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[update below]

My goodness, people have been flipping out since yesterday with the publication of the New York Times/Siena College poll—headlined on the NYT website and bylined by the redoutable number-cruncher Nate Cohn—showing Trump, with the election a year-to-the-day away, to be in a strong position vis-à-vis the top three Democratic candidats—and particularly Elizabeth Warren—in the six battleground states that are sure to decide the winner. The collective hand-wringing, indeed panic and despair, among liberals and progressives on social media, plus in email exchanges with friends, has been something to behold. To this may be added the finger-wagging “I told you so!” by Biden-supporting pundits and friends who have been warning that the Dems are courting certain disaster next November if they lurch to the left with Warren (and there’s a fixation on Warren over Sanders, who tends to be discounted—I have been guilty of doing so myself—though that may be premature). One such self-satisfied center-hugging pundit—whom I follow and normally like—is New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait, who entitled a commentary à chaud, “Poll shows Democrats have been living in a fantasy world,” and tweeting “The Democratic field has proceeded in blissful unawareness of the extremely high chance that Trump will win again.”

What poppycock. A few points. First, the NYT/Siena College poll is just one poll—”a new data point, but not a definitive one,” dixit Ruy Teixeira—and which may or may not be an outlier. That it could indeed possibly be this is suggested by Trump’s +6 margin over Warren in Michigan (sample of 501 RVs and MOE of 5.1%), which is hard to believe, as not only has there never been a poll in that state with such strong numbers for Trump but the Emerson poll of Michigan voters released Nov. 3rd (1051 RVs and MOE of 3%) has Warren with a +8 lead over Trump.  One of these polls is clearly way off (pour l’info, FiveThirtyEight gives Emerson a grade of B+). In view of the sample size and MOE, not to mention MI’s polling history, I’ll wager that the way off one is the former—and particularly in view of news like this.

Second, the election is a full year away, which is, to employ that cliché, an eternity in politics. And it’s still three months to the Iowa caucuses. As Nate Cohn writes:

There is a full year before Election Day, and a lot can change. Ms. Warren is an energetic campaigner. She could moderate her image or motivate young and nonwhite voters, including the millions who might not yet even be included in a poll of today’s registered voters. Mr. Biden could lose the relatively conservative voters who currently back him; the president could be dealt irreparable political damage during the impeachment process.

The impeachment process: It’s hard to see how Trump comes out of that—assuming he survives it—without sustaining at least some damage to his standing in public opinion. Cohn, however, adds this:

But on average over the last three cycles, head-to-head polls a year ahead of the election have been as close to the final result as those taken the day before.

If it had been over, say, the past ten cycles, that would be a history giving cause for concern. But three? Just because Real Madrid has won the Champions League title three times in a row doesn’t necessarily mean it will win a fourth. Three is not sufficient to establish a loi des séries.

Third point. Jonathan Chait and others are simply wrong that Democrats have been Pollyannas deluding themselves about Trump’s potential electoral strength. Democrats, who are congenital worrywarts when it comes to national elections, have been more than aware that the 2020 campaign is going to be hard-fought and that despite their incontestable advantage in the national popular vote, the Electoral College now structurally favors the Republicans—and Trump in particular, with his cultural appeal in the Rust Belt. N.B. the analyses last July by Nate Cohn and Dave Wasserman, which were received by Dems like a five-alarm fire, of the growing skew in the EC, that the Democrats could win the national popular vote with an up to 5% spread but still fall short in a tipping state like Wisconsin, which is “balanced on a knife’s edge,” thus losing the election. And it is indeed the case that the demographic evolution of Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, even Minnesota—not to mention Florida, with all the Republican-voting retirees moving in—are not trending the Democrats’ way. To say that Dems don’t fully understand this is absurd.

Anyone who knows or follows me knows that I have been confident for the Dems’ chances in ’20, though do not categorically exclude the appalling possibility that the orange-haired idiot could win. He clearly has a number of factors in his favor, as enumerated in my July 12th post “Can Trump win in ’20?,” among them the power of incumbency, his party united behind him, no serious primary challenger, and a fanaticized base—of a fourth to a third of the electorate—such that the American political system has not witnessed on a national level in memory. And then there’s the money, of which Trump has an almost unlimited amount, and a campaign that will be/is far more professionally-run than in 2016. And his campaign—with its shock army of evangelicals—will invest massively in turning out every last voter inclined to vote for him, including lower class whites who abstained in 2016 and/or may not currently be registered—and discourage/suppress voters inclined to vote against him.

It won’t win Trump the popular vote but could the EC, to which the Democrats will have no choice but to massively invest in their own base strategy, of mobilizing Afro-American and younger millennial voters to the max—including the millions of potential voters who will have turned 18 over the previous four years—and combating Republican efforts at voter suppression. It will be base vs. base—and as I keep reminding everyone, there are more of us than there are of them, including in the states that will get us past 270 EVs.

Yes, Trump could hypothetically win the EC even with a 5-point deficit in the popular vote. But if it’s more that? Utterly unlikely. FYI, the spread in the national vote today at Real Clear Politics is Biden +9.3, Warren +6.1, and Sanders +6.8. Voilà.

On the (hugely exaggerated) progressive vs. moderate dispute, one thing Warren/Sanders detractors get wrong is that this will at all matter in the general election campaign. The fact is, Trump and the Republicans will set out to shred the Democratic nominee regardless of who s/he is. Sleepy Joe will be torn to pieces, Pete Buttigieg will be mauled in countless ways, Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bennet—should either pull off a miracle surge during the primary season—will be tarred as wild-eyed liberals, if not outright socialists. No matter who the Democrat is, s/he will be demonized by the Republicans and Trump state propaganda (Fox, etc). Whether or not the Democrat is viewed by pundits and mainstream media as a “moderate” or “progressive” does not and will not matter to Republican voters. To them, they’re just Democrats, period.

À propos, Sean Freeder—a very smart and insightful political science doctoral candidate at UC-Berkeley—posted this comment on a Facebook thread yesterday:

[I]f being “centrist” is what beats Trump, then we are truly all in trouble, as NO ONE running is centrist by 2016 standards. As cute as it is to keep calling Biden centrist, if a candidate with his policy platform had run in the 2008 primary, he would have been the most liberal candidate in the race by far, perhaps excepting Kucinich. The party has already moved far to the left over the past several years, but no one seems to treat that as true.

The moderate label we give to Biden is a relative one, not an absolute one. Stacks of research demonstrate that most voters dont have stable policy preferences, or know virtually anything about the candidates who run in primaries. “Moderate” voters prefer “moderate” Biden because they think he and they are moderates, but neither of these things are true. They just like the label moderate, and those to whom it is applied, because it sounds “reasonable”. Warren has a year to convince voters that she’s not a wide eyed extremist, and that her plans are in the dead, dull moderate middle of virtually any other left party in the world.

Tout à fait. On voters not having stable policy preferences, one may add that the vast majority have little to no knowledge or interest at all in the details of policy. Paul Waldman, in his WaPo column yesterday, “Democrats have a dangerous misconception about policy and campaigns,” underscored this point. Money quote:

Try to recall a time when a single policy issue not only made a significant difference in the outcome of a presidential election, but it was because one candidate had a more popular position on it than the other. It certainly isn’t what got Donald Trump elected. Or Barack Obama, or George W. Bush, or Bill Clinton, or George H.W. Bush, or Ronald Reagan.

Sure, there were arguments about policy in those elections. But voters don’t keep a scorecard on which they tick off points of agreement and disagreement with both candidates, then total up the results to decide their vote.

