Our likely coming post Election Day nightmare

The Thinker by Rodin

It’s not hard to predict that Joe Biden will win the presidency. It’s even easier to predict that regardless of what the votes are, Donald Trump will dispute the results. It’s also easy to predict that voting will resemble something of a fiasco.

It will be a manmade fiasco. Those who can will want to vote by mail. I know I will. But most states don’t have much experience with vote by mail, and certainly not at the level likely to be seen in this election. It’s unlikely that there will be any money in a next bailout for this effort. But even if the money is there, time is running short for states to put good operational plans in place. We are less than three months until Election Day.

And of course you can count on states that are controlled by Republicans will pull out all other stops to suppress votes from people they don’t want voting. Expect fewer polling stations in communities of color. This is a well-practiced tactic, but there is likely to be even fewer such places this year. And if it’s possible to purge voter roles, Republicans will do so. Trump’s new postmaster general is already prohibiting overtime, leading to delays in the delivery of first class mail. In most states, ballots received after November 3 won’t count. Mail in voters will need to allow for extra time for ballots to be received. Many polling places are in schools, which are likely to be shut down due to covid-19. That will be another excuse Republicans will use to reduce the number of polling places.

Obviously worried, Trump is already busy being proactive. He claims vote by mail will be fraudulent, and claims there is a distinction between it and absentee voting. There isn’t, unless absentee voting means going to city hall a week or two early and voting there instead. That’s not what it meant to Donald Trump, who voted absentee by mailing in his ballot. Trump is already being selective. In states where mail in voting favors Republicans, like Florida, Trump is not concerned, but where it favors Democrats, like in Nevada, obviously that sort of voting should not allowed. Many states have mastered mail in voting, such as Oregon, but obviously their successes won’t change Trump’s opinions.

So what’s likely to happen is that Trump will dispute the results, mostly in swing states where he lost. This will involve two tactics: inciting his supporters to take action legal or illegal (expect lots of paramilitaries trying to occupy certain state capitols), but also through lots of litigation. He will also try to whip up Republicans in Congress to claim that the election was fraudulent. Ultimately though it is up to each state’s Secretary of State to certify the results of its state’s electoral college, which will generally meet in the state’s capital in early December. In 2000 this is what happened in Florida, after the case went all the way to the Supreme Court and sealed the election for George W. Bush.

Past that point the scenarios get scarier. If you remember what happened in 2000, the results of the Electoral College are announced in what amounts to a joint session of Congress, overseen by the president of the Senate, at the time Vice President Al Gore. You may recall the irony of Al Gore declaring George W. Bush had a majority of the Electoral College votes after each letter from the Secretary of State was opened at the session. Gore made Bush’s presidency official.

The scarier scenario is that Trump tries to prevent this from happening, perhaps by surrounding the Capitol with armed troops so Congress can’t meet. While all this is going on, there would be huge protests across the country, but most importantly in Washington D.C.

It’s likely that many of Trump’s paramilitary forces will try to go postal. It’s not hard to envision armed conflict between Trump supporters and protestors, governors trying to use the National Guard to keep order in their states and Trump trying to use his powers as Commander in Chief to overrule them. It’s also hard to see how the Supreme Court does not get involved somehow. Given that Trump is already not bothering to follow court orders, most notably on DACA, it’s unclear whether he will even go along with the Supreme Court’s decision, which is likely to go against him.

The best that Trump can hope from the Supreme Court is that it sees the certifications by certain states as likely tainted and tries to delay the selection of the next president by the congressional process. There are some wild scenarios where a deadlocked Electoral College means that Congress chooses the president instead of the Electoral College, with each state voting as a block. Republicans currently control twenty-six legislatures. This is potentially could be a way for Trump to stay in office, but only if the Electoral College deadlocks, which is unlikely.

Which ultimately leaves the issue to the constitution and law. If the Electoral College has not decided on a president or vice president by Inauguration Day, the Speaker of the House would be the acting president. This will almost certainly be Nancy Pelosi. And she will have to try to clean up this constitutional crisis, likely while our country descends into something resembling low-level civil war. Ultimately it will be our military and whether soldiers follow their sworn oaths that will make the difference. Regardless, Trump’s current term ends January 20 at noon Eastern Time.

Let’s hope it doesn’t come to this. It’s clear that Trump won’t accept any results where he loses. The time between Election and Inauguration Days are likely to be the most fretful and constitutionally challenging on our republic’s history. What it will amount to is whether enough Republicans follow rule of law to force Trump’s hand, and betting on that happening is likely to be a bad bet.

November is likely to fatally maim the Republican Party

The Thinker by Rodin

In January 2019 I wrote this post about how Trump was likely to kill the Republican Party. At the time, a Marist poll noted that 57% of voters surveyed said they would never vote for Trump, which if true pretty much doomed his reelection prospects. I said then it was likely to kill the party. Since then of course Donald Trump has been busy making sure to do his best to definitely kill the party.

Of course, it’s not entirely Trump. It’s also circumstances, specifically the covid-19. My hairdresser, who lost sixty percent of her customers due to covid-19, asked me if I thought I’d ever see a pandemic. And the truth was yes. We were overdue for one, and we’ve had a number of mini-pandemics recently to use as an example. There was the SARS outbreak (severe acute respiratory syndrome) of 2002-2004 that caused 8000 cases and 774 deaths, including four deaths in the United States. The last big pandemic was about a hundred years ago, the so-called Spanish Flu. It was badly named, as its origin was likely at an army base in Kansas. Fortunately, covid-19 is unlikely to be quite as lethal as that disease, which took an estimated seventeen to 50 millions lives worldwide. But its impact is going to be far more than the lives lost and the millions affected by it.

