Wednesday, June 28, 2017

SAYING IT AGAIN: IF DEMOCRATS NEED AN AGENDA TO WIN ELECTIONS, WHY DOESN'T THE GOP THINK IT DOES?

Shortly after Jon Ossoff lost that special election, I noted that critics were urging the Democratic Party to put together a solid agenda in order to win elections, but Republicans apparently don't need much of an agenda to win. (Karen Handel beat Ossoff while running away from important parts of the GOP agenda.) A story in The Washington Post right now makes clear that running on attacks rather than an agenda is the GOP's plan for 2018:
The leader of the most important House GOP super PAC said Tuesday that the group will double-down on tried-and-true tactics for electing Republicans in 2018: tying Democratic candidates to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, which has ties to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), plans to spend $100 million on next year’s midterm elections, and Executive Director Corry Bliss said in a memo released Tuesday that he sees no reason to abandon a strategy that has paid dividends for six years — most recently in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, where CLF advertising featuring Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her San Francisco district helped define and defeat Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff in this month’s special election there.

“During the 2018 cycle, CLF will spend millions of dollars highlighting Nancy Pelosi’s toxic agenda and reminding voters across the country that Democratic candidates are nothing more than rubber stamps for her out-of-touch, liberal policies,” Bliss said in the memo....

“While results pointed to different sets of key issues from one district to the next, we did find a common denominator: Nancy Pelosi,” Bliss wrote.
Excuse me: Nancy Pelosi isn't an issue. Health care is an issue. Immigration is an issue. Education is an issue. Nancy Pelosi is a human piñata. But this is apparently how the Republicans plan to run next year -- not on their positions on any actual issues, but on OOGA BOOGA KILL THE WITCH.

The CLF memo quotes a Washington Post story:
A Quinnipiac poll last month, in fact, showed exactly 50 percent of registered voters had an unfavorable view of her vs. just 30 percent who had a favorable one. Even among Democrats, about 1 in 5 (19 percent) didn't like Pelosi. And independents were overwhelmingly anti-Pelosi, with 58 percent disliking her and 23 percent holding a positive view of her.
But that same poll shows Paul Ryan with a 54% unfavorable rating and only a 27% favorable rating; 26% of Republicans view him unfavorably. All three of those numbers are worse than the numbers the CLF quotes for Pelosi. But Republicans are still going to try to frame every campaign in 2018 as a referendum on her.

Well, of course they don't want to frame those campaigns as referenda on their own agenda (tax cuts for the rich, primarily), much less on their own accomplishments in the Trump era (still waiting). And yet they'll almost certainly retain control of the Senate and could well keep control of the House. Agendas are for suckers, I guess.

WILL SOME CONGRESSIONAL REPUBLICANS WARM TO THE IDEA OF DUMPING TRUMP?

President Trump wasn't much help to Senate Republicans as they tried to ram through their McConnellcare bill this week -- not surprising when you consider the fact that Trump, according to The New York Times, lacks even a basic understanding of the bill:
Until Tuesday’s meeting at the White House, Mr. Trump had spoken with only a few members of the Senate, according to an administration official....

A senator who supports the bill left the meeting at the White House with a sense that the president did not have a grasp of some basic elements of the Senate plan — and seemed especially confused when a moderate Republican complained that opponents of the bill would cast it as a massive tax break for the wealthy, according to an aide who received a detailed readout of the exchange.
On that subject, Trump seems a tad defensive:



That tweet provoked this response:



Obviously Trump could never do that. What Trump and his allies did this month was attack a GOP moderate who's vulnerable to defeat in 2018, a move that infuriated Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell:
Over the weekend, Mr. McConnell made clear his unhappiness to the White House after a “super PAC” aligned with Mr. Trump started an ad campaign against Senator Dean Heller, Republican of Nevada, after he said last week that he opposed the health care bill.

The majority leader — already rankled by Mr. Trump’s tweets goading him to change Senate rules to scuttle Democratic filibusters — called the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, to complain that the attacks were “beyond stupid,” according to two Republicans with knowledge of the tense exchange.
According to Politico, McConnell is upset with Trump for other reasons:
McConnell has also been stewing about another race: the Alabama Senate primary, which has turned into a personal priority for the majority leader. For weeks, McConnell and top political aides had been asking the Republican National Committee to release coordinated funding to help newly appointed Sen. Luther Strange, who is trying to fend off a large field of GOP primary opponents in a late summer special election....

Yet after weeks of requests, no RNC expenditures have been granted, and Senate Republican strategists began to wonder whether the requests had simply been lost in a bureaucratic logjam — or worse, whether the anti-establishment president was reluctant to have the national party wade into a contested primary.
This is happening even though one of the top potential challengers to Strange, Mo Brooks, attacked Trump during the presidential campaign, although he's now a Trump backer:
“I think what you are going to see 12 to 18 months from now is that a lot of people who have supported Donald Trump, they are going to regret having done so,” Brooks told MSNBC in February 2016, one day before the pivotal Super Tuesday primaries.

“For those of us who believe in certain things like border security, like a stronger economy, like a strong national defense, like low taxes, like moral values, you’re going to find that on a significant number of those issues, Donald Trump is not going to do what people think he’s going to do.”

