Thursday, March 31, 2016


Matt Bai wrote a book a while back in which he argued that the 1987 Gary Hart sex scandal was a foretaste of everything that's wrong with politics today. It's a simple, clever idea -- but that doesn't mean it's right. In a Yahoo Politics column today, he revisits the idea -- and, naturally, tries to draw a line from Hart to Donald Trump:
If you’re tired of hearing Donald Trump go on about his ratings and polls, if you’re mystified by the Twitter War of the Candidates’ Wives, if you can’t understand why Wolf Blitzer interviews a former contestant on “The Apprentice” as if she were a political authority, then I’ve got a video you really need to watch.

The video I’m showing you here, courtesy of C-Span’s archive, is of a presidential candidate speaking in 1987, at a moment of tectonic upheaval in our politics and media.

... the guy who really predicted all of this was Gary Hart....

[In 1987,] his [presidential] campaign unraveled in the space of five surreal days, during which reporters from the Miami Herald hid outside Hart’s home in order to catch him spending time with a younger woman. Hart found himself undone by the first modern political sex scandal -- the inevitable result of myriad forces that were just then reshaping the media....
Hart, Bai tells us, went on to say in his withdrawal speech that politics in America was "on the verge of becoming another form of athletic competition or sporting match." He said, “In public life, some things may be interesting, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re important.” And this is apparently Bai's favorite line:
He closed by paraphrasing his idol, Thomas Jefferson: “I tremble for my country when I think we may in fact get the kind of leaders we deserve.”

Whenever I talk about my book to audiences around the country, I close with those lines. Invariably, I look up to find shocked and silent voters nodding their heads, amazed at how eerily that captures our present reality.
I know how easy it is to draw that conclusion. What Mark Halperin calls "the freak show" is now ingrained in our politics. Media coverage of political campaigns focuses on many things, but rarely the issues.

But by tolerating this, are we really getting "the kind of leaders we deserve," i.e., idiots? Bai writes that "we systematically created a process perfectly suited to a manipulative, reality-TV performer like Trump (or Sarah Palin before him)."

Did we really? Look at who won the 1988 Democratic nomination after Hart dropped out: Mike Dukakis -- a very serious man. Yes, the Democratic nominee in 1992 and 1996 seemed ideally suited to a scandal-obsessed culture -- but he was also a serious man with serious political ideas. The Democrats went on to nominate Al Gore and John Kerry -- also serious men. And Barack Obama may carry himself like a rock star at times, but he's serious, too. So are the two Democrats contending for the nomination this year. Even though one of these candidates has been the object of endless scandal talk, she's running on issues, as is her opponent.

So this political culture may be debased, but it doesn't have to elevate Palins and Trumps. In fact, I'd say it's elevating shallow, ill-informed candidates disproportionately on the Republican side. (See, for example, the last Republican president, or the president Hart hoped to succeed.)

Are we getting media coverage of politics that's dumbed down? Yes. Does that make us crave dumbed-down candidates? On the Democratic side, apparently not. On the Republican side? Yeah, sometimes. Which may say more about Republicans than about the freak show.


I don't know how you interpret this Washington Examiner story, but I think it says that the GOP establishment is not afraid of a fight at the convention:
The Republican Party on Thursday is unveiling a website to educate the media and the public on the rules of contested presidential nominating convention.

The move is the latest concession by GOP officials that the party is close to holding its first contested convention since 1976....

" is a tool for voters to learn about convention delegates, rules, and how the overall process works in a simple, easy to understand format," RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement provided to the Washington Examiner. "Conventions are democracy in action and our Party's gathering in Cleveland will be an exciting, transparent, and fair process."
Granted, the subtext of some of the copy on the site is "Don't blame the RNC if Trump doesn't win! We don't make the rules!"
Who Decides the Rules for the 2016 Republican National Convention?

The convention delegates decide.

A week before the Convention, the 2016 Convention Rules Committee must convene to put together a package of rules to recommend for consideration by all delegates.

Delegates from each state and territory elect two representatives from within their own delegations to the Convention Rules Committee -- 112 delegates in total.

The Convention Rules Committee, after debate and discussion, adopts by majority vote a package of recommended rules that moves to the convention floor.

Once a majority of the convention delegates adopt the report, the rules become the permanent rules governing that Convention.

That package, called a Rules Report, is adopted by the Convention Rules Committee by majority vote....

What is the RNC’s Role in Deciding the Convention Rules?

The RNC plays a purely administrative role at Covention, ensuring that the rules and process are carried out in a transparent manner.
Still, the message is "Don't have enough delegates for a first-ballot victory, Donald? Sorry -- you might not win":
What Happens in an Open Convention?

An open convention only occurs if a candidate fails to secure a majority of bound delegates during the primary and caucus process and is unable to win enough unbound delegates to obtain 1,237 delegate votes.

If that is the case, we will have an open and transparent convention where delegates -- empowered and selected by the grassroots -- will elect the nominee for our Party.

Yes, the site is passive-aggressive. (Subtext: "Hey, it won't be our fault if the delegates -- in a totally grassroots way -- choose someone other than the leading candidate.") But Priebus is preparing us for a brawl. If he ever wanted to avoid that, it seems to me he's not even trying anymore. So don't be surprised if someone other than Donald Trump emerges as the Republican nominee.


BooMan thinks Donald Trump might run third party if he's denied the GOP presidential nomination at the convention, even though his run will be futile:
Due to sore loser laws in many states that will prevent Trump from running as an independent after failing to secure the Republican nomination, he cannot run a successful third party candidacy. But he could get on the ballot in some red states, split the vote, and hand Electoral College delegates to Clinton or Sanders. I can see him doing that out of spite.
I'm seeing speculation about that in my comments. But I don't see it happening.

As it turns out, the "sore loser" laws that prevent losing primary candidates from running as independents in general elections apply to presidential candidates only in a couple of states -- two states according to Ballotpedia, three according to CNN.

However, one of the states where this is an impediment is Texas. It's probably already too late for Trump to run third party there:
No Republican, no conservative can win the presidency without Texas’ 38 electoral votes. So, what does it take to get an independent presidential candidate on the Texas ballot? Petitions have to be filed there by May 9, complete with valid signatures of nearly 80,000 voters who did not vote in the March 1 Texas primaries.
But that's if Trump wants to bail on the GOP now. We're all assuming, I think correctly, that he'll go to the convention with the most delegates, and he'll fight to win there. If he starts a third-party run, it'll be only after he's thwarted at the convention (if he is thwarted).

The Republican convention is July 18-21. At that point, the filing deadline for independent candidates will have already passed in Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas. The deadline is July 21 in Michigan, July 23 in Washington State, and July 25 in Missouri. So Trump would fail to make a lot of ballots if he got started that late.

But hey, he could find a party with ballot access that would nominate him, right? Probably not. The Libertarian Party is choosing its candidate before the GOP -- its convention takes place May 27-30. The Constitution Party's convention is April 13-17.

But would Trump seek to run third party anyway, to spite the GOP? It just doesn't seem like his style. The average Trump supporter thinks Trump can push people around and get what he wants. Trump encourages that belief. Why would he want to start in on a third-party campaign in which he can't bully his way onto the ballots of more than a dozen states, and therefore doesn't really have the mathematical possibility of winning the election? Wouldn't that make him look like a loser?

And if it's clear that he's doing this just to hurt the GOP candidate, doesn't that, in effect, make him a Hillary Clinton surrogate? I know a lot of conspiracy theorists think that was the point of his run all along -- he and his friends the Clintons plotted out his run in order to destroy the GOP and clear the way for a Hillary victory. I think that's crazy -- how many people besides Trump himself thought his campaign would be anything other than comic relief? -- but beyond that, I think his evolution into a conservative is sincere. Sure, he's not an ideologically pure right-winger on many issues, but his anger is that of an enraged Fox News viewer. Political correctness is evil! Obama is leading from behind! And that makes sense. Trump is a white male senior citizen living in America. Of course he thinks what's said on Fox makes a lot of sense.

