Archive for August, 2018

My post last week was on the beginning of Trump’s end, and of the Republican Party too إن شاء الله. As for the Democrats—the other side of the equation—it really does look like a new beginning, one dares to hope at least, with the unbroken series of special election successes—of victories or a sharply increased Democratic vote in otherwise deep red districts—since Trump’s inauguration and the flood of new, young candidates running for office at every level—from statewide to school board—and particularly women. Also the surge of young people registering to vote. As I tend not to follow gubernatorial primary races, I hadn’t heard of Andrew Gillum before late Tuesday night—as the polls had him finishing a distant fourth in a five candidate field. What an exhilarating victory, as he is not only a compelling, progressive candidate—as one may read in this New Yorker profile, posted before Tuesday’s vote—but may also help pull Democrats to victory in other races in Florida—most importantly, that of centrist incumbent Senator Bill Nelson—by energizing voters from Obama’s coalition. Seriously, after watching Gillum here, how can one not like him?

Florida does look to be the toughest purple state for the Dems in November, as it’s the one presidential election battleground state where Trump has not lost ground since 2016, with well-to-do retirees moving in—a demographic that, il faut le dire, constitutes a far more important part of Trump’s base than Obama-to-Trump white working class voters in the Rust Belt. The Florida gubernatorial race will be epic, needless to say, pitting a progressive, Bernie-endorsed Democrat of color against a Trump acolyte. As for the latter ilk, it is quite striking to compare the bigoted crackpots and outright fascists the Republicans have nominated across the country—and who perfectly reflect the Zeitgeist of their party’s base—with the attractive, sympathique candidates of the Democrats, e.g. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—who has been unfairly maligned in the media—and Beto O’Rourke, who looks to have a shot at knocking off the unspeakable Ted Cruz—and turning the Sun Belt blue (or starting to, at least).

On the Democratic Party base—not the DNC or party establishment—Bill McKibben, the well-known environmental activist and author, has a nice post in the NYR Daily, dated August 14th, “Seeing Red? Think Blue,” that is well worth the read, and particularly by Democratic Party voters who are disaffected with the national leadership (and there are excellent reasons to be). Entre autres, he insists on “why it’s important to distinguish between ‘the DNC’ or ‘the Democrats,’ on the one hand, and whoever is running for office in your local district, on the other.” There is no alternative to working within the Democratic Party, he correctly says, as “the Republicans are worse by an order of magnitude… are a crazy-eyed threat to the constitutional order [and whose] leader is a corrupt racist who clearly seems willing to bring down our democracy.” But, McKibben continues, while

that’s the main reason for voting Democratic, it’s not the only one. The Republicans in their current form are detestable, while the Democrats—though compromised at the top, chummy with corporations, frustratingly split on crucial issues, and notoriously unwilling to stand their ground—are, in certain ways, sort of great.

He doesn’t “say this as some party lackey,” having organized protests outside the White House during Obama’s presidency, but his sense, after working on Bernie Sanders’ platform-writing team in 2016

was that the Democratic Party at its best operated as a kind of support network for the decent people who get pushed around in America—people of color, working people, disabled people, gay people, people who have to breathe the fumes from refineries… [T]here was something very moving about sitting there [in the platform meetings] day after day in those hotel ballrooms and hearing from voices like Rev. William Barber’s, and from civil rights icon Bob Moses. Or, even more, the women of color who are clearly the party’s backbone. At its most compromised, the Democratic Party nonetheless remains a bulwark of America’s minimal efforts to support the vulnerable, efforts that would otherwise disappear. If you don’t depend on food stamps or Medicaid or Head Start or free school lunches, it’s easy to forget how important this is.

I like that. And it gives me optimism.

There is obviously much more to be said about all this. À suivre.

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John McCain, R.I.P.

