Politics Now

I couldn’t bring myself to watch the State of the Union last night. I was in the mood for action, for cutthroat competition, for slashing and burning. I watched “Chopped” on the Food Network. But here is a handy dandy fact check of Trump’s “speech.” 

Here are the highlights:

All one needs to see. The part where the Creature gave the Medal of Freedom to the utterly debased Rush Limbaugh I would rathre not see.

We are still waiting for the final results of the Iowa Caucus, but it looks like a tie between Buttigieg and Sanders. Warren is third. Biden probably will be shut out of the delegate allocation. Now the pundits are arguing whether Biden can hang on to his front runner status. The nerds at FiveThirtyEight give Sanders a 62 percent chance of winning New Hampshire and a 46 percent chance of winning Nevada, which are still better odds than any other candidate. Biden is currently 2 in 5 to win Nevada, the nerds say. Biden is still far and away the favorite to win South Carolina. A strong showing there could save his candidacy.

Mitt Romney broke with his party and will vote to convict Trump. This is getting headlines everywhere. It might be the biggest headline of the day. Romney doesn’t face re-election until 2024 and will be well-positioned to lead whatever is left of the Republican party when Trump goes down.

Thanks Loads, Iowa

I watched the Iowa Caucus on MSNBC for a couple of hours last night, then went to bed before the speeches. I have to say that I was dismayed and depressed by what I saw even before it was revealed that the results were gummed up in technological glitches.

One caucus-goer after another was interviewed, and one after another proclaimed they were basing their vote on “electability.” In other words, their decisions often were based on the near-endless propaganda that we must choose a nominee that conservative white people will vote for. Never mind the rather poor track record of past “electable” Democratic nominees (example).

One more time, people — we don’t know who is “electable” until there is an election. The pundits don’t know. Senior Democratic Party officials don’t know. Nobody knows. All they have are theories, and the theories have been proved wrong in the past. From now on, let’s do something crazy and vote for the person we think would make the best POTUS. The result would, at least, be a reflection of what we actually want and not what we’re told we have to settle for. Whoever gets the most votes really ought to be electable.

Even so, it appears Biden really flopped in Iowa, so perhaps he’s less “electable” than he used to be.

Also, although I’d read about how the caucuses are run, I’d never before seen how screwy they are. For example, this is from one high school gym last night:

I am told the math is accurate; I have no way to know. Arithmetic to me is akin to witchcraft and the work of the devil. But this is self-evidently screwy. The rounding is distorted because of the small number of delegates (someone suggested cutting the delegates into smaller pieces to make the total more representative of the vote). Multiply that distortion by the number of caucus venues, and you get a very distorted statewide result. They should allocate delegates by statewide totals, IMO. But nobody listens to me.

I was also watching people who came to caucus for “non-viable” candidates who switched sides based on which “viable” group was having the most fun or where their friends were going. Again, this is a distortion that doesn’t reflect, as a rule, what happens in a voting booth.

It would be a lovely experiment to hold both a primary and a caucus in Iowa to see if both procedures gave us the same result. I bet they would not.

Caucuses are notoriously non-representative because they are intimidating and confusing and require people to spend at least a couple of hours, probably more, hanging out in the venue. People with disabilities complain they can’t manage them. People who need babysitters or who have night jobs can’t go. People who are likely to vote in the general but who don’t have really strong feelings about any one candidate may not bother. Turnout at caucuses generally is much, much lower than turnout in primaries. I understand that caucus participation usually reflects fewer than 10 percent of voters.

There is weeping and wailing today because there was not a record turnout last night. There were many predictions of a new record, but I understand turnout was about the same as in 2016 (that’s what they’re saying so far). The all-time record turnout was 2008, when people pumped up about Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards (yeah, remember him?) caucused in relatively vast numbers. Whether this year’s turnout means anything, I do not know. It might just mean that many potential caucus-goers didn’t have any one favorite candidate and decided not to bother.

Now, on to the technical glitches. Here is a detailed explanation at Vox. In brief, in addition to proposing to report more data than in the past, the Iowa Dem party decided that all this data would be reported through a new, untested, app. Those who didn’t want to use the app were supposed to report numbers by phone.

According to the New York Times, many precinct chairs didn’t use the app at all, citing difficulty downloading or using it. These volunteers said they had always preferred to call in the results as they had in the past, and that’s what many of them tried to do when the app wasn’t working. Many reported that phone lines at party headquarters were busy for hours, as potentially hundreds of volunteers from more than 1,600 precincts tried calling in their results.

It’s unclear so far why the phone center had so much trouble responding to the calls. Some precinct chairs even tried taking photos of their results and hand-delivering them to Iowa Democratic Party headquarters in Des Moines, and even then they weren’t able to get through to party officials.

Somewhere last night I saw a comment that caucuses should not be run by the state parties but by the state election commission. I don’t know if that would necessarily be any better, though.  From the New York Times:

For the third consecutive presidential cycle, the results here are riddled with questions, if not doubt. First it was the Republicans, when Mitt Romney was initially declared the winner in 2012 before that was later reversed, and then the Democrats suffered when a virtual tie between Hillary Clinton and Mr. Sanders in 2016 set off a number of rule changes that culminated in the 2020 debacle.

There is a paper record, I understand, so they ought to be able to sort the votes eventually. But I’m leaning in the direction of Paul Waldman, who writes that it’s time to kill the Iowa Caucus. And the rest of the caucuses also.

If you tuned in to cable news and watched correspondents running around middle school gyms explaining that one candidate’s supporters didn’t reach the threshold of viability and so had to find another candidate, you probably asked, “What’s the point of that?”

It’s a good question. Why on earth should a candidate who gets 14 percent of the vote in a given precinct get zero votes when the results are tabulated? How is that supposed to be democratic?

Good question.

We’ll find out who won Iowa eventually, but the impact of that victory will be significantly attenuated, which is a good thing. It’ll still be big news, but it won’t be transformative in the way it often is.

