The Republican Party is moving toward fascism

The Thinker by Rodin

It’s been clear to me for a while that Republicans are authoritarians. Of course, all political parties want their ideas implemented into law. In this country it’s supposed to be done through persuasion and an open and democratic process. But when I look at today’s Republican Party, I’m having a hard time convincing myself Republicans are not generally fascists.

Yes, yes, I know. They are the freedom party. Two days ago House Republicans passed version 2 of the oxymoronically named American Health Care Act, a version that was significantly crueler than the previous version that lost by a small margin. This one didn’t do much better, but did pass with four votes to spare. They want to give Americans the freedom to go without healthcare coverage again. They have that freedom now, but it requires paying a penalty to Uncle Sam. Freedom they tell us is not free, but in this case it had to be truly free to be freedom. This strikes me as a strange version of freedom. In general the sorts of freedoms they are pushing look dubious at best. They want school children to have the freedom to eat unhealthy lunches again. They want parents to have the freedom to keep their children from getting vaccinated. They want the citizens of Flint, Michigan to have the freedom to drink dirty water full of lead whether they want to or not. They also want parents to have the freedom to send their children to charter schools using our tax dollars without charter schools being held to the same standards as public schools. And they want all of us to have the freedom to breathe air contaminated by unchecked industrial pollutions again.

They sure don’t want pregnant women to have freedom over their own bodies. They don’t want to grant to poor people the freedom to accept food stamps, at least not without first peeing into a cup. In general they don’t want blacks, minorities and liberal areas to have the freedom to easily vote or at all. Republican secretaries of states find ever more creative ways to scrub their voter rolls. They clearly don’t want to give Democrats political power proportionate to their share of the population and will create crazily gerrymandered districts to disproportionately overstate their political power. And it’s not just Democrats. They don’t want to extend that freedom to moderates either, the bulk of the country. Democrats at least have minority status. Moderates are pretty much unrepresented.

So it’s pretty clear what their intent is: to dramatically overstate their political power so they can force the majority to do what they say. Supposedly they are following a democratic process, but not really. There is nothing democratic about gerrymandering, regardless of which political party is doing it. It’s legal because the constitution delegates most criteria for voting to the states, but it’s not democratic. Our Electoral College that for the fourth time put into the presidency someone who did not win the popular vote is not democratic either; although it was the price we paid to bring the southern states into our union more than two centuries ago. All this gives Republicans power, but not legitimacy, which is why there are so many protests going on. Deliberately and systematically Republicans are doing everything possible to make us tow their line. Using the vast capital of the wealthy class, they largely control the popular media. As Marshall McLuhan long ago noted, the medium is the message.

But fascism? Would it be too much to say that Republicans want to do away with democracy and institute a fascist state instead? Thanks to Republicans, their persistence and their money we effectively have an oligarchy. Former president Jimmy Carter said just as much. So I went to Wikipedia and studied fascism to find out.

Modern fascism was defined in the last century, principally in Germany and Italy on and before the Second World War. Wikipedia defines it as a form of radical authoritarian nationalism. So overstated nationalism is (or was) certainly a key to the being a fascist. With Donald Trump’s elevation to the presidency we arguably have an ardent nationalist as chief. Only he is fighting for a largely mythical version of America some sixty years earlier.

Fascists also think liberal democracies are obsolete. I’ve outlined plenty of evidence of this already. Totalitarianism is a key feature of fascism. To get there you have to take away power from those who don’t agree with you. They have been very successful there through gerrymandering, voter suppression and many other tactics, some quite illegal.

Lately we’ve been seeing the troubling rise of brownshirts: formal and informal right-wing paramilitary organizations that will take action when they feel it is necessary. We saw brownshirts and anti-fascists (brownshirts on the left, but many fewer) come to fisticuffs recently at Berkeley on April 15. I believe the possession of so many guns in this country is generally a “be prepared” statement from these brownshirts so they can take action when society crosses some sort of nebulous boundary they won’t tolerate. The existence of these groups is evidence, if not proof, that lots of totalitarian wannabees live among us. Judging from their numbers at Trump rallies it’s a sizeable bunch.

I don’t see yet a desire by Republicans to nationalize industry, although Trump has said he want to in-source everything possible. It may be that nationalization simply doesn’t work in the 21st century with so much international trade. Fascists though sure like strong leaders, and Christians in particular like to play follow the leader. They already follow a largely false version of Jesus. They sure don’t like any ambiguity. It gives them the hives. Trump played them masterfully in the campaign and they voted for him in droves. While his poll numbers decline, he hasn’t lost the authoritarian base of his support, and probably won’t as long as he keeps up his bragado.

Trump himself is clearly authoritarian. He praises dictators and discount moderates. He has no patience for the messiness of republican government. It’s wholly reflexive because this is the way he has run his businesses. So is true of much of the moneyed class. They are used to being in charge and having respect they assert is due their wealth and station.

So while we are clearly not there yet, we clearly have in charge a party and a president with fascist tendencies. And it’s not like we haven’t traveled part way down this road. An oligarchy is a big step toward getting there. It’s unclear whether our three branches of government can check the rise of the fascists, particularly when one party controls all three branches.

As for me, I intend to keep doing all I can to not let fascism happen here. I think it’s a lot closer than we think.

Democrats score a big budget win

The Thinker by Rodin

The budget agreement which funds the federal government through the end of the fiscal year (September 30) proves that although Democrats don’t control any part of government, they still wield enormous clout. For the most part the Omnibus funding bill demonstrates the power of Democrats and vested interests. Trump and Republicans may say they are going to change government, but the agreement proves it’s mostly bluster and that Trump is a largely powerless president with his influence receding more every day.

