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“It’s Tricky Dick All Over Again”: Donald Trump Is Running For Richard Nixon’s Third Term

Conservative candidates usually beg for comparisons with Ronald Reagan, but Donald Trump’s political spirit animal is Dick Nixon.

And in true Trump fashion, he hasn’t been subtle about wearing his unfashionable influence on his sleeve. The signs are everywhere.

Travel through the primary states and you’ll see the placards plastered at events and scattered by the roadside: “The Silent Majority Stands With Trump.” That is, of course, a direct lift from Nixon’s oft-resuscitated slogan, which was meant to resonate with the “non-shouters, non-demonstrators” during the Vietnam War.

It’s no small irony that the children of these “forgotten Americans” now are being asked to rally around the ultimate shouter in American politics, a billionaire who avoided military service during the draft. The economic and cultural resentments of the white working class Nixon courted have only grown more intense in the wake of the Great Recession amid a fundamentally more diverse America led by a black president.

But lifting Nixon’s Silent Majority slogan barely scratches the surface of the debt Trump owes Tricky Dick.

In 1968, Vietnam was raging and Nixon campaigned on a “secret plan to end the war.” Now we’re embroiled in a multi-front war with ISIS and—you guessed it—Trump has offered up a secret plan to end the war against ISIS.

Days after kicking off his campaign, he told Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren: “I do know what to do and I would know how to bring ISIS to the table, or beyond that, defeat ISIS very quickly… and I’m not gonna tell you what it is… I don’t want the enemy to know what I’m doing.”

Trump’s love of bluster balanced with a complete lack of policy detail doesn’t stop with war.

Take health care: Trump is running on a platform of “repeal and replace with something terrific.” When pressed for detail by George Stephanopoulos, The Donald replied, “Nobody knows health care better than Donald Trump”—retreating to Nixon’s favored third-person self-reference. “We’re going to work with our hospitals. We’re going to work with our doctors. We’ve got to do something… We’ll work something out. That doesn’t mean single-payer.”

In Trump’s world, it doesn’t matter that he once backed single-payer in a book that bears his name. And of course it doesn’t matter that Nixon’s own health care reform plan was considerably to the left of Obamacare. Our debates have been unburdened by fact for some time now, and that suits candidates like Trump just fine.

Nixon’s enemies list is another dark legacy Trump enthusiastically apes. Trump is quick to attack critics by name on the campaign trail—from mocking a disabled New York Times reporter to going after everyone from Megyn Kelly to George Will to The Daily Beast. For a candidate who loves to engage in rough-and-tumble verbal combat, his thin skin is a bit of a mystery. But Trump’s enemies list is so notorious that Vanity Fair lampooned it back in 2011 during his birther-backed flirtation with the presidency.

While Nixon’s enemies list can seem quaint almost a half-century later, they were far from simple partisan score-settling. We now know that Nixon’s lackeys looked at planting evidence on investigative journalist Jack Anderson, spreading damaging rumors about his sex life and even plotting to kill him, with the methods varying from putting poison in his medications to smearing massive doses of LSD on his steering wheel.

This is chilling stuff that smacks more of Vladimir Putin than an American president. But it’s a reminder of how much character matters in a commander in chief, because tone comes from the top. In an era of social media mobs and hardcore partisan news sites, pushback could turn to private citizen-directed opposition research and something uglier.

The deepest irony in the Trump-Nixon overlap has surfaced only in the past few weeks, as The Donald tries to appear more presidential. “Bring Us Together” was a signature Nixon 1968 campaign line, allegedly inspired by a sign held by a little girl at a rally and eagerly adopted by speechwriters like William Safire. Now Trump is punctuating his interviews and debate performances with the same line, promising to unite the nation if elected, despite all campaign tactics to the contrary.

Trump’s use of the line has already led to some surreal exchanges, as when Stephanopoulos asked him to explain how his opposition to marriage equality after the Supreme Court decision would lead to a more united nation. “It’s very simple,” he replied. “We’re going to bring our country together. We’re going to unify our country. We’re going to do whatever we have to do. I’m going to put the absolute best judges in position. If their views—we’re going to see what their views are. I will make the determination at that time.”

Such rhetorical tap-dancing means less than nothing and offers false comfort to some increasingly resigned establishment Republicans desperately looking for a silver lining if Trump is their party’s nominee. They hope the candidate doesn’t mean half of what he says, that he’s just pandering to get conservative populist votes. It’s a strained domestic extension of Nixon’s self-described “madman theory” in foreign policy, a belief that negotiating leverage is increased if your opponent believes that you might go nuclear. Extreme statements are all part of the art of the deal.