What would it take to destroy the Republican Party? The party is actually a loose conglomeration of capitalists, libertarians, racists and evangelicals, with skin tone being the main thing they have in common. Take away too many of these groups, and the party as a whole is unlikely to endure. The party’s symbol, the elephant, might offer a clue. Elephants are deeply familial creatures, deeply protective of their children and their tribes. Break those bonds and the party may crumble.

That of course is exactly what Republicans are doing to themselves and the rest of us. While a conglomeration of interests, the party is actually controlled by the capitalists. And its capitalists have no problem inflicting pain on those in the party that emphasize family and stability.

This is best evidenced by Trump and the party’s obsession to open schools, damn the costs and objections. Trump wants schools to open next month, five days a week, in person in the classroom, damn the torpedoes. He is threatening to cut federal funding to states that don’t comply, which he can’t do. In any event, federal funding accounts for less than ten percent of local school funding. So it’s a pretty empty threat. For it to be effective, he needs to convince governors to open the schools. In states like Florida, he is finding receptive governors.

If this prevails, the outcome is already obvious based on how the disease has progressed. Children will carry the disease home and spread it among the community. Most children will be passive carriers and probably won’t know they are carriers, but some will get it and die too. Much more likely to die are their teachers and others at the school and the children’s parents. Why is this being done? Because Donald Trump wants to get the economy roaring again because he believes that’s how he will win a daunting reelection. As a consequence, teachers feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. Some are writing their wills.

Parents will soon have to decide where their priorities lie. Do they send their kids to school where they might contract the disease, or pass it on to others, like them? Or do they keep them home and maybe try remote learning instead? Remote learning is at best a poor teaching experience, but given the unpleasant choice between risking their or their children’s lives to making Donald Trump happy, most are probably going to keep the kids home. They have to keep their family safe. Mass disobedience on this sort of scale cannot be enforced by truant officers.

It also breaks the compact between Republicans. If Republicans are going to put the family unit in such direct jeopardy, Republican with kids in the public schools finally have a deeply emotional rationale for bailing on the Republican Party. Their own party will have betrayed them. Come November, it will be in their own interest to vote out Republicans who can’t be bothered to protect their children. This may explain the 15-point lead that Joe Biden has amassed in the latest Quinnipiac Poll.

What would the Republican Party look like without most of its so-called value voters? Most likely it would look like a party on its last legs.

The November election is going to blow a devastating hole in the Republican Party. Democrats will retake the White House, Congress and probably a majority of governorships and possibly many state houses. Democrats need only two pickups to control the governorships. We’re going to see states we never thought would vote for Biden vote for him, like possibly Texas, but most likely Arizona, North Carolina and Georgia.

It all amounts to citizens needing a government that governs. Republicans only know how to drown government in a bathtub. It is likely that not just Trumpism that will die in this election, but Reaganism too. When we hear “I’m from the federal government, and I’m here to help” we’ll likely say, “Please”. Republicanism will prove a textbook case for why we need government.

If the party survives, let’s hope it looks a lot more like the party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. If it doesn’t, it probably won’t survive.

The Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary have been demoted

The Thinker by Rodin

The 2020 Democratic nomination process pulled a surprise this year. It showed that doing well in Iowa and New Hampshire probably doesn’t matter anymore.

Doing well in Iowa has been a great predictor of eventually winning the Democratic Party nomination. With the exception of 1992 when their incumbent senator was in the primary, banking Iowa proved to be the momentum that carried over to the nomination. Iowa sends only 41 delegates to the national convention, out of 3979 pledged delegates. That’s about one percent of pledged delegates. New Hampshire’s track record of being the first primary state is much worse than Iowa’s, but it picks only 24 delegates. Nonetheless, until now, it’s been an easy decision to decide to invest heavily in Iowa’s caucus and the New Hampshire primary as well. They set a candidate’s narrative on their eventual electability.

Biden won only six of Iowa’s 41 delegates and no delegates in New Hampshire. Yet he’s going to win the nomination in a landslide. What went wrong?

South Carolina went wrong, or perhaps right. Biden won 39 of its 54 delegates there. South Carolina Democrats of course are mostly African American voters. This time around, South Carolina set the narrative on who the nominee would be, surprising pretty much everyone, including the Biden campaign. Biden won ten of the 15 Super Tuesday states, held just four days later. South Carolina effectively set the narrative this time around, and African Americans showed and have emerged as the Democratic Party’s principle power broker.

The lesson from this should be obvious: if you want to be president, you should spent a whole lot of time and resources in South Carolina and a whole lot less in Iowa and New Hampshire. And if you want to win South Carolina, not only do you need to spend a lot of time there; you need to invest much of your political career to working on issues that African Americans care about. Also, those who discount the savvy of African American voters do so at their peril.

Biden was assumed to be the front-runner before any voting started. Polls generally gave him the edge. It’s just that many of us didn’t believe the polls. Joe looked bland and tired, and we found it much easier to be enthused about progressive candidates. I was enthused about Elizabeth Warren. I still am; she’s just out of the race now. So many progressives like me were hoping to convince principally non-white voters to vote for our favorite, but the biggest voting bloc in the party decided they wanted pragmatic Joe instead of ideological Elizabeth or Bernie.

Biden did it despite the plethora of mainstream candidates that included Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris and Mike Bloomberg. He did it on a shoestring budget. While early and principally white voters found things to like about these candidates, the party’s African American bloc did not. They signaled to other minorities that form what is now arguably the core of the Democratic Party who they should vote for. And primary voters listened, trusting their instincts more than the traditional white base of the party.

