As the Stomach Turns

Elect a Clown

David Frum elaborates in nauseating detail on Plan A and Plan B. Trump’s Two Horrifying Plans for Dealing With the Coronavirus: If he can’t confine the suffering to his opponents, he is prepared to incite a culture war to distract his supporters.

Jonathan Chait opines, Trump’s Plan to Contain the Coronavirus by Unleashing Anarchy Seems Risky: If you can’t send out high quality tests, what about sending angry mobs?

Mr. Chait will be undergoing emergency surgery next week, to remove his tongue from where it is stuck in his cheek.

All seriousness aside, though, how this will all work out depends on what effect you think the sight of the peasants with pitchforks will have on the educated, affluent white folks who used to vote Republican. Your guess is as good as mine, but I know what my guess is, and I feel pretty confident about it.

The enormous irony is that, IMHO, Trump would have been vastly better served politically just to pick competent people to take charge of the situation, stand back and let them do their jobs, and then stand at the podium and say what they tell him to say.

rights

The Occam Explanation

method

Jonathan Chait wonders why Trump would claim a power he obviously does not possess—a legal power unilaterally to determine when the country “goes back to work.”

One cursed with a logical mind, Chait posits two alternatives:

Why would Trump be disputing the law? The stupidest, and therefore most likely, explanation is that Trump is simply angry that cable news is discussing the fact that Trump’s “decision” is not actually his to make. Trump likes positioning himself as the protagonist of the Trump Show, and it will not do for the narrator to explain that the big reveal in tomorrow’s episode has been determined by some off-screen characters. (The exception, of course, is when Trump has screwed something up, in which case he foistsall responsibility onto his subordinates and berates them for their failure.)

But it is also possible that Trump is actually planning a showdown of some kind with state and local officials. He is reportedly leaning toward announcing a May 1 date for a grand reopening of the country, reflecting his desire for a splashy celebratory announcement. Trump may not want his big day to be stepped on by troublesome local officials diminishing his powers.

Please permit me to posit a third explanation—an explanation of which Occam  would approve: that Orange Man has not got the slightest idea what he is doing.

Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?

cant anybody here

Jonathan Chait further elucidates the Dershowitz argument:

Alan Dershowitz, one of the members of President Trump’s legal team, has an odd habit of using the reductio ad absurdum technique to his own arguments. Dershowitz argues that “abuse of power” is not a category of behavior that can be impeachable. He admits he previously believed the opposite, and that the vast majority of constitutional scholars believe the opposite, but claims to have delved into it and discovered that they are all wrong. Dershowitz has conceded that even if Trump handed Alaska over to Vladimir Putin, that would not be an impeachable offense.

Speaking in the Senate trial Wednesday, he managed to express his own principle in an even more absurd fashion. “If a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest,” he said, “that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.” So any abuse of presidential power designed at least in part to aid his own reelection is not impeachable.

What if the president were to pressure foreign governments to imprison members of the opposing party if they pass through their territory? Or withhold disaster aid from a governor unless that governor announces an investigation of the president’s rival? Offer pardons to anybody who kills his opponent? If it helps the president win, then you can’t impeach.

And That’s the Best They’ve Got?

A Jigsaw Puzzle with a Single Piece Missing

missing piece

Jonathan Chait writes,

A wide swath of evidence has established that the Trump administration attempted to trade diplomatic favors with Ukraine for investigations. Several aides testified, or communicated to each other at the time, that they understood this to be the policy. Trump demanded the investigations in public, implicitly dangled them in his phone call with Ukraine’s president, and his chief of staff Mick Mulvaney publicly confirmed the quid pro quo in a press conference. But every one of these pieces of testimony, in one form or another, fell short of the standard of (1) being sworn testimony (2) by a person who spoke directly to Trump AND (3) heard him explicitly condition the meeting and aid for the investigations. It was like a jigsaw puzzle with a single piece missing, the picture completely apparent. …

Well, so much for that.

Last night’s revelation that John Bolton’s forthcoming book reports the exact piece of evidence that Trump’s legal team insisted did not exist, that Trump specifically told Bolton that he was holding up the military aid in return for investigating the Bidens. Trump’s lawyers not only claimed this evidence did not yet exist, but called it one of the facts that “have not, and will not, change.”

