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Donald Trump and Campaign Norms

[ 111 ] July 27, 2016 |


As Rob observes below, in his not notably sane press conference today Donald Trump (inter alia) called for Russia to try to steal the former Secretary of State’s emails. In addition, the Trump campaign announced that it won’t be releasing Trump’s tax returns. Ordinarily, this would be small potatoes, but when a businessman has such an extensive history of not paying creditors that he literally can’t get loans from ordinary American banks despite owning a lot of real estate, it’s pretty safe to say that there’s some significantly damaging information in them. Which, of course, is why he’s not going to abide by the norm that presidential candidates release their tax returns.

Basically, what Trump — starting with his attacks on John McCain for getting captured in Vietnam — has been doing is the campaign equivalent of what Mitch McConnell has done in the Senate. That is, ignoring norms about how he’s supposed to behave. He’s basically made an ongoing series of what conventional wisdom would maintain are campaign ending gaffes — and yet, he has the Republican nomination for president and according to the polls has an outside but real chance of being elected to the office.

Mitch McConnell is unquestionably correct that the public doesn’t care about congressional procedure and won’t punish individual members of Congress for legislative dysfunction. With respect to Donald Trump’s approach to campaigning, the lesson is less clear right now. Maybe what worked for him in the Republican primaries will fail in the general, and he will lose by an unusually large margin. But if he loses within the Romney/McCain range — or God forbid, wins — we have to consider the possibility that norms of what makes an effective campaign aren’t actually true (although it’s also possible that what works for Trump won’t work for others.)

In conclusion, Ari Fleischer’s still got it:


The Death Penalty and the Liberal Constitutional Agenda

[ 164 ] July 27, 2016 |


Julia Azari notes something about the 2016 Democratic platform that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention:

Finally, the Democratic Party has moved left in a variety of ways. This is exemplified by the Sanders movement, but it didn’t start there. During the Obama years, the party has moved left on cultural issues like gay rights, strengthened its rhetoric about economic inequality, and changed its stances on matters of criminal justice (for example, the platform plank that promises to abolish the death penalty).

It’s worth quoting the relevant passage in full:

We will abolish the death penalty, which has proven to be a cruel and unusual form of punishment. It has no place in the United States of America. The application of the death penalty is arbitrary and unjust. The cost to taxpayers far exceeds those of life imprisonment. It does not deter crime. And, exonerations show a dangerous lack of reliability for what is an irreversible punishment.

While most of the more ambitious parts of the new Democratic agenda have little short-term chance of happening, death penalty abolition is actually a realistic goal. Historically, state practices have a much greater chance of being ruled unconstitutional when they become outliers. This is exactly what’s happened with the death penalty. While a majority of states still have it on the books, actual executions have become concentrated in a handful of mostly reactionary states. (Of the states that formally have the death penalty, 31 did not execute anyone in 2015.) The fact that Bill Clinton’s two nominees — including Stephen Breyer, by far the squishiest liberal on the Court on civil liberties issues — have essentially come out for the position that the death penalty is categorically unconstitutional is another important signal. I’m not sure about Kagan, but I would be shocked if Sotomayor wouldn’t provide a fifth vote to rule the death penalty unconstitutional. If the Democrats can replace Scalia and Breyer and Ginsburg either remain on the court or are replaced by justices who share their views on the issue, it’s possible. Not inevitable by any means. But if public opinion continues to turn against the death penalty and the practice becomes increasingly rare outside of Texas — it’s possible. And at a minimum a Supreme Court with a Democratic majority is likely to place obstacles in front of the death penalty that might act to hasten its ultimate demise.

#BernieorBust Dead-Enders Are Not Representative of Sanders or his Supporters

[ 220 ] July 26, 2016 |


This Harold Meyerson column is excellent. Two points in particular are worth emphasizing:

Sanders skeptics have been eyeing him apprehensively since he announced, fearful that he would become this year’s Ralph Nader. Nobody who actually knew Bernie, however, ever believed he wouldn’t support Hillary Clinton in the end. In fact, he did much more than that. By shifting the discourse in the Democratic Party to one more appropriate to an age of inequality, and by pushing the party in its platform to commit to causes from which, at best, it had been laggard in embracing, he was showing his people precisely what focused progressive activism can yield: tangible victories in the arena of real politics.