... “I don’t support people who support adultery and I don’t trust people who are serial adulterers, as Donald Trump has been and bragged about in writing, because I don’t think that is an honorable thing or trait in a person.”
What else about Trump has ticked McConnell off?
Trump has already complicated the GOP’s 2018 candidate recruitment plans, dating back to just before the inauguration, when the president nominated Montana Republican Ryan Zinke to the Interior secretary post. McConnell had been pursuing Zinke for months, viewing the congressman as a prized recruit who could defeat Democratic Sen. Jon Tester in 2018, and had met with him to discuss a possible race. Top party strategists had reviewed polling data suggesting that Zinke would start out the contest in a virtual dead heat with the incumbent.

When he found out that Trump was about to tap Zinke for the Cabinet post, McConnell launched a late effort to get him to reconsider.... It didn’t work.

McConnell had been pushing the White House to appoint a pair of red-state Democratic incumbents up for reelection in 2018, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, to Cabinet positions — a gambit that would have improved the GOP’s odds of seizing their seats.

Yet Trump ignored the advice. While Manchin and Heitkamp were invited to Trump Tower ... neither was tapped.
Also:
In Arizona, where Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, a Trump critic, is facing a difficult reelection, Trump-fueled primary worries are intensifying. Prior to the 2016 election, Trump vented openly about Flake’s criticism of him — at one point, backstage before a campaign rally in Arizona, telling top aides animatedly that he wanted to find a Republican opponent to challenge the senator in 2018, according to two people familiar with the exchange. The administration’s anger at Flake has flared anew amid his criticism of the president’s decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey.

Flake has already drawn a Trump-friendly primary opponent in former state Sen. Kelli Ward, and two other allies of the president — Trump 2016 campaign COO Jeff DeWit and former state GOP chair Robert Graham — could also try to unseat him.
But while Trump comes in for a lot of criticism in these stories, there's a great deal of praise for Mike Pence. From the Times story:
... over the past few weeks, the Senate Republican leadership has made it known that it would much rather negotiate with Mr. Pence than a president whose candidacy many did not even take seriously during the 2016 primaries.
And from Politico:
Among party operatives, there is extensive praise reserved for Vice President Mike Pence, who has emerged as the administration’s de facto ambassador to Republicans planning for next year’s races.

Pence has begun promoting the party’s Senate contenders. During a stop in West Virginia, Pence asked to take a photo with GOP Rep. Evan Jenkins, who is challenging Manchin, and then posted the picture on his Twitter feed, accompanied by the caption: “Enjoyed seeing Rep. @EvanJenkinsWV while visiting Charleston, WV today. Thanks to his leadership we will Make America Great Again.”
You know, guys, there's a simple solution to your problem. Let's spell it together: I - M - P - E - A ...

It's hard to imagine congressional Republicans embracing the notion of removing the president from office -- not when Trump continues to have 80% job approval among Republicans, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll. But is it conceivable that McConnell and company will start cooperating a bit more with investigations into Trump, at least sub rosa? It seems to me that they'd be crazy not to. They can see Trump is a dead loss for them. They can see that Pence is much more competent. What are they waiting for?

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

IT'S OBVIOUS WHICH SIDE MITCH McCONNELL IS TRYING TO WIN OVER

Mitch McConnell has pulled the Senate health care bill:
Senate Republican leaders have done an abrupt about-face on the health care bill: They're now planning to delay the vote to take up the bill until after the July 4 recess, according to two senior GOP aides. They say Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made the announcement at the beginning of today's Senate Republican lunch.
But McConnell and company intend to keep working this week:
Senate Republicans have been tasked with reaching a new health care agreement by Friday, two senior GOP aides say. A new draft bill can then be sent to the Congressional Budget Office for analysis over next week's recess, and then the Senate will vote on the bill when it returns.
Will McConnell make the bill more horrible or less horrible? I think we can answer that question if we look at what McConnell was saying before he pulled the bill:
Mitch McConnell is delivering an urgent warning to staffers, Republican senators and even the president himself: If Obamacare repeal fails this week, the GOP will lose all leverage and be forced to work with Chuck Schumer.

... Voters expect Republicans to deliver on their long-held promise to repeal the law, McConnell said.... And failing to repeal the law would mean the GOP would lose its opportunity to do a partisan rewrite of the law that could scale back Medicaid spending, cut Obamacare’s taxes and repeal a host of industry mandates.

Instead, Republicans would be forced to enter into bipartisan negotiations with Democrats to save failing insurance markets.
We know that objections to the bill were raised by both moderate Republican senators and far-rightists. Which group do you think would be upset at the prospect of bipartisan negotiations?

Here's one of the moderates, Lisa Murkowski:



The prospect of working with Democrats doesn't frighten her. It probably wouldn't frighten Susan Collins or Dean Heller, either. So McConnell's dire warning wasn't aimed at gtting them to fall in line.

The warning was intended to scare Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and other far-rightists into backing the bill. Those guys absolutely don't want to work with Democrats. The warning didn't work, but the nature of it tells me that McConnell thought he needed to focus on the far-rightists in order to get to 50 votes (on the assumption, perhaps, that moderates are likely to cave).

This is probably what McConnell still believes. So my guess is that this bill is only going to get worse -- and if it does, it's possible it will pass.

In any event, this isn't over. Keep putting the pressure on.

THE PRESIDENT JUST VIOLATED AN ETHICS LAW IN FRONT OF 33 MILLION TWITTER FOLLOWERS

The Hill reports:
Trump promotes Fox News host’s book on Twitter

President Trump on Tuesday promoted Fox News host Eric Bolling's new book, "The Swamp," by retweeting Bolling's tweet that says Trump has a copy.
Yup -- here's Bolling's tweet promoting his book:



And here's a screenshot of Trump's retweet:



When Kellyanne Conway used a TV appearance to promote Ivanka Trump merchandise, she was chastised by the White House:
Kellyanne Conway has been rebuked by the White House after she appeared on television urging the public to buy the branded products of the president’s daughter Ivanka....