But even if he's not the GOP nominee and doesn't run third party, won't Trump continue to dominate the media? And won't he take advantage of that to tear down the Republican nominee? I think he'll get airtime, but not nearly as much. There'll be no rallies to be aired in full on MSNBC, CNN, and Fox. That means there'll be no viral R-rated soundbites cheered on by huge crowds; there'll be no sucker punches and pepper sprayings. There'll just be Trump phoning in to various shows -- and at that point he really will be a loser. He won't be the same ratings draw he is now.

So I think he'll just slink away. Maybe he'll sue someone. Maybe he'll sue a lot of people. Maybe he'll just threaten to sue a lot of people and never actually do it. But I think it's go big or go home for him.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016


I'm sure you know that Donald Trump said thing you're not supposed to say if you're an anti-abortion politician:
At a taping of an MSNBC town hall to be aired Wednesday evening, host Chris Matthews pressed Trump on his anti-abortion position, repeatedly asking him whether abortion should be punished if it is outlawed....

Matthews ... pressed Trump on whether he believes there should be punishment for abortion if it were illegal.

“There has to be some form of punishment,” Trump said. “For the woman?” Matthews asked. “Yeah,” Trump said, nodding.

Trump said the punishment would “have to be determined.”
Subsequently, someone clearly explained to Trump that that was the wrong answer:
Shortly after a preview of those comments aired, Trump’s campaign issued a brief statement calling the abortion issue “unclear” and saying it “should be put back into the states for determination.” Trump later issued the formal statement saying abortion providers should be held responsible for the procedure, not women.
So what's the correct way for an anti-choice Republican to answer this question? As it turns out, Ted Cruz was asked about abortion penalties at the Iowa Freedom Summit in January 2015. Here's that exchange:

QUESTIONER: ... If that view prevails and abortion is criminalized again, what do you think the penalty should be for a doctor who performs an abortion or a woman who obtains one? Should it be an administrative action, a fine, or should it be incarceration or something else? And would this be an example of when a conservative could really stand up and believe by taking a stand on that question?

TED CRUZ: You know, one of the things that I'm always amazed by in the media world is questions when it comes to the right to life -- a majority of Americans support the right to life -- questions that assume that that's somehow an unusual position to hold. It's interesting: Very few folks in the media, for example, ask President Obama about his vote in the Illinois state legislature against the Born Alive Infant Protection Act. That was legislation that said, in the course of an abortion, if a child is born alive, is outside the mother's womb, is breathing and crying, the physician cannot then murder that infant. Barack Obama voted against that. That is a radical, extreme position. Fewer that ten percent of Americans believe with that position. And yet, when the media is gathered around the president, I don't recall ever seeing anyone ask that question. At the end of the day, I think we need to move to a culture that values and protects and cherishes human life.

QUESTIONER: So you don't support criminalization, then?

CRUZ: I am pro-life, and I think we need to protect every human life from the moment of conception until natural death.
See, Donald? That's how you do it. When someone asks you about abortion penalties after the overturn of Roe, here's what you do:

You attack the questioner.

You attack the media.

You attack Barack Obama.

You tell them what a swell pro-life person you are.

You do everything except answer the question.


Incidentally, reporters in 2008 did ask Barack Obama about not voting for that bill in the Illinois legislature. He was asked by CBN's David Brody, in an interview that also aired on CNN. He was asked in an interview with the Christian magazine Relevant. He sent out a fact check, published online by the Chicago Tribune, in response to a post by a high-profile anti-abortion activist named Jill Stanek. The controversy was covered on CNN and in John Fund's Wall Street Journal column. (Obama said he feared the Illinois bill was worded in such a way that it could be used as a legal wedge to challenge Roe in court.) Oh, and he was attacked again for this during the 2012 campaign by Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. So, yes, he faced plenty of questions about it. And he didn't whine about the fact that he was asked to defend his record while running for office.


Donald Trump isn't going to win Wisconsin, according to a Marquette poll that was posted prematurely:
Marquette is releasing a new Wisconsin poll out today that shows Ted Cruz with 40%, Trump with 30% and Kasich with 21%.

Here’s the image from their PDF which they’ve just taken down (it was leaked early):

The ‘Valid Percent’ column is the one that matters.
Here's Google's cached version of the poll. (UPDATE: It's now up officially.)

Four polls have been taken in Wisconsin this month. Ted Cruz has led in three of them. Trump was only 3 points ahead of John Kasich in the most recent Pennsylvania poll and he beats Cruz by only 1 in the latest poll of California. He's struggling. And he has to do well, especially in winner-take-all states (which include Wisconsin and Pennsylvania) to have enough delegates to win on the first ballot.

Trump will almost certainly have the most delegates going into the convention, but the party no longer seems to fear challenging him at the convention if he doesn't have a majority. Politico reports this:
All four early appointees to the rules committee for this year’s Republican National Convention told POLITICO they’re prepared to weaken or scrap a rule that could limit the convention’s alternatives to Donald Trump.

The four took issue with a rule, originally imposed by Mitt Romney forces in 2012 to keep rival Ron Paul off the convention stage, requiring a candidate to win a majority of delegates in eight states to be eligible for the party’s nomination -- a threshold only Trump has exceeded so far. If preserved, the rule could block John Kasich or Ted Cruz from competing with Trump at the convention, set for July in Cleveland.

If the committee scraps the requirement entirely, it could open the door to multiple candidates, possibly even some who never entered the primaries, competing for the party’s nomination at a brokered convention. And even a lower threshold would make it easier for Trump’s rivals to challenge him.
On Fox last night, Karl Rove strongly suggested that the rules might be used to block Trump at the convention. We also know that Marco Rubio is asking state Republican parties to let him keep his delegates, presumably so they can be used to block Trump. And Trump, of course, lost some delegates in Louisiana in post-primary maneuvering.

I've been skeptical about the GOP's ability to agree on an alternative to Trump. I still think that might be a problem, though I think the party could get down to a short list very quickly. My guess is that Ted Cruz (unlike Trump) will be skillful enough at working the levers that he'll remain in contention, and that it'll be between him and Paul Ryan.

But won't the Trumpites riot? I've certainly thought so, but I keep mulling this Keith Olbermann clip from an episode of The View last week:

Olbermann said, “... At this point, from what I’m hearing, I don’t even think he’s going to get the nomination. Because I think the Republican Party is going to say, everybody who is in the Republican Party goes if he wins, we all lose our jobs. If he loses, we all lose our jobs. He’s probably not going to win. Let’s make sure he doesn’t lose. We’re going to lose the party to him one way or another. Everybody in the Republican Party, in the establishment, has a self-interest in keeping him away because he could bring down congressional results.”

Keith Olbermann also shot down Trump threat of riots if he is denied the nomination, “To be fair, who are the people who are supporting him, generally speaking? What I’m saying is they’re mostly people who can’t really be trusted to find their own homes again once they leave them.”

The former ESPN/MSNBC anchor explained that Republicans are really good at preventing things that are supposed to happen from happening. Olbermann said, “This is their own house. This isn’t some governmental agency. They can do what they want. They can change the rules….Whatever rule they need to make to make sure that he doesn’t get the nomination.”
I don't know if the Trumpites are as hapless as he makes them out to be, and they're certainly willing to throw a punch or pepper-spray a teenager, but they really might not be willing to confront anyone with heavy weaponry (and we know that law enforcement in Cleveland is looking to stock up on riot gear). Besides, if the party wants to be completely cynical, it can point to the fact that even after the riots at the '68 Democratic convention in Chicago, Hubert Humphrey lost the popular vote to Richard Nixon by less than a full percentage point, after trailing Nixon by 15 points in the polls well into September. If there's unrest in Cleveland in July, it will be a dim memory by November. Attention spans are a lot shorter in 2016 than they were in 1968.

