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Another one bites the dust

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This time, it’s Cory Booker. He just announced, via Twitter, that he’s dropping out of the race.

“It’s with a full heart that I share this news—I’m suspending my campaign for president. To my team, supporters, and everyone who gave me a shot—thank you. I am so proud of what we built, and I feel nothing but faith in what we can accomplish together.”

Short and sweet. The Senator joins the other Democratic candidates who have left the race—Julian Castro, Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, Kirsten Gillibrand, Eric Swalwell and the others.

Those who will debate tomorrow night are a dwindling bunch: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Tom Steyer and Amy Klobuchar.

It’s still a tight race (and we can’t count out Michael Bloomberg, who’s ineligible to debate because he’s self-funding his campaign). Biden is still the favorite, nationally, according to FiveThirtyEight.

Percentage-wise, the odds in favor of winning the nomination are:

Biden: 37%

Sanders: 23%

No one: 14%

Warren: 13%

Buttigieg: 10%

All others: 2%

To me, this indicates that most Democratic voters haven’t made up their minds. Overwhelmingly, sentiment among Democrats and many independents is that Trump absolutely must go. Nothing else matters. They don’t care which Democrat is elected, as long as he or she is able to beat the worst president in history and restore normalcy to American politics and culture.

That’s certainly the way I feel. I have a soft spot for Mayor Pete, and I’m amazed that a gay man has come this far; but I wonder if enough Americans can put aside their discomfort with a gay man and vote for him. I also have some trepidation about Sanders and Warren; both may be too far to the left to win the actual election. That leaves Klobuchar, whom I’m increasingly liking. She’s a moderate progressive, has the best smile of all the candidates (no small thing when so much of the race is run on television), and is a woman. It also leaves Bloomberg. I saw one analysis that said Bloomberg, of all the candidates, is best poised to win Florida, because he’s an elderly New York Jew and Florida is filled with elderly New York Jews (of whom I’m one, too).

After the disastrous embarrassment of the 2000 election in Florida (remember “hanging chads”?), Florida has emerged as possibly the most important swing state. I know that people talk a lot about Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin as the swing states, where fewer than 78,000 voters gave the 2016 election to Trump.

But look at the electoral votes of all the states. Let’s assume the Democrats hold all the states they won in 2016. Now, suppose Trump wins Pennsylvania (20), Michigan (16) and Wisconsin (10), as he did in 2016, for a total of 46, and the Democrat wins Florida (29). The Democrat then would have to compensate for losing the three Midwest states by winning a state Trump won in 2016 that has at least 17 electoral votes; or the Democrat would have to win at least two Trump states with a combined total of at least 17 electoral votes. What state/s could qualify? Let’s look at a couple possibilities. (Keep in mind that Bloomberg is not included in most recent polls due to his non-debate status.)

North Carolina (15 electoral votes). Trump won in 2016. But Sanders and Biden are currently ahead of him in the polls, according to FiveThirtyEight. So North Carolina, which is trending blue, could be a significant Democratic win.

Ohio (18 electoral votes). Trump won in 2016. Polling results there have been mixed, but in FiveThirtyEight’s latest roundup, four polls show Democrats beating him this year, while only two show Trump beating the Democrat (four others are even). So Ohio could be a big pickup for Democrats.

Texas (38 electoral votes). One of the big enchiladas. The Lone Star State went for Trump in 2016, of course, but guess what? FiveThirtyEight has Biden trailing him by a single point (48%-47%). But RealClearPolitics has Biden beating Trump in two of four Texas polls.

Now, remember I said “suppose Trump wins Pennsylvania (20), Michigan (16) and Wisconsin (10), as he did in 2016, for a total of 46.” But is this a valid assumption? No. Currently (as of Jan. 8), every Democratic candidate is beating Trump in Michigan!

So what’s the bottom line?

It’s going to be a fight, but North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Michigan—states Trump won in 2016–are all distinctly winnable by the Democratic candidate! I doubt that Texas will make the switch in 2020. But between the other three, there’s a total of 49 electoral votes. That’s easily enough, with Florida, to hand the election to the Democrat.