Richard Painter, former White House chief ethics lawyer to former president George W Bush, said federal employees were prohibited from using their official position for private gain for “yourself or anybody, including your boss”.
She was later rebuked by Walter Shaub, director of the Office of Government Ethics, although the OGE did not have the authority to punish her (and the White House, of course, chose not to).

Here's the law in question:
§ 2635.702 Use of public office for private gain.

An employee shall not use his public office for his own private gain, for the endorsement of any product, service or enterprise, or for the private gain of friends, relatives, or persons with whom the employee is affiliated in a nongovernmental capacity, including nonprofit organizations of which the employee is an officer or member, and persons with whom the employee has or seeks employment or business relations. The specific prohibitions set forth in paragraphs (a) through (d) of this section apply this general standard, but are not intended to be exclusive or to limit the application of this section.
Trump was affiliated with Fox News in a nongovernmental capacity -- he appeared on Fox & Friends on a regular basis. He's a close friend of Rupert Murdoch, who runs Fox News.

We know that Trump is flagrantly violating the Constitution's emoluments clause on an ongoing basis. This is trivial by comparison. But The Hill story doesn't even raise the question of whether this is an ethics violation.

It is. But as with Trump's presidential buckraking, we'll all just shrug and move on.

THIS IS HOW PROUD RIGHT-WINGERS ARE OF THE REPUBLICAN HEALTH CARE BILL

Overturning Obamacare is by far the most significant thing congressional Republicans and President Trump have tried to do this year. We're frequently told that this is a high priority for GOP elected officials because every Republican ran on repealing and replacing Obamacare, and base voters will punish Republican elected officials if they don't make good on this promise.

So you'd think the repeal effort would be front-page news on right-wing sites. In fact, it's barely visible on those sites.

Here's the current front page at FoxNews.com. I've circled the most prominent story on the health care fight:



Can you see it down at the bottom? The headline is "Senate health bill would lower deficit, increase number of uninsured, CBO says." It's in tiny type (though it is boldface). It's in the same typeface as the headline "North Korea 'amazed' by Spanish beach resort known for drinking binges, plans knock-off" -- though that North Korea story has a higher placement.

Now let's go to the Daily Caller:



Nothing at the top -- in fact, if you scroll down, there are twenty-seven stories before you get to the first one about Obamacare repeal. Among the items given more prominence: "Eric Bolling Talks New Book, Trump Tweets, Senate Run," "University Of South Dakota Scraps Guidelines That Threatened Punishment For Teasing," and "Even Jared Kushner Is Talking About This Dress Melania Trump Wore [PHOTOS]."

Breitbart?



Nothing at the top of the page, though there are several McConnellcare stories just below that in the "Trending Now" category, where they're in among such stories as "CHINA’S WILD SWINGS ON THE GAME OF GOLF: RICH MAN’S GAME" and "BUFFETT’S VICE CHAIR – AL GORE IS ‘AN IDIOT.’"

The biggest story in the right-wing media at this moment -- it's leading at Breitbart and Gateway Pundit -- is the newest James O'Keefe nothingburger, a hidden-camera interview with a CNN producer named James Bonifield, who (in response to a great deal of prodding) says that CNN's focus on the Trump-Russia story might be "bullshit." Here's how Breitbart writes this up:
“Could be bullshit. I mean, it’s mostly bullshit right now,” the CNN producer, John Bonifield, said in a video O’Keefe’s Project Veritas released on Tuesday, when asked about his thoughts on the Russia investigation. “Like, we don’t have any giant proof. Then they say, well there’s still an investigation going on. And you’re like, yeah, I don’t know. If they were finding something we would know about it. The way these leaks happen, they would leak it. They’d leak. If it was something really good, it would leak... The leaks keep leaking and there’s so many great leaks, and it’s amazing. I just refuse to believe that if they had something really good like that that wouldn’t leak because we’ve been getting all these other leaks. So, I just feel like they don’t really have it but they want to keep digging. And so I think the president is probably right to say, like, look you are witch hunting me. You have no smoking gun. You have no real proof.”
Um, who cares what this guy thinks? He's not a hard-news producer -- he's worked for years on non-political medical stories with CNN's Elizabeth Cohen and Sanjay Gupta. On his LinkedIn page, he highlights segments such as "25 Shocking Medical Mistakes (2012), the highest-rated program on CNN the evening it aired." He's investigated what happened to the ALS ice bucket challenge money; he's produced stories on aphrodisiac plants grown in Peru and a breast cancer survivor who posed topless. He's no more of an expert on the newsworthiness of the Russia story than the guy at the end of the bar.

But that's what's getting pulses to race in Wingnut Land -- not Obamacare repeal. Even though repeal has supposedly been every Republican voter's top priority for seven years, the right-wing press doesn't want to talk about the bill that could get repeal done. The contents of the bill aren't proudly enumerated in prominent stories. The legislative strategy isn't being discussed. Why, you'd almost think the folks in the right-wing media realize they have a dog of a bill and want to keep quiet about it.

