Should we applaud that a woman is likely to be nominated for president?

The Thinker by Rodin

Is it remarkable that a woman will finally be leading a presidential ticket in this election? Yes it is, primarily because it took so long for it to happen. This makes Hillary Clinton’s status of the presumed nominee of the Democratic Party something of an embarrassment too. It might have happened eight years ago but of course Barack Obama narrowly won that nomination, which was also historic for transgressing the color barrier. So while this one took some time, it does say something that it was the Democratic Party that managed to pull two such historic nominations in eight years. Alan Keyes, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina never really had much of a chance within their parties. As for Hillary, I noted eight years ago that a woman’s time was likely to come soon.

Still, it is somewhat disappointing that of all the women out there that Hillary Clinton would be the first to get the nod. I am not one of those Hillary haters and I will happily vote for her in November. She was one of our better secretaries of state but was only a so-so senator from New York. Of course as first lady she had the opportunity to understand how the White House works and that’s one of my disappointments. Hillary was the opposite of an outsider. Her success came from being an insider and having the support of powerful people, particularly her husband Bill. Yes, some of her success due to being effective (but sometime catastrophically wrong) in office, but mostly it’s due to opportunity. Not many women can be married to a president of the United States. Her path to senator was smoothed over due to Bill’s connections. Her most distinguished role is really as secretary of state. In this she was a surprise pick and turned out to be a good choice. Obama had every reason to throw her to the wolves, but did not.

Maybe that’s how it has to go for our first female presidential nominee. Maybe it would be too daunting to have happened any other way right now. I say this not because I think that women don’t have these skills, but connections and establishment trust are imperatives, at least within the Democratic Party, and those are harder for women politicians as they are fewer in number and tend to have been in office for shorter periods of time compared with male politicians. Certainly she broke a glass ceiling, but not alone. Bill and friends of Bill did a lot of the pushing for her.

Hillary has high negatives that I frankly don’t get. I certainly have concerns about her judgment. Setting up a private email server was quite stupid and a more astute politician would have not ignored these red flags. While stupid, it was forgivable. It’s understandable that Republicans want to make hay over the killing of our Libyan ambassador and two others, but it’s quite clear from all the evidence that what happened was not her fault. She was hardly a perfect secretary of state, but she was a competent one and navigated that fine line quite handily between being empowered and following direction from the president.

Of course our foreign policy could have been handled better during her tenure, but the same is true of every secretary of state. We cannot control foreign events. All any president and secretary of state can do it position military and diplomatic forces effectively to reduce the likelihood of conflict. Diplomacy is tough and it rarely makes headlines. It involves creating and maintaining effective international collations. Radical change in foreign policy such as Trump would implement tends to not really be a good option. You must deal with the realities across the globe in all their enduring messiness. You should strategically move resources to reduce the messiness if possible. This can be done through long-term proactive strategies and the limited short-term application of military and diplomatic muscle when they can be effectively leveraged, such as with Iran.

Regardless, our next president will be either her or Donald Trump. While the choice is pretty obvious to me it’s apparently not obvious to plenty of voters. Voters need someone else to look at to help in their decisions, which is why who Hillary picks as her running mate may actually matter for a change. I don’t expect her to pick Sanders; they temperamentally too different as Hillary is a pragmatist and Bernie is an idealist. To me her choice is obvious: my senator Elizabeth Warren. Warren is frankly a far better speaker and communicator than Hillary is. Like Sanders she has a gift of connecting viscerally with voters. It’s unclear if Warren would accept this offer, although she had not ruled it out. Party insiders expect someone more milquetoast to get the nod. Tim Kaine and Sherrod Brown are names being bandied about. A prominent Latina would make a lot of sense but at the moment there is no one aside from Warren that would really be ideal.

I pity the fool Trump picks as his running mate and it’s unclear how many would accept. Newt Gingrich is not so secretly running for the position, but perhaps is less in the running since he has overtly criticized Trump over his racist remarks about the Judge Curiel, who overseeing the Trump University case. My bet is that he chooses New Jersey governor Chris Christie, because they are both temperamentally the same (bullies) and are both from the northeast. It would not surprise me at all if both the vice presidential nominees come from the northeast, which would be quite surprising as my area of the country is hardly representative of the rest of the country. Of course, time will tell.

I don’t worry too much about Sanders voters ultimately voting for Trump for the same reason that pissed off Clinton voters ultimately came around and voted for Obama in 2008. Wounds tend to heal given some time and there are five months until the election. In addition, pretty much all Democrats like and trust Obama. As long as the economy doesn’t implode, his opinions will carry a lot of weight. Obama endorsed Hillary today and will go on the stump with her next week. There is no downside for Obama: his legacy depends on having a Democrat succeed him. As this is a very rare occurrence (it hasn’t happen after two or more full terms since Harry S Truman) pulling it off would be another feather in his cap.

I also don’t worry about Trump finding a “presidential” footing. Like a leopard, there’s no way to change his spots. He may be a bit more cautious about putting his foot in his mouth but it’s not hard to predict he’ll do more of that than not in the months ahead. It really felt like with the latest reactions to his comments on Judge Curiel, he has finally jumped the shark. His hardcore supports won’t waver, but he has made it infinitely harder to bring in those with any doubts.

