Friday, December 06, 2019

CAN MITCH McCONNELL PUT THE CRAZY BACK IN THE TUBE?

Politico reports that the Senate impeachment trial probably won't go full wingnut.
Senate GOP leaders have signaled they intend to defend Trump wholeheartedly, but they’re also loath to let the upper chamber descend into chaos or divide their caucus ahead of a tough 2020 cycle. And even if Senate Republicans wanted to embrace the hard-line posture of the House, the party’s narrow majority makes that all but impossible under Senate rules.

Calling controversial witnesses will require near lockstep party unity from 51 of the 53 Senate Republicans to make any procedural maneuvers, a tough task given the diverse views in the GOP, according to senators and aides.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has privately urged senators to avoid divisive votes on impeachment motions, and other senators are eager to ensure that the GOP doesn’t lose votes — or control of a trial in their own chamber.

So as carefully as they can, given the political need to stay aligned with Trump, GOP senators are pouring cold water on the idea that they can or will produce a Christmas tree of TrumpWorld demands during a trial that will determine whether Trump’s presidency survives the winter.
Apparently the Senate won't be putting Adam Schiff on trial, or either Joe or Hunter Biden, or the whistleblower.
“I don’t even know whether there are going to be witnesses. And it seems the witnesses should be relevant to the inquiry,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).
What Mitch McConnell cares about most is preserving his Senate majority, and he apparently thinks the way to do that is to avoid offending moderate voters in Colorado, Maine, North Carolina, Iowa, Kansas, Georgia, and Texas who might recoil in horror if the Senate conducts the trial of Rudy Giuliani's and Devin Nunes's dreams.

McConnell is assuming that the Fox-addled Republican base will be content with a quiet, red-meat-deficient trial that ends with the president acquitted on all charges. But will that really be enough for them? House Republicans and right-wing media stars will be demanding a trial for the real malefactors. Some GOP senators in swing states will be facing primary challenges from Trumpists. Can the demand for retribution against the hating Democrats be kept in check? Will acquittal be enough?

When the Senate trial is over, I think McConnell (also up for reelection), Lindsey Graham (ditto), and the entire Senate GOP will be regarded as RINOs, with the possible exception of any senator (Ted Cruz?) who joins with the House loonies in demanding an "impeach the impeachers" turning of the tables. That impression might wear off by November, but I wouldn't be certain.

Or, of course, after a sedate the trial, Graham or another senator might announce a phony investigation of Biden, Ukraine, and the 2016 Clinton campaign just in time for the general election campaign. The GOP base will be clamoring for at least that much.



IS BIDEN OUR TRUMP?

The Biden video makes me cringe -- but does it matter what I think?



I'd regard this as an unmitigated disaster for Biden except for one thing: The crowd at the gathering vigorously applauds him, starting at 1:15 in the clip. The ovation comes in response to one of the most cringeworthy aspects of the clip: Biden's fat-shaming of his questioner.
BIDEN: ... And you want to check my shape on, let's do push-ups together, man, let's do -- let's run, let's do whatever you want to do. Let's take an IQ test.
Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election in part because he speaks with a non-elite accent and says things politicians aren't supposed to say. Bernie Sanders is a Democratic front-runner for a second time not just because he excites young people and the left, but because some voters who find other Democrats off-putting, even Elizabeth Warren in this contest, respond to the working-class accent and simple words of Sanders. Americans disagree on who the elite are, but an awful lot of them agree that elites are bad and they'd prefer a president who's plainspoken and doesn't act like part of the elite class.

Matt Yglesias puts this somewhat differently:
Stylistically, Biden reminds me here of John McCain, whom I always found incredibly annoying but was generally very popular and well-liked.
I'll stick with the Trump analogy. We all know that Trump said many things after declaring his candidacy in 2015 that appeared to doom his candidacy, and he survived all of them. What if Joe Biden is a non-criminal, non-predatory, well-informed, reasonably intelligent, and liberal-if-not-progressive Trump? What if the gaffes are actually endearing him to much of America, because he's clearly not slick and focus-grouped?

****

I essentially agree with Yglesias that Biden needs a better answer to questions about his son. Yglesias writes:
Now, what I would say about Hunter is that Burisma, the energy company that gave Hunter a seat on its board, did not get any favors from Biden or the Obama administration. It would have been better for Joe, better for Obama, and probably better for America had Hunter refused to trade on his father’s name for personal gain — but Hunter is also an adult, and there’s actually nothing Joe can do to prevent his son from doing that.

More broadly, it’s pretty obvious that Hunter is an all-around mess. He got kicked out of the Navy Reserve for using cocaine, and divorce papers filed by his then-wife in 2017 alleged Hunter had a pattern of “spending extravagantly on his own interests, including drugs, alcohol, prostitutes, strip clubs, and gifts for women with whom he has sexual relations.” He later started dating his brother’s widow, and seems to have fathered a child with another woman during this same period. Given the full picture of Hunter’s conduct, it’s pretty obvious he does lots of things his dad probably wishes he wouldn’t, though on some level, that just shows you can’t control your kids.

