Saturday, May 7, 2016

Trump is the presumptive GOP nominee, and here's what's happening

On Tuesday, May 3rd, Donald Trump had a triumphant, double digit win over Ted Cruz in the Indiana primary.   Cruz and Kasich have dropped out,  and Trump has been proclaimed by the RNC chair as "the presumptive nominee."  Here are some things that have happened.

1.  Ted Cruz told us what he "really thinks" about Donald Trump.   Then he unloaded, calling Trump "a pathological liar, a serial philanderer who boasts about it, and a narcissist at a level the country has never before seen. Notice also that, in telling us "what I really think," Cruz reveals that he, himself, has been a serial dissembler in praising Trump in the past.

2.  A few opportunists have jumped on the bandwagon, but other politicians have distanced themselves or outright said they cannot vote for Trump.   Both Presidents Bush 41 and 43 have said they will not endorse him -- a statement that, in itself, speaks volumes about what they really think.  Also younger brother and once Trump rival Jeb Bush will not support  Trump;  neither will once rival Sen. Lindsey Graham.   Speaker Paul Ryan, the most important Republican elected official, says "not yet; we have to unite the party first."  New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, in a difficult re-election herself, has said she will "support" Trump, but she will not endorse him.   That's cutting it pretty fine.

3.  Several weeks ago, the 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney sharply denounced the Trump candidacy, trying to stop the growing support.  It didn't work.   Now Romney says he will not attend the convention.   In fact, four of the last five Republican presidential nominees will not be attending.   Only Bob Dole plans to attend -- not Romney, not McCain, neither Bush 41 or 43.

4.  As of midnight, when this post went up, the feeling coming from Republican elites felt like it was teetering and could go either way.   RNC Chair Reince Priebus, Dick Cheney, Rick Perry, and several senators have said they will support Trump.   But Ryan's hesitancy seems to be emboldening others to speak their minds.  And this was before we felt the effects of Trump's latest bombshell from a CNBC interview, where he horrified anyone with basic knowledge of finance by talking about renegotiating the national debt, meaning that he would treat government bonds as though they were a liability in a bankruptcy settlement, paying less than full value.   U. S. government bonds are considered almost sacred, unsurpassed as a safe investment.   This will cause a global shock wave that makes his threats about NATO or Saudi Arabia seem like minor tremors. 

5.  Attention turns to Trump's potential VP choice:    Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Chris Christie have said they would be willing to serve.    Maine's controversial governor Paul LePage has volunteered to serve in a Trump cabinet.

6.  Trump has said he expects to do very well, because "everybody likes me."   But the Rolling Stones band has joined a record number of music artists (including Adele, Neil Young,  Steven Tyler, and REM's Michael Stype) that have demanded that he "immediately cease" using their music at his rallies.

7.  On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton's campaign has already released two exceptionally effective tv ads, each simply using Trump's own words and what other Republicans have said about him to show his extremism, his divisiveness, his contradictions, and his rashness.

8The Koch brothers, who largely bank-rolled the Tea Party movement, have said that they may sit out the presidential contest entirely -- or they might even contribute to Hillary Clinton's campaign.  In an informal survey of six other big conservative donors, none would commit to donating to a Trump campaign.  Then a day later, on Friday, fellow billionaire Sheldon Adelson says Trump won the primary "fair and square;" and he will support him.

It's been a busy week.  In the time-line of presidential politics, with the conventions yet to come, it's still a long time until November.  Anything can happen.   But right now the GOP seems in disarray, to put it mildly.    Behind the scenes, many think the best shot is to just expect to lose the White House and work to re-elect Republicans down-ticket.


Friday, May 6, 2016

Trump Quote of the Week: "I know Russia well."

This has been a good week for quotes, but here is my favorite because it shows so clearly the utter shallowness of Donald Trump in trumpeting his foreign policy qualifications.

"I know Russia very well.
I had a major event there two or three years ago 
-- a Miss Universe pageant."

He thinks holding a beauty pageant in Russia qualifies him as a foreign policy expert ?!?!?!   The fact that he thinks it does reveals an appalling ignorance and arrogance.