Perhaps not coincidentally, some prominent remaining Nixon aides have been backing or advising The Donald.

Trump’s sometime adviser Roger Stone, master of the dirty trick and artful smear, boasts a Nixon tattoo on his upper back. Former Nixon speechwriter and paleo-conservative populist Pat Buchanan, who innovated many of the anti-immigrant and anti-trade policies Trump now advances, declared him “The Future of the Republican Party.”

And while Trump’s once-close relationship with Fox News chairman Roger Ailes has been publicly strained with the recent Iowa debate boycott, Ailes basically innovated the cozy relationship between politics and television while working for Nixon in 1968.

Perhaps Trump is a secret political nerd who internalized all the divide-and-conquer strategies Nixon innovated at the time. Or perhaps he’s been getting advice on the dark arts of politics from acolytes of the former master.

Trump shares with Nixon a tough-guy pragmatism, a ruthless and occasionally unhinged determination to win driven by deep insecurity. Nixon also believed people vote out of fear more than hope. But whatever Nixon’s many failings, he was a policy wonk who loved the mechanics of politics. Trump is a blunt force instrument in politics, a born marketer with bluster a mile wide and an inch deep.

As he aims for the nomination, Trump might be taking Nixon’s cynical advice to “run right in the primary election, then run to the center in the general election” to heart. But as Nixon and the nation found out, character is destiny. And Trump’s exploitation of our worse impulses for political gain will also end in tears.

 

By: John Avlon, The Daily Beast, February 15, 2016

February 16, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, Richard Nixon | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Electability Conundrum”: Scalia’s Death Only Reinforces The Need For Democrats To Choose Their Nominee Wisely

The death of Antonin Scalia has brought home two truths about the presidential race to voters in both parties. First, there may be no more important issue in the campaign than the Supreme Court (which some of us have been saying for some time). And second, if that’s true, then there may be no more important criterion in picking your party’s nominee than who has the best chance of winning in November.

Unfortunately, electability is a difficult thing to predict, no matter how much you know about politics. During the 2008 primaries, for instance, many intelligent Democrats believed there was no way that the voting public would ever elect an African American with a name like “Barack Hussein Obama.” Four years before, many Democrats thought that John Kerry was the most electable Democrat because Republicans couldn’t possibly attack the patriotism of a war hero, especially with a couple of draft-dodgers like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney at the top of their ticket. Neither of those assessments turned out to be correct.

Nevertheless, it’s an impossible question for partisans to ignore, given the stakes of the election. And just how high are they? Someone (usually someone running for president) will always say “This is the most important election of my lifetime,” and it’s easy to dismiss. After all, no matter what happens, the republic will survive. If you’re a Democrat, you can console yourself with the fact that it survived Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, as much damage as they might have done; if you’re a Republican you can say the same about Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Nevertheless, there are some reasons why this election could be particularly consequential, particularly for Democrats. The first is the Supreme Court, and Scalia’s passing is only part of that story. When the next president is sworn in, Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be 83, Anthony Kennedy will be 80, and Stephen Breyer will be 80. What if Republicans succeed in keeping President Obama from seating a replacement, then a Republican is elected, and some or all of those three fall ill or retire? You could have a Court made up of seven relatively young conservative justices and only two liberals, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. The days of liberals losing cases by a 5-4 margin would be but a happy memory, and the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the end of affirmative action, and the crushing of labor union rights would be only the beginning of a judicial scorched-earth campaign that would not only lay waste to rights liberals hold dear, but would keep doing so for decades to come.

And then there’s the matter of what a Republican president would be able to accomplish through legislation. If the GOP nominee wins in November, it will almost certainly also mean that Republicans have held on to the House and the Senate. That president might or not not be a radical conservative, though Donald Trump looks like the only contender with a chance who couldn’t be described that way. But Congress certainly will be radical. The Republican Party has been moving sharply to the right in recent years, and with unified control for the first time in a decade, it’s safe to say they will pretty much go nuts. Repealing the Affordable Care Act, slashing upper-income taxes, gutting the safety net, rolling back environmental regulations, passing federal restrictions on abortion—if it’s in any Republican’s fantasies, it’ll be able to pass through both houses and get signed by the president. And don’t think Democrats having the filibuster will stop that train; given the respect Republicans have shown for norms and traditions, do you think they’ll let that stand in their way?