It’s obviously asking a lot for a father to publicly denounce his son, especially given that his other son died recently and their mother had passed away when they were very young. It’s an extremely sad family story that must hang like a cloud over Biden’s successful career in politics.
I don't believe Biden needs to go into detail about Hunter. He just needs to say that the Obama administration always made policy based on what was in the best interests of the United States and global security, not what was in the best interests of Hunter or any other individual. He should dare Rudy Giuliani or anyone else to find evidence to the contrary -- real evidence, not fake evidence cooked up in some basement in the Kremlin.

And maybe after that he should challenge Rudy to a push-up contest, or Trump. Some people really seem to like that sort of thing.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

CHARLIE SYKES GETS LOST IN THE TIME-POLITICS CONTINUUM

#NeverTrumper Charlie Sykes wants Democrats to slow the impeachment down
Why the rush? Democrats, now in the midst of House Judiciary Committee hearings, seem intent on forcing an impeachment vote before Christmas. But moving too fast risks ignoring new evidence that might emerge, failing to pressure key players to testify and/or turn over records, letting the story’s momentum die over the holidays and playing into Trump’s hands.
I'm puzzled by this. Sykes wants Democrats to stretch this process out over a longer period of time because otherwise there's the risk that they'll be "letting the story’s momentum die over the holiday." But isn't slowing the process down precisely how momentum would be lost? Isn't that how momentum works? If you apply the brakes, don't you curtail momentum?

And what pressure can Democrats apply to get key players to testify or surrender records? Pressure isn't going to do it -- this White House and those who've worked for it respond only to court orders, and I wouldn't be so sure they'll respond to those. In my last post, I criticized Charlie Savage's news analysis on this subject in The New York Times, but let me again quote the passage I agree with, because it shows how Trump and his allies can grind the process to a virtual halt.
The opening stage of the fight over [a] subpoena to [former White House counsel Don] McGahn consumed nearly a third of the year before the judge completed a 120-page ruling rejecting it. The Justice Department then immediately appealed. It can repeat that process before a three-judge panel, and then again before the full appeals court and then before the Supreme Court.

And even if the Supreme Court ultimately orders such an official to show up for testimony, he could then refuse to discuss conversations with Mr. Trump on the ground that their contents are privileged. That would start a new cycle of litigation.
Not very good for momentum, I'd say. (This is precisely what House Democrats learned when they tried to investigate Russiagate earlier this year.)

Sykes writes:
... perhaps most important, the rush to a vote ignores the fact that speed is Donald Trump’s friend.

Trump counts on a dizzying, vertiginous cycle of news, outrage and disinformation to move past damaging stories before they are fully absorbed or placed into context.

Blink and you will miss it: kids in cages, “human scum,” the G-7 and Doral, “send her back,” his fraudulent foundation. Remember when Trump was planning to invite the Taliban to Camp David on the eve of 9/11? And how many weeks has it been since he gave Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan the green light to invade Syria?

Stories that would once have dominated the public’s consciousness for weeks, now can vanish in less than a single news cycle. By Friday of every week, even those of us who follow the news for a living have a hard time remembering the stories that had consumed our attention on Monday.

The same speed warp applies to impeachment. When did Ambassador Bill Taylor testify? Two months ago? Can you remember the key takeaways from his testimony? Who did Rudy Giuliani call when he was trying to have Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch sacked? What exactly is his relationship with indicted businessman Lev Parnas? Who tried to get the former Ukrainian prosecutor fired, and why?
So Sykes is saying that we don't remember what we learned two months ago, but we'll remember more if we stretch this process out to four or five or six months?

Sykes writes:
Trump thrives on this pace, knowing that he can move the focus from one issue to another and eclipse the most embarrassing stories with yet another embarrassment via tweet. For Trump, a dozen scandals are easier to face than one or two and the flood of new provocations serves not to outrage, but to distract and exhaust....

So there is value in slowing down and letting key pieces of evidence sink in for the public. Let the public catch up. Let the stories marinate a while.
But he also writes:
Impeachment, of course, is a solemn constitutional process that should center on facts, evidence and truth. Instead, we are getting a blizzard of bat shit.

“Much of the Republican Party,” the Washington Post reports, “is pressing ahead with debunked claims about Ukraine as they defend President Trump from possible impeachment, embracing Russian-fueled conspiracy theories that seek to cast blame on Kyiv rather than Moscow for interference in the 2016 U.S. election.”

... This willingness to embrace bat-guano crazy conspiracy theories will test the sanity of Democrats and voters alike. Unfortunately, the chief purveyor of the looniest theories is not Louisiana Senator John Kennedy (who was for it before he was against it before he was for it again) or even Representative Devin Nunes—it is the president of the United States himself, who continues to peddle bizarre stories about Ukraine, a tech company called CrowdStrike and the hacking of the DNC.