Indeed, it’s hard to find any good news for Republicans in this spending bill except for a modest increase in defense spending. Money talks and all others walk. This bill proves who’s really exercising power. Consider:

  • There are no cuts to “Obamacare” or the subsidies to the Affordable Care Act. Insurers now have enough certainty to set realistic rates and most will prefer to stay in the exchanges. The tens of millions at risk of losing health insurance can breathe easier, at least for now.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency is funded at 99% of last year’s level. So much for the deep cuts Trump promised and really the existential threat to its existence. Proposed changes to degrade environmental protections will probably fizzle too, as environmental law is unchanged and the same staff is largely in place.
  • Not a dime goes to fund Trump’s wall along the Mexican border. ICE gets a small budget increase and funds may be used to repair and replace the existing border fence only. There are funds to hire only 100 more ICE border agents.
  • Our socialist national train system, Amtrak, got a $105M increase.
  • The National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities did not get eliminated or even cut. Each agency gets a $2M increase instead. Ditto for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. I guess Big Bird is going to stay for another year.
  • My ex-agency, the U.S. Geological Survey gets $23M in additional funding, much of it earmarked for improving earthquake prediction but also for better groundwater level monitoring.
  • The IRS maintained its last year’s budget and additional money was allocated for improving customer service.
  • The Legal Services Corporation, which provides legal services to the poor, maintains a steady budget.
  • The Justice Department is barred from using its funds to undercut local government’s marijuana initiatives.
  • The National Parks Service was funded at last year’s level.
  • There are none of the large cuts Trump wanted to the National Institute for Health that Trump wanted. In fact NIH gets $2B more.
  • Planned Parenthood is not blocked from receiving federal money. Federal funds still can’t be used for abortion services, but this has been the policy for about forty years.

One might call this the April 30 miracle: a bright ray of sun after a few very dark and uncertain months. Perhaps though it is not so miraculous. For Republican control of government is largely a mirage. Trump waffles and vacillates, making basic planning pretty much impossible. This leaves Republicans in congress to govern, but it’s a muscle so atrophied that it has proved nearly impotent. For it’s unclear what it means to be a Republican. Republicans have been great at opposition, but poor at legislating. The party is comprised of factions with vastly different agendas and with no history of compromise, and with no one feeling the duty to compromise even among themselves.

Still, in a way this Omnibus bill is good news for Republicans. By dodging the issues they supposedly care most about, they increase their reelection chances in 2018 and 2020. And that’s what this is really about. The curious thing though is that at best it gives them the illusion of power, because it’s only real power if you can execute it. Perhaps the hope is that in retaining a power that is largely not exercised they will one day have a majority where their caucuses are united enough to actually accomplish some of those massive changes they ran on. More than likely, they are hoping their base won’t hold their feet to the fire and they are good enough (not being Democrats) and their districts are so tightly gerrymandered where it won’t matter.

Citizen opposition though is a huge but unstated factor. Republicans understand the tide is turning rapidly against them so they are pulling up drawbridges and filling the moats. They don’t want to show up at town halls. Marches, protests, petitions to Congress and (at times) massive numbers of phone calls to Congress are having an impact. It’s making Republicans scared and sowing confusion and hesitancy.

For a supposedly principled and aggressive party, Republicans are looking more like Keystone Kops. For those of us in the opposition, this is good. Let’s hope activists and Democrats can sustain this through the 2018 elections. As long as Trump is president, it’s quite likely, which is why Trump’s time in office may be shorter than anyone thinks.

How the Democrats blew it and how to not blow it next time

The Thinker by Rodin

I’m over the initial shock of the election, although it follows me into unwelcome places, like my dreams. The election seemed pretty easy to call in advance. Pollsters were in agreement. Everything had been sliced and diced. Although a two-term president is rarely succeeded by someone from his own party, it sure looked like with the worst Republican candidate ever things were going to break for Team Blue.

Obviously it didn’t, leaving pretty much everyone except Michael Moore and Scott Adams with egg on their faces. Heck, even the Trump campaign was planning for defeat. You could see in Trump’s “victory” speech that he was a bit shell-shocked by the whole thing; it’s almost liked he hoped to lose. Trump’s visit to the White House yesterday was also surreal. He had a stunned-bunny sort of look, like this is the last sort of job he wanted. And it’s worth noting that while Trump trounced Clinton in the Electoral College vote, Clinton still won the popular vote. She joins Al Gore and Samuel J. Tilden in the exclusive club of candidates who won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College vote (and who had not been president already.) By any standard, Trump’s election is not the will of the people.

In retrospect pollsters failed because no one had come up with a way to model the racist vote. Racists generally won’t self identify themselves but based on the results the unidentified racists were about 5% of voters, all voting for Trump. And the reason they couldn’t be identified before was that Trump was our first modern openly racist candidate, well, at least since George Wallace in 1968.

So it’s important to understand that even with the wind at their backs Democrats had the odds stacked against them. Generally presidents don’t quite deliver the change envisioned, even if they are well liked, so voters will be inclined to try the other party. And Trump was all about change. But he also had people enthusiastic about him. Enthusiastic people vote. While there certainly were Democrats enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton, most of us were half-hearted supporters. Those who show up to vote with the most passion get their candidate elected.

It’s not that Democrats didn’t have a change candidate. Bernie Sanders was that candidate. He had amazing crossover appeal. During the Democratic primaries, Sanders generally won the rust belt swing states that normally vote Democratic but were picked off by Trump. It’s impossible to know that if Bernie had been the party’s nominee whether he would have done better than Clinton, but my guess is he would have. At least some of Clinton’s firewall states would have fulfilled their function and that may have been the edge that was needed.