[update below] [2nd update below]

My Facebook news feed today has been inundated with articles about and tributes to him. He was the coqueluche of the Inside-the-Beltway media corps and the Congressional Democrats’ favorite Republican. There were a number of things one could say in his favor, most lately his detestation of Trump and casting the decisive vote to save the Affordable Care Act. His defense of Obama against racist Republican voters at the 2008 campaign rally was salutary, as was the graciousness of his concession speech that November 4th. Michael Lewis has a piece in Slate on McCain’s relationship with Mo Udall, which, Lewis says, reveals something positive about McCain’s character. That McCain requested that erstwhile electoral adversaries Obama and George W. Bush deliver eulogies at his funeral, but that Trump stay away, was commendable.

McCain was an old style mainstream Republican—à la Gerald Ford and Bob Dole, now a dying species—though a conservative, not a moderate; he was a “decent partisan,” in Yascha Mounk’s words, who worked with Democrats on specific issues (McCain-Feingold, etc), had a reasonable position on immigration, a principled stand on torture when those in his party endorsed it post 9/11, was not allergic to taxes, et on en passe (though his reputation as a “maverick” was somewhat overblown). One recalls his ‘yes’ vote on the 1986 South Africa sanctions bill, overriding President Reagan’s veto, not to mention his campaign (with John Kerry) to normalize relations with Vietnam. It was not for nothing that movement conservatives despised him. In March 2008, I listened to a right-wing Republican—the Fox News/Rush Limbaugh type—I happened to know (who was visiting Paris) explain to me why McCain was the worst possible GOP candidate, with awful positions on one issue after another. J’en ai pris acte.

But McCain at least partly redeemed himself with the right-wing—and my aforementioned interlocutor—that August, in naming Sarah Palin as his running mate. McCain gave us Palin, which is one very big stain on his record. McCain was also, pour mémoire, an Iraq war dead-ender—admitting it was a “mistake” only fifteen years after the fact—and, more generally, a leading figure in the Washington War Party (albeit with a Wilsonian streak—unlike raw militarists à la Dick Cheney and John Bolton—which was to his credit, one supposes). And then there’s the story that Erik Loomis, in a not laudatory obituary of McCain on the Lawyers, Guns & Money blog, reminds us of, of a nasty joke McCain told at a 1998 Republican fundraiser about Chelsea Clinton’s looks. For a grown man to speak this way about a woman—and particularly one who is barely 18-years-old—is low. McCain was, according to numerous accounts, not a very nice person. If his character had a positive side, it also had a negative one. People are complex. TNR’s Jeet Heer has a piece contrasting Trump’s nationalism with McCain’s and Vox’s Matthew Yglesias has one summing up his public life.

UPDATE: Jonathan Chait, who is always worth reading, has an interesting take, “John McCain tried to save the Republican Party from itself, and was crushed.” John Judis, who posted Chait’s piece on Facebook, added this comment:

Chait and I both wrote about the split in the GOP in 2000 and Chait’s article urging McCain to become a Democrat touched McCain (as I learned later, when I did a profile of McCain). The one important qualification here: 9/11 may not have happened under McCain because he would have listened to Clarke et al., but if it did, we might still have hundreds of thousands of troops in the Middle East. McCain was a passionate advocate of late ’90s era neo-conservative foreign policy. But on domestic and social/economic policy, the McCain of 2000 represented an older benign Republicanism that is now at the bottom of the dustbin of history.

Judis follows with up a post at TPM, “John McCain, Donald Trump, and the legacy of the American upper class.”

2nd UPDATE: I’m not a fan of Paul Berman but his article in Tablet is worth the read, “McCain and the Roman precedent: The late senator embodied the classical republican virtue of aristocracy, yet he was not above the barbarous opportunism that brought us Sarah Palin, and her political heirs.”

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[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below] [5th update below]

That’s what political scientist Peter Dreier says and he’s right. There is no way Trump will survive what everyone agrees was the worst day of his wretched regime—and which is certain to be followed by even worse days. Benjamin Wittes, in a must-read analysis of Trump’s predicament, thus put it: “the mad king [is] surrounded, outmanned, outgunned, and that there’s no telling from where or when the next blow will come.” When I say he won’t survive, I mean finish out his term and then win reelection. Not a chance. À propos, Robert Kuttner had an incisive column earlier this month explaining “Why Trump won’t be the GOP nominee in 2020,” and which he followed up on three days ago with one on “the end game” of Trump’s fall.

