Democracy Defined

If there is one thing everyone seems to agree on this election cycle, it is that the presidential nominating process is utterly “undemocratic.” From voter eligibility, to delegate allocation, and everything in between, candidates and their supporters from both parties are thoroughly fed up with the current primary system. It’s true that complaints about some aspect of the process crop up in every election season, but this year, the pronouncements against an allegedly undemocratic voting structure jive with the general outcry against established institutions prevalent on both the right and left. Conservatives are angered by the unfulfilled promises of congressional Republicans and the perceived detachment between the party’s base voters and elite donors. And despite eight years of a progressive president steadily pressing for economic improvement in the face of unprecedented opposition, many liberals are distressed at robust corporate profits and political influence given the many failures of capitalism that led to the 2008 financial crisis. If this feels a bit too much like sour grapes, that’s because it is. When you don’t like the results, attack the process. This time around, though, the cries of collusion and elitism are louder and the consternation among voters and media members more intense. This heated rhetoric, however, fails to provide a fundamental predicate to the ultimate conclusion: what exactly would a truly democratic primary system look like? Continue reading

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Old Media and New Trump

No matter how unusual and entertaining this election has been, seventeen months of political coverage is a lot of space to fill. Even with months of relevant copy about topics usually meriting no more than a fantastical mention—contested conventions, intraparty revolts, impolitic utterances—we’re still more than two months from the conventions. In a media environment with publications and pundits in constant search of the latest popular topics, but one also prone to often breathtaking levels of groupthink, these are dangerous times indeed. And sure enough, the latest news cycles since Donald Trump’s decisive victories in a series of Northeast primaries beginning in New York last Tuesday, following on the heels of his installation of Paul Manafort as the campaign’s new head honcho, have brought out the absolute worst in television and print political journalism. The last week has brought on a preposterous amount of chatter as to whether we are witnessing a “new,” more presidential Trump. It’s a silly, discouraging endeavor. And it’s one that has revealed not a new Trump but an old media’s tired manner of covering politics. Continue reading

Democratic Unrest

As we crawl towards the conventions in July, it’s time for the parties to take stock not only of their chances in November, but also their long-term health. Much has been made over the last year about the growing rifts in the Republican Party and what those divisions mean both for its ideological direction and its electoral chances. In one sense, the Trump versus Cruz contest has the highest of stakes, deciding whether control of the party will rest with a far-right ideological conservative or a billionaire harnessing the attitudinal counter-culture. On the other hand, whether Republicans choose Ted Cruz as their small government champion or Donald Trump as their warrior against political correctness, the party continues to show no ability to reach out to the center and achieve an actual governing coalition. But divisions on the Democratic side, if not as openly hostile or immediately threatening to 2016 success as those of the Republicans, are also showing themselves to be a serious, long-term challenge. Yet, remarkably, the current, increasingly contentious race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders is doing nothing to litigate, much less resolve, the question of which path the party should take. Continue reading

The Grassley is Always Greener

IMG_1150What a difference a decade makes. It was not so long ago that a new era of conservative jurisprudence was supposedly underway, as President George W. Bush struck a fatal blow to judicial activists everywhere through his appointment of Judges John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. Initially tapped to replace the swing justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Roberts in particular was supposed to provide the intellectual heft and unquestioned conservative credentials necessary to shift the nation’s legal landscape. Upon reappointing Roberts to serve as Chief Justice six weeks later following William Rehnquist’s death, President Bush proclaimed: “It is fitting that a great chief justice be followed in office by a person who shared his deep reverence for the Constitution, his profound respect for the Supreme Court and his complete devotion to the cause of justice.” What little paper trail that existed suggested that Roberts was reliably conservative. For the most part, Republicans were pleased.