Monday, June 26, 2017

McCONNELL'S "SLUSH FUND"

Go to New York magazine's front page right now and you see this headline:
CBO Score of Senate Health Bill Is Grim
But click on the link and Ed Kilgore tells you precisely how Mitch McConnell might save the bill:
[The bill] nearly triples the deficit reduction estimates for the House bill (from $119 billion to $321 billion), mostly because of a combination of a delay in the repeal of certain Obamacare taxes and reconfigured health-insurance purchasing subsidies....

As a practical matter the higher deficit-reduction number is pleasing to conservatives, but also gives McConnell a slush fund to buy “moderate” votes with more generous spending provisions.
There you go. It's not just that McConnell will now begin making deals -- he built the bill to give him the money to do so. Or maybe he didn't know he'd get this "slush fund" and just lucked out. (But note that the bill's drafters were sending portions of it to the Congressional Budget Office as it was being written, so there probably weren't too many surprises in today's CBO report.) But this money is what McConnell is going to horse-trade with. So even though it appears that three senators -- Rand Paul, Susan Collins, and Dean Heller -- will vote no on a motion to proceed to a vote, there are deals to be made. If you live in a state with a Republican senator or two, keep the pressure on.

NO ONE COULD HAVE PREDICTED (NEIL GORSUCH EDITION)

I'll grant that this wasn't the most important news coming from the Supreme Court today....
The Supreme Court declined to review a case about the right to carry firearms outside the home, but two justices publicly dissented from their colleagues' decision not to take up the issue.

The high court said Monday it would not hear a National Rifle Association-supported legal challenge by California resident Edward Peruta, who challenged a state law limiting gun-carrying permits to those showing "good cause" and a San Diego County policy that says concern about personal safety is not sufficient to fulfill the requirement.
But the story -- from Politico -- is infuriating because of this passage:
The most notable aspect of the action announced Monday was that President Donald Trump's newest appointee to the court — Justice Neil Gorsuch — joined conservative stalwart Justice Clarence Thomas in lamenting the court's decision to dodge the issue for now. Gorsuch's views on gun-rights issues were not well established by his writing or his earlier decisions as a judge on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Really? It's a surprise that Gorsuch is further to the right on guns than even three of his Republican-appointed colleagues?

Newsweek's Robyn Thomas and Adam Skaggs wrote this when Gorsuch was under consideration for the Supreme Court vacancy:
In one case, he threw out illegal gun possession charges against a convicted felon, and in another, Gorsuch bent over backwards to decide a case on procedural grounds rather than acknowledge that convicted domestic abusers don’t enjoy the same gun rights as law-abiding citizens—a generally uncontroversial view shared by the vast majority of conservative politicians and voters.

In a third case, Gorsuch repeatedly sided with another convicted felon who argued he shouldn’t be held accountable for illegally possessing a gun based on the far-fetched claim that he didn’t know he was a felon. Fortunately, the majority of Gorsuch’s colleagues on the 10th Circuit—and judges on every other appeals courts to consider the issue—rejected his outlier stance, making it, by definition, outside the mainstream.
Gorsuch was also the beneficiary of a million-dollar ad buy from the NRA when his nomination was before the Senate. Dana Loesch said,
“I can’t stress how unbelievably important it is to make sure Neil Gorsuch is confirmed, because our Second Amendment rights depend on this."
That would be this Dana Loesch:



Gorsuch was enthusiastically supported by Gun Owners of America, a group that's to the right of the NRA (it would like to eliminate background checks for gun purchases and ban all gun-free zones).

But AP found a gun scholar who said Gorsuch was "a Second Amendment mystery," so many right-thinking citizens were led to believe that he might be a reasonable right-centrist on the issue.

Conservatism in America has moved inexorably to the right over the years, so of course Gorsuch is going to be in the vanguard on guns. Any future Trump court picks are going to be as far to the right as he is. But we were supposed to take all apparent evidence of Gorsuch's moderation -- on this and other issues -- very, very seriously, and we'll be similarly bamboozled with future judicial picks. We never learn.

HEALTH CARE: IS McCONNELL STRUGGLING, OR IS HE A COUPLE OF MOVES AHEAD OF US?

Politico is arguing that progressives can't break through on health care:
For weeks now, liberal activists and Democratic senators have struggled to capture the public’s focus in their campaign to halt Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s momentum to repeal Obamacare. Now that the GOP bill is public, its expected coverage losses are likely to make it as deeply unpopular as the House’s plan — yet the left is facing a perilously narrow window to pick off wavering Republican senators and sink the bill before this week’s vote.

That messaging crisis is not for lack of trying. But progressives have been stymied by Republicans’ strategy of keeping the bill behind closed doors as well as a crowded media landscape fixated more on Trump’s tweets and Russia scandal than on the intricacies of Medicaid spending. And then there's money: Democrats have been vastly outspent by Republicans in ad wars over Obamacare repeal.
But Josh Marshall, although he still thinks the bill will pass, believes the pressure is starting to work:







Obviously, the pressure is coming from both sides -- the Koch brothers dislike the Senate bill because it's not harsh enough, and the loudest objections among senators are coming from the right (see, for instance, Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson's New York Times op-ed). But pressure from our side adds to pressure from the right. I think it really is making a difference, although I wouldn't say that we're winning.

I've been puzzled from the beginning by McConnell's decision to release the bill early on a Thursday -- why not keep it super-secret and let it dribble out late on a summer Friday afternoon? He's not giving the opposition much time to gather strength, but he could have been even more cold-blooded and given us even less time.