So I’m hopeful. This is the Democrats’ race to lose. Given their history of circular firing squads (cf. 2016), it might be too much to expect them to maintain solidarity. But I’m feeling good right now.


The Bolton testimony: Bill Kristol’s startling prediction

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Bill Kristol has been a lifelong conservative Republican, a neo-con who as a rightwing gadfly in Washington helped kill Bill and Hillary’s healthcare plan in the 1990s, and was a strong advocate of George W. Bush’s disastrous invasion of Iraq.

Kristol, for all his conservatism, was not a Trump fan—Trump, after all, was not a Republican–and has in fact been one of Trump’s harshest critics—harsh, that is, by Republican standards. He’s a favorite political commentator on MSNBC. Like his Republican counterpart Steve Schmidt, he takes pleasure in blasting away at a regime he considers corrupt. Kristol’s most recent move vis-à-vis Trump came last month, when he and other Republicans formed an organization called “Republicans for the Rule of Lawdemanding that Trump permit the U.S. Senate to call witnesses in the upcoming Impeachment trial.

That was good. But yesterday, Kristol did something even better. In the midst of all this uncertainty about where Impeachment is headed, he made a startling prediction on Twitter:

“What’ll happen: House sends over articles. Senate adopts McConnell’s rules on party line vote, convenes as court of impeachment. House managers make case, show need for witnesses, seek to call them. CJ Roberts agrees. His ruling upheld by 47 Dems + ~ 12 Reps. Bolton testifies.”

If you read my post yesterday, you’ll recall I was feeling despondent: Trump is winning the Impeachment game, I thought…McConnell is beating Pelosi…there won’t be witnesses…etc. Today, I’m more upbeat, and the reason is that Kristol has a pretty good feeling for Washington politics. His radar has often been accurate. So what does his Tweet mean?

Bolton—if you’ve been following this—has been central to the Democratic case for Impeachment. He was Trump’s National Security Advisor—one of the top posts in the administration—until he left that job; whether he was fired or quit is irrelevant. We knew from other sources that Bolton had been frustrated and infuriated by Trump withholding Congressionally-approved aide to Ukraine because Zelensky was dragging his feet about inventing dirt on the Bidens. (Bolton famously was said to have called bagman Giuliani’s involvement in the scheme “a drug deal”).

For weeks, Democrats wondered if they’d be able to get Bolton to testify in the House Impeachment inquiry. During that period, Bolton remained mute. It looked like he wouldn’t…then it looked like he might…no one knew. Then the other day, Bolton, in a statement, cleared the record: He will testify, he said, if subpoenaed.

That was cheerful news to Democrats, although it led to the question of why he hasn’t already been subpoenaed. The ostensible reason the House Democrats haven’t already subpoenaed him was because Pelosi feared that process would take months, and she was anxious to wrap things up by the end of 2019 or early in 2020. As for the Senate, it was unlikely McConnell would allow a Bolton subpoena. Bottom line: No Bolton.

That’s the context of Kristol’s tweet. It’s true that if McConnell has his way, there will be no witnesses—including Bolton. But the wild card is the man who will be presiding as Magistrate over the Trial, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts.

Roberts, like Bolton, is a conservative Republican, but you have to remember that he was the swing Justice responsible for some great Democratic victories: striking down California’s Proposition 8, which declared that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, and the Big Enchilada: legalization of gay marriage. Rightwing evangelicals went ballistic after SCOTUS’s 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges gay marriage ruling; they could hardly believe that a professed Christian like Roberts, who is Catholic, would side with the “homosexuals’…uncleanness [who] dishonor their bodies [and] exchange the truth of God for the lie,” in the immortal words of Franklin Graham. But Roberts did.

Was Roberts stung by Christian criticism of him? We cannot know his innermost thoughts. But now he will be presiding over the Impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump. There has been much speculation about whether he’ll be an activist Magistrate or a passive one; we just don’t know at this point.