This election’s primary process then seems to suggest a new era for the Democratic Party: as the party principally of African Americans and other minorities. This leaves progressive whites in an awkward place because we seem to vote disproportionately for progressive white candidates. A few will cross party lines and vote for Republicans and Trump instead, but most of us will have to rethink the optics of our voting choice. We need to realize that our power and influence in the party is diluted and is likely to remain this way in 2024 and beyond, and that minorities are the party’s new majority.

November’s election should be a blowout for Democrats

The Thinker by Rodin

Like most 2016 election prognosticators, I blew it. I accepted conventional wisdom that Hillary Clinton would win. It sure looked that way from the polls. I blew it but most of us did as well. We didn’t understand the extent of Russian election interference; or the impact of former FBI Director James Comey’s announcement that the FBI would be taking another look through her emails; and the misogyny factor which was hard to quantify, but was real enough. I also discounted how badly an unpopular candidate (Clinton) would fare, along with general desire of voters to switch things up after eight years. I also assumed most voters could see through the fraud that Trump was. Maybe many of them did, just didn’t care.

So my suggesting that Democrats will do very well on November 3 should be taken with a ton of salt. One reason is because it’s unclear whether an election could be held and if held, held fairly. There hasn’t been a fair national election in a very long time, simply because of rampant voter suppression in many red states. So I can’t assume this election will be any different; in fact it’s likely to be worse than 2016.

Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden thinks Trump will try to find a way to delay the election. I don’t think so; this would take an act of Congress and with power split in Congress I can’t see it happening. It’s not hard to imagine it taking place in the midst of a next COVID-19 wave.

Southern states will probably try to imitate Wisconsin and do away with mail-in voting as much as possible. The strategy didn’t work so well in Wisconsin’s latest election, which put a liberal justice on the state’s supreme court by about a ten-point margin. If there is another wave of the virus around election time, seniors are the most likely to stay home, as they have the most to lose. It’s likely to be counterproductive.

Still, it’s not hard to predict that Joe Biden should have a winning night, and will sweep in a large wave of Democrats with him. Here are some of my reasons for thinking this:

  • The COVID-19 epidemic is unlikely to get better. It’s likely to plateau at some point, but we can’t expect it to go away completely over the next few months. We’ll most likely see a resurgence in the summer or fall. Epidemiologists suggest that will be worse than this initial wave, and include a wave of flu-related deaths as well.
  • There has been virtually nothing the Trump administration has done to adapt to the pandemic. There is still nothing resembling mass testing. Whatever is done is done chaotically and way too late. Trump could not have done a worse job managing this, and as the death rate grows he can’t talk his way out of his bumbling incompetence.
  • The economy will still be in tatters, with the unemployment rate likely in the teens at best. The state of the economy is generally the best predictor about whether an incumbent gets reelected. But it won’t be just Trump who owns the economy, it will be all those in charge, mostly Republicans. House Democrats can point to legislation they introduced that is much more generous to working people. Voters will understand clearly who is on their side.
  • The factors that worked for Trump in 2016 will probably work against him this time. Misogyny and racism aren’t likely to be a factor in the presidential race, unless it’s against Biden’s VP pick.
  • Our conservative Supreme Court seems itching to overturn the Affordable Care Act, which will come at the worst possible time if it happens: just before an election. It’s possible it will do the same with overturning Roe v. Wade, a decision that is still widely supported by a majority of Americans.
  • In 2016, there were a lot of non-identified secret Trump voters; too embarrassed I think to tell pollsters they were going to vote for him. I think it will be just the opposite this time. Trump voters won’t admit they won’t vote for him, as that would be embarrassing to admit. But it’s in their best interest to vote against him. Mostly they will vote for whoever is likelier to improve their economic situation, which should still be pretty dire toward the end of the year.
  • The polls are already not looking good. At worst Biden has about a six-point lead nationally, but he’s polling ahead of Trump in key swing states like Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin that he must win. It looks likely that Trump will lose Arizona, possibly moving it into the purple state category.
  • We’ve going through a significant emotional event. As best I can tell this was coined by the sociologist Morris Massey. The basic thesis is to truly change behavior; it has to have a huge emotional impact. Twenty percent unemployment, worrying about losing your housing, bread lines, being unable to pay your doctor bills and watching people you know die unnecessarily from a virus should more than qualify. It worked during the Great Depression, and we may be in its redux by the time November rolls around.
  • The general trend since 2016 is that Democrats have been on a winning streak, and Republicans have been playing a rather poor defensive game. Where they have won, it’s mostly been through cheating, such as the Georgia governor’s race.
  • Seniors are turning against Trump, and they’ve been his most loyal voting block. They can identify with Middle Class Joe Biden. He looks nice and white, has a winning smile and seems relatable. Also, crazy and erratic tempers are no longer in.
  • Demographics: boomers like me are starting to die off, and COVID-19 will accelerate the trend. In any event, those of us who are retired certainly don’t want our safety net collapsed, but Trump seems to be doing everything possible to collapse it. There’s got to be a lot of buyer’s remorse out there.

Of course wishing won’t make it so, so to preclude the possibility activists like me will be working hard to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Republicans will still probably outspend Democrats, but there aren’t that many persuadable voters out there. Trump has no record of accomplishments to run on. The carnage of his self-dealing and mal-administration is obvious and inescapable. Likely there will be many wild moments during the campaign, but I don’t see how Trump or Republicans can turn this around.

I expect a Democrat in the White House in January, and a Democratic Congress as well.

It’s time for a jubilee

The Thinker by Rodin

Seems like our world is going to hell in a corona basket.