I wonder if the plan, or at least the backup plan, is this: Allow a limited freakout that possibly sends the bill to defeat, or at least inspires McConnell to pull it from the floor. We do a victory dance and go back to talking about Russia. Then McConnell quietly makes a few cosmetic changes, returns the bill to the floor even faster, and gets it passed. The House rubber-stamps it hours later and it's all over but the bill-signing.

I've seen it argued that that was the trick that got the House bill passed -- you show the public an unappealing baseline bill, which doesn't pass, then make minor changes to it and it does pass ... and it's assumed that the revised bill must be less awful than the original version. Also, you pass the revision after the opposition's energy level has peaked.

Is that what going to happen? Is "must pass this by July 4" the real kabuki here? Is the plan (or at least Plan B) to fail now and succeed after the holiday? That's what I'm afraid of.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

HOW MANY FACTS CAN MAUREEN DOWD GET WRONG IN ONE COLUMN?

Maureen Dowd attacks a cartoon version of the Democrats:
The Democrats just got skunked four to nothing in races they excitedly thought they could win because everyone they hang with hates Trump.

If Trump is the Antichrist, as they believe, then Georgia was going to be a cakewalk, and Nancy Pelosi was going to be installed as speaker before the midterms by acclamation. But it turned into another soul-sucking disappointment.
The special House elections were in Kansas, South Carolina, Montana, and Georgia. Do you know anyone who thought Democrats could win all four? Or even three? A few people saw hope in Montana because it has a Democratic governor and one Democratic senator, but it votes solidly Republican in every presidential election and hasn't elected a Democrat to the House since 1993.

Jon Ossoff's victory in Georgia seemed well within reach, but I know of no one who thought it would be a "cakewalk." And while Dowd tacks on the bit about Pelosi being installed as Speaker by acclamation in order to suggest that the whole thing is hyperbole, what leads up to it sure doesn't read as if Dowd's kidding. She needs to portray Democrats as victims of hubris or her column falls apart. Who cares about the facts?

Dowd continues:
Democrats cling to an idyllic version of a new progressive America where everyone tools around in electric cars, serenely uses gender-neutral bathrooms and happily searches the web for the best Obamacare options. In the Democrats’ vision, people are doing great and getting along. It is the opposite of Trump’s dark diorama of carnage and dystopia — but just as false a picture of America.
Maureen, please find me any mention in the four Democratic special election campaigns of a 100% shift away from internal-combustion cars. Please find me a celebration of gender-neutral bathrooms. Jon Ossoff did campaign on attracting more high-tech jobs to his district, but it's a highly educated district, so that makes sense. He also readily acknowledged that Obamacare isn't ideal. In South Carolina, Archie Parnell ran as a self-mocking green-eyeshade guy whose knowledge of the tax code would "bore you to tears" but would give him the skills to oversee spending wisely. (Parnell came closer to victory than Ossoff.)

Dowd:
With Jon Ossoff, as with Hillary Clinton, the game plan was surfing contempt for Trump and counting on the elusive Obama coalition.
I'm pretty sure Ossoff was counting on the Clinton coalition, which nearly beat Trump in the district in 2016.
The party still seems flummoxed that there are big swaths of the country where Democrats once roamed that now regard the Democratic brand as garbage and its long-in-the-tooth leadership as overstaying its welcome. The vibe is suffocating. Where’s the fresh talent?
Kansas, Montana, South Carolina, and Georgia are "swaths of the country where Democrats once roamed"? Not for decades in the latter two states, and never in the former. And as for "long in the tooth," the president Dowd is praising for his shutout of the Democrats is 71 years old, and the youth hero for many left-leaning voters, Bernie Sanders, is 75.

Ossoff is "fresh talent" -- he was born in 1987, which means he was trying to win a district that literally hasn't elected a Democrat in his lifetime, and he almost pulled it off in the first round of voting. There's more "fresh talent" around the country -- Kamala Harris, Adam Schiff, Kristen Gillibrand -- but these are smart people, not charismatic frat bros, so they don't set off the right heat meters.
In dwindling swing districts, [Rahm] Emanuel told me, Democrats need to choose candidates who are pro-middle class, not merely pro-poor.
Really? This guy was running as "pro-poor"?



They have to drum up suburban candidates who reflect their districts, Emanuel says, noting that [Democrats] wrenched back control of Congress [in the 2006 midterms] by recruiting a football player in North Carolina, an Iraq veteran in Pennsylvania and a sheriff in Indiana.
The Democrat who lost the Kansas special election, is a U.S. Army veteran who literally has a daughter named Liberty. Rob Quist was a third-generation Montanan who lost in Montana to a tech millionaire originally from New Jersey.
[Congressman Tim] Ryan says Democrats need to stop microtargeting. “They talked to a black person about voting rights, a brown person about immigration, a gay about gay rights, a woman about choice and on and on, slicing up the electorate,” he said. “But they forgot that first and foremost, people have to pay their mortgages and get affordable health care.”
You know who mastered microtargeting? Donald Trump's tech wizards:
"Pretty much every message that Trump put out was data-driven," Alexander Nix [of Cambridge Analytica] remembers. On the day of the third presidential debate between Trump and Clinton, Trump's team tested 175,000 different ad variations for his arguments, in order to find the right versions above all via Facebook. The messages differed for the most part only in microscopic details, in order to target the recipients in the optimal psychological way: different headings, colors, captions, with a photo or video. This fine-tuning reaches all the way down to the smallest groups, Nix explained in an interview with us. "We can address villages or apartment blocks in a targeted way. Even individuals."
Look, the four losses sting. And Democrats do have problems. But David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report is right about the 2018 map being favorable to the Democrats, because there are many districts more competitive than these special-election districts were:
Although it's true Democrats have agonizingly yet to capture a red district, they have outperformed their "generic" share of the vote significantly in every contest. Measured against the Cook Political Report's Partisan Voter Index (PVI), Democrats have outperformed the partisan lean of their districts by an average of eight points....

