Tag Archives: Rand Paul

The Republican Party is a Terrorist Organization

The Republican Party is a terrorist organization, unwilling, apparently, to convict a known terrorist for inciting insurrection, unwilling, evidently, to purge terrorists within its ranks, and, unwilling, ostensibly, to condemn the lies that aid and abet terrorism. It pains me to conclude that one of our nation’s two major political parties is a terrorist organization, but facts are facts. 

The Senate vote Tuesday on the constitutionality of proceeding with the trial of former president Donald Trump signals that the proceedings likely will end with Trump’s acquittal on the charge of inciting the January 6 riot at the Capitol. The evidence against Trump is overwhelming, and more emerges almost daily. His constant lies about electoral fraud and his tweets urging his followers to come to Washington to contest the certification of electors along with his speech just prior to the mob storming the Capitol prove his culpability. But, 45 of the 50 Republican Senators agreed with Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, that there is no constitutional basis for trying a former president.

Most constitutional scholars disagree, and precedents exist for the impeachment and trial of officials who no longer hold office. Democrats believe a trial is justified, arguing that Trump must be held accountable for his role in the riot. Conviction also can be followed by a vote to bar Trump from ever holding office again. 

By raising a bogus constitutional issue, Republicans have given themselves a public relations out for voting to acquit. They can get credit among hard-core Trumpistas for not voting against their cult hero, while saying to more moderate Republicans that they merely acted on constitutional grounds without assessing Trump’s guilt. As a political dodge, the argument on constitutionality may work; from a moral perspective, any vote to acquit puts the Republican Party on the side of terrorists. Historical accountability will be severe for the GOP.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has played his usual duplicitous role in the run up to the Senate trial. After the January 6 riot, McConnell announced that Trump had “provoked” the mob, suggesting he favored impeachment. But, in the week after the House impeached Trump on January 13, while he was still majority leader, McConnell refused to reconvene the Senate, guaranteeing that the trial would occur after Trump left office and paving the way for Paul’s cynical constitutional gambit.

I suppose it is conceivable for a senator to vote against the constitutionality of a trial and then turn around and vote to convict Trump. A public official may have constitutional qualms about an issue, but once the question of constitutionality is resolved by the appropriate authority, that official must do his duty according to the law. Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman, who is not running for reelection in 2022, but still voted with the majority of Republicans against going to trial, says, “But I’ve not made me mind up, I’m a juror.” But, it is going to be a heavy lift for Democrats to persuade at least 17 Republicans to vote for convicting Trump.

Republicans condoning terrorism goes beyond the Senate vote. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who said Trump “bears responsibility” for the attack on the Capitol, traveled to Florida Thursday to grovel before Trump in an attempt to mend relations. It may be one thing for Republicans in the Senate to vote to acquit on the spurious argument that a trial of a former president is divisive, but it is quite another to actually cozy up to Trump-the-terrorist. Apparently, congressional Republicans believe placating Trump is the key to winning elections. “We cannot take the House and the Senate back without his help. That’s just a fact,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina. Of course, with Trump in the White House, Republicans lost the House in 2018, and with Trump at the head of the ticket, Republicans lost the presidency and the Senate in 2020. That is a whole lot of help, Senator!

McCarthy seems amenable to rewarding terrorists. He placed Representative Majorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who identifies with the QAnon cult and refers to deadly school shootings as “false-flag” operations by gun-control advocates, on the House Education and Labor Committee. Greene should be condemned, not rewarded, by the House GOP leadership for liking a comment on her Facebook page saying “a bullet to the head would be quicker” in removing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Greene also liked comments about executing FBI agents, who she believes are part of the “deep state” working against Trump. Urging the assassination of the speaker and the execution of agents of the federal government are terrorist acts. Greene should be removed from all House posts, and Republicans should purge her from the party. Action should be taken against other terrorists within Republican ranks, such as Alabama Representative Mo Brooks, who said, at the rally before the storming of the Capitol, that January 6 was the day “American patriots start… kicking ass.” Similarly, some form of punishment is warranted for those members of Congress who encouraged and may have aided the mob.

Republicans have been complicit spreading lies that fuel terrorist acts. House and Senate Republicans did Trump’s bidding by lying about electoral fraud. Eight Republican senators and two-thirds of the Republican House caucus voted to overturn the election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania after the riot that endangered them. All but 10 Republicans voted against impeaching Trump, despite evidence that his actions put their lives at risk on January 6. 

Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney harshly condemned his colleagues for failing to disown the lies about electoral fraud. “I say, first of all, have you gone out publicly and said that there was not widespread voter fraud that Joe Biden is the legitimate president of the United States?” the former presidential candidate asked. “If you said that, then I’m happy to listen to you talk about other things that might inflame anger and divisiveness.” But, Romney asserts, do not claim a trial or condemnation of terrorists within the Republican Party is divisive, while continuing to spread lies.

Republicans must hold Trump accountable for his role in the terrorist attack on the our nation’s Capitol, condemn the terrorists in their ranks, and repudiate their own lies about the election. Failure to do so brands the Republican Party as a terrorist organization.

Posted January 29, 2021

A Muddled Story

The president who called himself an “extremely stable genius” and boasted he has “the best words” and promised, as a candidate, to “hire the best people” heads a team that cannot agree on an explanation of the rationale for killing General Qassem Suleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Quds force. President Donald Trump and his aides say they had to kill Suleimani because he was planning an “imminent” attack. When pressed, they cannot define “imminent.” Then, they spoke of multiple attacks. What were the targets of those “imminent,” or perhaps not so “imminent,” attacks? They could not say, then gave conflicting answers. Perhaps, it was not about “imminent” attacks after all, but about Suleimani’s murderous past. Or, maybe he was plotting an attack on an American embassy. Maybe four embassies. Maybe not.

