If this does happen, I assume Taibbi will say that, while it's awful, it's an outcome preferable to impeachment and removal, because the Great Satans of the U.S. intelligence community will have been thwarted.



Saturday, October 12, 2019


On Thursday, there was a forum for Democratic presidential candidates on LGBTQ issues. Elizabeth Warren fielded a question, and The Washington Post's Annie Linskey tells us what happened:
About 90 minutes into Thursday’s forum on LGBTQ issues in Los Angeles, a gay rights leader posed a question to Sen. Elizabeth Warren: How would she respond if a voter approached her and said, “I’m old-fashioned, and my faith teaches me that marriage is between one man and one woman?”

Warren (D-Mass.) responded with a theatrical seriousness. “Well, I’m going to assume it’s a guy who said that,” she deadpanned, pausing a beat for the audience to catch the joke. Then she added, “And I’m going to say, ‘Then just marry one woman — I’m cool with that.’ ”

She finished with a zinger:

“‘Assuming you can find one.’”
The joke made a lot of ordinary people laugh, in the hall and afterward:
Warren’s campaign team, which rarely brags about such things, was crowing that the clip had garnered more than 12 million views on Twitter.
But to Linskey, it's important that history's greatest monsters -- a handful of actors -- also laughed.
The glitterati gushed. “The single greatest response to this question, in or outside politics,” wrote actress Minnie Driver. “Made my day,” added actress Alyssa Milano. Javier Muñoz, who recently played the title role in the smash musical “Hamilton,” posted seven emoji of clapping hands.
Republicans have been working the refs for more than thirty years in order to condition journalists to internalize this view of American politics. Liberal entertainers are America's real elitists! Linskey is well trained. ("Glitterati"? Really?)

Veteran Democratic strategists are also well conditioned.
But Republicans and some Democrats warned that the quip at the CNN-sponsored forum would play poorly among a big swath of voters.

“It’s about telling people who don’t agree with you that they are backward by definition,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic strategist who advised Bill Clinton’s presidential reelection campaign. The line was a “stab” to those who don’t agree with her, he said, and “it is a battle cry for men to turn out against Elizabeth Warren.”
Really? All men should be insulted by this? Married men should be insulted? Why?
The 44-second exchange captured the promise and peril of Warren’s candidacy. She is quick-witted and sharp-tongued in a way that has played well in the Democratic primary and could prove effective against President Trump. But conservatives warn that she can come off as condescending and dismissive.
Yes, and we all know America would never elect a president who comes off as condescending or dismissive.

Warren is working hard to present herself as a scrappy fighter from Oklahoma, in other words, but to critics she can come off as the lecturing Harvard professor.
Right, because if there's one thing Harvard professors are generally known for, it's their zingy one-liners.

Linskey goes on to acknowledge that same-sex marriage is broadly popular in America:
More than 60 percent of Americans favor same-sex marriage, according to a Pew Research Center survey. Roughly three-quarters of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters support it, the poll found. Among Republicans, about 44 percent of voters favor the policy.
Yes, and 57% of men support same-sex marriage. But Hank Sheinkopf thinks men will feel attacked by this joke.

(And here we see more of the way Republicans have conditioned Democrats and the media to be afraid of their own shadows. Democrats aren't supposed to be assertive even when they're solidly on the side of the majority. Meanwhile, Republicans are loud and proud when they're distinctly in the minority -- on support for NRA positions on gun control, for instance, or, for that matter, in their backing of Donald Trump.)

As jokes go, what Warren said is slightly more mean-spirited than what we're used to from Democrats. But this is Warren bringing a six-shooter (rather than the Democrats' usual butter knife) to a fight in which Trump deploys nuclear weapons on a daily basis, as do most of the blowhards in his amen corner.

I should note that Warren isn't the only Democratic candidate firing off well-honed wisecracks.

Two questions:

(1) The women in the Democratic race are setting a strong pace. Can any of the men keep up?

(2) How many more fainting couches will the political insiders need after this? Good thing Wayfair has free shipping.

Friday, October 11, 2019


The folks at The Washington Post who are handicapping the Democratic primaries -- they go by the collective name "The Ranking Committee" -- have decided to predict a possible 2020 Republican presidential race:
So if Trump gets removed, who’s the GOP nominee?

With evidence accumulating and public sentiment shifting rapidly ... there’s a chance, however outside, that the incumbent might no longer be a shoo-in for the 2020 Republican nomination.

But what is the Post Pundit 2020 Power Ranking if not a vehicle for obsessing over outside chances? So with that in mind, this week we’ve got for you a bonus ranking: the Top 10 Republicans situated to win the nomination should it not go to Trump.
Here are the rankings:

Ummm ... no. Or at least that's not what's going to happen if the nominating process involves GOP voters in any way. If the nominee is chosen in a smoke-filled room, this ranking might make sense -- but rank-and-file Republicans will be infuriated.

You know my argument on this subject: When Trump is gone, Republican voters will want the next nominee to be a brawler and a lib-owner. This is especially true under the circumstances envisioned by the Post's prognosticators -- an abrupt Trump departure as a result of the process that started when the Ukraine whistleblower story broke. If you're an ordinary Republican voter, the idea that Trump might have to leave office for that is especially infuriating. Nothing happened! It was a perfect call! The whistleblower's complaint doesn't match the transcript at all, and the whistleblower is a partisan Democrat and a tool of the Deep State! What about Hunter Biden? What about Hillary's server? That's what the vast majority of Republican voters believe. That's what they'll believe after an impeachment in the House and a Senate trial.

Sure, if Trump is out of office, that will mean that his numbers (and the numbers for Republicans overall) are significantly worse than they are now -- but even when George W. Bush's approval ratings were in the 20s and low 30s, in the run-up to the 2008 election, he still had strong support within his party, and its voters nominated an Iraq War dead-ender for president.

That's what GOP voters will demand if Trump falls: another Trump. Maybe a Trump who doesn't tweet, but certainly someone who rails against what happened to Trump, or at least someone who rails against Democrats and liberals in general. So no one who voted to impeach or convict will stand a chance -- I assume Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse will be in that category if Trump is gone. No primary challenger or declared critic stands a chance, so Joe Walsh, Bill Weld, and Justin Amash are out. And I think anyone positioned as an establishmentarian -- Nikki Haley, Paul Ryan, Jeb Bush -- is out.

From that list, only Tom Cotton, Josh Hawley, and Liz Cheney seem like contenders, along with Don Jr. -- and, yes, Ted Nugent, although he's been threatening to run for office off and on for twenty years and he never does it. (UPDATE: I should have also included Ted Cruz on the list of genuine contenders.)