To be clear, if you care at all about the fairness of this process, you should be glad about that however your favorite candidate is affected, whether it’s Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) (probably) being denied headlines celebrating his victory or Joe Biden (probably) avoiding headlines skewering his poor showing. If your candidate has what it takes, they’ll win without Iowa distorting our view of what the whole Democratic electorate wants.

And if we’re really lucky, this might be the occasion for some significant reform. The absolute minimum that should be done is for Iowa to switch from a caucus to a primary, in which — and see if you can follow along here — voters cast ballots, either at a polling place or mailing them in from home, and then the person with the most votes wins. Imagine that!

Not all presidential primaries are winner-take-all but split the delegates proportionately to the candidates according to statewide vote. And if it’s a tie, it’s a tie. You might remember that in 2016 Sanders and Clinton tied in Iowa at 49 percent but Clinton was declared the winner. Some coin tosses were involved. It should have just been declared a tie and the delegates evenly distributed.

See also Waldman’s column from yesterday, The Presidential Caucus Needs to Die.

Now, on to the rumors. You may have heard that Robby Mook, the techno bro who worked for Hillary Clinton in 2016, was somehow connected to the malfunctioning app. This is not true, according to Mook.

However, see This Is The Buzzy Democratic Firm That Botched The Iowa Caucuses at Huffpost. The tech company that developed the app, Acronym, is connected to a lot of people from the Clinton-Obama wing of the party. Another tech company with party insider connections called Shadow is getting a lot of attention from conspiracy theorists today, but Shadow says it didn’t have anything to do with the bleeping app.

I personally think these people just bleeped up. This screwup is bad for the entire Democratic Party, not just one candidate. Don’t create conspiracy theories for things that can be attributed to incompetence, I say.

There also were stories in right-wing media that Pete Buttigieg was somehow connected to the app developer. It turns out that the Buttigieg campaign uses Shadow for text messaging, as does the Biden campaign, and the terminated Kirsten Gillibrand campaign used Shadow for several things. Again, this seems unremarkable to me.

The bigger question is, how much damage might this do to the nominating process? In a logical world, it wouldn’t. But Nate Silver thinks it could be huge.

In trying to build a forecast model of the Democratic primaries, we literally had to think about the entire process from start (Iowa) to finish (the Virgin Islands on June 6). Actually, we had to do more than that. Since the nomination process is sequential — states vote one at a time rather than all at once — we had to determine, empirically, how much the results of one state can affect the rest.

The answer in the case of Iowa is that it matters a lot. Despite its demographic non-representativeness, and the quirks of the caucuses process, the amount of media coverage the state gets makes it far more valuable a prize than you’d assume from the fact that it only accounts for 41 of the Democrats’ 3,979 pledged delegates.

More specifically, we estimate — based on testing how much the results in various states have historically changed the candidates’ position in national polls — that Iowa was the second most-important date on the calendar this year, trailing only Super Tuesday. It was worth the equivalent of almost 800 delegates, about 20 times its actual number.

Many, like Paul Waldman, have been arguing for years that Iowa shouldn’t be allowed to have that kind of influence. It is not representative of the U.S. as a whole and especially not representative of Democratic voters.

And while we’re often told that Iowans take their “first in the nation” responsibilities seriously and are well informed, videos have emerged today in which caucus participants freak out when they find out Buttigieg is gay. Wait until they find out Bloomberg and Sanders are Jewish. (/snark)

In short, I sincerely hope this was the last Iowa Caucus. In fact, there shouldn’t be any one state that goes first, whether primary or caucus. I suggest scrapping the hodge-podge calendar we have now for regional primaries, five to ten continguous states at a time allowing for a more diverse demographic mix. And I sincerely hope the rest of the primary elections go smoothly.

More:

Nathan Robinson, Joe Biden flopped in Iowa. And so did the Democratic party’s reputation

Greg Sargent, Lindsey Graham’s Iowa deception shows Trump’s corruption of GOP

Andrew Ferguson, Iowa Forgot the Whole Point of the Caucus

Andy Kroll, Dempocalypse Now

You Don’t Know Who Can or Cannot Beat Trump

Well, here we go. The Democratic primaries are about to get underway with the infamously weird Iowa Caucuses. It will be a roller coaster from now until the Virgin Island caucuses on June 6. And there’s always a chance we won’t have a nominee until the Dem convention, which begins July 13.

Here’s today’s gripe: I’m still seeing people in all forms of media declaring with great confidence who is and isn’t “electable.” But don’t listen to any of this. It’s all theories. Nobody really knows. “Nobody” includes famous politicians and people who spout opinions on the teevee as well as everybody on social media.

Steve Rosenthal at The American Prospect:

Most public polls now show Sanders, Biden, and Bloomberg beating Trump by between three and seven points, with most of the other candidates beating him by slightly smaller margins. And the most recent CNN poll shows that 57 percent of Democrats believe the party should nominate the candidate with the strongest chance of defeating Trump—the highest it’s been since last June.

Here’s the rub: Trying to figure out who is the most electable candidate is a losing proposition…. The path to the White House is littered with countless candidates who on paper and in early polls were supremely electable and created a fair amount of excitement—but then something happened.

Usually what happened was elections. The people who look good in theory before the primaries begin are not always the same people who actually get the votes. That’s true more often than not, I believe.

The “experts” are going by the conventional wisdom of recent decades, which is based on theories that maybe were valid in the past, or not, but is mostly blind to the state of the electorate at the moment. The voters who turn out in 2020 will not be the same people who voted in 1972, or 1980, or 1992, or even exactly the same as 2016. The voters who turn out in 2020 will have different concerns and perspectives from earlier voters. The experts always seem to be a few election cycles behind in their judgments of what voters want.

The rest of us passionate partisans tend to suffer tunnel vision. We know what we like. We know what our friends like. We know what the people we bump into on social media like. This is not, however, a representative sampling of the electorate.