So how will it end? There are two scenarios IMHO, the first of which has Trump finishing his term and running for reelection. One should normally not speculate on an election outcome two years ahead of time—and I normally never do so—but, in this particular case, I will categorically assert that, barring major voter suppression in key swing states (emphasis added), Trump will not and cannot win in 2020. There are two reasons for this: (a) The Democratic Party is nigh certain to be united behind its nominee (as there is no rhyme or reason why it won’t be) and with he or she equally certain to enjoy higher poll numbers than did Hillary Clinton in 2016 (but who still decisively won the popular vote, and losing the three famous rust belt states by razor thin margins in a freak electoral accident); and (b) Trump’s job approval rating will, on its own, all but guarantee defeat. I have written numerous times in regard to both US and French presidential elections that an incumbent president cannot win reelection if his job approval rating is below 50% on the eve of the vote. It’s perhaps possible at 49% but below that, he’s toast, as the election is, in effect, a referendum on him. The only exception here is if the challenger is an extremist—and with exceptionally high negative poll numbers—who unexpectedly faces off against the incumbent (e.g. Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2002), but such an occurrence is exceedingly rare in a consolidated democracy and invariably only happens in two-round systems (and won’t in America in 2020).

Anyone with the slightest interest in politics knows that Trump’s job approval rating is the lowest of any US president at this stage in his term, though which, at 41 or 42% approval, still seems appallingly high in view of everything the S.O.B. has said and done. What is more significant than the overall approval/disapproval number, though, is the ones that express intensity of sentiment, of those who strongly approve or strongly disapprove of his performance. And here, Trump is way underwater in every last poll that breaks down the numbers this way. Depending on the poll, Trump’s strong approval ranges from 21 to 34%—his hard core base—and with his strong disapproval ranging from 37 to 51%. The spread is substantial in every poll. E.g. the latest Fox News poll (which FiveThirtyEight.com gives a grade of A) has Trump at 25% strong approval and 44% strong disapproval among registered voters. The latest Rasmussen poll (which tends to have a Republican skew) has it at 32/44, the YouGov poll at 28/46, the Morning Consult-Politico poll at 22/42, and the Quinnipiac poll (graded A- by 538) at 30/48. Et ainsi de suite. Conclusion: a lot more voters loathe Trump than love him. People who feel strongly about a candidate are, needless to say, highly motivated to vote. And they rarely change their minds. As for those who have tepid feelings—who somewhat approve or disapprove of Trump’s performance—and could possibly move to the other camp, one notes in all polls that the number here is higher with Trump than against him. In other words, there is greater potential for erosion in Trump’s approval rating than in the disapproval. Trump is thus already near his ceiling of approval, at 44 or 45% of registered voters (and likely voters as well; and does anyone at this point seriously think it could go higher, that he could exceed his 46% of the 2016 popular vote?). It is not possible for an incumbent to win a free and fair election with this level of unpopularity.

The second end game scenario involves Trump leaving office before his term is up, no doubt in the course of 2019. If the Dems win back the House in November, which is looking increasingly likely, they will most certainly hold hearings on impeachment, as the threshold here has manifestly been crossed, even without the Mueller report and whatever it may reveal or recommend. The process will be inexorable, with eventual cynical electoral calculations by establishment Democrats—as to whether or not impeachment will hurt them in 2020—falling by the wayside. A House of Representatives controlled by the Democrats will impeach Trump, as the hearings on the question will necessarily reveal that he committed high crimes and misdemeanors (how could they possibly not?).