Barring some major external event and even given Hillary’s negatives, I don’t worry too much about the election either. She hardly has it in the bag, but she is intelligent and focused. Trump shows no inclination to be strategic, to raise serious money, to support fellow candidates or to act presidential. He’s effectively thrown his dice already and given the velocity and the angle it’s not too hard to predict he’ll land snake eyes.

The game is now truly afoot.

The Trump trap

The Thinker by Rodin

Donald Trump has been punking a lot of people lately. The other week he punked his newest endorser New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who attended his rally in Ohio. Christie was there to encourage people to vote for Trump. While Christie was on stage with Trump, Trump said that Christie was flawed because he was an absentee governor, which is not hard to be when you are a governor running for president. A few days later his former rival and newest supporter Ben Carson crazily punked himself, saying Trump wasn’t so bad because there were “two Donald Trumps” and one was a nice guy you don’t see. That’s like an abused spouse publicly saying she wasn’t that upset when her husband beat her black and blue because he’s actually a sweetheart. That Trump can do stuff like this and get away with it suggests he is a master bully indeed, so good he can put other bullies in their place and fool partisans like Carson that he’s not as bad a candidate as he has proven to be. I mean: just wow!

Trump hasn’t won the Republican nomination yet and there is some chance he won’t get a majority of delegates, leading to a brokered convention. Trump has already predicted that if Republicans try to deny him the nomination because he has only a plurality of votes that “there will be riots” from his frustrated supporters. If there is a brokered convention I don’t expect it to succeed in blocking Trump, in part because as a master bully Trump should have the Republican establishment pinned to the floor mat and screaming uncle long before the convention. Trump’s not so much a dealmaker as he is a master intimidator. Intimidation of course is a skill that bullies master. It comes from practiced insensitivity toward the feelings others. The empathy gene is missing from bullies except of course for themselves. Since they only look out for Number One, they are naturally nasty and tone deaf, in his case so much so that he will punk his former rivals offering them his support.

Trump can’t bully the whole country, so he is busy trying to make a deal with the American public instead. Like Bill Clinton, he plans to triangulate his way into the presidency. He will read the tealeaves and attempt to do or say anything to seal the deal with the electorate. Most likely he won’t succeed, given his high negatives particularly among women and minorities. He can hope for a crisis. A huge economic or national security crisis drives our primal fears and can change a lot of minds. However, with a decently growing economy, low unemployment and with Obama’s approval ratings now at or over fifty percent the odds will be against him. It’s unclear whether he will drive more Republicans to the poll than Democrats, but it is likely that voters on both sides will be highly motivated to turn out. This is because no one is neutral on Donald Trump. You either love him or loathe him.

My suspicion is that Donald Trump will eventually prove to be like the Hindenburg, that famous hydrogen-filled dirigible that exploded in flames in the early 20th century. He’s going to inflict a lot of damage whether he gets elected or not. Assuming that he doesn’t win, who loses?

Curiously some of the biggest losers will be his supporters. Whites — principally working class whites and white men in particular — are going to realize they were sold snake oil. First, their candidate will prove unelectable, so huuuge but unable to seal this deal, making him the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain. Second, they are going to realize they really aren’t all that special anymore. For if Trump can’t make the working class white special again, then who possibly can? They are investing all their hope in Trump. If he loses, then where do they go? What do they do?

Does this class finally shout “Enough!” and start an insurrection? This may not be too hard given all the guns they are stockpiling. Do they retreat into utter despair and hopelessness? Do they finally decide to put their racism behind them and make common cause with others struggling in the working class? Do they kill the Republican Party by abandoning it because they have proven incapable of making it do its will? Regardless of whether Trump wins or loses, it’s not hard to see huge danger signs.

If a Democratic ticket wins, they have to continue to wrestle with their feelings of disempowerment. If Trump wins we have a high likelihood of a President Trump that will be at best a quasi-constitutionalist and at worst our first fascist president. Or perhaps the real deal is that Trump is anticipating his defeat and will use it as a cry to foment real revolution.

Some of these scenarios are pretty far fetched. It’s not too hard to see that there will be one loser even if Republicans win: the Republican Party. For If Trump fails to win the nomination he may run as an independent. If he does win the nomination then he effectively controls the Republican Party, which will probably mean that its leaders will be sent packing. The stuff Republicans supposedly care about (religion, fiscal conservatism, smaller government) will morph into what they really care about: a classist state where they are in charge. And to do that you have to jettison the notion that we are a democratic state. We won’t be.

When I first wrote about Trump I wondered if Trump could be a Democratic mole. After all he supported progressive policies and candidates in the past. Maybe he is fooling everyone, but most likely he is simply tone deaf to the fact that while he is a very successful loudmouth, he’s really only just a blathering blowhard that leaves destruction from trying to gratify his own enormous ego.

Trump will cause major casualties. Whether overtly or covertly, the most likely casualties will be the very people he is trying to empower. And they are going to be really pissed.

Unwinding the crazy (or why Obama and Mitt Romney need to talk)

The Thinker by Rodin

So my daughter has been chatting with me on Skype. She wants to know: “Dad, have politics ever this crazy?” She would actually take some comfort in knowing that demagogues like Donald Trump have actually arisen before and have had a stake put through their hearts.