Presidential campaigns “are fought on character and broad themes,” not policy, which is one reason why the attacks on Elizabeth Warren’s Medicare-for-All plan, while perhaps valid, are, from the campaign standpoint, irrelevant. What Warren needed to do was come up with a plausible-sounding plan that does not raise taxes on the middle class—to deprive her Democratic opponents and, later, the Republicans of a sound bite on that, to be endlessly played in attack ads—and which she has clearly done (if Paul Krugman and Ezra Klein say her plan is serious and passes the test, that settles the matter for me). All Warren has to do now is defend her plan on the stump and in debates, and parry the attacks on it by Buttigieg, Klobuchar et al, which she will do no problem (pour mémoire, Warren is fast on her feet and sharp as a whip). And when the debate gets technical (which is not too likely with Trump), voters’ eyes will glaze over, with debate moderators eventually tiring of the health care issue and moving on to something else.

And if Warren wins the nomination, she will no doubt pivot toward the center in the general election campaign, as Will Wilkinson of the libertarian Niskanen Institute—who is critical of some of Warren’s positions—submitted in a tweet storm 2½ weeks back. One may be confident that she will assure voters nervous about losing their employer-based insurance that there will be no sudden, brutal transition. And once in the White House, inshallah, those with an even minimal knowledge of how American government works know that President Warren will not be able to implement her M4A plan by executive order. Congress will have a say in it—i.e. almost the entire say—and that even if the Dems win a decisive majority in the Senate and abolish the filibuster, there is no chance that M4A will be adopted in anything resembling its present form. Moderate senators (Michael Bennet et al) will take charge and pass a more modest bill (at minimum, reinforced ACA with a public option), and Warren will be fine with that, as she knows how Congress and legislation works. Her M4A plan, which people are dumping on, is all about firing up the base, moving the Overton window, and setting out a long term vision, which will be realized down the line via incremental reforms (and as it’s Elizabeth Warren, she of course needs to have a plan). Pundits know this, which is why the current polemics over the issue are so ridiculous.

Warren presently has Wall Street in a panic, as one reads. Nice. This no doubt makes “moderate” Democrats very nervous but none have, so far as I’ve seen, taken on Warren on this one…

I have a lot more say on the Dems, on Bernie (toward whom I am warming), Biden (who I really wish were not in the race), Buttigieg (if he knocks off Biden for the moderate slot, so much the better), and others. La prochaine fois.

À suivre. In the meantime, check out the current head-to-head numbers in the key swing states.

UPDATE: Yale University political science professor Jacob S. Hacker argues, in a NYT op-ed (Nov. 5th), that “Elizabeth Warren is asking the most important question on health care: How can we move from a broken system to one that covers everyone, restrains prices and improves outcomes?”

For the record, Lawrence Summers says in a WaPo op-ed that “Warren’s plan to finance Medicare-for-all pushes into dangerous and uncharted territory.”

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Lock him up!

Magnet on my refrigerator

[update below]

That’s what the crowd chanted at Nationals Park in Washington Sunday night (game 5 of the World Series) when the wanker’s presence (in a stadium luxury box) was announced, as everyone has heard by now. How gratifying. Certain belles âmes in the mainstream media and Democratic Party establishment deplored the stadium taunting, equating it with the “lock her up!” chanting at Trump rallies aimed at Hillary Clinton. Talk about a false equivalence. In addition to the fact that Trump directed the chanting himself at his rallies, Hillary Clinton never committed a single crime or even misdemeanor, or was ever indicted for a thing—and, as we know, has been definitively cleared of any legal impropriety in the emails business. As for Trump on this score, his serial criminality requires no explanation or elaboration at this point. The man has been in and out of court for decades, been sued by dozens (perhaps hundreds; who’s counting?), and spent millions on lawyers defending himself, counter-suing others, and gaming the system. That he has avoided prison up to now is proof in the pudding of a certain corruption in the American judicial system, where money—how much one has—really does count.

But justice will ultimately be served, inshallah, and with Trump locked up for many years, after a fair trial, of course, hopefully preceded—wouldn’t it be nice—by the perp walk and in handcuffs. And with his real estate empire liquidated and name effaced from every edifice. His conditions of imprisonment should be comfortable—we don’t want to be vindictive—but with no Twitter or television, except for MSNBC in the evening (plus Al Jazeera if he likes). Juste un rêve…

It’s a foregone conclusion that Trump will be impeached by the House, though conviction by the Senate looks most unlikely. But maybe not. A number of commentators and pundits, conservatives among them, have speculated that enough Senate Republicans could indeed vote to convict in the end. E.g. Peggy Noonan, who has not been suspected of Never Trumpism and, ça va de soi, knows a lot of Republicans in Washington, had a noteworthy op-ed, dated Oct. 17th, in The Wall Street Journal, “The impeachment needle may soon move: The mood has shifted against Trump, but the House has to show good faith and seriousness.” It begins:

Things are more fluid than they seem. That’s my impression of Washington right now. There’s something quiet going on, a mood shift.

Impeachment of course will happen. The House will support whatever charges are ultimately introduced because most Democrats think the president is not fully sane and at least somewhat criminal. Also they’re Democrats and he’s a Republican. The charges will involve some level of foreign-policy malfeasance.

The ultimate outcome depends on the Senate. It takes 67 votes to convict. Republicans control the Senate 53-47, and it is unlikely 20 of them will agree to remove a president of their own party. An acquittal is likely but not fated, because we live in the age of the unexpected.

Here are three reasons to think the situation is more fluid than we realize.

First, the president, confident of acquittal, has chosen this moment to let his inner crazy flourish daily and dramatically—the fights and meltdowns, the insults, the Erdogan letter. Just when the president needs to be enacting a certain stability he enacts its opposite. It is possible he doesn’t appreciate the jeopardy he’s in with impeachment bearing down; it is possible he knows and what behavioral discipline he has is wearing down.

The second is that the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, told his caucus this week to be prepared for a trial that will go six days a week and could last six to eight weeks. In September there had been talk the Senate might receive articles of impeachment and execute a quick, brief response—a short trial, or maybe a motion to dismiss. Mr. McConnell told CNBC then that the Senate would have “no choice” but to take up impeachment, but “how long you are on it is a different matter.” Now he sees the need for a major and lengthy undertaking. Part of the reason would be practical: He is blunting attack lines that the Republicans arrogantly refused to give impeachment the time it deserves. But his decision also gives room for the unexpected—big and serious charges that sweep public opinion and change senators’ votes. “There is a mood change in terms of how much they can tolerate,” said a former high Senate staffer. Senators never know day to day how bad things will get.

The third reason is the number of foreign-policy professionals who are not ducking testimony in the House but plan to testify or have already. Suppressed opposition to President Trump among foreign-service officers and others is busting out. (…)

A six to eight week Senate trial, with all that will be revealed during that interminable period and Trump melting down daily… Does one imagine that all but two or three GOP senators will remain with him to the end, and particularly if his approval rating descends below 40%?

In writing last Friday on “the collapse of the president’s defense,” Benjamin Wittes—editor in chief of Lawfare and a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution—observed that

Polls are unmovable until they move. Cracks in the wall are mere cracks until the wall comes down and we realize the bricks were actually just the spaces between the cracks. Senators are a fickle lot, and when the winds shift, they can shift suddenly.

The Washington Post had a report yesterday co-authored by Robert Costa—the National Review’s Washington editor before joining WaPo and who knows the congressional GOP comme sa poche—with the title, “‘It feels like a horror movie’: Republicans feel anxious and adrift defending Trump.” One notes this bit:

The GOP majority is in play in 2020, with Collins, Joni Ernst (Iowa), Cory Gardner (Colo.), Martha McSally (Ariz.) and Thom Tillis (N.C.) each facing tough campaigns and grappling with polls in their states showing independent voters souring on Trump and open to impeachment.