The bind that Republican senators are in is readily apparent. (But if you need any help, check out the rest of today’s Chait piece.)

I have no idea what these fuckwits will wind up doing. But I know exactly and precisely what their least bad course of action is: adopt the Arius Aardvark Defense.

If I were, say, Cory Gardner, that would be my story and I would be stickin’ to it

 

It Usually Stops Working Around the Age of Five

toddler psychology

Jonathan Chait, Macron Uses Toddler Reverse Psychology Trick to Fool Trump Into Supporting NATO:

Today is another meeting of NATO, an organization Trump has denounced and undermined for years. The keenest minds in what remains of the free world have set themselves to the task of distracting Trump long enough to get through the NATO summit without dissolving the alliance in a tantrum. … The plans include flattering Trump with an elaborate dinner at Buckingham Palace, and presenting a series of trumped-up concessions to make it appear the allies have buckled to Trump’s demands by increasing their spending, thereby allowing him to claim victory rather than storming out in a huff. …

Amusingly, what seems to have worked instead is Emmanuel Macron’s completely different ploy. The French president gave an interview last month decrying the “brain death” of NATO, which he said had failed to account for America’s shrinking commitment under Trump.

Trump himself has called NATO “obsolete,” openly questioned whether the U.S. would come to the defense of allies under attack (the very foundation of the alliance), and privately told aides on several occasions last year he wants to withdraw from the alliance. But the notion that somebody else would question NATO, and blame its demise on Trump, has enraged him.

And now Trump is lashing out at Macron. “NATO serves a great purpose,” he declared today. “And I hear that President Macron said NATO is ‘brain dead.’ I think that’s very insulting to a lot of different forces … When you make a statement like that, that is a very, very nasty statement to 28 — including them — 28 countries.”

Manipulating children into doing what you want by pretending to demand they do the opposite thing is a trick most parents learn to use. It usually stops working around the age of 5.

 

 

Well, If That’s Your Best Defense, Then That’s Your Best Defense

three monkeys

Jonathan Chait, Gordon Sondland’s Ukraine Alibi: I was the Dumbest Diplomat Ever

To prove that he is not a knave, Sondland argues that he is a fool. It’s early for the cocktail hour, so you might want to save Chait’s humorous observations for a point in time when the sun is under the yardarm. On the other hand, it’s always five o’clock somewhere.

But, as I said before, the main issue is not Sondland’s knavish and/or foolish character. The main point, to me, is that Gordon Sondland, million dollar Trump donor, has decided that this is a really good time to jump off the Trump Train.

Axios cherry picks to select the tastiest cherries from Ambassador Sondland’s statement this morning, and serves up this tasty and nutritious dessert:

“Let me be clear: Mr. Giuliani does not work for me or my Mission and I do not know what official or unofficial role, if any, he has with the State Department. … Please know that I would not have recommended that Mr. Giuliani or any private citizen be involved in these foreign policy matters. However, given the President’s explicit direction, as well as the importance we attached to arranging a White House meeting between Presidents Trump and Zelensky, we agreed to do as President Trump directed.”

“[B]ased on the President’s direction, we were faced with a choice: We could abandon the goal of a White House meeting for President Zelensky, which we all believed was crucial to strengthening U.S.-Ukrainian ties … or we could do as President Trump directed and talk to Mr. Giuliani to address the President’s concerns.”

“I did not understand, until much later, that Mr. Giuliani’s agenda might have also included an effort to prompt the Ukrainians to investigate Vice President Biden or his son or to involve Ukrainians, directly or indirectly, in the President’s 2020 reelection campaign.”

“On September 9, 2019, Acting Charge de Affairs/Ambassador William Taylor raised concerns about the possibility that Ukrainians could perceive a linkage between U.S. security assistance and the President’s 2020 reelection campaign. Taking the issue seriously, and given the many versions of speculation that had been circulating about the security aid, I called President Trump directly.”

“I asked the President: ‘What do you want from Ukraine? The President responded, ‘Nothing. There is no quid pro quo.’ The President repeated: ‘no quid pro quo’ multiple times. This was a very short call.”