And, then, Trump suggested the United States acted to eliminate a bad guy. “The Fake News Media and their Democrat Partners are working hard to determine whether or not the future attack by terrorist Soleimani was ‘imminent’ or not, & was my team in agreement. The answer to both is a strong YES., but it doesn’t really matter because of his horrible past!” Trump tweeted. This version dovetails with a report from NBC News that Trump authorized the killing of Suleimani seven months ago if Iranian aggression led to the death of an American. 

There was a time — up to the end of 2019 — when many people who find Trump abhorrent and his policies malevolent took solace in the belief that he was also incompetent. No matter how evil his intentions, he and his aides could be counted on to gum up the works. Trump’s time in the White House might be a stain on American history, but, in the end, he would not do lasting harm because he was too lazy, too unfocused, and too blundering to accomplish much.

The “incompetence” theory always had a fallacy at its core, for it ignored the possibility that even amateurish officials can do great harm. Now, granted, in many aspects of governance, bad decisions may inconvenience some and may set back progress for a time, but the replacement of the incompetent with capable officials eventually restores health to the body politic. But, when it comes to matters of war and peace, incompetence, obviously, is not only dangerous, but deadly. The world has witnessed many occasions when nations stumbled into war because of miscalculations and false assumptions. The events of June and July 1914 provide ample evidence of the tragic consequences of international bumbling. 

Trump, it appears, ordered the killing of Suleimani because he is obsessed with Iran and fears, on his watch, another embassy crisis like the one that undid Jimmy Carter’s presidency. He also fears a repeat of the 2012 Benghazi attack, so when he viewed, on his favorite network, the storming of the American Embassy in Baghdad, his visceral reaction was to lash out at Iran. That is why, when presented with options on possible responses, Trump chose the most extreme of the choices, much to the shock of his advisers who offered the killing of Suleimani in the hope the president would select something else from the menu. 

Apparently, Trump ordered the murder of Suleimani without hard and fast intelligence on what the Iranian general was plotting and without serious consideration of Iran’s possible reaction. It is fascinating that the president who discounts a mountain of intelligence accusing Russia of interfering with American elections past and future is so quick to accept the intelligence of “imminent” attacks. Of course, we do not know if that is what the intelligence really showed or it is what the Trump team wants us to believe the intelligence indicated.

Trump and his aides simply cannot get the story straight, suggesting the intelligence is unclear, at best. The latest inconsistency in the account comes following Trump’s claim on Fox News that Iran, under the aegis of Suleimani, was  planning an attack on four U.S. embassies. But, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who appears increasingly uncomfortable in his role, disputed the notion that there was hard intelligence suggesting the targeting of multiple embassies. “I didn’t see one with regard to four embassies,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday. 

Surely, if the evidence were incontrovertible, the president and the defense secretary would be able to agree on a version of events. Their inability to do so suggests, at best, that the intelligence was murky, and, at worst, that Trump reacted, then sought a justification. And, a justification must, under international law, rest on evidence of an imminent threat. The United Nations Charter decrees that nations cannot use force in a third country without its consent except in response to an armed attack or a threat of an imminent armed attack. As one former lawyer on the National Security Council under President George W. Bush told The New York Times, “…under international law, the attack on Suleimani would not have been lawful unless he presented an imminent threat.”

The muddled explanations are so absurd that even some Republicans have joined Democrats in criticizing the administration. Democrats — and Republican Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky — have said the administration has not provided evidence in classified briefings to support the claim of an “imminent” attack. Even some Pentagon officials say privately they are unaware of any intelligence suggesting a large-scale assault on embassies was about to occur. Nevertheless, Trump sycophants — former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley most notoriously — have suggested that questioning the president is tantamount to supporting terrorists. That is a malicious canard reminiscent of the worst excesses of McCarthyism. 

So, we are left with a president who may, or may not, have received intelligence suggesting an “imminent” attack on an embassy or multiple embassies. Trump cites that evidence even though no one else privy to American intelligence can verify his version of events. The United States and Iran appear to have stepped back from the brink of war, but the situation in the region remains volatile. That is worrisome when contemplating what the “stable genius” in control of the American military might do next.

Posted January 14, 2020

The GOP and Political Cynicism

Here is a thought game that may give you a headache: What was the worst part of the last GOP effort to repeal and replace Obamacare: The cynicism, the lies, or the cruelty?

Actually, it is difficult to discuss the latest version of the contemptible Cassidy-Graham bill because its authors kept changing the language in an attempt to win over wavering Republican senators. The effort to buy the votes of Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was not only shameful, it also announced precisely what was wrong with the bill in the first place. By offering doubtful senators more money for their states, Senators Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina made their draft more like Obamacare with guarantees of Medicaid assistance for people who cannot afford health insurance premiums. Why not, then, just keep Obamacare? Perhaps, even, work with Democrats to make it better?

Cassidy-Graham was an exercise in political cynicism so naked that it shocks, even in this age of political dysfunction and out-of-control partisanship. Most Republican senators, apparently, understood that the bill was disastrous. Yet, the vast majority of GOP senators supported Cassidy-Graham because they feared the political repercussions of doing nothing. Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa admitted as much when he told reporters that there were 10 good reasons to keep Cassidy-Graham off the floor, but then said Republicans should proceed because of their long-standing promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. “Republicans campaigned on this so often that you have a responsibility to carry out what you said in the campaign,” Grassley said. “That’s pretty much as much of a reason as the substance of the bill.” Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas was even blunter: “If we do nothing, it has a tremendous impact on the 2018 elections, and whether or not Republicans still maintain control and we have the gavel.”

There, in a nutshell, was why Republicans were rushing a bill to the floor without serious consideration of its impact on the national healthcare system, individual consumers, and those already sick. The GOP risked upending one-sixth of the economy because, well, it said it would do something. According to Carl Hulse of The New York Times, Republican inability to live up to the party’s promise to undo Obamacare has dried up fundraising. “Donors are furious,” Colorado Senator Cory Gardner told fellow Republican senators recently. “We haven’t kept our promise.”

