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“Bye-Bye Federal Criminal Justice Reform?”: Hard To Imagine GOP Congressional Leaders Bucking Their Base To Push Reform

There’s a powerful tendency in the chattering classes, impervious so far to contrary data, to think of Donald Trump as just a summer sideshow that will close down directly once the real candidates–you know, Jeb!–get in gear and Party Elites send down the word that the base has had its fun and now needs to get into line. You don’t have to think he’s actually going to get the nomination (and I still don’t, though I wouldn’t bet the farm I don’t have on it at this juncture) to understand he’s having an impact on the GOP and indirectly the country.

Most obviously, no Republican who wants to seriously compete for the nomination is going to get all loud-and-proud about comprehensive immigration reform, no matter what’s down there in the footnotes of their policy tomes.

But my biggest fear has been that Trump’s poisoning the well for criminal justice reform at the federal level, and Michael Grunwald shares it:

Criminal justice reform, a perennial lost cause for civil rights lefties, had its surprise bipartisan moment this year. Conservative Republican voices like anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and the Koch brothers led campaigns against mass incarceration and mandatory drug sentences. GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush has embraced the pro-reform Right on Crime initiative, while Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have co-sponsored reform bills with liberal Democratic senators.

But the Kumbaya reform moment may not survive the Summer of Trump.

After roiling the politics of immigration with jeremiads about border walls and Mexican rapists, Donald Trump has scrambled the politics of crime by running as a pro-cop, anti-thug “law-and-order” candidate, denouncing rioters in Baltimore and Ferguson, vowing to “get rid of gang members so fast your head will spin.” And as with immigration, his rivals are echoing his appeals to the angry id of their party’s white base, distancing themselves from bipartisan reform. Bush is now touting his own “eight-year record of cracking down on violent criminals” as governor of Florida, while attacking Trump as “soft on crime” because of his past support for Democrats and marijuana decriminalization. Candidates like Cruz and the usually Koch-friendly Scott Walker are also trumpeting their toughness on criminal justice issues, blaming President Barack Obama and the Black Lives Matter movement for recent attacks on police officers. In this climate, it’s even harder than usual to imagine GOP congressional leaders bucking their base to push reform.

Trump has been dismissed as a sideshow, but for now at least, he’s the main show.

I suppose it’s possible that a Republican presidential candidate or two will decide to get attention as someone who’s “fighting” Trump on this or that issue instead of positioning him- or her-self to inherit his support when whatever it is that’s supposed to strike him down finally happens. But I wouldn’t count on it, particularly on an issue–crime–that is more viscerally immediate to angry and frightened white people than immigration.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, September 14, 2015

September 15, 2015 Posted by | Criminal Justice Reform, Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, GOP Voters | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What Used To Seem Impossible No Longer Does”: Donald Trump Could Actually Be The Republican Party’s Nominee For President

Though there are many Republican presidential candidates whose continuing presence in the race seems to defy common sense, last week saw the first withdrawal of the campaign, as former Texas governor Rick Perry decided to pack it in and sashay back to Texas. So we’re now down to a mere 16 GOP candidates, at least 14 of whom are hoping that at some point there will be a sudden and inexplicable surge of interest in the possibility that they might be president. Meanwhile, the two who are actually gaining support, Donald Trump and Ben Carson, are the most wildly implausible in the bunch.

Relish this primary race, my friends, because we may not see its bizarre like again.

The candidates will be debating again on Wednesday, and the RNC’s plan to limit and space out the number of debates seems to be working—if the idea was to heighten anticipation and the possibility that something interesting might occur when you cram all those contenders on stage. But unless you believe that Jeb Bush’s brain trust has come up with a zinger to use against Trump that is so spectacularly clever that it will be a rhetorical rapier driving straight through the heart of the latter’s campaign, I suspect we’re about to enter a new phase in the race.

In the three months since he announced that he was running, the tone of discussion around Trump’s bid has gone from “Isn’t he a crazy character?” to “Sure he’s leading now, but he has zero chance of being the nominee,” to “OK, he’s way ahead, but there are a lot of good reasons why he won’t be the nominee.” And what’s coming next? “Oh my god, Donald Trump could actually be the nominee.”

This is the point where, as a sane observer with a reasonable grasp of presidential campaign history, I’m supposed to say that as entertaining as the Trump candidacy has been, he can’t possibly win his party’s nomination. His support has a natural ceiling, as even in the GOP there could only be so many voters who will fall for his shtick. Unlike more traditional candidates, he won’t be able to put together the endorsements of key politicians and activists who bring with them the apparatus that turns primary voters out to vote. It’s one thing to lead in polls for a while, but it’s quite a different thing to actually get voters to push your button in the booth. Above all, as those of us in the know all know, eventually the act will wear thin and primary voters will turn to one of the more traditionally qualified candidates.