If I'm right about all this, the end result of this year's voter discontent will be ... establishment candidates winning the nomination in both parties.

And, quite possibly, a GOP victory in the general election.


A lot of Democrats and liberals think that the resistance to President Obama's Supreme Court pick is breaking down, and if we believe this Politico story, that includes the president:
With small cracks emerging in the Republican Supreme Court blockade -- and private indications from some GOP senators that they’d likely back Merrick Garland if he ever did come up for a vote -- the White House is preparing to press its perceived political advantage when senators return from their recess next week....

White House aides say they have been surprised that they’ve made as much progress as they have in the two weeks since President Barack Obama nominated Garland. And while they’re still skeptical Garland will get anywhere near being confirmed, the West Wing does at least see a path forward, if only for strengthening the case they'll make against Republican senators going into the fall elections.
But I think the Mitch McConnell/Chuck Grassley plan is working exactly the way it was supposed to:
Senator Mark S. Kirk of Illinois on Tuesday became the first Republican to meet with Judge Merrick B. Garland and said he hoped the meeting would influence other Republicans to at least sit down with President Obama’s choice to fill a Supreme Court vacancy despite pressure from party leaders not to consider his nomination.

“We need rational, adult, open-minded consideration of the constitutional process,” said Mr. Kirk, who is perhaps the most endangered Senate Republican up for re-election this fall. “He’s been duly nominated by the elected president of the United States to fill a vacancy which we know exists on the court.”

With Judge Garland by his side, Mr. Kirk praised Mr. Obama’s pick as “one of the most eminent judges in the country.”

“I think when you just say, ‘I’m not going to meet with him,’ that’s too close-minded,” Mr. Kirk said.
Yes, fourteen GOP senators -- approximately one third of the Republicans in the Senate -- have said they'd be willing to meet with Garland. (Politico's count is sixteen.) Yes, like Kirk, Susan Collins of Maine has said she thinks Garland should get a hearing.

But by moving the Overton window as far to the right as they did from the start, Mitch McConnell's Republicans turned just talking to the guy into the moderate position. Swing voters in Illinois will now associate Kirk not with intransigence but with reasonableness, even though he's still a duly pledged Republican who'll vote to keep McConnell in the Majority Leader position if he's reelected.

You say, "No vote, no hearings, no meetings with the nominee"; you settle for "No vote, no hearings," or, if the pressure mounts, just "No vote." And it looks as if you're moderating.

It's the Art of the Deal, GOP style. And it'll probably keep Garland off the Court and save the jobs of vulnerable Republican senators.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016


Corey Lewandowski has been charged with a crime, and his boss has his back:
Despite loud calls to fire campaign manager Corey Lewandowski after he was charged with misdemeanor battery, Donald Trump strongly defended him and voiced serious doubts about his accuser.

... Trump addressed allegations corroborated by police that Lewandowski yanked the arm of a female reporter at an event in Florida on March 8 as she tried to question the candidate.

... "If you look at her she's actually grabbing me," Trump told reporters. "She was running up and grabbing and asking questions and she wasn't supposed to be doing that."

Trump said that he believed Lewandowski was innocent and "should never settle this case." The billionaire added that he had no plans to fire Lewandowski, and questioned whether the bruises on Fields' arm had been a result of her altercation with Lewandowski.

"How do you know those bruises weren't there before?" Trump said. "I'm not a lawyer. She said she had a bruise on her arm. I mean, to me, if you're going to get squeezed, wouldn't you think that she would have yelled out a scream or something, if she has bruises on her arm?"
Lewandowski will stay on, we're told, even if he's found guilty:
Katrina Pierson, Donald Trump's national spokeswoman, said Tuesday that embattled top aide Corey Lewandowski would stay with the campaign even if he's convicted of a criminal battery charge in Florida.

When CNN's Wolf Blitzer asked if Lewandowski would stay with the campaign even if he was convicted of a misdemeanor for allegedly roughing up a reporter, Pierson replied "yes" without hesitation.

"Yes, absolutely. Mr. Lewandowski is an integral part of the team, the camp wholeheartedly supports him and will see him through the ordeal," she said.
This is making me think about the guy who used to be the Republican base's favorite Northeastern bully: Chris Christie. It's widely assumed that Christie's future as a national Republican star was snuffed out by Bridgegate. That's true, but it's not really because of what happened on the roads during Bridgegate.

I'm think Republican voters might well have forgiven Christie for Bridgegate if it hadn't transformed him from a Trumpesque verbal abuser into a cowering wimp, a guy who actually apologized for something he and his administration did.
Sounding somber and appearing contrite, the normally garrulous Mr. Christie said he had no advance knowledge of the lane closings and had been “humiliated” by the entire episode.

“I am a very sad person today,” he said. “I am heartbroken that someone I permitted to be in that circle of trust for the past five years betrayed that trust.”
If he'd been defiant -- if he'd insisted that no apologies were necessary and the whole thing was a partisan witch hunt ... well, sure, he might have infuriated prosecutors so much that he'd be looking at prison time now. But if he'd remained defiant and managed to avoided being indicted himself, he might still be the right-wing hero he used to be back when he was being nasty to schoolteachers in video clips.

It's said that Christie couldn't survive Bridgegate because Bridgegate hurt ordinary people in a way rank-and-file voters can relate to. But the Trump campaign reminds us that GOP rank-and-file voters don't care if you do something awful as long as they like you. Remember when we were told that voters would turn against Trump once he insulted John McCain or the Pope, or once they learned that he'd used eminent domain against ordinary homeowners? These things rolled off Trump's back -- just the way Bridgegate would have rolled off Christie's if he somehow could have dug in his heels and stayed out of jail.

Christie said nice things about President Obama after Sandy. Then he said mistakes were made in Bridgegate, which weakened him. Then he spent a year as head of the Republican Governors Association trying to trade favors in advance of the presidential race when he should have been upping his bullying game. And that's why Trump is king of the hill and Christie is trying to be his valet.


On MSNBC last night, Susan Sarandon, in her role as a Bernie Sanders surrogate, told Chris Hayes she's not sure she'd vote for Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump in a general election:
As they continued to discuss the issue, Hayes pressed Sarandon to see the election as potentially a choice between Clinton and Trump, arguing that Sanders himself would “probably” urge his supporters to vote for her.

“I think Bernie would probably encourage people, because he doesn’t have any ego in this thing,” Sarandon told him. “But I think a lot of people are, ‘Sorry, I just can’t bring myself to [vote for Clinton].’”

“How about you personally?” Hayes asked.

“I don’t know. I’m going to see what happens,” Sarandon said.

That bit of honesty prompted Hayes to stop in his tracks. “Really?” he asked incredulously.

“Really,” Sarandon said, adding that “some people feel that Donald Trump will bring the revolution immediately if he gets in, things will really explode.” Asked if she thinks that’s “dangerous,” she replied, “It’s dangerous to think that we can continue the way we are with the militarized police force, with privatized prisons, with the death penalty, with the low minimum wage, threats to women’s rights and think you can’t do something huge to turn that around.”
Most Sarandon critics are describing this as a wealthy white Sandersite letting her privilege run amok -- she's going to be just fine even in the event of a Trump presidency, so heighten those contradictions!
What Sarandon is voicing is the old Leninist idea of “heightening the contradictions,” which holds that social conditions need to get worse in order to inspire the revolution that will make them better. In this way of thinking, the real enemy of progress is incremental reform that would render the status quo tolerable. That was the position of the German Communists in the early 1930s, who refused to ally with the Social Democrats, proclaiming: “After Hitler, our turn!” A similar -- if less deadly -- assumption underlay Ralph Nader’s 2000 presidential campaign, for which Sarandon served as co-chair of the national steering committee. George W. Bush, Nader argued then, could serve as a “provocateur,” awakening the power of the left. “If it were a choice between a provocateur and an 'anesthetizer,' I'd rather have a provocateur,” said Nader. “It would mobilize us.”
But I don't think that's what she's saying. I think, in her view, Clinton really might not be any worse than Trump, and besides, the contradictions don't actually need heightening because America is on the brink of revolution already. (“It’s dangerous to think that we can continue the way we are with the militarized police force, with privatized prisons, with the death penalty, with the low minimum wage, threats to women’s rights....”)

