Monday, February 29, 2016

A general without its general

How does a major political party deconstruct? This isn't a rhetorical question. I mean that "how" literally. What does it actually look like? Is it broad meltdown, top to bottom? Or is there some kind of triage?

One scenario is now taking shape, and the more I think about it, the more plausible it seems.

The description of the current state of play in Saturday's piece in the Times about the GOP's frantic and feckless anti-Trump scrambling is pretty devastating:
"Despite all the forces arrayed against Mr. Trump, the interviews show, the party has been gripped by a nearly incapacitating leadership vacuum and a paralytic sense of indecision and despair, as he has won smashing victories in South Carolina and Nevada. Donors have dreaded the consequences of clashing with Mr. Trump directly. Elected officials have balked at attacking him out of concern that they might unintentionally fuel his populist revolt. And Republicans have lacked someone from outside the presidential race who could help set the terms of debate from afar."
So is the admission that the House that Karl Built simply doesn't exist anymore: 
"Former Gov. Michael O. Leavitt of Utah, a top adviser to Mr. Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, said the party was unable to come up with a united front to quash Mr. Trump’s campaign.
"'There is no mechanism,” Mr. Leavitt said. 'There is no smoke-filled room. If there is, I’ve never seen it, nor do I know anyone who has. This is going to play out in the way that it will.'”
But the money line actually comes earlier in the piece: "... the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has laid out a plan that would have lawmakers break with Mr. Trump explicitly in a general election." In other words, the GOP will become its Congressional caucus, and they will cut loose the RNC. The party is not only heading into the general election without a general at the head of its troops, but it will explicitly define itself -- nominally for this cycle, but effectively for the next few, at least -- as a Congressional party only. It will concede the presidency -- and probably the Senate -- to the Dems for the next decade or so in order to preserve its current foothold.

Of course, Congressional party vs. presidential party is not new. The Dems were the Congressional party during the Nixon, Reagan and Bush 41 eras. They moved back toward being a presidential party by nominating Bill Clinton--for the first time in 20 years, a candidate who actually had a chance to win -- and that would have continued to build had Al Gore not demonstrated his preference to lose. Following the 2000 election, they slipped back into Congressland, and maintained that until Lehman Bros. handed them the presidency, too. But over the course of Obama's two terms, the pendulum swing swung, and the Dems nationalized, while the GOP devolved back to Congress. 

And now that's about to be reified for the next decade, if not longer. But what's happening may be more than that. The Republicans may be so far gone that they can't hold onto Congress, either. They may be so riven and -- in the correct description of Lindsay Graham -- batshit crazy that they can't tie their shoes in the morning, and formerly sinecured House seats will be available to people who can. More structurally, it may be that you can't actually commit to just the Congressional level without losing that, too. It may be that a modern political party in America has to at least try to operate both nationally and locally... that the thinking, the recruitment, the infrastructure, the funding mechanisms, the message shaping, the lobbying strategy -- all of that and more -- can't be sustained by just hunkering down in the House. In other words, maybe you can effectively be a Congressional party, but you can't explicitly be one. 

And in that case, we could wind up witnessing a decade of clinging to the House like a branch on a cliff, until that branch breaks and the party just plunges to the bottom of the arroyo. 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Something there is that does love a wall... - Updated

... a firewall, that is. And her victory speech tonight was, in effect, the beginning of the general election, with its themes. "Imagine a future shaped by love and kindness" is at once directed at Trump and at Bernie's followers. She's saying "welcome." And she's also promising to be a warrior against hate, a warrior for compassion. Not a bad theory of the case.

Update: To put that theory of the case very succinctly: Tough. Love.

The Plotline

Lots of commentators -- from David Brooks to Chris Matthews to countless minor bloviators across the landscape -- are framing Hillary's theory of the case as her competence, which they cast unfavorably to Bernie's purist ideology and Trump's purist machismo. They say her argument is boring, content-free, out of touch with the people's hunger for a mission (or at least a professional wrestler to root for).