It would be an insane race. The education value of it would be the opportunity to learn that the party wouldn't change at all. Rhetorical Trumpism would be triumphant even without Trump -- maybe not in the specifics (TV obsession, schoolyard nicknames), but in the radical absolutist attitude. In a way, it's a shame it won't happen.


Jonathan Chait has responded to last night's Trump campaign rally with an amusing post about the president's TV obsession.
As usually happens, Trump grew bored and wandered off script....

When Trump goes off script, he usually starts talking about the one subject that compels his interest and occupies most of his waking hours: television. At this moment in the rally, Trump started riffing on a series of pillow ads he has frequently seen. “Hey folks, the greatest buyer of advertisements in the history of the world, Mike Lindell, My Pillow. I have never seen so many ads,” he began, continuing on about the pillow ads.

This was a completely typical moment in a Trump rally.... the leader of the movement is simply too bored to stay on topic, and continually changes the channel on his own speech. You can almost see the president relaxing in his Barcalounger, clicking the remote control....

It might seem like Trump is unable to focus on his text because he is bored with the presidency. The truth is slightly different. He sees the presidency as a means to the end of positive television coverage. Here is Trump describing his great election victory:
That was one of the greatest nights in the history of television … It was one of the highest rated evenings in the history of television. You add up all those networks.
One of the greatest nights in the history of television. The president of the United States thinks of his own election as a show that he watched on TV.
I'm just giving you a small taste of the post -- go read it. It's fun. But I disagree with one passage:
Trump failed as a businessman, but then succeeded playing one on television. During the Obama era, he hit upon a new market in right-wing paranoia, sensing the racial anxieties of aging white America being underserved by a Republican leadership that wanted to talk about budget deficits. He was drawn unexpectedly into the presidency as he chased this audience.
The verbs in the second sentence don't feel right to me. It might be appropriate to say that Trump, as a Fox News commentator in the Obama era, "hit upon a new market in right-wing paranoia," but I feel as if Chait is crediting Trump with marketing genius, as if Trump analyzed the Fox audience and understood precisely how he could win them over. I don't believe that. I don't believe Trump was "sensing the racial anxieties of aging white America being underserved by a Republican leadership that wanted to talk about budget deficits."

I think Trump just wanted to be on television -- anywhere, under any circumstances. He had become a Fox fan because he's an aging white racist who (like other Fox viewers) enjoys being scared by images of black criminals and swarthy brown terrorists, and because he liked Fox's reduction of all of politics to a war between pure good and pure evil. He'd always been pro-capitalist, pro-"law and order," and anti-minority; Fox gave him an all-encompassing narrative on which to hang his prejudices.

But mostly he just wanted to be on TV.

Trump started appearing on Fox in 2011. He wanted to run for president -- he's always wanted to run for president -- and he nearly pulled the trigger in the 2012 race. On Fox, he spent a lot of time insulting the black guy who had the job he felt he deserved, but he would also participate in typical morning-show bits, such as the time he accepted an ugly Christmas sweater as a gift from Ozzy Osbourne's daughter. He was up for just about anything, as long as he was seen.

He honed a message by 2015, cribbing it from his favorite TV channel, along with his own prejudices. I don't believe he tailored it to any audience -- Fox had done that heavy lifting for him. It worked, but let's not give Trump too much credit. He was an angry old white guy venting, and other angry old white people just so happened to agree with him and like his style.


I don't completely agree with the thesis of this New York Times news analysis by Thomas Kaplan:
Republicans have tried to brand [Elizabeth Warren] as a socialist, attack her policy ideas and portray her as too left-wing for the American electorate. None of those arguments have diminished her political momentum, robust fund-raising or polling.

But in the past week, conservative news sites have challenged Ms. Warren’s story about how a public school principal forced her out of a teaching job in 1971 because she was “visibly pregnant,” and the Republican National Committee grabbed onto the issue to wage its own attack. In doing so, Republicans employed a tactic — questioning a female candidate’s authenticity — that is at once often a sexist trope in politics and a strategy used against Hillary Clinton in 2016.
I don't agree with it for a couple of reasons. First, I don't see Republicans using forms of the word "authenticity" in reference to Warren -- they say she's being untruthful about being fired for her pregnancy, just as they did when they accused her of inventing a Cherokee ancestor. (They were wrong in both cases.) "Authenticity" seems to be a word Kaplan is introducing to the discussion. And while the charge of inauthenticity is unfairly applied to women in politics, it's also applied to men -- here's Maureen Dowd a few years back applying it to Mitt Romney and George H.W. Bush. Al Gore was deemed inauthentic. So was John Kerry. By contrast, Donald Trump -- the biggest liar on the planet -- is widely believed to be "authentic." Women are frequent targets of the inauthenticity attack, but Sarah Palin was deemed to have "cultural authenticity."

Here's a convoluted explanation of political authenticity, from Jennifer Szalai of the Times in 2016:
In the pageant of authenticity that is the American campaign trail, candidates show us what they eat, and we tell them who they are. Dining like a local might seem a good way to demonstrate that under that Ivy League pedigree is a down-home Everyman worthy of your trust and your vote, but attempts to seem truly ordinary can easily sour into bungled displays of being hopelessly out of touch. Sargent Shriver, the Democratic candidate for the vice presidency in 1972, was talking to steelworkers at a bar in Youngstown, Ohio, when he followed up their orders for more beer with “Make mine a Courvoisier!” (He lost.) Four years later, Gerald Ford, visiting the Alamo, bit awkwardly into a tamale still wrapped in its corn husk, a moment that was entered into the historical record with an above-­the-fold photo on the front page of The New York Times. (He lost, too — and when asked afterward what he learned from the campaign, he answered: “Always shuck your tamales.”)
Here's the thing: Shriver and Ford were being authentic. Shriver was a patrician. Ford was a Midwestern white guy who probably wasn't familiar with Mexican food. That's authentically who they were.
In April, two months after the release of Beyoncé’s “Formation,” with the line “I got hot sauce in my bag,” Hillary Clinton went on “The Breakfast Club,” a radio show on New York’s Power 105.1, and insisted to the show’s black hosts and its many black listeners that she — of course! — carries hot sauce in her bag....

Clinton’s hot sauce looked a lot like pandering — even though, back in 2001, the journalist Michael Tomasky wrote that Clinton was “known to carry around a little bottle of Tabasco sauce on her person.” But Clinton has been dogged for years by what pundits like to call her authenticity problem: She seems forever “at pains,” as a reporter for CNN put it, “to convince Americans that she is a real person,” to prove that she actually means it when she says she regrets her vote on the Iraq war, or when she says she opposes the Trans-­Pacific Partnership and cuts to Social Security. To listen to her critics, the real Clinton is a shape-shifter, with any avowals of authenticity dismissed as the expedient work of a conniving opportunist.
Of course, Trump lies and changes positions all the time, and he's "real." But Hillary is frequently uncomfortable when she's speaking in public -- as are Gore, Kerry, and Romney. They're not "naturals." Trump (alas) is a natural -- he never seems more comfortable than when he's holding forth, bragging about himself, and slagging his enemies.

