The Bad Faith Party

It’s not just the man at the top. Self-preservation by any means is now the organizing principle of the entire Republican Party. It’s not limited government. It’s not personal responsibility. It’s certainly not the projection of strength abroad. It’s not even conservative values. No, today’s Republican Party is solely devoted to saying and doing anything to sustain itself and those within its narrow band of protection. If nothing else, the past few months of dizzying contortions by congressional Republicans and conservative media have shown us that. Because the arguments the GOP uses to attack Democrats and defend Donald Trump are now routinely made with the thinnest veneer of truth and in explicit bad faith.

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Goodies

On July 11, 2012, Mitt Romney, then the Republican Party’s nominee for President of the United States, addressed the NAACP at its annual convention, defending the rich while promising to repeal Obamacare. He was loudly booed. Later that day, before a crowd of supporters in Montana, Romney indicated that perhaps earning the derision of the civil rights organization was entirely planned. After mentioning his earlier speech to the NAACP, Romney proudly stated that, “When I mentioned I am going to get rid of Obamacare they weren’t happy, I didn’t get the same response. That’s ok…but I hope people understand this, your friends who like Obamacare, you remind them of this, if they want more stuff from government tell them to go vote for the other guy – more free stuff. But don’t forget nothing is really free.” Continue reading

Two Speeches Too Many

Earlier this month, two icons of the liberal arts gave a pair of heralded addresses to a rapt audience. Both speeches implicitly repudiated the incoming president while appealing to our better angels. In the first, the consensus candidate for greatest screen performer of our time spoke in moving terms about the country’s diversity and tolerance. A few days later, our country’s greatest living orator acknowledged the coming storm but assured the nation that its inner exceptionalism did, could, and would prevail. Together, the two speeches acknowledged our collective horror unbowed, offering the distraught a life-raft of hope. Yes, Meryl Streep and Barack Obama served up two heaping bowls of chicken soup to listless liberals hungering for reassurance. But it was just more empty calories. Continue reading

An Old, New Year

Remember that brief moment in the presidential campaign when we debated whether 2016 was shaping up to be a repeat of 1968? A few pundits noticed a real but overly simplistic parallel, which quickly drew attention and a slew of think-pieces in response, proclaiming that 2016 was not, in fact, 1968. It was early July, to be exact. Republicans were gearing up for their convention in Cleveland, one that most expected to be chaotic and perhaps violent (thus, holding the place of the Democrats’ 1968 convention in Chicago). A divisive GOP candidate in Donald Trump was poised to accept his party’s nomination on the backs of a racially charged primary campaign catering to white, Southern interests (recalling Tricky Dick Nixon’s rebirth aided by backroom deals with Strom Thurmond). There was then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort designing the GOP convention’s thematic purpose as “Make America Safe Again,” a pro-police message designed to reassure an agitated and threatened white middle-class (reminiscent of the populist, segregationist George Wallace’s divisive rhetoric). The 2016 campaign even pulled the same slogans right from the pages of history (or from the lips of Nixon himself): Trump spoke of a “silent majority” and “law and order” that would take back the country. Not to mention there were the striking parallels between Hillary Clinton and Hubert Humphrey—two high-minded, wonkish career politicians with ties to the hawkish and business interests of the Democratic Party too suspect for an embittered and emboldened, new left. Continue reading

Not as Wrong as it Seems

The results of this presidential election should inspire reflection from political prognosticators everywhere. They were wrong. The conventional wisdom, the counter-conventional wisdom, all of it. The collective reassurance that, no, this couldn’t happen here was mere wishful thinking. Going forward, greater caution is warranted.

At the same time, let’s not make this something it’s not. The levers of power may be held according to the binary system of wins and losses, but the story of an election—and its portent for the future—is much fuller. Democrats gained six seats in the House and two in the Senate, after winning eight House and two Senate seats in 2012. As of this writing, Hillary Clinton is just 158,987 votes short of Barack Obama’s vote total from 2012 and won the popular vote by more than 2.84 million votes—a full 2.1%. With her lead likely to grow slightly larger over the next week, she will at worst be only 1.8% short of Barack Obama’s reelection margin of 3.9% in 2012, just a few tenths of point behind George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection margin, and with a larger margin than ten different presidents (not including Donald Trump). Spare me the self-flagellation. Continue reading

This President; that man

President Obama and Donald Trump meet in the Oval Office after the 2016 election.

There was a time before Barack Obama was the president when things made sense. The world may have been a chaotic and unruly place, but the political world was orderly underneath. Inside the beltway, a problem was a problem, a scandal was a scandal, and a gaffe was most certainly a gaffe. Administrations came and went as eventually power corrupted and it was time for a change. Those on top seemed invincible—until they weren’t. Those were the rules, and we all abided by them. Continue reading

Down-ballot Doldrums

With another set of astonishing state poll numbers out this week, the ultimate outcome in the presidential race seems pretty well determined. Sure, history says that in a normal election cycle Republican nominee Donald Trump should be expected to gain back some of the percentage points lost after his disappointing convention and the Democrats’ successful one, but even standard tightening will likely leave him well short of victory (not to mention that normal events should not be presumed when it comes to Trump). For goodness sakes just look at the latest NBC/Marist poll numbers from four alleged battlegrounds, now swing states in lazy media usage only. Yes, in Florida Clinton is “only” ahead by 5 points, within striking distance should Trump resuscitate his campaign. But in states right at the tipping point of national averages, Clinton leads Trump by 9% in North Carolina, 13% in Virginia, and a remarkable 14% in Colorado. These are hardly outliers, either, though they are on the high side of current polling. The Real Clear Politics average for these states now has Clinton ahead by 8% in Virginia and 11% in Colorado. For comparison, in 2012, Barack Obama won Colorado by 5%, Virginia by 4%, and lost North Carolina by 2% as he was claiming a national popular vote mandate of nearly 4%. If Clinton holds on in Colorado and Virginia, along with defending two other traditional Democratic-leaning battlegrounds in which she has double digit leads (Pennsylvania and New Hampshire), her path to 270 electoral votes is without obstacle.

Assuming one cares about life after the election—as opposed to participating in presidential election hype as a cathartic identity exercise or a tactic for combatting summer dog-days boredom—then the real drama of the next three months is how these numbers will affect down-ballot congressional races. Continue reading

Winning is the Easy Part

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Last month’s vote by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union has been touted as a potentially defining moment in not only UK politics but also across the world. There are those who say that the UK’s departure from the EU means indefinite stagnation, job loss, and poor growth for the British economy. Others have predicted that the UK itself will dissolve over disagreement between English voters and their Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish counterparts about whether to remain in the EU. Some have even argued that the vote portends an end to the European project as a whole, given that other EU countries such as France, Italy, and the Netherlands might force their own popular referendums on whether to remain part of the great liberal, European legacy of World War Two. Even more broadly, some have linked Brexit’s narrow victory with the fortunes of Donald Trump, suggesting that events in the UK offer predictive power about the fleeting nature of Hillary Clinton’s temporary lead in the polls. Some of these grand pronouncements may yet prove true, although the predictions of doom and gloom appear to be overstated.

If there is one clear lesson for America from the British referendum, however, it is not that isolationist and xenophobic views are a rising political force. Rather, Brexit’s clearest instruction for politicians in the United States is that the costs of a campaign based on deceitful sloganeering are not outweighed by momentary victory. Right-wing politics divorced from fact-based analysis, both abroad and here in the United States, must eventually confront reality when its undeliverable promises are put to the test. There are real consequences for political movements that campaign on fantasy. 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 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