I remember at the end of 2019 all my friends were saying they were never so glad to see a year end. 2019 was a miserable year. Now, most of us would prefer to be back to 2019. A recession that looks like it will become a depression and COVID-19, which may kill a million or more of us, seems like the beginning of the Armageddon that so many so-called Christians are looking forward to. Perhaps that’s why many of them were cheering Trump’s suggestion that everything go back to normal on Easter Sunday.

On that last point, I was going to make a blog post just on that, but I can’t possibly restate any better what so many others have already said about Trump’s unbelievable narcissism. Trump wants us to die so he can get reelected. The smart ones though are going to take a pass and will keep sheltering in place and obsessively washing hands and surfaces. I know we are. Evolution is not called “survival of the fittest” for nothing. For those happy to place emotion or devotion to an insane leader over rational behavior, well, you’ll be one of hundreds of thousands of candidates for the 2020 Darwin Awards. Clearly you weren’t reading my blog, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

So rather than restate what so many others have already said, let me talk about something that isn’t being much talked about: the way our economy works appears to be crumbling. What do I mean by that? I mean the way we have been running an economy where the rich continue to get richer, the poor more desperate and in debt, and our government more dysfunctional is ripe. It’s not only not working, it’s not working badly for us. We are ripe for revolutionary changes. This upcoming depression (which it looks likely to be) should make us anxious for another New Deal.

It won’t look quite the same as the New Deal and hopefully any depression will be short lived. But our economy is loaded to the maximum with debt. Pretty much everyone, except the rich, holds it. That’s individuals and corporations, made possible by low interest rates since the Great Recession. The Federal Reserve’s recovery plan is to cut interest rates to zero or even lower, trying to coax us to take on even more debt. That’s because they don’t have any other tools to use. Trying to grow out of a depression based on taking on more debt that we already couldn’t afford doesn’t sound very sound to me. It feels desperate, as if we are desperately trying to keep the rules of our old sinking economy alive. The so-called $2T recovery bill signed into law today is an attempt to keep this hamster wheel turning.

I don’t think this will work. First, look how long it took us to emerge from the Great Recession. When we did emerge, our growth rate was always anemic. You’d be hard-pressed to find any quarter where our GDP increased by more than three percent annually. Our economy was like an overloaded subcompact running on three cylinders trying to merge onto the Interstate. It took a long time to get up to highway speeds. And while we technically recovered, we never really felt we recovered because we never fundamentally solved the problems that got us into it in the first place. The half-hearted attempts by Democrats in 2009 and 2010 were not nearly enough.

In fact, we went back and made the same stupid mistakes all over again, such as getting rid of much of Dodd-Frank banking regulation that was supposed to prevent it from happening again. The fundamentals of our recovering economy were never sound, but were propped up by low interest rates which had the side effect of causing markets to rise. Companies used cheap credit to buy back their own stocks, inflating their stock prices to surreal levels. The bubble would have burst anyhow; the coronavirus thing just made the hole gaping instead of possibly manageable.

What would really make the economy roar back when this pandemic is contained is a big haircut to a lot of creditors. Because an economy can’t roar back if overleveraged people have no cash to buy stuff. What we really need is a jubilee. This is where we force creditors to wipe their debt slates clean.

Take, for example, student loans. Last I checked, there were about a trillion dollars in outstanding student loans, owed by people the least able to pay them back. Desperate for an education instead of flipping burgers for forty years, they didn’t have much choice but to pay usury interest rates for educations whose costs were vastly inflated. Let’s declare all that debt insolvent. The creditors will scream, but a lot of people will have money to spend again on things that matter like food and housing.

It could be done for lots of debts. Write off, say, 25% of mortgage debt on housing purchased for up to $500,000. Wipe out 50% of credit card debt. If you want to encourage thrift, revert the debt if more is incurred over the next five years.

And tax the rich. They’ve been bleeding the rest of us dry for too long, in the process allowing infrastructure and services to degrade. Institute Elizabeth Warren’s proposed 2% wealth tax. Raise rates just to where there were for rich households during the Reagan Administration. Tax dividends the same as ordinary income, or higher. Make work pay again.

Then do what we all know we need to do: make Medicare available to all. Much household debt and personal bankruptcies are due to medical costs that are out of control. Controlling medical costs frees up all sorts of money for more productive use. Institute living wages for everyone with annual increases that keep pace with inflation. Overturn right to work laws.

This is probably beyond a President Biden. But without it, I suspect a President Biden will discover what President Obama discovered: the system will work in counterproductive ways against the needs of the people instead.

Our election, if it can be held fairly, will likely put Democrats in control of government plus give them the margins needed to make real change happen. The question is whether Democrats have learned their lesson, and can institute the changes we need to make the economy work for everyone again.

If not, election 2022 will look a lot like Election 2010, and the crazy cycle will continue to repeat and move us into second world status.

Trump is impeached. So now what?

The Thinker by Rodin

So yea, I got my wish: Donald Trump is impeached, and he’s become the first Republican president to earn the dubious distinction. (Richard Nixon was wise enough to resign before the House voted.) I should be dancing for joy except I don’t dance and this momentous event is really just one strategic chess move in a much larger chess board.

Not to spoil it for you, but we Democrats are down a queen and regaining the chess board is going to be tough. Impeaching Trump is like taking a rook without penalty, but Democrats are a long way from restoring a functional democracy again. And really, that’s what it’s all about for me. I don’t want Democrats to run everything; I just want a real republic again.

We don’t have that now. With the courts stacked with some 150 new federal judges since Trump took office, almost all very conservative, a 5-4 conservative-leaning Supreme Court, an Electoral College stacked against the majority and red states having contests to see who can purge the most Democratic-leaning voters from their voting roles, it’s a very scary time. Our republic is now in a very fragile state, and it’s abundantly clear that Republicans are using all their powers, and lots of dirty tricks, to get rid of it altogether.