“Let me state clearly: Inviting a foreign government to undertake investigations for the purpose of influencing an upcoming U.S. election would be wrong. Withholding foreign aid in order to pressure a foreign government to take such steps would be wrong.”

“I did not and would not ever participate in such undertakings. In my opinion, security aid to Ukraine was in our vital national interest and should not have been delayed for any reason

On the Unconstitutionality of Impeachment

presidential oath

Jonathan Chait, In Deranged, Quasi-legal Rant, Trump Calls Impeachment Unconstitutional:

The letter charges that Schiff “chose to concoct a false version of the call and to read his made-up transcript,” a “fact” that, it proceeds to assert, proves Trump did nothing wrong. The “fact” is also one of those bizarre implanted memories from the Fox News fever swamp. Schiff, in a hearing, paraphrased Trump’s call to Ukrainian President Vlodomyr Zelensky, saying, “In not so many words, this is the essence of what the president communicates,” before going on to summarize Trump’s meaning. Trump and his allies have pretended this paraphrase, which Schiff openly billed as a paraphrase, was an attempt to concoct a falsified transcript of the call. It is unnerving to see this unhinged fantasy not only making its way into a formal White House legal document, but playing a central role in its argument.

The letter also cites, by way of defending Trump, two additional pieces of evidence to establish his innocence. It notes that the Department of Justice reviewed the call and did not find a campaign finance violation — as if a campaign finance violation is the only, or even primary problem with extorting a foreign leader for dirt on domestic rivals, and as if Trump’s attorney general is a remotely credible figure. Even more comically, it notes that Zelensky has publicly stated, in Trump’s presence no less, that he was not pressured on the call — as if the leader of a country dependent on American support for its very existence, who has already been extorted, is in a position to undercut its president.

The presence of these vapid talking points in a putative legal document is tribute to the dearth of support for its shocking central claim: that the House has no right to impeach Trump. It calls the proceedings “illegal,” and one of Congress’ “unconstitutional efforts to overturn the democratic process.” There is no remotely plausible constitutional theory to support this claim. The Constitution gives the House absolute right to conduct impeachment hearings in a manner determined by the House.

The letter complains that the House fails to grant Trump sufficient control over the impeachment agenda. Though there’s a reason for that — the trial takes place in the Senate, not the House — Trump could in theory try to negotiate for more Republican input into the process. In a briefing with reporters, a senior administration official was asked what changes Trump would need to cooperate. “A full halt” was the answer. That is, Trump will cooperate with an impeachment probe if Democrats stop the impeachment probe.

The Words on the Page

Screen Shot 2019-09-30 at 11.11.11 AM

David Frum, A Realist’s Guide to Impeachment: Trump should face the consequences of his misdeeds, but the road ahead is perilous.

Jeff Greenfield, 5 Ways Impeachment Could Play Out

Greg Sargent. Trump is cornered, and his ‘civil war’ threat stinks of panic

Jonathan Chait, Lindsey Graham Rests Entire Trump Defense on Word He Doesn’t Understand

The words on the paper that Trump released as an accurate account of his conversation with the president of Ukraine demonstrate a gross misuse of office.

The logical counter to the claim made in the previous sentence is to assert, “No, the words on the paper don’t show any such thing”—or, at the very least, to assert “The words on the paper are ambiguous, and there is a plausible implication that is different from your claim.”

It is Monday morning, Trump’s spokesbots have had a few days to think about their response, and their response is to run headlong away from the words on the paper Trump released. There is preliminary polling evidence that twenty percent of Republicans support the impeachment inquiry. Meanwhile, Trump is tweeting about inciting a civil war and arresting his accusers for treason.

In the piece cited above, Frum writes, “Nobody should have any illusions: Bringing anything like justice to President Trump will be neither easy nor safe. The exposure of Trump’s Ukraine extortion scheme forced impeachment on the country. It could not be ignored, and devices like censure are inadequate. But the days ahead are dark.” That seems a fair prognostication.

I think the four posts cited above are worth the reading, but please read for yourselves. I won’t discuss the substance of them. Instead, I want to set out some reflections on the first and second of Frum’s six suggestions, namely, “Keep the story simple” and “Be political, not legal.”

