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“An Albatross Around The Down-Ballot Races”: Could Donald Trump Deliver Congress To The Democrats?

With each preposterous new turn in the GOP presidential primary campaign, the chances of Hillary Clinton becoming president of the United States increase. The trouble is that a Clinton presidency has always promised to be largely an exercise in frustration. That’s not because she’s an incrementalist (true though that may be), but because she’ll likely be confronted with a Republican Congress—and one no more inclined toward compromise and pragmatism than the one Barack Obama faces.

But what if that weren’t true? Is there any chance Democrats might actually win back control of Capitol Hill and at least let a President Clinton (or a President Sanders, a possibility that remains real, if dwindling) do something that resembles governing?

The answer is yes, there is such a chance. And the reason is simple: Donald Trump.

We don’t yet know whether Trump will be the Republican nominee. But at the moment that’s the likeliest of all the possibilities for Republicans. And it also seems that having Trump as their leader will tear the party apart. Which could give Clinton not only the White House, but a chance for a presidency that accomplishes something.

Let’s start by considering the Senate, where Republicans currently enjoy a 54-46 majority. Because the senators running for re-election this year are the ones who got elected in the Republican sweep of 2010, they are defending many more seats—24, while Democrats are defending only 10. Most of those seats, however, are safely in Republican hands. They could nominate Martin Shkreli for president and they’d be unlikely to lose Senate races in Oklahoma or South Carolina. But they are vulnerable in other places like Illinois, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire, where Democrats have fielded strong candidates in states already leaning left.

Most forecasters have predicted that Democrats would net a few seats, but winning the four they need to push the Senate to 50-50 is a tough proposition. Until now, that is.

With Trump poised to win the nomination, some races that hadn’t previously been seen as competitive are beginning to look that way. Consider Iowa, where the curmudgeonly Chuck Grassley is running for his seventh term. No one thought Grassley would face a serious challenge this year, but then came Trump, and the death of Antonin Scalia—which resulted in a wave of stories about how Grassley, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, refuses to hold confirmation hearings on anyone President Obama nominates to the Supreme Court. Last week, Democrats got their wish when Patty Judge, a former lieutenant governor and state agriculture secretary, announced that she’ll run for the seat. Grassley may still be reasonably popular, but if turnout is high in a state that voted for Barack Obama twice, Judge has a strong chance to win.

Something similar could happen in other states: What had looked like seats where Republicans had a clear advantage could be up for grabs, particularly if Democrats come out in force, moved to the polls by the ghastly prospect of Donald Trump becoming president. Combine that with a potentially dispirited Republican electorate, and Democrats could win more seats than anyone predicted. “We can’t have a nominee be an albatross around the down-ballot races,” Senator John Cornyn recently told CNN. “That’s a concern of mine.”

That brings us to the House. Democrats need a net gain of 30 seats to take it back, which has looked all but impossible until now. And it’s still extremely difficult. But could it happen? It’s hard to tell from our vantage point today. We don’t know what kind of general election candidate Donald Trump would make, but the key to the outcome in the House could be how his candidacy affects turnout. If the #NeverTrump movement doesn’t lose steam and lots of prominent Republicans distance themselves from their party’s nominee, it could mean Republican voters staying home in large numbers, which would make it possible for Democrats to win back the seats they need to take control.

If Democrats take back both bodies, a Democratic president could actually have the chance to govern, including through passing legislation—imagine that. But even if Democrats took only the Senate, it would make a huge difference.

Back in 2013, Democrats then controlling the Senate got so frustrated with Republican obstructionism that they changed the body’s rules on confirmation of executive branch appointments and those of judges serving on lower courts, allowing those nominations to be confirmed with a simple majority vote and disallowing filibusters. The rule change didn’t apply to legislation or to Supreme Court nominees, and senators are still allowed to do talking filibusters, where they hold the floor for as long as they can (so Ted Cruz will still have something to do when he returns to the Senate next year).

So a President Clinton could continue to transform the federal courts simply by virtue of filling openings as they come up. There’s a bottleneck right now as Republicans refuse to confirm more of Obama’s judicial nominees, but if that were broken, after 12 or even 16 years of Democratic appointments, the lower courts would be firmly in liberal hands.