There is palpable hysteria on the part of the Democratic establishment right now that Bernie Sanders might run away with the early primaires. They are certain, of course, that Sanders cannot beat Trump. This certitude is based partly on their lingering dislike of Sanders for having challenged Hillary Clinton in 2016 combined with the ghost of the mostly mis-remembered election of 1972.

George McGovern allegedly taught us that “extremists” can’t win. The problem with that assessment is that McGovern was not at all extreme. His alleged extremism was the excuse Democrats manufactured in their heads to explain the debacle of 1972. As Ed Kilgore documents here, what really hurt McGovern was an amateurish general election campaign (e.g., the Tom Eagleton fiasco) combined with a lack of support from Democratic party stakeholders who would have preferred someone else.

The ex post facto mythology of the McGovern campaign represented it as a takeover by a wild-eyed bunch of radicals determined to purge the Democratic Party of the “Establishment” elements (including the labor movement) that had sustained it for so long. As noted above, the white southern wing of the party had already seceded (at the presidential level, anyway). Also as noted above, McGovern and his supporters weren’t repudiating LBJ’s War in Vietnam; by then it was definitely Nixon’s War.

What did happen was a widespread abandonment of the Democratic presidential nominee, led by a labor movement (or at least by the leadership of the AFL-CIO) that was still loyal to Johnson and Humphrey and didn’t feel its interests would be particularly compromised if Nixon won reelection. Political historian Rick Perlstein reminds us that McGovern wasn’t the aggressor in intraparty strife:

Humphrey himself, backed by [AFL-CIO president George] Meany, ran a stupendously vicious primary campaign against McGovern in the late innings. Edmund Muskie, Scoop Jackson, and Humphrey even cast aspersions against McGovern on “Meet the Press” segments during the convention. Others were more casual — like the Catholic Missouri senator, one of the few up and comers associated with the regulars’ old order, who gave a blind quote to Evans and Novak at the height of the primary season, when McGovern looked to be clinching the nomination: “The people don’t know McGovern is for amnesty, abortion, and legalization of pot. Once Middle America — Catholic Middle America, in particular — finds this out, he’s dead.”

For the record: Timothy Noah wrote back in 2012 that a famous smear leveled at McGovern — that he was the candidate of “acid, amnesty, and abortion” — had come from none other than Senator Tom Eagleton (D-Missouri), whom McGovern had dropped from the ticket because of concerns over Eagleton’s mental health. In this case, the “amnesty” was for men who had dodged the Vietnam war draft, a position that McGovern did support and which would come to pass anyway before the decade of the 1970s was over. McGovern also wanted to decriminalize marijuana but not acid or other illegal drugs. His position on abortion in 1972 — which was prior to the Roe v. Wade decision — was that it was a state matter.

In other words, in 1972 McGovern was smeared as a leftist extremist by both the Nixon campaign and large parts of the Democratic Party establishment, who organized a “stop McGovern” campaign during the primaries. And the Dem establishment let their own nominee twist in the wind during the famously disorganized 1972 Democratic National Convention (McGovern didn’t give his acceptance speech until 3 a.m.) and throughout the clumsy campaign thereafter. And when McGovern lost, the excuse was that he was just too extreme, not that the establishment had failed to support him.  If the Democratic coalition of the time had united behind him, it may have been a very different election. See also What Democrats Still Don’t Get About George McGovern by Joshua Mound.

So, in 1972, the Democratic Party establishment created a self-fulfilling prophecy — they said McGovern couldn’t win, and then they made sure he didn’t. I am concerned that something like this happening to Bernie Sanders and possibly could happen to Elizabeth Warren also, if she starts winning a lot of delegates.

At Washington Monthly, David Atkins writes that Your Theory of Electability is Probably Wrong. Both the centrists and the progressives are putting forward theories of how to beat Trump that have no empircal support. Joe Biden claims he can win the votes of blue collar Trump voters, but we don’t know that’s true. The Sanders side says he will get new young voters and some of the non-voters of 2016 to the polls, but we don’t know that’s true. We won’t know until the election. Until then, it’s all theories.

As both Atkins and Rosenthal point out, several of the Dem candidates beat Trump in head to head polling.  That polling might be wrong, but it doesn’t show us that any one Democrat is far and away stronger against Trump than the others.

This is for people who keep howling that Trump will call Sanders a socialist. Trump is calling every Democrat a socialist these days. If Joe Biden is the nominee, Trump will have the MAGA-heads believing Biden is a socialist. You can count on it. Further, Atkins writes,

Sanders’ opponents like to claim that he isn’t vetted and hasn’t sustained attacks from Republicans that will drive down his numbers. But this is utterly unproven: the sting of attacking “socialism” has weakened to almost non-existent as Republicans have cried wolf about it for decades, and as fewer and fewer voters in the electorate are persuaded by Cold War scare rhetoric in the face of rising inequality and basic costs of living. If the centrist wing of the party had real dirt on Sanders they would be using it by now. And besides, the exact same argument was used in 2008 to claim that Barack Obama would be destroyed in a general election over Reverend Wright and other supposed radicalism. It didn’t happen.

The same goes for Warren. No, we do not know that a woman can’t beat Trump just because Hillary Clinton failed in 2016. “Her opponents like to claim that the attacks over her claiming Native American ancestry, or her positions on Medicare for All, will doom her in a general election,” Atkins writes. “Yet she continues to defeat Trump in general election polling as usual.”

Atkins continues,

The boring reality is that the country is more polarized than it has ever been, and becoming more so. The boring reality is that a realignment is taking shape in which the exurban professional class and white working class increasingly vote for their prejudices over their economics but are declining in numbers, while educated suburbanites, young people and people of color rapidly align with the Democratic Party, on behalf of both moderate and leftist candidates depending in large part on the district. The bluer and more urban the districts, the [more] leftist the viable candidates. A hard-charging progressive like Ocasio-Cortez is more aligned with this coalition in the Bronx than an older establishment incumbent like Joe Crowley, while Democrats of left-center-left ideological alignment perform well in the most purple districts. But even a bisexual Medicare-for-All supporting millennial can win in frontline districts.