And yet here we are, and Trump is getting more, not less, serious. We keep thinking he’s reached his apex, but his support has only been going up. He now averages polling percentages in the mid-30s, and the only other candidate in double digits is Carson. Even if Trump originally decided to run as half a lark, he’s now most certainly acting like he thinks he can win. It’s only three and a half months before the actual voting starts—a period that will go by extraordinarily quickly, just you watch. Primary voters may well turn away from him for any number of reasons, but it isn’t as though millions of them are going to say, “Wait a minute—I thought Trump was a serious guy, but it turns out he’s just a blowhard! How could I have been fooled!?!” Everybody knows who he is already.

If you’re looking for someone whose candidacy will experience a quick fall, I’d bank on the good doctor, who knows as little about governing as Trump does, but has no particular argument to make to voters about why he should be president other than the fact that he has a compelling personal story. Which is nice as far as it goes (I don’t think anybody’s going to make a TV biopic about Jeb Bush’s inspiring journey from Kennebunkport to Tallahassee), but after voters hear it and say, “What a great guy!” the next part of the equation is extremely hard to come up with.

Trump, on the other hand, has an argument, one that may be even more perfectly suited for the Republican electorate in 2016 than most people realized. After seven years of all-out ideological combat against both Barack Obama and internal apostates, the case so many thought the GOP candidates were going to have to make—about who is the most conservative—turns out to be a secondary consideration. The emotions boiling up in the Republican ranks are dissatisfaction, disgruntlement, even disgust, not just with “Washington” and “government,” but with their own party and its leaders, who are seen as a bunch of ineffectual phonies who can’t get anything done.

So the guy who built a persona on firing people, not to mention on the single-minded pursuit of profit and garish excess, couldn’t have been better positioned to capitalize on the Republican moment. Voters may be deluded if they think that Trump is going to march in to Washington and whip it into shape, right before he builds a 2,000-mile wall on the southern border and forces China to give us back all our jobs. But when he tells them, “We will have so much winning when I get elected that you will get bored with winning,” it sounds like exactly what they’ve been waiting for.

Am I saying that Donald Trump is going to be the Republican nominee after all? I’ll be frank and say I have no idea (which is part of what makes this all so interesting). But what I can say is that it no longer seems as impossible as it did just a few weeks ago. Bizarre, absurd, horrifying? Absolutely. But far from impossible.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, September 13, 2015

September 15, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Laying Priebus’s Plans To Waste”: A Nation of Sociopaths? What The Trump Phenomenon Says About America

Donald Trump signed the Republican National Committee loyalty pledge on September 3 at Trump Tower in New York.

The Republican Party has a Donald Trump problem—and that has some Democrats thanking Lady Luck for apparently blowing on their dice. The casino mogul, after all, has thrown the GOP into a disarray even greater than that wrought by the Koch brothers and the Tea Party, dashing the hopes of Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, to launch a nominee who could reach out to racial and ethnic minorities, or one who at least would not say terrible things about women.

With his continued antagonism of Spanish-speakers, his incendiary denouncement of the Black Lives Matter movement, and his base comments about actor Rosie O’Donnell and Fox News host Megyn Kelly, as Trump continues to surge in polls of Republican primary voters, he threatens to lay Priebus’s plans to waste.

This is no way to win a general election, the thinking goes. And so in some corners of Democratland, there is happy dancing in the streets.

Trump offers other benefits, as well, to liberals and progressives in the form of the monkey wrench he could throw into the works of Charles and David Koch, who have been positioning their organizational network as the party within the party, replete with resources for candidates who would run on their platform of smashing unions and coddling private capital. Among these resources is a voter data system said to be superior to that of the RNC.

Part of the Koch network of political and policy organizations and entities, the i360 data system is made available to Republican candidates; they in turn use the data collected to construct their campaigns. But then the data stays within the Koch network, allowing the billionaire brothers and their confrères to act as kingmakers within the party at a level beyond the ad-buy and ground-soldier support bestowed by the network’s other entities, such as Americans for Prosperity.

The Trump campaign, through the candidate’s support for socialized medicine and raising taxes on the wealthy, as well as his opposition to comprehensive immigration reform, constitutes a major nose-thumbing at the Kochs. By staying in the race, he denies them the level of control over the 2016 presidential campaign that they surely expected to have.