And what about the Supreme Court? Not only is there the matter of Scalia’s seat to deal with, but it’s almost certain that more seats will become vacant in the next president’s first term. On Inauguration Day, Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be 83, Anthony Kennedy will be 80, and Stephen Breyer will be 78. If and when Republicans decide to filibuster any Democratic nominee, you can bet that Senate Democrats will make another rule change to disallow filibusters of Supreme Court nominees. Republicans will decry it as a terrible power grab, but it will be exactly what they earned with their obstructionism.

This all may not sound like a recipe for an era of excellence in government. It will be terribly partisan, and if Republicans hold on to the House, it will mean almost no meaningful legislation outside of continuing resolutions funding the government to avoid shutdowns. But between the executive and judicial branches, you can accomplish quite a bit. Hillary Clinton would certainly hope for more, but it’s what she may have to settle for. And it could be a lot worse.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, March 7, 2016

March 12, 2016 Posted by | Congress, Donald Trump, GOP Obstructionism, GOP Primaries | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Like Pandas At The Zoo”: Such a Curiosity, Those White Working-Class Voters

The headline: “Millions of ordinary Americans support Donald Trump.” Immediately, I bristled.

Here we go again.

“Ordinary” Americans. We know what that’s supposed to mean. Plain people. Malleable people. Nothing-exceptional-about-them people. Every four years, these white working-class voters become objects of curiosity like pandas at the zoo.

These are the people I come from. Many of their children grew up to do the same kind of work their parents did — but for less money and benefits and with fewer job protections. Make that no job protection — unless they’re in a union, which is increasingly unlikely. As NPR reported last year, nearly a third of American workers belonged to a union 50 years ago. Today 1 in 10 are union members.

I wonder how many of my fellow liberals in the pundit class have ever stepped foot in a union hall. We all talk about the importance of organized labor, but how many of us union kids are left? It matters, I think, in telling this story. If you don’t know any working-class voters, then it’s much easier to portray them as angry, racist and xenophobic — lemmings slogging their way toward the cliff’s edge, dragging their expired lives behind them.

Earlier this week, I shared on Facebook a photo of an abandoned union hall tweeted by MSNBC reporter Tony Dokoupil. “It’s like touring the Titanic,” he wrote.

The room was dark and still, but folding chairs still circled a dozen or so round tabletops, as if the union’s annual Christmas party were just around the corner. My father was a utility worker, and the union hall was the one place where I could always count on seeing my parents relaxed and happy. They danced and laughed and let us kids eat as much dessert as we wanted. We were a boisterous collection of families celebrating our bigger family. Even as children, we understood why we were sticking with the union.

This Trump phenomenon has made me testy, I fear. “Why start off angry?” my mother would say if she were alive. “There’s already enough of that in the world.” She was your typical working-class mom, believing each of us had the power to change the world with kindness.

That headline I hated topped a Guardian story I appreciated by Thomas Frank, the author of “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” In the story, which is gaining traction on social media, Frank takes to task the many liberals who cast white working-class Trump voters as mere reflections of his darkest inclinations.

The problem, Frank writes, is that too few of us are actually asking these voters what is on their minds.

“When people talk to white, working-class Trump supporters, instead of simply imagining what they might say, they find that what most concerns these people is the economy and their place in it,” Frank writes. “I am referring to a study just published by Working America, a political-action auxiliary of the AFL-CIO, which interviewed some 1,600 white working-class voters in the suburbs of Cleveland and Pittsburgh in December and January.

“Support for Donald Trump, the group found, ran strong among these people, even among self-identified Democrats, but not because they are all pining for a racist in the White House. Their favorite aspect of Trump was his ‘attitude’, the blunt and forthright way he talks. As far as issues are concerned, ‘immigration’ placed third among the matters such voters care about, far behind their number one concern: ‘good jobs/the economy’.”

This is not to say that many of them are not also racist, sexist and xenophobic. Just as with any other demographic group, there is the worst among them, and we have seen too many of them at their ugliest.

But most of them know that their current appeal to presidential candidates and the gawking media is as fleeting as it is intense. They know what’s coming.

Win or lose, Trump will continue to enjoy a privileged, high-profile life, leaving behind the ordinary Americans who thought he meant it when he said, “I love you people.”

They will return to the same stack of bills and low-paying jobs and the stress that is unraveling their lives. They will keep their prayers simple: May the car last another season; may the baby’s cough not turn into a prescription for antibiotics; may love prevail.