How to Defend Your Guy from Impeachment

There are four ways you can go.

One: he didn’t do it. In other words, you are drawing the wrong inference from the documents and testimony.

Two: he did it, but it was OK.

Three: he did it, and it wasn’t OK, but it wasn’t impeachable.

Four: stick your fingers in your ears and go “la la la la la.”

Defending Your Guy Against Impeachment—Some Examples

The Andrew Johnson impeachment illustrates argument two. He did violate the Tenure of Office Act, but the statute was unconstitutional. A rough analogy might be an article of impeachment based on Trump’s bogus “national emergency” declaration. It was illegal and wrong, but there’s enough legal confusion surrounding the issue to give Trump’s defenders a lot of wiggle room. So it would be a bad idea to include such a charge in the final articles of impeachment

The Clinton impeachment illustrates argument three. Yes, he lied under oath about sex, and yes, there might be some legitimate legal consequences that should flow from his perjury, but impeachment is not warranted. A rough analogy might be an article of impeachment based on Trump’s payment of hush money, just before the election, to a couple of well upholstered women of easy virtue. A lot of people would jump up and down charging the Democrats with hypocrisy for a sex-related allegation. So it would be a bad idea to. include such a charge.

As of this morning, it seems that some of Trump’s spokesbots are giving argument three a whirl, along the lines of, “there was nothing in the phone call that was impeachable.” But they’re coupling this argument with a manful refusal to face what was actually said in the call, as proved by the “transcript.” That would be the very same “transcript” Trump ordered released, in the delusion expectation that it would prove his innocence.

The Nixon near-impeachment illustrates the first argument. For quite a while, his defenders just tried to cover up the facts. But it didn’t work. And it never works—as long as there is an investigative body that is competent and determined.

OK, How Many Bad Acts Should be Charged in the Articles of Impeachment?

Good question. But it’s premature, so I won’t offer an answer. I will instead offer a blueprint on how to find the answer.

The key is to include only charges that can only be “refuted” by

  • denying the proven facts, or by
  • defending the indefensible.

The Ukraine scandal meets this test. Many others do not. Example: the charge of collusion with Russia in 2016 is factually complicated and murky. Example: the bogus “national emergency” to fund the Mexican wall is unconstitutional and contrary to our system of government. But the relevant statutory law is complicated, giving the Trump side the opportunity to make us all lose our way in the weeds. So leave it out.

The second key is to avoid accusing Trump of specific statutory crimes, and keep the focus on the overall concept of abuse of office. Impeachable offenses need not be statutory crimes, and statutory crimes need not be impeachable offenses.

What’s Left, Other Than Ukrainegate?

Three come to mind.

One, there is talk about how Trump may have actually said he was unconcerned about Russian electoral interference during his 2017 meeting with the Russian ambassador. If proved, I think that would fill the bill.

Two, if it can be proved by irrefutable evidence, misusing office for pecuniary gain would qualify.

Three, obstruction of Congress during the course of the impeachment inquiry would probably be on the list. (Prior numerous acts of obstruction should be impeachable in principle, but probably do not qualify for inclusion because of the legal quibbles that each obstructive act would engender. Keep it simple, stupid. Obstruction of the impeachment inquiry itself is a different breed of cat.)

So, How Many Articles Should There Be?

As many as meet the stringent tests I have laid out. If they fill the bill, put ‘em in. If not, leave ‘em out.

**

Greetings to today’s reader. The U.S. leads, followed in second place by Kenya, but with Canada in strong contention to overtake Kenya. Mauritius is in solid fourth place. Go Mauritius! Also in the running so far: Japan, Taiwan, the U.K., and Russia. HELLO VLADIMIR!