I had to tell her no, not in my lifetime anyhow and not within the United States. There are plenty of demagogues out there all the time, but few come around as Donald Trump has to create cyclones of ill will all for the purpose of acquiring something close to the pinnacle of political power in the world: being president of the United States. I see him getting the Republican nomination; hopes of a brokered convention are just fantasies. There have been deeply evil politicians and presidents. Richard Nixon comes to mind but at least he was trapped by a political system of checks and balances. It’s not clear if Trump becomes president whether the system still has the backbone to deal with someone like him. I’d like to think so, but I am skeptical.

Over the years this blog has been around, I’ve made something of a second career cataloguing these demagogues. Democrats are not entirely clean, with John Edwards leaping to mind. Both sides of the party can be pandered to and inflamed. Mostly though these demagogues have limited appeal. Some of the many I have blogged about include Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck. I have read enough history though to know that Donald Trump is not quite unprecedented. Early in our history we had a president arguably as bad as Trump: Andrew Jackson whose portrait mysteriously adorns our ten-dollar bill.

We’ve also had our share of bad presidents but who were not demagogues. Woodrow Wilson was a racist who purged blacks from the government. President Harding dropped his pants for more than one woman not his wife and got embroiled in the Teapot Dome oil scandal. Herbert Hoover and a top-heavy Republican congress ushered in the Great Depression. Lyndon Johnson made the Vietnam debacle much worse. And I’ve shown 12 years ago that Ronald Reagan was pretty much a disaster of a president. Then of course there is George W. Bush. Still with the possible exception of Jackson none of these presidents rise to Trump’s level. None had the mentality that the ends justified the means. Trump’s success makes him a singular danger to our democracy.

So sorry daughter, we are living the Chinese curse of living in interesting times. Polls suggest a Trump election win will be quite a stretch, but if anyone could pull it off Trump is demonstrating he has the skills and oratory to do it. Trump though is not unique, but simply the most articulate spokesman for the Republican brand. It’s a brand full of chest thumping, racism, classism and staking out unequivocal positions that have devolved into concerns about the size of Trump’s hands and penis. They are all doing it without qualification, except possibly John Kasich. These candidates will denounce Trump on the one hand but won’t take the next obvious step: saying they will not support him if he wins his party’s nomination.

This is because for all their claims of principle they really don’t have any. It’s not principle that drives them; it’s the lust for power. This puts them ever further on the extreme right as well as makes them back down from taking principled stands like saying they won’t support Trump if he wins their party’s nomination. They are all jockeying for power as best they can by keeping their options open. I was puzzling through Chris Christie’s endorsement of Donald Trump shortly after dropping out. Why was he doing this? The easy rationalization is that both are bullies and he identifies with a fellow bully. But the same can be said for most of the Republican candidates. I think Christie is hoping to be nominated as his running mate. I think he is further expecting that if Trump wins office he will eventually be impeached and removed, leaving him as president. It’s a tactic worthy of Frank Underwood; he was just the first to go there. While Christie may admire Trump for being a master bully, I think his real motivation is simply a lust for power.

The larger question is how do you undo something like this? It’s not like we are at the precipice. Lots of people are already jumping off the cliff into the political unknown. It’s time for the grownups not just to speak up but also to take real action. Mitt Romney says he won’t vote for Trump but did not suggest an alternative, which is hardly helpful. Establishment Republicans are trying to persuade voters in keystone states like Florida and Ohio to vote for someone else, but they appear too late to the game to change the dynamics. President Obama recently spoke out, but it was at a fundraiser. Changing the dynamics here though is pretty much impossible when the other party will refuse to even listen to you. Just for starters Republicans in Congress won’t even allow Obama’s budget director to present his budget, the first time this has ever been done. A Republican Senate also refuses to entertain a nominee for the Supreme Court.

We need an elder statesman with mojo and credibility to bring the parties together to tone down the rhetoric and is some marginal way change the conversation and up the civility factor. There is no one such person, unfortunately. Jimmy Carter comes to mind but Republicans would dismiss him.

We urgently need a national timeout. All these key muckrakers need to have a private conclave and hash this out. If I were President Obama I’d be on the phone with Mitt Romney. I’d be penciling in a date in a couple weeks at a private retreat like Camp David and use the power of shame (if it works) to bring all these blowhards together in one place to hash this out. This would include Republican and Democratic leadership in Congress and all the presidential candidates on both sides. It would also include chairs of the Democratic and Republican national committees. I’d include trained facilitators and psychologists to help ensure the meeting moves forward productively The topics would include: setting baselines for acceptable political behavior and setting up a process involving some compromise so that Congress and the President can work together in some minimal fashion through the election.

Would it work? The odds are against my proposal but someone needs to step forward and we need two brave people on both sides of the aisle. I don’t see any others who can play this role.

Sadly, nothing like this is likely to happen, but it needs to happen. Is there a grownup in the room?

2016 Republican Presidential Debate #4

The Thinker by Rodin

By now these candidates are all getting a bit uncomfortably familiar — at least to those of us that tune into these debates. With some exceptions though they all pretty much sound the same and parrot the same ideas. What made this latest debate a bit more interesting than the other ones is that from time to time some actual debating happened.