Forgotten again by the media, the ordinary Americans will say goodbye to loved ones and bury their dead. They will bow their heads, maybe recite the prayers of their childhood. They will close their eyes tight and try not to think about how broken dreams have a way of sucking the life out of you long before you die.

 

By: Connie Schultz, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Columnist and Professional in Residence at Kent State University’s School of Journalism; The National Memo, March 10, 2016

March 12, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Unions, White Working Class | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Phoning It In And The Media’s Trump Surrender”: The Press Throws In The Towel Before The First Bell Is Even Rung

Tuesday offered a sad but telling snapshot from the Donald Trump campaign trail, capturing how the Republican seems to intimidate the press and how journalists too often bend to his will.

Tuesday morning, Trump was scheduled to appear live on several morning programs, via satellites from his home in Florida. But after Trump reportedly didn’t like the way his remote shots looked on television, he canceled the satellite Q&A’s and simply phoned in his interviews live.

That evening, after winning primaries in Mississippi and Michigan, Trump spoke for more than 40 minutes. His rambling address included a weird pitch for his brand of products (steaks, wines, vodka), many of which he didn’t actually own. The all-news cable channels carried Trump’s performance in its entirety and refused to break away even for a minute to cover any of Hillary Clinton’s primetime address, celebrating her Mississippi victory.

As Trump was leaving his televised address, his campaign manager reportedly grabbed the arm of a Breitbart News reporter who was trying to ask the candidate a question. The reporter, Michelle Fields, was nearly pulled to the ground after being forcibly grabbed. “Fields was clearly roughed up by the move,” a witness told Politico. The Daily Beast reported the encounter left her bruised.

So yes, the day featured all the discouraging telltale signs of the media’s Trump mess. The press allowed him to play by new, call-in rules? Check. The press showered Trump with an unprecedented amount of free, uninterrupted airtime? Check. Members of the press were physically insulted or physically manhandled by Trump and his handlers? Check.

If this Trump vs. the press battle were an actual fight, the referee would’ve stopped it a long, long time ago. Indeed, rather than a bout it’s more like Trump stands in his corner, tapes up his gloves, and the press throws in the towel before the first bell is even rung. And yes, to suggest Trump enjoys pushing the press around would be an understatement.

“He’s getting by with a lot of stuff that no candidate should get by with,” according to Walter Mears, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former Associated Press campaign reporter.

But it works for Trump. It definitely works.

That said, note that Tuesday also included an unexpected sliver of media pushback: CBS This Morning stood alone in refusing to allow Trump to replace his scheduled on-camera interview with a phone-in chat. The program cited its longstanding rule against allowing guests to call in.

For most of the campaign, Trump has been awarded the special privilege of calling into programs. Many observers think phone-ins are beneficial to politicians since it’s easier for them to talk over journalists and harder to be pinned down. (Phoners generally preclude the use of on-screen graphics as a tool to confront candidates and get detailed responses.)

“Broadcasting and cable maybe aren’t being as tough as they should be. I have questioned having [Trump] on by telephone, it’s deferring to him in a way, letting him set ground rules that they don’t for others,” former New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt recently told Media Matters. “You do not see his demeanor and it is not the same as having him sit across from an interrogator.”

Between March 1-8, Trump did 17 live interviews with ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. More than half of them were phoned in.

So why did television producers last year invent the running exception for Trump’s phone-ins; the exception that most shows used on Tuesday for him?

“I think there’s enormous interest in Donald Trump as a candidate,” Mary Hager, executive producer of CBS’s Face the Nation, told the Huffington Post last year. “I think if he is only available for a phone interview, we need to be able to help our viewers out in understanding him.” She added, “It’s the Sunday shows responsibility to cover the news.”

Right, but as one veteran TV news pro in the same Huffington Post article pointed out, while front-runners have in the past been able to negotiate the formats of interviews, letting guests phone in for non-breaking news stories is “unprecedented.” So why is it suddenly the media’s “responsibility” to rewrite the rules for Trump? Hager’s answer last year indicated it was because Trump was wildly popular; because there’s “enormous interest.”

Note that Hillary Clinton has accumulated more votes this year than Trump, and according to some recent polls she would easily defeat him in November. (Trump’s among the most disliked politicians in America today.) So again, why the special media rules for the guy who might lose badly in the general election?