“At some point, McConnell is going to have to perform triage to save the majority,” said Rick Wilson, a longtime GOP consultant and Trump critic. “How the Senate Republicans handle everything is all going to come down to how threatened Mitch feels and how worried he is about losing Colorado, North Carolina and a few other states. And if Trump’s numbers keep dropping, that decision is going to come sooner than later for him.”

On calculations over the outcome of next year’s Senate races, Henry Olson—a senior fellow at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center—had some interesting observations in his Oct. 23rd WaPo column, “Trump is blowing his defense against impeachment.” E.g. this:

Trump is too personally tied to [the Ukraine] scandal to deny responsibility, but he could admit that he displayed poor judgment and pledge to turn over a new leaf. That might help him in the court of public opinion.

That’s not going to happen, though, because it runs counter to the pattern of Trump’s entire adult life. He built his public reputation as the man whose skill and will get him what he wants. Whether it’s in business, dating and marrying beautiful women, or “draining the swamp,” the entire Trump mystique is built around the idea of the daring, infallible “stable genius” who lives the life of power and luxury that most people only dream of. This is the character he has created for himself, and he is incapable of changing the script now.

Trump is Trump. He’ll never change. Olson concludes:

That both elites and average voters might be outraged by [Trump’s] decisions [to abandon the Kurds in Syria and hold the G-7 summit at his property near Miami] never entered his mind because he rarely tries to persuade people rather than sell himself to a niche market.

You can get rich and powerful marketing to a niche market. The Trump brand wasn’t for everyone, but it was attractive to enough people to fuel his real estate and product-branding enterprises. The Trump political persona clearly alienates millions of people, but it attracts millions of others. These people like the vision of Trump the president peddles, and like any good niche marketer, he keeps giving his acolytes what they want.

The trouble for Trump is that presidents can’t win without building larger coalitions. Trump won in 2016 because he persuaded that election’s swing voter — the person who disliked both him and Hillary Clinton — that “Never Hillary” was better for that person than “Never Trump.” Those people form the core of the person he needs to talk to now, and they aren’t buying the idea that the Democratic investigation is worse than what Trump appears to have done.

This conclusion spells near-certain doom for Trump if it persists. Trump’s reelection strategy has clearly been to rerun the 2016 campaign: hold the Trump base and coalition together and demonize the Democratic nominee, terrorizing the voter in the middle to reluctantly choose him again. That person, however, is unlikely to do that if he or she has already concluded that Trump’s actions regarding Ukraine are so bad that he should be removed from office through impeachment.

Trump’s character made him famous and gave him the presidency. Unless there’s more behind the mask he has created, however, it will also likely lead to his political demise.

If Trump is doomed in November 2020, so too will be the Republican majority in the Senate. If Trump goes down, he will make sure to take Moscow Mitch, Lickspittle Lindsey, and the rest of the wretched GOP band with him. When this becomes clear during the Senate trial, if not before, one may presume that the latter will do what they need to do, with the (illusory) hope that a President Pence will enable them to sauver les meubles and keep their majority.

But if Trump does survive the Senate trial, thus making it to Nov. ’20, does one really think that, after all we will have been through, he will clear 270 EVs and after a general election campaign dominated by the policy details of Medicare-for-All, or Democratic proposals to amend Section 1325 of Title 8 of the U.S. Code? Come now.

À suivre.

UPDATE: The Washington Post has a report from Florida (Oct. 31) by national correspondent Griff Witte, “Is Trump’s base breaking over impeachment? The tale of a congressman’s defiance suggests not,” that will throw cold water on the prediction/hope that GOP senators will vote to convict Trump.

And National Review editor Rich Lowry has an opinion piece (Oct. 24) in Politico, “The fantasy of Republicans ditching Trump,” that makes a lot of sense. He may well be right, alas.

 

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Describing Trump

This one has been making the rounds on social media, and which merits reposting on AWAV. Someone on the popular question-and-answer website Quora asked, “Why do some British people not like Donald Trump?” A witty and insightful writer from England named Nate White wrote the response below, which is as spot-on a description of Trump-the-man as one will find:

A few things spring to mind.

Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem.

For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed.

So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.

Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever.

I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman.

But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

Trump is a troll. And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers.

And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults – he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.

There is never any under-layer of irony, complexity, nuance or depth. It’s all surface.

Some Americans might see this as refreshingly upfront.

Well, we don’t. We see it as having no inner world, no soul.

And in Britain we traditionally side with David, not Goliath. All our heroes are plucky underdogs: Robin Hood, Dick Whittington, Oliver Twist.

Trump is neither plucky, nor an underdog. He is the exact opposite of that.

He’s not even a spoiled rich-boy, or a greedy fat-cat.

He’s more a fat white slug. A Jabba the Hutt of privilege.

And worse, he is that most unforgivable of all things to the British: a bully.

That is, except when he is among bullies; then he suddenly transforms into a snivelling sidekick instead.

There are unspoken rules to this stuff – the Queensberry rules of basic decency – and he breaks them all. He punches downwards – which a gentleman should, would, could never do – and every blow he aims is below the belt. He particularly likes to kick the vulnerable or voiceless – and he kicks them when they are down.

So the fact that a significant minority – perhaps a third – of Americans look at what he does, listen to what he says, and then think ‘Yeah, he seems like my kind of guy’ is a matter of some confusion and no little distress to British people, given that:

  • Americans are supposed to be nicer than us, and mostly are.
  • You don’t need a particularly keen eye for detail to spot a few flaws in the man.

This last point is what especially confuses and dismays British people, and many other people too; his faults seem pretty bloody hard to miss.

After all, it’s impossible to read a single tweet, or hear him speak a sentence or two, without staring deep into the abyss. He turns being artless into an art form; he is a Picasso of pettiness; a Shakespeare of shit. His faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws, and so on ad infinitum.

God knows there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid.

He makes Nixon look trustworthy and George W look smart.

In fact, if Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws – he would make a Trump.

And a remorseful Doctor Frankenstein would clutch out big clumpfuls of hair and scream in anguish:

‘My God… what… have… I… created?

If being a twat was a TV show, Trump would be the boxed set.’

Brilliant.

On a somewhat sobering note, Peter Beinart’s latest, typically insightful piece in The Atlantic is entitled, “The two psychological tricks Trump is using to get away with everything: His brazen attempts to redefine the norms of acceptable conduct work for a reason.”

IMHO Trump will not get away with this, i.e. what he will be impeached for. His luck will run out. Inshallah.

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The impeachment inquiry

I was going to offer my initial thoughts on the impeachment inquiry ten days ago but got distracted by Jacques Chirac (see previous post). Two immediate comments. First, it’s about time. Finally. Second, the (flawed) arguments by pundits and skittish Democrats against trying to impeach Trump—that it would be opposed by a majority of the public, surely fail in the Senate, and end up reinforcing the Mad King and his reelection chances—are now obsolete. They have been overtaken by events. One thing is certain: like Brexit, we have no idea how this thing is going to play out. But one other thing is also certain, which is that there will necessarily be a succession of revelations during the House inquiry that are highly damaging to Trump—as a sociopath and lifelong con man who should have been sent to the slammer many years ago, how will it be otherwise?—making impeachment an all but foregone conclusion. And does anyone seriously believe even at this early stage—with support for impeachment spiking in the polls and Trump melting down daily and flailing hysterically—that even in the event that the Senate does not vote to convict—which looks like the probable outcome at present but who knows?—that Trump will come out of the process politically strengthened? And moreover, given that he is piling on the provocations and manifest illegality daily, is certainly clinically psychotic—and likely in the early stages of dementia—and with a staff of bootlickers, lickspittles, and lackeys; in short, people who are, objectively speaking, not very smart? Or, as they would say over here, qui ne sont pas des fins stratèges ou des flèches? Come on.

