Politico Would Like You to Know that Louisiana Gave Trump a Big Old Shiner

Louisiana delivers Trump a black eye: The president lost two of three gubernatorial elections in conservative Southern states, raising questions about his standing heading into 2020:

President Donald Trump campaigned hard in three conservative Southern states this fall, aiming for a string of gubernatorial wins that would demonstrate his political strength heading into impeachment and his own reelection effort.

The plan backfired in dramatic fashion.

he latest black eye came on Saturday, when Trump’s favored candidate in Louisiana, multimillionaire businessman Eddie Rispone, went down to defeat. The president went all-in, visiting the state three times, most recently on Thursday. Earlier this month, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin lost reelection after a similar presidential effort on his behalf. Of the candidates Trump backed, only Tate Reeves in Mississippi won.

The losses raise questions about Trump’s standing as he heads into what will be a grueling 2020 campaign. By throwing himself into the three contests — each in states that Trump won by double-digits in 2016 — the president had hoped to gain a modicum of political momentum at a perilous moment of his presidency. …

Trump’s activity in the Louisiana contest was particularly extensive: In addition to the rallies, he called into conservative radio stations on Rispone’s behalf, recorded get-out-the-vote robocalls and videos, and sent out a stream of tweets savaging Edwards. On Saturday, the president wrote several tweets encouraging Louisianans to cast their ballots for Rispone.

Trump’s political operation also invested heavily, with the Republican National Committee spending $2 million on the race. The president took a personal interest in the contest, quizzing aides and allies about developments.

During an appearance on a Louisiana radio program Friday, Vice President Mike Pence remarked that “the president and I have left it all on the field.”

Trump and Pence left it all on the field, and the folks in Louisiana didn’t want to pick it up. Looked like bullshit. Smelled like bullshit. Probably, they concluded, it was bullshit.

And now, ladies and germs, in tribute to our Cajun brethren and sistern, let’s hear Jambalaya once again, this time in Swedish.

Louisiana to Donald Trump: Take Your Nuremberg Rallies and Shove ‘Em

Yesterday, Gov. Edwards, the Democratic governor of Louisiana, won reelection with 51 percent of the vote.

Louisiana has a non-partisan “jungle” primary election. If no one achieves a majority in the primary, then the top two candidates face off in the final election, held yesterday.

In the primary, the Democrat won 47 percent of the vote. President Lizard Brain inferred that, between the primary and the final election, he could go to Louisiana and hold some Nuremberg rallies and then claim credit when the Republican candidate won the two-person final election.

To put President Lizard Brain’s reasoning in context, I note that he won Louisiana in 2016 by a 20 percent margin.

And, as expected, the recent Nuremberg rallies did indeed gin up turnout among Trump cultists “in the state’s southern marshes, as well as in the rural northern and western part of the state.”

But rallies also ginned up even more anti-Trump turnout among African-Americans and suburban voters.

**

I see that, even though I didn’t post anything yesterday, I still have readers from Russia. So, Vladimir, how’s that Trumpy thing workin’ out for ya?

One More for the Road

Jeremy Stahl, The second impeachment hearing went badly for President Donald Trump

Like me, Mr. Stahl grasps that the things people don’t say are often as important as what they do say. The positions they don’t take, and the arguments they don’t make, are often as important as the positions and arguments they do advance.

Trump trashed Ambassador Yovanovitch. The Republican congress folk praised her.

Trump claimed he had good reason to remove her. The Republicans wouldn’t touch that one with a ten foot pole.

And wait for what comes next week: having lavished praise on a woman Trump wants to humiliate, next week, it is said, Republicans plan to throw Trump’s man off the bridge.

Stahl writes,

What comes next week is direct testimony from the man with whom the president apparently sought to replace Yovanovitch as his point person on Ukrainian policy, Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, who is due to testify on Wednesday. Sondland has already admitted to telling Ukrainians that military aid was dependent on announcing the opening of investigations, though he has not yet testified the extent to which Trump or White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney may have directly ordered him to do this.