For women, of course, just being ambitious in public life is regarded as unnatural. So it's easier to attack them as "inauthentic," because they're going against our stereotypes merely by seeking high office especially when they're not fully at ease as public figures.

But Warren is very much at ease. She's comfortable speaking. She's funnier and more passionate on the stump than Hillary is. That doesn't mean she'd necessarily be a better president than Hillary would have been. But she's more capable of fighting the "inauthenticity" charge. On the other hand, she's clearly ambitious, which, in the view of far too many people, means she's not appropriately female (and that's "inauthentic").

We should stop talking about authenticity in politics. If we think Sargent Shriver would have seemed more authentic by ordering a drink he never ordered, or think Trump is authentic when he's lying (though, in a way, he is), then the concept has no meaning. Let's drop it.

Thursday, October 10, 2019


Joe Biden often seems like Mister Magoo. As he obliviously makes his way through our political landscape, he believes he spots opportunities for warm cross-party relationships. The rest of us, who can actually see what's going on, know that what he's seeing isn't what he thinks he's seeing. We know that every Republican we see hates us, hates Biden, hates all his fellow Democrats, and wants "the Democrat Party" to be stripped of political power nationwide. We also know that one reason this situation persists is that the mainstream media routinely blames America's political dysfunction on Democrats, largely because the GOP has persuaded mainstream journalists that Democrats and liberals are weird, extreme, fatally flawed, and not really American.

Biden has always talked as if he doesn't understand any of this. However, someone on his staff clearly does:
As President Trump has lobbed unsubstantiated and false claims of international corruption at former vice president Joe Biden and his son, he’s often turned to one source for ammunition: conservative author Peter Schweizer. So when the New York Times ran an op-ed on Wednesday written by Schweizer about Biden and his son Hunter, the Democratic presidential candidate’s campaign cried foul.

In a letter sent to New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet, Biden’s campaign called Schweizer a “discredited right-wing polemicist” and suggested the op-ed was part of a larger pattern of “journalistic malpractice.”

“Are you truly blind to what you got wrong in 2016, or are you deliberately continuing policies that distort reality for the sake of controversy and the clicks that accompany it?” Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s deputy campaign manager, wrote in the Wednesday letter, which was posted by CNN’s Oliver Darcy.
What's great about the letter is that it not only defends Biden against Schweizer's partisan attack but ties the decision by the Times to publish the op-ed to the paper's awful coverage of Hillary Clinton during the last presidential campaign (of which Schweizer's work was an integral part):

Biden is not my candidate. I worry about his potential weaknesses as a nominee and a president. But he signed off on this letter. He let it go out this way, not watered down because hey, I have a lot of pals over at the Times and this isn't fair to them. He may not get it, but he seems capable of getting it. I don't want him to be the Democratic nominee, but if he is, this letter gives me some hope.


Axios's David Nather and Margaret Talev say that Democrats probably can't impeach again if Trump survives the process now and goes on to win reelection:
If Trump survives politically and is re-elected to serve another four years, Congress likely would have nowhere left to go in the event of another scandal, legal and political experts say — not because the House couldn’t impeach him again, but because it might be politically impossible to do so....

“There is almost certainly NOT a barrier to a second impeachment, even for the exact same conduct,” much less “a second impeachment for a different offense,” Paul Rosenzweig, a former senior counsel to Kenneth Starr in the Whitewater investigation of Clinton, wrote in an email.

Politically, though, no one believes House Democrats would want to go through it again.

A second impeachment would risk “a political blowback in the midterm elections if Democrats are seen as nothing but a political party that wants to railroad, witch hunt, whatever you want to call it, this president,” said Jim Robenalt, an Ohio-based lawyer who created a continuing legal education program with former White House counsel John Dean about Watergate....

“The cold, hard political reality is that it would be very hard for the House ever to try to take another bite at the apple,” said Jim Manley, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

... By using the ultimate congressional power against Trump now, Democrats could be out of options if they have to face Trump for another four years.
I disagree. I said this a couple of weeks ago and I'm standing by it: If Democrats hold the House, there will be a second impeachment, because Trump, like a recalcitrant adolescent, will keep testing the limits of what he can get away with until he's stopped. His self-dealing will become even more flagrant. He'll be more obvious about structuring U.S. foreign policy around his own interests and the interests of his family.

Meanwhile, the long post-2008 recovery will almost certainly run out of gas on his watch. He'll continue to make appalling foreign policy decisions. There'll be assaults on Obamacare and Roe v. Wade (I don't believe Roe will be effectively overturned in the next Supreme Court term, but if Trump wins again, it's doomed), and possibly on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Second-term presidents struggle to maintain their popularity, and Trump is already terrible at his job. Also, we'll be facing the prospect of an entire Trump term in which there are no "grown-ups" keeping his worst impulses in check.

Which means that in all likelihood he'll do something new that's clearly impeachable, and an electorate that found him tolerable enough to return to office will finally be fed up with him, for many reasons, not all of which will have to do with the impeachable offense. (I think a similar general disgust helps explain impeachment's popularity right now.)

So yes, we'll have another shot at impeachment if the Electoral College returns Trump to office. He'll push us until we don't really have a choice.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019


I almost feel sorry for Republicans.* (*No, I don't really.)
As President Donald Trump navigates an impeachment process that is upending his presidency, Republicans in the trenches are offering blunt advice: Shut up about impeachment.

The fear emanating from Capitol Hill and other corners of the GOP is that Trump’s proclivity for going on the attack is harming his long-term political prospects....

“He should issue an ever-increasing stream of policy initiatives that have nothing to do with impeachment,” said Dick Morris, the longtime GOP political consultant who informally advised President Bill Clinton when he too was facing impeachment. “You just have to make sausage every day and put it up on a nail,” he added. “The public will look for other stuff to follow. And that will be what Trump is putting out there.”

Inside the White House, there has been an effort to get Trump to play the role that Clinton did to great effect two decades ago: a president appearing unburdened by the impeachment drama unfolding around him as he focuses on the other tasks of governance.
Trump has made fitful attempts to do some presidenting, but he keeps getting distracted.
Over the past few weeks, Trump has made speeches touting border security, prescription drug prices, and Medicare Advantage. He has pursued massive alterations to U.S. foreign policy and pushed forward on bilateral trade deals.