Can we exorcise the ghost of 1972 already?

My heartfelt suggestion is that everybody chill a bit. Forget electability; vote for the candidate you most want to be president. Let the primary results show us which candidates have the chops to beat Trump. Because right now, nobody knows.

Can Dems Take the Senate? Here Are the Republican Senators Up for Re-election in 2020

These Republican senators are at the ends of their terms; or, in the cases of Martha McSally and Kelly Lynn Loeffler, finishing up vacated terms to which they were appointed by their governors. Red asterisks indicate senators considered by at least some pundits to be vulnerable. Two asterisks means the nerds at FiveThirtyEight think they’re vulnerable. The “retiree” seats are expected to remain Republican.

  • Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) (retiring)
  • Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia)
  • Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana)
  • Susan Collins (R-Maine) **
  • John Cornyn (R-Texas) *
  • Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas)
  • Steve Daines (R-Montana)
  • Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming) (retiring)
  • Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) **
  • Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) **
  • Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina)
  • Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Mississippi)
  • James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma)
  • Kelly Lynn Loeffler (R-Georgia)
  • Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky)
  • Martha McSally (R-Arizona) **
  • David Perdue (R-GA) *
  • Jim Risch (R-Idaho)
  • Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) (retiring)
  • Mike Rounds (R-South Dakota)
  • Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska)
  • Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska)
  • Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina) **

I’d like to believe that some of these, um, persons not considered vulnerable could still lose in upsets. Please don’t give up on defeating Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham in particular.

Democrats need to flip four seats to re-take the majority. This is not impossible, but it’s going to be a fight. On the plus side, only twelve Democratic incumbents are defending their seats. One Democratic senator, Tom Udall of New Mexico, is retiring, but his seat is considered “safe” for Democrats.

The vulnerable seats: Doug Jones of Alabama is hanging by a thread. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Tina Smith of Minnesota are “likely” but not “safe” to win another term. Gary Peters of Michigan may be in a close fight. The remaining Democrats up for re-election are considered “safe.”

There’s not much in the way of current polling in Senate races, although one January poll has Democrat Mark Kelly four points ahead of Martha McSally.

I’m posting this because I hope recent events have driven home to Dem and leftie voters that just defeating Trump is not enough. Even if we defeat Trump in November, if the Senate remains in Republican hands we’re still in big trouble, and none of the reforms we desperately need will become law. Especially if you live in a state with a contested Senate seat, see what you can do to help. We can do this.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., joined from left by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, dismisses the impeachment process against President Donald Trump saying, “I’m not an impartial juror. This is a political process,” as he meets with reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

We Will Remember in November

Although the votes haven’t been taken yet, it’s nearly certain witnesses will be blocked and Trump will not be removed from office. No surprise.

David Lauter of the Los Angeles Times writes that impeachment could cost Trump dearly.

Johnson’s acquittal in May 1868 turned quickly to ashes: He ended his tenure less than 11 months later, reviled and rejected by much of the country. Clinton had a happier, but still mixed, fate: He remained personally popular, but the ethical cloud that remained over him after the Feb. 12, 1999, acquittal vote helped cause the defeat of Vice President Al Gore, who lost one of the closest presidential elections in history less than two years later.

And although he resigned before he was impeached, the stigma attached to Richard Nixon also. He is remembered mostly for being a crook.

Although polls are close on whether Trump should be removed from office, a substantial majority of voters think the Senate should have called witnesses. A Quinnipiac poll from this week:

On week two of the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, registered voters say 75 – 20 percent that witnesses should be allowed to testify in the impeachment trial, according to a Quinnipiac (KWIN- uh-pea-ack) University national poll released today. Support for witness testimony includes 49 percent of Republicans, 95 percent of Democrats, and 75 percent of independents.

The 75 percent of independents is encouraging.

Many are calling for the Dems to keep investigating and calling for Trump to be held to account. See:

Josh Marshall, Bring Down the Hammer

Paul Waldman, What Democrats must do when impeachment is over

Martin Longman, If Trump is Acquitted, the House Democrats Should Press Ahead

And, I believe the congressional Democrats will press ahead. Even today there have been more damning revelations. A new leak from Bolton’s book says that Trump’s defense lawyer Pat Cipollone was present in the Oval Office when Trump pressed Bolton to apply pressure on Ukranians to extract damaging information on Democrats. He was part of the scheme, in other words.

And who knows what fresh hells await us? If Trump follows his pattern, he’ll do something even worse next week.

Can We Bridge the Dem Progressive/Moderate Divide? Please?

I mostly agree with what E.J. Dionne writes today, although I have some quibbles. In Progressives and moderates: Don’t destroy each other — The enemy is Trump, not Clinton or Obama, Dionne writes,

The Democratic campaign was destined to entail an argument about the party’s direction for the next decade. Is this election about restoration, after the madness of Trump’s time in office? Or should the accent be on transformation, to grapple with the underlying problems that led to Trump’s election in the first place? …

… Like so many of the binaries in politics, the restoration/transformation optic captures something important but is also a false choice. The country can’t simply pick up where it left off before Trump took office. The radicalized conservatism that dominates the Republican Party will not go away even if he is defeated. The inequalities of class and race that helped fueled Trump’s rise have deepened during his presidency. You might say restoring the norms that Trump threatens requires transformation. And the majority that opposes Trump is clearly seeking a combination of restoration and transformation. They want to bring back things they believe have been lost as a prelude to moving forward. What they want most to restore is progress.