All of Bernie’s Sighted supporters understood this. Virtually every one of his endorsers who has a track record in the give-and-take of real politics—union activists, elected officials, environmentalist leaders—has proclaimed, as Bernie has, that the revolution succeeded in moving the party and its nominee to the left, and that a Hillary Clinton presidency, whatever it shortcomings, would create the possibility of significant progressive organizing and victories, while a Trump presidency would be a reign of repression.

I said this as it was unfolding, but people panicking about whether Sanders would endorse Clinton just didn’t understand him. He’s never been a risk to become a new Nader — he’s not obscenely self-centered and he understands the value of compromise. There were things he could have handled better towards the end of the campaign, but you can say the same and arguably worse about Clinton in 2008 and there’s was never any risk that she would abandon the party or refuse to endorse Obama.

And it’s also worth noting that Sanders’s supporters are if anything coming around more quickly than Clinton’s did in 2008:

Bernie’s messaging, the presentation of the platform and rules in a way that made clear just what he’d won, and the progressive—and in the case of Michelle Obama, brilliantly humane—presentations on Monday were plainly calculated to open some of the Bernie diehards’ eyes. So did the presentations from children of undocumented immigrants and other speakers to whom it would be hard to argue that the difference between Clinton and Donald Trump wasn’t really all that great.

As the convention began, a new Pew poll showed that 88.5 percent of voters who’d consistently backed Sanders throughout the primary season now favored Clinton. A majority of the Sanders delegates in the hall in Philadelphia also back Clinton, but a loud Blinkered minority has managed to command disproportionate media coverage, which ever favors the loud. This disconsolate fringe—not just delegates but also the demonstrators lined up outside the convention area’s fencing—is almost entirely white and non-immigrant, people, that is, with less reason than some to fear a Trump presidency will overturn their lives. Nor are the demonstrators I’ve talked to preponderantly local, but rather have come from across the country to shout their rage and discontent. In short, the Blinkered are a fraction of the left, the Naderites come again. They are people who wouldn’t normally be involved either in Democratic politics or real-world progressive organizations, who hitched their wagon to Sanders’s star while many more experienced progressive activists failed to grasp Sanders’s potential for moving the world further in their direction than any political phenomenon in years.

My hunch—no more than that—is that if the election stays close, many of the Blinkered will reluctantly succumb to a very rational fear in the last two weeks of the campaign, and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein’s vote will plummet just as Henry Wallace’s did in the final stretch of the 1948 campaign. The prospect of a Trump presidency will finally strike dread in all but the most hermetically sealed mentalities.

Even though they’re over-represented at the convention and MSNBC seemed determined to track down and interview each and every one of them, #BernieorBusters are a small, shrinking, figuratively and sometimes literally flatulent minority of Sanders supporters. People indifferent to the outcome of the election, or who (like Jill Stein*) are actively working to throw the election for Trump aren’t representative supporters and definitely aren’t representative of “The Left,” as much as they’d like you to think otherwise.

*Here is one BLISTERING hot take for you:

I was going to say that Jill Stein is to political commentary as Skip Bayless is to sports commentary, but that’s not really fair to the latter — Skip’s shitty takes aren’t actually part of a campaign willing to risk the the infliction of massive suffering on some of America’s most vulnerable citizens in exchange for no upside whatsoever.

Were the Democratic Primaries Rigged?

[ 179 ] July 26, 2016 |



I bring these examples up in light of the new WikiLeaks revelations about staffers of the Democratic National Committee and their attitudes toward this year’s Democratic nomination race. The disclosed e-mails have been depicted as showing a rigged system that systematically undermined Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign.

But even if you believe the worst interpretations of these e-mails, the evidence is pretty mild. What we see is DNC staffers trying to spin the media in favor of Hillary Clinton and to complain to each other about Sanders. One certainly does not get the impression that the DNC staff was impartial between Clinton and Sanders — they appear biased and unprofessional — but there’s hardly evidence they materially manipulated the contest.

And also no:

Wikileaks’s tweets conjured dark and menacing conspiracies, but these are not borne out by the emails themselves. Take the group’s claim that the “DNC knew of Hillary paid troll factory attacking Sanders online.” The highlighted email isn’t some secret communication laying out nefarious plots. It’s a summary of a panel discussion on Fox News Sunday.