But through it all, his attention has drifted back to impeachment....
Border security? That's more red meat for the same folks who love Trump's mad-dog approach to impeachment. Prescription drug prices -- you mean the initiative that keeps getting watered down by the White House when it isn't being shot down by the courts? Medicare Advantage -- isn't that part of a "reform" effort that, if put into practice, would eviscerate Medicare as we know it?

I don't think the increase in support for impeachment right now is entirely the result of outrage at the specific charges currently being leveled at Trump. I think Americans have been sick of Trump for a while now -- sick of his style as much as they are of his policies, if not more so. Trump fighting impeachment is Trump in attack mode, and that's precisely the Trump the country can't tolerate anymore (the GOP base excepted).

Trump could win some swing voters back with real presidential accomplishments, but they'd require effort. Staffers would have to work hard to generate a real infrastructure plan, or a real plan for universal health coverage. They'd have to find solutions to intractable problems -- Middle East peace, the decades-long standoff between North Korea and most of the world.

All of that is unimaginable -- Team Trump doesn't do policy and doesn't do effort. Alternately, the Trumpers could try a little genuine populism -- hey, remember when candidate Trump fleetingly proposed closing the carried interest loophole that allows hedge-fund zillionaires to pay a lower tax rate than ordinary workers, a proposal he still mentions every now and then? His White House could devise a serious plan to get that accomplished. That would be a domestic Nixon-goes-to-China moment. It would upend the news cycle, at least momentarily. I'd support Trump if he did that.

But it's the last thing he'd do, even if Ivanka whispered in his ear that he should. (She won't.) So Trump will just continue to be Trump. Impeachment is bringing out the worst, least likable side of him, just as we're entering election season. That's a good thing.


Politico reports on a new book by an old hand at weaponizing religion on behalf of the GOP:
One of Donald Trump’s most prominent Christian supporters will argue in a book due out before the 2020 general election that American evangelicals “have a moral obligation to enthusiastically back” the president.

The book’s author, Faith and Freedom Coalition founder Ralph Reed, became a loyal foot soldier for Trump immediately after he nabbed the Republican presidential nomination in 2016....

According to the book's description, obtained by POLITICO, the original title for the book was “Render to God and Trump,” a reference to the well-known biblical verse, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” The message from Jesus in Matthew 22, has been used in contemporary politics to justify obedience to government — or in the case of Reed’s book, to Trump.

Regnery Publishing confirmed the book’s existence but said the title is “For God and Country: The Christian case for Trump.”
According to the Bible verse, Jesus said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” -- in other words, give the state what it's entitled to, and give God what God is entitled to. Mashing the two together, as in Reed's original title, suggests to me that Reed doesn't believe government and God are in separate spheres. But maybe I'm misreading that. It's hard to tell:
In his book, Reed will “persuasively” argue evangelicals have a duty to defend the incumbent Republican leader against “the stridently anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, and pro-abortion agenda of the progressive left,” according to the description.
A duty to God to vote for Trump? That's how this reads.

To be fair, that seems no worse than the usual religious Republicanism. Rabbi Aryeh Spero, who calls himself "America's Rabbi," takes the godliness of Trump a bit further in this column, which asserts that anyone who doesn't like Trump is guilty of grievous sins:
Many American Jews Need to Atone for Their Sins against Donald Trump

America has seen many presidents who have been good to Israel and the Jewish people. None has been better than Donald Trump....

Many in the secular Jewish community do not consider their attitude ungrateful inasmuch as support for Israel is no longer important to them, and they seem undaunted when anti-Semitism comes from the political Left (their home), or from social justice warriors and certain "minorities." What they consider good for Jews most often has nothing to do with Jewish need at all, but rather a universalist agenda at odds with Jewish survival. In their zeal to destroy and remove Mr. Trump from the presidency, they have gone beyond ingratitude to downright lying about him, scheming against him, and throwing normal fairness and decency out the window.

Yom Kippur, the annual Day of Atonement, falls this week. One of the most prominent prayers is "for the sins we have committed," a list of grievous sins that may apply to the penitent, thereby requiring atonement. Thus, now may be the best and most appropriate time to review the sins many within the Jewish community continue to wage against President Trump....
A list follows.
Adam Schiff: For the sin of bearing false witness, excessive lying, deceit, and tale-bearing against President Trump.

Chuck Schumer: For the sin of raging ambition, forked tongue, and "standing idly by while the blood of your brothers" is spilt in Brooklyn and while Israel remains threatened by an Obama Iran deal you refused to fight against.
"Forked tongue"? Imagine if a gentile had written that about Schumer.
Jerrold Nadler: For the sin of revenge, deceit, and falsehood against President Trump.

Eliot Engel: For the sin of allowing an enemy of your people, Ilhan Omar, to remain seated and powerful on your House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Richard Blumenthal: For the sin of sky-high arrogance, bullying, and using the law for injustice, and the sin of seeking to defame and destroy Brett Kavanaugh, an innocent man.

Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the ADL: For the sin of defamation, and deliberately and repeatedly lying about President Trump, strongly implying to the world the canard that Mr. Trump is an anti-Semite, encourages anti-Semitism, and is sympathetic to Nazis....
The list goes on, and on, and on.
Bernie Sanders: For the sin of trying to impoverish and take away liberty from the American people in behalf of an imposed socialism/communism. And the sin of constant anger and economic hypocrisy. For the sin of being the first candidate for president to formally demonize Israel, hold high the banner of those wishing to destroy Israeli Jews, and make "kosher" anti-Israel bias. After all, it must be okay if a Jew like Bernie makes it part of his platform. For the sin of distorting history....

Jennifer Rubin: The sin of hysteria, rumor-mongering, and false statements. You have betrayed.
The woman is accused of "hysteria." Of course.
The Sulzbergers of the New York Times: The sin of whitewashing Islamic Jew-hatred, as you did 70 years ago regarding Nazi Jew-hatred. The sin of ignoring your responsibility to honest journalism and, instead, devoting your staff and time to falsely bringing down a man who did nothing that fits your concocted and manufactured falsehoods....

Most secular and liberal Jews: For the sin of hating Donald Trump in your heart and mind simply because he will not bow and cave to your universalist, trans-nationalist agenda. You have become a "shanda." ...
Politicians sometimes charge opponents with trying to "criminalize political differences." This goes much further -- if you disagree with the rabbi, you've committed a grievous offense in the eyes of God. Beg for forgiveness!

Nothing new here, but it's helpful to be reminded of how awful these people think we are.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019


"I never use the words Democrats and Republicans. It's liberals and Americans."