Sarandon apparently think there's a large revolutionary force in America that's on a hair trigger. Big changes are imminent. She says, “some people feel that Donald Trump will bring the revolution immediately if he gets in, things will really explode.” She says "a lot of people" are likely to reject Clinton in November from the left.

This isn't the arrogance of privilege so much as it's tunnel vision. Sarandon doesn't see an America in which we've simply tolerated a terrible job market, low wages, police brutality, excessive incarceration, and a host of other problems, mostly because we don't know how to fight back or because our efforts to fight back have been futile -- and because most people, including many Democratic voters, don't even want to fight back, because they're not really progressive.

Once again, I'll post that Gallup chart:

In elections, America is more or less evenly Democratic and Republican -- Democrats do better in presidential elections, Republicans do better in other elections -- but there are far more self-described conservatives than liberals. What that means is that many Democratic voters are moderates. They're not ready to take to the streets in response to reactionary or even repressive government -- hell, in recent years they couldn't even vote out incumbent right-wing governors in states like Wisconsin, New Jersey, Maine, Michigan, and Florida, which would have been non-revolutionary change. And these are states Democratic presidential candidates win every four years.

Sarandon doesn't seem to have any idea that the Democratic electorate includes such people -- people who are regular Democratic voters only once every four years, who aren't deeply progressive, and who may even vote Republican when the biggest race is for governor. Her friends are genuine progressives, so she thinks all Democratic voters are.

I wish Sarandon were right about the electorate -- but if she were, our government would already look very different. The problems she thinks are pushing us to the brink of revolt are problems we're not up in arms about, except in small pockets of America. She needs to get out more, and see the rest of the country.


Trying to decide who's to blame for the rise of Donald Trump is all the rage in the Acela Corridor. At The Washington Post, Michael Gerson blames Rush Limbaugh:
If Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee, one of the main reasons will be that many in the conservative movement found him acceptable. And one of the main reasons that many conservatives are finding Trump acceptable is that the most influential political talk radio host in history, Rush Limbaugh, has provided his blessing.

... Limbaugh has ... consistently defended Trump as a legitimate choice for those whose dominating factor is the humiliation of “the establishment.”

... The upside, in this view, is not just taking the political fight to liberalism; it is also overturning a failed and corrupt Republican political order.
There are a couple of points to be made here. First, Gerson assumes that GOP voters will do whatever Limbaugh tells them to do. I think he has these voters confused with craven Republican politicians and officials. (Or is that redundant?)

Rank-and-file Republicans do get a lot of their ideas from Limbaugh and other superstars of the right-wing media. But the right-wing media world includes Fox News, a lot of websites, and many, many talkers, and in that world there's a tremendous amount of resistance to Trump. (Glenn Beck and Mark Levin, for instance, despise Trump.) And as Gerson notes, Limbaugh isn't actually endorsing Trump, and seems to prefer Ted Cruz. So why hasn't Cruz swamped Trump in the primaries?

What's sticking in Gerson's craw is Limbaugh's opinion of Gerson's precious establishment. Limbaugh thinks the establishment isn't trying hard enough to advance conservatism. In responding to that charge, Gerson unwittingly reminds us how responsible the establishment is for the rise of Trump:
Leaders such as House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) are conservative by any serious measure. But they are forced to live within the constraints of our constitutional system. They don’t have the option of inhabiting a fantasy world where entitlements such as Obamacare can be undone by the legislature alone. Such utopianism is fundamentally at odds with constitutionalism.
Congressional Republicans don't live in a fantasy world where you can just get rid of Obamacare legislatively? Then why have they voted to repeal the health care law, what -- fifty times? Sixty times?
And many Republicans, in Washington and elsewhere, do not view civility, inclusion and tolerance as forms of weakness or compromise. In fact, they view casual misogyny, racial stereotyping and religious bigotry as moral failings, in their children and in their leaders. And they oppose -- as a matter of faith or philosophy -- any form of populism that has exclusion, cruelty or dehumanization at its core.
So I just imagined that in the 2010 midterms the GOP was running against the "Ground Zero mosque"? I just hallucinated a Republican Party in which even mainstream candidates flirted, if not necessarily with birtherism, then with accusations that President Obama is an America-hating anti-colonialist whose loyalties lie overseas? The sexist attacks on Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi, the racist attacks on Black Lives Matter, the immigration-bashing of Steve King -- an Iowa power broker whom every Republican presidential aspirant courts -- that was all a figment of my imagination?

Sorry, Michael -- you guys laid the groundwork for Trump. Don't try to push Trump's rise off onto Limbaugh.

Monday, March 28, 2016


The stupidest thing you're likely to read all day is "The Culture That Created Donald Trump Was Liberal, Not Conservative," from Jim Lewis at the Intercept. Lewis magnanimously acknowledges that the Repiublican Party and Trump's current supporters should not "get a pass" when we're assessing blame for Trump's rise, but the real culprits are evil liberals:
After all, it wasn’t some Klan newsletter that first brought Trump to our attention: It was Time and Esquire and Spy. The Westboro Baptist Church didn’t give him his own TV show: NBC did. And his boasts and lies weren’t posted on Breitbart, they were published by Random House. He was created by people who learned from Andy Warhol, not Jerry Falwell, who knew him from galas at the Met, not fundraisers at Karl Rove’s house, and his original audience was presented to him by Condé Nast, not Guns & Ammo. He owes his celebrity, his money, his arrogance, and his skill at drawing attention to those coastal cultural gatekeepers -- presumably mostly liberal -- who first elevated him out of general obscurity, making him famous and rewarding him (and, not at all incidentally, themselves) for his idiocies.
The first problem with this is that "those coastal cultural gatekeepers" turned Trump into a celebrity for doing something other than what he's doing now. If Ted Nugent had turned to electoral politics, as he's occasionally threatened to do, and were now the favorite to win the GOP presidential nomination with a hate-filled platform similar to Trump's, would that be the fault of a million high school kids who bought Cat Scratch Fever in the 1970s? Should they have known at the time that they were helping a future demagogue rise to power?

But more important, Lewis is blaming liberalism for something that wasn't done out of liberal intent at all. Sure, many of "those coastal cultural gatekeepers" regard themselves as liberal, but celebrating plutocracy is elitist by definition, even when the plutocrats write checks to Planned Parenthood or (sometimes) back Democratic politicians. Also, Trump's rise coincided with the Reagan-era backlash against 1960s values: By the 1980s, it was cool to be rich and unashamed of it, a notion the media embraced because the public was clearly embracing it. And Trump was sometimes lionized specifically out of an impulse to bash liberalism: When he persuaded New York City to let him renovate Central Park's Wollmann Rink, his work was used to shame the city government, and anyone who claimed that government is capable of being run efficiently.