... It is important to recognize that the point of this Trumpian exercise in fabulism and gaslighting is not to convince the public of Trump’s innocence, but to confuse and obfuscate and hopefully make the public tune out and turn away.
But Trump and the Republicans don't fling shit only when they're under attack. They do it all the time. Sykes believes that Democrats should patiently wait as the question of testimony from key witnesses meanders through the court system. He thinks the Democrats' Ukraine narrative should be allowed to "marinate." During that period of waiting and marinating, Trump and his enablers will be creating the environment they prefer, one in which they're steering the overall political narrative, preferably by urging us to focus on and demonize the Bidens, Adam Schiff, the whistleblower, and the "liberal media," plus Hillary Clinton, George Soros, Strzok and Page, and whoever else is on Trump's enemies list that week. I can imagine arguments for patience and a good marinade, but it's absurd to argue that they'll allow Democrats to dominate the narrative.

I have doubts about the timing of this impeachment. I assume Nancy Pelosi actually wants it to be forgotten by Election Day, because she's afraid it's still a loser in swing districts. Is that a good reason to do it now? I'm not sure. But now that it's under way, I don't see the point of counting on the courts to ride to the rescue a few months from now, given the partisan makeup of the federal judiciary, and given the many slow steps on the journey from here to any final rulings. Now that we're on this bus, let's get to where we're going.

FOX COMMENTATORS CRITIQUE TURLEY, WHILE THE NEW YORK TIMES TAKES HIM SERIOUSLY

In the House Judiciary Committee hearing yesterday, Republican witness Jonathan Turley argued that Democrats are rushing to impeach, refusing to wait for testimony from witnesses who've been withheld by the White House, then insisting that the White House's resistance is obstruction of justice. On Fox News, two commentators rejected that message.
Fox News legal commentators Andrew Napolitano and Andy McCarthy agreed that there were flaws in Jonathan Turley’s argument against impeaching President Donald Trump....

When Napolitano reacted to Turley’s argument, he said that the House of Representatives has the sole power of impeachment and doesn’t need court approval to enforce subpoenas. As Napolitano continued to further note the Trump administration’s refusal to comply with the impeachment inquiry, he argued “that is the act of obstruction,” and Turley’s argument against it is “a misreading of the obstruction statute.”

McCarthy was asked for his response next, and he agreed with Napolitano that Turley’s reasoning was “simply wrong.”

“I don’t think the framers would have thought to that the Article 1 branch [Congress] needed the assistance of the Article 3 branch [the courts] to impeach an officer of the Article 2 branch [the Executive Branch],” McCarthy said. “I don’t think that’s conceivable.”
You can watch the clip at the link above. Audio only is here:



Napolitano and McCarthy agree that Congress has the right to enforce subpoenas for Executive Branch witnesses and documents, and that it's obstruction if the White House fails to comply. But while a couple of guys at the pro-Trump news channel reject Turley's argument, Charlie Savage of The New York Times is taking it very seriously. In a news analysis that's the lead story at nytimes.com as I type this, Savage argues that Turley has a legitimate point when he says that impeachment is being done too hastily and without some first-hand witnesses. Shouldn't Democrats wait until the courts have ruled on whether those witnesses should testify?
Are House Democrats making a mistake by moving swiftly to impeach President Trump when some facts remain hidden about whether he abused his power in the Ukraine affair?

... Calling “the abbreviated period of this investigation” both problematic and puzzling, Mr. Turley said Congress had assembled “a facially incomplete and inadequate record in order to impeach a president.” The evidence has gaps because of “unsubpoenaed witnesses with material evidence,” he argued, and it is wrong to move forward without hearing from them.

... Much of the evidence the House uncovered in its inquiry was from witnesses who largely were a degree of separation removed from Mr. Trump himself. As a result, they were unable to say whether the president ever directly and explicitly said he was conditioning a meeting and the securing of funding for the specific purpose of coercing Ukraine’s president into announcing investigations that would benefit him politically.
They didn't say that? Well, Mick Mulvaney did. We all saw it on television.

Savage acknowledges that, yes, the White House can use the courts to stonewall almost indefinitely.
The opening stage of the fight over [a] subpoena to [former White House counsel Don] McGahn consumed nearly a third of the year before the judge completed a 120-page ruling rejecting it. The Justice Department then immediately appealed. It can repeat that process before a three-judge panel, and then again before the full appeals court and then before the Supreme Court.

And even if the Supreme Court ultimately orders such an official to show up for testimony, he could then refuse to discuss conversations with Mr. Trump on the ground that their contents are privileged. That would start a new cycle of litigation.
But Savage concludes with dishonest spin from the GOP, which he treats as uncontested fact.
Republicans on Wednesday ran in part with Mr. Turley’s theme. Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the committee, emphasized that the facts of what Mr. Trump did are disputed, unlike those during the Nixon and Clinton impeachment proceedings.

“There are no set facts here,” Mr. Collins said, adding: “This is not an impeachment. This is simply a railroad job.”
"I would like you to do us a favor though" is a set fact. Mulvaney's confession is a set fact. Savage is presenting GOP spin as if it's a legitimate argument made in good faith.

The GOP is really, really good at bad-faith spin. Apart from enriching the already rich and making old white people scared of societal change, it's the only thing Republicans are good at.

But they're so good they spun the Times, if not, for once, a couple of commentators at Fox.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

REPUBLICANS, TRIGGERED

Three law professors have made a strong case for impeachment in House Judiciary Committee hearings today, but the substance of their testimony threatens to be overshadowed by an orgy of right-wing fauxtrage, in response to this:
An expert witness in Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing riffed on the name of the president’s teen son, Barron....