It is now well understood by erstwhile impeachment skeptics that, with the revelation of the Trump-Zelensky telephone conversation, Nancy Pelosi had no choice but to finally open an impeachment inquiry. And all the more so as even non-Never Trump conservatives suggested that the Ukraine affair has pushed Trump into impeachment territory. The consequences of a Democratic failure to act would have been disastrous, signaling to Trump that he could commit unconstitutional or illegal acts with impunity—and with the Democrats looking like castrated eunuchs and Trump’s fanaticized supporters exulting. As Will Wilkinson—the very smart vice-president of the libertarian Niskanen Center think tank—put it in an excellent NYT op-ed, impeachment simply became “imperative.”

In one of the best essays of the past week, the conservative lawyer George T. Conway III (husband of Trump spinmeistresse Kellyanne, if one didn’t know), writing in The Atlantic, submitted quite simply that Trump is “unfit for office” and with his malignant “narcissism mak[ing] it impossible for him to carry out the duties of the presidency in the way the Constitution requires.” Conway’s piece is long but essential reading.

On how the impeachment inquiry endgame may play out, writer and ex-SCOTUS clerk Dean Gloster, who represented two “high-functioning narcissistic sociopaths” in his former career as a lawyer—who describes himself as “the guy the awful people came to after they’d screwed up so badly in front of federal judges with their first lawyers and wanted saving”—offered some experience-based thoughts in a must-read Twitter storm, and with some pointers for Trump’s flunkies and henchmen whom Adam Schiff will be serving with subpoenas. In his view, it will be sauve qui peut.

As to how Adam Schiff’s committee should pursue the hearings, Trump-loathing onetime Republican operative Rick Wilson, who’s always a pleasure to read, has these recommendations in his September 25th Daily Beast column, entitled “Five simple rules for impeaching our president: Battle on and for TV, ignore the old rules, expect the worst from Republicans, cause pain, and let the pros work.”

Rule 1: This is a battle by, for, and of television.

Donald Trump is a reality-TV star. It’s all he understands. It’s the only thing that penetrates that gigantic bone dome concealing his tiny lizard brain. The hearings must be public, televised, media-friendly, and done in a way that emphasizes the scope and intensity of this investigation. Remember, America elected this orange jackhole in large measure because they saw him pretending to be a CEO on a reality-TV show. If Congress provides moments of critical gravity on-air, preferably live, Trump’s brain will melt.

Rule 2: Ignore the old rules. Trump certainly will.

The first rule of Trump Fight Club is that there are no rules. The real battle to come is one of spectacle, drama, loud noises, and made-for-TV confrontations, not careful legal proceedings and meticulous fact-finding. Democrats shouldn’t be trying to make an air-tight legal case; they should be making a vivid, powerful, political and public case against Trump’s lawbreaking, greed, and sleaze. Don’t get caught up in the petty details; work the big, brash picture.

Trump is playing to his strength. As a man without shame, his only goal is to create a larger explosion, a bigger shock, a more powerful emotional response. He’s playing to his base; if Democrats are playing to the New York Times editorial board, they’re fucked.

Rule 3: Expect fuckery from the Republicans.

Play back every hearing in the past year where Fredo Nunes, Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz, Mark Meadows, or any other member of the Deep State Douche Caucus rolled out some bizarre attack utterly unrelated to the actual investigation.

They’re going to ramp this up by a factor of a million, using every procedural trick in the book to blow up every hearing. The chairmen of these hearings need to drop the goddamn hammer on these jerkoffs, and hard. Suspend rules, crack skulls, cut corners—just keep the conversation and the camera on the Trump scumbags in the dock for questioning.

Don’t expect any heroes from the GOP; Republican members view him with more fear than loathing, and that’s the ballgame. Some true believers will be there to detonate themselves in service to the Dear Leader; they’re the Trumphadi caucus, and guys like Gym Jordan are one televised hissy fit from strapping on a bomb vest and charging the gate at Chappaqua. Once the filing deadlines for the GOP primaries have passed, you might have a little more luck but, until then, expect nothing but trouble.

Rule 4: Cause pain.

So far, no one from Trump’s world has felt the slightest bit of pressure or pain from contempt, lying, withholding information, evading subpoenas or being a Trumpian cocknozzle. When sinister Trump-world shitbird Corey Lewandowski lied his ass off before the House Judiciary Committee and verbally abused members of Congress, he did everything but take a dump on Jerry Nadler’s desk, and still walked away scot-free. If the shoe was on the other partisan foot, Lewandowski would have been perp-walked out of the room and strip-searched in the Rotunda.

If “inherent contempt” isn’t in the Democrats’ playbook right now, then forget impeachment and plan for a season of stonewalling. So what if the law is vague or there’s going to be a big old habeas corpus fight? You’re looking for the video clip of some Trump fuckwit being heaved off his feet and dragged out of the hearing room in contempt, not a legal-eagle panel on MSNBC nodding sagely.

You have to attack Trump’s weak spots; his money, his taxes, and his kids. Raise the stakes for all of them. Press harder. Be more cruel and more determined, because the other side most certainly has decided to lie and stonewall until you lose patience. Drag all of them, even the most tangential characters in Trumpworld.

Rule 5: Let the professionals work.

I know every member of Congress wants to be the star of the impeachment hearings. That’s not how this game works. They need to treat this like a televised trial, not like a goddamn press availability at the East Bumfuck Rotary Club.

The Democrats need to get professional, outside prosecutors to serve as the lead interrogators for every Trump witness. Pipe-swinging attorneys asking meaningful and high-risk questions to the Trump witnesses is better television, better lawyering, and better at wrecking Trump’s headspace than the five-minute-rule boredom of normal hearings.

And one more rule, mostly for the press: Stop taking the bait.

The president of the United States of America is, as you may have noticed by now, a lying liar who lies. The people around him are more of the same.

You’re not required to edit his word salad into coherent video or quotes. You’re not required to cover every one of his lunatic accusations as if it were gospel fact. If Trump makes an outrageous claim, he depends on the reporters around him to merely amplify what he said and not to call bullshit. This is how Trump has hacked the media system to his advantage. Even his lies, when reported, are believed as truth.

It’s past time for the press to call bullshit. No one is required to report verbatim the details of the president’s outrageous lies, only that he told them.

Those are the new roles, to win a fight that is going to be long, bloody, and painful. We’re still at the beginning of the beginning, as much as we may wish otherwise.

Trump deserves impeachment. America deserves a Democratic Party that has the strength, discipline, focus, and determination to carry it off.

In his follow-up October 2nd column, “Trump is going to burn down everything and everyone, and Republicans, that means you,” Wilson begins:

Donald Trump’s Oval Office performance-art masterpiece Wednesday was one for the ages, a pity-party, stompy-foot screech session by President Snowflake von Pissypants, the most put-upon man ever to hold the highest office in the land. If you watched his nationally televised press conference, Trump’s shrill, eye-popping hissy fit scanned like the end of a long, coke-fueled bender where the itchy, frenzied paranoia is dry-humping the last ragged gasps of the earlier party-powder fun.

Between calling Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) a panoply of Trumpish insults (and for the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee to be held for treason), engaging in his usual hatred of the press, talking about Mike Pompeo’s intimate undergarments, and quite obviously scaring the shit out of Finnish President Sauli Niinisto—who looked like he was the very unwilling star of an ISIS hostage video—Trump spent the day rapidly decompensating, and it was a hideous spectacle. All the Maximum Leader pronunciamentos won’t change the reality that Donald John Trump, 45th president of the United States, has lost his shit.