That’s because unlike their chess board, they know our side could add more chess pieces to the board. But this takes time and it also takes a functioning republic. Demographics will eventually bite Republicans in the ass, but it only matters if we have a functioning republic. It’s clear that losing political power is not something they can allow if they can help it, so they will be pushing very hard to make sure it doesn’t happen.

So what’s next? A Senate trial, of course, which shows every likelihood of being a sham trial. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is already stacking the deck, not that it’s likely that twenty Republican senators will vote to convict Trump. McConnell has openly said he is working with the White House counsel, and he’s hinting that he doesn’t want any witnesses called.

So there will likely be no testimony from those key witnesses that Trump wouldn’t let testify, like his acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney or John Bolton, his recently departed national security advisor. In a real Senate trial, Trump shouldn’t be able to keep them from testifying. Or maybe he could, but the optics would look really bad with Republicans in control of the chamber. In any event, the Chief Justice presides and if Senate rules allowed it, he would require it. So better to not allow it in the first place, let each side bloviate their same talking points and then let pretty much everyone do what they were going to do anyhow: vote their political leanings.

If these witnesses do testify though, it’s likely to be damning; it just won’t make any difference. Because the new game is now the 2020 elections. It’s not news to most of us who pay attention that senators vote their prejudices and the interests of those who give them campaign money, with a few exceptions. If these key witnesses actually testify to what they saw, and testify truthfully, it is damning of Trump’s guilt. But it won’t make a difference to Trump retaining his office, but it may make a difference to voters.

A lot of hay was made of the U.K.’s Conservative Party winning a decisive majority in Parliament in their recent snap elections. Many pundits see in this a warning for Democrats here: pull to the center and don’t nominate a candidate for president on the liberal extreme like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.

They may have a point. Or they may be missing the point. As best I can tell, the vote was much more about Britons being sick of the Brexit issue and just wanting it to go away. Brexit has been their own all-consuming national nightmare. It didn’t help that Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbin was even wackier than Boris Johnson, the current prime minister. Voters there may have thrown up their hands, not so much because they love conservatives and want to be separated from the European Union as they don’t want to deal with the issue anymore. Like Trump’s presidency, Brexit has been turning the U.K. into an ungovernable mess.

It may be that U.S. voters want to end our ungovernable mess in Washington too. If so, at least they will have a clear choice: go with a radical new government that disenfranchises many voters and gives power to those with money, or return to a saner time when government at least wasn’t quite so insane. Republicans like power but do they really want four more years of a seesawing Trump presidency? It’s just a chaotic mess. For Republicans in Congress, of course the answer is yes, but for a lot of Republican voters out there, about 15 percent according to most polls, the answer could very well be no.

So Joe Biden may look old and not the least bit shiny, but at least he’s not nutso, he’s not corruptible and he’s spent most of his career simply trying to do the right thing for the country and his constituents, albeit imperfectly. And he’s willing to work across the aisle, although it didn’t work at all for Barack Obama. He’s definitely not Jeremy Corbin. For those of us with longer memories, he’s much more like Hubert Humphrey: another happy warrior.

Trump will try to win the election the way he and Republicans won it in 2016: voter suppression, gerrymandering, spreading disinformation, openly seeking foreign interference and riling the base into a toxic stew. So things will just get crazier.

But it may be that while they get crazier, Americans in general will say “Enough of the crazy!” and toss the bums out. It could be our way out of our own Brexit. Or at least a move that bring Democrats a new bishop and a knight on the chessboard.

Stay tuned. The game is afoot.

Who is going to be our next president?

The Thinker by Rodin

Who knows? At this point it’s probably easier to say who it won’t be. That likely includes any Democrat polling at under ten percent nationally. That almost certainly includes any of Trump’s Republican challengers on a quixotic quest to convince Republicans he’s the loser he is, since about ninety percent of them love Donald Trump. There is always the possibility of a great Trump implosion. It’s been long underway; it just doesn’t seem to make any difference. As I noted recently, there’s no bottom for Republicans.

Anyhow, sorry Kamala Harris, Corrie Booker and even Pete Buttigieg, who curiously raised the most money of any Democratic candidate last quarter. Mayor Pete though may be going for the consolation prize: being on the eventual Democratic nominee’s ticket. Not bad for the mayor of a city of only 100,000 people.

Will it be Joe Biden, the current presumptive Democratic frontrunner? If history is any judge, probably not. The odds favor whoever wins the Iowa caucuses. You have to go back to 1992 to find a case where the Democratic nominee did not first win in Iowa. That was because Tom Harkin was running and he was Iowa’s senator. He got 76% of the vote; Bill Clinton got just 3%. New Hampshire’s primary is hardly a bellwether; it’s more often wrong than not at calling the Democratic Party’s eventual nominee.

Polls will doubtless be all over the place between now and February’s Iowa caucuses. The Des Moines Register hasn’t polled the state since June when Biden had a comfortable lead. It will be interesting to see their next poll, since theirs in typically the most valid. Generally though the candidate with the most enthusiastic supporters is the one who ultimately wins, since they show up on caucus night. You have to look hard for Biden enthusiasts. If I had to pick a winner of that primary, it’s most likely to be Elizabeth Warren. At least, that’s the sense I’m gleaning from reporters following her around: she generates the most enthusiasm and highest crowd sizes.

The Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary have the effect of quickly winnowing the field. They also perversely assure that white Democrats get an oversize ability to help pick the eventual nominee. Is this racism? It wasn’t intended that way, as it was set up at a time when our country was overwhelmingly white but today it looks racist. Multicultural Nevada now rings in third, with its caucus on February 22. After Super Tuesday on March 3, which now includes California, we’ll probably know with 80 percent probability who the Democrats nominee will be: whoever has racked up the highest delegate count. Barack Obama was the exception, although he did win in Iowa in 2008.

I don’t think the Democrats are going to nominate Joe Biden. It’s not just because of his gaffes and his tepid support. It’s because if you add up the polling for the other progressive candidates, they trounce him. As candidates drop out, it’s unlikely that those supporting progressives will realign behind Joe Biden. They are more likely to align behind Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders instead.

Warren probably has more enthusiastic supporters, plus Sanders is a known and older commodity. So I think the omens look quite good for Warren, who also happens to be my choice at the moment. Warren has been steadily creeping up in polls.

Democrats would be wise to nominate someone they are actually enthusiastic about voting for. That won’t be Joe. What brings out Democrats in droves on Election Day is someone new and different. Unfortunately, what they often get instead is someone tried, true and tired but favored by party insiders. Their candidate should be someone with good favorability ratings, particularly among independents. Currently, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders qualify. This will change. Biden’s are declining while Warren’s are rising. Many candidates have underwater favorability ratings solely because most voters don’t yet know who they are.

I’m rooting for Warren and have been giving her $50 a month for many months now. After people really listen to her, they tend to like her. She seems relatable in a way few Democratic candidates are. I’m betting that she wins the nomination and I hope the election too. If she does, I will definitely enjoy watching her debates with Donald Trump. Trump will never know what hit him.

No bottom for the Republican Party

The Thinker by Rodin

It looks like I have been giving Republicans too much credit. I assumed there was some core group of Republicans who could agree, “This time Trump has gone too far” and bring him down. Apparently, there is no bottom for the Republican Party.

That’s because I assumed that there were some sane Republicans out there. But it looks like when push comes to shove, sanity takes a back seat to subservience and fealty. Republicans apparently love to take orders. They love authoritarians. I’m guessing it gives them some feeling of comfort that somewhere a Big Daddy is taking care of things. Having decided to get on the Trump train, they can’t seem to find a reason to get off, no matter how surreal and ridiculous it gets.

Signs are pointing to a huge train wreck for Republicans in the 2020 election. Some years back I pointed out that Trump would kill the Republican Party. To severely maim the party, Republicans have to lose both the presidency and the Senate. Barring some massive election fraud, Trump is destined to be defeated in 2020. He’s never polled over 50% and most of the time his approval ratings have been mired in the low 40s or lower. Winning with these sorts of negatives is possible only with massive voter fraud or a third-party candidate that siphons off a lot of Democratic votes. Both the 2000 and the 2016 elections likely would have elected Democratic presidents had it not been for the third-party spoiler effect. It’s not Trump’s base that will win him reelection, but Democratic fragmentation.

Winning the Senate requires flipping three Republican seats, which is a bit of a long shot but not impossible in a wave election. Aside from his base, Trump has managed to piss pretty much everyone off. But even among his base, he is bleeding supporters. White men support him, but according to polling he’s recently lost white women without a college education. Trump is losing farmers from his trade wars, and truckers are seeing major layoffs plus the latest tax law raised their taxes by doing away with a lot of their deductions. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is deeply loathed in his home state, with only 33% approval. He can’t even be bothered to pump up a pension fund for coal miners. Yes, in deep red Kentucky, McConnell may lose reelection next year.

Rather than face criticism, Trump does the only thing he knows how to do: reshuffle the deck. This means changing the subject, generally by saying things or posting comments on his Twitter feed that are increasingly outrageous. This is effective but it doesn’t actually fix the issues that got him in trouble in the first place.

Moreover, his pattern never varies. When he decided not to put those 25% tariffs on Chinese goods so people could enjoy nice presents under their Christmas tree mostly made in China, then of course when China added new tariffs on U.S. products as they promised it all went out the window. New tariffs were back on and markets plunged about three percent yesterday. They were doing fine until his announcement.

But just when you thought Trump couldn’t possibly get any wackier, he doubles down on the stupid. Just this week Trump:

  • Said he was the Chosen One, implying he was the King of the Jews
  • Said any Jew voting for Democrats was disloyal and un-American because they should put Israel first … uh, what? And how is putting Israel before the United States showing you are an American patriot? Oh wait, because Trump says so. Gotcha.
  • Ordered U.S. companies to leave China, even though he can’t
  • Decided he could issue an executive order to end birth right citizenship, as if he could unilaterally override the 14th Amendment
  • Blamed the chairman of the Federal Reserve for his economic woes because he wouldn’t cut interest rates fast enough, while apparently absolving himself of the blame of nominating Jerome Powell in the first place
  • Said he wanted to buy Greenland and canceled a summit with Denmark, which manages the island, in a huff because they wouldn’t consider it. Actually, Denmark couldn’t even if it wanted to. Residents of Greenland would have to decide. Oh, and he called their female prime minister “nasty”, his word of choice when acting like the obvious misogynist that he is.

We have a president that is, quite frankly, totally nuts and bonkers. Just one of these by a Democratic candidate like Joe Biden would sink their candidacy. But Republicans so far show nothing but increased fealty to a president who by any objective standard is mentally ill and could not be trusted to even competently manage a child’s savings account.

Moreover, a recession is clearly on the way and every action Trump takes seems to be designed to make it worse. It was tariffs that brought us the Great Depression. Doubling down on tariffs simply increases the odds that a recession will turn into a depression. And if there is a recession, there’s not a single adviser to the president who has either the smarts or the wherewithal to help lead the US out of a recession. The closest we have is Jerome Powell, and only because the Fed is independent of the executive and he can’t be fired. When you surround yourself by incompetent sycophants, well, you get incompetent sycophants. Hell of a way to run a “government” … don’t bother to actually govern!