Lewis smugly writes:
Liberals were sure the devil would come slouching out of Alabama or Texas, beating a bible and shouting about sodomy and sin. They didn’t expect him to be a businessman who lives on Fifth Avenue and 57th Street. Rick Santorum was a threat, but your run-of-the-mill New York tycoon just couldn’t be, not in the same way -- because even if the latter was unlikable, he was known, he was covered, he fell within a spectrum that the morning shows and entertainment press are comfortable with, much more so, anyway, than they are with what the slow learners among liberals still blithely call “rednecks.”
Actually, no, that's not true. Eight years ago, many of us thought it was quite possible that Rudy Giuliani would be bestriding the same balconies Trump is bestriding now, in the same jackboots; it could have been Chris Christie after that if he hadn't tripped himself up. We know that a lot of the right's fattest checks are written in Manhattan, and we know that Fox News is not only based here but draws a lot of its most noxious talent (O'Reilly, Hannity, Jeannie Pirro) from the metropolitan area.
When, a few years ago, Trump started going on about Obama’s birth certificate, no one said, “Hey, maybe we don’t want to associate with this guy anymore.”
Actually, everyone I know said that, but we have no cultural power. Some people who do have cultural powere called for a Trump boycott, but it was advertisers, not liberals, who kept Trump afloat. (Oh, and Fox News, which gave Trump a regular segment on Fox & Friends precisely when he turned to birtherism.)
Instead, the Washington Post invited him to be its guest at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Its editors wouldn’t have extended the same backslapping generosity to David Duke or Alex Jones or any of the other rustic zealots with whom Trump is now, unquestionably, on all fours.
Alex Jones? Maybe not. Paula Jones? She was invited in 1998, when she was accusing Bill Clinton of bad sexual behavior. It's all about the frisson, don't you know?

Lewis -- who attended Brown and Columbia and lived in Cleveland, London, and New York before decamping to the hipster mecca of Austin -- wants to pin Trump on liberals. But the culture's embrace of Trump wasn't truly liberal, and no one who's remotely liberal wanted to have anything to do with him as a politician four years ago, much less in the years since. Conservatives made Trump a political force. They own his candidacy.


In The New York Times, Nicholas Confessore has written a long article titled "How the G.O.P. Elite Lost Its Voters to Donald Trump." Confessore's conclusion is that the agenda of Republican elites is fundamentally at odds with what rank-and-file downmarket voters want. He suggests that those voters simply aren't going to vote for establishment candidates anymore:
From mobile home parks in Florida and factory towns in Michigan, to Virginia’s coal country, where as many as one in five adults live on Social Security disability payments, disenchanted Republican voters lost faith in the agenda of their party’s leaders.

... While wages declined and workers grew anxious about retirement, Republicans offered an economic program still centered on tax cuts for the affluent and the curtailing of popular entitlements like Medicare and Social Security. And where working-class voters saw immigrants filling their schools and competing against them for jobs, Republican leaders saw an emerging pool of voters to court.

“They have to come to terms with what they created,” said Laura Ingraham, a conservative activist and talk-radio host. “They’ll talk about everything except the fact that their policies are unpopular.”
Confessore says that the stirrings of discontent were noticeable even two years ago:
In early 2014, a group of neighbors from a Florida mobile home community called Carriage Cove, near Daytona, took seats in a town-hall-style meeting with Representative Ron DeSantis, a Republican. It was a mix of Republicans and Democrats, almost all of them seniors living on fixed incomes.

They had come to ask Mr. DeSantis why he had put his name on a letter urging Republican leaders to take up Mr. Obama’s offer of a deal to overhaul Social Security. Mr. DeSantis seemed caught off guard, neighbors who attended the meeting recalled. He did not necessarily agree with everything in the letter, he told them. When they persisted, Mr. DeSantis left, explaining that he was not feeling well.
But did this become a serious problem for DeSantis? No. Even though he signed a letter calling for a Social Security overhaul -- something you'd think would be a political blunder in Florida -- he went on to win reelection in 2014 by a 25-point margin. He's now running to replace Marco Rubio in the Senate, and even though he's trailing in the GOP primary race, he's already lined up support from the Tea Party Express, the Tea Party-linked FreedomWorks, Phyllis Schlafly (who's backing Donald Trump in the presidential race), Citizens United, and Tea Party senator Mike Lee. A Florida political analyst quoted by Southern Political Report calls DeSantis "the man to beat" in the primary.

But maybe he'll lose a race he seems well positioned to win. What about a race in which a well-positioned candidate lost a stunning upset in 2014? Confessore writes:
In Virginia, an unheralded college professor from the Richmond suburbs named Dave Brat announced a primary challenge to Representative Eric Cantor, the majority leader. Mr. Brat attacked Mr. Cantor for his ties to Wall Street. But as the campaign heated up, Mr. Brat recalled in an interview, he began railing against his party’s immigration proposals. “I saw this very crony-ist aspect of the nation’s power structure pushing this agenda,” Mr. Brat said.

That message helped propel Mr. Brat to victory....
So Brat was a proto-Trump? That's not what we were told by The Wall Street Journal's Kimberly Strassel after he upset Cantor:
Yes, immigration came up in this race, though it didn't get ugly until the end. It happens that Mr. Brat, an economics professor, spent the bulk of his campaign rallying voters to a traditional free-market, pro-growth economic agenda. It centered on a tough criticism of crony capitalism and a clarion call for a flatter and more efficient tax code.
In fact, Cantor tried to put together an agenda aimed at the middle class -- and Brat won while sneering at it, Strassel writes:
... [Cantor's] "Making Life Work" agenda made him a poster boy of that new GOP impulse to focus on populist initiatives that cater to the middle class.

Mr. Brat openly derided "Making Life Work," referring to its "catchy little phrases to compete with Democrats for votes." As he told Mr. Hannity: "I do not want the federal government trying to make my life work."
But surely Brat, like Trump, agreed that existing benefit programs need to be preserved -- right? Well, no:
Asked about cuts to Social Security Disability Insurance, Brat replied that he supported drastic reductions in payouts from social programs for seniors:
I'll give you my general answer. And my general answer is you have to do what's fair. Right. So you put together a graph or a chart and you go out to the American people, you go to the podium, and you say, this is what you put in on average, this is what you get out on average. Currently, seniors are getting about three dollars out of all of the programs for every dollar they put in. So, in general, you've got to go to the American people and just be honest with them and say, "Here's what fairness would look like." Right. So, maybe the next ten years we have to grandfather some folks in, but basically we're going to move them in a direct line toward fairness and we have to live within our means.
Brat took some heat for this statement, which implied a two-thirds cut in benefits -- but when he took to Facebook to defend his position on benefit programs, he sounded exactly like a Romney/Ryan Republican:
We must protect current seniors as well as those nearing retirement (those who are 10 years or less from retirement) from any changes to the system....

For younger people, I propose phasing in a gradual increase in the eligibility age for receiving benefits. When Social Security was designed, the average life expectancy was 60; today it’s 79. The system wasn’t built for people living so long, which is why it’s running out of money. That’s why we need to fix it soon.

We also have to go after the egregious fraud that robs billions from Medicare and the Social Security Disability program.
Last December, CNSNews reported that Brat is looking forward to Ryanesque entitlement reform:
Brat advocates reforming, not cutting, the mandatory spending programs so they won't be insolvent by the next generation. That includes raising the retirement age for future beneficiaries.

"So we've got some heavy lifting to do." He noted that House Speaker Paul Ryan has "expertise" in both entitlement reform and budgeting, "so hopefully we can do that."
As for free trade, Brat once told Chuck Todd:
Yeah, I’m a free trader. After World War II, the GATT brought tariffs roughly from 50% down to about 4% or less today. And that’s been good for European trade with us. We set up our arch-enemies Japan and Germany after the war, started trading with them, and it enriched all of us. I have a win-win positive view about relationships with other countries that respect the rule of law. So we have to move forward on that front.
He opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but apparently only because he thinks Barack Obama is evil -- he likes globalism in the abstract:
“Trade is hugely important,” says Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va. “The move toward free markets [in China and India] has lifted 2.5 billion people out of poverty. That’s what we want to achieve. Everyone on this panel cares about every single person on this planet. But we just got done going through a major trust issue with President Obama’s unconstitutional amnesty.”

“So I am leaning heavy no [on the bill] because I don’t think we are taking into account these institutional concerns—the relationship between the executive branch and Congress,” he concluded.

... Brat said he would only vote for Trade Promotion Authority if Obama “gets rid of unconstitutional amnesty” ...
Oh, and he voted to repeal the estate tax, which applies only to millionaires.