So it’s worth recalling just how Clinton got the nomination in the first place. It’s not that she didn’t do a lot to earn the nomination. But she was the Democratic establishment’s choice. Clinton spent years cultivating these relationships and of course she also had Bill to help her as well. It was obvious that DNC chairman Debbie Wasserman-Shultz had her finger on the scales for Hillary. But even if she hadn’t, long before Bernie had even entertained the idea of running for president, Hillary had an in with the various Democratic state party establishment. She had banked most of the party’s superdelegates. If every eight years is going to be a change election, it’s counterproductive for a party to have a system in place that discourages change candidates. The Republican Party did not, and it worked in their favor in this election.

So the lesson for Democrats should be clear: get rid of the party’s superdelegate system. To his credit Sanders brought this to the attention to the party after his nomination was out of the question, and sort of won. Superdelegates don’t go away but they will be reduced by two-thirds. This will make it easier for candidates like him to get a foothold in the future, increasing the odds that the eventual party nominee will be a rank and file pick, rather than the establishment’s. It’s a pretty good bet that rank and file will be closer to understanding who can actually win an election than the party’s elite as they won’t be living their lives in the insular political bubble that the party’s elite do.

But can real party change happen? Getting rid of most of these superdelegates helps. It would be better to get rid of all of them. What’s critical for 2018 though is to find a new party chairman that gets this. Howard Dean, who became the DNC chair after the 2004 election is willing to give it another try. His 50-state strategy was very successful. It allowed Democrats to regain control of the House and the Senate just two years later. We need Dean or someone who believes the same things. We don’t need Wasserman-Shultz or Donna Brazile again as both have proven ineffectual.

We also need to say goodbye to the Clintons. Both came with baggage and it dragged down the ticket, even if some of their issues were more smoke than fire. (Hillary’s emails, for example, was mostly a big nothing burger.) They represent the “new Democrat” that Bill Clinton invented in 1992. That business-friendly, Republican-lite branding no longer works and does not distinguish the Democratic Party. Both Bill and Hillary need to exit stage right. The party needs to hear from a variety of voices, hopefully mostly new voices to see what resonates within the party of today. The party is morphing too, but feels moribund. It’s a party that is increasingly diverse and multicultural. But it should not be the party of non-whites. It should appeal to those Trump voters who were sucked in by Trump’s popular and economic message. Whites still form the majority of voters in this country. Elections cannot be won without significant number of crossover white voters. For whatever reason, except for younger white voters, whites and white women in particular failed to deliver for Democrats in this election.

If you want people to vote for you, give them some compelling reasons to vote for you. Democrats failed here, choosing an establishment candidate with baggage and high unfavorables over a change candidate. Voters need to feel like the candidate is someone that gets their concerns, and has a track record of fighting for their issues. It’s hard to relate to a candidate who is a millionaire and gives $250,000 speeches to Wall Street firms. You need someone authentic with fire in their belly instead, someone a lot like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.

The only good news for Democrats is that Trump is likely to quickly implode. He brings a lot of baggage to his presidency including a lot of civil suits and possible criminal charges for having sex with a minor. If he chooses to do those things he says he will do, he will piss off his voters who buy his brand but not most of his policies, like throwing undocumented immigrants out of the country. The Democratic Party need not be down for long. But if it is to recover quickly, it must do so with agility and intelligence. It needs to morph into a populist party again.

Trump is accelerating the Republican Party’s end

The Thinker by Rodin

I gave in and started paying for online news, specifically the New York Times. My timing was fortuitous because I came across this article today that I might not have otherwise seen. It underlines just how damaging Trump has become to the Republican Party’s brand.

Trump is unlikely to win next Tuesday and I’m not losing any sleep over the prospect. It’s not out of the range of possibility, as I noted recently. Yesterday, election analyst and election guru Nate Silver posted a scary post-Halloween article on just how Trump might triumph against the forces against him. Considering the stakes of his winning, the prospects are scarier than Halloween ever will be. But even assuming he wins the Republican Party still has one foot in the grave.

As the article points out, this is because Trump’s candidacy prematurely stirred up a hornet’s nest of voters in Southern states that hadn’t necessarily accepted the Democratic Party brand. There was an opportunity during these last eight years for Republicans to rebrand the party, as its leadership tried fruitlessly to do after the 2012 loss. Instead, the party doubled down on the exact policies that allowed it to succeed in 2010, which amounted to opposing pretty much everything the other side proposed on principle. Then along came Donald Trump to take these toxic elements, whip them into a frothy frenzy, and ride it to a nomination and now to the final days of the campaign. It’s a message that sounds anti-woman, is definitely anti-immigrant and anti-minority.

The South of course is no longer a plantation economy. It is growing quite rapidly. Unsurprisingly the growth is coming mostly in its larger cities. The South is no exception to the general rule that when people live together more densely, they are more in each other’s faces.

And that’s what’s happening in Atlanta, Miami, Houston, Dallas, Austin, New Orleans and many other places in the South, and most of these cities have Democratic mayors. That’s not to say it’s entirely smooth. Few major cities are integrated and most have areas where certain ethnicities predominate. But there are enough, and daily doing your job puts you in touch with so many people from different cultures and perspectives that fear slowly moves to wariness, then to relaxation and then toward general acceptance of people for who they are, unless they are in your face.

When Trump pushes the buttons that excite his own largely white and more rural base, he stimulates reactions elsewhere too, mostly from the very people he is criticizing who are already living in the South, but in increasingly larger numbers as opportunities emerge mostly in its cities. This is allowing red states to become purple, putting states like Arizona and Georgia into potential play for Democrats. By turning them off, Trump is also turning them off on the Republican Party. This allows these people to form identities that tend to align with the Democratic Party. It’s not necessarily that they are drawn to the Democratic Party, it’s that there is no sane alternative. The Republican Party won’t go there. It will only retrench and become more steadfast and hardened in its positions.

As I noted many years ago, the Republican Party can’t win the demographics game. It must change or die. The longer it defers the process the less probable it becomes that they can pull it off at all. This is why I suggested last month that the Republican Party might be about to implode altogether. We’ll know after the election and it depends on whether Republicans control any part of government. Most likely the only part left that they will control will be the House.