--James Watt, Ronald Reagan's first interior secretary, November 1981

The enemy here isn't "the House of Representatives," or Adam Schiff's House Intelligence Committee. The enemy is the Democratic Party. Ambassador Sondland can't testify in front of a Democratic-led congressional panel, but Rudy Giuliani (who's already told us he won't cooperate with the Intelligence Committee's investigation) is welcome to testify before a friendly committee.

This is not how our government is supposed to work -- but it's how Republicans believe it should work. Trump, Graham, and Giuliani are just taking the idea to its logical conclusion, as Corey Lewandowski did when he spoke freely to Republican questioners on the House Judiciary Committee while clamming up and sassing off whenever a Democrat questioned him.

Over the past forty years, Republicans have increasingly come to believe that Democrats are not citizens. This helps explain the voter ID laws, voter purges, polling-place closures, and gerrymandered districts that limit the ability of Democrats to win elections. It explains, more than any nonsense rhetoric about America being "a republic, not democracy," why Republicans so vehemently defend the Electoral College (California and New York aren't "real" American states). It explains Republicans' efforts to restrict the power of elected Democratic governors in Wisconsin and North Carolina. It explains Mitch McConnell's deep reluctance to fight foreign interference in our elections -- as long as it's on the side of Republicans, it's fine, because only Republicans are Americans.

This is self-interest, of course -- Republicans want to win, and clearly they're willing to win by any means necessary. But they have no fear of a public backlash because their base has been told for decades by the right-wing media that Democrats aren't really citizens -- and the mainstream press piles on, lavishing Trump voters with attention (as "security moms" and other Bush voters were lavished with attention fifteen years ago) and strongly suggesting, to a broad general audience, that conservative heartland whites are normative and Democrats are aberrant.

After Republicans won three straight presidential elections in the 1980s, much of the elite political world acted as if it was a reasonable set of beliefs. Sunday morning talk shows still book more Republicans than Democrats for this reason. Maybe things are changing. Maybe the public is no longer quite so willing to believe this. But if changes are happening, they can't happen fast enough.


I'm astonished to learn from Vanity Fair's Gabriel Sherman that if President Trump is impeached in the House, Mitt Romney plans to round up Republican votes to convict in the Senate.

Or does he? Curiously, Sherman's story doesn't say outright that Romney will vote to convict:
According to people close to Romney, he’s firmly decided against primarying Trump, an enterprise he believes to be a sure loser given Trump’s enduring GOP support. Romney has also told people that, as an unsuccessful two-time presidential candidate, he’s the wrong person to take on Trump. Instead, a Romney adviser told me, Romney believes he has more potential power as a senator who will decide Trump’s fate in an impeachment trial. “He could have tremendous influence in the impeachment process as the lone voice of conscience in the Republican caucus,” the adviser said. In recent days, Romney has been reaching out privately to key players in the Republican resistance, according to a person briefed on the conversations. “Romney is the one guy who could bring along Susan Collins, Cory Gardner, Ben Sasse. Romney is the pressure point in the impeachment process. That’s why the things he’s saying are freaking Republicans out.” (Romney, through a spokesperson, declined to comment.)
The story leaves Romney's intentions vague.

But let's say that Romney does vote to convict, and brings along a handful of other senators. Trump will still survive, right? (At least 20 GOP votes to convict will be needed to remove Trump from office.)

Yes, but this is a scenario Rush Limbaugh fears, even though it wouldn't lead to removal. On his radio show yesterday, Limbaugh said:
The worst thing, the last thing would seem to be for the Democrats to put Trump on trial and have him acquitted in the Senate. Okay. Yet they’re still doing it. So what is the objective? Quite simply, it is: This is their 2020 campaign.

... They need to be able to say even if there is an acquittal in the Senate, they need to be able to say that the impeachment was bipartisan. So if they can get a couple Republicans in the House to vote with them and if they can peel off a couple senators, like Romney or Susan Collins, then bingo, in their estimation they have won.

They have now created the campaign issue, the mother of all campaign issues, that a bipartisan effort was put together to impeach the president, but he was only saved because of the partisanship of Republican leaders in the Senate. That’s their campaign, folks.

So what they need to do to pull this off, they need to peel off Republicans. They need weak-kneed, wobbly kneed, linguini-spined Republicans — not very many — they need a couple in the House, a couple in the Senate, and the magic claim of bipartisanship, in their minds, will have been reached. And that will be the campaign. That’s it. Their campaign will come down to that. Trump has to go. He has been impeached by a bipartisan coalition of the United States Congress.
But here's what's really likely to happen. As we now know (and as I told you late last month), Mitch McConnell intends to allow House managers to present their case in the Senate -- after which he's likely to hold a quick vote to dismiss the charges. He'll presumably need only 50 votes to dismiss -- Vice President Pence can break the tie if it's a 50-50 split. There are 53 Republicans in the Senate. So McConnell can spare three defectors.

But Sherman lists four possible votes against Trump -- Romney, Collins, Gardner, Sasse. What if they all vote against dismissal of the charges?

That's where I have my doubts. I believe Collins will vote to dismiss, because she routinely returns to the fold on tough votes.

I've been assuming that Collins feels she has to do things like this because she's fending off a primary challenge from the right, but her one announced primary challenger -- a Trump fan who lost his job as a cop a couple of years ago after being arrested for domestic violence (one of the reported victims was his 15-year-old daughter) -- has now dropped out of the race. Another possible challenger who's been mentioned in the press (and who's also a Trump fan) attempted to run for Maine's other Senate seat in 2018, but was removed from the primary ballot when his ballot petitions were found to include signatures from dead people. So Collins (who's also been endorsed by Maine's Trumpish ex-governor Paul LePage, who's been a critic in the past) doesn't really need to protect her right flank. Yet her past performance suggests she'll vote to dismiss anyway.

And if she and three other Republicans vote against dismissal? McConnell might still succeed -- I think Joe Manchin, from the Trump-friendly state of West Virginia, might also vote to dismiss.

If McConnell wins a dismissal vote, Democrats can't say there was a bipartisan vote to convict, because no such vote will have taken place. That still seems like the most likely outcome -- at least for now. But a day or two ago I was certain that no Republican would defect, and now I can imagine a handful of defections. Probably not more than that, but we'll see.

Monday, October 07, 2019


I wade through a lot of right-wing sludge in my effort to inform and entertain you, but I usually give a pass to the D-list site American Thinker. However, this Thinker post, from regular contributor J.R. Dunn, caught my eye. As the headline notes, Dunn is fantasizing about a Trump assassination attempt -- not because he's a murderous Never Trumper, but because he hates Trump opponents so much he really, really wants to believe one of us will take a shot at the president, so he can hate us even more.
The Left's last card

Emoluments, Stormy Daniels, Russia collusion, the Mueller report, impeachment... The Left has played damn near every card in the deck against Donald Trump to no result whatsoever. Leftists are getting down to the bottom of the deck, and the final card: assassination.

