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“A Meaningful Deterrent”: Senate Republicans Rediscover The Value Of ‘Pinata Politics’

Almost exactly 10 years ago, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) was concerned about Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito facing “attacks” from Senate Democrats. Eventually, the Texas Republican said at the time, senators “will need to come to terms with our confirmation process.” Cornyn added that treating nominees “more like pinatas than human beings” is “something none of us should be willing to tolerate.”

That was when there was a Republican president in the White House. Now that President Obama is the one doing the nominating, Cornyn is apparently less concerned about Pinata Politics.

Even though Senate Republicans have no intention of holding hearings on President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, that doesn’t mean he or she won’t be dragged through the mud.

And the chamber’s No. 2 Republican made that clear to a small cluster of reporters Monday, saying he believed the nominee, “will bear some resemblance to a pinata.”

A decade ago, Cornyn characterized this as “something none of us should be willing to tolerate,” but this year, one gets the impression that the Senate Majority Whip not only tolerates the same practices he denounced, he also intends to be one of the lawmakers holding the stick, swinging for candy.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was unimpressed with the rhetoric. “Senator Cornyn has now taken the next step and suggested – without knowing who this nominee is, without considering what their record is, what their experience is, how qualified they are for the job – he is suggesting that they’ll be subjected to bashing by Republicans,” Earnest told reporters yesterday. “It’s unclear for what reason, other than the president of the United States has chosen to fulfill his constitutional responsibility to nominate someone to fill a vacancy.”

That said, if Cornyn and the GOP’s tolerance for Pinata Politics is intended to intimidate potential nominees – “It’s a nice career you have there, it’d be a shame if we had to beat you with a stick” – it might be working.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval’s (R) was floated as a possible choice for the Supreme Court, though he soon after withdrew his name from consideration. Yesterday, as MSNBC reported, a high-profile member of the president’s cabinet did the same thing.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has “asked not to be considered” for nomination to the Supreme Court to take the spot formerly occupied by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, the Justice Department said Tuesday.

Today, The Hill reported that another possible contender also bowed out.

Federal Appellate Judge Adalberto Jordan has taken himself out of consideration to become President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, CNN reported Wednesday.

 The Miami-based judge was reportedly a contender to fill the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia and would have been the first Cuban-American to sit on the high court.

Of course, people may have all kinds of reasons to withdraw from consideration, but it’s easy to imagine Republican rhetoric about pinatas serving as a meaningful deterrent.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 9, 2016

March 11, 2016 Posted by | John Cornyn, Senate Republicans, U. S. Constitution, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Think Beyond The Moment”: What Sanders — And His Supporters — Must Remember Before November

Exactly one year before Election Day – on November 8, 2015 – Bernie Sanders was asked whether his agreement with Hillary Clinton on basic issues outweighed the conflicts that he proclaimed at every campaign appearance.

Speaking on television rather than on the stump, the Vermont senator conceded reluctantly that he and Clinton concur on some issues. But then he added an entirely gratuitous endorsement:

“And by the way, on her worst day, Hillary Clinton will be an infinitely better candidate and President than the Republican candidate on his bestday.”

That moment of reassuring reason is worth remembering as the debate becomes more rancorous. Clinton isn’t foreordained to win the Democratic nomination, so Sanders neither will nor should hesitate to emphasize their differences.

So far, in fact, his challenge has improved both her candidacy and the national discourse. It is healthy for Democrats to argue about the best ways to ensure more good jobs, higher wages, universal health care, affordable higher education, paid family leave, immigration reform, national security, and a clean energy future.

But the overwrought reaction of some Sanders supporters – who already insist they cannot imagine voting for Clinton because of her campaign donors, her paid speeches, her vote on Iraq, or her support for some of her husband’s policies two decades ago – evokes bad memories of another, truly disastrous presidential campaign.