I think this is true. While many people who aren’t politics nerds may be skeptical of Medicare for All or a Green New Deal, they do know they want change. People are frustrated out of their minds, and have been for many years, with government that takes their taxes but doesn’t ever seem to do anything for them. And I think that’s true across the political spectrum. Where we differ is how we understand the source of the problem. Leftists tend to blame massive corruption and the influence of big money. Those on the Right appear to have more amorphous fears of foreigners, racial minorities, and multiculturalism.

Progressives and moderates need to realize that at this moment in history, they share a commitment to what public life can achieve and the hope that government can be decent again. They reject overt appeals to racism that have been Trump’s calling card and an approach to politics based on dividing the nation. Together, they long for a politics focused on freedom, fairness and the future.

Let’s assume for now this is true.

What should bring moderates and progressives together is an idea put forward long ago by the late social thinker Michael Harrington: “visionary gradualism.” The phrase captures an insight from each side of their debate: Progressives are right that reforms unhinged from larger purposes are typically ephemeral. But a vision disconnected from first steps and early successes can shrivel up and die. Vision and incremental change are not opposites.

I have developed an allergy to the word “incremental.” In theory, it sounds reasonable. In practice, it means not challenging the status quo at all but settling for minor tweaks to policies that need serious overhaul. At this point whenever some candidate extols the virtues of “pragmatism” and “incremental change,” I hear, but don’t expect me to do shit. Perhaps lip service is paid to what a glorious thing we might do “some day,” but some day never arrives.

And one reason some day never arrives is that the Democratic incrementalists are so lacking in vision they aren’t leading anyone anywhere. They win an election and maybe undo some of the damage the Right has done, and they call that a success. And then in the next election cycle the frustrated public votes for the Right again.

This is the pattern we’ve been dealing with for a long time. If Republicans screw up enough Democrats may win the White House and even hold a majority in Congress for a brief time, and then in the next election the Right will take Congress back because voters are still frustrated with the status quo and Democrats don’t seem to be addressing those frustrations. And every Republican administration that has taken the White House back from the Democrats has been more extreme and more corrupt than the last one. This is the pattern that’s got to stop. But it won’t stop as long as the “restorationists” and “incrementalists” are in complete charge of the Democratic party and refusing to listen to those who want change to start happening now, not some day.

What about the progressives, or “transformationists” as Dionne calls them? Although my sympathies are with them, many have naive ideas about how, and how quickly, transformation can happen even if Their Favorite Presidential Candidate is elected president. Presidents have no Constitutional power to write and pass laws that make transformational change, in spite of what Donald Trump thinks. The next Democratic president may push Congress in a more progressive direction, or not, but ultimately what we’ll get is what Congress passes, not necessarily what the President promised as a candidate. I agree with what Paul Walman wrote here:

Whether you think a social democratic revolution of the kind Sanders promotes is good or bad, the realities of Congress will make it impossible to bring about. In fact, if Sanders is elected, the major policy contours of his presidency will be nearly identical to those of almost any other Democrat.

That’s true to a great degree of Warren as well (though she has done more thinking about how to use regulatory power to achieve progressive ends). And to be clear, I’m not saying the individual in the Oval Office doesn’t matter. There will be differences in what they prioritize, whom they put into key executive branch positions, and how they react to crises.

But on the big picture, any Democratic president will do most of the same things.

Consider health care. Sanders wants immediate passage of what would be the most generous single-payer system in the world. So what will happen when he puts out that plan?

The answer is: basically nothing. Sanders believes he can pass Medicare-for-all through reconciliation, which requires only 50 votes instead of the 60 needed to overcome a GOP filibuster. But even if Democrats take the Senate, the absolute best-case scenario would get them 52 seats. And not only aren’t there 50 Senate votes for Medicare-for-all, there probably aren’t even 40 votes. Maybe not even 30.

So what does a President Sanders do then? If history is a guide, he’ll compromise. For all we think about Sanders as a purist ideologue, in the Senate he has been happy to support things he considered half-measures, such as the Affordable Care Act, when it mattered. He has always had a pragmatic side. So after Medicare-for-all failed, he’d probably say, “Okay, let’s start with a public option.”

In fact, at that point he’d probably take the position Warren has during the campaign: Do a public option first, and if it works well, in a few years the public and Congress will be more open to Medicare-for-all. And every other Democratic candidate, including “moderates” such as Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar, has also committed to pushing a public option. We don’t know whether that can pass either, but any one of the Democrats would wind up in the same place.

I know this isn’t what many Sanders supporters want to hear, but what Waldman describes is far more likely than any scenario in which Medicare for All becomes the law of the land in 2021. And this is why all the trashing of Liz Warren’s “gradual” plan and screaming that she “sold out” on Medicare for All is seriously stupid.

As Will Short wrote recently, candidates’ policy plans need to be taken seriously but not literally. “Whatever is typed in a report in 2019-20 won’t be what emerges from the sausage grinder of Capitol Hill,” he wrote. What’s important is that our leaders have a clear vision of the transformation change that is needed and will keep pushing to get us there.  Some of our more moderate, “incrementalist” candidates fall short in that regard, I fear, although of course they’d still be a huge improvement on Trump.

However, if we achieve victory in November, and take back the White House and both houses of Congress, if the tweakers remain in charge be prepared to lose Congress again in the 2022 midterms. (I don’t even want to think about what will happen if Republicans keep control of the Senate, frankly.)

A transformationist president could use the bully pulpit of the presidency to sell people on the benefits of transformational change. In that case, some day might arrive before the end of this decade instead of never.

That may be frustrating to the young folks, but most of you young folks will still be here at the end of this decade. Will change be happening then, or will you still be butting your head against the same wall? This really is up to you. If Millennials voted at the same rate as us geezers, the U.S. would be reborn.

Dionne goes on to consider the difference between “shrewd pragmatists” and “unprincipled sellouts.” Often that difference is in the eye of the beholder. Barack Obama, for example, got some things right but failed in other ways. His administration was successful in many ways, but some of what he failed to do helped set us up for Trumpism. This is something the incrementalists, and the current Democratic Party establishment, need to acknowledge instead of treating the Obama Administration as some kind of golden age.

