In Fairness to the Hand Wringers and Garment Renders, Let’s Give the Devil His Due

garmet render

Jonathan Chait, Benjamin Hart, and Margaret Hartmann, Will Trump’s Racist Tweets Work?

Jim VanderHei and Mike Allen, Trump’s premeditated racism is central to his 2020 strategy

I remain of the view that, when the facts are viewed objectively, and when they are viewed as a whole, the case that progressives should wring their hands and move en masse to New Zealand is not persuasive. But …

First, Let Us Give the Devil His Due

Giving the devil his due, Messrs. VanderHei and Allen channel the political thinking of Trump and his henchmen this way:

It might seem like improvisational madness when President Trump tells American citizens in Congress to “go back” where they came from, but those close to Trump say there’s a lot of calculation behind his race-baiting. …

The rough calculation goes like this: 

Trump knows that in 2016, he won the white vote by 20+ points.

He hopes he can crank their turnout even higher, especially among older, white evangelicals. He knows most of those voters are unlikely to ditch him, no matter how offensive his comments.

He watches Fox News and knows AOC, in particular, is catnip to old, white voters, especially men. She is young, Hispanic, female and a democratic socialist — a 4-for-4 grievance magnet. Last week, AOC got nearly as muchonline attention as all 2020 Democrats combined.

Trump believes he did better than Mitt Romney among Hispanic voters because many who came here and went through the legal process agree with his views.

Axios sat in ona focus group in Michigan where white swing voters agreed with Trump on immigration. Carlos Algara, a political scientist at UC Davis, told the N.Y. Times that a forthcoming analysis of the 2018 midterms found that even without Trump on the ballot, “white Democrats with high levels of racial resentment were likely to vote … Republican.”

Facebook is often his incubator. He has spentthree times more than all Democratic contenders combined on Facebook, with a mix of message-testing immigration lines to appealing to Hispanics who seem susceptible to his worldview.

So Trump calculates that (white voters + some Hispanic voters) * (tough immigration rhetoric + race-baiting language) = narrow 2020 win.

Evaluating the Tactic that’s Intended to Support the Strategy

So that’s the strategy. The Chait, Hart, and Hartman printed conversation elaborates on an important tactic intended to advance the strategy: flirt with open racism, stir up controversy, stir up your base, deny that you’re a racist, and claim to be victimized. (And, maybe as icing on the cake, simultaneously detract from the Epstein connection.)

Political genius or not political genius? Chait makes two points that persuade me. First, the political genius inherited peace and prosperity, and his political approval stands at 42 percent. Second, he came so close to calling his oponents ——– that a goodly number of his supporters felt uncomfortable.

And Let Me Add …

… a few more points.

Trump played the racism card in 2018 and it redounded badly against him. Not proof of what will happen in 2020, but, surely, it’s very relevant to the prognostication.

Also, don’t you think he’s in a bit of a box? That if he’s going with peak racism, then his racism has peaked too early?

Because, here’s the thing. When Trump says the next racism-flirtatiously thing, the headline will be, “Well, There He Goes Again.” Soon, the headline will no longer be on page 1, it will be on page 17L

“Trump Tweets Another Racist Tweet.”

And, in other news,

“Dog Bites Man.”

No, to keep on doing this, he’s going to have to come up with new shocks. Next time, he can’t just tell a black congresswoman to “go back to Africa.” He did that before. If he does it again, the shock value will have worn off. Next time, he will have to say something even worse. And the time after that, something worse still.

His strategy and tactics will drive him to bigger and better shocks. And we will learn more bad news about how many hard core, unrepentant racists live among us. And we will see whether they are enough to win the election.

Smart and Smarter

Trump caught in an Iran trap. A smart analysis by Greg Sargent. An even smarter exposition by Jonathan Chait.

Smart

Greg Sargent, Mike Pence just revealed something important about Trump’s Iran decisions:

In an important essay, Gabriel Schoenfeld of the Niskanen Center notes that a key feature of the “malignant nationalism” animating Trump and his intellectual supporters is the notion that international integration that requires accepting any constraints on the nation’s prerogatives cannot ever be acknowledged to be succeeding.