Republican donors may be angry with the party for doing nothing, but most voters seem just fine with the GOP’s inability to repeal Obamacare. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that 56 percent of Americans preferred Obamacare to Cassidy-Graham. Only 33 percent favored the bill that Republican senators backed only because their dwindling base and the conservative donor class wanted something done.

On healthcare, Republicans are trapped by the lies they have told about Obamacare for seven years. They called Obamacare socialized medicine, when, in truth, it is a conservative healthcare plan that utilizes the private market, regulated by the government, to encourage as many people as possible to buy health insurance. (Since the GOP has labelled Obamacare socialized medicine, it is going to be out of epithets when Democrats, someday, enact truly socialized medicine.)  Republicans promised cheaper premiums and elimination of the individual mandate without denying anyone insurance because of pre-existing conditions. Republicans had no idea how to fulfill those promises because it cannot be done. They lied all along about repeal and replace because the lies appealed to the grass roots and donors. Now, as the lies are being exposed, the grass roots are beginning to like Obamacare, and the donors are fleeing.

So, instead of just lying, Republicans tried to pass legislation that would have resulted in millions losing health insurance under the cover of darkness. How many millions is not known because the rush to consider the bill prevented the Congressional Budget Office from doing a full-scale analysis of its impact before a vote. The unseemly haste was too much for Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona. “I believe we could do better working together, Republicans and Democrats, and have not yet really tried,” McCain said. “Nor could I support it without knowing how much it will cost, how it will affect insurance premiums, and how many people will be helped or hurt by it.”

Deep down, McCain knew that millions would be hurt by this cruel piece of legislation. The senator from Arizona is an honorable man who believes in the traditions of the Senate, and he was offended by the bill’s sponsors’ attempt to defy Senate rules and practices. Cassidy-Graham was an instance of blatant political cynicism defended only by a veil of lies that caught up with the GOP.  It appears dead as of now, thank goodness.

Posted September 26, 2017

 

An Unwanted Child

The gestation period was a long seven years, the delivery difficult, and when the child arrived, the parents thought it so ugly they hid it in the cellar. Even now, the child is shrouded, allowing viewers only an occasional glimpse. It may not be long before the parents — House Republicans and the president — disown the unwanted child. The clue may come when the president begins referring to the baby as “Ryancare” in honor of House Speaker Paul Ryan.

“Nobody knew healthcare could be so complicated,” President Trump said late last month. Actually, the only one who did not know was the clueless president. Everyone else knew, which is why it has taken Republicans seven years to come up with a replacement and why they hid the replacement in a GOP-only “reading room” in the Capitol, though available only to some Republicans, as they denied entry to read the bill to Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. Drafting a healthcare bill that retains the popular parts of Obamacare — children may remain on their parents’ plan until age 26 and no denying coverage for pre-existing conditions — while doing away with the individual mandate yet keeping coverage affordable for people who need it proved so difficult that Republicans leaders did not want anyone to see their genetically mutated baby. And, even after introducing the bill, the House leadership rushed it through committees. The House Ways and Means approved it at 4:30 Thursday morning, before the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office weighs in on the cost of the legislation and the number of people who will lose insurance.

The good news in this sorry mess — if there is any good news — is that the Republican legislation, dubbed the American Health Care Act (AHCA — not to be confused with the Affordable Care Act [ACA], or, perhaps, confusion is intended by the authors of the bill) is that the legislation may not pass. Democrats, of course, will vote in lockstep to defeat it, but Republicans have the votes to ram the AHCA through Congress — if they stay united. That’s a big if, for already the long knives are out on the right and among moderates in the GOP. In the House, the self-styled Freedom Caucus objects to Trumpcare. “It’s Obamacare in different format,” says Representative Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio. Representative Louis Gohmert, a Texas Republican, likened the bill to “horse excrement.” Congressional right-wingers — backed by the Heritage Foundation and the Club for Growth — object to three provisions in the AHCA: the continuation of Medicaid expansion until 2020; the failure to repeal immediately all of the ACA’s tax increases; and, the guarantee of refundable tax credits to help people buy insurance. Arch-conservatives view tax credits as “a new entitlement.”

Ryan promises passage in the House. He may be overly optimistic, but even if the legislation gets through the lower chamber, it faces a difficult road in the upper where three GOP factions oppose key parts of the AHCA. First, a group of western and midwestern Republican senators — from states that accepted the expansion of Medicaid to insure the poor — fears the wrath of constituents who will lose their recently acquired Medicaid coverage. Second, quasi-libertarians — Rand Paul of Kentucky, in particular — agree with the House Freedom Caucus that the proposal is “a new entitlement.” Third, moderate Republicans — Susan Collins of Maine heads this faction — object to the defunding of Planned Parenthood, which provides needed healthcare for poor women. If Republicans lose just three votes in the Senate, the AHCA is doomed.

Like all legislation, the AHCA has winners — the young, the healthy, and the wealthy — and losers — the old, the poor, and the sick. The young and the healthy no longer face penalties for not buying insurance (a consequence of the abolition of the individual mandate), and the wealthy receive huge tax breaks amounting to a massive redistribution of wealth (a key to understanding most, if not all, Republican actions).

The old lose because premiums rise with age faster than the increase in tax credits that is intended as an offset. People over 55 would be most affected, which means that Medicare would be accepting sicker people in the future, increasing pressure on the insurance plan for the elderly. That consequence is intended, because the sooner Medicare goes into crisis — a deliberate byproduct of the AHCA — the quicker “entitlement hawks” like Ryan can turn it into a voucher program.