It is no accident, as they say, that those who “feel the Bern” today include prominent supporters of Ralph Nader’s independent presidential campaign in 2000. Their urge to overthrow the mundane, demand the utopian, reject grubby compromise, and assert moral purity is as powerful today as four cycles ago; and perhaps even more so, especially among those who feel somehow “disappointed” by President Obama. But political decisions based solely on such emotional considerations can prove terribly costly to our country and the world – as we discovered when George W. Bush usurped Al Gore.

Nader and his supporters were not responsible alone for the appalling outcome of the 2000 election but – along with the Supreme Court majority and Gore himself — they bear a substantial share of blame. Their defamatory descriptions of the Democratic nominee were echoed across the media by reporters, columnists, and commentators who knew better — from the pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post to the cable networks.

Mocking Gore for his supposed personal flaws, such as an alleged propensity to exaggerate his achievements, was as fashionable in media and political circles then as it is to denigrate Hillary Clinton now. Clever people delighted in contrasting Nader’s — and even Bush’s! — “authenticity” with Gore’s stiff insincerity. (Indeed, many of the same pundits are still doing versions of the same stupid pundit tricks.)

Besides, according to the Naderites, there were no important differences between the Democratic nominee and his Republican opponent. Or at least none that merited as much concern as Gore’s earth-toned suits and the preppy character he did or didn’t inspire in a romance novel. A wave of such idiotic babble delivered America and the world into a catastrophic Bush presidency.

Fortunately, the parallels only go so far. Sanders chose a far more responsible route than Nader when he decided to run for the Democratic nomination rather than jump to a third-party line. He has focused on substantive issues and admirably dismissed fake scandals like Benghazi and Clinton’s emails. But by repeating his unfounded insinuation that Clinton’s paid speeches and Wall Street donors have somehow corrupted her, he is inflicting damage that will be very hard to mend.

Looking toward the likelihood that either Clinton or Sanders will face Donald Trump next fall, those corrosive tactics are shortsighted. Should Sanders win the nomination, he will want and need Clinton’s support. And should she defeat him, he will and should want her to win — if he believes what he said last November, and understands the exceptionally dangerous threat posed by a Trump presidency.

The next round of Democratic primaries could encourage still more destructive bashing, from either camp or both. The candidates and their supporters ought to think beyond the moment – and pay attention to filmmaker Michael Moore, an outspoken Sanders backer.

On the evening when his candidate won an upset victory in the Michigan primary, Moore tweeted this message: “A special congrats to Hillary for her victory in Mississippi on International Women’s Day. If you win the nomination, we will be there [with] you.”

Once a zealous backer of Nader, Moore eventually apologized for that tragic mistake. Evidently he would rather not feel that sorry again.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, The National Memo, March 11, 2016

March 11, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democrats, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“There Are Liars, And Then There’s Donald”: Why Donald Trump’s Brazen Lies Overwhelm The Press

There have been many dishonest presidential candidates in our history; indeed, it would be almost impossible, no matter how virtuous, to spend a year or two giving speeches, addressing audiences large and small, trying to persuade voters — in short, talking all day while your words are being recorded — without getting a few things wrong. Some correct themselves after it happens, some just don’t use that particular line again, and others forge on ahead, repeating falsehoods even after they’ve been called out.

But there are liars, and then there’s Donald Trump. He may have an inflated opinion of himself, but when it comes to lying, the man has truly reached a level no one else can approach.

If you’ve watched Trump at all, you’ve probably had this experience: First he says something outlandish (“If we negotiated the price of drugs, we’d save $300 billion a year“), and you think “That can’t possibly be true.” Then he moves on to something even more bizarre (“We have the highest taxes anywhere in the world“), and you say, “Now I know that’s not true.” But he keeps going, offering one ridiculous and false claim after another, until you’re left shaking your head in wonder.