Many Republican senators are already saying that if Hillary Clinton is elected they will refuse to consider anyone she nominates to the Supreme Court. More anti-governance though won’t buy them more votes. In 2010 this tactic brought in the Tea Party, but that market is tapped out. All Republicans can do is maximize the turnout of those already drawn to it. They cannot draw from voters turned off by their message, particularly when the people they scorn are exactly those they need to wield political power. Their actions will please their base, but hasten their demise, assuming the election doesn’t take care of that next week.

If somehow everything turns up roses for Republicans next week, their fundamental problem is still unsolved. They may be able to govern, but they won’t be able to change hearts and minds. If they gain or retain power, more of the same will simply drive animosity against them and exacerbate their inevitable decline.

For Republicans, it’s a game of heads I win, tails you lose. And Democrats are flipping the coin.

It looks like the Republican Party looks might Bull Moose itself again

The Thinker by Rodin

And so it has begun. The conventional wisdom was that following Donald Trump’s defeat November 9 along with the likely loss of the Senate and possibly the House, the Republican Party would thrash and moan as they tried and likely failed to pick up the pieces and become an effective political party again. If you read me regularly you will have read this post where I tried to figure out whether this election would cause the Republican Party to just buckle or fall apart altogether.

What I did not expect when I wrote that post was that this would happen well before the actual election. Yes, the Republican Party is already disintegrating and of course you can thank Donald J. Trump for this. He spent most of the day lashing out at establishment Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan and Arizona Senator John McCain. Ryan won’t campaign with Trump anymore (while not rescinding his endorsement of him) but authorized any Republican member of the House to tack away from Trump where it makes sense. McCain is just one of the more prominent Republicans in Congress to say he won’t be voting for Trump. So perhaps it’s not surprising that the easily wounded and vainglorious Trump would lash out against these Republicans today. In his usual way-over-the-top tweets, he said these Republicans were actually worse than “Crooked Hillary”.

Ryan’s actions are entirely logical, at least for someone who is trying to maintain the Republican majority in the House. Ryan may be an ardent Republican but he knows how to add up the political math: Clinton will be the president elect, Democrats are likely to retake the Senate and if Clinton wins by seven percent or more the odds are Democrats will retake the House too. If Republicans lose the House, it means he won’t be speaker and given that the Tea Party will form the bulk of the diminished Republican minority he’ll be lucky to end up as minority leader. Being out of power really sucks so it makes complete sense for Republicans to cut their losses if it’s not too late.

Trump though does not operate logically. His feelings are hurt and he is in denial about his impending loss. People in denial go through predictable phases and he’s in the “lash out at anyone who dares to speak the truth” phase, which ironically will make not only his loss worse but aggravate it for all Republicans up for election.

It’s not too hard to predict what will happen the day after Election Day too. Trump is unlikely to concede but he is likely to call the election fraudulent. There may be civil unrest from Trump supporters, as I also blogged about. I do expect on Election Day that Trump “observers” will try to prevent voting or harass voters, at least in precincts with heavily minority communities. While Trump is unlikely to accept defeat, he can’t change the outcome. But what he can do instead is lash out at the Republican Party for not sufficiently falling in behind him. He will make establishment Republicans take the blame for his loss. Why is this not only likely but also almost certain? It’s because Trump never takes the blame for anything.

Clearly Trump commands a lot of loyal followers. They shout themselves hoarse at his rallies when they are not beating up on journalists and Trump protestors. He is the poster child for non-college educated whites. Since he lives for attention he’ll have every incentive in the world to become their champion. And since the Republican Party has failed him, he is likely to “fix” the Republican Party by taking his followers with him. In short, I think he’s likely to go full Bull Moose on Republicans after the election.

If so, this won’t be the first time the Republican Party has nearly cracked up. In 1912 former president Teddy Roosevelt (a Republican) joined the then relatively nascent Progressive Party. His endorsed Republican successor (and running mate) William Howard Taft proved insufficiently progressive after winning the presidency. The Progressive Party became the Bull Moose Party and Teddy became its nominee for president. The result 104 years ago was that Democrat Woodrow Wilson won instead, with Teddy a distant second and Republican Taft getting just eight electoral votes. Teddy got even with Taft, but lost the election in the process.

If this scenario plays out again after this election, Democrats will get yet another gift. It’s not hard to see Trump running again in 2020 but under his own party label, leaving whatever traditional Republicans are left to nominate their own candidate. If this happens Republicans will be in the trenches fighting other former Republicans instead of opposing Democrats, making Democrats hands on favorites in most races to win. The 2020 election might result in a Congress that would look familiar to Tip O’Neill when he was speaker in the 1980s; he commanded a huge majority of House Democrats. It also bodes well for Democrats in 2020 senate races too. This would be good for them because they will be defending more seats than Republicans that year.

The likely outcome of all this probably won’t fatally fracture the Republican Party. New parties face daunting odds and Republicans will still have an infrastructure in place for nominating, supporting and winning races, which is what the Bull Moose Party eventually figured out when they slowly came back to the Republican Party. This infrastructure is not easily duplicated. Given Trump’s poor management skills he would be uniquely ill suited to try to create a winning party under his own brand. While Republican chaos reigns, and particularly if Hillary Clinton and a Democratic Congress can institute real change, Democrats have the opportunity to profit handsomely from the chaos. Given the Democratic Party’s history, their odds are slim, but Democrats now lean far more to the left than they did eight years ago. It’s not out of the question.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed. The next few years could be glorious ones for Democrats, reset the rules of Washington and actually bring about the end to gridlock that Americans want. If so, it will be the Republican Party’s implosion that will make it possible.

Thanks in advance, Donald.