Dionne’s column ends with his account of a  meeting with the Third Way organization, which emerged from the neoliberal New Democrats of the 1980s and 1990s. Third Way has been a stone around the neck of the Democratic Party for at least two decades now, and frankly I want to round them all up and deport them. These are people who want to enshrine the status quo in marble, in the name of “bipartisanship.” But surprisingly, even the executive vice president of Third Way, Matt Bennett, admitted to Dionne that the New Democrats had been wrong about some things.

“We need to be working to tame capitalism at this moment, because it is not functioning well,” Bennett told me. “We need to do in this century what the progressives and New Dealers did in the last century.”

Yes, thank you, Captain Obvious. But for a Third Way guy to admit that maybe capitalism needs taming is evidence that the messaging of Bernie Sanders and Liz Warren is breaking through their thick heads. And that’s something.

What I’m asking for here is for all of us to be both more visionary and more pragmatic.

The “centrists” need to understand that their lack of vision and tone deafness to voter frustration has a lot to do with their failures to win certain demographic groups (see: Hillary Clinton, 2016). To beat Trump a centrist candidate will need the votes of progressives, so bashing them throughout the primaries will hurt you in the general. If a centrist Democratic candidate wins the White House, that person needs to bring progressives into the cabinet and take their views seriously, or else Dems will continue to play defense and the next Republican president really will be Mussolini and not just a moronic wannabe.

And I’d say a lot of the progressives need to be more pragmatic, or at least realistic, and understand that there really aren’t enough progressive voters now to make all of our policy ideas popular and viable (although a big millennial voter turnout would help). To beat Trump and win the presidency, a progressive nominee will need the support of establishment Dems and the votes of skeptical centrists. So treating people who don’t see eye to eye with you in every detail as the “lesser of two evils” is not smart. Temper your rhetoric.

Political activists do tend to be passionate and opinonated, but as we get into the primaries please try to conduct yourselves in ways that don’t utterly alienate people whose votes and support Your Candidate, if nominated, will need in November. (And I’m looking right now at all you centrists who keep posting “Stop Bernie because he’ll lose” crap. That could backfire very badly. And the next time I see a Sanders supporter call for  Liz Warren to drop out “because she can’t win,” that person will be blocked. I’m serious.)

Trust the process, and may the best candidate win.

Impeachment, Bolton, the New So-Called Peace Plan

The question-and-answer portion of the trial is underway. From what I can tell, this is just an exercise in repeating points, or lies, as the case may be.

Late yesterday there was news that Mitch McConnell let it be known he doesn’t have the votes to block witnessess. It’s useful to hear what Lawrence O’Donnell has to say about this.


If you say last night’s show, you might remember O’Donnell also reminding us that McConnell is up for re-election, and McConnell wants to avoid the wrath of Trump at all cost.

The White House issued a formal threat to Bolton to stop the publication of his book.

The White House has issued a formal threat to former national security adviser John Bolton to keep him from publishing his book, “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir,” sources familiar with the matter tell CNN.

In a letter to Bolton’s lawyer, a top official at the National Security Council wrote the unpublished manuscript of Bolton’s book “appears to contain significant amounts of classified information” and couldn’t be published as written.

The letter, which is dated January 23, said some of the information was classified at the “top secret” level, meaning it “reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave harm to the national security.”

“The manuscript may not be published or otherwise disclosed without the deletion of this classified information,” the letter read.

Can the White House stop publication of the book? The story as I understand it: Bolton gave a copy of the manuscript to the National Security Council on December 30. He asked the NSC to review the manuscript for security issues, and gave them 30 days to do so. Bolton’s publisher, Simon & Schuster, has announced a March 17 publication date, which means printing has to begin some time in February.

Bolton is a warmongering jerk, but he’s not stupid. I’m sure he has a pretty fair idea of what’s classified and what’s not, and he wouldn’t have written a book that wasn’t publishable. This is a bare-assed attempt at censorship.

What will Simon & Schuster do? S&S is owned by Viacom (now ViacomCBS), a really, really big multinational corporation. This means they have a big, robust legal department, and I doubt they are going to accept censorship meekly, especially when big money is at stake. The book is already the #1 best seller in Amazon’s political science category.

In other news, Today the White House announced a new Middle East Peace Plan brokered by Wonder Boy Jared Kushner. Trump called it “the deal of the century.” Even so, the plan was instantly met with derision, and the United Nations wasted no time in rejecting it. Juan Cole called it a “crime against humanity.”

See also Fred Kaplan, Trump’s Plan for the Middle East Has Nothing to Do With Peace.

First, the fact that the Palestinians played no role in negotiating or vetting the document means, by itself, that this is an imposition—something like the surrender terms handed down by a victorious army—rather than an accord reached by two parties.

Second, it declares the existence of a Palestinian state with a capital on the outskirts of east Jerusalem and the prospect of a U.S. Embassy—but it also prohibits this state from forming an army, meaning it is not really a sovereign state after all.

Third, it freezes the expansion of Israeli settlements for the next four years—but it sanctifies all the settlements erected to date, allows more houses to be built on land already held, and annexes most occupied land, including all the holy sites in all of Jerusalem, to become officially part of Israel. …

…Finally, it hands this Palestinian not-quite-state $28 billion for economic development—but only if it takes the deal. Yet without real control over the state and a formal surrender of territory, without reciprocation, no Palestinian leader could take this deal and stay in power.

Original photo by Evan Guest, flickr.com

The Pathetic Sham That Is Trump’s Defense

Have the John Bolton revelations changed the trajectory of the impeachment trial? Could be.