In private, Republicans are in the deepest despair of the Trump era. They’ve got that hang-dog, dick-in-the-dirt fatalism of men destined to die in a meaningless battle in a pointless war. They’ve abandoned all pretense of recapturing the House, their political fortunes in the states are crashing and burning, and the stock-market bubble they kept up as a shield against the downsides of Trump—“but muh 401(k)!”—is popping.

You want to know why so few Republicans have held town-hall meetings since early 2017? Because Trump is the cancer they deny is consuming them from the inside out. They see the political grave markers of 42 of their GOP House colleagues—and several hundred down-ballot Republicans—booted from office since 2017 and know that outside of the deepest red enclaves, they’re salesmen for a brand no one is buying.

How I wish I could write with such flair. To read the rest of Wilson’s column, you’ll have to plunk down $29/year or whatever it is to get behind The Daily Beast’s paywall (it’s worth it).

One big question—and over which there is much disagreement—is the scope of the impeachment inquiry, of whether or not it should be narrowly focused on the Ukraine affair or expanded to take up the countless number of impeachable offenses Trump has committed. I’m undecided, as there are strong arguments for both. Basically I’ll go with whatever it takes to get the SOB out of there (and preferably in handcuffs). Another question, which many had not thought of (myself included), is what will happen in the Senate if Trump is impeached. It has been assumed that the Senate will hold a trial, as it is presumably supposed to under Article II Section 4 of the constitution, but certain analysts have said that Mitch McConnell, as majority leader, could decide to not hold one, to simply ignore the House’s articles of impeachment. McConnell has assured that Senate rules do obligate it to take up impeachment but still, he could try to quickly dispatch with the matter. In a lengthy interview with the excellent Dahlia Lithwick, who writes on courts and the law for Slate, Walter Dellinger—former acting solicitor general and emeritus professor at Duke Law School—specified that the presiding officer at a Senate trial would be Chief Justice John Roberts, not Moscow Mitch, which would engender a different dynamic. And several Republican senators in purple states facing potentially tight reelection races next year—in IA, CO, AZ, ME, NC—may deem it prudent not to go on record as trying to nip in the bud a Senate trial before it has run its course. So what happens in the Senate could be quite interesting.

There’s much more to say about this obviously but I’ll leave it there for now. À suivre.

Map tweeted by Trump and response.

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[update below]

Dayton too. The latter one was a garden-variety American massacre, committed by an angry white male, who shot up a crowded place—that may or may not have been chosen at random—and with a legally acquired semi-automatic rifle. If such weapons of war could be as easily procured in, say, France—where there are plenty of angry white males—as they are in the US, does anyone doubt that we would see a dramatic increase in massacres there (and of murder more generally)?

The El Paso massacre was different. As one knows, this one was racially motivated. It was an act of terrorism targeting a particular ethnic group—and a group that has been the target of racism, hatred, and dehumanization by the President of the United States since he announced his candidacy four long years ago. Trump has spoken of Mexicans and Central Americans in the same terms as the Rwandan Hutu Interahamwe did of Tutsis in 1994 (as “cockroaches”) and Nazis did of Jews. Trump’s words are “poison,” as a commentary by a conservative pundit headlined today. Trump is poison. The El Paso Walmart terrorist was morally aided and abetted by Trump. Trump bears moral responsibility for the massacre. And one may be utterly certain that there will be more to come—possibly even more so once the unspeakable SOB is gone. On this, Paul Waldman has a chilling column in The Washington Post (August 5th) on “[h]ow Trump’s biggest broken promise will make white supremacist terrorism even worse.” The angry, heavily-armed white men out there will be even angrier when their man is no longer in the White House—and having failed to build his wall or rid the country of Muslims and others from “shithole countries.” A future President Warren-Biden-Harris-etc needs to start thinking now about how s/he will deal with an inevitable upsurge in domestic terrorism such as the United States has not witnessed in anyone’s lifetime.

On the antecedents of white American nationalist terrorism, historian Thomas Meaney has a must-read review essay in the August 1st London Review of Books, simply entitled “White Power,” in which he discusses two new books, Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America, by Kathleen Belew, and Revolutionaries for the Right: Anti-Communist Internationalism and Paramilitary Warfare in the Cold War, by Kyle Burke. One learns in the essay that the armed white nationalist movement in its present form was born with the Cold War and America’s military interventions and other imperialist ventures over the decades, most notably the Vietnam War, and with veterans later freelancing as mercenaries to fight Soviet-backed insurgencies across the globe (one reads about the monthly magazine Soldier of Fortune, which I would periodically look at with morbid curiosity in the 1970s and ’80s). With the end of the Cold War, new generation white warriors acquired experience in Afghanistan and Iraq. In short, there are a lot of violent men out there in the American heartland—and no doubt in big blue cities too—who are racist, like to kill, and possess the heavy weapons to do so on a large scale. Again, El Paso is just the beginning.

Kathleen Belew, who teaches history at the University of Chicago, has an op-ed in The New York Times (August 4th), “The right way to understand white nationalist terrorism.” The lede: “Attacks like that in El Paso are not an end in themselves. They are a call to arms, toward something much more frightening.”

One may also profitably read Slate political editor Thomas Scocca’s commentary (August 4th), “Where taking the concerns of racists seriously has gotten us.”

UPDATE: Brian Beutler, the smart editor-in-chief of Crooked, has a smart comment (August 6th), “Members of the press, WTF indeed!,” in which he takes off from Beto O’Rourke’s impromptu reaction to a clueless journalist’s question. This passage in the piece is particularly noteworthy:

One recent incident that attracted relatively scant attention connects [Trump’s] racist incitement with his other nefarious activities: his unlawful intrusion in the war-crimes case of Eddie Gallagher, the Navy SEAL who fatally stabbed a teenage ISIS fighter, posed with his corpse, then threatened to kill anyone who reported him. Trump helped secure Gallagher’s acquittal, then ordered the Navy to strip the prosecutors who tried him of the achievement medals they were awarded for doing their jobs well. The Gallagher case became a right wing cause célèbre, saturated with jingoism and Islamophobia, which is surely why Trump first took interest in it. But what purpose did he serve by punishing war-crimes prosecutors whose superiors determined they had acted appropriately? Why would the president want to communicate to certain favored, dangerous people that they have his permission to be violent, and that those who stand in their way will be scorned, abused, or purged? It is easier to look away than to connect the dots, because if the president has truly fascistic ambitions—if he has abused his power to recruit violent sympathizers in the military or civilian life with the lure of immunity—then conventional journalism lacks the language to say so.

Read the whole thing here.

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[update below]

The Democrats are gearing up for their second debate this week, with questions on immigration and the crisis at the border certain to be posed. In informing oneself on the subject, which all concerned citizens should be doing, some advice: ignore the pundits and pay attention to the specialists and practitioners, i.e., to those who know what they’re talking about. A good piece to start with may be found on the Foreign Affairs website (dated July 16th), “Trump’s incendiary rhetoric is only accelerating immigration: The crisis at the border is of Washington’s own making,” by Randy Capps, who is Director of Research for U.S. Programs at the Migration Policy Institute.

See likewise the commentary on the MPI website, co-published with the El Colegio de México, by MPI president Andrew Selee et al, “Strategic solutions for the United States and Mexico to manage the migration crisis,” in which five recommendations are advanced, one of which is increasing pathways for legal migration of Central Americans to both the United States and Mexico. If the US wants to reduce illegal immigration, it must increase legal migration, e.g. circular migration schemes (see my post on ‘the border’ from last March). There is no other way.