Now Trump is really toast

The Thinker by Rodin

This was supposed to be the October Surprise month when we learn something new and nefarious about Hillary Clinton that makes us pull the lever for Donald Trump instead. Julian Assange (founder of WikiLeaks) though failed to deliver on Tuesday. I wasn’t surprised. Hillary’s political sins were always of the venial variety and to the extent they happen you kind of know where they will fall.

October’s real surprise turned out to be the spectacular way that Donald Trump’s campaign has imploded over his own missteps, hubris and past. Trump’s first debate against Clinton was a disaster and he spent the rest of that week making it more of a disaster. By calling a former Miss Universe fat, he pissed off all fat Americans (which are most of us) for his body shaming and most women as well. Since the debate we also learned that he probably hasn’t paid federal taxes in twenty years. This is because Trump took a nearly billion dollar write off on his 1995 taxes, which were mostly paper losses related to his various failing casino projects in Atlantic City. Wonks like me also learned that Trump spent years petitioning and then ultimately getting Congress to allow him to deduct his kind of losses.

Trump is rarely truthful but he was when he claimed to be the “King of Debt”. We now know that Trump’s success is due mainly to shifting his business failings on his partners while paying himself handsome salaries and bonuses as these businesses failed. Ultimately his success as a businessman comes not from acumen but from brand. He convinces his investors that his gold-plated towers and resorts will be profitable but they only discover much later that it’s all fools gold, and they are the fools. Like his father, he mines every possible government subsidy to allow his projects to “succeed”, mainly by foisting off much of its costs on taxpayers.

Trump’s campaign though totally collapsed yesterday when the Washington Post posted a surreptitious audio conversation from 2005 with “Access Hollywood” host Brian Bush (ironically, a cousin to former President George W. Bush). It was full of lewd comments by Trump bragging about actions he took that would constitute sexual assault if true. These included remarks that he felt he had license to kiss women uninvited and “grab them by pussy”. He also admitted to going after a married woman (and not succeeding in this case). Ironically, it was Post reporter David Fahrenthold (whose investigative journalism earlier untangled his financial dealings for the world to see) who posted the recording. He may win a Pulitzer Prize next year for his reporting.

When I read this report, I knew at once that it would be fatal to his campaign. In June I proclaimed that Trump was toast but at the time it seemed pretty far-fetched. Even I was a nervous Nellie during the first debate until it got going. Seriously: put a fork in his campaign. It’s done. His campaign immediately went into damage control mode but even Republicans who had supported him decried the recording. Speaker Paul Ryan decided he couldn’t be seen with Trump today at a rally in Wisconsin; vice presidential candidate Mike Pence will appear instead. Some Republicans are now calling for Trump to withdraw from the race, but it’s too late to substitute another name as ballots are already printed and early voting has started in many states.

To me the only curious aspect is why it was this story that did him in, as if all those other stories don’t count. It’s probably because many whites give pass to things he says about the others. This recording though shows that he not only objectifies women but that he is okay with it and (in his own words) has likely repeatedly committed sexual assault. Given his history of infidelity, an admission he repeatedly went after a married woman that spurned his advances was not surprising, but certainly reinforced the narrative about him.

Virtually every woman knows feeling like an object in men’s eyes. Now it is clear that’s how Trump perceives women, at least the beautiful ones. It’s also clear that he feels entitled to behave this way because of his status and either doesn’t know or care that doing so is sexual assault. Add this to the various sexual harassment lawsuits he has already settled and the recent reports that his charity may be running illegally and it presents a complete portrait of a man wholly unfit to be president of the United States.

In short, yesterday a cluster bomb hit his campaign effectively ending it. It’s unclear if Trump understands this but watch actions in the coming days. I give nearly 100% odds that he skips the last debate. He may throw in the towel but it’s unclear if he is self-aware enough to do so, but regardless he will remain on the ballot. Any woman that still votes for him must do so against their instinctively revolting feelings for men who behave this way. Any men that still vote for him do so while tacitly sanctioning this sort of behavior.

What’s unclear though is whether this straw that has broken Trump’s back will also break the backs of Republican candidates nationwide. That depends on turnout but things look very good for Democrats. This should demoralize Republicans from showing up and further enthuse Democrats to vote. In short this may well turn into a wave election, not just electing Hillary Clinton but also ushering in a Democratic House and Senate. If so it will demonstrate how catastrophically bad a choice Trump was as their candidate. By choosing him Republicans have likely tarnished their brand forever.

Here’s hoping. This remnant of the proud party of Lincoln deserves to die and Trump is the ideal candidate to extinguish it.

The Trump trap, Part 2

The Thinker by Rodin

Back in March I discussed what could happen with Trump supporters when he loses. How will they deal with their feelings of disempowerment? It’s hard to say but it’s more likely to be ugly than not. Trump has opened the can of racism for all to see after decades of sensible Republicans peaking under its lid. It’s unlikely to go away when Trump loses. Should Trump want its mantle (and it’s likely he will, given his enormous ego) he can own it and its movement.

Today I want to ponder what his loss will mean to the Republican Party, which could actually be the Republican Party. It all depends on how badly the election goes for Republicans. With tightly gerrymandered districts, Republicans will probably retain control of the House. At worst the odds are about even that Democrats will retake the Senate. One credible analysis suggests Democrats need to win about eight percent more votes than Republicans for them to win the House. Given that is a pretty high bar, Republicans are likely to emerge from the election bloodied and bruised but not out for the count.

Over the last couple of decades, Republicans have been the more fortunate party in winning massive amounts of seats in Congress. They picked up 52 seats in 1994 and an astounding 64 seats in 2010. Democratic gains tend to be more incremental: 31 seats in 2004 and 24 seats in 2008. Presidential election years, particularly when a new president will be elected, tend to bring out Democrats. Democrats would have to flip 30 seats in November to wrest House control. It’s a high bar but not impossible, as they did it in 2004. Regardless, Democrats will pick up House seats. If they don’t gain the majority, it is likely their minority will be ten seats or fewer.