This debate, hosted by the Fox Business Channel and held in Madison, Wisconsin had a heavily conservative tone to it, which made the candidates happy after the last debate when the moderators had the audacity to backtalk the candidates with actual fact checking. Moderator questions came laden with assumptions that doubtless made its owner Rupert Murdoch happy. Stuff like this from moderator Maria Bartiromo:

Today the national debt is at record highs and growing unsustainably. Interest will be the fastest-growing part of the federal budget, tripling over the next 10 years. Social Security, the lifeline of millions of American seniors, is rushing toward insolvency.

In fact, the budget deficit has been cut by more than two thirds since the start of the Great Recession, virtually zero interest rates have made financing the debt a lot more sustainable, Social Security is reaching a point where it may pay out more than it receives, but is not anywhere close to insolvent as its assets are invested in U.S. Treasury Bills that will be redeemed to pay benefits. Given the false assumptions that underlined many of the questions asked, the only surprise was that some actual debating took place. As usual, it was the marginal candidates that did most of the pot stirring, i.e. John Kasich and libertarian Rand Paul because what do they have to lose?

Kasich went for being the only grownup in the room again, which he was. In fact much of the time he sounded like a Democrat, which was why toward the end he was actually booed by the audience. Kasich did feel neglected and felt compelled to barge into the debate at inopportune moment near the end, but in fact he got plenty of airtime. Kasich’s sensible and pragmatic solutions though were not something fellow candidates and the audience wanted to hear. I found myself agreeing with much of what Kasich had to say. If he had a realistic chance at the nomination, the party might also have a realistic chance of winning next year’s election.

Rand Paul was the other discordant note, in particular when he called out Marco Rubio for not being a true conservative because he wanted to give a tax credit to lower income people, which he accurately portrayed as an entitlement. On foreign policy Paul was definitely the isolationist and kept noting that defending the country costs lots of money and our foreign interventions usually backfire. Again, this did not win him any favors from other candidates or the audience because cognitive dissonance like this apparently gives them severe migraines. Everyone was like: just shut up Rand and John already!

I really wanted Carly Fiorina to just shut up already. She went on an impassioned rant about the need to cull regulations and to have zero-based budgeting. However, she wouldn’t adhere to the regulations of the debate to stop talking after her ninety seconds was up. Two bells calling time went blithely ignored as she just kept yammering and yammering. While the most egregious violator, she was hardly alone. One of the biggest yammerers from the last debate, Chris Christie, has been disinvited to the debate and sent to the humiliating “undercard” debate instead.

Picking winners was hard, but picking losers was easy. Kasich is likely to get undercarded soon because he speaks to a vanishingly small moderate base. Ditto with Rand Paul, for stroking libertarian feelings largely absent in the Republican Party. And Carly Fiorina is coming across as a simply nasty lady, so she will likely get undercarded again soon, particularly given her mediocre polling numbers which barely qualified her for this debate.

Donald Trump specializes in nasty, but with a dose of humor that Carly doesn’t have. He was repeatedly called out by Kasich for his impossible to enforce plan to deport all undocumented immigrants but as usual he said he could part water and get it done along with his thousand mile wall along our border to Mexico, which presumably they will somehow pay for. On this topic none of them noted that President Obama has been vigorously removing undocumented immigrants, something that gives most Democrats heartburn. However, they did latch on to his executive order that makes it less likely that these immigrants who are caregivers would be deported anytime soon. Apparently it’s really evil to keep parents and their legal children united.

Jeb Bush managed to improve his performance but not in a distinctive way. Marco Rubio held steady, coming on strong but falling back toward the end of the debate in part due to lack of airtime. Ted Cruz will probably get a bump, as he stayed with nasty and unrealistic, which is what Republicans want to hear. He did say he wanted to eliminate the Department of Commerce twice, which would be quite a feat. He also wants to eliminate the IRS, which is a great thing if you don’t want to go to prison for not paying your taxes. Cruz was mostly in comfortable La-La Land, which is where most of the audience wanted to be as well.

There were other amusing faux pas:

  • Marco Rubio actually talked about the “Democratic Party” when every good Republican knows the Right and Fox News has rebranded them as the “Democrat Party”.
  • Ted Cruz also talked about going back to the gold standard and how great the country was when we were on the gold standard. The Washington Post wonk blog though noted that the Great Depression was caused by slavish adherence to the gold standard.
  • Ben Carson claimed that by 1876 the United States was the largest economic power in the world, which no doubt was news to the United Kingdom, which claimed that title at the time.
  • Carson also said that the Chinese were deeply involved in the conflicts in the Middle East, while China has wisely largely stayed out of the conflict.
  • Donald Trump said we are losing jobs like crazy when we added 270,000 jobs just last month and we have netted jobs every month for the last seven years.
  • Macro Rubio said there was nothing more important than being a parent, effectively slamming singles.
  • Rand Paul wants everyone to pay a flat tax of 14.5 percent, less a home mortgage and charitable deductions. So a poor person earning $10,000 a year should pay $1450 a year income taxes, in addition to the sales taxes they disproportionately pay? It’s sounds fair I guess in Rand Paul’s insular world.
  • Carly Fiorina thinks it’s bad that Obamacare brought the uninsured rate below ten percent because of socialism or something.
  • Ben Carson said only 19.8 percent of black teenagers have a job, which would mean 80% of black teens do not, when in fact more than fifty percent of black teens do have jobs.