“Contrary to what President Trump has said, Article 2 [of the Constitution] does not give him the power to do anything he wants,” testified Pamela Karlan, a professor at Stanford Law School. “The Constitution says there can be no titles of nobility, so while the president can name his son Barron, he can’t make him a baron.”
That's all she said. Nevertheless, the fainting couches are in formation:




Trump campaign spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement, “Only in the minds of crazed liberals is it funny to drag a 13-year-old child into the impeachment nonsense. Pamela Karlan thought she was being clever and going for laughs, but she instead reinforced for all Americans that Democrats have no boundaries when it comes to their hatred of everything related to President Trump. Hunter Biden is supposedly off-limits according to liberals, but a 13-year-old boy is fair game. Disgusting.

“Every Democrat in Congress should immediately repudiate Pamela Karlan and call on her to personally apologize to the president and the first lady for mocking their son on national TV.”
(Karlan did apologize a few minutes ago during the hearings.)

And there was this from Barron's step half-brother:



Which is fascinating, because Junior recently published what's now the most popular right-wing book in America, and it happens to be called Triggered. Its thesis is that people on the left are hypersensitive and attack conservatives for trivial reasons.

In the book, Junior writes:
Today, as it appears on the internet at least, the term “trigger warning” is used to describe something, say a tweet from my dad, that blows up the fragile sensibilities of the liberal Twitterverse. At the very least, it sets their hair on fire and creates a minor news story for a few days. But at the worst, it moves them to real-life outrage and organized violence. And before you ask, the freaking out is wildly disproportionate. While conservatives usually get worked up over important things—such as the killing of babies or the stripping away of our natural rights as human beings—with liberals the “triggers” tend to be much sillier....

With every passing day, the bar for what’s considered “triggering” gets lower and lower.
Yes -- why just today, liberals were freaking out because someone made a play on words about the first name of a politician's kid. Oh, wait -- that was Republicans.

IN CONSERVATIVES' MINDS, IT'S ALWAYS 1971

The attorney general is getting a lot of attention for this:
U.S. Attorney General William Barr said Tuesday that if some communities don’t begin showing more respect to law enforcement, then they could potentially not be protected by police officers.

The country’s top cop made the questionable remarks while giving a speech at the Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service in Policing.

“But I think today, American people have to focus on something else, which is the sacrifice and the service that is given by our law enforcement officers,” Barr said. “And they have to start showing, more than they do, the respect and support that law enforcement deserves ― and if communities don’t give that support and respect, they might find themselves without the police protection they need.”
That sounds familiar. It's a sentiment from the days of my youth, the late 1960s and early 1970s.



Barr was talking about that era, in fact:
The attorney general ... compared police to Vietnam-era soldiers returning home to face those opposed to the conflict.

“In the Vietnam era, our country learned a lesson. I remember that our brave troops who served in that conflict weren’t treated very well in many cases when they came home, and sometimes they bore the brunt of people who were opposed to the war,” he said. “The respect and gratitude owed to them was not given. And it took decades for the American people finally to realize that.”

Similarly, he suggested, Americans should stop protesting police officers “fighting an unrelenting, never-ending fight against criminal predators in our society.”
Boomer Republicans love to invoke the late 1960s and early 1970s. They love it because the fifty-year backlash to the much shorter era of protest and progress began at that time, with Nixon's election and reelection, with the governorship of future president Ronald Reagan, with hard-hat riots against anti-war protestors and Clint Eastwood revenge movies. They also love the era because they've never updated their stereotypes of the enemy. Black and Hispanic people are criminals. Feminists ("women's libbers") are hairy-legged man-haters. Men on the left are effeminate, smelly, sandal-wearing longhairs. Can it be that it was all so simple then?

The fantasy, then and now, was a complete withdrawal of "law and order" from the cities, or at least the "bad" neighborhoods, at which point all "those people" would kill one another off and leave the good people in a state of pleasant suburban peace, and allow the rich to turn the cities into high-end playgrounds. To a large extent, the rich got the latter wish, but it was as a result of the War on Crime -- which is a reminder that the police presence in higher-crime areas isn't on behalf of the residents, but on behalf of the elites who want the poor kept down. So Barr is bluffing -- the elites will always want have-nots policed. But it's a fantasy that's never lost its appeal to people like him.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

HOW POWER WORKS

Kamala Harris is out.
Kamala Harris dropped her presidential campaign on Tuesday after months of failing to lift her candidacy from the bottom of the field — a premature ending for a California senator once heralded as a top-tier contender for the nomination.