So if you think electability ought to be part of your calculation, what do you need to consider? The Democratic primary makes it a little easier because there are only two candidates, but it’s still complicated. Here are the variables to consider:

  1. The reward to be gained from a Bernie Sanders presidency
  2. The reward to be gained from a Hillary Clinton presidency
  3. The chances of Sanders winning in November if he’s the nominee
  4. The chances of Clinton winning if she’s the nominee
  5. The consequences of a Republican victory in November

That’s not to mention how each Democrat would match up against any given Republican, which introduces another dimension of complexity. But here’s the basic calculation you have to make: Figure out whether, for your preferences, (1) is larger than (2) or vice-versa, and by how much; then figure out whether (3) or (4) is larger, and by how much; then weigh both of those figures against (5).

For instance, you might decide that Bernie Sanders’s presidency would be superior to Hillary Clinton’s, but Clinton has a higher chance of winning in November, and since a Republican presidency would be so dreadful, you’ll support Clinton even though you like Sanders better. Or you might decide that a Sanders presidency would be so good that even if Clinton might have a slightly better chance in November, it’s worth some measure of risk in nominating Sanders because the reward of him winning is so high.

The truth, of course, is that because we aren’t rational people we constantly construct post-hoc justifications for the choices we make. In this case, that means we’ll convince ourselves that whichever candidate we prefer is also the more electable one. While it might seem logical that Clinton has a higher chance of winning a general election than Sanders, I’ve yet to encounter a Sanders supporter who actually thinks so. They say that Clinton has her own electability problems (undoubtedly true), and that Sanders will bring in so many new voters that it will overcome the effect of the attacks Republicans will launch on him for his leftist views. Clinton supporters, on the other hand, find this argument laughable; they’ll tell you that Republicans will positively disembowel Sanders, and by the time they’re done with him he’ll seem like he’s too much of an extremist to get elected to the Burlington City Council.

I’ve also found that Sanders supporters are more likely to minimize the negative consequences of a Republican presidency. That might be because they don’t see as much of a difference between Clinton and the Republicans, but it’s also because they’re focused on the first variable, the potential rewards of a Sanders presidency. Clinton supporters, on the other hand, have no sweeping expectations from their candidate; for them, staving off disaster is more than enough reason to support her.

Even if your heart goes aflutter at Sanders’s mention of things like single-payer health care and free public college tuition, you’d have to grant that achieving those goals is anything but guaranteed even if he wins the White House. And most of what he would do doesn’t differ from what Clinton would do. That’s particularly true of the Supreme Court: Any Democratic president who had a chance to name a new justice would be choosing from the same pool of liberal jurists now serving in federal appeals courts or perhaps a few state supreme courts.

But even if you find the substantive differences between Clinton and Sanders to be enormous, it’s hard to see them as actually being bigger than the difference between them on one hand and the tsunami of change that will occur if a Republican is elected on the other. Which leaves Democratic voters with no choice but think hard about which candidate is more electable—even if there are no perfect answers to the question.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, February 15, 2016

February 16, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Electability, Hillary Clinton, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“How America Was Lost”: Maybe We Should All Start Wearing Baseball Caps That Say, “Make America Governable Again”

Once upon a time, the death of a Supreme Court justice wouldn’t have brought America to the edge of constitutional crisis. But that was a different country, with a very different Republican Party. In today’s America, with today’s G.O.P., the passing of Antonin Scalia has opened the doors to chaos.

In principle, losing a justice should cause at most a mild disturbance in the national scene. After all, the court is supposed to be above politics. So when a vacancy appears, the president should simply nominate, and the Senate approve, someone highly qualified and respected by all.

In reality, of course, things were never that pure. Justices have always had known political leanings, and the process of nomination and approval has often been contentious. Still, there was nothing like the situation we face now, in which Republicans have more or less unanimously declared that President Obama has no right even to nominate a replacement for Mr. Scalia — and no, the fact that Mr. Obama will leave soon doesn’t make it O.K. (Justice Kennedy was appointed during Ronald Reagan’s last year in office.)

Nor were the consequences of a court vacancy as troubling in the past as they are now. As everyone is pointing out, without Mr. Scalia the justices are evenly divided between Republican and Democratic appointees — which probably means a hung court on many issues.

And there’s no telling how long that situation may last. If a Democrat wins the White House but the G.O.P. holds the Senate, when if ever do you think Republicans would be willing to confirm anyone the new president nominates?

How did we get into this mess?

At one level the answer is the ever-widening partisan divide. Polarization has measurably increased in every aspect of American politics, from congressional voting to public opinion, with an especially dramatic rise in “negative partisanship” — distrust of and disdain for the other side. And the Supreme Court is no different. As recently as the 1970s the court had several “swing” members, whose votes weren’t always predictable from partisan positions, but that center now consists only of Mr. Kennedy, and only some of the time.