The Republican proposal phases out federal subsidies to states to fund Medicaid expansion, making the poor clear losers. And, the sick lose because without the individual mandate — forcing young, healthy people into the insurance marketplace — premiums will rise for those who need insurance the most. And for the poor who are sick, the new legislation would be a nightmare. The proposal not only ends Medicaid expansion, it would change how Medicaid is funded, resulting in less money becoming available to the states for healthcare. States would be in the unenviable position of deciding who gets how much medical care. That is called rationing healthcare, and it is why so many Republican governors are squeamish about the AHCA. Remember, rationing was one of the (false) battle-cries of the anti-ACA crowd back in the day — that, and “death panels.”

Since the GOP proposal reduces coverage and makes insurance less affordable, Republicans have to sell it by arguing that Obamacare is on the verge of collapse. That is simply false. Premiums rose for 2017, but the evidence suggests that was a one-time rate hike. Millions who previously did not have insurance now are covered by the ACA, the exchanges are stable, and the ballooning increases in the cost of medical care have been slowed. The ACA, in other words, is working, which is why the program now has widespread support.

Any health insurance proposal that leaves the poor and the sick worse off is a bad proposal. After all, the point of health insurance is to spread the cost of healthcare around — to redistribute healthcare, if you will — so that healthy people invest in coverage to guarantee healthcare for the unhealthy. The Republicans’ “magic formula” for replacing Obamacare turns out to be a weak remix of Obamacare: Covering fewer people while charging them more and giving an enormous tax cut to the rich. Trumpcare is, indeed, an unwanted child.

Or, make that Ryancare.

Posted March 10, 2017

Welcome to the Resistance, Sen. McCain — But Where Is the Rest of the GOP?

“The first thing that dictators do is shut down the press,” Senator John McCain told Chuck Todd of Meet the Press. “We need to learn the lessons of history.”

The Arizona Republican was responding to President Trump’s tweet in which he called the press, “The enemy of the American people.” McCain was quick to say he was not calling Trump a dictator. McCain clearly expressed concern about the authoritarian tendencies of the new administration, however, and noted the importance of the press in a free society.

Trump’s disregard for the First Amendment to the Constitution is reprehensible, but perhaps even more reprehensible is the silence of most Republicans on the excesses of the president. With the exception of McCain, Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Ben Sasse of Nebraska, and perhaps one or two more, most Senate Republicans and the entire contingent of the party of Lincoln in the House have made a Faustian bargain — supporting Trump because they believe he will give them their agenda: Tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation of banks and polluters, and a dismantling of social programs. But, like all Faustian bargains, this one is not likely to end well.

The Senate has confirmed all of Trump’s cabinet nominees except for one, Labor Secretary-nominee Andrew Puzder, whose vileness became so apparent that he had to withdraw his name from consideration after several Senate Republicans indicated they would not vote to approve him. Billionaire Betsy DeVos was confirmed as secretary of education, with Vice President Pence casting the tie-breaking vote, despite her abysmal confirmation hearing performance. DeVos displayed a shocking degree of ignorance about education policy, and she has serious ethical problems, but neither of those considerations moved enough Republicans to abandon her. Nor were Republicans bothered by Jeff Sessions’ ugly, racist past. The GOP confirmed him as attorney general, ignoring the upper chamber’s vote three decades ago to deny Sessions a federal judgeship.

Most Senate Republicans are willing to follow the dictates of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who told The Washington Post recently that he puts up with Trump’s itchy Twitter finger because he likes the president’s conservative policies, especially his nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch for a seat on the Supreme Court. “I like what he’s doing more than what he’s saying, frequently,” McConnell said. “So I kind of draw a distinction between his desire to comment on a lot of things, seemingly on a daily basis, and what we’re actually trying to accomplish here.”

Few Senate Republicans show an interest in a broad investigation of the overarching questions hanging over the Trump administration: What role did Russia play in the election and why is Donald Trump so willing to make excuses for Russian misbehavior? Senator Rand Paul, McConnell’s fellow Kentuckian, summed up Republican reluctance to probe Trump’s Russia ties: “I just don’t think it’s useful to be doing investigation after investigation, particularly of your own party. We’ll never even get started with doing the things we need to do, like repealing Obamacare, if we’re spending our whole time having Republicans investigate Republicans. It makes no sense.”

In the House, Republicans are lockstep with the president. The GOP House leadership, Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, show no interest in bucking Trump. Before January 20, Jason Chaffetz of Utah, chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, would have investigated a ham sandwich if it were a Democratic ham sandwich. But now, does he care about Trumpian conflicts of interest? Not so much, saying he will not lead a “fishing expedition.” Trump’s attack on Nordstrom for discontinuing daughter Ivanka’s merchandise? Not a “big deal” said Chaffetz, who added, “I think the president has the right to weigh in on his opinion of things, and especially as it relates to his children.” As for those pesky Russian contacts — no need to investigate because the “situation has taken care of itself.”

House Republicans agree with their Senate Republican counterparts that Trump’s support for the party’s conservative ideology excuses much. But, House Republicans also fear political repercussions if they challenge a Republican president. The greatest threat to GOP members of Congress, most of whom come from safely Republican seats, is a primary challenge. That is why Ryan could say in 2015 that a Muslim ban “is not what this party stands for,” only to back one now. Ryan, like most of his colleagues, is more vulnerable to a primary challenger than to a Democrat in the general election.

Those political calculations could change if Trump’s already low approval ratings fall significantly lower. Then, the political risks of blindly following a president who pits Americans against Americans might become too great to bear. In addition, Republicans have to calculate the existential risk of supporting a party leader who stokes fear, shows little respect for constitutional checks and balances, lies pathologically, and calls the press “the enemy of the American people.” There is, after all, the matter of one’s reputation and the verdict of history.

Not terribly long ago, in 1974, to be precise, Republicans stood up to a president of their own party who broke the law and shattered the Constitution. The realization that Richard Nixon was, all his protestations aside, “a crook” led some House Republicans on the Judiciary Committee to vote to impeach the president. In the Senate, Republican Howard Baker of Tennessee asked the crucial question, “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” And, Barry Goldwater of Arizona had the courage to tell Nixon that he would not prevail in a Senate trial, forcing the president’s resignation.