They're wrong. Hillary's campaign is not and will not be about competence. It will be about strength. She won't run for president as the best manager, she'll run as Wonder Woman, as the Iron Lady.

That will take different coloration depending on her opponent.

If it's Cruz, she will present herself as the people's staunch defender against the extremist Republican Congress. Cruz has fought hard for -- and won -- the role of Speaker of the House in Exile (exiled in the Senate). He has embraced the Tea Party's Know-Nothing rejection of governance and opposition to anything for Those People. Empowering the nut-job choir is very scary. Her campaign theme writes itself.

If it's Rubio, the argument will be roughly the same, but she'll paint Rubio not as the enthusiastic leader of the living dead, but as their malleable thrall. A little more work will be required, but not a whole lot. And Rubio's pathetic embrace of macho rhetoric offers a glass jaw for a true puncher to break. Along with the highest and hardest glass ceiling, she'll shatter it into a thousand pieces.

And if, as seems very likely, it's Trump, the contrast of faux macho strength and deep real strength will be great theater. Nothing is as delightful as seeing a bully humbled. Nothing would fire up the women of America so much as the prospect of kicking the asshole laureate in the nuts.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Human behavior 101 - Updated

This is correct. It's what I've been saying: The Dems are the conservatives -- in a dictionary sense of the word -- and the GOP are the radicals. And loss aversion is much stronger than risk-attraction.

This is also why she will win overwhelmingly in the general election. The primary season -- more so this cycle than at any time since '72 -- is the season of embracing one's id, of letting loose with a good "Who needs this shit?" In this Act One, the folks onstage who dominate the action are the ones saying, "Blow this theater up!" (in both the emotional tone and the metatheatrical critique; they're breaking the fourth wall of American politics, loudly).

But in Act Two, the play changes, and the one who says, "Let's have a satisfying denouement and get home safe" is the one who takes over. Remember Goldwater. Remember McGovern.

There's a lot of commentary abroad about how we can't possibly predict what will happen because none of the old rules apply. The window is wide open, conventional wisdom is out of it, and who knows what will blow in? But that's nonsense. A kiss is still a kiss. We're forgetting that primaries aren't general elections. We're forgetting that America isn't yet in bad enough shape to elect a Le Pen or a Franco. We're paying too much attention to the id and not enough to the superego.

Hillary's argument -- her conservative, winning argument -- will be: "I'm a serious fighter and I will give those reactionary Republicans who are trying to take away your healthcare and your right to choose and your Social Security a clop upside the head they'll never forget." She'll say, "They're the ones who are making government crappy, because their goal is to drown it in a bathtub. I will make sure, first, that government works again, and second, that it works for you." The subtext of all this (actually not so sub) will be, "I will stand up to Putin and ISIS and China much more than this needledick blowhard (or this schoolboy with contact lenses...or this insect in a suit -- depending)." She'll be a tough protector of our rights and of our country. Her campaign will scare the shit out of the public at the prospect of either Trump or Cruz or Rubio with his finger on the button and his thumb on the scales and his temperament and immaturity in the driver's seat.

It won't be close.

Update: Also, this is about the two parties, and about America. The Republican Party has gone off the deep end, and the Democrats haven't. The Republican Party is about to nominate Claribelle the Clown for president, and the Democrats are rejecting Mr. Greenjeans. The GOP may have lost its mind, but America has not.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The beginning of the end...

... not just the end of the beginning. Pretty soon the headline will be Berned Out.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Cast a cold eye on life, on dreck...

... and let the horseshit pass by (h/t Mr. Yeats).

Gene Lyons reminds us what we're dealing with when the press covers the Clintons. Same goes for the slime making its way around the social intertubes that Hillary is no feminist because she brutally silenced Bill's female victims. The Dowd, of course, is entirely in thrall to this stuff -- and so, again, are some lefty bloggers and posters.

So just remember, it's a crock. The accusers were not credible, not even remotely so. Hillary didn't slime Connie Hamzy and Gennifer Flowers. They were bathing in it. She did not call all single mothers "deadbeats." She did not say that black youths were "super-predators": she said that super-predators existed. And Whitewater. And Vince Foster. And "Travelgate." And Benghazi.