The Mad King’s Adviser

mad king

Jonathan Chait, John Bolton Era Ends With No Casualties Except Bolton’s Dignity

A key dynamic about the Trump presidency is that, in keeping with the prestige television era in which it is situated, there are no good guys, just different levels of villainy, often leavened by dark comedy. Trump has pronounced instincts on foreign policy that drive him away from shooting wars and into trade wars. On the whole, however, he is sub-ideological. He initially hesitated to hire Bolton on account of his thick mustache. Later, he impulsively decided to hire him, despite the facial hair, “because he was impressed by his many appearances on Fox News.”…

Bolton was an advocate of consistently bad ideas that were often set in opposition to other bad ideas. Trump has maintained an elaborate pretense that North Korea is giving up its nuclear weapons program, touting his own negotiating genius in securing imaginary concessions while appearing to view the fawning letters he receives from Kim Jong-un as important concessions. This fantasy is less dangerous than Bolton’s barely concealed desire to launch a military strike against North Korea.

The wedge between them drove Bolton into increasingly obvious isolation. On a recent diplomatic visit, Trump and his more favored advisers met with North Korea’s leaders while Bolton was sent literally to Outer Mongolia.

The inevitable humiliating conclusion was finally reached when Trump fired Bolton via tweet, the most inglorious of exits. Like the vast majority of Trump staffers, Bolton came into the administration believing he could manipulate the Mad King, but surrendered his dignity in the process. The serial debasement of some of the most odious members of the Republican governing class is one of the few bright spots of the Trump presidency. Bolton’s tenure ended in the best possible way. Nothing was destroyed except his own stature.

Bonkers

bonkers

Highly recommended this morning is Jonathan Chait’s book review of a new book entitled American Carnage, a detailed behind-the-scenes look over the last ten years, detailing how Republican leaders dropped their pretense at supporting balanced budgets and constitutional government, and adopted a pure strategy of white racism in support of the plutocratic agenda.

And now this, this morning. The plutocrats have sown the wind and they have reaped the whirlwind.

BIARRITZ, France — President Trump asserted on Saturday that he has the authority to make good on his threat to force all American businesses to leave China, citing a national security law that has been used mainly to target terrorists, drug traffickers and pariah states like Iran, Syria and North Korea.

As he arrived in France for the annual meeting of the Group of 7 powers, Mr. Trump posted a message on Twitter citing the International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977 — a law meant to enable a president to isolate criminal regimes but not intended to be used to cut off economic ties with a major trading partner because of a disagreement over tariffs.

“For all of the Fake News Reporters that don’t have a clue as to what the law is relative to Presidential powers, China, etc., try looking at the Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977,” Mr. Trump wrote. “Case closed!”

Hugh Jim Bissel Responds to China

HJB Responds

About an hour ago, Jonathan Chait hit the nail on the head: Trump Is Melting Down Because China Won’t Give In on Trade:

President Trump is in the midst of a public meltdown that is humiliating, scary, and banana republic–y even by Trumpy standards. The reason is that Trump started a trade war and China refuses to back down, having announced this morning that it is imposing retaliatory tariffs on $75 billion worth of U.S. goods.

Trump has picked fights with lots of countries. Usually they either placate him or try to give him a face-saving way of de-escalating (e.g., Mexico, which is never going to pay for the wall but doesn’t talk about the fact that it’s never going to pay for the wall anymore). Sometimes they get Trump to fold by stroking his ego (the North Koreans have carried out the most over-the-top version of this tactic).

China is playing it differently. Trump is pressuring China with tariff threats, on the theory that China, which is more export-dependent than the U.S., has more to lose from a trade war. China, apparently, calculates that it is Trump who has more to lose from a trade war, since he is facing reelection next year and Chinese president Xi Jinping is facing reelection … never. What’s more, China has little incentive to cough up permanent concessions in its trade relations with the U.S., given that there’s a better-than-even chance Trump will lose and it can just wait for the next president.

And, may I add, with respect to that “better-than-even-chance,” China is damn well trying to load the dice.

Bigly.

And One More Thing

I really don’t think the Business Roundtable and the United States Chamber of Commerce will take well to being “hereby ordered.”

The Darkest Hour is Just Before Dawn

darkest

Came across these two articles late this afternoon. Cumulative, but, IMHO, worth a look, nevertheless.

Jonathan Chait, Why Trump Spent his Summer Vacation Sending Racist Tweets:

The best explanations for Trump’s actions are often the stupidest ones. Trump has decided the answer to “how I spent my summer vacation” will be sending racist tweets, primarily because that was the thing that he felt like doing at those moments, contradicting the pleas of most of his fellow Republicans.