Harris told aides of her intentions in an all-staff call. A person familiar with the call said she sounded distraught. While Harris had qualified for the December debate in her home state, she was running dangerously low on cash — lacking the resources to air TV ads in Iowa — and her staff was gripped by long-running internal turmoil.
I agree with this, but probably not in the way Giridharadas means it:



The way money, power, race, and gender worked in this case was that without being forced to do so, we seem to have talked ourselves out of considering anyone other than white men -- plus Elizabeth Warren, though her candidacy is in decline now, and may never fully recover. One set of rich white men funded a Republican Party that used gerrymandering and vote suppression to dominate our politics for the past twenty years, culminating in the election of a popular-vote loser as president for the second time this century, thanks to the Electoral College. Now we don't trust our own judgment as to which candidate can beat Donald Trump. Black voters fear that the best they can do is rally around a white guy who was a decent ally for eight years. White voters fear that fellow whites won't vote for a black or Hispanic candidate, or a woman, or a progressive. This happened in large part because another set of rich people -- Democratic plutocrats, although there's considerable overlap between that group and plutocrat Republicans -- told us (by means of their elite-media spokespeople) that we really, really don't want to risk throwing in our lot with anyone other than a white male moderate. And so here we are, probably facing a Biden-Buttigieg stretch run, with Warren and Sanders lagging behind, and, if you believe certain pundits, Bloomberg buying his way into contention.

This was not an exercise in raw power. It was an exercise in manufacturing consent. And it appears to be working.

CAN'T ANYBODY HERE PLAY THIS GAME?

Charlie Pierce is right about how Judiciary Committee hearings on impeachment are likely to go:
The Republicans Will Let Their Freak Flags Fly. The Democrats Will Do 'Gravitas.'

... if this account from The New York Times is to be believed, the committee warfare well may be sadly asymmetrical.
Democrats, led by Mr. Nadler, intend to try to rein in their more fiery progressives and infuse the proceedings with gravitas, mindful of their role in history. But the freewheeling nature of the panel, with its hyperpartisan members, does not easily lend itself to that task....

Republicans instead want to mire Democrats in a sloppy fight, making the hearings into such a confusing mishmash of competing information that even Republicans troubled by Mr. Trump’s actions see no upside in breaking with him. They plan to take advantage of early impeachment advocacy by Mr. Nadler and Democrats on the panel to portray the Ukraine matter as simply another attempt by Mr. Trump’s critics to take him down....

Joining Mr. Collins on Republicans’ side of the dais are some of the most ardent culture warriors and defenders of Mr. Trump: Louie Gohmert of Texas, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Andy Biggs of Arizona and Jim Jordan of Ohio....
So Nadler is going to try and restrain his more enthusiastic colleagues while Collins frees up his pack of crazoids to let their freak flags fly. Gravitas, because that’s worked so well in a country that elected a vulgar talking yam to its highest office. I am already dreading this.
The Times story is clearly wrong in one respect: Republicans won't be doing this in the hope of ensuring "that even Republicans troubled by Mr. Trump’s actions see no upside in breaking with him." That's already locked in -- even if the voting started immediately, every Republican would already be on Trump's side. In fact, what they're doing is trying to turn this FiveThirtyEight graph back into negative territory regarding impeachment.



Politico's Playbook goes into a bit more detail on how they plan to turn the hearings into a circus:
-- PROCEDURAL ROADBLOCKS: Rep. DOUG COLLINS (R-Ga.) -- the top Republican on Judiciary -- is going to force procedural arguments with NADLER and fight when Democrats try to bat them away.... Republicans will focus on the definition of terms like “bribery” and the standard of proof.

-- COLLINS VS. NADLER: Republicans believe that, unlike Schiff, Nadler can be knocked off kilter easily. Whereas Schiff spoke extemporaneously in complete sentences, Nadler -- according to Republican research -- tends to rely on notes....

-- PROCESS, PROCESS, PROCESS: Watch for Republicans to complain a lot about what they consider an unjust process. They’ll talk about documents they didn’t get and the inability for them to talk to fact witnesses, and, when it comes time, they’ll seek to discredit the SCHIFF REPORT as being part of what they consider a broken process.
We'll hear that this is the worst injustice since the Holocaust, Stalin's gulags, and the lynching era. And every elected Republican in D.C. will tell the media that that's an objective, rational reading of the situation.

And maybe, after all this, the polls will still show the public in favor of impeachment (and, in some polls, removal from office), but that's mostly because the majority of the public has loathed Trump for years and wishes he'd go away.

Democrats are winning the argument, though it's in spite of themselves. Here's a video the House Intelligence Committee has just posted:



What does this say to people who are still confused about the timeline of events and who don't fully grasp why Trump's demands of Ukraine were corrupt? What does it convey to people who don't recognize the key witnesses on sight? The speakers in this video aren't identified by name. Their words are barely put into context. The clips don't follow in any logical sequence.

This is a video for impeachment fans only. It doesn't make the case -- it just confirms the case for those who've already decided that the president is guilty.

The public has already decided that it wants Trump gone, so maybe Democrats don't need to do better than this. But they should try.

Monday, December 02, 2019

TRUMP NATION, INDEFINITELY?