Elizabeth Warren for vice president

Hillary Clinton may not choose her for a running mate, and Elizabeth Warren may say no even if she is asked.  But traditionally there are several roles vice presidential candidates are expected or needed to play:   geographical or demographic balance, filling an ideological gap, and attack dog to go after the other party's presidential candidate, balancing any deficits in the candidate's personality or style.

Elizabeth Warren is already out of the gate hitting all those marks.  After it became apparent Tuesday night that Donald Trump is the presumptive GOP nominee, Warren tweeted out this message:
Donald Trump is now the leader of the Republican Party. It's real – he is one step away from the White House. Here's what else is real: 

Trump has built his campaign on racism, sexism, and xenophobia. There's more enthusiasm for him among leaders of the KKK than leaders of the political party he now controls. 

He incites supporters to violence, praises Putin, and, according to a columnist who recently interviewed him, is "cool with being called an authoritarian" and doesn't mind associations with history's worst dictators. 

He attacks veterans like John McCain who were captured and puts our servicemembers at risk by cheerleading illegal torture. In a world with ISIS militants and leaders like North Korean strongman Kim Jong-Un conducting nuclear tests, he surrounds himself with a foreign policy team that has been called a "collection of charlatans," and puts out contradictory and nonsensical national security ideas one expert recently called "incoherent" and "truly bizarre." 

What happens next will test the character for all of us – Republican, Democrat, and Independent. It will determine whether we move forward as one nation or splinter at the hands of one man's narcissism and divisiveness. I know which side I'm on, and I’m going to fight my heart out to make sure Donald Trump’s toxic stew of hatred and insecurity never reaches the White House.
Let's look at how Warren fills those criteria for VP:

1.  Demographics:  Clinton doesn't need a woman to fill that slot, but having two women on the ticket would be just the surprise excitement to overcome the already jaded feelings about Clinton, even though she would be the first woman president.   To those who say it might be risky to have two women running, I say we've had over 200 years of two men on a ticket.   It outdoes Trump should he pick a woman VP.  Also, Warren comes from academia;  only recently has she become a politician.

2.  Ideological:    With this one simple choice, Clinton could solve the problem of bringing young people and progressives to her ticket.   Almost as good -- maybe even better -- than having Bernie Sanders himself.    Warren's advocacy for the middle class and her fighting Wall Street help neutralize the criticism of Clinton for being too close to the big banks.

3.   Attack Dog:   Warren is already up and barking as the attack dog against Trump.   Just re-read her statement above if you have any doubts.

4.  Personal style:   Where Clinton can seem cautious, scripted, and distant, Warren is spontaneous, authentic, engaging, articulate, and scaldingly spot-on in her critiques.

Elizabeth Warren for Vice President !!    She's the perfect balance for Hillary Clinton.


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Republicans couldn't stop Trump. Cruz couldn't do it. "It's going to take a Democrat to stop him."

Matthew Iglesias, writing for Vox Policy & Politics web site, tried to explain why Republicans can't stop Trump.  He says that: "Typically political parties try to emphasize hot-button wedge issues where a majority of the public is on their side, and deemphasize ones where they are in the minority."

But this year, Donald Trump has zeroed in on an issue that the party elites and the voting public are out of synch on;   and that issue is racism.    Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC last night pointed out that Donald Trump actually began his political junket years ago when he led the charges that Barack Obama was not a native born citizen and that his birth certificate was a fake.   What was that if not an appeal to people's racial fears?   I would agree with both Iglesias and O'Donnell -- but broaden it from a narrow focus on race to the more inclusive issue of "those others" who are changing the American way of life, as they see it.

This broader view encompasses issues that involve antipathy toward others who are not like youimmigrants, Muslims, Hispanics, the ascendency of African-Americans both economically and politically (epitomized by our black president), gays and trans, and all those "others" who have taken their jobs that were shipped overseas by corporations.

Donald Trump hits on most of those issue, especially the fears about security and jobs and all those hordes coming across our borders.  And his promise to "Make America Great Again" is code for restoring all those privileges that his voters feel they have lost.

The problem for the Republican elites is that they cannot bring themselves to get down and dirty with those Trump voters but are trying to hold on to their country-club, Wall Street wing as well.   The question is whether Trump can bridge those two groupsHe seems comfortable in both, but are the elites comfortable with him?   And beyond that is the question of his lack of competence as commander-in-chief. 