But Roberts, Kristol predicts, will be an activist Justice. He will uphold a motion (presumably by Senate Democrats) to call witnesses. Republicans will object; there will be a strenuous floor fight, but Roberts will assert his sovereignty over the proceedings (which he has every right to do), putting his own prestige (which is very high) on the line and, in essence, daring Republicans to defy him. Democrats, joined by enough conscientious Republicans to pass the motion, will call Bolton (and possibly others, such as Mulvaney) to testify. Schumer will issue, in the name of the Senate, a subpoena; Republicans will resist it, but the same coalition, presided over by Roberts, will approve it. Bolton will show up, raise his right hand, swear to tell the truth—and the game will be on.

Will Bolton say what we all think? “There was a quid pro quo. Trump extorted or bribed Zelensky.” If he does, it’s a whole new ballgame, and Trump and his enablers need to be very afraid.


Iran, Impeachment: So far, Trump is winning

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Both parties, Iran and the U.S., appear to have backed off a more serious confrontation this time. Trump got what he wanted—talking points as a tough guy so he can boost his credentials with his “Christian” backers who are about as Christian as my little dog, Gus. Meanwhile Iran got what they wanted and needed—their own talking points about how they got “revenge” on the Great Satan.

Well, if this is as far as things go, there will be no major war this time.

I don’t know about internal Iranian politics but I do know about U.S. domestic politics. Things are always so finely balanced: was it a good day for Dems or a good day for Republicans? The pulse shifts from moment to moment. The events of the past week haven’t really moved the needle, in my judgment. But if Democrats get the right message across, this could be bad for Trump.

What’s the right message? Well, it’s not the one Democrats have been issuing the last few days. They’ve been all over the map: it’s all coulda-woulda-shoulda. Trump should have notified Congressional Democrats. Trump shouldn’t have been so rash. Yes, Soleimani was a very bad guy, but that didn’t justify taking such a risk.

The problem with these angles of criticism is that they don’t mean anything to most people. They’re the political equivalent of making a point in etiquette: “Trump put his fork on the left side of the plate instead of the right side. Therefore, he’s unfit for office.” But that doesn’t cut it. Nobody cares about points of etiquette, which is what these coulda-woulda-shouldas amount to.

What people do care about—or would care about if it were pointed out to them—is that Trump deliberately risked started a war to protect his fat white ass from Impeachment and/or defeat in November. That’s something the public can understand: the wag-the-dog scenario I blogged about last week.

But so far, Democrats aren’t putting it that way, and I don’t understand why not.

Democrats also are failing to thread the needle with Impeachment. They’re coming up with mealy-mouthed responses to McConnell’s intransigence, but they’re not looking directly into the cameras and delivering the one message that would resonate with the American people: Trump is preventing witnesses in a Senate trial because he’s guilty and he knows it. This is a cover-up.

That’s the winning ticket, not mushy nonsense like Pelosi’s latest: McConnell must release a “trial plan” before she refers the Articles to the full Senate.

Nobody cares about “trial plans.” Nobody knows what a “trial plan” is. This is arcane, inside-the-beltway stuff, boring to the extreme; it means nothing to the average voter. Instead, Democrats should be speaking in a single, undivided voice (just as Republicans always do): Trump is preventing witnesses in a Senate trial because he’s guilty and he knows it. This is a cover-up. Say it over, and over, and over: repetition, as Goebbels and Trump well know, is the way to penetrate people’s brains, not verbose statements that require actual analytical thinking.

Where does this leave us, then? We have two huge issues right now: Iran and Impeachment. And so far, Trump appears to be winning on both. He’s ended, apparently, the immediate threat of war by not vowing further retaliation in his speech this morning (despite his hyperbolic, self-serving rhetoric),* and he’s successfully (through McConnell) prevented a full, fair trial in the Senate, meaning that he’ll be acquitted and thus enabled to scream from the rooftops of Twitter VINDICATED!

But this is far from over. The point is to get rid of Trump. Impeachment is not going to work, because Republicans don’t care about trivial things like Justice, Truth and Democracy. That leaves only the November election as our one, final chance to depose a dangerous, unstable and arrogant man, who never should have been elevated to power.