If Democrats were to outperform their "generic" share by eight points across the board in November 2018, they would pick up 80 seats. Of course, that won't happen because Republican incumbents will be tougher to dislodge than special election nominees. But these results fit a pattern that should still worry GOP incumbents everywhere....

Put another way, Democratic candidates in these elections have won an average of 68 percent of the votes Hillary Clinton won in their districts, while Republican candidates have won an average of 54 percent of Trump's votes. That's an enthusiasm gap that big enough to gravely imperil the Republican majority next November—even if it didn't show up in "the special election to end all special elections."
But if Dowd had acknowledged that, she wouldn't have had a column. Why let the facts get in the way of some enjoyable Democrat-bashing?

Saturday, June 24, 2017

IF JOHNNY DEPP AND KATHY GRIFFIN WERE REPUBLICANS, THEY'D BE SHAKING HANDS WITH THE PRESIDENT

Right-wingers can complain all they want about "the angry left," but "the angry right" is welcome in the White House. It's not just Ted Nugent. It's this guy:
An adviser to Donald Trump’s campaign who said Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton should be shot for treason was given a prime seat at a White House bill-signing ceremony on Friday.

Al Baldasaro, a New Hampshire GOP state representative who advised Trump on veterans issues during the campaign, sat in one of the first two rows of seats in the East Room as Trump signed a bill making it easier for the Veterans Administration to fire employees accused of misconduct.

Baldasaro, in a radio interview during the campaign, criticized Clinton for the 2012 attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, and said she should be “put in the firing line and shot for treason.” Trump later praised Baldasaro.
And then there's this Trump appointee:
Before William C. Bradford was appointed by the Trump administration to run the Energy Department’s Office of Indian Energy, he tweeted a slew of disparaging remarks about the real and imagined ethnic, religious and gender identities of former president Barack Obama, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, TV news host Megyn Kelly and Japanese Americans during World War II.
Samples:







And before anyone starts citing the latest Bret Stephens column to argue that it's Twitter that makes people write angry things, let me point out that Bradford is also a long-form rageoholic:
This would not be the first time Bradford courted controversy — except that it previously concerned a lengthy, 95-page law journal article rather than several short, 140-character-or-fewer tweets. In 2015, he resigned from his post at West Point after writing an academic paper arguing the United States should threaten to destroy Muslim holy sites in war “even if it means great destruction, innumerable enemy casualties, and civilian collateral damage.”

Bradford also called for legal scholars “sympathetic to Islamist aims” to be imprisoned or “attacked.” He dubbed such academics “critical law of armed conflict academy,” or CLOACA, which is also a term for the orifice out of which some animals defecate.
"CLOACA"?
The term is ostensibly an abbreviation for “counter-law-of-armed-conflict academy;” he wields his backronym with the same sinister tones that James Bond reserved for SPECTRE.
And his target list is quite expansive:
To suppress this “fifth column”—which is his actual term for fellow academics with whom he disagrees—Bradford offers a range of options. First, he suggests introducing loyalty oaths and firing “disloyal scholars.” Next, he recommends charging them with material support of terrorism and even treason. He even suggests treating these American academics as “unlawful enemy combatants,” a legal term used to deny Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters the protections of U.S. and international law.
Shocking and extreme as this option might seem, CLOACA scholars, and the law schools that employ them, are—at least in theory—targetable so long as attacks are proportional, distinguish noncombatants from combatants, employ nonprohibited weapons, and contribute to the defeat of Islamism.
Yes, even “the law schools that employ them”—presumably places like Harvard and Yale—could be legitimate military targets. So, too, could their homes, where their families and children live. Even a journalist like myself could be a lawful military target if I happen to quote one of these professors, Bradford argues:
Further, the infrastructure used to create and disseminate CLOACA propaganda—law school facilities, scholars’ home offices, and media outlets where they give interviews—are also lawful targets given the causal connection between the content disseminated and Islamist crimes incited.
Let me say it again: This man has a job in the Trump administration.

Johnny Depp joked about a Trump assassination (and has now apologized) -- but he's not in the government. Neither is Kathy Griffin (who's lost work for her Trump death joke).

Phil Montag, a Nebraska Democratic Party official who made offensive remarks about Representative Steve Scalise, has lost his job. Al Baldasaro, by contrast, is still a New Hampshire state legislator.

There's intemperate speech on all sides -- but increasingly there's no penalty for it on the right.

Friday, June 23, 2017

IF ONLY WE HAD AN INSTITUTION THAT WOULD INFORM US ABOUT SUCH ALARMING DEVELOPMENTS

Whatever McConnell/Ryan/Trumpcare looks like in its final form, it will eviscerate Medicaid to give huge tax cuts to the rich. Greg Sargent notes that many Americans don't seem to know this:
Cutting spending on the poor to facilitate a huge tax cut for the rich, in many ways, is the plan.

But what if a large majority of Americans don’t have a clear sense that the plan even does this? A new Kaiser Family Foundation poll out today suggests this may be the case, which hints at a number of troubling things about where this debate is headed next.