Trump’s lies come in many different forms. Some are those that are clearly wrong, and which it’s almost certain he knows are wrong, as when he says The Art of the Deal is “the number one selling business book of all time” (not even close). Some are things he seems to have heard somewhere that are false; of course, repeating such a story doesn’t become an intentional lie until you know it’s false but insist it’s true. That’s the case with things like Trump’s bogus story about thousands of Muslims celebrating the fall of the Twin Towers on rooftops in Jersey City, or with his repeated story that the 9/11 hijackers sent their wives and girlfriends back to Saudi Arabia from the U.S. two days before the attacks (only two of the 19 hijackers were married, one had a girlfriend, and none of those three were in the United States). Others might be put down to being just wild exaggerations, as when he claims that all the polls show him beating Hillary Clinton in a general election (nope).

But the sheer volume of Trump’s lies may, paradoxically, protect him from the kind of condemnation he ought to be be getting. His unique style was on majestic display at the press conference he gave Tuesday night after another round of primaries, in which he set out to defend himself against Mitt Romney’s charge that many of his branding ventures — like Trump Steaks, Trump Vodka, and Trump Magazine — have gone out of business.

It was complete with visual displays as phony as Trump’s claims. Romney “talked about the water company” said Trump, showing his fantastic, luxurious water. But Romney said nothing about a water company, and it appears that Trump’s water is made by this company in Connecticut, and then they slap a “Trump” label on it and sell it at his resorts.

“We have Trump Steaks,” he said, pointing to a platter full of steaks that had been brought out for the occasion. But Trump Steaks have been off the market for a decade; the steaks at the press conference were still in wrappers indicating they came from a meat company called Bush Brothers.

“We have Trump Magazine,” Trump said, holding up not the actual Trump Magazine, which stopped publishing in 2009, but something called The Jewel of Palm Beach, which he apparently has printed up and passed out to promote his Mar-a-Lago resort. “He mentioned Trump Vodka,” Trump said, going on to explain how he owns a working winery (actually true!), but not saying anything about the vodka, which indeed went bust in 2011 (Jonathan Ellis explains all this, with pictures).

What should reporters do when they’re confronted with this kind of blizzard of baloney? There aren’t any easy answers. Though some publications employ fact checkers who pick out certain claims they think are meaningful enough to investigate at length, if you’re covering a Trump rally or press conference and you decide to explain all the things he said that were false, that would make up the entirety of your story and there would be no time or space to address anything else.

And if a reporter for a major news organization described this matter accurately — that Trump is an unusually enthusiastic liar whose falsehoods come in such quantity that they’re difficult to keep up with — she’d be accused of abandoning her objectivity.

The real genius of Trump’s mendacity lies in its brazenness. One of the assumptions behind the fact-checking enterprise is that politicians are susceptible to being shamed: If they lie, you can expose the lie and then they’ll be less likely to repeat it. After all, nobody wants to be tarred as a liar. But what happens when you’re confronted with a politician who is utterly without shame? You can reveal where he’s lied, explain all the facts, and try as hard as you can to inoculate the public against his falsehoods. But by the time you’ve done that, he has already told 10 more lies.

“A little hyperbole never hurts,” Trump wrote in The Art of the Deal. “People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular.” He seems to believe that what matters isn’t the truth, but whether you lie with enough bravado. And so far, he’s largely getting away with it.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, March 10, 2016

March 11, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Primaries, Media | , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Strategic Rift In Anti-Trump Coalition”: The Two Republican Establishments Are Split On Their Anti-Trump Strategies

The day after Super Tuesday, Mitt Romney (as the immediate past nominee of a nongoverning party, he would have once been called the “titular head” of the GOP) laid out the Republican Establishment’s game plan for stopping Donald Trump.

If the other candidates can find some common ground, I believe we can nominate a person who can win the general election and who will represent the values and policies of conservatism. Given the current delegate selection process, that means that I’d vote for Marco Rubio in Florida and for John Kasich in Ohio and for Ted Cruz or whichever one of the other two contenders has the best chance of beating Mr. Trump in a given state.