Another informative commentary may be found on the Washington Office on Latin America website, “There is a crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, but it’s manageable,” by Adam Isacson et al.

It is well-understood that the majority of migrants trying the enter the US from the southern border are not Mexican but rather from the Northern Triangle of Central America. There has also been an upsurge of Africans, notably from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola, which Randy Capps discusses in his Foreign Affairs article:

These migrants are the leading edge of a trend that will likely preoccupy the United States for years to come. African countries have among the highest birth rates, lowest per capita incomes, and most unstable governments in the world. Demographers project that due to rapid population growth and high poverty rates, Africa will produce more international migrants than any other continent in coming decades. Conflicts in South Sudan, northern Nigeria, and Burundi have already displaced millions of people in recent years. And in the DRC, where 4.5 million people are currently internally displaced (300,000 of whom were uprooted in the last month), a combination of ethnic conflict, political instability, and state repression has the potential to produce as many international migrants as conflicts in the Middle East and Central America.

Even though the vast majority of African migrants remain in neighboring countries, more are seeking to leave the continent. Hundreds of thousands headed to Germany, Sweden, and other European countries during the peak of Europe’s migration and refugee crisis in 2015–16. But their main route across the Mediterranean has been cut off as a result of European policies to thwart boat crossings and increasing violence and insecurity in North Africa, particularly in Libya, the most popular launching point. With this route blocked, migrants from the DRC and other African countries are turning their attention elsewhere, including to the United States. (…)

The flow of migrants from Africa and Asia to the U.S.-Mexican border is unlikely to abate soon. The world is experiencing the greatest humanitarian migration crisis since World War II, and most of the displaced are living on those two continents. Until recently, the United States was largely insulated from these pressures by geography. But with refugees and other migrants finding new routes and adapting to shifting policies, that may not remain true for much longer. (…)

On the African migratory flow to the US, see also this AP dispatch linked to in Capps’ piece.

À propos of all this, the latest issue of The New York Review Books (dated August 15th), has an excellent, must-read review essay by Joseph O’Neill on Jill Lepore’s This America: The Case for the Nation, and This Land Is Our Land: An Immigrant’s Manifesto, by Suketu Mehta, who is a naturalized American citizen from India. The gist of Mehta’s argument is that the rich countries of Europe and North America have no moral right to erect barriers to migration from countries in Africa and Asia that were pillaged over centuries of Western colonialism and imperialism. In this respect, Jason DeParle, in a review essay in the August 16th 2018 NYRB on Lauren Markham’s The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life, reminds the reader that seven of the ten largest immigrant groups in the US—Filipinos, Salvadorans, Vietnamese, Cubans, Dominicans, Koreans, and Guatemalans—come from countries the US invaded or where it had a large military presence—and eight if you go back far enough to count Mexico. Salvadorans—the subject of Markham’s book—are here in the US in part because of what we did there in El Salvador, he says. Quoting Markham: “We have played a major part in creating the problem of what has become of Central America.”

Likewise with a smaller immigrant/refugee population in the US that we’ve been hearing a lot about lately: from Somalia, a country the US sent soldiers to in the early ’90s. The initial motives may have been high-minded and humanitarian but the Americans quickly—and calamitously—involved themselves in Somalia’s civil war, the consequence of which was to worsen what was already a nasty tribal conflict—and which saw the entry of new, Islamist actors (Islamic Courts Union, Al-Shabaab) that were themselves a by-product of Washington’s Global War on Terror. Somalia had never been a country of emigration but, thanks in significant part to the United States, it became one.

Back to Suketu Mehta, while one may not share his view that the US and Europe should institute what would be, in effect, a veritable open borders regime with the rest of the world—and I’m not with him on this, for a couple of specific reasons—his argument merits a respectful, well-considered response.

Hari Sreenivasa interviewed Mehta on CNN’s Amanpour & Co. on May 21st, which may be seen here. I don’t agree with Mehta on all the particulars but think he has the big picture right.

Among other things, Mehta aptly asserts that the US could triple the number of Green Cards handed out, to three million a year, and not only would it have no downside but would make the country better. In this vein—and departing from my above admonishment not to pay attention to media pundits on the immigration issue—the NYT’s Bret Stephens—whom I would normally not quote favorably—began his column dated June 21st 2018 with this:

I prefer the window seat.

I like to idle away time on flights trying to guess where and what I’m flying over, without the benefit of the map. I’m hypnotized by the red-beige-brown carpet of California desert; mesmerized by the unbroken wilderness of northern Maine; awed by the peaks and valleys of the Cascades; calmed by the serenity of the Great Lakes.

And I draw a political conclusion: America is vast, largely empty and often lonely. Roughly 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas, covering just 3 percent of the overall landmass. We have a population density of 35 people per square kilometer — as opposed to 212 for Switzerland and 271 for the U.K.

We could use some more people. Make that a lot more.

Right. If the US population were to double via immigration—to 660 million—the country would still have a lower population density than three-quarters of the member states of the European Union. And like the latter, the US would necessarily have a more elaborate welfare state and greater environmental consciousness—and witness the extinction of the Republican Party in its current form to boot. And what sentient person cannot hope for that!

À suivre.

UPDATE: For those who may have missed it, a polemic was sparked over Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez referring, on June 17th, to the migrant detention centers on the border as “concentration camps,” with Republicans and right-wing media—plus Jewish organizations—denouncing AOC for what they considered to be an obscene use of the term. Following suit, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington released, on June 24th, a “Statement Regarding the Museum’s Position on Holocaust Analogies,” thus aligning the USHMM with the attacks on AOC. This provoked a response by several hundred historians and other scholars, who signed “An Open Letter to the Director of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum,” published in the NYR Daily on July 1st.

One critique of the New York Congresswoman was penned by Robert Rozett, who is Senior Historian in the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem, in The Times of Israel, “What exactly is a concentration camp, AOC? The prison camps the lawmaker referenced were many things, but they were not detention or internment camps in a classic sense.” Holocaust scholar Omer Bartov was asked by friends and associates to respond to Rozett, which he did on his Facebook page on July 16th:

[H]ere is my response. I’ll now opt out of the rest of this debate since I think I have said everything I can say at the moment.

The article by Rozett makes the obvious point that the Nazi concentration camps were not the same as other detention and concentration camps. It evades the issue that most concentration camps were in fact not where Jews were killed, and that most Jews were not killed in concentration camps. About 3 million Jews died in extermination camps, which were indeed a unique feature of the Nazi regime. The other 3 million were mostly shot where they lived or died in ghettos. The Nazis did not invent concentration camps, and if you read about the horrors of such camps under other regimes and at other times you will discover the family resemblance. Even in WWII, Jews were interned in camps, e.g. in France, that were similar to other detention camps in history, before they were handed over to the Germans, so that such detention camps were a link in the chain leading to extermination. Most important, the term “never again,” as it was understood also by the most prominent and articulate survivors of the Holocaust, was specifically intended to make future generations not repeat the process of dehumanization of other groups of people that could eventually lead to violence and mass murder. It was not meant to prevent what had already happened, which could no longer be undone. What people such as Jean Améry and Primo Levi appealed for was to recognize the humanity of others.

What the current inhabitant of the White House is doing is an intentional dissemination of an idea, and implementation of policies, intended to dehumanize others, be they foreigners, minorities, Muslims, or what have you (including Jews). He is opening the gates, both rhetorically and by bureaucratic measures, to an unmooring of the greatest aspect of American society, from which many, including myself, have benefited immeasurably – the acceptance of people from elsewhere and the fundamental rejection of the blood and soil nationalism that was at the root of Nazism and fascism. The brutality toward children on the border is a manifestation of this new worldview, which must be rejected at all cost because it would undo American society and bring out, as it has already begun, the worst demons that inhabit its fringes.