I was thinking yesterday that the tanking stock market might finally be the straw that broke the Republicans’ back. Moneyed capitalists ultimately hold up Republican power. Yesterday, three percent of their wealth vanished because Trump’s ego was hurt. Likely a lot more of it will vanish soon.

The obvious remedy is the 25th Amendment and twisting Vice President Pence’s arms to get a majority of the cabinet to declare our president is too mentally ill to serve. I’ve been waiting more than two years for this intervention, assuming cooler heads in the Republican Party could prevail. While I still hope for it, increasingly it looks like I misjudged the nerve and sobriety of the Republican leadership. They are wholly captured by their captain, and appear ready to go down with his ship.

How do you solve a problem like Donald Trump?

The Thinker by Rodin

Donald Trump has us just where he wants us: by the scrotum. Trump’s faults are many, but he does have some assets. He knows how to get attention and keep it on himself. He’s leading a three-ring circus and like it or not we are all dancing to his tune. Trump pervades our thoughts from morning until night, and often haunts our dreams too.

Which to my mind raises the larger question: how do we get out of this dance? The presidency is a unique office in that its occupant cannot help but make news every day. For an egomaniac like Trump, it’s the perfect position. Even so the default attention that comes with being president is obviously not quite enough for him. Which is why our carnival barker-in-chief always keeps a half dozen issues in reserve certain to inflame his enemies and cheer his supporters.

It’s abundantly clear that he is a compulsive liar but to somewhere between 40 and 44 percent of Americans that approve of him at the moment it’s apparently not an issue. Or perhaps it’s not enough of an issue to stop supporting him. If you are looking for entertainment, Trump certainly delivers a nonstop show. To his supporters it is mesmerizing; to the rest of us it leaves us queasy, feeling unmoored and sick. The USA we thought we knew that at least aimed toward fairness and justice seems to be gone. What’s left is the ugliest seam of America: forces long largely kept bottled up, with a president who loves to flout all rules and conventions.

If the entertainment is good enough, it’s hard to be aware that your pocket is being picked while it’s happening. With the exception of Trump’s richest supporters, the rest of us are getting shafted. He is pretty much doing exactly the opposite of the things he said he would do during the campaign. One small example: he was going to deliver us the best and most affordable health care ever. Instead, he constantly works to undermine the Affordable Care Act and cut Medicaid leading to millions more uninsured and higher premiums for those of us still ensured. He does this while whipping up a “Celebration of America” event because the Super Bowl champs, the Philadelphia Eagles, apparently didn’t want to visit him in the White House. It’s so much easier to watch these theatrics than to notice our financial mooring slip from under our feet.

While there have been populist presidents before, Trump is clearly is a category we have never seen before: contemptuous of the rule of law, openly racist with every action designed to feed his insatiable ego. How do we break his spell?

Usually elections are pretty effective. We’ll see what happens in November, but Trump’s slowly rising poll numbers suggests he has plenty more tricks in his bag as the election nears. He’s operating intuitively, convinced that by ever more inflaming his base he’ll also bring them to the polls to counteract an expected Democratic wave. So it’s not hard to predict he’ll get wilder, crazier and wilier as November approaches.

I have two thoughts on how to break the Trump spell that are sort of opposite of each other for your consideration.

Stand up to the bully

The one thing you can count on with Trump is his insatiable ego. It’s quite possible that Democrats can use his ego can be used to walk him right off a cliff. There is plenty of evidence so far that ultimately this approach won’t work because Trump is intuitively one step ahead of everyone else. I’ve written about standing up to bullies before, and Trump is the perfect example. Bullies draw energy from a crowd of bullies surrounding them, and Trump seems to have a limitless supply of these. Democrats need just the right person to engage Trump. It’s hard to know exactly who this person would be, but the key is for Trump to be challenged and ultimately to lose face in the eyes of his supporters.

Ideally it would be a woman, which is why my senator Elizabeth Warren comes to mind. She’s already been quite eloquent speaking against Trump but for the most part Trump has ignored her. But she could challenge him to a town hall debate. CNN is doing more of these. Some months ago it held one between Senators Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz and it sure was interesting to watch. Warren takes no prisoners and is exceptionally eloquent. There is one way almost guaranteed to get him to show up: repeatedly say he’s too chicken to show up. I’m quite confident that in front of a national audience she could cut him down to size.

An even better confrontation would be a physical one. A prominent Democrat could challenge him to a wrestling or boxing match. According to Trump’s physician, he’s exceptionally healthy and has the body of a man half his age (cough cough). If he has to go up against a peer, perhaps former Vice President Joe Biden would do.

Ignore him and concentrate on pocketbook issues

This is probably what most smart Democrats will do instead. Trump is a self-activating egomaniac. If he cannot be controlled, then the next best thing is simply to ignore him. Egomaniacs feed on attention, so why give him any more? Most likely the only way he can get gotten rid of is through the ballot box, that is if we can keep our elections free enough to elect more Democrats.

By ignoring him and concentrating on pocketbook issues instead, Democrats can gain the political power needed to control the policy agenda again. This is done through winning back not just Congress but statehouses and governorships. National elections happen only every four years anyhow. Democrats need to point out how our standard of living is being systematically lowered except for the wealthiest. They need to promise to take pragmatic steps to address these concerns if given the power of holding office again. It’s unlikely that Trump’s approval rating will ever above the low 40s anyhow. If Trump must be addressed, simply run on “ending Republican corruption” and putting the American people first.