Democrats wresting total control of Congress and the Executive is a gram slam, last done in 2008. History tends to prove these majorities are ephemeral but while they last they allow Washington to move, providing the majority party can stay united. This is always problematic with Democrats.

A triple loss did not kill the Republican Party in 2008, but it did make them meaner and more ornery, pushing the party from mainstream to extreme. Trump has captured the party and turned it into an officially extreme party. Those Republicans left in Congress after November will come from more gerrymandered districts, which means they will be more extreme, not less. However, if Trump loses badly it will be hard for the remaining Republicans to escape the feeling that they don’t have an electable message. There is likely to be more fruitless soul searching by the Republican Party leadership on how it can reach out to new voters. This is hard to do if your party has essentially become a white nationalist party and demographics mean this will only make your party more in the minority in the future.

Moreover, the national disgrace of nominating Trump as their candidate in the first place won’t have new voters switching parties or coming into their movement. Whatever percentage of votes that Trump gets is likely the party’s ceiling in the future, unless they fundamentally redefine their party. If they can’t turn some purple states red, the party is unlikely to reclaim the White House for decades. Complete refusal to work with a Democratic president has proven counterproductive. More of the same – no matter how natural a reaction it will be – won’t improve the party’s chances of enacting its agenda in the future.

Republicans supporting Trump today won’t easily be able to walk it back. Texas senator Ted Cruz recently endorsed Trump, despite saying he would never do so. It’s unclear why he is preferable to Hillary Clinton, when Trump is a sociopath, serial adulterer, misogynist, liar and likely a lawbreaker as well, given shenanigans with his charity and apparently illegally doing business covertly in Cuba. By supporting him, Republicans are also tacitly endorsing policies hitherto anathema to Republicans: ending free trade, allowing the expansion of nuclear weapons, reducing our commitments to NATO and approving of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Any of these positions would have immediately disqualified any candidate in Ronald Reagan’s mind, and yet the pro-Reagan party has nominated a candidate his complete antithesis. How on earth do you get back to a governing majority after promoting this wreckage of a candidate?

My suspicion is that after four years or so of trying, Republicans won’t try anymore. Their brand is likely to be fatally tarnished by this election. The truly principled Republicans are actually very few, but the Bush clan seems to be among the few that simply won’t abide or vote for Trump. Most of the Bushes are likely to vote for no one, but as least one (former president George H. W. Bush) plans to vote for Hillary Clinton. When push comes to shove, few Republicans can actually put country before party.

The party must moderate and be more inclusive or die. Since it is now principally a party full of extremes, it is more likely to die, which means it is likely to Balkanize. There are a few people to watch to see what happens including Ohio governor John Kasich, New Jersey governor Chris Christie and House Speaker Paul Ryan. I think that within four years the Republican Party — while not ceasing to exist — will shrink yet again, with perhaps a third moving in a new direction under a new label and brand, perhaps under a Prosperity Party. Expect a couple of years while the party thrashes and ultimately fails to unite first. Those who put power over principle are likely to eventually win this test of wills because a party that cannot wield power is not really a party.

Debbie’s sin and Hillary’s penance: appoint Bernie Sanders the next DNC chair

The Thinker by Rodin

Debbie Wasserman Schultz is suddenly out as the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Thanks to a WikiLeaks dump of DNC emails and likely due to the largess of the spies for the Russian Republic we have access to all sorts of interesting/trivial/nauseating emails from the staff of the DNC. It paints the not pretty picture of the staff eagerly engaging in activities long suspected: to undercut the candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders and to promote the candidacy of favorite Hillary Rodham Clinton instead.

Favoritism had been documented before the WikiLeaks event. Last December the Sanders campaign had its access taken away from the DNC’s voter database when the DNC didn’t like queries it was making. Access was restored a day or two later perhaps due to a court challenge from the Sanders campaign that cited “irreparable harm” as it needed to target voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. This WikiLeaks dump though paints a pretty grim portrait of DNC staffers and Chair Debbie tipping the scales toward Clinton’s campaign.

So these revelations are not a surprise, but Chair Debbie has hardly been neutral on her feelings about who she thought was the better candidate (hint: she’s a she). She of course is entitled to her opinions, but in her role as DNC chair though she is required to be strictly unbiased, which should have disqualified her from the start. Moreover, she is supposed to set the ground rules and tone for the staff to follow. It was at best a “wink-wink nudge-nudge” game of portraying neutrality. Now with the record of these various emails out there, there is no ambiguity about it and Chair Debbie has walked the plank. She is out, at least as DNC chair.

Also out is any speaking role for her at the convention that the chair would nominally open and close. With Sanders supporters rallying in Philadelphia for the convention, the timing could not have been worse. (It’s unlikely that the WikiLeaks timing was accidental.) Chair Debbie was booed today at a meeting of the Florida Democratic delegation and shortly thereafter she decided not to open and close the convention. She could do Democrats a favor by quietly returning to Florida for the duration of the convention.

You may be wondering why any of this matters. Like me you probably see the leadership of both parties rife with insider corruption. As much as I dislike Donald Trump’s nomination, at least he succeeded where Bernie didn’t, perhaps in part because Republicans don’t have superdelegates. In reality of course the Republican establishment pulled out all the stops to stop Trump, realizing the likely disaster in November. The rank and file though wouldn’t have it and Trump had the money to keep going anyhow. It’s quite clear that Trump was the people’s candidate.

The Sanders campaign was given a more complex chessboard. It’s quite clear now though that he likely could have waged a better campaign, and possibly won the nomination if the DNC had acted impartially as it should have done. By tipping the scales, the DNC hardly lived up to the “democratic” in its name. This of course is the real problem: a party based on democracy (one person, one vote) is not true to itself if it won’t act this way. This is absolutely wrong.