So here's how Iglesias sums it up in a great sound bite quote: 
So [Trump] is going to be the nominee.
Not because he's an unstoppable juggernaut,
but because it's going to take a Democrat to stop him.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Trump and Sanders win Indiana; Cruz drops out

Donald Trump soundly defeated Ted Cruz 53% to 37% in Indiana, winning all 57 delegates.   Kasich lagged far behind at 8%.   Cruz, after throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Trump in the last week, had reached the end of any conceivable path to winning the nomination.   So he announced the suspension of his campaign.

Donald Trump is now the presumptive nominee for president from the Republican Party.   He gave a victory speech that was oddly subdued.   It was rather traditional in that he thanked everyone, talked about unifying the party, and said some nice things about Cruz and the way he handled his exit.   

But his speech was also astoundingly vacuous, consisting of the same empty slogans and boasts he always uses.   One has to wonder what he's really thinking at this point.   Does the enormity of the job he's running for crack through his self-grandiosity at all?   Does he have any inkling of what he doesn't know that he needs to know?

On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders racked up another impressive win with a 53% to 47% edge over Hillary Clinton.   This was not unexpected, and her campaign had signaled that they were not expecting to win.

The truth is that it will make virtually no difference in delegates, however  -- something like 43 for Sanders and 37 for Clinton -- because the Democrats award them proportionally.  The effect on the overall delegate math is minor.

What it does, however, is keep his momentum going and make his continued quest a little more legitimate.   Perhaps it might give him a little more clout in influencing the platform, the party rules, and the agenda for the party going forward


End of the road for Ted Cruz; suspends campaign

Bloomberg/Getty Images
This image of Ted Cruz was taken the day before Indiana primary day;   but defeat is written all over his face and posture.    He knew that Indiana was the make-or-break state for him, after his multiple losses of the last six primaries in less friendly territory.

But conservative, religious, straight-shooting, All-American Indiana?   If Cruz can't win in Indiana, then nobody is buying what he's peddling anymore.   Despite pulling out all the stops of hard campaigning and desperate measures, he lost to Donald Trump 53% to 37%.   In less than two hours after polls closed, Cruz announced that he was suspending his campaign.

As Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine put it:
"Republicans across the country have watched Cruz take the fight to Trump, and concluded that they really dislikedCruz.    The Texas senator has seen his favorable ratings plummet, while Trump’s have spiked upward."
 Perhaps a personality transplant and a soul transplant would help.   His brain is fine.   His debate skills are unsurpassed.   It's who he is and what he says and his constant lies that defeat him.   No one has played the religious piety card more than Cruz has in this campaign.   And yet, he's even losing the evangelical vote in Indiana to Donald Trump.

That's amazing.   Except. maybe not.  From the beginning, I have felt that Cruz's religiosity is fake.  It just feels fake.  So maybe it's not that evangelicals don't caremaybe they just don't believe him anymore.

Let's hope he does some deep reflection and reassessment and that he can become a decent human being -- for the sake of his two little girls, who have been shamelessly exploited by their parents in this campaign.   It's hard for me to imagine how someone, who is so crassly manipulative and so blatantly dishonest and mean and universally despised, could be a good father.   I hope I'm wrong about that.


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Why Bernie plans to continue to the convention

Indiana is less a make or break primary for either Clinton or Sanders than it seems to be for the Republicans, who set it up to award a big chunk of delegates to the overall vote getter in the state.   A big winner could take all the delegates.  For Democrats, it's less of a big prize, since the delegates will be awarded proportionally.

Clinton's lead in the Indiana polls has narrowed to about 4% -- and polling in Indiana has been unreliable enough that Sanders might even win the state.   But, even if he does, it would neither be a big breakout for him or seal-the-deal for her -- because of the proportional delegates.

Neither can win at this point with pledged delegates alone, and super-delegates are not bound, although many have voluntarily pledged support to Clinton.   Sanders' strategy is to flip some of those to him and then take the majority at the convention -- saying they should be willing to cast their vote based on what the voters want at the time of the convention.

Bernie Sanders wants to keep going:   he has easy access to small donor contributions that keep on giving.   So he can continue to the convention.   Yes, he would like to win;   but more than that, he is starting a progressive revolutionIt doesn't end with one election.   He wants influence and input into the nominee's positions, the rules of the convention, the platform, how future elections are conducted.