So we're not living in a brave new world in which survival as a Republican candidate means rejecting every aspect of the GOP establishment's agenda. Hating undocumented immigrants is important, but beyond that, you can be a "new" Republican while taking positions that are only marginally different from those of old Republicans. Angry Republican voters will barely notice the difference. They just want to be told that you hate the old guard, that they're going to win now, and that someone they're angry at is going to lose.

Sunday, March 27, 2016


The New York Times reports:
Thanks to a series of reimagined fairy tales published online by the National Rifle Association, classic characters like Hansel and Gretel are now packing heat.

The group has published two of the updated tales on its N.R.A. Family website in recent months, entitled “Little Red Riding Hood (Has a Gun)” and “Hansel and Gretel (Have Guns).”
The writer of the stories says they're instructional:
... their author, Amelia Hamilton, a conservative blogger, has called them lessons in gun safety.

“The stories are really also for adults, and it’s all about safety,” Ms. Hamilton said in an interview on “CBS This Morning” on Friday. “It’s for parents to start those conversations.”
Gun control advocates describe them in terms that were once used for the old "Joe Camel" cigarette ads:
“The intent here is to create future customers” for the gun industry, said [Ladd] Everitt [of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence]. “I think it is wholly a marketing thing.”

Dan Gross, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, agreed, calling the stories “a disgusting, morally depraved marketing campaign.”
But neither side talks about how heavy-handed the propaganda is in these tales. This is from "Hansel and Gretel":
“What will we do,” their mother cried, “if we can’t feed our family through the winter?” Hansel and Gretel made a plan to help their family.

Fortunately, they had been taught how safely to use a gun and had been hunting with their parents most of their lives. They knew that, deep in the forest, there were areas that had never been hunted where they may be able to hunt for food. They knew how to keep themselves safe should they find themselves in trouble. The next morning, before dawn, they left a note for their parents, and gathered their hunting gear. They headed into the forest, grateful that they had the skills to help their family, and were old enough to go out on their own.
And from "Little Red Riding Hood":
The wolf leaned in, jaws open wide, then stopped suddenly. Those big ears heard the unmistakable sound of a shotgun’s safety being clicked off. Those big eyes looked down and saw that grandma had a scattergun aimed right at him. He realized that Grandmother hadn’t been backing away from him; she had been moving towards her shotgun to protect herself and her home.

“I don't think I’ll be eaten today,” said Grandma, “and you won't be eating anyone again.” Grandma kept her gun trained on the wolf, who was too scared to move. Before long, he heard a familiar voice call “Grandmother, I’m here!” Red peeked her head in the door. The wolf couldn’t believe his luck—he had come across two capable ladies in the same day, and they were related! Oh, how he hated when families learned how to protect themselves.
This is indoctrinating children into the notion of gun ownership as an ideology. What do these ideological rewrites remind me of? Oh, yeah -- this:

Also see this AP story from 1954:

Young Pioneers of Gun-ism, it is imperative that you learn correct gun thinking! You will be the future leaders who will vanquish the anti-gun oppressor! You have a world to win!

Saturday, March 26, 2016


Even though I often defend Hillary Clinton, I can understand why Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi rejects the endorsement of Clinton by his boss, Jann Wenner. Taibbi writes:
The failure of George McGovern had a major impact on a generation of Democrats, who believed they'd faced a painful reality about the limits of idealism in American politics. Jann sums it up: "Those of us there learned a very clear lesson: America chooses its presidents from the middle, not from the ideological wings."

But it would be a shame if we disqualified every honest politician, or forever disavowed the judgment of young people, just because George McGovern lost an election four decades ago.

That '72 loss hovered like a raincloud over the Democrats until Bill Clinton came along. He took the White House using a formula engineered by a think tank, the Democratic Leadership Council, that was created in response to losses by McGovern and Walter Mondale....

In 1992 and in 1996, Clinton recaptured some of Nixon's territory through a mix of populist positions (like a middle-class tax cut) and the "triangulating" technique of pushing back against the Democrats' own liberal legacy on issues like welfare, crime and trade.
I know, I know: This is the original sin of Clintonism. I heard that endlessly from Naderites a decade and a half ago and I'm hearing it now. I understand why it's dispiriting to a lot of voters, especially when Taibbi gets down to specifics (although I'm not sure I agree with this list -- racism? LGBT rights? climate change? immigration? voting rights?):
For young voters, the foundational issues of our age have been the Iraq invasion, the financial crisis, free trade, mass incarceration, domestic surveillance, police brutality, debt and income inequality, among others.

And to one degree or another, the modern Democratic Party, often including Hillary Clinton personally, has been on the wrong side of virtually all of these issues.
But that still doesn't lead me here:
... the millions of young voters that are rejecting Hillary's campaign this year are making a carefully reasoned, even reluctant calculation about the limits of the insider politics both she and her husband have represented.

... Young people don't see the Sanders-Clinton race as a choice between idealism and incremental progress. The choice they see is between an honest politician, and one who is so profoundly a part of the problem that she can't even see it anymore.

... they're voting for Sanders because his idea of an entirely voter-funded electoral "revolution" that bars corporate money is, no matter what its objective chances of success, the only practical road left to break what they perceive to be an inexorable pattern of corruption.
This is where the Sanders pitch loses me. Everything is the result of "corruption" -- not just policies that favor big banks or multinational corporations but military adventurism, excessive imprisonment, and heavy-handed policing.

Completely absent from this picture is a populace, or at least a white majority of voters, that actually favors what cops do in urban neighborhoods, what judges do to indigent defendants, and what politicians do -- rattle sabers -- when terrorists attack or international bad guys take territory. The worldview of the Bernie-or-bust crowd presumes that if you overturned Citizens United and instituted public financing of campaigns, the public would never again respond favorably to war drums or to the phrase "Blue Lives Matter."

I will never stop reminding you that -- as Gallup demonstrates on a regular basis -- liberals are the smallest ideological group in America; they're greatly outnumbered by both conservatives and moderates:

The Clintons are far too eager to tack to the center (or right-center, or sometimes the right) on many issues. But there is a large slice of the non-conservative electorate that is primed to respond to conservative fist-shaking on a wealth of issues -- taxes, crime, terrorism. I don't blame the Clintons for acknowledging this reality. The Sandersites are naive for ignoring it. That doesn't mean they have to respond to it the way the Clintons do. But they shouldn't pretend it's all an artifact of "corruption."

Yes, the Clintons are too eager to embrace the suck. But hardcore Sandersites think there is no suck. Regrettably, the suck is very, very real.

Friday, March 25, 2016


David Brooks is certain that the GOP's Trump nightmare will be followed by a hopeful dawn, when all can be made new:
[Trump] will almost certainly go down to a devastating defeat, either in the general election or -- God help us -- as the worst president in American history.

At that point the G.O.P. will enter ... the revolution phase. During [such] moments you get a proliferation of competing approaches, a willingness to try anything. People ask different questions, speak a different language, congregate around a new paradigm that is incommensurate with the last.

That’s where the G.O.P. is heading. So this is a moment of anticipation. The great question is not, Should I vote for Hillary or sit out this campaign? The great question is, How do I prepare now for the post-Trump era?
Sorry, David -- there isn't going to be a "post-Trump era" for the GOP, if that means a period of time when all previous assumptions are questioned and everyone is searching for new answers. The GOP and the conservative movement don't build their identities on presidential nominees -- they certainly didn't do that in 2008 and 2012, when a lot of conservatives and Republicans didn't even like nominees the party was said to have "rallied around."

Conservatism doesn't build its identity on presidential candidates. It builds its identity on a series of hatreds and grievances, some temporary, others ongoing. Yes, there's a gradual evolution, so Cleek's Law is accurate:
today’s conservatism is the opposite of what liberals want today: updated daily.
But there isn't going to be a revolution -- certainly not one brought about by the collapse of a presidential campaign -- because the resentments developed and accumulated after Trump will be added to a solid foundation of old resentments that predate Trump. The GOP's true leaders aren't politicians, they're the media figures who stoke these resentments. (That's why, even in the midst of the war over Trump, the ratings at Fox News are still strong.)