Based on what Republicans were saying on Friday, they intend to use next week’s proceedings to throw both Sondland and Giuliani directly into the path of oncoming traffic. To reporters during the break, Meadows suggested that Sondland and Giuliani might have been freelancing the apparent bribery scheme. “Is he working at the direction of the president? It depends on what part of it,” Meadows said of Sondland. Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado, meanwhile, suggested that Giuliani might have been “a loose cannon.”

“[If] he was off on his own mission doing things that people didn’t know about kind of like a loose cannon, then that’s a Rudy Giuliani thing that’s [not] a President Trump thing,” Lamborn said.

On Friday it was impossible to trash the witness on the stand because of her obvious character and decades of public service. Trump’s defenders on the Hill will hope to have an easier target—in Sondland, the president’s own ambassadorial choice and million-dollar inaugural donor—next week.

When All Else Fails, Tell the Truth

Yeah, it’s a cliché. But if he values his hide, Sondland had better remember it.

Looks like an interesting week.

Liquor store run tomorrow.

Quick, Get That Man Some Prevagen! Did You Know It Has an Ingredient found in Jellyfish?

Prevagen

Washington Post, Impeachment witness provides firsthand account of hearing Trump demand ‘investigation’ of Bidens by Ukraine:

President Trump specifically inquired about political investigations he wanted carried out by Ukraine during a July phone call with a top U.S. diplomat who then told colleagues that the president was most interested in a probe into former vice president Joe Biden and his son, a State Department aide said Friday in closed-door testimony that could significantly advance House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.

David Holmes, an embassy staffer in Kyiv, testified that he overheard a July 26 phone call in which Trump pressed U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland about whether Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky would “do the investigation,” according to three people who have read his opening statement and spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe its contents.

“Ambassador Sondland replied that ‘he’s gonna to do it,’ adding that President Zelensky will do ‘anything you ask him to,’ ” Holmes said, according to these people.

Holmes’s testimony, first reported by CNN, directly implicates Trump in an alleged scheme at the heart of the impeachment probe, which Democrats have pursued in an attempt to prove that the president leveraged military assistance and an Oval Office meeting in exchange for investigations into Biden and a debunked theory concerning Ukrainian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Early Onset Alzheimer’s

Dementia is apparently not a strike against those seeking high diplomatic posts, provided they donate heavily to Trump and lack all scruples. It is, in fact, an advantage, in that it permits them to forget things they would rather forget.

For example, Ambassador Sondland—sadly, an early victim of Oldtimers’ disease—has forgotten about that conversation he had, when he was in a Kiev restaurant, rather late at night, gave The Donald a ringy-ding back in Washington, and put it on speaker phone.

If I had done that, I think I would remember. So sad.

Will you join me in sending him a supply of Prevagen—IT HAS AN INGREDIENT FOUND IN JELLYFISH!—in advance of his testimony on Wednesday of next week?

Bribery, Attempted Bribery, How Wong was Wrong, and Congressman Shouty Shirt’s Fairy Tale

Congressman Shouty Shirt

Bribery and Attempted Bribery

A friend who is a legal scholar—and is apparently blessed with some politicians of easy virtue among his client base, and who is therefore an expert on the technicalities of the law of bribery—has contacted me to point out that I am wrong. Along with a whole bunch of talking heads, BTW.

Actually, according to federal law (and, generally speaking, state law as well), attempted bribery is included within the definition of “bribery.” That is to say, if you “offer” or “promise” “anything of value” to someone to influence an official act, then you have violated the law, whether or not the official act ever occurs.*

That’s per United States Code, Title 18, Section 201. The statute has a whole bunch of words—1034 by my count—and if you want to read the whole thing, be my guest. But that’s the salient point.

“Corruptly”

Soo …. the fact that Trump relented, did not withhold the military aid after all, and did not get his promise to investigate does not let him off the hook under a technical analysis of the federal bribery law. Just as it does not let him off the hook morally or politically—given that he only relented when the whistleblower blew the damn whistle.

But “Aha!,” says Congressman Shouty Shirt, “I jolly well know what DOES get him off the hook. As a matter of legal technicality, Trump’s demand must have been made ‘corruptly’ in order to fall within the bribery law. And as a matter of morals and political appearance, if there is an alternative narrative to explain his September 11 change of mind, then he’s home free.”

