An Appeasing Speaker

It was only a matter of time before Donald Trump trained his fire on his final target. He ridiculed Rand Paul’s hearing. He brutally savaged an unsuspecting and unprepared Jeb Bush to the point of oblivion. He disparaged Chris Christie’s record and Carly Fiorina’s face. He “raised questions” about Ben Carson’s religious faith and mental health. He vanquished Little Marco and Lyin’ Ted with devastatingly childish sobriquets. He lambasted potential “White Knight” Mitt Romney as a choke artist and a phony. With Winner-Take-All-Tuesday around the corner, he buried John Kasich in an avalanche of tweets pillorying his economic record as governor of Ohio. Now Trump has his sights set on the only Republican Party figure not cowering beneath his bed in fear—Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.

For his part, Ryan has sought a feeble middle ground on all things Trump. He has refused to denounce the Republican frontrunner as a con man, as his former running mate Romney recently did. Ryan has also repeatedly promised to support and work with Trump should he win the nomination. On the other hand, Ryan has offered tepid rebukes of the Trump campaign’s most outrageous proclamations, including from Trump’s plan to ban Muslims from entering the United States, to his coy courting of white supremacists, to the pervasive violence fulminating against protestors at Trump rallies, to the candidate’s suggestion that riots would erupt should he be denied the nomination in Cleveland. Trump has mostly kept his powder dry for the Speaker, waiting for the moment when he can provoke Ryan into attacking first before letting loose. As he always must, however, Trump made it clear that his relationship with Ryan will proceed on Trump’s terms. Speaking after his decisive Super Tuesday victories on March 1st, Trump proclaimed: “Paul Ryan, I don’t know him well but I’m sure I’m going to get along great with him. And if I don’t, he’s going to have to pay a big price, OK? OK.” In essence, the message was: do what you will, Mr. Speaker, but you are next. Continue reading

A Different Kind of Con

Sadly, it has come to this. There’s no nice way to put it. A candidate for president is utterly out of control. He is running a non-traditional campaign divorced from reality. He suffers delusions of grandeur. He makes congressional Republicans’ skin crawl. He charges on, pretending he is universally loved, despite holding only a small fraction of support among grassroots conservatives and mainstream Republican leaders. He’s sanctimonious, self-centered, and dishonest about his exploits. Although he makes overtures to the center, most of his policies are dangerous and divisive. He has operated his entire campaign based on direct contact with voters, eschewing the niceties of delegate math and the arduous task of large-scale fundraising that make up the very lifeblood of presidential nominating campaigns. And now, by persisting in the race, he threatens to deliver the Republicans their largest presidential defeat since 1964. For the sake of the very survival of the Republican Party, John Kasich must be stopped. Continue reading

Mile High Meltdown

Purde vs. Little Rock in the 2016 NCAA Tournament in Denver.

Outside, the snow was falling in large, sticky clumps. Seventy degrees just days before, the Rockies were now receiving their annual late March winter dusting. The change, though sudden, was rather peaceful. The streets thinned, the bars filled, and those venturing to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament’s first round games at the Pepsi Center were bundled up, waiting calmly in the long lines stretching to the parking lot to enter. Denver was falling under a deep freeze. Yet inside, thousands of fans hoping to take shelter from the storm were mere hours from witnessing a basketball meltdown. Continue reading

Making a Pro-Prosecutor Supreme Court

“Potential Supreme Court Candidate Defended Pipe Bomber, Child Murderer,” screamed a March 14th headline from the Washington Free Beacon. The article’s subject was Judge Jane Kelly of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, then rumored to be on President Obama’s shortlist of potential replacements for Justice Antonin Scalia on the United States Supreme Court. As mentioned here last month in discussing Kelly as among the candidates likely to be chosen by Obama, her legal career includes a lengthy stint as a federal public defender prior to joining the regional appeals court covering Arkansas, Missouri, Minnesota, and her home state of Iowa. The Free Beacon detailed, hysterically and without context, that as part of her work as a federal defender, Judge Kelly represented defendants accused of domestic terrorism and child pornography, the latter of whom subsequently sexually assaulted and murdered a child. In doing so, the article tracked reporting originating from former Supreme Court clerk Carrie Severino. In a post on the National Review’s website, Severino wrote about Obama’s apparent interest in the Iowan for the High Court:

As the White House’s vetting process unfolds, they will probably find other facts that are significantly less convenient. For example, when Kelly worked as a public defender she helped secure a plea deal for one Casey Frederiksen, a convicted child predator.

Insinuated but left unsaid in this account (by a lawyer who should know better) is that there is something unusual or untoward about Kelly’s work. Indeed, the undertone of this press coverage suggests equivalence between defending a criminal and abetting a criminal, when the difference could not be starker. Indeed, the reaction to news that Kelly represented clients accused of heinous crimes by anyone with a small amount of knowledge about the role of a public defender in our criminal justice system would likely be: Well of course she did. And the reaction of a trial lawyer with a slightly greater understanding might very well be: Wow, that must have been terrific trial experience. Severino’s distortion, however, is more than a simple misunderstanding. It is part of a longstanding imbalance in the scales of justice exacerbated by the intrusion of rank politics into judicial selection. The rise and fall of Judge Kelly’s prospects are a blow to the rights of anyone accused of a crime in this country, and part of a disturbing trend in the politicization of judicial nominations. Continue reading