Has she made mistakes? Of course. Has she changed her mind? Yes, and good for her. Has she devoted her adult life to pushing progressive causes? Well, those infected with CDS lose interest there -- unless they happen to be wingnuts, in which case she's the communist lesbian thieving lying vagina dentata bitch from hell.

More on puppy-icorns

The reality-based community is speaking out against... Bernie.

This is important. As Krugman says, supporting Hillary is not ipso facto proof of shill-dom.

Having said that, the real issue here is how to handle the emotional letdown of his loss. The Obama campaign in '08 did a godawful job of that. I hope -- and believe -- that Hillary, with far more emotional intelligence, will begin the outreach and inclusion process after Super Tuesday. And the Supreme Court pendancy will help a lot. By November, there really need not be an "enthusiasm gap" in favor of the wingnut base.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Not so far offshore

Kevin Drum supplies some reality-based context on the energy behind Trump's campaign --but it also applies to Bernie's. And remember -- this is from Mother Jones, not the Chamber of Commerce.

Magic flying puppies

I guess 'nuff hadn't yet been said. Maybe now it has.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The SCOTUS election - updated

Less than 24 hours since the Scalia fell from our eyes, there has already arisen a tidal wave of commentary on the Strindbergean dance between politics and the judiciary, with particular reference to how the former will affect the latter. But the reverse is true, as well.

When the Anticonstitutionalist Cabal (aka the GOP) refuses to hold a vote on Obama's nominee -- no matter who that turns out to be -- the impact will be threefold.

First, it will lock the legal status quo of the country in place. No precedents will be set for at least the next year, for good or ill, left or right. U.S. Circuit courts will have the final say for the particular parties to any litigation, and the Constitutional implications will hang fire. I guess you can't get less judicially activist than that.

Second, it will dramatically nationalize the November elections for the Senate. The presidential race, of course, will already be nationalized -- but the fact that the ideology of the Supreme Court for a generation will literally hang in the balance will certainly be a huge GOTV spur. But it transforms every vote for senator, too, because the Dems have to take back the Senate in order to bring a nominee to the floor. (Put aside, for the moment, the question of whether the GOP will try to filibuster for four years -- or what such an attempt would do to the Senate elections in 2018, 2020 and beyond.)

Overall, this is great near-term electoral news for the Dems. The prospect that Roe v. Wade could be overturned... that further erosion of the Civil Rights Act might occur... that further empowerment of capital and money-as-speech will be afforded... all of that will bring millions of women, African Americans, Latinos and progressives to the polls. All of these young women, for instance, who think that Hillary is yesterday's news will suddenly find her a lot less boring.

On the darker side, the unexpected passing of the Snark King of American jurisprudence offers the rightwing radicals yet another institution to throw into Grover Norquist's drowning tub. And that, of course, will have the ironic result of making the one remaining branch of government that's actually functioning even more imperial.

Finally, perhaps for the first time in American history, we're having not just a SCOTUS nomination fight, but a SCOTUS election -- with unknown candidates.

Who says our democracy isn't dynamic?

Update: A few more thoughts on how this bolt from the blue changes the political landscape:

It guarantees that a lot of attention will be focused not just on the race for the GOP nomination, but on the current Republican senators. The candidates will, of course, continue their bombast about who must replace Scalia and how the President of the United States must not be allowed to subvert the Constitution by performing his Constitutionally mandated responsibilities. But the actual actions -- the things that will make news -- will be being carried out by McConnell & co. That will cement the link between the candidates and the hated Congress, and thus provide a big fat target for Hillary to run against -- indeed, the very target she was in all likelihood going to aim at anyway. There will be fresh material every day for "We must not let the GOP take over the third branch of government." (And,of course, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio will have to show up and vote.)