Watergate was a serious crisis, and Richard Nixon was sinister, but the scandal did not involve a president in cahoots with a foreign power. Republicans will not be able to keep the lid on current investigations of Trump’s Russian connections for long. No one knows where the probes will lead, but should they prove damaging, who will be today’s Goldwater?

Senator McCain, your greatest moment may be ahead.

Posted February 21, 2017

Happy New Year!

The good news: 2016, an awful year, is almost over. The bad news: 2017 promises to be worse.

Why? Because on January 20, 2017, Donald J. Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States. That should frighten everyone, including Trump voters.

Trump’s divisive campaign unleashed a torrent of hatred across the nation, pitting ethnic, racial, and religious groups against one another. Instead of tamping down the demons of bigotry during the transition, he undertook a victory tour through many of the states he won, thanking his voters — whom he called “the people that love this country” — while failing, for the most part, to reach out to those who voted for his opponent. Given that he lost the popular vote, a little humility on Trump’s part might have been in order. But then again, no one has ever accused The Donald of humility.

Democrats have indicated a willingness to work with the incoming president on a bill to repair the nation’s crumbling infrastructure (making up for votes Trump loses among GOP deficit hawks), but after that, there does not appear to be much room for cooperation between Democrats and the new administration. But, Democratic opposition may not be Trump’s biggest headache. He may have difficulty keeping the Republican Party from splintering.

An early clue as to Trump’s relations with his own party may surface during the hearings to confirm his cabinet-level appointees. While several of his appointees are controversial, the nomination of Rex Tillerson for secretary of state may set the tone. Tillerson’s ties to Russian autocrat Vladmir Putin will dominate the Tillerson confirmation process. It is possible several Republican senators, such as Jeff Flake of Arizona, Marco Rubio of Florida, and Rand Paul of Kentucky, may object to Tillerson when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee votes. If Tillerson’s nomination makes it to the Senate floor, GOP senators such as John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina may bolt. Both men have little regard for Trump, and both are deeply suspicious of Putin’s geopolitical ambitions.

Trump will likely mollify Republicans initially by appointing a conservative to the open seat on the Supreme Court. After that, who knows? Many Republicans question Trump’s Republican bona fides. Trump was a Democrat most of his adult life, and his rhetoric on the campaign trail was often both contradictory and far from Republican orthodoxy. He promised to retain the social safety net, which must cause House Speaker Paul Ryan heart palpitations since Ryan is committed to eviscerating Medicare and Social Security. Both Trump and congressional Republicans claim to favor a quick repeal of Obamacare, but Trump, who has said he wants to retain some parts of the existing plan, may object to the plan his colleagues enact.

Public protests likely will become common should Trump fulfill his more controversial campaign promises, such as mass deportation of undocumented workers and implementation of a registry for Muslim immigrants. Many will find the prospect of federal officials raiding homes in search of potential deportees chilling, and anyone concerned about civil liberties will object to a registry.

Republicans in Congress may go along with deportations and a registry, but they may balk at Trump’s protectionism. Free trade has long been one of the GOP’s core principles. But, the core of Trump’s constituency believes it has suffered from the loss of jobs overseas and unfair trade practices, and Trump the candidate wooed them with the threat of retaliatory tariffs. Many Republicans in Congress will object to protectionist policies.

Trump’s supporters could suffer if he achieves a repeal of Obamacare and installs tariffs against nations like China. The biggest beneficiaries of healthcare reform come from demographic groups that voted heavily for Trump, and they may resent the loss of affordable health insurance. Retaliatory trade policies may save a few jobs in the short run — a very few — but they will also raise the price of goods most people buy and could lead to an inflationary spiral. Trump’s very successes might cause a slippage in his poll numbers and that would give Republicans cover to oppose him on other issues and to investigate the conflicts of interest that are sure to arise given Trump’s apparent unwillingness to separate himself completely from his businesses.

Now, for the truly scary part: A Trump under fire domestically might be tempted to undertake a foreign venture as a diversionary tactic to unify the nation. Even without such a temptation, Trump lacks the temperament, understanding, and knowledge to inspire confidence that he will handle foreign affairs in a careful and prudent manner. He already has ruffled the feathers of the Chinese by potentially undermining the one-China policy by having a telephone conversation with the Taiwanese president and making threats on trade. He has indicated a tilt in Middle East policy towards Israel that protects the security of neither Israel nor the United States and undermines the two-state policy Democratic and Republican administrations have pursued for decades. Trump’s fondness for Putin may encourage the Russian strongman to undertake aggressive polices. How will President Trump respond to Russian moves against the Baltic states that are members of NATO?

Scarier still: Trump has his finger on the nuclear arsenal. Even scarier: He casually has suggested — via a tweet — the United States needs to build up its nuclear arsenal. American policy for decades has been to discourage nuclear proliferation and encourage the nuclear powers to disarm. Now, in 2016, a president-elect comes along who appears comfortable with a return to the nuclear arms race. Putin has already chimed in saying he desires an increase in Russia’s nuclear strength as well. The world has become a more dangerous place since November 8.

And, I did not even discuss the dangers to the planet the new administration poses.

Happy New Year!

Posted December 30, 2016

Doom and Gloom on the Campaign Trail

You do not need to watch a vampire movie these days to be scared; just listening to the Republican candidates talk for a few minutes is enough to convince any sane mortal that the apocalypse is around the corner, or might even be upon us.

The biggest purveyor of doom and gloom has been Donald Trump. His campaign slogan — “Make America Great Again” — implies America is not great now. Do many Americans really believe that? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Regardless, Trump keeps peddling the doom and gloom, and people flock to his rallies while he maintains a double-digit lead in the polls.