Trump’s worldview did not permit an acknowledgment that the Iran deal — an imperfect but carefully negotiated settlement that our allies continued to favor — was preventing nuclear weapons. So he had to say it was weak and a failure, and he had to pull out. Instead, Trump vowed to be so unilaterally tough that he’d force total capitulation (without firing a shot) alone.

This has made war more likely, and as Susan E. Rice points out, avoiding it would involve recommitting to a diplomatic solution that would entail settling for something short of total capitulation. But Trump can’t do that. Yet he doesn’t appear to want war, either.

So, as the Pence interview shows, we’re trapped in a situation where Trump is lurching wildly between reluctance and belligerence, even as the situation continues to escalate.

Even Smarter

Jonathan Chait sees Trump’s aim as a rebranding exercise for the Iran nuclear deal, just what he really wanted—and still probably wants—is to rebrand Obamacare as Trumpcare. IMHO, absolutely right, and right on point.

Jonathan Chait, Why Trump Is So Confused About His Own Iran Policy:

Obviously, actual Iran hawks in the Republican foreign-policy elite didn’t design their policy around the objective of reducing anti-American chants. The chants were just an easy way of stoking resentment among the Fox News audience. What they didn’t quite count on was that one of those angry couch-potato grandfathers in their target demographic would be elected president.

So Trump hates the Iran deal. But he’s also not onboard with the actual conservative policy alternative, which is to use threats of war to force Iran to give up not only its nuclear program but also its support for militant proxies and possibly also (depending on which version of the strategy you listen to) its entire theocratic system of government.

Trump is now publicly describing his own national security adviser as a dangerous warmonger. “John Bolton is absolutely a hawk,” he tells NBC. “If it was up to him, he’d take on the whole world at one time, okay?”

What seems to be going on here is that Trump just assumed he could cut a better deal with Iran than Obama did, just as he assumed he could design a better health-care-reform law than Obama did. Just as Trump didn’t realize the actual Republican health-care plan was to take insurance away from people who couldn’t afford it on their own, he also didn’t realize the actual Republican Iran policy is a conflict ratchet that requires him to at least be willing to start a massive war.

So he’s trying to get out of his own mess with the strategy he used with NAFTA. Step one is to call the existing deal the worst agreement of all time and cancel it. Step two is to negotiate small tweaks. Step three is to declare the tweaked/rebranded deal to be the greatest treaty of all time.

The notion that Iran would become rich was the chief conservative complaint about the nuclear deal. Now

There You Go Again, Joe

money bags

Paul Waldman, Biden’s comments about segregationists and the rich are deeply problematic

Jonathan Chait, Joe Biden’s Segregationist Nostalgia Is Even More Ignorant Than It Sounds

This afternoon, the talking heads are talking about Joe Biden’s eyebrow-raising comments to a bunch of rich supporters in New York. There are many things that might be said—see, for example, the two sources cited above—but let me just make two quick points.

How to Pitch the Rich

Waldman remarks,

Biden knows his audience. His pitch to them is not that we must reduce inequality because it’s a fundamental wrong, but because if we don’t, the masses will rise up in anger and you never know what might happen then.

My observation: it’s true that inequality has gotten way out of hand, and if it isn’t reduced, the poor are likely to rise up at some point and make things very uncomfortable for the rich. In other words, narrow, amoral economic self-interest on the part of the plutocracy would dictate that the plutocracy do something to let the pressure cooker vent, before it’s too late.

Biden was advocating that some rich people should give him some money. When you’re advocating, you don’t make the argument that is the best and most noble. You make the (true) argument that is most likely to appeal to your audience.

Biden is not to be faulted for telling his audience something that is true and is likely to appeal to them, rather than telling them something else that is also true, but will have less appeal. At least that’s my opinion.

But Biden’s viewpoint suffers, in my view, from quite a different, and very fundamental, defect.

Failing the Sunzi Test

Know yourself, know your enemy, hundred battles, hundred victories. Hillary Clinton lost for many reasons, but among the most important was her failure to understand what political currents she was dealing with. I very much fear that Joe Biden suffers from the same mental defect: you can make nice all you want with Mitch McConnell and his ilk, but they are not going to make nice with you.

If you do not understand whether the battlefield is hilly or level, you are likely to make big mistakes. I am very much afraid Biden does not understand where he is. And, lacking an understanding of the most fundamental facts about the current political environment, any success he may have will largely come as a matter of accident.