Believe me there are plenty of people at the DNC and institutional Democrats in general that have no problem with these events. “That’s how the game is played,” is what they will tell you: those that run the institution effectively set the rules. They have been doing it for many years, feel they have paid their dues so have few qualms about tipping the scale. Those newbies storming the gate: what do they know? Damn little whippersnappers, acting all so uppity!

No, it is not okay. Here’s why. A party needs to represent those that actually belong to it. When voices in the party that don’t align with the establishment are effectively depreciated, you get a party that is not representative of its members. And that’s important particularly in this election because people are looking for candidates with new ideas.

Of course it’s entirely possible that Clinton would have won the nomination even if the scales had not been tipped to favor her. But we’ll never know for sure. It’s hard for even a Clinton supporter to deny that there was far more energy in the Sanders campaign. Die-hard Sanders supporters were out in the streets of Philadelphia today, many saying they would never vote for Clinton. I doubt they would have been this vocal had the nomination process actually had been fair. These energized Sanders supporters, like them or not, are the future of the Democratic Party. Without them the party will lose touch with its grassroots and become moribund. More importantly the Sanders voters are entitled to the same seat at the table as any Clinton delegate. Disenfranchising Sanders voters actually sets up the Democratic Party to lose future elections. This is the worst sin of all.

It should be not just a firing offense but actually against the law for a political party to favor one candidate over another within its party. Unfortunately each party sets its own rules. Also unfortunately, candidates have to run using with the system they got. When Bernie Sanders calls for a “political revolution” he is saying in part that the way we nominate candidates is broken because it disenfranchises new voices. He tried really hard to break through that. Through bullying and using his wealth Trump made the system work for him. Sanders raised more money than Clinton but with its superdelegates and insider help the Democratic deck was stacked against him. No question. And for that Democrats should be ashamed.

I’m certainly hoping Trump loses, and loses badly in November. If Clinton wins though her victory will always feel a bit tainted. A truly democratic Democratic Party needs to clean house. If the party truly wants to make amends, it’s quite clear who the next party chair should be: Bernie Sanders.

Hillary, I’m waiting to see if you have the leadership to do what’s right here. I’m not holding my breath, but I will hope that your sense of fairness and better nature will prevail.

Republicans jump off the cliff

The Thinker by Rodin

National party political conventions happen only every four years. This week’s Republican convention in Cleveland though makes me seriously wonder if Republicans will have one in 2020 at all. I’m not alone. No less than former President George W. Bush is wondering if he is the last Republican president.

If you managed to tune into the convention, it’s hard not to escape the feeling of doom unfolding there. The Republican Party shows every sign that they have careened right off the cliff. It’s being bungled in just about every way a convention can be bungled. In case you haven’t had your nose to the news, here’s a small slice of the craziness going on in Cleveland at their convention:

  • At the start, there was a brief but doomed floor fight when delegates from Iowa tried to call for a vote that would have allowed delegates to vote their consciences. It appeared to have the support of enough states to actually get a vote, but the chair ignored it, thereby cementing Republicans’ reputation for not actually following a parliamentary process.
  • Melania Trump’s speech lifted whole sentences from Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech, the sort of plagiarism that if done in school would get you a failing grade. It turns out that Melania admires Michele, a major problem for any true Republican. She said she wrote the speech herself, but later we were told that a speechwriter did, who eventually took the fall.
  • Last night former candidate Texas Senator Ted Cruz spoke, told delegates to vote their consciences and never endorsed Donald Trump, which got him plenty of boos. They let him talk anyhow even though he told them he would not be endorsing Trump. Trump eventually came out to take the spotlight off Cruz and back to where it belongs: on his glorious self. This will likely be mostly what people will talk about for days, rather than Trump’s convention speech but at least it puts the focus on Cruz and 2020. However, if Trump is true to form, his acceptance speech will likely be an incoherent ramble, so maybe not.
  • Less noticed was that House Speaker Paul Ryan also refused to explicitly endorse Trump at his convention speech. Like Cruz, he seems to know the ship is sinking and he wants to be one of the first rats to jump when it is politically safe to do so on November 9.
  • Tuesday was supposed to be a day to talk about how Republicans would fix the economy. Instead it became a day of vitriol where speaker after speaker went on the attack against Hillary Clinton, many calling for her to go to prison. One woman who lost a son in the Benghazi incident held Clinton personally responsible for his death, even though she did not explicitly authorize the ambassador’s trip to Benghazi. A state legislator in West Virginia called for Hillary Clinton to be hung causing United Airlines to suspend him as a pilot.
  • Apparently Ohio governor John Kasich was sounded out to be Trump’s running mate. The offer, apparently from from Trump’s son: you will do the actual management part and my dad will do the “Making America Great Again” part. Strangely, Kasich declined. It appears Trump is bored with the whole manage the country part of the presidency, and wants to outsource it.

Oh, and so much more! Tonight is likely to be equally as memorable as the first three days. Perhaps more memorable than the convention itself is the stunning lack of coherence out of the convention and the epic mismanagement behind the stage. Trump does not know how to delegate. He has a hard time getting people to work for him because he requires non-disclosure agreements and routinely sues employees who he feels have stepped out of line. His roster of speakers is mediocre and often surreal (Scott Baio, really?) and it’s not even clear if he really chose Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate. It appears he had second thoughts and futilely tried to change it at the last moment.

Watching the convention on TV itself is just appalling. There is no way for an impartial viewer not to get the impression that Republicans are passionate and crazy lunatics. Democrats were pretty pissed at George W. Bush at their 2004 convention, but no one suggested that he was a lawbreaker, should be put in jail and hung. It never occurred to Democrats to be this kind of lunatic crazy. But we heard it from speaker after speaker, day after day at this convention. So how can you not escape the conclusion that Republicans are dangerously unhinged?