(N.B. For the literal minded among you, Congressman Shouty Shirt did not say those exact words. I am putting words in his mouth to reverse engineer his thinking.)

Accordingly, earlier today, we had a brief reprise of the same fairy tale that Gym Jordan told on Wednesday: that Trump wasn’t concerned about investigating the Bidens. Oh, Noes. Perish the thought. Instead, Trump “paused” the military aid to test out whether this new fellow Zelensky was really going to do something about corruption. And when, five months later, his advisors told him that Zelinsky was an OK guy after all, Trump unpaused the military aid—an action having absolutely nothing whatsoever, nothing whatsoever, to do with the whistleblower and his whistle.

A Potential Off Ramp for Trump

Congressman Shouty Shirt’s fairy tale is illogical and unsupported by the evidence. But the congressman named some people—three, I believe—he says are prepared to swear to it. That part went by me real fast, but I did distinctly hear Mike Pence’s name among them.

You would have to be very gullible to buy this tall tale. But at least, from the perspective of Trump and his defenders, it would be better than no tale at all.

*According to my friend, a rare contrary authority is found in a 1929 Hawaii Supreme Court decision, Territory v. Wong. But Wong was wrong.

Christians, 10; Lions, 0

Christians Lions

The Republicans did not lift a finger or utter a syllable to support the Giuliani/Lutsenko/Trump smear campaign (the imaginary “no prosecute” list).

The Republicans did not lift a finger or utter a syllable to support the new Trump smear tweeted this morning.

The Republicans did not lift a finger or utter a syllable to rebut Chairman Schiff’s characterization of the Trump morning tweet as witness intimidation and obstruction of Congress.

It seems to me that Trump’s alternative reality creation machine has suffered a setback.

Observations During the Recess of the Yovanovitch Testimony

Yovanovitch

Republicans have two choices about how to respond to the ambassador’s devastating testimony.

How a Bad Advocate Responds to Devastating Testimony

He consults the thesaurus to find a bunch of words to hurl at the problem. I will help them out.

Synonyms for “sham”:

pretense, fake, fiction, imposture, fraud, pretended. false

How a Good Advocate Responds to Devastating Testimony

She advances a plausible counternarrative.

Here, the plausible counternarrative would provide

  • “evidence” that Ambassador Yovanovitch is generally a bad and ineffective ambassador—in other words, back up Trump’s alternative reality
  • “evidence” that Ambassador Yovanovitch actually gave the former prosecutor a “no prosecute” list, contrary to her denials,
  • “evidence” that Rudy Giuliani’s good bud Yuriy Lutssenko was in fact a good prosecutor, as distinguished from a detestable piece of shit.

What Happens When You Don’t Respond with a Plausible Couternarrative?

Any remotely clear thinking listener assumes the unrequited narrative is accurate.

And what’s left after that? The only possible defense is that the real narrative somehow doesn’t matter..

 

Four Problems with the “Bad but not Impeachable” Defense

four problems

I have said—and lots of pundits and talking heads have said—that the position Trump defenders will be forced, in the end, to rely upon is the same defense that prevailed in the Clinton impeachment: it was bad, it was wrong, but it was not an impeachable defense.

All the other defenses are bullshit, but this one is not clearly bullshit, because the standard of what constitutes an “impeachable offense” is political and subjective. Therefore: to assert the bad-but-not-impeachable defense is to invite the listener to make a subjective judgment,  not to demand that the listener check his or her rationality at the front door.

And, as I said, it’s the defense that worked for Clinton, so why not trot it out for Trump?

All that said, it seems to me that the “bad but not impeachable” defense is highly, highly problematic.

As a preliminary matter, remember who the audience is. It’s not the hard core Trump cultists. The hard core cultists will be happy with—and they will cheerfully regurgitate—any nonsense they are provided. These are the folks who’re shelling out for the “Get Over It” T-shirts.

No, the audience are those just to the left of the hard core cultists. Maybe they like the fetuses and the judges and the tax cuts, but they’re not so sure about Trump himself. These are the people Trump needs if he is going to survive.