I won’t go here into the reasons for Yad Vashem’s protection of the notion of the uniqueness of the Holocaust, which is an ahistorical concept that hampers the very idea of studying the event, something that can only be done by way of comparison. In this I of course supported the letter of hundreds of historians and other scholars to the USHMM (which has yet to respond) for its bizarre rejection of analogies. The current Israeli government has in fact been utilizing the Holocaust in order to legitimize its insupportable policies viz-à-viz Palestinians. Unfortunately, it too has forgotten nothing and learned nothing from the Holocaust, namely, that dehumanizing others dehumanizes oneself. It is tragic to see this same predilection now threatening to erode American democracy as well. This erosion will harm all minorities, and American Jews who believe that they will be spared it are fooling themselves as Jewish nationalists have done in other places in the past. Allow me not to continue this discussion, I am sure there are those who disagree but these are my views.

Historian Timothy Snyder had a comment in Slate (July 12th), “It can happen here: The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s decision to speak out against Holocaust analogies is a moral threat.”

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[update below]

Since the Democratic candidate debates two weeks ago, a number of liberal pundits and Never Trump conservatives have been admonishing the Democrats that they are lurching too far to the left, and that this could be—indeed, will be—fatal to their chances of defeating Trump. Others—including at least two worrywart friends of mine—contend that only Biden can beat the idiot in ’20 and that the Dems are dead if they nominate Sanders, Warren, Harris, or anyone else presently polling over 2%. And then there are those who submit that it doesn’t matter who the Dem candidate is, as Trump is, as the normally smart political scientist Cas Mudde asserted last month, “cruising toward re-election.” This sentiment was reinforced by The Washington Post-ABC poll released July 7th (which FiveThirtyEight gave a grade of A+), that has “Trump’s approval rating [rising] to the highest point of his presidency” (for the WaPo-ABC poll). Echoing Professor Mudde, conservative WaPo columnist Henry Olson—who, unlike other right-wingers at the WaPo opinion page, is not a hack—thus concluded from the poll that “Trump is almost a lock to win [reelection].”

Last August 25th I wrote the following:

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.

I may have perhaps been getting ahead of myself but hold to my categorical assertion nonetheless, with maybe the proviso that it is unlikely that Trump will win. As his aggregate poll numbers at FiveThirtyEight were almost identical then—41.9% approval/53.4% disapproval—to what they are today (see above image), there is no objective reason for me to get cold feet now, particularly as Trump’s numbers have been remarkably stable over the past two years. Peoples’ attitudes about him are baked in and strongly felt; the intensity of sentiment is striking, and with a wide spread between those who just hate the S.O.B. and his adoring cult base—with the former some 15% higher than the latter. The fact is, Trump has not topped 43% approval at FiveThirtyEight since March 2017. If his numbers don’t spike between now and November 2020, it’s hard to see how he wins reelection.

That said, one obviously cannot totally rule out the unthinkable possibility that Trump could indeed win, particularly as he does have a few things going for him, namely:

  • The power of incumbency. This may not guarantee reelection (e.g. Ford, Carter, Bush 41) but it does help, as the POTUS can make sure he’s in the news daily and drive the political discussion—and which includes driving inconvenient stories or revelations out of the news cycle (and Trump is, as we know, a genius at this).
  • Trump will not face a serious primary challenger (the presence of one for an incumbent being an almost sure predictor of defeat in November). He owns his party, which fanatically supports him, voters and elected reps alike.
  • The core of Trump’s fanaticized base—the evangelicals—is highly organized and richly endowed, and will spearhead a ground operation to ensure maximum turnout of Trump’s electorate—and which will be an important factor in certain swing states, notably Florida and North Carolina, plus in red states where the Democrats have a shot (Georgia, Texas). Add to this the Republican propaganda machine (Fox News, etc) and social media army, which will go into overdrive, plus eventual covert ops by foreign actors.
  • The Trump campaign will have a huge amount of money, with America’s plutocracy pulling out all the stops to get him reelected.
  • The economy. It’s clearly more helpful for an incumbent to launch a reelection campaign with positive macroeconomic numbers than negative ones—not to mention a booming stock market, in view of how many voters’ retirement pensions depend on that.
  • For the moment at least, no foreign quagmire involving US soldiers—that the public is paying attention to—or major foreign policy fiasco.
  • The Electoral College, in which the Republicans now enjoy a structural advantage. Trump’s operatives know that he will lose the popular vote but are confident that he can repeat his 2016 Electoral College feat.

But then we come back to his poor poll numbers—which increasingly look to be etched in stone—and a few facts, namely:

  • With the exception of a few days after his inauguration—Trump’s ephemeral “honeymoon”—he has never reached even 45% approval at FIveThirtyEight. There is always a first time, of course, but no incumbent president has ever been reelected with a job approval rating of less than 48% in the average of election eve polls.
  • If an incumbent is running for reelection, the election is a referendum on him and his performance. The 2020 election will be about Trump, not his opponent. Period.
  • If the evangelicals will be fired up for Trump, so will liberals and progressives for the Democratic candidate, regardless of who s/he is. The Dems will likewise have a ton of money and a GOTV ground game like none in their history. The number of Democratic voters who will be knocking on doors and getting out the vote will be unprecedented.
  • The economy is going great for some Americans but not for many others—and certainly not for the 40% who struggle to pay their bills. As the FT’s Martin Wolf has explained, there’s a lot of “hot air” in Trump’s boom. And for even swing voters, all sorts of other issues may trump perceptions of the economy—and in this case, Trump himself.
  • The Electoral College: the Clinton campaign (and almost everyone else) was blindsided by Trump’s feat, having taken the three famous Rust Belt states—the Blue Firewall—for granted, and particularly Michigan and Wisconsin, where it consecrated few resources. One may be utterly certain that this will not happen again.
  • Trump has done nothing to expand his electoral base. His strategy is “base only.” Some 2016 abstentionists may come out of the woodwork to vote for him but it is unlikely that he will flip a significant number of Clinton voters. The Dem candidate, on the other hand, has a greater reservoir of 2016 abstentionists—of 2012 Obama voters who stayed home in 2016, notably persons of color and younger Millennials—and greater prospects to attract disaffected 2016 Obama-to-Trump voters. And the Democratic base is larger than Trump’s to begin with.

Dave Wasserman of The Cook Political Report, in an interesting interview with the New Yorker’s Isaac Chotiner, “What the Democrats’ turn leftward means for the party’s chances in 2020,” argues that the election will be determined in six states: Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin (of course), plus Florida, North Carolina, and Arizona. This is correct. All were narrowly won by Trump in ’16. FL presently looks iffy and NC is a toss-up but the Dems will be well-positioned to win the other four, in view of the razor thin ’16 margins, current state polling, and the outcomes there in the 2018 midterms. The Trump campaign, with its boatloads of money, will target states narrowly won by Clinton—New Hampshire, Maine, Minnesota, Colorado, Nevada, even Virginia—but more to distract the Ds and make them spend money there, as it is most unlikely that he will win any. So if the Democratic candidate takes PA-MI-WI-AZ, plus the Nebraska 2nd CD (where it was close in ’16, so why not?), that’s 290 EVs. And the election.

Wasserman makes one critical observation that needs to be reiterated again and again, particularly with those who have a fixation on the famous white working class being the key to victory:

[W]hat five of the six [swing states that will decide the election] have in common are pretty robust African-American populations. And if I wanted to know the turnout rate for one demographic in 2020 for the sake of predicting the result, it would be African-American voters under forty.