Beyond the question, though, of whether Trump is good for Democrats lies the question of whether his candidacy is good for America. Some have implied that the response to Trump on the stump—the smoking out of nativists, racists, and misogynists, bringing them to the surface—is indeed a good thing, because it reveals, in no uncertain terms, to whom the Republican Party most appeals. Heck, even avowed white supremacists—not a constituency prone to endorsing candidates of either major party—are professing their love for The Donald.

If I had faith that America would look at those smoked-out varmints in horror, and resolve as a nation to ostracize all who professed such views—and, better yet, enact policies to rectify the vestiges of past oppression and discrimination in our present society—I might be able to buy the “Trump is good for America” argument. But, alas, I am not familiar with an America whose people, as a whole, are willing to do that.

Instead, what Trump is doing, via the media circus of which he has appointed himself ringmaster, is making the articulation of the basest bigotry acceptable in mainstream outlets, amplifying the many oppressive tropes and stereotypes of race and gender that already exist in more than adequate abundance.

For all the ink I’ve just spilled on these two questions, neither is the most important one that should be asked about the Trump candidacy. That would be this one: What is wrong with America that this racist, misogynist, money-cheating clown should be the frontrunner for the presidential nomination of one of its two major parties?

Donald Trump is a rich man despite having driven several businesses into the ground, resurrecting himself through the bankruptcy process—meaning that he essentially cheated his creditors out of what they were owed. According to CNN, “no major U.S. company has filed for Chapter 11 more than Trump’s casino empire in the last 30 years.”

In giving Trump, star of The Apprentice—a reality show in which he played an abusive boss whom the audience apparently loves for his frequent utterance of the words, “You’re fired!”—an even greater platform as a potential occupant of the White House, America enables a vicious swindler, holding him up as a figure to emulate.

He’s a boon to the ratings of news programs, both on the networks and on cable channels. It’s not just the wing-nuts who are watching. America just can’t get enough of this guy!

It’s time to put down the mesmerizing kaleidoscope of the Trump media spectacle, and examine the Trump phenomenon through a more penetrating lens. Revealed is America as a deeply troubled, even sociopathic, nation.

But, damn, it’s one heck of a show.


By: Adele M. Stan, The American Prospect, September 9, 2015

September 15, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP, Reince Priebus | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Texas Swagger No Longer Travels Well”: Rick Perry, George W. Bush, And The Death Of The Cowboy Conservative

Rick Perry, who dropped out of the 2016 presidential race on Friday, was always a long shot. It seemed hard to imagine that the erstwhile Texas governor could win the nomination in a field decidedly stronger than the one he failed to overcome in 2012. And in the end (which didn’t come all that long after the beginning), what Perry hoped to be a redemption song turned into a swan song. Mistakes were made. The campaign gambled Perry would make it to the first “varsity” debate and that donors and supporters would believe again. He didn’t and they didn’t. (A necessary disclosure: My wife advised Perry’s ill-fated campaign.)

There’s no guarantee Perry would have risen to the occasion even if he had made the main debate stage. There may be little correlation between being a good debater and a good president, but there seems to be a strong one between being a good debater and being a good candidate.

Regardless, Perry never really got the chance. So we are left asking questions like “What if today’s more prepared Rick Perry had run in 2012?” or “What if John Kasich hadn’t gotten into the race and bumped Perry out of that last debate slot?”

The world will never know. Yesterday’s rock stars are today’s forgotten men. The political gods are fickle.

But here’s one clear lesson of Perry’s failed campaign: Texas swagger no longer travels well. Blame changing demographics in America, and George W. Bush.

In my forthcoming book Too Dumb to Fail, I document how several Republican presidents, including Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush, all profited politically by feigning a sort of everyman ignorance. After losing a congressional bid, Dubya reportedly vowed that he’d never be “out-countried” again. This was smart short-term politics, but it also reinforced the notion that the GOP was the “stupid” party. That’s a notion that haunts us, and Perry, to this day.

For a long time, though, being a “good ol’ boy” was decidedly better than being an effete urbanite, and Republicans liked this contrast. Times are changing. Republicans are running out of old, white, married, rural voters. Being a “cowboy conservative” ain’t what it used to be.

As I have long argued, conservatives should “modernize, not moderate.” Some of this does include emphasizing substantive policy positions that might better appeal to 21st century Americans. But a good bit of it involves style.

Younger, more diverse, and cosmopolitan voters aren’t so much embracing liberalism as they are rejecting what might be described as a caricature of a Republican. It’s an image, largely of Republicans’ own creation, that repels these voters culturally and aesthetically. A 2014 survey of millennials, for example, demonstrated that “[o]ften, they decided they were liberals because they really didn’t like conservatives.”