This is not to say that the Democrats or even the denizens of the Deep State would directly involve themselves in an assassination attempt against the president. (Though I would go so far as to say that they would welcome it.) But let's consider the landscape:
Cue a list of supposedly murderous "leftists," including (of course) Kathy Griffin again, plus "Washed up Massachusetts pol William Weld stating publicly that the president 'deserves to be shot.'" (I can find no evidence that Weld -- who's a libertarian Republican, not a lefty Democrat -- ever said any such thing, although he did say that Trump has committed treason and "the penalty for treason under the US code is death," which is similar to what Trump now says about virtually everyone who offends him.)
... the opposition is no longer loyal or respectable. It has gone functionally insane. The Democrats have been transformed into the party of the fanatic, the messianic, the depraved, and the demented. The Left is obsessed with stopping Donald Trump at all costs and, as its slogan goes, "by any means necessary." If these people can't do it by legal or even the borderline means of the past three years, it is likely they will try to kill him.
Oh, we will? I guess I missed the memo. And I'm not sure why this is a concern -- after all:
The president is defended by agents of a Secret Service that has surely regained the level of professionalism eroded during the Obama years. It is rumored that they are supplemented by top-of-the-line private security experts.
Ninjas! (No, just kidding.)
But these constitute the final line of defense. Any attempt against this president must never get that far.
Dunn is a wingnut, so you can probably see where this is going -- True Patriot citizens have to defend the Dear Leader.
... During the campaign next year, Donald Trump will be involved in endless rallies, parades, and public appearances, all of which will offer an opportunity to the black-clad anarchist, the embittered Bernie- or Beto-backer, or the demented Travis Bickle. It is here that the citizenry is crucial....

* Keep an eye open. If you notice something odd or threatening, alert those around you, and then report it. (Alerting those around you is crucial — it's very possible that they will be the only ones who will respond. Both the Parkland and Aurora shooters were reported to authorities before their killing sprees. Both were ignored. Law enforcement is not what it used to be.)

* Assassins tend to be distinctive in appearance. Arthur Bremer resembled your friendly neighborhood Gestapo or KGB agent, Lee Oswald appeared to be channeling Norman Bates in appearance and behavior as the twitchy loner, and as for John Hinckley...enough said. The same action is required here: alert those about you, and report it.
Yes, he's arguing that you could tell Bremer, Oswald, and Hinckley were assassins just by looking at them. So I guess we have to rely on the exquisite discernment of loony rightists if we want to avoid being ID'd as terrorists.
* The same goes for vehicles. Car bombs have become popular. Any strange or oddly parked vehicle, or any unusual activity around such a vehicle, demands a response. The same goes for garbage cans, mailboxes, or anything else that can contain an IED.
Don't park crooked in J.R. Dunn's presence or he might just mete out vigilante justice to your Toyota.
* Above all, if it breaks wide open in your presence — if a gun appears, if someone begins fumbling with a knapsack as the presidential limo approaches — don't hesitate. Act immediately. Call on others, subdue the suspect, and turn him over to the authorities.
I'm amazed he's not urging the usual "Second Amendment solution," though maybe he feels he doesn't have to. (Fellow patriots: You know what to do.)
I hate to have to write this.
The hell he does. Guys like Dunn are so amped up on the notion that the apocalypse is upon us (it always is) that they're just itching for a lefty assassination plot against Trump. It's frustrating to them that there isn't one. Why won't we be as evil as all their right-wing media favorites tell them we are?
President Donald Trump has demanded that the United States remain in the hands of its citizens, and the elites hate him for it. Let's prove that we're worthy of it.
Forget all that "notify the authorities" nonsense above -- citizen soldiers, lock and load! Wolverines!

You know all those Trump voters we left-leaners are supposed to be much nicer to than we currently are? This is what they think of us. Forgive me if I'm not in a conciliatory mood.


Axios reports on the president's state of mind:
President Trump has told friends and allies he worries about the stain impeachment will leave on his legacy.

... In a phone call with House Republicans on Friday, Trump articulated why he really doesn't want this. Impeachment, Trump said, is a "bad thing to have on your resume," according to a source on the call. Two other sources on the call confirmed the substance of the comment, but one said they recalled Trump phrasing it as "you don't want it [impeachment] on your resume."

... sources who have discussed impeachment candidly with the president say these comments perfectly encapsulate how Trump feels about it: He believes it could help him get re-elected and win back the House. But he doesn't want the history books recording Donald Trump as an impeached president.
This story gets at a core aspect of Trump's psyche: He's motivated by shame. One of his favorite words is "disgrace," and disgrace is something he spends a great deal of his life trying to avoid (even though his work and personal habits inevitably lead him to it). He thought he was entitled to the love and adoration of an entire nation when he was elected president, so he couldn't bear the thought that the crowd at his inaugural was smaller than the one for Barack Obama in 2009. He wanted a voter fraud commission to determine that Hillary Clinton didn't legitimately beat him in the popular vote. And now -- when he could be collecting a lot more emoluments than he's currently earning, or putting greater effort into getting Russia into the G7, or, y'know, actually doing his job and trying to put together a healthcare plan or an infrastructure plan that could be the sort of accomplishment a president is supposed to have -- he's obsessing over an nonexistent Ukrainian-Italian-British-Australian-Deep State plot that allegedly led to the Russia investigation, which, he believes, was intended to shame and disgrace him.

I often wonder why Democrats don't take advantage of this Trump vulnerability. It could be done in simple ways. What are the all-purpose words he uses for people he doesn't like? He says they're weak. He calls them losers. Why doesn't any Democrat say publicly that Trump is weak, or that he's a loser? If you said it at a vulnerable moment for Trump, it would really sting.

Back in 2018, Philippe Reines, a longtime Hillary Clinton adviser, wrote a Washington Post op-ed in which he argued that Democrats should try to beat Trump in 2020 by attacking him the way he attacks them. I questioned that approach, and I still believe that it's the wrong one for serious 2020 candidates -- but I wish there were someone in the Democratic field who was willing to be the bad guy. I wouldn't want this person on the ticket, but I'd like him or her to be making Trump squirm. Call him soft and weak and sleepy and low-energy. Say that everyone hates him and he's going down in history as a failure and a loser.

Even Trump's most outspoken critics in Congress -- Maxine Waters, Mazie Hirono -- target him in a much more high-minded way, accusing him or criminality and bad political ideas. He can take that. He can't take being called a failure.

I don't want this to be the Democrats' main message by any means, but I wish someone would hit him where it hurts.

Sunday, October 06, 2019


Axios's Jonathan Swan reports:
In numerous recent conversations with colleagues, including last week's senior staff meeting, White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney has said he thinks President Trump could win 45 states in 2020 after the impeachment process....