I've been saying for a while that the Republican Party won't return to even Bush-era "normalcy" (which was bad enough) once Donald Trump is out of office -- sorry, Nikki Haley and John Kasich, but the next Republican presidential nominee will be a Trumpite. Ross Barkan agrees, and he makes a point that hadn't occurred to me: The next GOP nominee will be a Trumpite because Trump will turn the contest into a test of the candidates' loyalty to him.
I’ve heard Democrats hope that Trump’s departure from the White House, whenever that may be, will render him irrelevant. But he is no Obama. He will not hesitate, as an absurdly famous and retired person with time on his hands, to intervene in every political controversy imaginable. He will take sides in primaries. He will troll old rivals. He will celebrate slavishly loyal friends. The next open Republican primary will likely morph into an extended courtship of Donald Trump. Trump, like his old Apprentice self, will decide who to hire and fire in the Republican contest. One lucky winner will have the nomination. The only way to win Trump’s affection, of course, will be to do and say exactly as he does, to double-down on his darkness, to appease the king. The next Republican primary will be a race to lock out as many immigrants from America as possible, to flood the nation with as many guns as possible, and to outlaw, for good, the right to an abortion. Fox News, the GOP’s reliable propaganda network, will goad the contestants on. Every week or so, an aged Trump can take to the airwaves and weigh in, like a bloviating sports talk show host, on the progress of his candidates. This is the future that awaits us.
I believe the GOP electorate will demand a Trumper in any event, but this is so obvious I can't believe it never occurred to me: Of course Trump will want to turn the primaries into a Trump reality series.

Barkan believes that Democrats are foolishly optimistic about the state of the post-Trump GOP.
There is a naive belief, among a certain coastal set, that Trump’s demise will liberate the political order and restore sanity. Republicans will rediscover their moderation. Democratic norms will be become sacred again. These are the same people who usually call Trump a singular threat to American democracy, forgetting George W. Bush waged two catastrophic wars overseas, immolated an entire region of the world, and engineered a surveillance state that has proved durable through Democratic and Republican presidencies alike.
Torture, too. Don't forget torture, Ross.

I've never believed that "the fever will break." I think most Democrats (apart from Joe Biden and a large number of pundits) know better. The next Republican presidential candidate is quite likely to be worse than Trump. He or she could be Trump but with the competence to do what Trump couldn't. Barkan makes another point that now seems obvious: Because this person probably won't be an immature, appetite-driven ignoramus, he or she could lull the political establishment into believing that the fever has broken based on temperament alone.
Shed of President Trump, this party will be freed from his sheer incompetence, which squandered an opportunity, with majorities in the House and Senate, to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act. The heir to Trump’s throne will not have his deficit of patience. The heir will lack his vulgarity, his absurd tangents, his addiction to social media, and his sparrow’s attention span. The heir will be Presidential, even relatively polite. The pundits who populate the pages of the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the New Yorker will breathe a momentary sigh of relief, because the odds of another sexual predator/reality TV star/WWE hall of famer leading the Republican Party are, statistically, not great. Trump’s heir will probably be a politician. This politician, through a commitment to a certain kind of decorum, will assuage the fears of the coastal class, who always hated Trump most because he could never playact, with solemn gravitas, the POTUS role as they conceived it. Bush may have the blood of hundreds of thousands on his hands, but at least he likes to paint watercolors and not say yucky words.

This politician will also probably bring America closer to fascism than it’s ever come.
Some writers at these publications will look at the policies being advocated by the new GOP leader and recognize the ongoing danger. Others, however (cough David Brooks cough), will believe the worst has passed.

And yes, this person could stand for all the worst things about Trumpism while possessing a war lust Trump seems to lack.
Trump’s isolationist instincts have not reined in the military-industrial complex, but they have kept America out of the kind of murderous regime change wars Bolton and his cohort have sought in Iran, North Korea, and the rest of the Middle East. The post-Trump Republicans will not be so restrained. As long as they keep the flame of the culture wars, they can do whatever they please abroad, where Americans always pay less attention. Like any good fascist party, the Republicans will return to their warmongering roots.
Barkan writes about Tom Cotton as the possible next Trump, but the man he focuses on is Trump's vice president.
... Pence is in every sense the Republican future. A devout Christian and Tea Party warrior, Pence is the bridge to the evangelical coalition, which has stayed loyal to Trump and dragged his social views ever rightward.... Pence represents the best hope of evangelicals to make their gains permanent, to graduate from manipulating a slovenly puppet to having the real knight of their movement rise to the height of power in the world. Pence, a former governor, member of Congress, and talk show host, has been schooled in the tenets of unyielding fiscal conservatism — the slashing and burning of federal government — Trump never bothered to learn. Trump’s occasional feints to a more liberal self, like support for mild criminal justice reform or the withdrawal of troops overseas, would be stamped out in a Pence presidency. He would be the most reliable conservative yet.

Pence can placate the Fox News base of the party, his bona fides as a Trump loyalist unassailable. And he has already mastered the Republican donor class. If each mutation of a virus is stronger than the last, Pence is Trumpism metastasized, able to fuse the most retrograde conception of America imaginable with an appeal to the D.C.-New York political establishment....
But Pence has now spent years in servile silence, deferring to Trump rather than leading cultural crusades of his own. Hell, he even defers to Trump on Christian rabble-rousing -- it's Trump, not Pence, who postures as the warrior on behalf of bathrooms free of trans people and the mandatory use of "Merry Cristmas" rather than "Happy Holidays."