Everybody outside TrumpWorld was onboard, right? Wrong. Especially following the March 5 caucuses and primaries, when he solidified his second-place position in delegates, Ted Cruz and his backers made it clear they believe the most efficient method of stopping Trump is for Republicans to unite behind his own candidacy. It’s Marco Rubio’s “anti-Trump consolidation” theory adopted by another candidate now that Rubio is struggling to survive. And thus with most of the Republican Establishment digging under the sofa cushions for funds to help Rubio beat Trump in Florida, Team Cruz was up in the air in the Sunshine State running anti-Rubio ads.

Was this a rogue action by a candidate not exactly known in the Senate as a team player? Perhaps. But more fundamentally, the strategic rift in the anti-Trump coalition is the product of two very different Republican Establishments: that of self-conscious movement conservatives, who find a Cruz nomination either congenial or acceptable, and the non-movement-party Establishment, which is as hostile to Cruz as it is to Trump.

The conservative-movement Establishment can be found in organizations like the Heritage Foundation and the Club for Growth and opinion vehicles like National Review magazine. Their basic mark of distinction is that they view the GOP as a vehicle for the promotion and implementation of conservative ideology and policy position rather than as an end in itself. They are virulently anti-Trump (as evidenced by National Review‘s recent special issue attacking the mogul) for all the reasons most Republicans (and for that matter, Democrats) evince, but with the additional and decisive consideration that Trump has violated conservative orthodoxy on a host of issues from trade policy to “entitlement reform” to the Middle East. Members of this Establishment do not uniformly support Ted Cruz; some are fine with the equally conservative (if far less disruptive) Marco Rubio, and others have electability concerns about the Texan even if they like his issue positions and his combative attitude toward the Republican congressional leadership. But suffice it to say they are not horrified by the idea of a Cruz presidency, and many have concluded his nomination is an easier bet than some panicky Anybody But Trump movement that at best will produce the unpredictable nightmare of a contested convention even as Democrats (more than likely) unite behind their nominee. RedState’s Leon Wolf neatly expressed their point of view yesterday:

Maybe you preferred someone who is a better communicator than Cruz or who stood a better chance of beating Hillary in the general. Sorry, but for whatever reason, your fellow voters have ruled each of those candidates out, and Rubio’s collapse this weekend pretty much put that nail in the coffin. It’s now a choice between guaranteed loser Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, who might actually win.

From the movement-conservative perspective, it’s not Cruz who’s going rogue but instead elements of the party Establishment (including the members of Congress who conspicuously hate Ted Cruz) that cannot accept that it has lost control of the GOP this year and is insisting on a contested convention as a way to reassert its control behind closed doors in Cleveland. Party Establishmentarians are often conservative ideologically, too, but are dedicated to pragmatic strategies and tactics at sharp odds with Cruz’s philosophy of systematic partisan confrontation and maximalist rhetoric. And they are highly allergic to risky general-election candidates.

But there’s a fresh crisis in the party Establishment after the March 8 contests in four states, wherein Trump won Michigan, Mississippi, and Hawaii, Cruz won Idaho, and Marco Rubio won — maybe, it hasn’t been totally resolved yet — one delegate in Hawaii and absolutely nothing else. And new polls of Florida are beginning to come in that don’t look promising for Rubio. Even as party Establishment and even some conservative-movement Establishment folk pound Trump with negative ads, there are signs of panic. Most shocking, Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin, normally the most reliable of party Establishment mouthpieces and a big-time neoconservative booster of Rubio’s foreign-policy positions, publicly called on the Floridian to drop out of the race and endorse Cruz in order to stop Trump.