But forget the emails for a second. The main problem with the notion that the DNC rigged the results for Clinton is that it requires one to assume the improbable. The DNC had no role or authority in primary contests, which are run by state governments. Clinton dominated the primaries. The DNC, through state parties, had a bit more influence over caucuses … where Sanders dominated Clinton.

None of the thousands of leaked emails and documents show the DNC significantly influencing the results of the nomination. Furthermore, if it is true that last fall Clinton campaign chair John Podesta tried but failed to have DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz sacked, the underlying premise of the entire WikiLeaks dump—that Wasserman Schultz machinated to deliver Clinton the nomination—is hard to believe.

The main direct consequences of the WikiLeaks dump have been the resignation of Wasserman Schultz—which will probably relieve the Clinton team as much as satisfy Sanders supporters—and tut-tutting from the press, which sees something nefarious in the DNC strategizing how to get favorable press or grousing about a campaign accusing it of corruption.

When the best evidence you have of a conspiracy is a not notably influential staffer making a dumb and offensive suggestion that was not acted on because it was dumb and offensive…there’s no conspiracy.

Candidate Benefits From Convention Bounce

[ 59 ] July 25, 2016 |

Trump has eked past Hillary Clinton in the polling averages. This has led my Twitter feed to light up with consternation. But let’s keep some perspective, shall we? The Monday after the RNC should be the most favorable point for Trump. John McCain had a narrow lead in the Gallup tracking poll after the RNC and Dukakis had a double-digit one.

I wouldn’t say don’t panic, exactly, because any chance that Trump could win is pretty much a reason to panic, and it’s possible that he could win. But nothing about these polls suggests that Clinton doesn’t remain a heavy favorite. If Trump maintains this bounce a month from now, that’s a different story, but as of now it doesn’t mean very much.

Cooperstown Day

[ 84 ] July 24, 2016 |

Watching that eternally glorious bottom clip again, I was thinking about Buck Showalter, a fine manager who’s done an excellent job in Baltimore. Part of me has always thought that it’s unfortunate that he didn’t get a chance to manage the dynasty he helped build just as Jeter was about to come up. But it’s also true that he did unconscionably screw up an elimination playoff game. He sort of did Grady Little one better, letting a completely gassed pitcher give up the leads in the 8th and the 11th innings. When Cone walked the immortal Doug Strange with the bases loaded to allow the Mariners to tie the game in the the 8th, it was his 147th pitch. (And as with Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, it wasn’t just the pitch count — any idiot could see that Cone had nothing left well before Strange came to the plate.) And then he let Jack McDowell — an above-average innings eater but nothing more than that — throw to 10 batters on one day’s rest, letting him blow the game in the 11th. And he did this despite having John Wetteland, a very good closer, available. (Yes, he had given up a grand slam in Game 4 and also gave up a couple runs in a non-save situation in Game 1, but you can’t overreact to a pitcher giving up a home run to peak Edgar Martinez, who in 1995 had an OPS north of 1.100.)

The decision to fire Grady Little was easy — when a guy indefensibly screws up an elimination playoff game and is nothing but a generic hack anyway, there’s no choice at all. But Showalter was a good manager, and while it was really dumb not to bring Wetteland (or Wickman, or Rivera earlier, or anyone who wasn’t as obviously done as Cone), I’m not entirely sure that his firing was fair. But you have to say it worked out well for the Yankees.

…good to see that Piazza’s overdue induction is making blogger and back acne analyst Murray Chass cry.


[ 394 ] July 23, 2016 |
U.S. senatorial candidate and former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine addresses the first session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S. September 4, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Reed/File Photo

U.S. senatorial candidate and former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine addresses the first session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S. September 4, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Reed/File Photo

People who bet the chalk were right. I’ll probably have a piece about it, but a few quick points:

  • The pick is…fine. He wasn’t my first choice and still wouldn’t be, but the pick accomplishes the basic minimum of what is necessary in a vice presidential candidate, which is minimizing the downside risk. (As I will return to later, he’s far from unique in this respect, but he meets the standard.) He’s a moderate but not a Lieberman or anything. He’s not unqualified to be president, the media likes him, and Clinton seems comfortable with him.
  • I don’t believe that there’s any significant mobilizing effect that comes from vice presidential selections, so I don’t really see a major political missed opportunity.
  • With all due respect, the concerns about abortion are specious. Trying to figure out what a politician REALLY THINKS is a useless mug’s game. Maybe his 100% NARAL rating is a product of shifts in the party. So what? It’s not shifting back, and Kaine would have no means to impose some kind of secret anti-abortion agenda even if he wanted to.
  • I have two reservations about the pick. First, it unnecessarily puts a Senate seat at risk. It’s not a dispositive factor like it is with Sherrod Brown — there’s a Democratic governor in Virginia, and the Democrats can probably (although not certainly) retain the seat in an off-year election. But it’s a negative factor. The second problem is that it plays into the narrative that a “safe choice” means “white guy.” What risk, exactly, is involved with Tom Perez, and extremely intelligent and well-educated person who has numerous public offices without scandal or notable gaffes?

The pick is acceptable but suboptimal — in other words, very Clinton.


The Imaginary Progressive Donald Trump

[ 148 ] July 22, 2016 |


One way of mainstreaming Donald Trump is to pretend that “I don’t think gay people should be subject to mass murder” is some sort of major concession to LGBT rights. Another strategy, which Ivanka Trump used last night, is to just outright lie and suggest that Trump is running on the Democratic platform rather than the Republican one:

And so, Trump continued, her father would “change labor laws that were put in place when women were not a significant portion of the workforce, focus on making quality child-care affordable and accessible for all.”

Trump went on to argue, correctly, that “policies that allow women with children to thrive should not be novelties, they should be the norm” and then claimed that while “politicians talk about wage equality,” her father “has made it a practice his entire career” and promised that Donald “will fight for equal pay for equal work and I will fight for this too, right alongside of him.”

This portion of Ivanka’s speech was beautifully delivered, cogent, and mostly right on the money. It was also, with regard to her father, an enormous crock.

If Ivanka Trump is looking to be part of a two-for-one presidential team that brings our labor, economic, and social policies up to speed regarding women’s participation in the workforce, she should really get on the phone with Hillary Clinton. Clinton is the candidate running on policy proposals that would cap child-care spending at 10 percent of family income, boost pay for child-care workers, implement early childhood home visiting programs. and guarantee paid family leave — the basic building block of humane workplace policy that this country so embarrassingly lacks.

Ivanka certainly shouldn’t cast a vote for her father, a man who has not only shown zero interest in addressing any of the workplace inequities his daughter laid out, but whose campaign rests partly on the premise of returning America to the earlier era Ivanka described, in which women were treated as dependents, not as economic actors or as professionals or as equals in any realm.

In fact, just hours before Trump’s daughter took the stage, his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, had given an interview in which he described Trump’s appeal to women lies with fact that “there are many women in this country who feel they can’t afford their lives; their husbands can’t afford to be paying for the family bills.”

This is the Trump’s campaign vision of women — they are wives whose economic concerns extend only to their husband’s earning power.

And if you believe this is some sort of internal dispute — that there is substantive tension between Manafort’s vision and Ivanka’s view, and hers will win out — I would submit that every available piece of evidence supports the fact that Trump himself, and certainly the party he is leading into November, wants to return women to a subservient past, and actively obstruct policies that would better support them, or treat them as fully human.

If not for the recent changes at Salon, I would bet that two recent prep-school dropouts would already have published pieces using Ivanka Trump’s speech as evidence that her father is actually to Clinton’s left.

Getting the Message

[ 81 ] July 22, 2016 |

His time has come again!

It’s official: David Duke is running for Congress.

The former Ku Klux Klan leader and one-term Republican member of the Louisiana House of Representatives said in a video announcing his candidacy Friday that he believes in “equal rights for all, and respect for all Americans.”

“However,” he added, “what makes me different is I also demand respect for the rights and the heritage of European Americans.”

Duke will seek an open seat vacated by Republican Sen. David Vitter, who announced last year that he would not be seeking re-election. More than a dozen other candidates have also signed up to replace the retiring senator.

To be Scrupulously Fair, the Republican Party is clear that it has no room for this kind of politics, with the notably rare exception of its nominee for President of the United States.