It may help Cruz. People in the base who are currently supporting Trump just because he seems tough on economic nationalism are likely to have their deep fears of culture war defeats revived. Put aside the fact that Trump is a circus clown... but his primary (pun intended) message is "It's the economy, stupid!" (And he really does mean "stupid.") The looming prospect of replacing Scalia at the Bridge with a godless, gay, transgender, gun-hating Antichrist, and those Trumpets and Trumpettes may rush into the arms of the Cockroach of God.

It also helps Hillary in her race with Bernie. It is a vivid reminder that income inequality isn't the only issue. Thinking about the Court causes every Democrat and Independent to think about civil rights, women's rights, LGBT rights, attacks on Obamacare, and so on. And, of course, it very powerfully raises the stakes. It makes the danger facing progressive values and gains visceral. An election that is shaped by fear of loss, rather than by fantasies of revolution, plays to Hillary's brand and strengths. Plus, we know from behavioral psychology that loss aversion is a much more powerful heuristic for humans than greed for gain.

Finally, it also reminds everyone of Obama's legacy. When the things he has done are threatened, it's much less likely that progressives will cavalierly say that the choice between the Dems and the GOP is no real choice. And if you feel the need to protect Obama's legacy -- and to do so by nominating the candidate who is the safest bet to win -- then you vote for Hillary over Bernie, on both counts.

A good case can be made that Hillary Clinton won the presidency last night, and that she will have a Democratic Senate, at least, with which to work.

Events, dear boy, events.

Update 2: Of course, the GOP may short circuit all this by approving Obama's nominee -- SCOTUSblog guesses it'll be Loretta Lynch, btw. Such a betrayal by their own will certainly cause the Republican base's collective head to explode, but it won't create the GOTV utz for the Dems that I'm envisioning here.

However, what are the chances of that? What are the chances that the GOP Senate will allow that vote to happen? Every Republican Senator would be primaried by the Tea Party. Which would, itself, throw the party into even deeper chaos.

So let's assume the likely path forward is the one we'll see. And let's look at the field of battle for the Senate in that context.

Of the nine most competitive Senate races this cycle, according to Larry Sabato, seven are for a seat currently held by a Republican, two for a seat currently held by a Dem. Those are good odds to start. Now, here are the states in that group that typically lean Dem: Illinois (incumbent: Kirk,R), Wisconsin (incumbent Johnson, R) and Colorado (incumbent Bennet, D). Here are the toss-up states: New Hampshire (incumbent Ayotte, R), Florida (open), Nevada (open). And here are the states that Sabato has as leaning Republican: Pennsylvania (incumbent Toomey, R), Ohio (incumbent Portman, R) and Arizona (incumbent McCain, R). (I'd dispute his lean on PA, and maybe even Ohio.)

Of the Republican incumbents, I'd guess McCain and Portman are safe. But in an election that gets framed around protecting Roe and rolling back Citizens United, I would think the Dems would have a very good chance of knocking off Kirk, Johnson, Toomey and Ayotte. None of those states are culturally red. I'd say they also have a good chance of taking the open seats in Florida and Nevada -- depending, obviously, on who the candidates in those races are on both sides. Can the GOP knock off Bennet? Maybe -- but again, their odds have gone down with Scalia's death.

And then there are the states Sabato identifies as safely Republican. They include Louisiana and Iowa -- the states that elected John Bel Edwards governor, and Tom Harkin as senator, respectively. They also include North Carolina and Alaska (where the governor, Bill Walker, ran as an independent by merging his campaign with that of his Democratic opponent, who became Lt. Gov.). Seems like there's at least some opportunity there, too.

Meanwhile, there isn't a single state Sabato identifies as reliably Dem where a Republican senate candidate has a whisper of a chance: Vermont, Washington, New York, Oregon, Hawaii, Maryland, California, Connecticut.

Overall, the chances of the Dems taking back the Senate look quite decent. They need a net pick-up of four, if Hillary wins and her VP casts the deciding vote.

Update 3: Re McConnell & co allowing a vote? Guess not.

Let the SCOTUS election begin!

Nuff said

A cogent summary for the defense -- and the prosecution.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Rubio Ridge


It's rare to see a candidacy collapse onstage, which is what made tonight's GOP debate in New Hampshire genuinely newsworthy. When Rick Perry did it last cycle, he wasn't a serious contender. Everybody thought Marco Rubio was -- until tonight.