Clinton seems to have given up trying to urge Sanders to quit and instead decided to co-exist with him, while she pivots to the general election, preparing to run against Donald Trump.  She will make a mistake if she thinks all she has to do is get Sanders to deliver his voters to her.   No, Sanders has already said she will have to woo them herself -- give them some reason to vote for her.   He seems determined to have a vote, not a coronation, at the convention.


Will Indiana mark the end for Ted Cruz?

"Indiana's Republican primary today is an important milestone.   It may very well end Ted Cruz's chances of stopping Donald Trump from winning on the first ballot at the convention.  

Trump has won the last six primaries (NY, PA, CT, MD, DE, and RI) by unexpectedly big margins, ranging from a low of 54% of the vote up to a high of 64%.   In those states, Cruz came in third behind John Kasich in five of those six states.   A Wall Street Journal poll shows Trump leading in Indiana by 15%.

Even more than the numbers, Trump's campaign feels like it's surging, while the Cruz campaign feels like it is collapsing.

First, it was those six state losses, which were expected because it is not Cruz territory;  but not by such large numbers.   Then it was the bungled, desperate-seeming agreement between Cruz and Kasich to each back off in the states the other had a better chance of winning.   That lasted less than 24 hours -- and made Cruz look both calculating and dishonest, because he quickly went on TV and lied that Kasich had decided "to pull out" of Indiana, without mentioning that he was going to do the same in later states.

That set the stage for everyone understanding former House Speaker John Boehner's remark that Cruz is "Lucifer in the flesh" and "the most miserable son of a bitch I have ever worked with."

On top of that came the ballyhooed Hail Mary:  choosing of Carly Fiorino as his running mate.  Talk about "playing the woman card!What other possible motive could have been behind that?

Indiana is a winner-take-all state for Republicans, with 57 delegates going to a winner who takes all districts.   It won't put Trump over the 1237 delegate count;  and Cruz continues to grab friendly delegates who will be pledged to vote for Trump on the first ballot but will support Cruz on the second.   But it looks like they won't get a chance to do that.  Trump will likely get enough in California and New Jersey to put him over.  And, if not, he will be so close -- with a growing sentiment that he should not be denied the nomination if he's that close.

Cruz did pick up a sort of last minute endorsement from Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.   After first complimenting Trump, Pence then added: "but I will be voting for Ted Cruz."    David Brooks said on PBS News hour last night that "It set new levels of luke-warmness."

But that's too little, too late.   Trump now looks like the winner, and people -- voters and politicians alike -- want to get on the bandwagon.   And it's not Cruz's wagon.


Monday, May 2, 2016

Modern irony -- it's hard to identify the good guys

1.  Irony #1:  In 1951, Georgia passed  a law against wearing a mask that conceals your identity, either on public property or on private property without the owner's consent.   The law, aimed at the Ku Klux Klan in its revived heyday, is still on the books.

Last weekend, a white supremacist group held a rally at Stone Mountain Park.  They said it was to be a peaceful gathering to celebrate Southern heritage and culture and had nothing to do with the Klan or intimidation of anyone.   They had no Klan regalia, no masks, no flags or burning crosses..   Only about two dozen of the anticipated hundreds showed up for their rally.

But about two hundred counter-protesters showed up from a newly organized AllOut ATL group, reportedly made up of left-leaning groups.   Some of them wore masks Park guards and local police were successful in keeping the two groups apart, corralling the small white power group in a remote parking lot.

The counter-protestors were upset that they couldn't confront the white power group, resulting in chases through the woods and confrontations with the police.   One of them allegedly threw a smoke bomb at police.  Six of the counter-protesters were arrested under the 1951 law against wearing masks.

The police explained later that using this arcane mask law to arrest demonstrators helped to lower the temperature of the confrontation without having to use more physical methods that might have provoked further, possibly violent, confrontations.

Here's the irony:   The 'good guys' got arrested under a law that was designed to outlaw the 'bad guys' of an earlier time.

2.  Irony #2:   When he was Republican Speaker of the House and thus second in line to be president, Dennis Hastert was a "good guy," a former high school wrestling coach who went into politics and was beloved in his small home district in Illinois.   He was the longest-serving Republican House Speaker in history.  One of his virtues was no whiff of scandal at a time when two previous Speakers had to resign under clouds of marital infidelity.