Yet these impulsive thumb-rants amount to some of the most important and revealing communications of Trump’s presidency. For one thing, they convey the beliefs that have undergirded his career. As Victor Blackwell points out, Trump reserves terms like “infest” and “infestation” — which most people use only to describe diseases or vermin — exclusively for nonwhites. As much hate as he might generate for a target like, say, the mainstream media or transnational institutions, he would never describe the New York Times as an infestation.

Ed Kilgore, Trump’s Hate Offensive Could Turn Off White Working-Class Women

Yeah, not to mention royally pissing off more than half of the voters who showed up last time. Not to mention making every single African-American hopping-up-and-down mad.

Kilgore writes, “If Trump were being purely strategic, he’d tone down the hate-rage and the racism while continuing to pound away at the vulnerable points of the progressive agenda. But that may not be in his DNA. And it’s possible the joy he takes in turning Americans against each other could be his undoing.”

Shhh!!! It’s a Secret!!! Nobody Tell Him!!!

Yes, it probably is in his DNA. But sometimes, faced with mortal danger arising from behaviors deep within their DNA, people manage to wake up and smell the coffee, curb their compulsions, and save themselves from destruction.

Sometimes they save themselves before it is too late.

And sometimes they don’t.

Trump doesn’t face just the indignity of defeat in 2020, he faces the likelihood of indictment and jail.

So, please, nobody tell him that his racist rants are leading to his own destruction. Encourage him, instead, to give witness to his inner asshole at every opportunity.

This thing is bad, and it’s getting worse, and it probably needs to get worse before it gets better. Sometimes it has to get very dark, before the dawn breaks.

Some Things are Complicated, But Others are Bleeding Obvious

bleeding obvious

Fredda Foxy has called my attention to a message from Paul Krugman on the topic of how to run against a bad man. Fredda and Paul seem to have some kind of email relationship. I can’t find the Krugman message on the internet, so I reproduce it below, as Fredda forwarded it to me.* And I want to compare Krugman’s obsesrvations with this alarming news from Jonathan Chait: Democratic Progressives and Centrists Are Both Committing Strategic Suicide.

Now, ladies and germs, some things are complicated, while others are bleedingly obvious and dorically simple. Let me mention a few of the latter.

One. If you are fighting a war, you really need to understand the battlefield. Will you be fighting on the plains? In the hills? In swampy territory? And if you don’t know where your battle is being fought, then you had bloody well better make it your business to find out.

The Chait article has two points, the first of which is that the nice Democratic politicians who are talking about restoring the filibuster, so they can make nice on the playground with the folks from the Republican side of town—those folks really don’t know shit from Shinola.

The plutocrat/racist coalition is in a fight to the death to hang on to power. There are some people you just can’t be nice to. I don’t mean you need to yell at them and hurl bucketsful of epithets plucked from Roget’s Thesaurus. I mean you can’t give ‘em and inch, because, friends and neighbors, they will take a mile.

Two. If your adversary is shooting himself in the foot, then please don’t stop him. Just let him do the work for you.

A great principle of advocacy is Don’t Tell ‘Em, Show ‘Em. Yes, we should not normalize un-American behavior. Yes, we should “call out racism.” But mostly we should just let Donald Trump SHOW everyone exactly what kind of person he is.

Three. It will probably be a close election. But we have a 9.3 percent advantage (fivethirtyeight.com, likely and registered voters, as of this evening). Trump is now at 43.2 percent support. He will keep most of them, but I think a bunch more Nuremburg rallies will peel off a few, and he’ll be down at around 40. At that level, with any luck, his ass is grass.

That said,

Four. We must not press our luck. Chait has it exactly right. We need to push for those parts of the progressive agenda that poll well, and not take chances on those parts that don’t poll well. Chait elaborates:

A new poll by NPR tests most of the ideas Democrats have debated so far. The party has a wide array of proposals that enjoy public support — a Medicare option for everybody, a $15 minimum wage, a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who are in the country illegally, a wealth tax, and other things. But several of the issues Democrats are running on poll badly. In particular, decriminalizing immigration laws, giving health-care subsidies to undocumented immigrants, and replacing private insurance with Medicare are ideas that sound bad to most Americans.