But simply pointing to rising partisanship as the source of our crisis, while not exactly wrong, can be deeply misleading. First, decrying partisanship can make it seem as if we’re just talking about bad manners, when we’re really looking at huge differences on substance. Second, it’s really important not to engage in false symmetry: only one of our two major political parties has gone off the deep end.

On the substantive divide between the parties: I still encounter people on the left (although never on the right) who claim that there’s no big difference between Republicans and Democrats, or at any rate “establishment” Democrats. But that’s nonsense. Even if you’re disappointed in what President Obama accomplished, he substantially raised taxes on the rich and dramatically expanded the social safety net; significantly tightened financial regulation; encouraged and oversaw a surge in renewable energy; moved forward on diplomacy with Iran.

Any Republican would undo all of that, and move sharply in the opposite direction. If anything, the consensus among the presidential candidates seems to be that George W. Bush didn’t cut taxes on the rich nearly enough, and should have made more use of torture.

When we talk about partisanship, then, we’re not talking about arbitrary teams, we’re talking about a deep divide on values and policy. How can anyone not be “partisan” in the sense of preferring one of these visions?

And it’s up to you to decide which version you prefer. So why do I say that only one party has gone off the deep end?

One answer is, compare last week’s Democratic debate with Saturday’s Republican debate. Need I say more?

Beyond that, there are huge differences in tactics and attitudes. Democrats never tried to extort concessions by threatening to cut off U.S. borrowing and create a financial crisis; Republicans did. Democrats don’t routinely deny the legitimacy of presidents from the other party; Republicans did it to both Bill Clinton and Mr. Obama. The G.O.P.’s new Supreme Court blockade is, fundamentally, in a direct line of descent from the days when Republicans used to call Mr. Clinton “your president.”

So how does this get resolved? One answer could be a Republican sweep — although you have to ask, did the men on that stage Saturday convey the impression of a party that’s ready to govern? Or maybe you believe — based on no evidence I’m aware of — that a populist rising from the left is ready to happen any day now. But if divided government persists, it’s really hard to see how we avoid growing chaos.

Maybe we should all start wearing baseball caps that say, “Make America governable again.”

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, February 14, 2016

February 16, 2016 Posted by | GOP, Governing, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“History Isn’t On Their Side – And Neither Is The Calendar”: Justice Kennedy’s Confirmation Debunks Key GOP Talking Point

Soon after Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death was announced, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said in a statement, “The fact of the matter is that it’s been standard practice over the last 80 years to not confirm Supreme Court nominees during a presidential election year.”

The fact of the matter is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee should have done his homework before getting this wrong.

The “80 years” talking point spread like wildfire in Republican circles – it was repeated by Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio during Saturday night’s debate – to the point that the GOP has convinced itself that at no point in the modern era has the Senate confirmed a Supreme Court justice in an election year.

About 14 justices were confirmed in election years, and perhaps the most pertinent example is Justice Anthony Kennedy. As the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne noted this morning:

A Senate controlled by Democrats confirmed President Reagan’s nomination of Anthony Kennedy on a 97 to 0 vote in February 1988, which happened to be an election year.

Yes, in Reagan’s eighth year, nine months before Election Day 1988, the Democratic-led Senate confirmed Kennedy with ease.

Chuck Grassley, who’d already been in the Senate for seven years at that point, delivered remarks on Feb. 13, 1988 – exactly 28 years to the day before Scalia’s passing – urging the Senate to confirm Kennedy during that election year.

Grassley voted for Kennedy’s nomination on the Senate floor soon after. So too did a young man by the name of Mitch McConnell, a Republican senator from Kentucky in his first term.

At the time, Ronald Reagan, stung by two failed nominees to the high court (Douglas Ginsburg and Robert Bork), said at the time that if Senate Democrats played election-year games by stalling on Kennedy’s nomination in 1988, the “American people will know what’s up.”

And on this, he was correct.

But we know, of course, that Democrats didn’t bother. There was a vacancy on the Supreme Court; the White House nominated a qualified and credible jurist; the Senate considered his qualifications; and he was confirmed in an election year without much of a fuss – even though the Senate was controlled by Democrats and Reagan was a Republican president.

It’s true that Kennedy was first nominated in late 1987, but the point is the right is now arguing that election-year confirmation votes have no modern precedent. Or as Grassley put it, “[I]t’s been standard practice over the last 80 years to not confirm Supreme Court nominees during a presidential election year.”

The Kennedy example proves otherwise.