So there was the usual obfuscation and erroneous claims, par for the course for these fact-free debaters, but it seemed the more wrong the statistics were the more the audience ate it up. More dubious facts will doubtless be revealed in their next debate, which fortunately won’t be until December.

Next up: a second Democratic debate this weekend.

2016 Republican Presidential Debate #3

The Thinker by Rodin

I’m not much on Twitter but I decided that if I was going to watch the latest Republican Presidential Debate at least I could be trendy and live tweet it. Alas, it didn’t occur to me until shortly before it started. So unless you happened to follow me on Twitter you wouldn’t have known. (And if you aren’t following me on Twitter, why not? Follow me here.)

Those asking questions got dinged by a couple of the debate participants. The questions did not seem too bad to me and if the questions seemed unusually snarky then it’s because the candidates don’t watch much CNBC. I’ll agree the question on fantasy football was a bit silly, but most of the rest were actually fair questions. The questioners were not shy about pushing back with facts when the candidates steered away from toward their own versions of the truth. I’d like to see more of this in future debates. In fact, live fact checking should be a feature of debates, with check-ins from the fact checkers periodically so viewers could know when candidates are blowing a lot of smoke. So overall, I liked CNBC’s format, although I know I am in a minority.

Live tweeting the debate also gave me a great way to take notes, and I use them here as memory jogs. You can see all of them on my Twitter feed.

I didn’t like the opening question when candidates were asked about their weaknesses. This is another “When did you last stop beating your wife?” sort of question. There’s no good way to respond to it. You invariably pick some tiny little thing no one will care about and go with that, which always comes across as insincere. In any event, it takes enormous ego and chutzpah to run for president in the first place. Just by declaring your candidacy you are stating that there is something extra special about you compared to the rest of us.

You could tell Donald Trump didn’t like this debate any more than the last, mainly because he wasn’t allowed to dominate it. He looked sort of neutered and peevish. It would not surprise me if he invents a reason to opt out of these soon. He did manage to get off one attack on John Kasich, but only after Kasich had offered the opinion that many of his policy solutions were nonsense, which in fact they are. This immediately elevated Kasich in my mind, which sort of gave permission for others in the debate to speak moments of actual truth. Some of these moments were pretty bizarre. Ted Cruz, whose campaign is largely funded by moneyed business interests, said that principally the middle class was supporting his campaign. Carly Fiorina cried out about “crony capitalism” which she said was a result of corrupt government when it’s a result of policies championed by pretty much all Republicans since after Teddy Roosevelt to put the interests of the moneyed and businesses ahead of everyone else. That’s what caused our oligarchy.

Many of these candidates went into friendly la-la land when responding to questions. Ted Cruz basically said that Democrats were communists. Even Senator Joseph McCarthy would not have gone this far. Everyone said that Social Security and Medicare were failing systems but no one bothered to mention that Social Security would be solvent if the payroll cap was simply raised. No, benefits had to be cut and the retirement age had to be lifted. For many poor people whose life expectancy is about 70, this effectively means never even getting to retire. Some talked about reigning in government spending, but not one of them had the courage to say that you can’t keep cutting taxes and solve the budget deficit.

Certain words grated, like Chris Christie’s repeated declaration that the government was “stealing” your social security deposits. It was known from the start that the system was pay as you go system, not a lockbox system. The reason why it is under stress is there are fewer workers paying into the system than in the past, something that could be mitigated with immigration reform. These are the real causes of the actuarial problem; there was never anything nefarious about it.

Kasich again was the sanest person in the room but also its least photogenic. He looked grey, washed out and unattractive as well. I enjoyed watching Trump, particularly the violent way he turned his neck toward someone saying something he doesn’t like. Ben Carson looked so unanimated it’s a wonder why anyone would be enthusiastic about him. Ted Cruz bizarrely talked about how much he respected the constitution, even while he and his party worked hard to keep people they don’t like from voting. Jeb Bush had a hard time getting noticed or even called on. Trying to reproach Marco Rubio for voting so infrequently got him bitch slapped by an animated Rubio. Pundits said Rubio won the debate. I doubt that, but I do think Bush lost it by sounding petulant and insincere when he did talk, and by otherwise fading into the background.

No one asked the obvious question about Trump’s wall: even if you build it, how do you keep people from digging tunnels under it? It has been done for decades as a way to smuggle both illegal immigrants and drugs into the country.

Policy though did not matter as much as attitude, or maybe I should say sassitude. They were going for applause and that mainly occurred by berating the questioners or finding some other way to sound mean or pissed off. This record has been played too many times before. You would think even Republicans would be tired of it.

If Rubio “won” the debate, it’s only because he made himself look marginally better than the rest of the tired candidates and was more prepared with scripted comebacks. It’s an advantage of relative youth, perhaps.

Anyhow in less than two weeks we get to go through this whole tired scenario again. I’ll try to live tweet that debate as well as it helps to stay awake through it. They sure don’t make it easy.

2016 Republican Presidential Debate #2

The Thinker by Rodin

I skipped the first of these interminable Republican presidential debates because I simply couldn’t stomach it. I did watch the second debate last night with some misgivings, mostly because like everyone else I wanted to see if Donald Trump would get his comeuppance. Still, I have limits and yesterday’s was two hours worth. I kind of felt sorry for them forced to stand there for three hours with Reagan’s Air Force One as a backdrop. I know my bladder wouldn’t hold out for three hours and I’m betting most of the men on the stage have enlarged prostates too. I’m betting they were wearing Adult Depends.