Anyhow those are my ideas. I’m open to better ones if you have any.

The bane of bad and ineffective political fundraising

The Thinker by Rodin

I once wrote about how most proselytizers are morons. I can add to that list the fundraisers for candidates running for political office, at least the ones that write me. And write me they do, constantly! Lately my email inbox overflows with fifty or more of these pitches a day all of which boil down to ohmigod the world is going to come to end right now if you don’t empty your bank account and send all of it immediately to my candidate!

Thankfully Gmail seems to recognize a lot of this garbage and throws it into a spam folder, which is good except that means I’d be seeing more than fifty of these a day if it weren’t. There may be a Can Spam Act but it doesn’t apply to solicitations for public office. This means there is no penalty for campaigns contacting me and so they do, over and over again.

Occasionally I do click on the unsubscribe link. Sometimes it actually works, but most of the time it doesn’t last for long. Sometimes I get more emails from the candidate later that same day, even after receiving an email telling me I was unsubscribed from future mailings. I went through a period of several months where I religiously clicked on unsubscribe links for the stuff that did come in my inbox. It rarely worked for long. There is no penalty for candidates swapping email lists. Candidates selling their lists to other candidates appear to be one of the principle ways they make money. The result is there is no way to turn it off.

Proactive contributors know what to do: create an email specifically for this crap and give that to these campaigns. This works fine if you are consistent about it. However, give out your primary email address just once and you are doomed. Your only choice is to abandon that email address for another one. Since almost everyone I care about knows my real email address and it is tied to more businesses and websites than I can count, that’s not an option.

I actually try to read some of this fundraising spam from time to time. Like Craigslist casual encounters postings that I review monthly, it can be amusing. In fact, I could make it a feature of my blog to highlight the sheer inanity of it all, as I actually have done before. Only unlike Craigslist casual encounters, which I assume most people don’t regularly visit, most of you are also getting this crap, so it’s probably not that amusing.

Nonetheless, they occasionally tickle my funny bone. I got one recently from “Vice President Joe Biden” but doubtless some low level staffer at the DSCC or DCCC instead. Joe told me he was personally reaching out to me. He even called me by name (as they all do, as they have harvested your name.) The inanity of it though was funny because there was nothing the least bit personal about it, other than substituting my first name into an email template, which they all do. Since Joe likely has my snail mail address, if he wants to personally reach out to me, he can knock on my door. There’s a good chance I won’t open the door but since he’s vice president I might. And I might give the DSCC, DCCC or whatever group he is soliciting for $50. So come on over, Joe.

Quarterly FEC fundraising deadlines, but now new made-up end of month “deadlines” seem to ratchet up the emails as the month ends. These days any poll that shows a candidate down a few points, or a poll suggesting they are close to beating an incumbent, will stimulate requests for money. It often feels though like they are simply making up stuff. In any event these pitchmen make used car salesmen took ethical. In the process they treat their potential contributors like morons, which probably means they don’t deserve a contribution.

In fact, most of the money given to candidates is wasted. Hillary Clinton of course is taking in heaping piles of money right now. I get not just email but snail mail regularly from her campaign asking me to send $100 or more now! How is she spending it? It’s being spent mostly to buy TV and radio time. This is a complete waste of money. I can find better ways to spend that money on something actually useful.

Why is it a waste of time? It’s because the number of us who are persuadable is vanishingly small. Look at Clinton and Trump’s polling numbers over the past six months. They have fluctuated a bit but their percentages are pretty much where they were six months ago, and Clinton still has the lead. And that’s because six months ago people already knew whom they were going to vote for — yes, our political opinions are that hardened. The vast amounts of the money Clinton is spending now is going for TV and radio ads and it’s pretty much all wasted.

If Clinton wanted to persuade me to send her money, her staff might document that they are spending it wisely. Campaign ads even in swing states aren’t going to move the needle. At this point in the campaign only one-thing matters: turnout. So I want to see a treasurer’s report showing 80% or more of contributions are going to fund turnout efforts. And I want to see evidence that this door knocking and phone banking is working. I want to read about the fleets of buses that will help minorities get to polling stations that are too far away; that they are helping poor people get voter IDs or that they’ve prepaid for a taxi to take these people to the polls who otherwise could not make it. Then I might cough up some more money. But to see it wasted on TV and radio advertising tells me the campaign is run by a bunch of hacks. I’m not spending my hard earned money to prop up the profits of Clear Channel, which owns so many of our nation’s radio stations.

The most effective time to spend money is at the start of a campaign, not its end. At its start the candidate is relatively unknown and needs introduction. Even this is a pretty poor use of campaign money. What we really need are candidates that speak to us; a candidate we can relate to. When that happens we become naturally enthusiastic and the money part tends to take care of itself. Witness Bernie Sanders nearly successful campaign this year as evidence. I gave him money when I saw real potential in the candidate. No one needed to prompt me.

Money is also well spent early in the campaign when memes are set. Obama did in Mitt Romney in June and July 2012 when his campaign brilliantly aired those “47% will never vote for me” ads, showing Romney’s disdain for the working class. Romney would have had a tough campaign regardless, but doing it then when voters were forming impressions about Romney as a genial guy was brilliant, but also fortuitous for the Obama campaign.

With a few exceptions like the Sanders campaign, campaigns in general seem tone deaf to what really works and how to spend and raise money effectively. I can tell the candidates worth supporting by their smart management and the way their candidate naturally connects with voters. The rest of them, including the Hillary Clinton campaign, don’t deserve my support until they demonstrate to me that they will use my hard-earned money wisely. It’s clear from these shrill solicitations in my inbox that the descendants of P.T. Barnum are running their fundraising and that’s a bad sign.