A convention is normally scripted and carefully stage-managed, but also the organizers think carefully about how they want to present the party to the voters. No one seemed to be doing either parts of this job, bungling the most important part of their sales job prior to the election. Also not going well: fundraising. The typical RNC donors cannot seem to pull out their wallets. Few staff are being hired to go into the field and organize voters. Trump himself seems wholly unconcerned about the party and his campaign’s anemic fundraising, assuming that force of personality will be enough.

The 2012 Republican convention looked like one where Republicans were teetering on the borders of respectability. This is clearly off track, off message and has little of what can be called organization. No wonder George W. Bush is concerned he may be the last Republican president. Republicans seem to be doing everything possible not just to lose, but also to lose epically.

To Democrats, this Republican train wreck has been coming for years. With a few exceptions though today’s Republicans just don’t see what’s coming. But if you want to destroy a party, well, have a party doing so! It feels like this convention will touch all the markers for what not to do. You had best stand aside of the wreckage.

Trump is toast

The Thinker by Rodin

The air has been letting out of the Trump balloon for about a month now, i.e. since he won his party’s nomination. Polls have been showing about a five-point gap (sometimes more) favoring Hillary Clinton in a general election matchup. It’s not because Hillary Clinton has become more popular, it’s because Donald Trump has gotten less popular. This in turn is because Trump has a habit of opening his mouth and it continues to sound meaner and make less sense. Trump apparently has decided to let Donald be Donald. This does not mean “acting presidential” because apparently he figures he already is presidential.

In any event, it appears to me that The Donald has finally jumped the shark, which means that rather than seem interesting and different he now looks buffoonish, which was clear to many of us from the start. One problem with being a bully is that when you need to, you are unable to pivot. All Trump knows is how to be a bully. It’s served him well in business and in marketing himself. But as I noted years ago in an essay on bullying it only works until it does not. At some point the bully is stood up to and they can’t effectively counterpunch. Then the once feared bully suddenly looks impotent. In extreme cases they become objects of scorn or (worse) pity. Trump is already at the scorned phase.

It’s hard to say when Trump’s jump the shark moment occurred, but it will probably be reckoned when he attacked the federal judge overseeing the Trump University case. Finally we had an outrage so outrageous it could not be excused anymore by his own party. Republicans, at least those in the establishment, widely condemned his remarks. I can’t recall any Republican that stood by him on this. Judge Curiel after all did not take up the case; he was assigned the case, and had no axe to grind. But since this case could open Trump to racketeering charges, Trump saw the judge as a threat, so of course he went after him. Howls of protests from just about everywhere simply made him double down, then double-double down. That’s the bully’s modus operandi. There is a bull in a bully, and a bull is single-minded, making it hard to perceive threats.

It was followed by a self-congratulating tweet after the Orlando massacre that too was widely panned for its total lack of empathy toward the victims and families. But why should anyone be surprised? Trump does not know how to be empathetic. It likely wasn’t modeled in his father, who coached him on how great he was going to be (and gave him millions of dollars to try). There is no record of him volunteering in soup kitchens or homeless shelters. If he is a Presbyterian no one can recall the last time he was in church. Of course his brand is meanness, hardly the sort of attributes ascribed to Jesus.

There are lots of people that claim to be religious and are not, so Trump is hardly unique there. From the perspective of this non-Christian, most Christians in this country are not Christians, at least not ones that Jesus would recognize. Capitalism is our real state religion so at least Trump is its poster child there. After all, a good capitalist does not need to have a conscience. It certainly appears that Trump has none, considering how many investors of his affiliated companies and contractors that have done work for him that he has screwed over the years. But if you are a capitalist, it’s all okay if you can get away with it. And with the possible exception of the Trump University case, he’s proof that money can buy the justice you want.

If Trump can attract a majority of like-minded voters then he will be our next president. It seems unlikely that he can. A majority of voters polled (54%) said they would not vote for Trump versus 43% for Clinton. It’s hard to win an election with these kinds of numbers, unless you can suppress the numbers who plan to vote for Clinton. Only about a third of the country actually likes Trump. Even Republicans are souring on Trump. Paul Ryan is signaling it’s okay for Republican delegates to vote their consciences. It’s unclear if a Never Trump movement will gain traction but likely more than a few Republican candidates are quietly waiting in the wings for him to implode. (Maybe it’s just me, but as bad as Trump is Ted Cruz would actually be worse.) The Bush family won’t vote for him, which makes me wonder what their alternative is: to not vote at all or hold their noses and vote for Clinton? Some of the more liberal Republican governors (Charlie Baker here in Massachusetts and Larry Hogan in Maryland) have publicly said they won’t vote for him. To me the optics is pretty clear: you can’t win an election if you are so widely disliked and/or despised.

Lurking in the back of my mind are the obvious concerns. It’s more than four months to the election and lots of events (like yesterday’s Brexit vote in Great Britain) can swing the minds of voters. And perhaps Trump can pull a Houdini and completely reinvent himself, at least through the election, although I don’t see how he can convince enough people. When I divorce my fears and concentrate on the facts, I simply can’t see how Trump can be elected. There is no viable path and even if one suggested itself the Electoral College is pretty baked in. It would take a phenomenal Republican candidate and a dismal Democratic one to change them. Trump’s best hope is simply precedent: the last Democrat to succeed a Democratic president who left office after two full terms was Harry S Truman, and this was after the more than three terms that Franklin Roosevelt served.

So stepping out on a limb, I think Trump is toast already. What will prove more interesting is the how his degree of his unfavorability affects House and Senate races. Trump may be so toxic that the Trump effect may sweep not just the Senate but also the House into Democratic control. He might even end the Republican Party.