Trump did not exactly did get his comeuppance but he was sort of neutered because the moderators wouldn’t allow him to yammer on and hog the stage like he did during the first debate. This was good because it gave other candidates a chance to talk about issues instead of personalities. With the exceptions of John Kasich and Ben Carson though the rest seemed shopworn, irritating at worst and uninteresting at best. Carson was clearly going for the nice guy angle, which helped contrast him not only with The Donald but everyone else except Kasich. Granted that Carson’s actual policies are just as wacky as the others’ are, and are in some cases even wackier. Kasich was the sole moderate on the stage, although even Ronald Reagan would not have recognized him as a moderate Republican. Kasich at least sounded reasonable and pragmatic, as did Carson at times simply because he wouldn’t raise his voice or criticize any of his fellow candidates. That doesn’t seem to be what Republican voters want in a nominee this time, but we’ll see.

Carly Fiorina generated the most buzz. She did so right near the start with some false statements about the highly doctored Planned Parenthood videos. She essentially inflamed the Planned Parenthood funding issue in highly emotional and clinical terms to shamelessly draw attention to herself and it obviously worked. She also one-upped The Donald with her caustic reply to a question about Trump’s earlier remarks about her ugly face. I hope that Republicans are wising up to Trump, who is basically a very rich bully. In any event these two events allowed Fiorina to look sort of presidential, at least by comparison to the low standards the other candidates set. Trump’s rampant sexism and plain bad taste seem to have finally become counterproductive. He also made a snide remark about Rand Paul’s disheveled hair, perhaps because his hair is a frequent news story in itself.

More revealing was his degree of sexism, which should disqualify any thinking female from voting for him. He had already criticized Megyn Kelly with a vague reference to menstruation. In trying to dodge his remarks about Fiorina’s ugly face, he dug himself in further. He had earlier said he meant her persona was unpresidential, not her face. In the debate, after Fiorina caustically replied to his comment, he said she had a beautiful face. Would he say this about one of the handsomer men on the stage, like Marco Rubio? Not likely. He sees beauty as an important aspect of a woman. Beauty however is simply a matter of genetics and taking care of yourself. Beauty has nothing to do with judgment. By seeming to suggest it’s important for a woman to be beautiful to be successful suggests that he is handicapping all women that are not or won’t try to be. It must be his cluelessness because there is nothing clever about this at all.

It’s not surprising that when they weren’t criticizing each other or the minutia in their policy differences they were complaining about President Obama and his “disastrous” presidency. They said he was weak on foreign policy, which was laughable as he was the president that got Osama bin Laden, a goal George W. Bush saw as unimportant. Obama also got us out of an unwinnable war in Iraq and is getting out of a similar one in Afghanistan. They chastised him for the nuclear agreement on Iran, even though it keeps us out of the folly of a pointless war and reduces Iran’s potential to develop nuclear weapons. They said he was a disaster for the economy, even though he created more jobs than any other modern president and dropped the unemployment rate lower than their hero Ronald Reagan ever did. It all sounded so hollow. Obama is simply a projection of their own inner frustration at his many accomplishments in spite of their relentless obfuscation. Their solutions to his alleged deficiencies were to do more of the same failed things that haven’t worked before. Not one of them had the courage to admit this was retarded.

At least there was more debate about issues last night and less blather from Trump. Their solutions did not vary much, but it took the focus off of Trump, who seemed out of his element. Trump spent much of his time off camera giving peculiar stairs at the other candidates when they spoke. He seemed to have lost his footing and was only willing to engage when it gave him the opportunity to be judgmental about other candidates. He is a one trick pony who looked very played last night.

It was so painful to watch certain candidates. They are all pretty grating, but Ted Cruz just oozes obnoxiousness. No wonder he doesn’t have a single friend in the U.S. Senate. Ditto Scott Walker and Chris Christie, both well seasoned bullies. Cruz though just has this look that is totally off-putting. Seeing someone like him on the street I reflexively move to the other side. Memo to Cruz: picking fights all the time and saying “my way or the highway” is not leadership. Taking the initiative to solve problems, generally by collaborating with others to find common ground, is leadership.

Jeb Bush tried hard to sound reasonable and affable but none of it made him particularly interesting or helped him shine. Did you notice him standing on his tippy toes when pictures were taken? He was already the tallest candidate but he had to be seen as taller, maybe because he knows history tends to favor the tallest candidate. He wants to look as dominating as possible but this was over the top.

Most of the other candidates tried to get words in edgewise but didn’t have much luck. None of these candidates though, not even Donald Trump, can master a stage like Barack Obama. Of course he’s not running although they were talking about him so much he did sort of command the stage in abstention.

My dream would be to have a debate between Trump and Obama. Trump thinks he’s a wizard on the stage. On the same stage with Obama debating the issues, he would be road kill under Obama’s shoes. I hope during the final campaign the Democratic nominee is wise enough to bring Obama on the road with him/her. History will vindicate Obama’s presidency. None of these potential Republican nominees is ten percent of the person that he is.