Conservatives today may be battling over Trump, but they're united in their resentment of students who allegedly feel unsafe in the presence of pro-Trump graffiti and trans people who want to use public restrooms where they feel comfortable and President Obama doing the tango after the Brussels terrorist attacks. That's a list based on current headlines. Looking back on old favorites, they're united in their hatred of Hillary Clinton and "political correctness" and illegal immigration and whatever the hell they think sharia law is. And I'm just scratching the surface.

The one change I can imagine in the future is that the style of conservatism will simply have more Trump in it. More and more candidates will praise waterboarding rather than "enhanced interrogation," and will be open about identifying the ethnic groups they resent.

But the GOP will still be the GOP. It will be the same old grievance party it's been for years.


I see that the National Enquirer has a story alleging that Ted Cruz has had extramarital affairs with five different women. The Enquirer doesn't ID the women, but Internet gossipmongers claim they've determined who three of them are. One is a Trump spokeswoman. One was Carly Fiorina's campaign manager -- which is raising further questions about a mysterious donation a Cruz super PAC made to a Fiorina super PAC last July:

This looks bad for Cruz, right? Yes -- but I remember January 2012:
Did John King blow it?

The CNN host stepped on a land mine named Newt Gingrich when he opened Thursday night’s Republican presidential debate by asking him about his second ex-wife’s allegation that he suggested she accept his affair as part of their marriage.

Gingrich’s now-famous response practically blew back King’s hair. “I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office,” he said to thunderous applause during the forum in Charleston, S.C. “And I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that.”

To even more enthusiastic applause, the former House speaker added, “I am tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans.”
Two days after that debate, Gingrich won the South Carolina primary by double digits.

Of course, Gingrich's marital troubles were old news. This story isn't -- and if any of it is true, it could be confirmed by embarrassing evidence.

But if it's not true, or if it's true but the accusers can't prove it, Cruz has the opportunity to be very, very self-righteous. Cruz, when he's angry, is pompous and haughty, just the way Gingrich was in that debate moment:

Perhaps unfortunately for Cruz, there are no more Republican debates scheduled. But if he thinks he's in the clear, either because he's innocent or because he's sure no one can prove anything, he really might find a way to use this to his advantage.

Or he could admit marital troubles, with Heidi at his side, and win sympathy. GOP voters love repentant sinners. They reelected David Vitter in his first election after his prostitution scandal. They eventually forgave Mark Sanford and sent him to Congress.

Or he could say nothing. In that case, the story could fester and hurt him -- or it could seem like mudslinging and help him.

I know, I know -- Gingrich didn't win the 2012 nomination. But he was never the establishment favorite and his campaign wasn't awash in cash the way Mitt Romney's was. Cruz is the establishment's pick now, and he's extremely well funded.

So this might cripple the Cruz campaign -- or, bizarrely, it could be the #NeverTrump movement's big break.


UPDATE: Charlie Pierce is right about this:
1) True or not, this has all the earmarks of a ratfck by a career ratfcker, and I would be willing to hazard a guess that the "Washington insider" quoted by the National Enquirer is an old Nixon hand whose name rhymes with "Dodger Drone."
Yup -- Trump pal (and, I suspect, still top adviser) Roger Stone, the guy who brought down Eliot Spitzer. Then again, Stone's scuttlebutt was true in that case.

ALSO: As New York magazine's Gabriel Sherman reported last fall, "Trump and Enquirer CEO David Pecker have been friends for years."

Thursday, March 24, 2016


Yesterday, Donald Trump appeared on Bloomberg's With All Due Respect and got into this discussion with interviewer John Heilemann:

HEILEMANN: You talked earlier about the notion that we're losing to ISIL, that they're making us look foolish and soft --

TRUMP: "ISIS." Don't you say "ISIL."

HEILEMANN: ISIS, ISIL, it's all one thing.

TRUMP: You know, it's one thing with the president. He always says "ISIL."

HEILEMANN: Whatever.

TRUMP: "ISIL, ISIL, ISIL." Everyone else says "ISIS." And it's almost like he does it to bother people. Okay? You understand.

HEILEMANN: I'm not doing it to bother you. I --

TRUMP: No, I know that.


TRUMP: But the president of the United States always says "ISIL," and everyone else says "ISIS," and I actually think he does it to bother people.
Yes, Trump actually asserts that the president "does it to bother people" twice. It's almost Rubioesque.

This has stuck in Trump's craw for a while now:

Trump isn't unique in believing this ridiculousness -- back in 2014, Peggy Noonan wrote the following about Obama:
He takes off the table things that should be there, and insists on weird words like “degrade” -- why not just “stop and defeat”? -- and, in fact, “ISIL.” The world calls it ISIS or Islamic State. Why does he need a separate language? How does that help?
If you're interested, here's a post I wrote at the time, in which I reproduced quotes from the heads of state of the three largest English-speaking countries apart from America, all of whom were conservatives (David Cameron of Britain, Tony Abbott of Australia, and Stephen Harper of Canada), and all of whom had publicly called the group "ISIL."

Who else says "ISIL"? The website Capitolwords scours the Congressional Record and finds that of the ten members of Congress who use the term "ISIL" most frequently, six are Republicans (Senators John McCain, Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, and John Cornyn, along with Congressmen Louie Gohmert -- yes, Gohmert! -- and Howard P. McKeon). Rick Santorum, who's a right-wing lunatic but who actually knows something about foreign policy, has also referred to the group as ISIL.

So has Trump's favorite TV interviewer, Joe Scarborough.
How should winning be defined against ISIL? Like it was in World War II--the forces of evil, yes evil, must be crushed.

And yet today, ISIL is on the march.
Eventually, I suppose, Trump will get around to saying what Rush Limbaugh says: that President Obama says "ISIL" because he hates Israel. Really, don't ask.


It no longer seems worthwhile to discuss the likely outcome of a three-way presidential race, what with polls showing that Hillary Clinton beats Donald Trump by as much as 18 points and with Erick Erickson, who once seriously considered backing a third-party challenger to Trump, now arguing that a third-party challenge would be a terrible idea (from his perspective at least , because he hates Trump and doesn't want Trump's likely loss to be blamed on a supposed spoiler candidate, rather than on Trump himself).

But here's one thing I've wondered about for a while: Sure, it looks as if running a Republican establishment candidate third-party could have been a route to victory -- if that candidate could win one state and keep both of the other candidates from reaching 270 electoral votes, the election would go to the House of Representatives. Each state's House delegation would get one vote -- and since most House delegations are Republican, and Republicans in the House are presumably beholden to the party establishment, surely they'd vote for the establishment candidate running third party. Right?

Well, this BuzzFeed story, assuming it's accurate, confirms my doubts about that:
Republican Rep. Chris Collins of New York said on Wednesday that many of his House colleagues are supporting Donald Trump “quietly”, but not publicly endorsing the GOP frontrunner.

“Many members are supporting Trump quietly,” Collins told New York radio host Bob Lonsberry. “They don’t like Ted Cruz at all, and for various reasons unique to their particular congressional districts they’re not formally endorsing Mr. Trump.”

Collins, who became the first member of Congress to endorse Trump in February, said he’d gotten “no negative feedback” from other Republican over his support for Trump....
Think you could run John Kasich, say, and then elect him president in the House if he wins only the state of Ohio, GOP establishment? Well, maybe not. Maybe a lot of House members really prefer Trump. And maybe a lot of House members would be afraid not to vote for Trump, out of fear of a primary challenge in the next election cycle.

I know I just got through telling you that the party will probably repair itself right after Trump is out of the picture -- but I'm not sure House members would believe that, if faced with the choice of voting against Trump in December.

It seems likely now that we won't face this situation -- but it's clear that it wouldn't be a slam dunk for the Republican establishment if it somehow happened.