The First Problem

Maybe you can’t think 17 steps ahead in the chess game, but you really need to think two or three steps ahead. With that thought in mind, the first problem with the “bad but not impeachable” argument is that invites a further discussion about

  • exactly what Trump did or did not do, and
  • just how bad his actions were.

Believe me, Trump and his enablers really, really do not benefit from anything resembling a rational discussion of these matters.

The Second Problem

If you’re going to argue bad-but-not-impeachable, then you really need an explanation for

  • why Trump withheld the military aid in the first place, and, maybe more importantly,
  • why he relented in September.

You really need to show that his decision to release the aid was occasioned by something other than the fact that he got caught—an inference that follows from the close chronological relation between the whistleblower complaint and the release of the money.

To illustrate: if Trump initially withheld the aid for impure motives, but, some time during September, took a stroll down the Road to Damascus, suddenly realized the error of his ways, and released the money, then maybe you can plausibly argue bad-but-not-impeachable.

Or, there is Gym Jordan’s fairly tale about how Trump released the money because his advisors advised him that Zelinsky is really a good guy, not a corrupt politician.

But, failing believe in some such fanciful, unsubstantiated narrative, it looks like the Trumpster released the aid the moment his hand was caught in the cookie jar. Looks like the Trumpster himself thought his own conduct was imminently impeachable.

The Third Problem

The third problem is that bad-but-not-impeachable argument might conceivably persuade some of the folks just to the left of the Trump cultists, but it creates severe congnitive dissonance for the cultists themselves, who think that everything Trump does is perfect.

The Fourth Problem

The fourth problem is that Trump himself has not embraced the bad-but-not-impeachable argument—and may denounce as a traitor anyone who puts it forward.

 

Spaghetti or Mud: Pick Your Metaphor

Scott R. Anderson and Quinta Jurecic, writing in Lawfare:

The Republican strategy [was hard]  to suss out. Steve Castor, a House Oversight Committee staffer, walked Kent and Taylor through a rambling line of questioning that never quite added up to anything, to the point where even supporters of the president wondered on social media where Castor was headed. House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes held forth on the Steele dossier—a subject that both witnesses were quick to say they knew nothing about. As the hearing went on, other Republicans—most prominently Rep. Jim Jordan—tested out a range of arguments, including that Ukraine and Hunter Biden are corrupt; that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election; that, for those reasons, Trump was right to push Zelensky to investigate these issues; that neither witness had direct contact with the president and that therefore their testimony may not be accurate; that the aid was eventually released in the absence of an announcement from Zelensky and therefore no wrongdoing was actually committed; and that the identity of the person behind the whistleblower complaint remains secret. It’s a scattershot approach that depends largely on the willingness of the president and the press to swallow conspiracy theories and distractions that add up to nothing more than a lot of spaghetti on the wall.

Renato Mariotti, writing on Politico:

If it looked like House Republicans were throwing a lot of mud at the wall to see what might stick during the first day of public impeachment hearings, that’s because they had settled into a strategy many defense attorneys adopt when the prosecution has the goods on their client—confuse the issues and distract the audience from the evidence at hand.

I’ve tried many federal criminal cases, and Wednesday’s hearing looked like a lot like trials in which the prosecution has the defendant on tape admitting to a crime. When defense attorneys can’t mount a defense on the merits, they raise a lot of peripheral issues in the hope of convincing at least one juror that there is reasonable doubt. …

Many commentators have bashed the performance of Republican attorney Steve Castor, openly predicting that he will be mocked on the upcoming edition of “Saturday Night Live.” Certainly his lack of experience trying cases showed. His opening line of questions, which attempted unsuccessfully to get Taylor and Kent to agree to a confusing conspiracy theory about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election, was particularly choppy. But Castor had very little to work with, and unlike an attorney at a trial, Castor wasn’t allowed to just ask a few questions and sit down. It appeared that he was told he had to fill 45 minutes, which is not easy to do when your side has no legitimate defense on the merits. He tried his best to testify through his questioning and confuse the issues—he spent a lot of time trying to get Taylor to acknowledge that Rudy Giuliani’s “irregular” diplomatic channel wasn’t as irregular as it could have been—but he could have sharpened his questions considerably.