Dahlia Lithwick has a great summation of the Republicans’ defense strategy:

The Republican strategy for getting President Donald Trump off the hook in the Senate’s impeachment trial has largely been rooted in the denial of the existence of a little something we, in the reality-based community, call time. The Republicans would like to pretend that the past doesn’t exist, and also that the future won’t exist, because doing so allows them to confine the mountains of damning evidence against the president to a minimalist public display that consists of in-the-moment rantings about “no quid pro quo” and Adam Schiff and House Democrats’ impeachment strategy. Senate Republicans are also hyperfocusing on single pieces of evidence, like the “perfect phone call,” while blurring out every other witness or piece of evidence as irrelevant or untrustworthy. And as Donald Trump’s impeachment lawyers highlighted in the preview of opening arguments on Saturday, the name of the game in the coming days will be to cherry-pick a handful of data points in their client’s defense case, and ignore mountains of corroborating testimonial evidence, leaked emails, and ongoing media reports, all of which establish a clear timeline of the Ukraine scandal. As soon as that defense is phoned in, Republicans could vote quickly to decline to call witnesses and hear testimony, and the impeachment trial would end in acquittal. Then time can start up again. Everything is too early and too late because only this moment matters.

The problem is that the past keeps crashing into the present in ways that drag the future into it. And if John Bolton had planned to hurt Donald Trump — I assume he did, although it’s possible the manuscript was leaked without Bolton’s permission — the timing of the release couldn’t have been better.

The defense soldiers on. I don’t have the stomach to watch it myself, but I’m following a liveblog of the Trump lawyer defense on TPM. I understand that Ken Starr is saying “impeachment is hell” and too terrible a thing to ever do, and he should know.  And he “urged President Trump to use his executive privilege to prevent the release of documents.”

“Don’t release the documents, Mr. President. If you do, you’re injuring the presidency. Go to court,” Starr said. “We’ve heard concerns about the length of time that the litigation might take. Those of us who have litigated know that sometimes litigation does take longer than we would like. Justice delayed is justice denied. We would all agree with that.”

Got that? He’s urging Trump to continue to obstruct justice so that he doesn’t have to face justice. See also Josh Marshall, The Executive Privilege Claims on Bolton Are Totally Fake. In brief, Marshall says “executive privilege” can be used to stop someone from being forced to testify, but it can’t block testimony that someone wants to give. Second, any subpoenas coming from the Senate — which the Constitution says has the sole power to try impeachments — and with the Chief Justice presiding would not be reviewed by any court, period.

Greg Sargent writes that “Bolton’s lawyer says he provided the manuscript to the White House on Dec. 30, 2019, for classification review — nearly a month ago.” And the New York Times is reporting that the White House apparently didn’t alert Senate Republicans about this.

Republicans are angrily pressing the White House in private about the revelations from the manuscript, saying they were blindsided by the former adviser’s account — especially because the administration has had a copy of it since Dec. 30. Many Republicans have adopted the arguments offered by Mr. Trump’s defense team, but Mr. Bolton’s assertions directly contradict them.

As Greg Sargent says, there is no question that Trump’s lawyers have read Bolton’s manuscript and knew all along that he was about to go public with testimony that directly contradicts Trump’s defense. They were playing Senate Republicans for fools.

Are the Senators pissed? Well, Miz Lindsey canceled a press conference scheduled for today. We aren’t told why.

Bolton’s book is scheduled to be released on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day.

Stuff to Read About Impeachment

ABC News has an audio tape of Trump screaming that Marie Yovanovitch must be “taken out.” Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman were present at whatever event was taped. I’m seeing other news sources saying the tape was leaked by Fruman.

David Graham, The Atlantic: Republicans Are Making a Kafkaesque Argument.

If nothing else, the tape shows, again, how much evidence we still haven’t seen about the Ukraine affair. And it underscores the elaborate, slippery dance that Senate Republicans are performing. First, they vote against gathering new witnesses and evidence at the start of the impeachment trial. Second, they complain that Democratic managers are offering no new evidence. Third, they say that it is pointless to call witnesses who might provide new evidence, because the White House will simply block them. In Trump’s Washington, Kafka seems quaint.

Charles Pierce:

It is possible that the president* was suggesting Parnas treat Yovanovich to a nice dinner and a movie, but I doubt it.

It is here where we all should remember that, if he had wanted to, the president* could have fired and/or recalled Marie Yovanovich himself and not given any reason at all. He’s the president*. He can do that. Of course, there would have been gossip, and some inconvenient news coverage, and Yovanovich likely would have made a lot of noise, but there would have been no doubt that the president* was within his rights to do what he did.

Instead, because he left his guts somewhere in Queens, he had to get Rudy Giuliani and his band of Volga Bagmen involved, which ultimately forced every one of them, including the president*, to lie and obstruct Congress and, thereafter, lie about how they obstructed Congress. They are the Gang That Couldn’t Obstruct Straight. So now it is clear that both Parnas and Igor Fruman, his partner in sleaze, have flipped like circus acrobats, and god alone knows what else will come out. Who knows how many tapes exist of the president* proposing who knows how many crimes? I would think, given recent developments, the president*’s relationship with Saudi Arabia might be a target-rich environment.

This may be the best column Dana Milbank ever wrote — John Roberts comes face to face with the mess he made.

Roberts’s captivity [as the impeachment judge] is entirely fitting: He is forced to witness, with his own eyes, the mess he and his colleagues on the Supreme Court have made of the U.S. political system. As representatives of all three branches of government attend this unhappy family reunion, the living consequences of the Roberts Court’s decisions, and their corrosive effect on democracy, are plain to see.

Ten years to the day before Trump’s impeachment trial began, the Supreme Court released its Citizens United decision, plunging the country into the era of super PACs and unlimited, unregulated, secret campaign money from billionaires and foreign interests. Citizens United, and the resulting rise of the super PAC, led directly to this impeachment. The two Rudy Giuliani associates engaged in key abuses — the ouster of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, the attempts to force Ukraine’s president to announce investigations into Trump’s political opponents — gained access to Trump by funneling money from a Ukrainian oligarch to the president’s super PAC.