I’ll try to critique more of these debates in the future, but it is a struggle. It is intensely painful at times to hear such ridiculous tripe and such nonsensical and counterproductive solutions to our many vexing problems. With the possible exception of John Kasich, it’s horrifying to think what wreckage any of these people would be likely to do if they actually became president. On the plus side, any of these candidates except Kasich might actually make George W. Bush look the better president in retrospect.

Donald Trump proves that Republicans prefer assholes

The Thinker by Rodin

Long time readers will know that I find Republicans to be both fascinating and appalling. They are my number one tag. I obviously don’t share many of their values. In many ways though some small part of me is Republican, the way my grandfather was.

I do think hard work should be rewarded, for example. Republicans agree with the principle in the abstract, but not in the specific. To them, hard work does not mean labor-intensive work. Watch fast food workers or bus boys working and tell me if you think they aren’t working hard. To me their hard work should be rewarded with a living wage of at least $15 an hour and probably more in higher cost of living areas. To Republicans, their wages should probably be cut so they can work harder and harder and achieve … well, that part is not too clear. Maybe they figure their boss will promote them to lead fryer chief or drive thru manager after seeing them run around like headless chickens for twelve hours a day. It’s clear that what they really hope for is that they can keep exploiting them. They hope that they will die young and that their tremendous productivity, made possible by low wages and plentiful poor people that they help create, will filter up to them in the form of higher stock prices and dividends, or possibly cheaper Happy Meals when they bring the grandkids by.

I’ve said Republicans are a party of sadists but after watching the reaction to Donald Trump’s misogynist statements during and after the first presidential debate the other night made me realize something for some reason I hadn’t before: Republicans prefer assholes for candidates probably because most of them are assholes too.

I’ve wracked my brain and I simply can’t think of an alternate explanation. Donald Trump has been a complete asshole throughout his professional life. He is a bully and his weapons are his wealth, his reckless mouth and his lawyers. He goes out of his way to offend people. When debate moderator Megyn Kelly asked probing questions about his behavior that he didn’t like, he reflexively and gleefully doubled down. If he gets a further negative reaction he double-doubles down some more. And since he is filthy rich, if he can throw some high priced lawyers at them to make their lives miserable and put their standard of living in jeopardy, he is happy to do so. He figures his wealth and success gives him the right to speak his mind freely without consequence and to toss aside common rules of etiquette or basic politeness.

Normal people of course have their jaws agape at his outrageous behavior. It’s no wonder he dominates the domestic news cycle. Except for the fact that he knows how to make gobs of money, he is a train wreck of a human being: a perfect example that money is the root of all evil. Normal people are just appalled by his behavior. And while some Republicans including the misogynist owner of redstate.com Erick Erickson who abruptly disinvited Trump from his convention feel they have to make a stand, at best most of them are mute. With the exception of Lindsay Graham and Carly Fiorina, none of the other presidential aspirants in the Republican fold have the courage to call him an asshole. As for the others, it could be they are waiting for his fall and then hope to pick off his supporters. But mainly I think they aren’t saying anything because they generally agree with him.

In fact, most of them wish they could emulate him but can’t find the courage, perhaps because they don’t have a big enough bank account. Mind you they say a lot of the same things, just more politely, and in the abstract without naming names. What they can’t imitate, with the possible exception of Ted Cruz, is his compulsive and reflexive nastiness. In a less civilized age, Donald Trump would be the king, those who disagreed with him would get the rack, and The Donald would be tightening the rack personally until their limbs left their sockets and his victims were a massive blob of blood, tissue, bones and protoplasm on the dungeon floor. That’s because The Donald is a reflexive barbarian at heart.

And you know Republicans agree by looking at his poll numbers. There is a batch of polls out since this first debate and at worst Trump’s poll numbers have stayed steady. By some poll numbers, they have improved. A Morning Consult poll show’s Trump has the support of 32% of Republicans nationally, versus 25% before the debate. His favorability ratings among Republicans went from 40%/40% to 46%/40% according to Public Policy Polling. But he is hardly the only asshole candidate in the race. The other clearly asshole candidates running include Scott Walker (6% favorite), Chris Christie (3% favorite), Ted Cruz (4% favorite) and Bobby Jindal (1% favorite).

This means that roughly half of Republicans prefer candidates that are known, public and pugnacious assholes. So by association at least roughly half of Republicans prefer a known asshole for their president. Why? It’s because they identify with them, and that’s because they too are assholes. They want someone that will not only implement their conservative vision of America, but do it in a showy, obnoxious, “I don’t give a damn who I offend or what the consequences may be” way. In short, they want an asshole for president.

The way to win the Republican nomination is now clear: to try to be more of an asshole than Donald Trump. The problem is Trump has set such a high bar and is running the carnival show so it’s unlikely that they could say or do anything that could be anything worse that what Donald Trump is already doing.

All these candidates will breathlessly say they think that the United States is the greatest country on earth, but if they had their way they would ensure the next president was also the most loathsome, vile and disgusting asshole possible. But if your party consists of assholes, you are simply electing one of your own. You can relate to that kind of president.

The evidence is in the polls.

Christie: change you cannot believe in

The Thinker by Rodin

Some time ago I wrote about political bullies. I wasn’t thinking of Republican New Jersey governor Chris Christie in particular when I wrote it. In part this was because there were so many other fine examples in the Republican Party he hardly stood out. In fact, almost all the prominent Republican politicians are bullies. It’s part of their trademark, at least in recent years. The civilized and mannered ones have all pretty much retired, died or joined the Democrats.