* Trump took credit this morning for the lack of casualties in the attacks, but we now know that’s because Iran gave the two bases advance warning it would strike, so commanders were able to evacuate American and Iraqi personnel from the target areas.


Which side are you on?

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The lines are drawn in America—that much is clear. There ain’t no middle ground anymore. You’re on one side, or the other.

How did we get to such a bleak place?

The cause is Donald J. Trump. It may be true that we’ve been inching closer to this point for years, but we weren’t really shoved into the breach until Trump decided to take a wrecking ball to America. Trump therefore was the tipping point. Everything prior was before. Everything since is afterward—is now.

In my lifetime I’ve seen the gap between the two sides grow ever more pronounced. Our two-party system is by definition adversarial. Washington famously warned against the formation of political parties: in his Farewell Address he said: “[Political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, [but] they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

Washington could not have known how his description of “cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men…usurping for themselves the reins of government” would describe a future rogue president, Trump.

By the time of the second president, John Adams, two political parties already had formed, and so it has been ever since, with the occasional appearance of a minor third party. Probably it was inevitable: the only countries that don’t have political parties are one-party authoritarian dictatorships. Political rivalry is hard-wired into the DNA of democracies.

Our two parties got along with each other, for the most part, most of the time, the exception obviously being the Civil War; and that was not so much a fight between parties as between sections of the country. Except for that unhappy period, the parties managed to find a modus operandi by which they could co-exist in relative peace, although the rhetoric could get pretty harsh.

I grew up in the post-World War II era, in a Democratic household in which I was taught to regard Republicans as little better than the nazis we had recently defeated. Suffice it to say we didn’t hold Republicans in much esteem—and vice versa!

The 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, though, were pretty normal, as far as inter-party relations went. Yes, there was the Watergate scandal, which resulted in Nixon’s impeachment, but that, I think, was not particularly partisan. Nixon behaved abhorrently, and even his own Republican Party eventually realized it, and acted accordingly.

We began to reach the edge of the cliff in the late 1970s and 1980s. That’s when an unholy alliance was arranged between evangelicals (Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, in particular) and the Republican National Committee. Prior to that, all political parties tended to see evangelicals for what they are: deplorable wingnuts, barely American in the sense the Founders envisioned. But activists like Lee Atwater, who was instrumental in helping get Reagan elected, saw that evangelicals could be a potent political force for Republicans. As for the evangelicals, who had traditionally been apolitical, they decided to become political whores, or were talked into it by their pimping pastors. A shotgun marriage was arranged. The offspring—diseased and debased—is today’s Republican Party.

And so here we are. Democrats could not stand aside in good conscience and watch this diabolic mélange of evangelicals and reactionary Republicans rape and pillage the country. I honestly believe that Democrats did not, and do not, want this fight. It was forced upon us, the way we had to respond to Japan bombing Pearl Harbor by fighting back. When the Republican Party allowed the evangelical party a seat at the table, Democrats realized we had to act. That was the seed of The Resistance to Trump.

Could Democrats have avoided this moment? No. The stakes were too high, the threat level too significant. You didn’t have to be a fanatical patriot to realize the dangers of evangelical power: an end to a woman’s right to choose, the demolition of whatever advances gay people had made, the persecution of religious and racial minorities, the imposition of medieval Christian rule in place of Constitutional government, an increasingly unfair corporatocracy, the rejection of science in favor of the mad superstitions of a religious cult, the overall dumbing down of governance. All of these things, if allowed to happen, would spell the end of American values: of our freedoms, our liberties, our right to self-determination. These are rights Americans have fought and died for our entire history. Had the Democratic Party sat back and allowed Republicans to crush our traditional values, Democrats would have forfeited their right to exist by their indifference and inaction.

So what Democrats have done, and are doing, is correct, morally, politically and historically. Somebody has to stand up to the thugs on the right and to the thug-in-chief, Donald J. Trump. Nobody ought to fool himself that safety lies in compromise. You might as well compromise with a rattlesnake. As the old saying goes, if you run in the middle of the road, you’re going to end up as roadkill.