Early Onset Alzheimer’s is a Tragic Disease

Alzheimers

Trump says he doesn’t recall speaking to Sondland the day after his call with Zelensky

Barr: ‘I Don’t Remember’ Trump Asking for Press Conference Over Ukraine Call

Sondland ‘Does Not Recall’ Threatening Ukraine Over Security Aid: Attorney

There will soon come a time when they won’t be able to remember that Trump was ever president.

But, all seriousness aside …

The talking heads have now spoken, and they have all pretty much decided that the overheard July 26 Sondland-Trump phone call—the one made from a restaurant in Kyiv (which used to be spelled Kiev), with Trump on a speaker phone saying he cared about investigating the Bidens and didn’t give a tinker’s damn about Ukraine—is the really big news of the day.

I can see it’s important, but it seems to me to be additional, cumulative evidence of what we already knew.

Dog bites man.

I still think the part of the story where the man bites the dog comes at the point where Rep. Blabbidy Blabbidy invents a fairy tale about Trump restoring the military aid because he has become convinced, after a few months, that Zelinsky is really a good guy after all.

But I haven’t seen anyone else raising the point.

I think maybe their bullshit detectors are so burned out that they can’t detect it when a new and highly creative piece of bullshit lands on their path.

The Most Interesting Thing About the Hearing Today, and Other Observations

Screen Shot 2019-11-13 at 4.32.14 PM

I thought it went well, and time has not permitted a comprehensive reading of the pundits, so that I can find out what I am supposed to think. Moreover, I am not a theater critic, nor am I an expert in abnormal psychology, so I won’t opine about how it will be received by the various factions that make up our great Merican Nation. But I am cursed with a logical mind, so I will make just a few logical points.

Did the Democrats Prove the Core Offense?

More than sufficient evidence was adduced to prove that people who appeared to be speaking on Trump’s behalf told the president of Ukraine that military aid would be withheld unless the Ukrainian president publicly declared that his country would investigate alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election and the alleged corruption of the Bidens.

That is to say, people speaking with apparent authority on behalf of the President of the United States engaged in bribery and extortion.

And, BTW, the Democrats showed that Trump’s own statements in the July 25 phone call corroborated the bribery and extortion.

What Was the Republicans’ Defense to the Core Offense?

That was the hound dog that did not bark in the night. They had nothing to disprove the core offense.

Bribery, or Just Attempted Bribery? Extortion, or Just Attempted Extortion?

Some of the Republicans argued that the aid was ultimately delivered, and the president of Ukraine ultimately did not conduct the investigations Trump demanded. Therefore, no harm, no foul.

These arguments imply that Trump was guilty of attempted bribery rather than successful bribery. That he was guilty of attempted extortion, not successful extortion.

No Direct Evidence! No Direct Evidence!

Trump has, of course, taken affirmative, vigorous, ruthless steps to keep Congress from receiving direct evidence of his own relevant direct communications.

As I said before, Republicans’ arguments are similar to killing your parents and pleading for mercy as an orphan.

Why Did Trump Relent on September 11 and Release the Military Aid?

Presumably, because, within a very few hours of Trump’s learning of the whistleblower report and the House inquiry, Trump realized that his goose was cooked if he went through with the extortion.

The Most Interesting Thing

I thought the most interesting point in the hearing came when Rep. Blabbidy Blabbidy suggested a new lie for Trump to tell: that he released the aid because, after initial suspicions of President Zelinsky, he was advised that a few months’ experience had shown Zelinsky was in fact an OK guy.

Note that this argument differs in quality from many of the Republicans’ other arguments. Most of the others are

  • based on things that actually happened, but are wrenched out of context,
  • based on things that actually happened, but are irrelevant to the proceedings, or
  • based on things that are sort of like what actually happened, but are nevertheless irrelevant to the proceedings.

Jordan’s last argument was none of the above. It was a fairy tale. He just pulled it out of his ass.

But congrats, Jim, on the … ahem … creative lawyering.