Gabriel Sherman writes at Vanity Fair that Trump is unraveling.

Trump’s circle is waking up to the notion that impeachment is a serious drag on his campaign. “Impeachment is drowning out all his accomplishments,” a Republican insider said. But impeachment is only one aspect of the problem. Inside the campaign there is an intensifying debate between Trump and his advisers about whether the campaign should run on base-incitement issues like immigration or a moderate-appealing message about the economy that could win back suburban voters. “They’re all trying to get Trump to run on general election issues and not get caught up in side issues,” a source close to the campaign said. “But Trump is focused on other stuff and going after [Joe] Biden.” …

… Meanwhile, Trump has been in a particularly foul mood as impeachment drags on. Trump recently told some Republicans that he decided to say “fuck it” and kill General Qasem Soleimani, according to a source briefed on the conversation. Trump’s mood has the West Wing bracing for a new round of staff turmoil. According to sources, Trump is unhappy with Kushner’s recent Time cover story, which showed Kushner posing solemnly inside the magazine’s iconic red border. One source said there is speculation inside the West Wing that Trump may rein in Kushner by bringing in Kushner antagonist Chris Christie to replace acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. According to one source, Kushner, perhaps realizing the problems the cover could cause, lobbied Matt Drudge not to link to the article.

During hours of arguments, on Thursday afternoon and late into the night, that were meant as a prebuttal to Trump’s forthcoming defense, the House managers sought to anticipate and undercut the arguments of the President’s lawyers. The best witnesses they called were all the President’s men. The managers presented video clip after video clip demolishing the President as a mere parrot of Russian propaganda, who repeated Russian-inspired falsehoods about the 2016 campaign and his Presidential rival Joe Biden, even as he withheld crucial aid to Russia’s enemy, Ukraine. There was “no information” to support Trump’s insistence that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 U.S. election; it was “completely debunked,” a “fictional narrative” divorced from anything having to do with U.S. foreign policy or its national interest. Trump’s accusers were not #NeverTrump Republicans or Democrats. They were senior officials in the Trump Administration. It was devastating.

Glasser also writes that many Republican senators became excited at the mention of Biden. It turns out they were thinking this would give them an opening to subpoena Biden. Then some of them probably remembered they weren’t to allow witnesses, because Trump and McConnell want the trial over by the end of January. Can’t stomp on the SOTU, you know.

Republican Premeditated Ignorance

The term “premedicated incompetence” was coined by a woman I worked with back in the 1970s. It designated the phenomenon of college-educated men who could not figure out how to load a dishasher if there happened to be a woman handy.

Something like that is going on with Senate Republicans. Instead of refusing to learn how to load a dishwasher, they are refusing to listen to the arguments and evidence against Trump. It is clear they are determined to get their sham of a trial over with asap so that they can vote to keep Trump in office. To do that, they have to remain ignorant.

But why? Trump’s unfitness for office isn’t going away. More evidence will be made public, much of it sooner rather than later. Watchdog groups and investigating journalists are finding new documentation of Trump’s corruption all the time. There is even a remote chance we’ll get to see Trump’s tax returns and other financial records before the November election.

“The truth is going to come out,” Rep. Adam Schiff said to the Senate. “The only question is: Do you want to hear it now? Do you want to know the full truth now?”

And we know the answer. It is no. Greg Sargent writes,

GOP senators who vote against subpoenaing new witnesses and documents run the risk that more damning revelations will come out after any such vote, and after their inevitable acquittal. This could allow those revelations to be hung around their necks, as examples of what they sought to help Trump cover up.

But it’s now clear we’ve been looking at this from the wrong angle. The truth, plainly, is that in this scenario, the fact that the votes on evidence and acquittal will come before any future revelations is a feature of doing it this way.

That’s because a vote for acquittal (which, again, is inevitable) before more damning revelations are unearthed is politically less costly than a vote for acquittal after any such revelations.

Yes, future revelations will stand as evidence of what GOP senators covered up. But that’s still politically less risky, from their perspective, than taking the chance that new evidence could be still more damning than what’s already known, and that they’d have to then acquit at that point.

Clearly, if you think acquittal is your only option, but you know deep down the SOB is guilty, you might as well stay ignorant of the evidence. You’re better off that way, even. So some day when even the PBS News Hour crew is wailing about Trump’s violations of the Constitution, Senate Republicans can claim that the House managers of the trial just didn’t make their case.

Except they pretty much did make their case. What I have seen and heard this week allows no room for doubt that Donald Trump abused the power of his office to manipulate the 2020 election.  Tom Scocca:

The figurative gutters of Fifth Avenue are awash in blood and spent shell casings. What the Senate cameras recorded was a day-long showdown between reason and brute force. Schiff and the other impeachment managers have all the facts and principles on their side. The president’s defenders had nothing to counter them with but nonsense and lies. Nonsense, lies, and 53 votes.

Adam Schiff’s speech yesterday was especially brilliant. Were Republicans listening?

See also More Than One-Third of GOP Senators Reportedly Left Room During Schiff’s Speech.

So, here we are.

My understanding is that Trump’s lawyers may begin their presentation as early as Saturday. (Per Senate rules, during an impeachment the Senate meets six days instead of five.) One suspects they will have much less to say than the House managers did. When Trump’s lawyers are done, Senators may submit questions in wiritng that will be reviewed by the Chief Justice. He will decide which ones will be asked. Sixteen hours are allotted for questions.

When questions have concluded, the Senate will have a brief (four hours tops) debate about whether to call witness or acquire documents. If Republicans vote as a block to nix witnesses and documents, there will be nothing left but the final vote. So the “trial” might be over by the end of January, which is what Trump and McConnell want.

I suppose we can still hold out hope that at least three (the Chief Justice would break the tie) Republicans will choose to vote for witnesses, which at the very least would draw the trial out past the scheduled SOTU address. But I’m not holding my breath.