“We’re not respected as a nation anymore,” Trump said in the last Republican presidential debate of 2015. “We don’t have that level of respect that we need. And if we don’t get it back fast, we’re just going to go weaker, weaker, and just disintegrate.” America is in such bad shape, Trump says, because “nothing works in our country,” and he warned the nation is headed toward “disaster.” In his raucous campaign announcement in June, Trump said, “Our country is in serious trouble. We don’t have victories anymore. We used to have victories, but we don’t have them. When was the last time anybody saw us beating, let’s say, China in a trade deal? They kill us.”

Doom and gloom works; just check out the polls on RealClear Politics. But, doom and gloom married to fear is more potent still. And fear is certainly part of Trump’s rhetoric, as it is for virtually all the Republican candidates. Trump launched his campaign by describing the image of supposed Mexican criminals, rapists, and drug dealers pouring across the southwestern border. In subsequent months, following the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Trump added fear of the Islamic State abroad and Muslims at home to the mix.

The other GOP candidates have joined Trump in hawking a bleak outlook. Retired pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson compared the United States to a patient “in critical condition.” Jeb Bush accused President Obama of creating “the most unstable situation we’ve had since the World War II era,” and Senator Rand Paul suggested the United States is on the brink of World War III. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie claims “people across this country… are scared to death.”

The transformation of Senator Marco Rubio from an optimist to just another Republican pessimist shows how the spirit of Trump seized the Republican Party. Rubio started his campaign with the slogan, “A New American Century.” But that Rubio has disappeared from the campaign trail, replaced by a candidate who believes America is “a nation in decline” and who has accused the president of destroying “our military” while waging an ineffective battle against terrorists.

All of this doom and gloom is a far cry from the sunny optimism, perhaps naiveté, of Ronald Reagan. From the time he entered politics until he left the Oval Office, Reagan likened America to “a shining city on a hill” and a “beacon” for all seeking freedom. “It certainly is curious that Trump aligns himself so much with Reagan, yet is running a campaign that is antagonistic to Reagan’s glowing optimism,” noted Matt Motyl, a political psychologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

In 1980, Reagan’s optimism helped him defeat President Jimmy Carter in an election held in the midst of a recession and the unfolding Iranian hostage crisis. Carter spoke of an “erosion of confidence in the future [that] is threatening to destroy the social and political fabric of America.” The incumbent repeated his sober message frequently. “I cannot promise you everything will be better from this moment forward, that there will be no more sacrifice, because there will. And I will not lie to you and say that all is right in the world, because it’s not, or all right in our nation, because it’s not.” Reagan’s sunny disposition offered a stark contrast with Carter’s “crisis of confidence.” In accepting the Republican presidential nomination in July 1980, Reagan said, “I utterly reject that view… [that says] the United States has had its days in the sun, that our nation has passed its zenith.”

Reagan often adopted a preachy and moralizing tone, but for a nation troubled by recession, humiliated by Iran’s holding of its diplomats, and locked in a Cold War with a nuclear-armed adversary, his words were reassuring, and they transcended the issues of the day. Reagan sensed that most Americans wanted to hear of the greatness to come rather than the despair of the past.

In this election cycle, doom and gloom has worked so far. But no votes have been cast, and Trump and the GOP candidates who emulate him are trying to rev up a base that believes the worst of the current occupant of the Oval Office and is convinced that he has led the nation into decline. But will Trump’s brand of pessimism work in a general election? Will it appeal to independent voters? Terrifying imagery and language may succeed when the candidates are appealing to mostly conservative voters in the caucuses and primaries, but the general election, when the two parties will be vying for independent voters, is still 11 months away. That is a long time to try to motivate people by fear and doom and gloom.

Posted January 12, 2016

It’s Debatable

In the coming days there will be much discussion of who “won” and who “lost” Wednesday night’s debate. The pundits will analyze up one side and down the other whether Donald Trump’s ignorance of the issues hurts him (probably not, but more on that later) and whether candidates in free fall in the polls — Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Scott Walker, Chris Christie — salvaged their campaigns. And there will much evaluating the performances of the other, that is, non-Trump, outside politicians — Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson.

 

But one thing is sure: Three hours is too long for a debate, at least a debate like this one. The Lincoln and Douglas debates lasted three hours (the first candidate spoke for an hour, the other got an hour-and-a-half, and then the first candidate had a thirty minute rebuttal) on seven occasions during their epic 1858 battle for a Senate seat from Illinois. But Lincoln and Douglas were not in attendance at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, and the debate sputtered on for far too long. And I love politics.

In the “winners” category: Fiorina had her moments. Her riposte to Trump over his comment, “Look at that face: Would anybody vote for that?” and his later claim that he was only speaking of her “persona,” will become a classic debate moment. ”I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said,” Fiorina jabbed. She touched a chord among conservatives with her denunciation of Planned Parenthood (though she cited evidence of the organization’s perfidy from a video that does not exist. In other words, she made it up). And, she was emotional when she talked about burying a stepchild because of drug addiction.

Marco Rubio fared well, though he suffered in the second debate as in the first from limited speaking time. But the Florida senator used what time he had well, showing knowledge of foreign affairs. His one misstep was an ill-conceived and tacky remark about bringing his own water to drought-stricken California. Fellow Senator Ted Cruz demonstrated an ability to say what the conservative base of the Republican Party likes to hear: Bashing Obamacare, attacking Supreme Court justices (including conservative justice John Roberts), and lashing into the Republican congressional leadership. Jeb Bush, who appeared to sleep in the first two hours, when viewership was probably higher, had a good line near the end when he admitted smoking marijuana 40 years ago. “I’m sure that other people might have done it and may not want to say it in front of 25 million people. My mom’s not happy that I just did.”