Progressives have waved away such objections by insisting people who have private insurance don’t like it and would be glad to be moved onto a public plan. …

Well, we do have polling on this. NPR’s data shows that letting people “choose between a national health insurance program or their own private health insurance” is a 70 percent issue, while a Medicare expansion “that replaces private health insurance” is a 41 percent issue. And that is without accounting either for the large tax increases that would be needed to finance it or the effect of a massive countermobilization by insurers and the entire medical industry. These risks are all the more difficult to fathom given the much safer alternative available to candidates: a Medicare expansion plan that could be financed exclusively by taxing the rich and which would leave employer insurance in place.

Despite these grim numbers, activists have pressured leading Democratic candidates to put themselves on the wrong side of public opinion. Just 27 percent of the public supports decriminalization of the border, and 33 percent favors the extension of health-insurance benefits to undocumented immigrants, yet during the second Democratic debate, the latter position was endorsed by every candidate onstage. …

Centrism is not a political panacea, nor is it a myth. Its value matters in some ways, and not at all in others. Popular opinion is sensitive to high-profile public issues that can easily be reduced to understandable slogans on the news — “take away your insurance,” say. It is not sensitive to obscure Senate traditions — “Senator Jones refused to vote to restore the judicial filibuster” does not sound like a devastating attack. …

For the moment, the Democratic Party is clinging to centrism in the places where it has no value, and throwing it aside in the areas where doing so comes at great cost.

* Paul Krugman, Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The great majority of Americans consider Donald Trump unpresidential. A plurality consider his recent Tweets racist; half believe his campaign coordinated with Russia. It’s fair to say that most of America finds Trump pretty vile.

The question for Democrats is what to do with that reality. The thing is, it’s a lot less relevant politically than you might imagine. Most of the people who consider Trump vile would never have voted for him anyway, and many of the rest will vote for him despite their personal distaste, because they hate liberals more.

Yet it would also be wrong to say that Trump’s unique awfulness is irrelevant. His approval rating is remarkably low given growth over 3 percent and unemployment under 4 percent. And perceptions of character do drive votes: the Clinton email “scandal” — yes, it was fake, but it was relentlessly hyped by the media and fueled by James Comey’s misbehavior — almost surely swung the 2016 election.

So how should Democrats be handling this election? I’ve seen a lot of commentators lecturing the Dems about not making the election all about Trump. But who’s actually doing that? On the campaign trail, the leading progressive candidates barely talk about Trump; Elizabeth Warren, for example, spends most of her time laying out her policy proposals. The only major contender who really does seem to put attacks on Trump at the core of his campaign is … Joe Biden.

On the other hand, not making the campaign about Trump at all — in effect, normalizing him — would surely be foolish. Maybe only a few percent of the electorate can be swayed by reminders that a terrible man sits in the White House, but that could easily be the margin of victory.

The question is how to balance these concerns; and that’s mainly up to Nancy Pelosi, not the presidential candidates. I think I understand why Pelosi isn’t moving forward with impeachment, although she knows as well as anyone that it’s richly deserved: She probably doesn’t have the votes, even in the House, and doesn’t want to give Trump anything he could call a win. On the other hand, it is puzzling how low-energy House Democrats have been at pursuing Trump’s multiple scandals — and his tax returns!

At the same time, Democrats need to sell their policy agenda. For the most part, concerns that they’re moving too far left are, I believe, overblown: centrists may be horrified at proposals to raise taxes on the wealthy and expand social benefits, and they may imagine that the nation as a whole shares their horror. But polling actually shows that such proposals are highly popular.

The one thing that worries me is the rush to embrace a purist version of “Medicare for all” that eliminates private insurance. That seems like an unnecessary political risk on an issue where Democrats have a huge inherent advantage, since there are less disruptive ways to achieve universal coverage.

So can Democrats walk and chew gum at the same time? Can they run mainly on things Americans want, like guaranteed health care, while also reminding voters that a terrible person occupies the White House? The fate of the republic may hinge on the answer.

 

 

 

 

 

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.