Booker > Kaine

[ 415 ] July 22, 2016 |


Although he probably won’t be selected, Corey Booker is apparently at least somewhat in the running for Clinton’s VP slot. I’ve been having this argument with a lot of people for a while — including, at least back in the day, Brother Loomis — but can I note that Booker has one of the most liberal voting records in the Senate? Part of the difference between Booker (7th most liberal) and Kaine (41st) is political context. But not all of it — Booker has a more liberal voting record than Schumer or Gillibrand or Lautenberg. He’s been a leader on criminal justice reform. Sure, he has bad views on educational policy, but among elite liberals (including the one in the White House) this is the more the rule than the exception; I’m not sure why he gets singled out or how this could be some kind of dealbreaker. And, yes, he said some dumb (although not really policy-related) stuff about his Wall Street friends. But overall he’s been a more-than-solid liberal vote. This may be, in part, because he’s a young ambitious pol who sees which way the winds are blowing, but who cares? I’d still rather have Perez, but assuming that NJ Dems have a plausible candidate to replace him in November, he’d be a better pick than Kaine. And I still have no idea where the idea that Booker is another Lieberman or something comes from.

5CA Would Do Anything For the GOP, But They Won’t Do That

[ 52 ] July 22, 2016 |


It is not easy to pass a statute so egregiously discriminatory the Fifth Circuit won’t uphold it. But Texas managed to pull it off:

Texas’ law, and the similar ones being enacted by other state legislatures, are not just bad public policy — they also run afoul of federal law. While the Roberts court struck down a crucial provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, Section 2 of the Act — which forbids racially discriminatory state voting practices — remains in effect. The Fifth Circuit is a conservative, Republican-controlled court, and yet a 9-6 majority found that SB 14 violated the Voting Rights Act.


The majority opinion, written by Judge Catharina Haynes, was straightforward and powerful. More than 500,000 eligible voters in Texas lack the required ID. Various forms of statistical analysis confirm that racial minorities were far more likely to be affected by these requirements, and various individual cases confirm these effects. As a result, a majority of the court upheld the District Court’s determination that “SB 14 has a discriminatory effect on minorities’ voting rights in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.”

The lengthy, angry dissent by arch-conservative Judge Edith Jones defended the law using reasoning that would make it virtually impossible to find any vote suppression law illegal (which of course is the point.) Jones says that because the law did not affect the 90 percent of Texas minorities that had the required ID, the fact that those without the requisite IDs were overwhelmingly people of color does not represent racial discrimination. This is a transparently illogical claim.

The four Democratic nominees on the Supreme Court are nearly certain to agree with the Fifth Circuit’s decision, meaning it will almost certainly stand. As a result, SB 14 will not be permitted to go into effect in its current form.



Easy Marks

[ 80 ] July 22, 2016 |

sessions trump

I just saw an MSNBC panel talk about how Trump is moderating the Republican stance on LBGT rights. This is insane.

I assume this is the passage of the speech that they’re talking about:

Only weeks ago, in Orlando, Florida, 49 wonderful Americans were savagely murdered by an Islamic terrorist. This time, the terrorist targeted our LGBT community. As your President, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBT citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology. To protect us from terrorism, we need to focus on three things.

As delivered, he twice added a “Q” to “LBGT,” and also pronounced the acronym like he was shitting an anvil. He also congratulated the audience for cheering.

Anyway, it’s nice that he’s using up-to-date terms, but the substance of what he’s saying here is that he’s opposed to gay and lesbian people being killed en masse. CONGRATULATIONS! He also has the courage to oppose ISIS and then offers a stupid, unspecific non-plan for combating them.

What are the other Republican policies on LBGT rights? Well, it involves lots of prejudice and discriminatory legal disabilities. It proposes overturning Obergefell and denying same-sex marriage rights to people in a majority of the states, opposing new federal antidiscrimination provisions and rolling back the ones that exist, making adoption by same-sex parents more difficult, and making conversion therapy for minors legal. Trump did not suggest that he opposes any of these policies, and his vice presidential candidate strongly supports them.

And yet, our nominally more liberal news network portrays this speech as some sort of sign that the Republican Party is becoming more tolerant, while also working to normalize the white nationalist authoritarianism of the speech. It’s astounding, and one of the reasons that Trump has a non-zero chance of winning.

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