People who've heard Mulvaney make this remark say he wasn't joking or even exaggerating. He appears to genuinely believe that impeachment will have a profoundly positive effect on Trump's political fortunes, according to 3 sources who have heard Mulvaney make the 45-state prediction.
Swan says this is "a magnitude of landslide that few if any independent pollsters would dare predict." Few? Try none. No presidential candidate has won more than 32 states since 1988, and the last president to win more than 40 was Ronald Reagan in 1984. Polarization makes a 45-state landslide all but impossible these days.

Let's look at the state-by-state results in 2016. Hillary Clinton won Hawaii by 32 points. She won California by 30, Massachusetts by 27, and Maryland and Vermont by 26. She won New York State by 22 points -- that was her sixth-best state. What Mulvaney is predicting is that Trump will close a 22-point gap in New York State next year. (In Quinnipiac's most recent poll of New York State, Trump had a 28% favorable rating and a 67% unfavorable rating, and 64% of respondents said they definitely wouldn't vote for Trump.) Oh, and he'll have to make similar gains in Illinois (Clinton by 17), Rhode Island (Clinton by 15), New Jersey (Clinton by 14)....

Why is Mulvaney saying this, and why are three people swearing to Jonathan Swan that he really, really means it? I think this CNN story from late September explains it:
Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney is on shaky ground in the wake of a bad week for President Trump, according to multiple sources with knowledge of discussions surrounding the whistleblower fallout....

What Trump and other aides are frustrated with, according to the sources, is that Mulvaney did not have a strategy for defending and explaining the contents of those documents as soon as they were publicly released.

One of the sources says it's not just the President, but also widespread frustration in the White House about the lack of a response plan to deal with the fallout after the release of the whistleblower complaint ignited more controversy surrounding the President. The sources say Mulvaney is taking the heat for that.
I don't think Mulvaney has a choice if he wants to keep his job -- he needs to butter up the boss, and friends need to tell the media that his flattery is very, very sincere. Of course Trump will become massively popular once he's impeached! This will just be a restoration of the natural order of things, with Trump as the universally beloved president he was always meant to be!

I'm sure Mulvaney has seen to it that the Axios story appears prominently in Trump's daily packet of news stories. I wonder if it will save his job.


Peter Pomerantsev, author of the new book This Is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality, argues in The New York Times that leaders peddle conspiracy theories in order to create a world where truth is devalued.
As I follow the news coming from America at my home in Britain, the political culture and language in the thing once known as “the West” reminds me of my years in Moscow, where I lived in the first decade of the 21st century. Perhaps in nothing more so than in its relationship to the truth.

The media manipulation of the early Putin years didn’t try to convince you of a fabricated version of “truth.” Instead, it worked by seeding doubt and confusion, evoking a world so full of endlessly intricate conspiracies that you, the little guy, had no chance to work out or change. Instead of conspiracy theories being used to merely buttress an ideology as under Communist rule, a conspiratorial worldview replaced ideology as a way to explain the world, encouraging the public to trust nothing and yearn for a strong leader to guide it through the murk — a tactic that’s as common in Washington these days as in Moscow.

... When the Russian president went on international TV during the annexation of Crimea to smirk and say that there were no Russian soldiers on the peninsula, and that the soldiers the world could see were just locals who had bought Russian military uniforms, he wasn’t so much lying as demonstrating that he doesn’t care at all about facts and, by extension, the rules governing his behavior.
Pomerantsev believes that creating a post-truth world makes it easier for leaders such as Putin -- and Trump -- to get away with corrupt acts.
Seeing all rules and norms as mere facades for a vast conspiracy also legitimizes getting around them to exercise unlimited corruption. The cynicism implicit in conspiratorial thinking frees you up to indulge in anything you want.
I can't speak knowledgeably about Putin's Russia, but is this really what's happening in our country? I don't believe Trump is trying to persuade Americans that the world is "so full of endlessly intricate conspiracies that you, the little guy, [have] no chance to work out or change." I think he expects his base to believe his conspiracy theories wholeheartedly. And while Trump lies relentlessly, it's clear that he believes in quite a few conspiracies himself.

I have my doubts about Pomerantsev's assessment of Putin's lie about Russian troops in Crimea. If Trump did something similar and insisted he hadn't done it, don't you think his base would believe him, despite all evidence to the contrary? I do.

At the very least, his base would praise him for infuriating his opponents. As I wrote a few days ago,
I think Trump's supporters do take him literally. They believe he's building the wall. They believe he's draining the swamp. But if they find out he isn't, they don't care, because merely announcing that you want to do these things pisses off the libs, and then seemingly getting away with lying about them also pisses us off. In the eyes of the base at least, Trump wins either way.
I was probably giving Trump's fans too much credit for discernment -- they never seem to believe he's lying.

(Oh, wait -- that's not entirely true. Every prominent Republican in America is telling us today that Trump's call for Chinese help in investigating Hunter Biden was a joke. It's not clear what the fan base believes, but I'm sure no one thinks Trump was mocking the very notion of truth.)

Of course, Americans, particularly on the right, don't need would-be authoritarians to bamboozle them -- they actively seek out conspiracy theories whether or not there's an authoritarian behind them. We recall the Obama birther conspiracy as inextricably linked to Trump, but what about theories Trump has never mentioned -- that Barack Obama is gay, or that Michelle is actually a man? Many right-wingers believe these theories; many believe the cockamamie theories of QAnon, a movement that's been linked to Trump but has never been openly endorsed by him.

If conspiratorialism exists to make Americans doubt the existence of truth, they're getting the bamboozlement from outside the government -- from Alex Jones, from whoever the hell concocted QAnon, and so on. Maybe the powerful are outsourcing this (as they outsourced disinformation to Russia in the 2016 campaign) -- but it seems to me that a certain subset of Americans actively seek to bamboozle themselves.

Saturday, October 05, 2019


The president of the United States is a Republican who's a pathological narcissist; curiously, the last time impeachment was taken up by Congress, the leader of the Republicans, who were the ones doing the impeaching, was also a pathological narcissist. Republicans believe they have a monopoly on truth, wisdom, morality, and patriotism, so narcissism suits the party's culture. I wish liberalism didn't have quite as firm a purchase on whatever you'd call narcissism's polar opposite.

Here's liberal pundit Jonathan Bernstein with a message for Democrats: Before you start impeachment, you should engage in some serious and very public self-abnegation:
Oust Pelosi From the Presidential Succession Line

Democrats should make it legally impossible for impeachment to deliver them the White House.