We’ll soon see if the divisions between the two Republican Establishments will quickly be resolved by the surrender of party types like Rubin. Some may instead try to reanimate Rubin or switch horses to Kasich, who has a better chance than Rubio to win his own home state next week. Still others may make their peace with Trump, or resolve to spend the rest of the cycle focused on down-ballot races. The confusion of the Republican Establishments now does not bode well for their unity or effectiveness if they do somehow manage to force Trump into a contested convention.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, March 10, 2016

March 11, 2016 Posted by | Conservatism, Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Arguments Both Indefensible And Dishonest”: Senate Republicans Debunk Their Own Supreme Court Talking Points

Senate Republicans have had about a month to come up with a coherent rationale for imposing a blockade on any Supreme Court nominee from President Obama. The fact that they’ve failed so spectacularly to think of anything sound is probably a bad sign.

But the fact that they’re starting to debunk their own talking points is far worse.

A couple of weeks ago, for example, a wide variety of Republicans repeated this line about the merits of a partisan blockade: “This is a tradition that both parties have lived by for over 80 years where in the last year, if there was a vacancy in the last year of a lame duck president, you don’t move forward.”

Today, another Republican senator – who actually supports his party’s strategy – acknowledged that his party’s argument was a lie. The Huffington Post noted:

One of the Republican Party’s most candid senators, Lindsey Graham (S.C.), admitted Thursday a stark fact that the rest of his colleagues have tried their best to avoid: that their blockade of any Supreme Court nominee by President Barack Obama is unprecedented.

 And he insisted that he was going to go along with it, even though he predicted it would worsen relations between the parties and the functioning of the Senate.

Graham conceded, “We are setting a precedent here today,” even after weeks of GOP rhetoric about how they’re just following an existing precedent. The South Carolina Republican added that his party’s current gambit would establish a “new rule” – effectively admitting that such a rule is not currently in place.

The comments were held during a Judiciary Committee discussion about why the Judiciary Committee will refuse to have a discussion about the Supreme Court nomination that does not currently exist.

Graham’s unexpected concession made his party’s arguments look both indefensible and dishonest, but Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) went even further in discrediting his own party’s claims. TPM reported:

During a Thursday morning radio interview, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) candidly explained that Senate Republicans would take a different approach to a Supreme Court nominee if a Republican president were in office and replacing a conservative justice.

 Johnson was asked on Wisconsin radio show “Morning Mess” about Senate Republicans’ refusal to consider President Obama’s forthcoming nomination to the Supreme Court. The host hypothesized that things would be different if Mitt Romney were in the White House.

The far-right Wisconsin senator, up for re-election this year, said it would be “different” if a Republican president were currently in office. As Johnson put it, “Generally, and this is the way it works out politically, if you’re replacing – if a conservative president’s replacing a conservative justice, there’s a little more accommodation to it.”

He added, “But when you’re talking about a conservative justice now being replaced by a liberal president who would literally flip the court – you know, let’s face it, I don’t think anybody’s under any illusion – President Obama’s nominee would flip the court from a 5-4 conservative to a 5-4 liberal controlled court…. And so it’s an incredibly serious moment in terms of what’s the composition of the court going to be.”

In other words, as far as Johnson’s concerned, pleasant-sounding rhetoric about principles and Senate norms and traditions is all just window dressing. President Obama is a Democrat, and since Antonin Scalia was a conservative, Ron Johnson believes the constitutional process should be ignored for the most brazenly partisan reasons.

I’m honestly not sure if Senate Republicans are even trying anymore. They made up a “Schumer Rule,” which turned out not to make any sense. They made up a “Biden Rule,” which proved the opposite of the GOP’s intended point. They pointed to a “Thurmond Rule,” which kind of exists, but doesn’t apply here. Republicans made up an 80-year “tradition” out of whole cloth, which Lindsey Graham now concedes doesn’t exist.

They blamed the blockade on the “nuclear option,” which was ridiculously dishonest. They said this is payback for Robert Bork, which made even less sense.

And now a prominent Senate Republican is admitting publicly that the party’s professed principles are irrelevant and the party would be acting differently if the president weren’t a Democrat.

Why not simply drop the pretense and admit that the party is being craven?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 10, 2016

March 11, 2016 Posted by | Lindsey Graham, Senate Republicans, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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