Rand Paul had a good moment when he clashed with Chris Christie over the enforcement of federal drug laws in states that have legalized the use of pot. Other than that, Paul disappeared from the debate except for some well-considered remarks regarding the use of force in foreign affairs. Speaking of Paul, he and Ben Carson, the two medical doctors on the stage, gave tepid responses to Trump’s linking vaccinations with autism. Carson, who did not have a good debate, indicated that there are no studies demonstrating a correlation between the two, but then went on to dilute his position by criticizing the government for allegedly encouraging unneeded vaccinations. When pressed by the moderator, Carson refused to tell Trump to stop pushing bad science. Paul did not fare any better. Both should have said the obvious: The science on the benefit of vaccines is clear. To suggest otherwise is to endanger public health and is irresponsible.

Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, and Scott Walker did fine with the time they had (they had the three lowest air times in the debate), but none of them impressed enough to nudge their way up in the polls.

And then there is Trump, who does not seem bound by the usual laws of politics. He was not as dominant this time as in the first debate, but he had his moments. His first comments were a gratuitous attack on Rand Paul’s looks (for an overweight, bloated man with bad hair, Trump is amazingly free with his comments about the appearances of other candidates). Trump tussled with Fiorina about their relative capabilities as business executives, and he and Jeb Bush had some angry exchanges. None of that is likely to affect Trump’s standing among voters. Nor is he likely to be harmed — at least among his followers — by his 15th-century comment on women: “I will take care of women. I respect women. I will take care of women.” The Democratic attack ad writes itself.

The most disturbing thing about Trump’s performance — and again it probably will not hurt him among his supporters — is his ignorance. He knows little about foreign affairs, suggesting that he will prevent Russian meddling in Syria because “I will get along — I think — with Putin.” Phew, I sure feel more secure now. He has little understanding of the nuances of Middle East power politics (Trump does not do nuance, after all). He explains away his ignorance by promising to “have great teams and great people.”

Trump promises to “make America great again,” but he never spells out how he will do that. He vows to deport 11 million undocumented workers but does not offer a plan for implementing their removal or discuss cost. Trump refuses to give details on virtually everything he promises, probably because his ignorance of the issues prevents him from discussing details and plans. But again, for his supporters, ignorance is not a liability. In fact, it probably enhances his status as a non-politician.

Wednesday’s debate is unlikely to shake up the GOP race very much. Perhaps, money will dry up for two or three of the undercard debaters, forcing them out of the race. For the rest, Trump likely will stay in the lead in the polls, and Fiorina may supplant Carson as his closest challenger. The rest likely will stay mired in single digits for now.

While there were no great revelations by any of the candidates, and truly none were expected, we did learn one thing: Three hours is too long.

Posted September 18, 2015

It’s Always About Donald

“I want to run as a Republican,” declared Donald Trump. But only, apparently, if Donald Trump is the Republican nominee.

The first question in the first Republican debate of the campaign season asked the candidates to raise their hand if they could not promise to support the eventual Republican nominee and if they could not promise not to run as a third-party candidate. Only Trump raised his hand, to many boos from the crowd in attendance at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, though it remains to be seen whether those who attended the debate reflect the GOP base. “I will not make the pledge at this time,” Trump said on the issue of taking a third-party candidacy off the table.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul immediately attacked. “That’s wrong, he buys and sells politicians of all stripes,” Paul said. “He’s already hedging his bet on the Clintons. So if he doesn’t run as a Republican, maybe he supports Clinton, or maybe he runs as an independent. But I’d say he’s already hedging his bets because he’s used to buying politicians.” Trump, by the way, conceded that point later on when he said he had donated money to all the candidates on the stage with him and that when “I call them, they are there for me.”

As expected, Trump was not only at the center of the stage, he was the center of the debate, for the most part. According to calculations by The New York Times, the real estate tycoon spoke for about two and half minutes more than the runner-up, Jeb Bush. Trump had almost three times as many opportunities to speak as Paul or Chris Christie.

Trump showed his contentious side when challenged by FOX News moderator Megyn Kelly about his comments on women. “You call women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals,” she said. “Only Rosie O’Donnell,” Trump countered. When Kelly asked how he would answer an inevitable charge from Democrats that he is part of the war on women, Trump responded, “I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct.” The audience applauded.

With his usual bravado, Trump claimed the only reason the candidates were discussing immigration was because he raised the issue. “If it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t even be talking about illegal immigration,” he claimed. “This was not a subject that was on anybody’s mind until I brought it up at my announcement.” But when asked for evidence that the government of Mexico is sending criminals across the border, Trump would only say, “Because our leaders are stupid. Our politicians are stupid.”

Only Rand Paul — who attacked Trump at the outset over his unwillingness to promise to support the eventual nominee — appeared willing to challenge Trump. Ohio Governor John Kasich — playing on his home court — was particularly obsequious on Trump and immigration. “Here is the thing about Donald Trump,” Kasich said. “Donald Trump is hitting a nerve in this country. He is. He’s hitting a nerve. People are frustrated. They’re fed up. They don’t think the government is working for them. And for people who want to just tune him out, they’re making a mistake.”

Kasich showed more courage late in the debate on the subject of gay marriage, which all the candidates oppose. “I am old fashioned,” he said in defense of his opposition to same-sex marriage. But, he added, the Supreme Court has ruled. Moreover, Kasich said, he recently attended a same-sex wedding, and if he had a gay daughter, he would love her. The audience cheered.

While most of the candidates were deferential to Trump, they were not always so to each other. The most notable dustup came in a renewal of an old controversy between Christie and Paul over the National Security Agency’s collection of phone records. Christie defended the practice. “This is not theoretical to me,” he said. “I went to the funerals. We lost friends of ours in the Trade Center that day. My own wife was two blocks from the Trade Center that day, at her office, having gone through it that morning.” Paul countered, “I want to collect more records from terrorists, but less records from innocent Americans.” To which Christie responded, “How are you supposed to know [who is a terrorist]?… Listen, senator, you know, when you’re sitting in a subcommittee, just blowing hot air about this, you can say things like that.” But the big applause line in the Paul-Christie exchange came when the Kentuckian said, “I don’t trust President Obama with our records. I know you gave him a big hug, and if you want to give him a big hug again, go right ahead.”