As for the Senate, which the Dems could well take in the event of a salutary Republican wipe-out, that will depend. A year ago to this day, I predicted that the Congressional GOP leadership would, maybe before the end of 2017, decide to quickly impeach and convict Trump, that they’d just do it. I was clearly off on that, as I was in opining that Trump was losing the acquiescence of that GOP leadership. He clearly did not, au contraire. But as Never Trumper ex-Republican Eliot A. Cohen reminds us, “[s]ooner or later, tyrants are always abandoned by their followers.” Tyrants—and tyrant wannabes like Trump—are unloved. They have no friends. When it’s sauve qui peut, the rats jump ship. If the Republican wipe-out happens in November inshallah, there will, objectively speaking, be no reason for the Congressional GOP to continue to support Trump, at least not in the way it has up to now. If he’s impeached, they will tell him, as Barry Goldwater & Co did to Richard Nixon in August 1974, that he needs to resign. In a Senate trial, all sorts of information will come out, e.g. on Trump’s taxes, if it hasn’t already in the House hearings. If Trump decides to go down fighting, he will likely be convicted by the Senate, after which he will face the consequences. If he follows the friendly GOP advice, then he will stand a good chance of being pardoned, along with his family, by President Pence—which will no doubt be part of the deal. And the lickspittle sycophant Pence will willingly go along, knowing all too well that he wouldn’t be anywhere near where he is without Trump having put him on the ticket in ’16.

That is what will likely happen, as it will clearly be in the interests of both Trump and the Republicans. As for the Repubs, Pence will pursue precisely the same policy agenda as Trump—to the extent that he can in view of Democratic control of one or both houses of Congress—and with the stock market soaring to boot. Policy-wise, Pence will be every bit as bad as Trump, as Jane Kramer elaborated on last October, but at least the Dems and others will be able to focus on “the issues” and not be distracted by crazy tweets and outbursts, as political scientist Stephen Zunes submitted, or his vulgar, gross personality. And the far-right evangelical Pence—the inevitable GOP 2020 nominee—will be an even weaker general election candidate than Trump, if such is possible.

La messe est dite. À suivre, bien évidemment.

UPDATE: Republican media consultant and Never Trumper Rick Wilson—whose writing style I love—has a great column (Aug. 22nd) in TDB, “Manafort, Cohen, Omarosa: This is how it always ends for Trump’s scuzzy friends.” The lede: “Far from taking a bullet, Cohen shot a proverbial one at the Con Man in Chief, and Manafort may end up doing the same. The train wreck of Trump’s life is finally being exposed.”

2nd UPDATE: People have probably seen the comparisons of Trump’s behavior and mentality to that of a mob boss but if not, don’t miss Jeffrey Goldberg’s piece (Aug. 23rd) in The Atlantic, “Donald Trump’s Mafia Mind-Set: Listening to a legendary American mobster and hearing the president of the United States.” Also see NYT White House correspondent Mark Landler’s ‘memo’ (Aug. 23rd), “With a vocabulary from ‘Goodfellas,’ Trump evokes his native New York.”

3rd UPDATE: Continuing with the Mafia parallel, The Nation’s Joan Walsh has a good commentary (Aug. 27th), “The President is a white-nationalist mob boss—and his base doesn’t care.” The lede: “Diehard Trump supporters represent at most a quarter of the electorate, but dominate media discussions of the president’s standing. They shouldn’t.”

4th UPDATE: Paul Starr throws some cold water on what I’ve written above, in a sobering piece (Aug. 29th) in TAP, “No, Trump is far from finished: The Manafort and Cohen convictions haven’t changed the political realities.” I don’t disagree with anything Starr says, in fact. If the Democrats fail to win Congress—or at least the House—this November, then Trump will obviously finish his term—and with America in a very bad place by that point.

5th UPDATE: Former NYT Executive Editor Howell Raines has a ‘hot take’ piece (Aug. 18th) on the NBC News website, “Trump Twitter target Jeff Sessions is quietly doing exactly what he came to Washington to do.” The lede: “Following in the footsteps of Deep South segregationists, Sessions has weaponized the legal system against minorities, immigrants and political opponents.” Voilà one more reason why it is so imperative that the wretched Republican Party be destroyed, and ASAP.

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Aretha Franklin, R.I.P.

I grew up listening to her. Musically speaking, she was a part of my 1960s childhood and early adolescence. There are a number of Top 10 and Top 20 lists of her greatest songs out there but this is my personal no.1.

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