Thank you. As I’ve been insisting forever, if black voters turn out in the same percentage as they did in 2008 and ’12, the Dems will win. Period. To help insure this, the Dem ticket will, as I’ve been incessantly repeating, need to have an Afro-American (Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Stacey Abrams are obvious candidates).

On the WWC, plus Joe Biden, Wasserman has this to say:

[T]he idea that Joe Biden could return a lot of those white working-class voters to the Democratic fold could turn out to be a mirage. These voters have become culturally loyal to Trump. They are much likelier to live in places where local news is declining—in other words, places that are more susceptible to aggressive social-media propaganda campaigns. Trump’s popularity has not waned much in those places. (…)

[W]hat I think 2016 proved was that doubling down on the evolution of your party and its base can pay dividends. We saw in 2012 that Mitt Romney, who represented the last vestiges of the country-club wing of the Republican Party, simply could not excite the voters that Trump could excite in 2016. I see the same potential scenario on the Democratic side, where Joe Biden might be the last vestige of a certain kind of Democratic Party that failed to excite the future of the Democratic Party.

Wasserman sees pitfalls in an Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris nomination, which could, he contends, reinforce the image of a Democratic Party “dominated by coastal élitists” (Massachusetts and Harvard for Warren—malgré her Oklahoma roots—and San Francisco for Harris). He undermines his argument on this, however, in his assessment of Barack Obama:

[P]art of why Obama appealed in those [Midwestern] states was that he was a Midwestern candidate. He was someone who had experience going to fish fries in rural counties of Illinois, which, culturally and economically, are a lot like the parts of Wisconsin and Michigan and Iowa where Democrats’ fortunes have fallen recently.

Wasserman is way wide of the mark here. Apart from the fact that Obama had possibly never even set foot in the Midwest—or anywhere in “flyover country”—before age 22, he lived his entire time there on the South Side of Chicago, which is as culturally “Midwestern” as is NYC’s Upper West Side, the Occidental College campus in L.A., or Honolulu, where he had resided prior. He may have attended a few fish fries and county fairs downstate during his brief stint as senator but that hardly made him a fils du pays.

The fact is, the mixed-race Obama, with his exotic, Muslim-sounding name and background, Hawaii and Indonesian childhood, professorial demeanor, residence in Chicago’s Hyde Park-Kenwood (which is so different a neighborhood from any in Middle America), having lived his entire life in global cities, et j’en passe, was, for a sizable portion of the (Republican) electorate, culturally alien and suffused with elitism and Otherness—and far more so than Warren or Harris today. The Republican attack machine will certainly try to affix the elitist/culturally out-of-touch label to both but I don’t think it will work.

On the supposed electoral dangers of the Democrats moving too far left, Never Trump conservatives, plus a few liberal pundits, seem to think that 2016 Obama-to-Trump or soft Hillary voters in the aforementioned six swing states will, hearing that the wild-eyed leftist Elizabeth Warren wants to take away their private health insurance, stay with or defect to Trump. Objectively speaking, there is no reason to think this. First, voters—and particularly low information ones, which is what the tiny number of persuadable Trump voters are—do not read policy papers or make their choice after carefully weighing the issues, and particularly in a highly partisan, politically polarized environment. There is of course some single-issue voting but mainly over cultural or identity markers (e.g. guns, abortion) and by voters who are otherwise highly ideological and partisan. Second, Democratic positions on health care, college tuition, student debt, and other such issues that impact on peoples’ pocket books are largely popular. These do not appeal solely to the hardcore Democratic base. Third, the Dem candidate—whether it’s Biden, Warren, Harris, or any of the others with a shot (N.B. I am discounting Sanders, who I simply do not believe can or will get the nomination)—is not going to take away peoples’ existing health insurance, drive up their taxes, and then impose socialized medicine on them. No Democratic nominee will pledge to do this. It’s a red herring.

Now it is indeed likely—indeed nigh certain—that the Republican propaganda apparatus will nonetheless frame the Dem position this way—as “socialist”—and hammer away at it. The Dems will just have to fight back. À propos, the erstwhile Republican Bruce Bartlett tweeted this trenchant comment:

Keep in mind that no matter how “moderate” the Democratic nominee is, he or she will be painted by Fox and the rest of the right-wing echo chamber as far, far left. I think someone who is actually a lefty might be better at parrying these charges than a moderate.

On the Democrats’ moderates vs. lefties conundrum, there are two recent must-read articles: one by Alex Pareene in TNR, “Give war a chance: In search of the Democratic Party’s fighting spirit,” the other by Ryan Grim in The Washington Post, “Haunted by the Reagan era: Past defeats still scare older Democratic leaders — but not the younger generation.” Both observe that Democrats over a certain age—who were around in the 1980s—were permanently traumatized by Ronald Reagan, his landslide victory over Walter Mondale in 1984, the near-landslide by the otherwise hapless George Bush over Michael Dukakis in ’88, and with the Democrats only winning back the White House by embracing the center with Bill Clinton. Older establishment Democrats are tetanized by Republican dominance during this era and have thoroughly internalized the notion (false) that America is politically a center-right country. So while it is okay for Republicans to take far-right positions (e.g. on abortion, guns, taxes) and pay no electoral price, the Democrats feel they have to tread very carefully on their issues (immigration, health care, etc), even though public opinion may be with them, and not move too far to the left.

Wherever the median voter is situated today, it is not on the center-right as this was understood three decades ago. And today’s electorate is not what it was during the Reagan-Bush era.

One of the stranger critiques of the Democrats inching left is by the otherwise smart and incisive Matthew Ygelsias, in a Vox piece entitled “Democrats are learning the wrong lesson from Donald Trump: He ran as a moderate — and it worked.” Nonsense. Trump ran in the primaries as an anti-GOP establishment populist, not as a “moderate,” and while his rhetoric was centrist-sounding on some issues, such as health care and taxing billionaires (though not himself, évidemment)—demonstrating that the GOP base is not necessarily on the same page with the party’s plutocrat donor class—this was not why he rose to the top of the heap and won the nomination. And his discourse was far-right on matters of utmost concern to his voters: to wit, nativism, nationalism, race, and demonizing the opposition (liberals, the media, etc). Mussolini and Hitler may have sounded “moderate”, or almost leftist, on this or that question during their political ascent but they remained fascist or Nazi. Likewise with Trump. Moreover, Trump has made good on none of his moderate-sounding campaign pledges, but which has led to no appreciable loss of support in his voting base.

One liberal pundit who has critiqued the Dems’ left-tilting rhetoric is the WaPo’s Richard Cohen, who informed the Ds the other day that they “are on a losing streak.” Cohen discussed two issues: busing and reparations for slavery. He needs to chill out. On busing, which Harris brought up against Biden, this will not be a campaign issue in 2020, I promise you that. Cohen’s WaPo colleague Jennifer Rubin, who is the best of the Never Trump media commentators—she strikes me as more of a Rockefeller Republican than a bona fide conservative—had a worthwhile column on Harris and the busing issue. On reparations, the Democrats are also most unlikely to make this a campaign issue. As it is, the only candidate—or “candidate”—who mentioned it during the debate was Marianne Williamson.

One of the more vitriolic reactions to the Dem debate—and with a mean-spirited title—was by the NYT Never Trumper columnist Bret Stephens, which earned him a salutary shredding on Twitter by Cornell history professor Lawrence Glickman. One issue that Stephens attacked the Democrats on—as did other commentators and critics—was immigration. That will be the subject of an upcoming post.

UPDATE: David Rothkopf of the Carnegie Endowment, who served in the Clinton administration, had pertinent piece recently entitled “Hey Dems, take it from this ex-centrist: We blew it.” The lede: “New Democrat ideas are past their sell-by date and old labels are meaningless. Time to listen to voters.”

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