On Tuesday, when Trump walked away from his on-camera interviews while claiming his campaign was having technical difficulties with the satellite feed, television sources told CNN’s Brian Stelter that they thought Trump was using a hollow excuse. Yet the candidate, who’s treated like a ratings wonder by news channels, was still given a green light by most of the networks to simply call in.

Why are the phone interviews a big deal? They represent one of the first tangible campaign examples of the press acquiescing to Trump, beginning last summer; making it clear that news executives had no reservations about applying special standards to him. But as CBS This Morning showed this week, the phoners also represent a very simple way for the press to push back. They’re probably the easiest and quickest fix the media could make in an effort to recalibrate its lost leverage with Trump.

Just don’t do it. It’s really that simple.

 

By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters For America, March 10, 2016

March 12, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Journalists, Media | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Unwilling To Attack Trump In Any Damaging Way”: Republicans Have Forgotten How To Call Trump A Con Man

For about two weeks, until Donald Trump swept another round of elections on Tuesday, Republicans had settled on a line of attack that finally threatened to do him lasting damage. Rather than portray him as a bully or a clown or (disingenuously) as a liberal, they called him a con artist and a manipulator. In a subtle acquiescence to his campaign of demagoguery, they warned Republican voters not to be taken in by his appeals to their fears and biases—not because their fears and biases are unfounded, but because, as a con artist, he couldn’t be counted on to actually address them.

Then, just as quickly, that line of attack disappeared—and was nowhere to be heard at Thursday night’s debate in Miami.

The Republican presidential primary campaign has been bedeviled all along by a collective-action problem that has manifested in various ways. It appeared first as reluctance among frontrunners to attack Donald Trump at all, which created an incentive for other insurgent candidates like Ted Cruz to champion his message. That unorchestrated approach lead other well-positioned candidates to attack one another, and ultimately drove otherwise viable candidates (Scott Walker, Rick Perry) from the campaign earlier than expected.

As the race narrowed, pretenders to the nomination stepped forward, one at a time, to mount anti-Trump attacks on behalf of the entire field. Each one was damaged—most famously Jeb Bush, who dropped out after losing badly in South Carolina. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich survived this process, all hoping to emerge as Trump’s sole competitor for the nomination. But none of them has been able to force the others out. Now, with Trump poised to win the nomination, his competitors are again unwilling to attack Trump in any damaging way.

On Thursday, just days before Trump could effectively end the primary by taking the winner-take-all contests in Ohio and Florida, the collective-action problem manifested as sheer bafflement. For two hours, Trump, who refrained for the first time ever from taunting his rivals, drew almost no sustained criticism.

Acting in a subdued manner may be the greatest con of Trump’s campaign. Trump has essentially admitted it’s an affected disposition—he likes to boast about how presidential he’s capable of behaving when he wants to. And yet suddenly, at the most critical juncture of the race, none of the rivals, who one week ago were happy to call Trump a con man, were willing to implore GOP primary voters to reject him.

Whether this reflects resignation, or a fear of looking ridiculous at the crucial last minute (as Marco Rubio did last month when he suggested Trump had small genitals), it allows Trump to enter the next round of primaries without a cloud of debate-stage negativity hanging over his head.

Should Trump win the nomination, largely as a result of this collective-action problem, he will enter the general-election campaign crippled. He is fatally unpopular with female voters and minorities, and not nearly popular enough with white men to close the gap.

Many liberals fear the prospect of Trump’s nomination, because they worry his feigned populism will expand the electorate in ways that might allow him to win. They assume, with good reason, that the Republican Party (or large segments of it) will reconcile itself to his nomination, and that by closing ranks, the people who now say #NeverTrump will help propel him to victory.

It is far, far likelier that Trump will lose the general election by a larger margin than Democrats deserve. When that happens, Republicans will relearn how to call Trump a con man. To anyone who will listen, they will disclaim him as a fluke—a skilled entertainer who ran an infomercial-like campaign and swindled Republicans into supporting him. They will see it as the path of least resistance, the only argument they can make to avoid reckoning with the fact that the Trump phenomenon is actually the product of years of Republican maximalism and apocalyptic rhetoric.