And, a Concluding Shout Out to the Republicans for Showing Restraint

Even the most depraved, reality challenged among them could not bring themselves to trot out the story about the Clinton server hidden somewhere in Ukraine.

Nor did they attack the integrity of the witnesses.

Congratulations, Republican pols. You are defending a president who is even crazier than you can permit yourself to seem, as your argue for the continuation of his delusional reign.

Help Me Make It Through the Night

As you know, I get by with a little help from my friends. Hans got into the spirit of my musical posts, and sends this this dance of the Salt Beaters of Schwäbisch Hall to help us while away the remaining hours till the impeachment hearings.

And this, from the Shepherds’ Festival in Markgröningen.

Meanwhile, this evening Dr. Aardvark and I finished the first season of the outstanding Canadian TV series, Slings and Arrows. So, let me end the last post of the evening on a cheery note.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Would Like You to Know that Georgia Voters Support the Impeachment Inquiry by 54 to 44 Percent

It is the eve of the first public impeachment testimony. The AJC writes,

The poll found that nearly 54% of registered Georgia voters approve of the impeachment inquiry into whether Trump tried to enlist Ukraine to open investigations into his political opponents. That’s compared with 44% of voters who oppose and 2% who don’t know or refused to answer.

Asked whether he should be removed from office, Georgians were almost evenly split: About 47% say he should be removed, about 47% say he should not, and about 6% did not answer or didn’t know. …

Support for impeachment is overwhelming among Georgia Democrats, with 94% in favor and only 6% opposed. Among Republicans, the opposition to impeachment is almost as strong, with 86% opposing impeachment and about 13% in favor. Independents are more split: About 55% approve of the inquiry and 43% disapprove. …

About 88% of Democrats say he should be ousted, a slightly lower proportion than support impeachment, while a higher percentage of Republicans say Trump should remain in office. The poll found 90% of Republicans oppose removing him from office, while 8% support it.

A slim majority of independents also oppose Trump’s ouster, with 51% against removing him and 40% in support.

The Numbers in Context

In 2016, Trump carried Georgia 50.44 percent to 45.35 percent.

In 2018, Brian Kemp, the Republican candidate for governor, defeated Stacey Abrams 50.2 percent to 48.8 percent.

What May We Take Away?

So, from 2016 to 2018, the Republicans retained their base—just a smidgen over 50 percent of the Georgia electorate.

As of today—with the public hearings about to begin—13 percent of Georgia’s self-identified Republicans say, bring on the impeachment inquiry.

And eight percent of Georgia Republicans have already decided Trump should be chitcanned. These, one may surmise, are the Georgia Republican voters who actually read the actual newspapers.

What May We Predict?

First, the numbers will probably change.

Second, because the Republicans have no real facts to offer in Trump’s defense, and no real arguments to offer in Trump’s defense, the rational prediction is that the numbers will move against Trump.

Third, because of tribal feeling, the numbers may not move very much.

Among Georgia voters, then, Trump will sink a little more, and then he will stop sinking.

But, always remember, boys and girls, that winning or losing is often the small difference between two large numbers.

Here’s One Dedicated to Chairman Schiff and All the Democrats Aiming to Do It by the Book

Alas, there is apparently no Norwegian cover for I Walk the Line, so let’s substitute the Finnish version.

The Finnish rendition is slightly softer in tone than Johnny Cash’s prison performance.

And speaking of jail, let me end with this parody version, which I dedicate to the Jim Jordan: Because I’m swine, I must resign.

This One’s for Moscow Mitch and His Kentucky Supporters

Norwegian singer Aslak Gjennestad gives really special treatment to That Old Mountain Dew.

Pappa Aardvark enjoyed playing That Old Mountain Dew on his harmonica. Another treasured memory is listening to him sing Little Brown Jug. I think it reminded him of those golden, but somewhat indistinct, years before Mamma made him stop drinking.

Here, the Norwegian Army Band serenades us with its own rendition of the song. (Reminds me of the witticism that military music is to music as military justice is to justice.). Take it away, Norwegian Army Band!

For those of you who did not have the good fortune to sing this song in your childhood years, here’s the original version.