The stereotypes that George W. Bush helped cement about the “dumb” swaggering cowboy made it almost impossible for Rick Perry to reinvent himself. The two men were never particularly close, but the prospect of electing another Texas governor (literally, the next Texas governor after Bush) was always going to be a tough sell, especially since the two were stylistically very similar. Bush left office extremely unpopular, and didn’t just damage the Republican brand; he did specific damage to a particular type of Republican.

Consider the case of George Allen, who was thought of as a bit of a rock star as governor of Virginia and U.S. senator. Political insiders viewed him as the likely GOP nominee in 2008. But he fell apart, and I don’t think it was just the “macaca” gaffe that did it. It was also the Confederate flag, the cowboy boots, and the “Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia” line. (People assumed he reserved that for the young man he called “macaca.” In fact, this was his shtick. Allen said virtually the same thing to me the first time I met him and told him I was from Maryland).

It’s hard enough to get a second chance to make a first impression, but it becomes doubly difficult when your persona viscerally reinforces urban America’s pre-existing negative notions about Southerners. These biases and stereotypes may not be fair. But whoever said running for president would be? In the end, Perry’s accent and swagger were too much a part of our collective conscience for even hipster glasses to overcome.


By: Matt K. Lewis, The Week, September 14, 2015

September 15, 2015 Posted by | George W Bush, GOP Presidential Candidates, Rick Perry | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Battle Cry Among Some In The Academy”: My Police Academy Teaches The ‘War On Cops’ Myth

The trumpets of the thin blue line and right-wing news sources have been sounding, piping out warnings of a “War on Police.” You may have heard it on talk radio, seen it on Fox News or even read it in the New York Post, but now the rhetoric of charlatans has reached me in class at my police academy in a Northern red state.

The War on Cops is a grossly inaccurate response to recent police killings which are on track for another year that will rival the safest on record. Gunfire deaths by police officers are down 27 percent this year, according to the Officer Down memorial page, and police killings in general are at a 20-year low, given current numbers for 2015. Police deaths in Barack Obama’s presidency are lower than the past four administrations, going all the way back to Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

Not a single iota of evidence supports a War on Police, but it has become a battle cry among some in the academy.

Over 80 percent of police departments in the United States are facing issues with low recruitment numbers. As an Iraq War veteran I sought to solidify my chance of employment working in law enforcement by attending a local police academy. I enjoyed serving my country as military police and will do such now as a sworn police officer back home.

What are they telling us in a post-Michael Brown academy? The culture of police brutality is infrequently addressed, but what is continually mentioned is the notion that there is a War on Police. By whom? Depends on whom you ask.

Some instructors blame the Obama administration, which has provided extra funding to police departments to hire Iraq War veterans such as myself. Others, citing news organizations and politicians, try to pin it on the Black Lives Matter movement.

How are they attempting to substantiate this? By highlighting a few high-profile police killings in the past few months, especially the tragic, execution-style death of a Texas sheriff at a gas station. Many activists tried to tie the accused murderer, Shannon Miles, to the Black Lives Matter movement in the immediate aftermath as a motive. He had no ties to the movement.

Miles, however, had been previously declared mentally incompetent.

“The Obama administration and Eric Holder are undermining the police. We have officers dying left and right and he’s dicking off in Alaska,” says one of my instructors, referring to the president’s trip to Alaska last week.

Our instructor is likely trying to warn us to take heed of the dangers of the job, and not expect to be thanked by politicians for doing it. But he has made the government and the people we’re meant to serve out to be boogeymen in the process.

Bad guys have been shooting cops for years, but this is neither a new nor growing phenomenon. A whole generation has grown up knowing the phrase “fuck the police” as a song lyric, a response to the mass incarceration culture spawned from a War on Drugs that numbers show disproportionately and unfairly targets black Americans.

I understand as a law enforcement professional—and as someone capable of fairly reading mountains of data—that the Drug War has been unfairly used as a tool of oppression against the black community. It is why the American public overall has shown they have less confidence in police in recent times.

But there is no War on Police. This Us vs. Them mentality still prevails even in fresh academy cadets. Perhaps some of these people will become future jackbooted, truncheon-wielding oppressors. Or perhaps they will encounter the reality that betrays the fear they are taught.


By: Clayton Jenkins, writing under a pseudonym, is an Iraq War veteran training to become a Police Officer; The Daily Beast, September 14, 2015

September 15, 2015 Posted by | Law Enforcement, Police Deaths, Police Officers | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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