If this were December 2016, Senate Republicans would be in a far better position to balk. But it’s mid-February, and the Senate’s to-do list for the next several months is quite thin. History isn’t on their side – and neither is the calendar.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 15, 2016

February 16, 2016 Posted by | Chuck Grassley, Mitch Mc Connell, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The GOP’s Worst Nightmare SCOTUS Nominee”: Let America Watch Republicans Tie Themselves In Knots

Here’s a name you need to get to know: Tino Cuellar. Who is Tino Cuellar? The potential Supreme Court nominee who could tie the Republican Party in the most Gordian knots of any of them, and who could thereby alter the presidential race dramatically as well.

Yes, yes; Barack Obama should choose the person best qualified for the job with whom he is most intellectually comfortable. But should that person be Mariano Florentino Cuellar, there could be plenty of benefits aside from having a brilliant, young, Latino person on the Court.

Cuellar, 43, is an associate justice on California’s State Supreme Court. He was born in Mexico. He is a naturalized U.S. citizen. He grew up on the border, and his family moved to California’s Imperial Valley when he was a teenager. He was smart and decided he wanted an education. He got one, all right. Get this resume: undergrad, Harvard; law school, Yale; master’s and doctoral degrees, Stanford.

Here’s his full Stanford bio, so you can give it a gander, but it’s incredibly impressive. He worked at the White House, he worked in the Treasury Department, he taught law at Stanford. “He’s a brilliant guy,” says Samuel Bagenstos, a law professor at the University of Michigan who knows Cuellar. “He’d be the justice with the most wide-ranging intellect since William O. Douglas.” (Bagenstos asked me to note that he is backing no single candidate and thinks the president has many good choices.)

He was elevated to California’s high court by a unanimous bipartisan vote, and given the highest possible rating by the California Bar Association. He is married to a U.S. District Judge, Lucy Koh, who is a formidable intellect in her own right—the Senate confirmed her unanimously, 90-0, when Obama nominated her to that position in 2010. And they have two kids.

Now assuming there’s no skeleton in the old closet, suppose Obama sends Cuellar up to be nominated. Oh what fun it shall be.

We know almost to a certainty that the Republicans will oppose anyone. Mitch McConnell said it, all the presidential candidates said it, everyone says it, and everyone knows it. For a Republican senator to vote for Barack Obama’s replacement of the great Antonin Scalia would be as sure a form of instant political suicide as one can imagine in this country. There is just no way. And it may not even get to a vote. They’ll just sit on it, not even scheduling confirmation hearings, saying the American people deserve a voice in this nomination.

And Obama will say, as I noted yesterday, that I’m still the president and am going to be president for a while yet, and we have no modern precedent for letting the Court have an even number of members.

And then Americans will learn about Cuellar’s life story. The fancy universities, the four degrees, the testimonials to his intellect that will stream in. And of course he’d be not the first Latino, but still, the second out of nine, and the first Mexican-American (Sonia Sotomayor is Puerto Rican), who constitute by far the largest demographic group among American Latinos.

This is Reince Priebus’s perfect nightmare, is it not? Let America watch as old white-guy senator after old white-guy senator goes on TV to say “Oh, it’s nothing against Mr. Cuellar, it’s all about Obama, and the people’s voice.” And let America watch as nominee Donald Trump says the same thing. Or even Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz—in some ways that’s even worse for the GOP, to have a Cuban-American (or Cuban-Canadian-American) stand up and say this Mexican-American doesn’t belong on the Supreme Court. There are around 33 million Mexican-Americans in the country—and around 2 million Cuban Americans. How well do you think the math on that works for the GOP?

So Priebus, who in his silly little autopsy in 2013 insisted that Republicans were going to be the inclusive party and who still has the gall to talk like that today, even as his party’s voters convert a howling xenophobe into their front-runner, would have quite a situation on his hands. And we get to Election Day, and poor Cuellar has been sitting there for seven months after nomination without even having had the courtesy of a committee hearing.

What percentage of the Latino vote is the Republican nominee going to get then, if the party has precipitated a veritable constitutional crisis by refusing to perform its constitutional role and refusing to vote for this obviously qualified man? Maybe 12, 15, 18 tops? Tops. Remember, Romney got 27 percent, and it was considered a disaster. If the GOP nominee gets 18, winning Florida is an impossibility. And if winning Florida is an impossibility, then winning the White House is, too. Even Arizona is probably unwinnable for the Republicans with a number like that.

Now obviously, that is, as I said, Priebus’s worst nightmare. Things could be different. And again, I don’t think Obama should nominate Cuellar for these political reasons. But if he decided to nominate him, boy would it be great to see those people squirm.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, February 15, 2016

February 16, 2016 Posted by | GOP, Mitch Mc Connell, POTUS, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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