I do not like to depend just on dumb luck. An appropriate strategy, along with well-chosen and skillfully implemented tactics, are much to be preferred.

A Lunchtime Discussion

Today, I had the privilege of eating lunch with a person whom I greatly admire—one who has walked with princes and presidents, whose wisdom has been sought by foreign heads of state, but who has remained grounded through it all.

As we finished our lunch, my friend allowed as how Elizabeth Warren is looking better and better. I agree.

I’m still concerned that she told the Texas Bar Association that she was an Indian. I’m tempted to say that we have all done some squirrely things in our time, but, to tell the truth, I really can’t think of anything comparable that I might have done.

Still, nobody’s perfect.

No Balls at All

No, Charles Blow, Democrats are not “bringing their letter openers to a gunfight.” And in no way, shape, or form are they “scared witless.”

Democrats face an unprecedented and challenging situation. It shows neither lack of wit nor shrunken cojones to proceed cautiously and think carefully about how to play the cards they have.

Jerry Nadler is a mensch. And so is Nancy Pelosi.

Mr. Blow’s colleague David Brooks makes the opposite mistake: accusing Nadler of declaring a bogus constitutional crisis.

Jonathan Chait roasts Brooks on a spit and eats him for lunch.

Em … em … good.

We do have a constitutional crisis on our hands. Crises are not handled well by folks who stick their heads in the sand. Nor is JUST DO SOMETHING!!! likely to lead to an optimal outcome. Cojones are wonderful, but you need to think with your frontal lobe.

Get a grip, people.

trucknutz

Bizarre Barr

it would be nice

The best way to find out what is in a document is to read it. I will probably try to read the whole Mueller report, but I haven’t yet had the time to do so. (Writing this blog is a hobby of mine, not a job, so I didn’t “pull an all-nighter.”)

If you want to read it for yourself, you can download it here. Or you can buy it on Amazon, inasmuch as there is no copyright in works of the United States government.

Meanwhile, in the past 24 hours an ocean of ink has been spilled by commentators commenting on Barr’s bizarre performance yesterday morning. I recommend, for example, the generally reliable Jonathan Chait, who nicely described the differences between the truth and what Barr said, in his post titled Congress Should Impeach William Barr.

But Chait thinks Barr’s toadyism is straightforward. By contrast, over at The Bulwark (Bill Kristol’s hideout) a post headlined No Honorable Middle Ground for Barr comes closer to the truth as I see it. Barr has learned from people like Jim Mattis and John Kelly that you cannot work for Trump while trying to preserve your personal integrity. If you try to do that, he will fire your ass on twitter.

That leaves the choice: either don’t work for Trump in the first place, or work for Trump and go full toady. OR AT LEAST PRETEND TO GO FULL TOADY.

So what happened yesterday? What happened was that in the morning Barr gave a news conference where he told lie after lie, see Chait, supra, and then, two hours later, released a redacted but still very meaty Mueller report that clearly revealed the mendacious nature of the morning news conference.

And just who was Barr trying to fool? I submit that he was trying to fool the one person in the country most likely to be taken in by this charade, to wit, one Donald J. Trump.

If Barr were an actual compeat today, then I think he would have redacted a lot more than he did react.

But you don’t have to take it from me. If Barr is an actual Trump toady, then he will shut down or obstruct the 14 still on-going investigations of Trump and his world, notably the federal investigation in the Manhattan district attorney’s office. That way, he can have the honor of occupying the same jail cell occupied by his illustrious predecessor John Mitchell.

But if Barr is only a pretend toady, he will let the investigations go forward while continuing to hop up and down yelling “no collusion”—until such time as Trump’s lizard brainf inally gets the message that he is being taken for a ride.

Poor Persecuted Brett

Kavanaugh weeps

Morning Joe went on a rant today about how the Democrats and “the media” are piling on to poor Bret, ergo Republicans are feeling aggrieved and angry, ergo Republicans are going to win the midterms.

Well, maybe they will and maybe they won’t.

Meanwhile, as he often does, Jonathan Chait nails it:

The FBI investigation into Brett Kavanaugh has turned out to be a fig leaf. Multiple reports tell the same story: The White House has controlled the probe, ignoring the attempts by multiple witnesses to reach investigators and wrapping up its work well before its already-tight deadline.