The top order of business when the House of Representatives returns from recess on Oct. 15 is certain to be the impeachment inquiry into the conduct of President Donald Trump. Here’s something the lawmakers should take care of first: changing the presidential line of succession to remove the speaker of the House and the president pro tempore of the Senate.

The U.S. Constitution specifies that the vice president takes over if a president leaves office. After that, presidential succession is up to Congress, which has changed the procedure several times throughout U.S. history. There are two strong reasons to change the law again now: It’s the best way for the Democrats to handle impeachment, and it’s best for the nation, anyway.

With Trump claiming that the constitutional process of impeachment amounts to a “coup,” it’s a good idea for Democrats to make it as clear as possible that they have no intention of overturning the 2016 election by installing a Democrat in the White House. That’s important because Speaker Nancy Pelosi is second in line to replace Trump under current law, behind Vice President Mike Pence.
Really? This is the first thing Democrats should do after the recess?

Bernstein offers a good-government reason why members of Congress shouldn't be in the line of succession at all.
It’s always been a mistake to insert members of Congress into the presidential line of succession; it’s contrary to the entire structure of the constitutional system, which separates legislative from executive institutions and forces them to share powers.
And maybe he's right, in the abstract. But while there's nothing wrong with painting your house, the time to do it isn't when the house is on fire, there's an infestation of termites, and a plane has fallen out of the sky and crashed through the roof. That's where we are in America right now. Our house is under assault in multiple ways. It's really not time to be thinking about new drapes.

Bernstein also believes that this move might persuade reluctant Republicans to agree on the removal of Donald Trump and Mike Pence from power.
A Republican wouldn’t have to be paranoid to imagine the Democrats trying to maneuver past Pence, especially now that Pence’s name has come up as a possible character in the drama at the heart of the impeachment inquiry.... As long as Pelosi remains in the line of succession and control of the White House is even potentially at stake, Republicans will have an incentive to fight back against a legitimate investigation of Pence’s potential role in the Ukraine scandal.
I love that bit about "otherwise open-minded Republicans." Where are these strange creatures? I've never seen one in the wild, or anywhere else. Right now there's one (1) Republican in Congress, Representative Mark Amodei of Nevada, who's expressed support for an inquiry into Trump's wrongdoing. As soon as it was reported that Amodei backed an impeachment inquiry, he walked his remarks back, insisting that he wanted some vague, undefined sort of investigation, but -- heavens to Betsy! -- not an impeachment inquiry. (Justin Amash of Michigan supports impeachment, but he's no longer a Republican.)

It's a huge undertaking to impeach a president, and we're nowhere close to the point where the process might result in conviction and removal from office. Bernstein is arguing that 20 or more Senate Republicans might be found who'll say, "Sure, impeach and remove my party's president and my party's vice president -- I'm cool with that. But Nancy Pelosi running the country in caretaker mode for a year? That's a bridge too far."

Ultimately, what Bernstein is recommending is classic liberal forelock-tugging: Let's sacrifice the power we've acquired because then Republicans won't be mean to us!
... even a little uncertainty about that outcome might be enough to push otherwise open-minded Republicans away from voting for impeachment or conviction. Removing Pelosi and the third-in-line official, Senate President Pro Tem Charles Grassley, from having any chance of becoming president would be a worthwhile gesture for Democrats to make, indicating that they accept the reality that a Republican will be president until January, 2021, no matter what happens.
Republicans use every bit of power they have. Twice in the past two decades they've placed a candidate in the White House who didn't win the popular vote. Did either of those Republicans cede power? Not at all -- no "governing from the center," no nothing. Four of the nine justices on the Supreme Court were appointed by these two Republicans, and if Trump is reelected, that number will rise to a majority of the High Court. So in the unlikely event that Democrats are in a position to force both the president and the vice president from office -- if the public regards both as clearly guilty of high crimes, and Republicans feel that their immediate electoral prospects are doomed unless they acknowledge the criminality of the two men -- why shouldn't Democrats grab whatever power is in reach? Why should we be chumps?

Oh, sorry, I forgot -- Republicans are supposed to take their own side in an argument. Democrats aren't. Silly me -- I should have known that.

Friday, October 04, 2019


I'll acknowledge that this seems like bad news.
The Supreme Court announced on Friday that it will hear June Medical Services v. Gee, a case that could well be the vehicle the Court’s conservatives use to gut the right to an abortion.

At the heart of the case is a 2014 Louisiana law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Abortion rights advocates say such laws serve no medical purpose and are merely an effort to shut down clinics — and in the landmark 2016 case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the Supreme Court struck down a similar law in Texas.

But ... Gee is the first abortion-related case the Supreme Court will hear on the merits since Justice Brett Kavanaugh replaced the more moderate conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy....

Kavanaugh ... is overwhelmingly likely to vote with his conservative colleagues to uphold the abortion restriction at issue in Gee. The Gee decision may not be the final straw for Roe v. Wade — indeed, it is fairly likely that the Court will prefer to dismantle the right to an abortion in incremental steps. But it is likely to, at the very least, be the beginning of the end.
The safe bet is that Irin Carmon and Scott Lemieux are right -- but Joshua Holland asks a good question:

In 1992, the Court held in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that "unnecessary health regulations that have the purpose or effect of presenting a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion impose an undue burden on the right" to one. It makes sense that a more conservative Court will jettison that principle -- or, more likely, claim to uphold it while creating massive opportunities for states to enact just such regulations.

But does John Roberts really want GOP-appointed Supreme Court justices blamed for a sudden massive decrease in abortion availability a few months before a presidential election?

I think this raises the possibility that Roberts will join with the Court's liberals to say, "Hey, this is just like the Texas law, so I'm going to shock you by upholding precedent and striking it down." Which won't prevent the Court from doing precisely what Carmon and Lemieux fear after the election, in response to a different challenge to Roe.

If I'm right, Roberts could be planning two counterintuitive rulings in an election year. The court has also agreed to hear Texas v. United States, a case that could completely dismantle Obamacare. I've already predicted that Roberts will once again be the fifth vote to save Obamacare, and I stand by that prediction -- he doesn't want massive numbers of people losing health insurance in an election year as a result of a ruling by five Republican appointees.

Roberts doesn't want potential Democratic voters angry and riled up, and he'll be pleased if Republican voters' takeaway is "We need to reelect Donald Trump because we obviously need even more right-wing justices on the Supreme Court." If I'm right, he'll take the heat -- the angry tweets from President Trump, the calls for his impeachment on Fox and talk radio -- if it leads to a Trump win and thus puts more Federalist Society corporatists on the bench. The right-wing judicial establishment has been playing the long game for years, and Roberts knows that an election year is a good time to fake being a centrist, even if the man who'll directly benefit from the fakery, Donald Trump doesn't get it.