The Kaiser poll finds that only 38 percent of Americans know that the GOP plan makes “major reductions” in Medicaid spending. Another 27 percent say it makes “minor” reductions; 13 percent say it makes no reductions; and 20 percent say they don’t know. If this polling is right, that means at least 6 in 10 Americans are unaware of the central feature of the GOP plan....
Why don't they know this? According to Sargent, it's because Republicans are so clever:
All of this suggests that in some key ways, the GOP strategy is working. Republicans have gone to enormous lengths to obscure the plan’s profoundly regressive features. They have endlessly told the lie that no one will be worse off (because everyone will have “access” to affordable coverage), and they’ve developed numerous cleverly designed talking points designed to create the impression that, by slowly phasing in the loss of coverage for millions over time, this will create a painless transition to … well, to a blissful state in which everyone, again, has “access” to affordable coverage.
Left unmentioned by Sargent is the fact that an institution of which he's a part -- the mainstream press -- could have been giving a great deal of attention to this fact and informing us in prominently placed news stories that a Republican bill really could become law in early July. This has been clear since early this month, but Russiagate and various Trump kerfuffles were of so much interest that the news barely trickled out.

Brian Beutler of The New Republic has attributed this failure to "the media bias toward 'new' news." But how can it be argued that there was no "new" news here? It had been widely assumed that the Senate would struggle to pass a health care bill, then suddenly it became clear to reporters who were paying attention that Senate Republicans weren't struggling, and the wiliest, sneakiest, most amoral tactician in Washington, Mitch McConnell, was putting the bill on a glide path to passage by July 4. That wasn't news? Reporters who were paying attention knew that the Medicaid cuts were comparable in their severity to the cuts in the House bill. That wasn't news? To gain prominence, does every story have to be gift-wrapped for reporters and editors by sources who want the story out?

The media failed us in the 2016 election, obsessing over emails rather than issues. The media failed again this month.

BRET STEPHENS CAN'T SEE THE REPUBLICAN CONTEMPT THAT'S HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT

In The New York Times, Bret Stephens blames Jon Ossoff's loss on Democratic and liberal contempt.
Whatever else might be said about the race, Democrats didn’t lose for lack of political talent, campaign financing and organization or enthusiasm among their base. They lost because of their brand.

What is that? Democrats may think the brand is all about diversity, inclusion and fairness. But for millions of Americans, the brand is also about contempt — intellectual contempt ...; moral contempt of the sort Hillary Clinton felt for Trump....

That contempt may be justified. But in politics, contempt had better not be visible. Voters notice.
Voters notice? Well, I've noticed that Republicans have nothing but contempt for Democrats. All through the Obama years, they talked of "taking our country back" -- as if liberals and Democrats literally aren't Americans. And do I have to repost the ad for Karen Handel that smeared Jon Ossoff's out-of-state donors as a lot of contemptible Californians? I'm sure Scott Brown got a dollar or two from Red America when he ran for the Senate in Massachusetts, but imagine if there'd been a Democratic ad depicting his backers as a bunch of ignorant Bible Belt rednecks -- the howls of outrage would have audible from space.

Republicans also shriek if you link them to Timothy McVeigh and murderers of abortion doctors. But Ossoff was linked to Alexandria shooter James Hodgkinson, and that was just considered tough-minded politics.

Stephens continues:
Whatever their misgivings about Trump, ... Republicans weren’t about to give Nancy Pelosi the satisfaction of a national victory. Contemporary liberalism now expresses itself chiefly in the language of self-affirmation and moral censure: of being the party of the higher-minded.....
Oh, there was no "self-affirmation" in the Tea Party movement? There's none in the gun-rights movement or the #MAGA cult? There's no "moral censure" involved in the portrayal of liberals as snowflakes and moochers?

And can we talk about Nancy Pelosi for a second? Donald Trump is the great victim because he was portrayed as the murdered Julius Caesar in a Shakespeare production, and all of America was supposed to be horrified, but in 2010 Pelosi was depicted in a campaign ad as a melting Wicked Witch of the West after her then-Republican opponent tossed water on her.



Yes, it's a joke. But Kathy Griffin's Trump severed head was a joke, and universal outrage was demanded. This was, effectively, a fictional death for Pelosi. It was certainly "contempt."

But that was okay. Decent people weren't expected to feel contempt for all Republicans in response to this, or to the many other depictions of Pelosi and Hillary Clinton as witches, or to depictions of Barack Obama as a witch doctor, or either of the Obamas as primates. No one will harrumph in a mainstream-media op-ed that that alone is enough reason to reject every Republican at the polls. Democrats are just supposed to take it.


Thursday, June 22, 2017

THE DIVIDE IN AMERICA COMES DOWN TO WHICH OF THESE IMAGES UPSETS YOU MORE

Here's an image:



Caption for this image:
Stephanie Woodward, of Rochester, NY, who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair, is removed from a sit-in at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office as she and other disability rights advocates protest proposed funding caps to Medicaid, Thursday, June 22, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington. CREDIT: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
Here's another image:



That's from ad made by the Congressional Leadership Fund for Karen Handel, the Republican who just won a special election for a House seat in Georgia. It shows a man with long braids praising the candidate Handel defeated, Jon Ossoff, in San Francisco.

I'm told that Andrea Mitchell of NBC News thinks images like the first one are so disturbing they may doom the GOP health care bill:
MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell described the scene of disabled protesters being carried out by Capitol police in front of Mitch McConnell's office as "brutal" images for the Republican party....