But Hastert had also had a secret life as a serial sexual molester of the teenage boys on his wrestling teams.   Whether that behavior continued beyond his years as coach has not been publicly revealed.   The earlier abuse only came to light a few years ago when he ran afoul of the law for concealing large sums of cash he was withdrawing from his bank accounts to pay off one of the boys (now a middle-aged man), whom he had agreed to give $3.5 million for his pain and suffering (and, of course, to keep quiet.)

The statute of limitations had passed on the abuse, so he could not be tried for that.    Several months ago, he was tried and convicted for the illegal bank transactions and for lying to the FBI about it.  The law, designed to catch money launderers and drug dealers, requires any cash withdrawal of $10,000 or more to be reported and explained.  Hastert was only trying tconceal a sordid, guilty past.    But it backfired and  brought about his downfallpublic exposure, shame, and now jail time.

Here's the irony.   When he was Speaker, Mr. All-American Good Guy, the coach with a secret past, had presided over the hearings on impeaching President Bill Clinton -- officially for lying under oath but really for a sex scandal involving a young female intern in the Oval Office.   It may have been unrelated, but somewhere back then Hastert made a statement urging that repeat child molesters should be given life sentences in jail.

This week, at his sentencing hearing for the banking violations, the judge turned it into a full-on exposure of the sexual abuse, referring three times to the defendant as "a serial child molester."   Hastert for the first time in court had to admit to having sexually molested five different teenage boys while under his charge as their coach and role model.

He also had to face testimony by one of the victims and the sister of another (now deceased) and a scathing rebuke from the judge, who then sentenced him to 15 months in prison, probation, and fines.    The prison time was unusual for the the banking crime, but it would have been much longer if he could have been actually tried and convicted for the abuse crimes.  If Haster's own past recommendation had been followed, it would have put him in jail for life.

Here's the irony shared in both examples:    "Good guys" who did something bad were only caught by these laws designed to catch "bad guys" for doing something different than what the "good guys" actually did. 


PS:   I had intended this post to be about irony, but this second one about sexual abuse of teens by a coach got a bit heavy.   I don't want my tone to suggest that I take this lightly.  Perhaps I will write more another time about the deeper issues of sexual abuse, the effect on even older teen-age boys, especially when the adult is a role model.  It's not just about sex;  it's about abuse of power and trust.   There's also the interesting issue of denial and self-delusion in the abusing adult, which I'm guessing was large part of Haster's inner process.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Gambling away the Supreme Court -- admitted to by Republican Chair of Judiciary Committee

They've all sunk into the muck of politics and obstruction so deep and for so long that they don't even think about cleaning up their language when they speak in public.   Iowa's Senator Chuck Grassley is chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the one chiefly responsible for obstructing the processing of President Obama's nomination for the Supreme Court vacancy.

Sen. Grassley told a local Iowa radio host this week that "I would have to admit that it's a gamble."   He was referring to the possibility that, by waiting for the next president to make a nomination, he might get someone more liberal than the moderate Judge Merrick Garland.

It's now pretty clear that the next president will be either Hillary Clinton, who would definitely choose a more liberal nominee, or Donald Trump.   Who knows what a President Trump might do?    He has said he would ask for recommendations from the Heritage Foundation, a very conservative group.   But Trump has proven himself to be so unpredictable, and he is out of step with the Republican Party on many controversial social issues.  Asking for their recommendations doesn't mean he would take their advice.

However, what I wanted to call attention to is the language.    With all of the gravitas attached to the Supreme Court -- lifetime appointments, the final arbiter of constitutional questions that affect our lives, our economy, our freedoms -- to speak about "gambling" on a nomination for that august body is jaw-droppingly astounding.   Further, it starkly pegs Grassley as thinking politically, not what's good for the court and for the country.

Judge Garland seems to be a fine choice, although more moderate and centrist than I would wish for.   But he's certainly far less conservative than any Republican is likely to pick (except perhaps Trump).

The changed dynamics of the senate process, brought by the Trump ascendancy, might work in Judge Garland's and President Obama's favor, if Grassley's colleagues can convince him to go ahead with this nominee so as not to risk someone more liberal.    If they don't . . . well, then, we might wind up with a Clinton nominee that progressives will like even better.