His "Obama is deliberately destroying America" robo-schpiel is already legend, thanks to Chris Christie's onstage deconstruction. But what nobody is pointing out (yet, at least) is that it was disqualifying not only because it showed his unreadiness for prime time as a debater, but also because of the content of his argument.

Think about it. First, he decided to place all his chips on attacking Obama -- who is not running. Sure, it's commonplace to whack the opposite party's incumbent, and a little of that is par for the course. But Rubio was supposed to be the hopemeister of this cycle -- indeed, the Republican Obama of 2008. He was positioned as the face of the future. Why is he singing this backward-looking apocalyptic rag? Why is he trying to out-Trump Trump in direness? It's completely off-brand. It doesn't make him look serious. It makes him look hysterical. It's a downer.

Second, and most important, he is trying to carve out a niche among Obama-attackers by attacking him not as incompetent, but as evil. An argument about incompetence might work with a population feeling generally cranky (and the tack Trump has successfully taken). But Rubio is impugning Obama's motives, his patriotism, his love of country. He basically staked his candidacy on that proposition, and it's utterly foolish.

Nowhere near a majority of Americans -- I suspect even a majority of Republicans -- believes Obama is deliberately looking to weaken the country or to undercut its standing. That's an argument that only works in a small subset of the Republican base, and it's an argument guaranteed to alienate virtually all Democrats and independents. Rubio decided early in this campaign to write "neocon hawk" in bright letters on the tabula rasa of his empty slate -- but tonight showed that he has completely misread how to play that hand. Indeed, he has fatally overplayed it.

This is political stupidity of the first order. Even if he hadn't repeated it again and again in robo-call fashion, the argument itself disqualifies him as a serious candidate. Christie showed that he hasn't got the performance chops to be the nominee. Rubio's decision to make this argument in the first place is ipso facto proof of the absence of political judgment.

What tonight's meltdown does in the near term is destroy the very meta-possibility Rubio seemed to represent after Iowa -- that one of the "mainstream" candidates would emerge from the pack to become a serious challenger to Trump and Cruz. Now it's 52-card pickup again. The Great Tan Hope has fallen on his face, so there will be more weeks of scrambling among Jeb, Kasich, Christie and Rubio. The basic structure of the field -- with Trump at the top -- will not be challenged. And there's nobody running who has anything like the charisma to knock him off.

Did Christie help himself tonight? A little bit, I'd say, but not enough to matter. He did God's work in puncturing Rubio's bubble, but destroying the one beacon of hope won't win him any love among Republicans (though he probably helped himself among Dems, for whatever that's worth).

All in all, it was an excellent night for Hillary. It's patently clear that she will chew up and spit out whoever emerges from this squalid farce.

It's also clear, maugre the pundits whose livelihood depends on pretending there's a serious horse race underway, that nobody can go broke underestimating the sanity of the current Republican Party.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Something happened... again. - updated

I'll have more to say about this when I'm out from under my current workload. For now, suffice it to say that Hillary Clinton's answer to this question at last night's New Hampshire townhall may have been the most candid, honest, authentic public moment of self-knowledge and truly spiritual wisdom in U.S. political history.

No person with open eyes, ears and heart -- even those feeling the Bern -- can watch that and fail to see that she is a remarkable and authentic human being. She will win the hearts of even those jejune young women who have only heard the monster mash about her. She has a clear path to the nomination, and to victory in the general election. She will be sworn in a little less than a year from now. And we, and the world, will be the beneficiaries.

Update: I'm sure Somerby will note this entertainingly -- but there can be no doubt about where the NY Times' reportorial sentiments lie, whatever the (blessedly sane) new editorial board thinks. Two -- count 'em, one, two -- pieces with Amy Chozick's byline on today's online front page provide ample evidence of their bias. The fact that they're even running a story about Hillary's "strident" speaking voice after last night's amazing townhall tells you all you need to know about the Drudgification of the Times.