I don't think Pence remembers how to get the deplorables pumped up the way Trump does. Tom Cotton, Matt Gaetz, Devin Nunes, Jim Jordan, and Donald Trump Jr., to name a few, are nearly as good as Trump. Liz Cheney has skills. So do Laura Ingraham, Tucker Carlson, and Sean Hannity, if they ever want to take a pay cut and run for president. I'm calling it now: Pence will not be the next GOP presidential nominee.

We have to hope that none of these people ever wins a general election -- but Trumpists will continue to win House and Senate races, as well as gubernatorial and state legislative races, for the foreseeable future. I'm 60 now, and I don't know if the fever will break in my lifetime.

NO, THE MEDIA DID NOT LAUGH OFF BLOOMBERG'S CANDIDACY IN 2001

Politico's David Freedlander argues that Mike Bloomberg was underestimated in his 2001 run for mayor just the way he's being underestimated now.
In 2001, Bloomberg was a political unknown with a lot of money and no real ties to the party whose nomination he was seeking. He had a history of inappropriate comments. The media treated him as a joke, polls gave him almost no shot at winning, the public tired of his will-he-or-won’t-he dance about actually running, and when he did finally jump into the race, he proved to be an indifferent and wooden campaigner.

Yet less than a year after announcing he was a candidate, Bloomberg was elected the 108th mayor of New York.
As the story notes, Bloomberg gave money to Republican party organizations in the five boroughs, which won him a lot of loyalty. It's hard to see why something similar would make a difference now, when voters aren't inclined to let the endorsements of party hacks decide their vote. (See: Republican primaries, 2016.)

It's not true that "the media treated him as a joke." Here's a New York Times story that ran shortly before Bloomberg announced his candidacy:
Political Memo; G.O.P. Billionaire Haunts a Democratic Race

... Privately ... the four Democratic mayoral candidates are preparing for a situation in which their party's nominee would emerge from a debilitating and divisive intraparty contest by late September only to face a rested and extremely well-financed Republican, Mr. Bloomberg. The four-way Democratic primary, on Sept. 11, would be followed by a two-way runoff on Sept. 25, if no candidate gets 40 percent. "He will be on the sidelines, letting the four guys beat one another up, and taking the high road," said Edward I. Koch, a Democratic former mayor....

If Mr. Bloomberg runs -- his aides say it is almost certain that he will -- his candidacy seems likely to alter almost every dynamic of the mayoral election, coloring everything from the day-to-day conduct of the Democrats in the primary to the integrity of the city's public financing system for municipal elections.
When Bloomberg announced, a Times story began:
The billionaire Michael R. Bloomberg began his campaign for mayor of New York City yesterday in a Hillary Clintonesque explosion of media that left his envious Democratic competitors in his wake. From a gospel breakfast with the Harlem establishment to a walking tour of Arthur Avenue in the Bronx to a ride across New York Harbor on the Staten Island ferry, Mr. Bloomberg was trailed by a horde of reporters....
Not long afterward, there was this in the Times:
It is not as odd as it was a decade ago for a Democrat in New York City to consider voting for a Republican for mayor, one of the legacies Mr. Giuliani has left for Mr. Bloomerg (or for Herman Badillo, should he defeat Mr. Bloomberg in the Republican primary).

In addition, many old-line Democratic voters -- the kind of loyal Democrats who prompted Mr. Giuliani to seek the Liberal Party line so they would have a place to vote for him -- are being displaced on the voting rolls by first-generation immigrants. Their party loyalties are not so deeply rooted as the ethnic Democratic constituencies, from blacks to Jews to the Irish, who once made up the building blocks of New York's mayoral race.

What is more, Republican and Democratic strategists say that partisan considerations have been increasingly supplanted in mayoral elections, even in New York, by more fundamental questions of competence and management ability.

"There aren't any partisan elections here anymore," said Kevin McCabe, the former chief of staff to one of the Democratic candidates, Peter F. Vallone, the City Council speaker.
Bloomberg was ultimately endorsed by the Daily News (though the Times and Newsday endorsed his Democratic opponent, Mark Green, and the Post didn't endorse). The News endorsement read in part:
Bloomberg is tough and independent, just as a New York mayor must be. He is smart. He is accomplished. And he will bring to City Hall the kind of fresh ideas and perspective that this moment of devastating crisis demands. Bloomberg's opponent, Mark Green, has many attractive attributes. He has shown himself to be a serious candidate with serious ideas. Perhaps, in ordinary times, he would be an acceptable choice. But in this extraordinary time, Bloomberg is the candidate with the right skills.
Of course, it's absurd to argue that Bloomberg's candidacy isn't being taken seriously by the media now. It's being taken extraordinarily seriously by the elite press. It's just not being taken seriously by Democratic voters, who seem more resistant to being money-bombed than there were a generation ago (as Tom Steyer knows).

Bloomberg ran a smart campaign in 2001, and 9/11 gave him the opportunity to offer himself as a natural successor to a temporarily lionized Rudy Giuliani. But there's no similar crisis right now, except in the minds of plutocrats who feared Elizabeth Warren's candidacy until they apparently crushed it, and who'll do the same if Bernie Sanders gains traction.