Times have changed. Starting in 2012 (and beginning again in earnest in 2015), conservatives abandoned Roberts entirely. Once a staunch defender of the Chief Justice, Ted Cruz has denounced him. Donald Trump has excoriated Roberts on the campaign trail, saying that “Obamacare was dead, totally dead, then Roberts, in order to be popular in the Beltway, who knows, came in with a shocking decision,” while his campaign has gone so far as to argue that “Justice John Roberts’ so-called jurisprudence has done tremendous damage to America.” Even Jeb Bush claimed during his aborted presidential campaign that he, unlike his brother, would not have appointed Roberts because he lacked “a proven, extensive record.” The Judicial Crisis Network’s Carrie Severino said in 2015 about Roberts’s majority opinion upholding the national applicability of health exchange subsidies as part of the Affordable Care Act: “If the chief justice is willing to join the court’s liberals in this linguistic farce, it’s time we admitted that our national ‘umpire’ is now playing for one of the teams.” Her organization recently ran ads warning Republican voters to size up their party’s presidential candidates and avoid those who would appoint stealth liberals such as Roberts. The attacks are largely related to Roberts’s twin votes to uphold the Affordable Care Act, although there have been other supposed apostasies as well, such as splitting the baby on Arizona’s restrictive immigration law by striking down some parts while upholding others. And yet, by most measures, Roberts has been one of the most conservative justices in the country’s history. Clearly, conservatives have come down with a severe case of Roberts derangement syndrome. Continue reading

The Republican Erosion of Political Norms

The Capitol Building on a cloudy day.There’s an incredible bit of irony in the latest outcry from grassroots conservatives, Republican-aligned media personalities, and Trump supporters in the wake of Mitt Romney’s surprising embrace of the “contested convention” strategy for defeating Donald Trump. As discussed here last month, during Romney’s speech urging a coordinated broadside against the current Republican frontrunner, the 2012 nominee stated: “Given the current delegate selection process…I would vote for Marco Rubio in Florida, for John Kasich in Ohio, and for Ted Cruz or whichever one of the other two contenders has the best chance of beating Mr. Trump in a given state.” In other words, Romney explicitly advocated a strategy of using the technical delegate selection rules to prevent a Trump nomination supported by the plurality of Republican voters. It was a plan in violation of the traditional understanding of the past half century that the convention should ratify the will of its party’s voters. This idea has not gone over well with many Republican voters. As the New York Times reported in early March under the headline “Rank and File Republicans Tell Party Elites: We’re Sticking With Donald Trump”:

From Michigan to Louisiana to California on Friday, rank-and-file Republicans expressed mystification, dismissal and contempt over the instructions that their party’s most high-profile leaders were urgently handing down to them: Reject and defeat Donald J. Trump. Their angry reactions, in the 24 hours since Mitt Romney and John McCain urged millions of voters to cooperate in a grand strategy to undermine Mr. Trump’s candidacy, have captured the seemingly inexorable force of a movement that still puzzles the Republican elite and now threatens to unravel the party they hold dear…In interviews across the country, Republican voters suggested that Mr. Romney’s move was presumptuous and described him as out of touch and ineffectual. “They want to control the election because they don’t like Trump,” said Joann Hirschmann of Shelby Township, Mich., a supporter of Gov. John Kasich of Ohio. “And I can understand that. But you have to let the people speak.”

Even Senator Lindsey Graham recently stated that denying Trump the nomination under these circumstances would be unfair. And yet, from their opposition to President Obama’s healthcare and tax reform initiatives to their recent vow to deny a vote on any Obama Supreme Court nominee, Republicans in recent years have repeatedly used tactics legally viable but previously unthinkable. Trump himself has upended every tradition of decency and responsibility, embracing the credo that might makes right. The offensiveness of the Romney strategy, then, is just the latest example of the degradation of the idea that democratic norms hold similar importance to official rules. The perversion of the Republican primary process is merely the consequence of Republicans’ own determination to use any and every available tactic to thwart the Obama Administration. Continue reading

One Last Time for Dodger Baseball

Today and tomorrow, America’s pastime begins anew as baseball stadiums from Atlanta to Anaheim shake off the rust of winter and open their doors. Opening Day ushers in the return of a welcome and comforting annual recurrence—same as the spring renewal with which it coincides. The weather warms, the snow thaws, and once again the birds and flowers, thought lost to the uninitiated, reassuringly reappear. In one respect, however, this year’s time-honored tradition will resume with an air of sadness becoming of the knowledge that the game as many of us loved it will soon never quite be the same again. More importantly, the game as we know it, as it exists and should exist, will not survive next year’s chill. Next year, the sun will emerge, the tarp will roll back, and the teams will take the field, but Vin Scully will announce no more. Continue reading