It’s not chaos if the dizzying madness is caused by careful design. Yet, the nation’s front pages insist day after day that “chaos” and “turmoil” are “roiling” the White House, as Rex Tillerson is sacked on the can, as Rick Perry potentially moves from one agency he can’t remember to another. The repetition is nauseating, which is a better descriptor for the effects of our president’s childish gamesmanship with executive branch personnel. For there is nothing chaotic or tumultuous about a deliberate plan by an institutional terrorist hell bent on dismantling the citizenry’s trust in its own government. How else could you describe a president so gleeful over the sickening drama he has injected into his own administration’s bloodstream? Rather than replenish a government he has failed to adequately fill, Donald Trump continues to haphazardly hack away.
In doing so, President Trump has undermined the basic functioning of responsible government even beyond his own unprecedented ignorance. We are about to be on our second CIA director, secretary of state, and FBI director in little over a year, to say nothing of the breakneck churn of the president’s own staff. Trump’s impish disregard for the orderly functioning of government has even impeded his own priorities—deportations of undocumented immigrants are far lower than they were during any time under President Obama (though they are more arbitrary and cruel).
Fortunately, the president’s effort at disrupting his own cabinet is one of the few areas over which Congress has strong, constitutional authority to affect. The response must be strong and unmistakable: the U.S. Senate should refuse to confirm—should refuse to even consider—any Trump cabinet-level nominee. Continue reading →
What is there to say about this special election in Alabama? In the race to fill an open Senate seat in the Heart of Dixie, a neck and neck campaign is being waged between two candidates with significant baggage. On one side, we have Roy Moore, an incendiary demagogue who was twice removed from the Alabama Supreme Court for refusing to follow federal court orders, has advocated policies criminalizing being gay and prohibiting Muslims from serving in congress, has brandished a pistol at a campaign rally, and who has molested, assaulted, propositioned, and chased after a procession of children when he was more than 30-years-old. And on the other side stands Doug Jones—a Democrat. Bemoaning the conservative culture that has made this contest a fair fight has become tedious. Stressing the stakes has been done to death. Decrying our society’s moral perversion at the hands of partisan politics is nearly trite. There is no ambiguity here. The facts are simple; the consequences clear. This is a contest between a mainstream, center-left politician and the forces of evil. The only question to be answered is who will win.
It is a component of that open question that is up for debate right now. Not so much who will win—that will be decided cleanly on December 12th—but how will they win and who is responsible? Because Alabama is repeating the distressing storyline we have watched time and again about male predators and pigs up for election—that it’s up to women to stop them. Continue reading →
There are a lot of ways to lie. That was the upshot from Thursday’s dramatic Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, where former FBI Director James Comey spent the better part of three hours recounting the latest chapter in the 1960s political thriller that is our ongoing national nightmare. The hearing uncovered new ground when Comey described President Donald Trump’s efforts to obstruct the Michael Flynn investigation and implied that there was a greater scope to the underlying Russia investigation than previously thought. It also exhibited the many flavors of falsehoods.
The tutorial began the day before the hearing, when the Intelligence Committee prematurely released Director Comey’s written testimony. That seven-page submission detailed presidential intimidation in a dramatic first-person chronology of dinners and telephone calls between a wooing President Trump and a reluctant Comey. The testimony described a series of efforts by Trump as both president-elect and president to pressure the then FBI Director into engaging in deceit in its subtlest form—lying by omission. Continue reading →
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 →
At first glance, the two biggest political developments of the past six months seem unrelated. First, in February, Senate Republicans refused to consider any Supreme Court nominee, even with eleven months remaining in this president’s term. This appeared to be a continuation of the same old Tea Party extremism that led to multiple debt ceiling showdowns, a government shutdown, the resignation of Speaker of the House John Boehner, and the month-long inability to find his replacement. Then, this week, after a ten-month battle between seventeen candidates, the Republican Party made Donald Trump its de facto presidential nominee. This shocking development seems at first blush like a reversal of the Tea Party phenomenon, which forced the GOP ever rightward in the age of Obama. Trump is not terribly conservative, failing most tests of ideological purity. He is unbowed by the sort of rightwing pressures that have made even the most strident movement conservatives fearful of primary challengers. And when confronted by the tribe’s ideological gatekeepers and deans of Obama hatred, from Roger Ailes to Glenn Beck, Trump has counterpunched rather than yield.
The conclusion that Trump is a break from the recent Republican past thus appears sound at a surface level. And yet, viewing both situations—the conservative demand that Republicans prevent a liberal majority at the Supreme Court and the working-class Republican embrace of a demagogue unburdened by thoughts or ideals—through the eyes of elected and elite Republicans, it becomes clear that these two consequential party decisions are very much of the same origin. Donald Trump’s nomination is a disaster for the Republican Party, and yet for all the “Never Trump” talk, hardly any consequential Republicans bothered to raise a finger against him. Only Mitt Romney made a meaningful go at it, and even then, his efforts amounted to one speech and some fury, signifying nothing but a vote for Ted Cruz in Utah. Terrified of their own voters’ wrath, party leaders from Chuck Grassley to John McCain to Mitch McConnell stayed largely silent, offering no more than garden variety condemnations thrown in occasionally for posterity. In the same vein, the failure to confirm President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee harms Republicans politically without aiding conservative policy and legal goals. So it was striking that on the day after their nightmare became reality, when Donald Trump became the Republican nominee because party leaders were too frightened to stand up to their vocal minority and act in the party’s interest, that Mitch McConnell reaffirmed that he had learned nothing at all. Merrick Garland will not receive a vote. Continue reading →
President Obama now faces a critically important choice as he decides whom to nominate to replace Justice Antonin Scalia. Despite the wishes of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who proclaimed mere hours after Scalia’s death was reported that the “vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president,” Obama will certainly make a nomination and invest significant time and effort in pushing for his or her confirmation. No doubt, successfully placing a new justice on the Court will be a tall order. The Republicans hold a solid majority in the Senate and face enormous political pressure from their conservative constituents to preserve an appointment for a future Republican president. As Alec MacGillis recently described, McConnell “felt compelled to get out in front of the base’s ire over the Scalia replacement to avoid a later challenge to his leadership perch.” Now, in an open letter to McConnell, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee have vowed to deny the new nominee so much as a hearing.
Nevertheless, Obama’s choice is consequential. To begin with, there remains a small chance his pick will actually assume a place on the nation’s highest court. But perhaps more importantly given the uphill battle to achieve that result, Obama’s nominee has the potential to secure significant political gain for the Democrats in this highly contentious election year. Republican intransigence is a given, but the unprecedented opposition to any nominee could significantly aid a Democratic presidential nominee this fall and enhance the chances of confirming a liberal nominee in the next administration. Thus, the politics of Obama’s choice dictate a nominee who is objectively unobjectionable and demographically aligned with the Democratic base with an eye to boosting turnout in November. To this end, it is highly likely the nominee will be a circuit court judge confirmed by an overwhelming vote, who holds sterling academic credentials and moderately liberal views, who is without any perceived controversial past, who is young (but not too young), and who is either a woman or a racial minority. Continue reading →