Mitchell said, ... "We had people being carried out by Capitol police, clearly they are under orders to clear the hallways. It is not their fault, but this is what they're being told by House leadership and Senate leadership to do." ...

"This is clearly outside of senator Mitch McConnell's offices. A brutal image for Republicans and supporters of this bill, frankly," Andrea remarked.
Here's a clip:



And in case you missed it when I included it in an earlier post, here's that Karen Handel ad:



Mitchell thinks it's self-evident that most Americans will be disturbed by the sight of forced removals of handicapped protestors worried about whether they'll be able to afford health care. But if you're a Republican in America, the campaign ad upsets you more. It's full of people you think are trying to do you harm -- by raising your taxes, weakening America's defenses, and allowing Democrats to have any power whatsoever.

The fate of those disabled protestors won't shock Republicans' consciences. The protestors, after all, are effectively in league with Mr. Braids and all his friends who want to impose "California values" on the Real America. At best, a certain number of Republicans will conclude that you can't really feel contempt for the protestors, because they've just fallen for delusion spread by Braids and his ilk, in this case the delusion that health care is a right and should be partially paid for through taxes (which are confiscatory by definition) rather than by individuals, their families, their neighbors, and their churches.

Oh, sure, that'll work. As Charlie Pierce writes:
Let me put it in measurements that are particularly of interest to me. By 2050, it is estimated that there will be 16 million people in the United States with Alzheimer's Disease. Right now, in 2017 dollars, the estimated costs of treating and caring for AD patients is $236 billion dollars. Of that, $154 billion is picked up by Medicare and Medicaid. Tell me now how that gap is made up by a plan that virtually eliminates Medicaid entirely by the time we get to 2025. Churches? Families? Winning the Lotto?
Republicans's response to Pierce would be "Yes, that's precisely how it should be done." They might add that if you can't cobble together the money needed, you must have been deemed undeserving by a righteous God. And that's that.

This is America now. I don't think we can bridge this gap. And even if those of us who are more upset at the protest outnumber the Republicans, they vote more consistently than we do. So that's where we stand.


YEARS FROM NOW, THIS WILL BE THE RIGHT-WING NARRATIVE OF THE TRUMPCARE DISASTER

We know that McConnell/Ryan/Trumpcare is going to be horrible:
The tax credits for people who buy insurance on the exchanges are ... stingier than the current system. Right now, Obamacare’s tax credits cut off for people who earn four times the poverty level, which means people just over that threshold often struggle to afford insurance. Rather than fix this problem, the Senate bill would set the cutoff even lower, to three-and-a-half times the poverty level, making insurance unaffordable for more people in the middle class.

Amazingly, the Senate bill reportedly institutes deeper Medicaid cuts than the House bill.... The House version holds the program to the inflation rate plus one percent — which is historically lower than medical costs have risen, meaning that the program would have to curtail benefits for its beneficiaries, who tend to be poor and very sick. The Senate bill would cut growth down to the inflation rate, without the extra one percent.

... The tax cuts are what drive the bill’s inescapable cruelty. By eliminating nearly a trillion dollars in revenue, it necessarily creates a trillion dollars in cuts for coverage subsidies. The House bill reduces the insurance rolls by 23 million. The Senate bill won’t fare a whole lot better.
Even though the Senate bill would "effectively delay repeal of Obamacare until 2020," as Bloomberg puts it, most observers think Republicans will be blamed for any chaos in the health care system between now and whenever Obamacare starts winding down -- insurance companies will rush for the exits, policies will be unavailable or staggeringly expensive, and because we will have all seen the final passage of the bill and the big signing ceremony involving the president, we'll all agree that the GOP owns the results.

I'm not so sure. I think Republicans will still blame the bad outcome on Democrats.

In his pseudo-campaign rally last night in Cedar Rapids, we heard this from the president:
“If we went and got the single greatest health care plan in the history of the world, we would not get one Democrat vote, because they’re obstructionists,” Trump said. “If we came to you and said, ‘Here’s your plan, you’re going to have the greatest plan in history, and you’re going to pay nothing,’ they’d vote against it, folks.” ...

“If we had even a little Democrat support, just a little, like a couple of votes, you’d have everything. And you could give us a lot of votes and we’d even be willing to change it and move it around and try and make it even better,” Trump said. “But again, They just want to stop, they just want to obstruct. A few votes from the Democrats, seriously, a few votes from the Democrats, it could be so easy and so beautiful, and you’d have cooperation.”
That's going to be the right-wing narrative of our upcoming health care disaster: We Republicans passed a bad bill because Democrats forced us to. They just wanted to be the Party of No, so they refused to help make it better. Therefore, every bad consequence of what we did is their fault.

Of course, this is a preposterous. Mitch McConnell hasn't even allowed his fellow Republicans to work on the bill, or even to see it -- he certainly wasn't going to accept input from Democrats. The plan is for the bill to be rushed through the Senate (and then, I assume, the plan will be for the House to pass the Senate's bill with equal haste). And what kind of message is this for Republicans going forward? Vote for us, not for the terrible people who refused to improve the awful bill we wrote -- seriously?

But I think you'll hear this regularly in the right-wing media. I think McConnell, Paul Ryan, and other elected Republicans will brazenly argue that Democrats have some nerve complaining about the outcome when they announced an effective boycott of the process from the beginning.

The majority of Republican voters will actually fall for this. I hope very few other voters do.