He wagged the dog

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There is no doubt that Trump took out Soulemani for one reason only: to deflect attention from his mounting Impeachment scandals. War is the ultimate shiny object: with stunning rapidity, the topics of Impeachment, of witnesses in a Senate trial, of Trump’s obstruction of Congress, disappeared overnight from discussions in the national news, both on T.V. and in print. These were replaced, instead, by reporting on the assassination, and on its ramifications and implications.

Is this not precisely what Trump wanted?

“Wag the Dog” was the title of a 1997 movie whose satiric plot centers around “a spin doctor and a Hollywood producer who fabricate a war in Albania to distract voters from a presidential sex scandal.” In the movie, it worked, as it appears to be working now, at least in the short term. Trump, faced with a truly awful situation of epic proportions—Impeachment, low poll numbers, record numbers of Americans believing he should be removed from office, his moral reputation so tattered that even evangelicals admit he’s “not perfect”—needed to do something to shift the narrative. Killing Soulemani was always an ace in the hole he could pull (although no doubt there are others). That he didn’t do so until now suggests he didn’t feel the need to. That he finally has is evidence that, feeling cornered and threatened as never before, he finally decided to play that ace. And now, he has.

Trump is rightfully coming under intense criticism for wagging the dog, but the irony is that he, himself, accused Obama of doing so! That was back in 2011. As Obama was gearing up for re-election, Trump tweeted: “In order to get elected, @BarackObama will start a war with Iran.” That tweet got 21,000 “likes” (including, as a scan of them shows, many from Russians). At around the same time, Trump said during an MSNBC interview, “Our president will start a war with Iran, because he has absolutely no ability to negotiate. He’s weak and ineffective, so the only way he figures he’s going to get re-elected…is to start a war with Iran.”  

Well, calling Trump a hypocrite is of course like saying the Sun is bright: everybody knows it; it’s so obvious that it’s trite. Or, I should reframe that: it’s like saying Trump is a pathological liar. Everybody knows that, too.

Still, the fact remains that Trump has placed America (and its allies) in harm’s way as never before, by his callously blatant tail-wagging. It’s one thing to hurt Americans economically by imposing tariffs on foreign countries. It’s quite another to endanger our very lives—from American soldiers serving in remote outposts in Afghanistan or Iraq to ordinary citizens in Washington or New York being hit by cyber-attacks or dirty bombs.

Did you see the video the other day of Trump down in Miami at a rally with evangelicals? As these people laid their hands on his body, a smirking Trump told them “God is on our side.” Did that make you sick? It made me sick. I felt like the first thing those evangelicals should have done afterwards was wash their hands. But this is part of his wagging-the-dog strategy. He assumes that most Americans, including independents and even some Democrats, will rally around the flag (“partisan politics stops at the water’s edge”), and he assumes, also, that he will pick up just enough Latino votes in crucial states like Florida to win re-election in November.

Those assumptions might be true, if this were a different time. But it’s not a different time. It’s 2020, and a majority of Americans have become convinced that Trump is a con man who will lie, cheat and kill, in order to gain personal advantage. That’s why it’s so important to let the American people know what he’s up to: He is wagging the dog.

Democrats, so far at least, have been reluctant to come out and say so. The most they can offer is “Well, Trump didn’t consult Congress,” or “Trump violated the law,” or “Trump hasn’t offered a shred of evidence that Soulemani was plotting a big attack.” All these things are true, but they’re mealy-mouthed, because they don’t get to the root of the matter: wagging the dog. Americans instinctively understand what that is: it’s what a little brat does when he’s caught red-handed doing something wrong. He cries—he throws a tantrum—he kicks and punches—anything to distract attention from the deed he actually performed. Sometimes, it works. More often, if the parents are smart, it doesn’t.

The American people are smart. They’ll figure this out. But please, Democrats, stop beating around the bush! Come out and say it: “Trump did this to distract your attention away from Impeachment and from your knowledge of his unsavory character.” Mayor Pete—Elizabeth—Bernie—Joe—Amy—say it! Don’t be afraid of Republicans accusing you of stirring up hatred. Speak the truth! You’ll just be giving voice to what everyone already knows.


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