In the meantime, however, significant new evidence has appeared from the news media. It demonstrates beyond a doubt that Kavanaugh’s emotional testimony was a farrago of evasions and outright lies. …

During his testimony, Kavanaugh piously insisted his description as a “Renate Alumnius” was a term of affection for a friend they regarded as one of their own, devoid of any sexual connotation. Last night, The New Yorker reported one of Kavanaugh’s high-school friends’ detailed recollections that this was a complete lie. …

To the extent conservatives have acknowledged this at all, they have processed it as somehow confirming that Kavanaugh is being persecuted. Proof that he told repeated lies about his youthful drinking and treatment of girls does not suggest to them that his other claims about his youthful drinking and treatment of girls are probably wrong. Instead they have concluded he is being subjected to some new and irrelevant test of purity. “Will a full-bore investigation of adolescent behavior now become a standard part of the ‘job interview’ for all senior office holders?” asks Bret Stephens. What a bizarre description of reporters fact-checking Kavanaugh’s own testimony.

At the beginning of this process, I was willing to entertain the possibility Kavanaugh might be innocent. People can change. I believe he has grown into a better and more responsible adult than the drunken bully he was as a young man. He could have acknowledged and apologized for his misbehavior. Instead, he denied everything. Like Trump, he found a way to manipulate and exploit the emotional core of the American right, from the voters to the elites, almost all of whom now ignore or justify his lies in the greater cause of service to their party.

Looking Ahead Two Steps in the Game

If Republicans seat Kavanaugh on the Court, I predict, beyond peradventure of doubt, that Morning Joe will tell us that our own interest requires us to lick our wounds and talk about something else.

That counsel will be wrong.

If Kavanaugh is confirmed, we should make it a day that will live in infamy.

Couldn’t Happen to a Nicer Bunch of Folks

Kavanaugh Liberty

In a post this morning titled Brett Kavanaugh Is Probably a Goner Now, Jonathan Chait expatiates on Republican sentiment to hang on to their man from Animal House—and the many reasons why that sentiment is self-destructive:

Some of the views Trump and his allies have expressed over the Ford allegations explain their instinct. They fear and resent the power of allegations of sexual assault to threaten men in power, and believe that to succumb in this case would expose more men to such accusations and derail their careers. Some likewise believe that a Kavanaugh defeat would demoralize the base by removing the sheen of invincibility that Trump cultists have fashioned around the president. “You take away the whole ‘We’re sick of winning’ message,” warns one former Trump operative — unnamed, but probably Steve Bannon — “That’s a huge, marquee, top-line loss.”

It’s worth noting that this is completely irrational. It doesn’t even hold together by its own logic — Trump suffered a dramatic high-profile defeat over health care. And far from tricking his base into forgetting about it, Trump continues to remind them of the defeat for some reason, reliving John McCain’s thumbs-down moment at his rallies on the regular.

People do make decisions for irrational reasons. But the power ultimately does not rest with Trump, or even the majority of Republicans who have been rushing the hearings through and working to prevent either additional testimony or an FBI investigation. The power to decide rests with any two Republican senators who don’t want to support Kavanaugh on the terms the party has set, which means hurtling through new revelations without even the pretense of due diligence. If any two of them pull the plug, Trump has no choice but to find a new candidate.

At the end of the day, he has every reason to do that. Whatever personal attachment he has developed to Kavanaugh as a distinguished Ivy League jurist and subject of sexual-assault allegations, the truth is that there are plenty more where he came from. The Federalist Society is a machine that churns out properly credentialed jurists who reliably toe the conservative movement line. Even if vetting a new candidate takes time, and even if Democrats win the Senate majority, they can and will confirm their choice in the lame-duck session.

Kavanaugh is a massive liability now for a party that is already heavily identified with the grossest and most predatory aspects of male sexual entitlement. Keeping Kavanaugh at this point would be an act of sheer madness.

And May I Add:

If you are in a tough spot, and you learn some unwelcome news which is going to force you to cave, it really is a good idea to just go ahead and cave—as opposed to issuing a bunch of testosterone-loaded tweets, just before you cave.

This is what serious people–including seriously bad people–do, if they have the mental ability to process new information, and to think three steps ahead in a chess game.

I think it will take the Republicans another 24 hours or so to figure this out.