Bloomberg didn't prove naysayers wrong in 2001 -- most observers understood that he could win. This is a very different campaign.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

THERE WON'T BE A BATTLE FOR THE GOP'S SOUL, AND IF THERE IS ONE, REFORMICONS WILL BE NONCOMBATANTS

The Washington Post's Henry Olsen appears to believe that there'll be a battle for the soul of the Republican in the post-Trump era.
American conservatives are finally debating how to respond to the challenge President Trump’s ascendancy poses for their future. The blowback over Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) recent speech at Catholic University shows that debate is going to be bitter and fierce.

Rubio’s talk explored what he called “common-good capitalism.” He argued that the modern American economy falls short because it has fallen prey to the shareholder theory of value. That theory holds that a corporation has only one obligation: return money to its owners, the shareholders. Rubio contends that this ignores the corporation’s obligations to share a fair return to its workers and to reinvest in its business for the future. The result, he contends, is the de-investment in the United States that occurs when U.S. business invests overseas — and the wage stagnation and community decline that often follows.
Usually we hear about this sort of thinking when an establishmentarian right-wing pundit reads a "reform conservative" essay or book and declares it to be a vital and provocative challenge to right-wing orthodoxy. We're told that the reformicon movement is Having a Moment. We're told that several "scholars" who lean toward right-wing reform are now among the most important thinkers in contemporary conservatism.

And then nothing happens. Conservatism remains exactly the way it's been for years. The same will be true after this Rubio speech. But go on, Mr. Olsen.
Many conservatives rightly saw these words as a challenge to the reigning neo-libertarian economic orthodoxy. And so they struck back — hard.... National Review’s Kevin D. Williamson ... minced no words. He denounced Rubio’s “shallow moralizing” and said the senator’s philosophy was similar to the “familiar moral basis of fascist economic thinking.”
Just so we're clear, when Williamson says capitalism with a modicum of decency is fascist, he doesn't mean it as a compliment.
Other critics avoided Williamson’s over-the-top comparison but basically agreed. Their basic contention is that the government can’t do anything right and has no moral basis to interfere in private economic activity.
Is that what Republicans believe? It's certainly what they say whenever even a modest curtailment of capitalist rapaciousness is proposed. (In fact, they believe that government has a moral basis to interfere in private economic activity on behalf of the winners, to help them win more and ensure that they never stop winning.)

Olsen believes that rank-and-file non-wealthy Republicans actually do want government to intervene on their behalf.
President Trump’s shocking victory in the 2016 Republican primaries should be the clearest proof imaginable that even GOP voters reject the clerics’ nonsense. The vast majority of Republicans want liberty and security, opportunity and redistribution. They want to get the balance right and reject the idea that any attempt to find that balance is “fascism.”
This is a familiar argument: that Trump succeeded where John McCain and Mitt Romney failed because he promised not to touch Social Security and Medicare, and because he said once or twice that he'd tax the rich more. There may be some truth to this. But while Social Security and Medicare are essentially untouched for now, Trump has done nothing to curb capitalist excess -- just the opposite, in fact -- and the base still loves him.

Olsen seriously believes -- or hopes -- that the battle has been joined:
This is the crux of the GOP’s debate. Libertarians ... have insinuated themselves into the conservative intellectual infrastructure over the past three decades. As a result, Republican intellectual orthodoxy now says that taxes can never be raised; that any government program is bound to fail and, hence, should be opposed; and that the only direction government spending should move is backward....

Most Republican politicians ... politely sidestep the libertarian high priesthood’s demands.
They do? You could have fooled me.
But they remain enthralled to their liturgy and hence never truly break free from their influence. This cripples their ability to persuade Americans that they believe in the balance most Americans want....

Rubio’s speech is a worthy attempt to write a new liturgy that explains in theory what most Republicans believe in fact. That threatens the priesthood’s power, and so they will fight back with all their strength. But most Americans believe their libertarian dogma would turn our country into a den of thieves. Time now for Rubio and others to cast them out and restore conservatism to its rightful place in the Republican temple.
It's true that resistance to government social programs means that Republican politicians run on an economic philosophy that's counter to what most Americans want, including their own voters. But their voters don't mind, because GOP pols distract them with talk about how much Democrats like open borders and Drag Queen Story Hour and gun confiscation. That plus gerrymandering and Democratic vote suppression is still working for Republicans, and may work again in 2020.

Rubio is only 48, and he surely believes that Republicans will need a message more positive than "Suck it, libtards!" one of these days -- though that moment of reckoning never seems to come.

And I'm sure I don't need to tell you this, but as a senator, Rubio has never seriously challenged capitalist amorality, so this all just empty talk. But he likes to think he's a good man doing the Lord's work -- or at least he's trying to position himself as a good man, because he believes that's a promising market niche in politics.

There's no battle for the soul of the Republican Party. The Republican Party is corporatist and will continue to be corporatist, which is a more accurate term than "libertarian." The party consists of corporatists who are unabashed about it and corporatists who occasionally pretend that's not what they are. The only question is whether increasing numbers of Republican politicians in the foreseeable future will be pretenders. Trump was one in 2016, and it worked, because he still sounded like a liberal-hating tough guy. Rubio is one now, and it probably won't be to his benefit, because he sounds almost like a liberal. GOP voters want the economy to work better for them, but they want liberal tears more.