March Madness Manifesto

NCAA Tournament game between Northeastern and Notre Dame at the Consol Energy Center in PittsburghThe NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament gets underway in earnest on Thursday, beginning an annual tradition of the strangest sporting event found anywhere in America (no, the “First Four” abomination on Tuesday and Wednesday does not count). Consider that college basketball’s championship event draws enormous ratings and interest despite having a regular season that is largely an afterthought for most mainstream sports fans. Meanwhile, the event is trumpeted for providing opportunities to the have-nots, even though history and economics dictate that only a small fraction of the 351 Division I teams have a chance to win the tournament. The beauty of “March Madness” stems not from traditional sources of sports fandom, but rather the frenzied, unpredictable nature of its early rounds, its temporary elevation of the slighted and forgotten, and a brilliant structure for low-stakes gambling that brings out the degenerate in all of us. After filling out a sixty-four team bracket, teams unknown a moment before turn into old friends. The anonymous becomes personal. That is, of course, unless those teams lose or until they reach the next round against a newly favored opponent, at which point they slide back into the forgotten. Loyalty only goes as far as the next round. March Madness is a mercenary event for a success-driven culture.

Given this dynamic, bracket advice is cheap and plentiful. Yet, despite the considerable ink spilled on this subject, it is amazing how consistently terrible this advice often is. Continue reading

The Jeb! Fails to Awaken

Jeb Bush has vanished. Once the clear choice for Republicans eager to unify their party and regain the White House, John Ellis Bush (rebranded as Jeb!™) has retreated to parts unknown. Only a year ago, Jeb had muscled Mitt Romney out of the way and was drawing in donors at a prodigious rate. The case for Jeb was simple: in a party splintered among competing factions and overzealous supporters, Bush had the mainstream approach, financial backing, and familiar brand everyone could get behind. Instead, he dropped out after finishing behind a number of former afterthoughts and unknowns and now is entirely absent from the chaos currently enveloping the Republican Party. It is a period of civil war.

True, not many foresaw Donald Trump’s improbable rise, but for Trump’s sake(!) Jeb! still won fewer delegates than Ben Carson, the same candidate who hemorrhaged support after his own foreign policy advisor said that efforts to “make him smart” had failed as “nobody has been able to sit down with him and have him get one iota of intelligent information about the Middle East.”  Throughout 2015, Jeb was buried again and again. Meanwhile, his main foil, Mr. Trump, was unrelenting in his scorn for the scion of Republican royalty. Yet throughout this period (and up through the February 20th South Carolina primary), Bush optimistically trudged along and poured millions and millions of dollars into expensive puff pieces and indiscriminate, brutal attack ads on his opponents. All was for naught. His polling was anemic throughout, and his performance in the early states was an historic flop. All of which begs the question whether Jeb Bush misunderstood a key lesson taught by popular culture last year: you can mindlessly and uninspiringly rehash an old story using a familiar brand and an expensive marketing campaign, but only if the original story and brand remain popular. In other words, Jeb Bush is no Star Wars. Continue reading

For Never Trump, There’s a Catch

From the makers of such classic slogans as “Repeal and Replace” and “We Built It” comes the latest exciting trend in conservative hash-tavism—Never Trump! The Never Trump movement is a last-ditch attempt by high profile mainstream conservatives to deny Donald Trump the GOP nomination this July. Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse kicked off the effort a week ago in a Facebook post wherein he proclaimed that he would support a third party if Trump were the Republican nominee. Then, building from their “Conservatives Against Trump” cover, members of the National Review finished their thought and vowed never to support Trump under any circumstances. Days later, members of the self-described “Republican foreign policy community” announced in an open letter that “as committed and loyal Republicans, we are unable to support a Party ticket with Mr. Trump at its head.” Then, in back-to-back address this past week in the most prominent endorsement of the movement, former GOP nominees Mitt Romney and John McCain viciously rebuked Trump and urged the Republican Party to stop him at all costs.

As the New York Times editorial board and others have noted, this desperate howl from the Republican Party is deeply hypocritical. Republicans created this Frankenstein monster by turning liberalism into a force of evil rather than merely a differing political ideology, and then assiduously fed and nurtured the beast by painting Obama as anti-American. After the Tea Party emerged with its racial overtones and venomous hatred of compromise with the President, congressional Republicans harnessed its energy rather than repudiating its viciousness. At the same, the Never Trump movement is also undermined by the divisions between its absolutist opposition to Trump and the position of many of its sympathizers. McCain, for instance, admitted that he would support Trump should he win the nomination, even while labeling Trump’s foreign policy views as “dangerous.” Romney muddied the message of his speech by simultaneously labeling Trump a “fraud,” while lamenting that he would lose to Hillary Clinton.

So, yes, the Never Trumpers are arguably as confused and incoherent as the Trump supporters they bemoan. Even if the Never Trump movement is a logical reaction to Trump’s appalling campaign, to be effective its leaders must clearly identify exactly what the goal of Republicans rightfully terrified about Trump’s takeover of their party should be. Because Romney’s apparent suggestion that Never Trumpers should seek to both block Trump through a contested convention and win the November election is the stuff of fantasy. Continue reading

Bay Trader

Napa Valley, CaliforniaWinding my way down Silverado Trail in Napa Valley, I had to smile at the spectacle of it all. Just outside this gilded bubble, the country was tearing itself apart. Some are eager to launch a “revolution” to combat a “rigged economy.” Still others bemoan America’s fraying families and straying ties to past values. Loudest of all are the voices decrying America’s fall from greatness and railing against the forces of “political correctness” visible only to them. From Carson City to Columbia, and everywhere in between, protesters clash, voters howl, citizens march.

But out in Napa, life goes on, and boy is it grand. Continue reading