Christie this week is an example of a political bully that got his comeuppance. In a long, tedious and frequently bizarre news conference on Thursday, Christie worked hard and unconvincingly to limit his political damage from Bridgegate. I don’t think the scandal has an official name yet, but this will do. It involved restricting the number of lanes allowed to residents of Fort Lee, just across the Hudson River in New Jersey from Manhattan to a toll plaza to get into Manhattan via the George Washington Bridge. For a full week, ironically during the week of September 11 last year, local citizens of Fort Lee were tied up needlessly in traffic because their access to the toll plaza had been restricted from three lanes to one. This caused monumental traffic jams and likely contributed to one death. Reputedly this closure was ordered, if not by Christie himself, then by his close aides, as retribution. Why? Reputedly, it was because Fort Lee’s Democratic mayor refused to endorse Christie for reelection. Christie handily won reelection anyhow by an impressive sixty plus percent margin.

At the news conference, Christie portrayed himself as something of a victim. He said he was lied to by his staffers, and said that he was shocked that people he trusted lied him to. To hold people accountable he fired an aide, Deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly. Port Authority executive David Wildstein resigned last month reputedly due to the scandal. Curiously though for a bully, at least when it came to his friends, he was not up to doing it personally. Kelly was fired by email. During the news conference, Christie said he was sorry, of course, but also said he was not a bully, and that people who know him would not characterize him as one.

Really? This easily passes the smirk test.  Being loud, obnoxious and in your face are key ingredients to Christie’s style. It’s what got him elected then reelected. In New Jersey, these are something akin to assets. The state has a history of corrupt officials, typically Democratic officials because it is an overwhelmingly Democratic state. The state also has a history of mob influence, and has lots of Italians in general. In short, being obnoxious and corrupt is part of the culture. What gave Christie allure to New Jersey voters is that he was a Republican not afraid to take on the powers in his state. Given the state’s history, it’s not surprising that his bullying and obnoxiousness was considered an asset.

Christie is a caricature of a bully. He is not afraid to get up close and personal, yell loudly, put his finger in your chest and violate your personal space to make his point. He takes the initiative rather than wait on events. As I noted in my earlier essay, bullying generally works. It is considered bizarre behavior. Most of us are trained to be civilized so we are taken aback when we encounter a bully. We simply don’t know how to behave. While we feel incoherent and flustered, the bully has asserted himself and changed the dynamics. And so far it has worked well for Christie. Arguably, in a state with such a corrupt history as New Jersey, you need a bully in charge.

If you are going to be a bully though, at least have the decency to admit it. Don’t spend much of your news conference proclaiming that you are not the person you made yourself out to be as part of your trademark. It’s not surprising in the least that he would attract and hire people with a similar temperament; indeed it would be surprising if he had not. Given that their boss was into retribution and political payback, his subordinates probably felt they were being faithful to their boss by imitating his behavior. And if the Democratic mayor of a New Jersey city isn’t going to endorse their boss for reelection, well, then there is a price to pay. It’s time to show who’s really in charge. And so they did because they could. It’s how bullies operate. You are liberal in dishing out punishment because you are trying to make an emotional impact. You do this on the assumption an emotional impact will change future actions. The message to residents of Fort Lee was pretty obvious: if you elect people not in tune with the governor then you are going to pay a price. For most it was the price of inconvenience, but inconvenience is costly and in this case allegedly deadly as well.

Bullies are rendered powerless when they are stood up to. Ideally this courage inspires others to do the same, soon rendering the bully impotent. Restricting traffic to a major thoroughfare into Manhattan is an example of a bully going too far over the line. With the help of grassroots Democratic activists, eventually the press took notice and started digging. That Christie’s subordinates ordered this is simply all we need to know about the character of the guy. Christie is in the moving cheese business. While voters appreciated most of the cheese that Christie managed to move, you can move too much too quickly. And when that happens, as in Bridgegate, you learn which boundaries can be transgressed and which cannot.

Given that the incident was widely publicized at the time, Christie’s ability to tune it out suggests his insular, incurious and haughty nature. Publically, he suggested that such local issues were beneath him. Most likely privately he was aware that his minions were pulling some strings on his behalf, and he enjoyed seeing his enemies squirm.  I doubt his staff involved in this affair gave it much thought. It was consistent with their boss’s management style.

Time will tell if this will have a lasting effect on Christie’s political ambitions. It certainly gives Americans, who probably haven’t tuned that much into Christie, some concerns to chaw over. For Christie, successful damage control will mean tempering his temper, the very asset that brought him political fame. Once tempered, it’s unlikely that he will shine out above the crowd of other Republicans with eyes on the White House in 2016.

The bullying trademark of the Republican Party has been wearing thin for a long time. Americans are disgusted with the Tea Party in particular, for their obnoxious and uncompromising attitudes and the damage it caused. Rush Limbaugh’s show is in tatters. Political compromise is in; political extremism is out. Part of Christie’s trademark was that sometimes he would work across the aisle, or take a position anathema to most Republicans, thereby demonstrating the courage of his convictions. Without bullying as his shtick though, there is little to recommend him. Instead, now there are lots of red flags.

Christie has become the symbol of change we cannot believe in.