Ross Douthat doesn't think the Donald Trump moment will lead to a permanent conservative split -- and not only do I agree with him, I think the healing process will be (alas) even easier than he anticipates.

Douthat writes:
First, there is no Trump movement as yet; there is only Trump himself, his brand and his cult of personality, plus a parade of opportunists and hangers-on. This makes the Trump phenomenon very different from the Goldwater and McGovern candidacies, which were boosted by pre-existing movements on the right and left....

Maybe a Trump movement is struggling toward self-consciousness, and in four to eight years it will be fully formed. But for now there aren’t Trump-like candidates challenging Republican politicians insufficiently committed to his cause (this has been a pretty easy year for incumbents, in fact), nor is there a Trumpish version of the netroots poised to be a player in Republican politics in 2018 or 2020....

So when Trump is no longer a candidate for president, Sean Hannity will probably morph back into a partisan hatchet man, Ben Carson will go back to his speaking circuit, Newt Gingrich will find some new ideological coat to wear and Chris Christie will take a job chauffeuring Trump’s limo. Maybe they’ll all rally again if he runs again in 2020. But Trumpism will need new leaders and a real activist base if it’s going to be more than a tendency or a temptation going forward.
Absolutely, and for good reason: Members of the right-wing rank-and-file just want someone or something to hate, and they're not picky: Show them a clip of George W. Bush standing on the 9/11 rubble with a bullhorn and they'll cheer. Show them a clip of Trump denouncing W for lying about Iraq WMDs and they'll cheer. They don't know what they believe. They just want enemies. They want an angry champion who seems conservative and who appears to have the strength to kick the asses of those enemies, whoever the hell they are this week.

Douthat considers the possibility that there might be an ongoing Trump movement, and rejects it.
... a Trumpian schism probably wouldn’t lead to a full realignment, a real re-sorting of the parties. Instead it would likely just create a lasting civil war within American conservatism, forging two provisional mini-parties -- one more nationalist and populist, concentrated in the Rust Belt and the South, the other more like the Goldwater-to-Reagan G.O.P, concentrated in the high plains and Mountain West -- whose constant warfare would deliver the presidency to the Democrats time and time again.
Maybe that will be the split -- but how different is that from the coalition the GOP has successfully sustained for the past 35-plus years, a coalition that's still holding together in congressional, state, and local elections? The defeat of Eric Cantor notwithstanding, Republicans voters were more willing to vote for candidates the party establishment put up for them in 2014 than they were in 2010; gone were loose cannons such as Christine O'Donnell, Sharron Angle, and Carl Paladino.

I think the Establishment will just pick up a few Trump talking points, dilute them, then teach the usual candidates how to sell them effectively. And I think the rubes will just go along. The GOP will be just fine in future downballot elections.

The only question, in 2020, is which crazy extremist will hijack the presidential nominating process, and either steal the nomination or push the nominee too far to the right to win the only kind of election in which Democratic voters actually show up. I don't know who that will be, but it'll be someone buffoonish and awful. (Maybe it'll just be Ted Cruz.) But apart from that, the GOP will painlessly reunite, and be just fine.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


Yesterday morning, as Americans learned about the terror attacks in Belgium, some U.S. political observers speculated that terrorism could get Donald Trump elected president. Here's Greg Sargent yesterday:
One editor tweeted this morning: “America may be one major terrorist attack away from Donald Trump as president.” Another prominent journalist added: “Keeps me up at night.”
You'd be forgiven for finding this plausible -- after all, here's Nate Silver telling us that terrorism does help Trump:
... the Paris and San Bernardino attacks appeared to boost his standing in national opinion polls....

... Trump’s national polls had stagnated in the mid-to-high 20s in the two months before Paris....

But the Paris and San Bernardino attacks were associated with an uptick in Trump’s numbers.... Trump improved from 28 percent of the vote just before the Paris attacks to 32 percent on Dec. 1, the day before the San Bernardino attacks. His numbers then rose further, to about 35 percent by mid-December.

Yes, after Trump made inflammatory statements in response to terrorist attacks, his poll numbers rose -- in the Republican primaries. They didn't rise in head-to-head matchups with Hillary Clinton.

Here's the chart of the Trump/Clinton matchup, from Real Clear Politics:

I can't pinpoint the dates of the two attacks in the screengrab, but if you go to the RCP link and look at the race on the date of the Paris attacks, November 13, you see that Clinton has a lead of 4.4. points over Trump on that day -- and then her lead basically stays flat for the rest of November. The race narrows in early December (mostly because of one mid-November Fox News poll showing Trump up by 5) -- but then, after the early-December San Bernardino attack, Clinton's lead over Trump actually increases, to as much as 6.6 points by December 18. It remains at 5 or greater for the rest of the month.

RCP's chart of Trump vs. Sanders doesn't go back to last year, but the HuffPost Pollster chart does -- and the results are similar:

Sanders leads Trump by 0.7% on November 13. The Fox poll comes out a few days later, showing Trump beating Sanders as well as Clinton. And then the Sanders lead over Trump expands, remaining significant all through December, even after San Bernardino.

So, no, Trump's saber-rattling after terrorist attacks doesn't impress everybody -- just Republicans.


A report from David Dayen at The New Republic raises a question: Does anyone in the Democratic Party know how to play this game?
... liberals are now ... giddy that a Donald Trump presidential nomination -- or a Ted Cruz nomination, for that matter -- could put the 30-seat Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives into play.

... David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report recently altered ten House ratings to favor Democrats, commenting, “It’s impossible to know just how bad it could get for Republicans sharing a ballot with Trump or Cruz.”

... But it takes years to recruit and train candidates who can raise enough money to win a congressional election; you can’t throw it together in a few months. You can see how unprepared Democrats are for this scenario by looking at how many districts won’t have a Democratic candidate at all. Nineteen states have already closed their filing process for House elections, representing 163 Congressional districts. And as Stephen Wolf points out, in 27 of those 163 seats -- about one in six -- no Democrat will appear on the ballot.
This is pathetic -- and yes, the districts in which no Democrat is running include quite a few considered unswervingly Republican, but that's not true of all of them.

Elsewhere, Dayen reports, Democrats have candidates in place, but they're weak candidates running for winnable seats.
Daily Kos Elections’ David Nir looked at two winnable Republican seats in southern New Jersey, where antipathy to Trump could produce unexpected results. In the 2nd district ... Representative Frank LoBiondo will likely face a Democratic challenger who raised only $55,000 when he was on the ballot in 2014, losing his primary by 64 points. In the 3rd district ... freshman Representative Tom McArthur will compete against one of two Democrats: perennial losing candidate Frederick LaVergne, or Jim Keady, who got pummeled in a state legislative race last year.
Given all the talk of "revolution" I'm hearing in the presidential campaign, I'm surprised there aren't Sandersites offering themselves as candidates (Democratic or third-party) for some of these seats.

Actually, I'm not surprised at all -- Bernie fans are falling for the widely held but incorrect notion that if you elect a progressive president, the entire federal government will simply fall in line. (A lot of progressives also thought that would happen eight years ago, with the election of Barack Obama.)

I disagree with Dayen about one thing: It doesn't always take "years to recruit and train candidates who can raise enough money to win a congressional election." Every so often, even a newbie candidate can catch a complacent opponent napping and win despite a lack of experience or cash. That's what teabagger Dave Brat did in his successful 2014 primary challenge to Eric Cantor -- Brat won while being outspent approximately 40-to-1 by Cantor.

In states where there's still time to get on the ballot, why don't some Bernieites try to take on congressional Republicans, especially in districts the Democratic establishment has already conceded to the GOP? Try it even in heavily Republican districts -- let's test the premise that the Sanders message appeals to Republican voters, especially the discontented voters backing Trump. And maybe the people making all those small donations to Sanders can spare a few bucks for people with Sanders values downballot.

You want a revolution? You're going to need some foot soldiers, not just one iconic leader. Try this.