The challenge for everyone else will be to remind them of nights like tonight—when, faced with the prospect of a bigoted demagogue taking over their party, they said nothing.

 

By: Brian Beutler, The New Republic, March 11, 2016

March 12, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Fearmongering, GOP Primaries | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The GOP’s Disgraceful Misogyny”: The Effect Of Their Positions And Policies Have Been Disastrous For Women

As the 2016 election season has trundled along, we’ve spent a lot of time examining the racism, xenophobia, and bigotry so bountifully demonstrated by the GOP presidential candidates. Extraordinary anti-Muslim animus, callus dehumanization of immigrants, demonization of African-American activists, and cries to revoke the civil liberties of LGBTQ Americans — it’s all stock-in-trade for today’s Republican Party.

We’re right to be alarmed by all of it. There is, however, another form of bias equally on display that doesn’t get nearly as much attention: the Republican Party’s overwhelming misogyny.

We occasionally talk about the sexism confronting Hillary Clinton. Abortion comes up now and again. Then there was that time that the leading GOP contender reminded us that many 21st century men are still skeeved out by women’s reproductive cycles. So it’s not like the misogyny has gone entirely unremarked — but given that these are attitudes that affect fully half of America, we really ought to be talking about it a whole lot more.

Maybe we’re so used to women being considered lesser-than that misogyny’s ubiquity fails to register. Maybe it’s so deeply embedded in our psyche and policies that it’s hard to pin down. And maybe, like with the word “racist,” we’re hesitant to use the word “misogynist” (or the slightly-less freighted “sexist”) because it raises unanswerable questions: Does that person actually hate women? All women? Can we really know what’s in people’s hearts?

So perhaps, to borrow from Jay Smooth, we should focus less on what people are, and more on what they do. We needn’t concern ourselves with politicians’ feelings about women — our concern needs to be the effect of politicians’ words and actions.

In that light, Republicans’ positions on Americans’ constitutionally-mandated right to terminate a pregnancy become even more problematic. When government decides for a citizen that she must carry a pregnancy to term, it’s making a decision with long-term financial, professional, and health repercussions — and that’s just for women who are full-grown adults with careers and good insurance. For any other woman — the poor, the young, the un- or under-employed, the sexually-assaulted, the victim of domestic violence — the damage goes deeper and lasts longer. The fight to deny any woman her (constitutionally-mandated!) right to abortion is a fight to force all women to accept and shoulder these consequences, absolutely regardless of their own desires — a misogynistic effect if ever there was one.

This is equally true for a vast number of other, less obvious positions and policies, as well. Repealing ObamaCare? The effect would be a return to “gender rating,” by which insurance providers regularly treated breast cancer and domestic violence as “pre-existing conditions” and refused to cover Pap smears, a cancer screening test unique to women.

Months and months of lying about and then defunding Planned Parenthood? The effect has been the failure to provide thousands and thousands of Pap smears and breast cancer screenings — and let’s not mince words: We’ll never know the number of women for whom that has proven a literal death sentence.

And oh, it goes so much further than women’s health issues: What about the GOP’s opposition to a higher minimum wage? Women are disproportionately effected, because two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women. What about the GOP’s refusal to deal with the college debt crisis? The gender wage gap means women are saddled with that debt for much longer than men (particularly if they happen to be Latina or African American). What about the relentless drone of comments from would-be leaders and their supporters that dismiss women, disparage our needs, and reduce us to our potential as sex partners or breeders? A study released just this week has found a “surprising durability of basic stereotypes about women and men over the past three decades, not only in the global traits of agency and communion but in other domains such as physical characteristics, occupations, and gender roles as well.”

Why, it’s almost as if words have consequences.

Republican leaders (including everybody’s favorite “moderate,” John Kasich) have spent their careers telling America that 50 percent of the citizenry cannot be trusted with their own bodies. They’ve pursued policies that consistently produce roadblocks to those citizens’ advancement, and they persistently belittle, demean, and express genuine doubt as to those citizens’ essential equality.

Do these politicians and pundits hate women? I don’t really care. I care that the effect of their positions and policies has been disastrous for women. I’m terrified to consider what it will mean if we do nothing about it come November.

 

By: Emily Hauser, The Week, March 11, 2016

March 12, 2016 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Misogyny, Planned Parenthood, War On Women | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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