One of the strangest moments in the debate came when former pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson discussed basing the taxation system on tithing “because I think God is pretty fair guy. And he said, you know, if you give me a tithe, it doesn’t matter how much you make…. And that’s why I’ve advocated a proportional tax system. You make $10 billion, you pay a billion. You make $10, you pay one. And everybody gets treated the same way. And you get rid of the deductions, you get rid of all the loopholes.”

No one responded.

The undercard of the seven candidates who did not qualify for the primetime debate lacked fireworks, though Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas, appeared over-caffeinated and had a minor “oops” moment when he complained about money going to a country “that killed our marines in Lebanon” — then he paused before continuing — “that used their weapons to kill our young men in Iran.” It is not clear what country he actually meant.

If the early debate had a winner, it was Carly Fiorina, not so much for what she said but because she appeared poised and confident. As for some of the others, Lindsey Graham looked as if he had missed his afternoon nap, and Rick Santorum came off as angry (which he was for being relegated to the “Happy Hour” debate).

It remains to be seen whether Fiorina’s performance will lift her into the top tier of candidates at the next debate. It also remains to be seen whether the primetime debate shook up the crowded Republican field and whether Trump’s refusal to promise not to challenge the party nominee will affect his standing among his supporters. It certainly did not endear him to party regulars.

Posted August 7, 2016

Charles Koch, Comedian?

Charles Koch, it turns out, has a sense of humor. Who knew?

Humor must have been the intention of the older half of the super-wealthy Koch Brothers as he addressed 450 other super-wealthy conservatives assembled in the ballroom of the lavish St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point, California, which began this past weekend, to compare his political network to what he called other “freedom movements” in American history. He urged representatives from the top one-tenth of the top one percent in wealth to follow the lead of historic figures such as abolitionist Frederick Douglass, social reformer and women’s suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony, and civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr. “History demonstrates that when the American people get motivated by an issue of justice that they believe is just, extraordinary things can be accomplished,” Koch said. “Look at the American revolution, the anti-slavery movement, the women’s suffrage movement, the civil rights movement. All of these struck a moral chord with the American people. They all sought to overcome an injustice.”

Koch’s remarks came at the start of the semi-annual gathering of the donor network he and his brother created. The meetings set conservative priorities and explore how and on what to spend the network’s money. At the current gathering Koch and aides discussed plans to spend a whopping $889 million by the end of the 2016 election cycle on issue advocacy and political activity.

The comparison of their efforts to historic movements for social justice appears to be part of an effort by the Koch brothers to stress their concern for the disenfranchised and the poor. Of course, left unsaid at this past weekend’s gathering at the plush resort — and what must have had the savviest among the wealthy attendees chuckling — is the Koch brothers funding of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization in the forefront of conservative attempts to secure passage of voter ID laws restricting the right of the disenfranchised and the poor to vote. Voter ID laws — and other legal gimmicks curtailing voting — are aimed at society’s most vulnerable, the poor, minorities, and the aged — groups, it so happens, that are most likely to vote Democratic.

Of course, it is not clear if Charles Koch realizes the humor — if not the irony — in the comparison of his network of the most privileged Americans with movements on behalf of society’s most downtrodden. Surely, there is a disconnect in talking to billionaires and citing Frederick Douglass, who sought to free slaves. But there is a further disconnect in that the raison d’etre of the Koch brothers political activism is the demand for smaller government, while Douglass, King, and many others who fought for social justice often invoked the power of government on the side of the least fortunate. None of this deterred Koch from his historical comparisons. “We, too, are seeking to right injustices that are holding our country back.” Koch called his cause “a life-or-death struggle for our country,” and he asked the wealthy conservative donors, “Will you stand with us to help save our country?”

Only those who have donated at least $100,000 to Koch-backed groups are invited to the semi-annual conferences, which are just one indication of the increasing role of big money in American politics. Another indication: Fewer than four hundred families have donated half the money raised so far in the 2016 presidential campaign. The New York Times calls this “a concentration that is unprecedented in the modern era.”

The vast majority of almost $400 million donated to date has been funneled to super PACs, which — thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision — can accept unlimited contributions in support of candidates. The concentration of donors is greatest on the Republican side, making GOP presidential hopefuls dependent on a very small group of the very richest Americans. Just 130 families and their businesses have provided more than half the money raised through June by Republican candidates and their super PACs.

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a favorite of the tea party, has raised the most money from the fewest donors. Cruz-backing super PACs have hauled in $37 million, nearly all of it from just three families. One Texas billionaire gave $15 million to support Cruz, another gave $10 million. Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s super PAC has raised $16 million, of which $12.5 million came from four donors. Jeb Bush has collected an enormous war chest of $103 million, with 26 individuals or businesses contributing $1 million of more to his super PAC. Imagine the access such contributions can buy!

The lure of money enticed five GOP candidates to the Koch brothers’ California bash. Six Republicans were invited, but Rand Paul declined to attend, citing plans to campaign in Iowa instead. Carly Fiorina, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Jeb Bush showed up. Among the uninvited was Donald Trump, who is financing his campaign. Trump may have not been physically present, but his presence was felt. The New York mogul was much discussed among the attendees, most of whom do not believe Trump is serious or conservative and who fear he may hurt the eventual nominee.

On Twitter, Trump attacked his rivals who went to the Koch conference: “I wish good luck to all of the Republican candidates that traveled to California to beg for money etc. from the Koch Brothers. Puppets?”

The answer to that question is not funny.

Posted August 4, 2015