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“Tied To The Party’s Nominee”: Why Donald Trump Is Big Trouble For Republican Senators And Congressmen

Mitch McConnell can always be counted on to put a brave face on things. Asked on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday whether he’s encouraging Republican Senate candidates to distance themselves from Donald Trump should he be the party’s nominee, McConnell essentially said that it isn’t a problem. “We are going to run individual races no matter who the presidential nominee is,” McConnell said. “Senate races are statewide races. You can craft your own message for your own people. And that’s exactly what we intend to do this fall, no matter who the nominee is.”

It’s certainly what many of them will try to do. But can they get away with it?

A few might. But distancing yourself from your party’s leader may be harder now than it has ever been.

To see why, we have to start with an understanding of how much information voters have about different candidates. We can think about a kind of information hierarchy, the top of which is the presidential race. That contest will dominate all the news sources people have about politics: newspapers, local and national TV news, social media, even the conversations they have with family, friends, and co-workers. If the race is between Trump and Hillary Clinton, the clash of these two big, controversial personalities will dominate the news.

The next level down is races for Senate or governor — amply funded, and featuring incumbents with whom people have at least a passing familiarity, but not nearly as prominent as the presidential race. You’ll absolutely hear Trump and Clinton’s messages, whether you believe them or not, but with the lower offices, it’s a challenge just to get the candidate’s name and face in front of people. Go to House seats, and then farther to state legislature or local races, and voters hear only the occasional snippet, drowned out by everything else that’s going on.

That means that it can be difficult to convince voters of something a bit complicated, something that requires them to undo their default assumptions. And one of those assumptions is that candidates from the same party are going to be partners.

Split-ticket voting (choosing one party’s candidate for president and a different party’s candidate for lower offices) has declined in recent years, which is understandable in an era of partisan polarization and tight party unity. Half a century ago, when both parties contained a relatively broad ideological spectrum — for instance, the Democratic Party had both Northern liberals and Southern conservatives — it made more sense to view an individual senator or congressman as a free agent who might act independently of his or her party. But today, most important votes break firmly along partisan lines, which means that your senator is probably not going to surprise you, or the president, with anything he or she does.

That’s not to say there are no more maverick legislators who frequently abandon their party to support the other side’s position. There are a few, like Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) or Susan Collins (R-Maine). But there are fewer of them after every election, and they’re almost gone. The more party unity there is, the more every race is nationalized.

So a message like, “I don’t agree with my party’s leader, even though I will sometimes, but not at other times, and I agree with you that he’s a jerk” is going to be less persuasive now than it might have been at another time.

This could be especially tricky for the Republican incumbents representing swing states. We often think of “purple” states as containing mostly moderate voters, but that’s often not the case. Instead, they may have roughly equal numbers of strong liberals and strong conservatives. You can see that in places like Iowa and Wisconsin, both of which will have incumbent Republican senators facing serious challenges this year. That makes things complicated for those Republicans — they don’t want to alienate the Trump fans who will be coming out to vote for president, but they also don’t want to push away voters who can’t stand him.

And you can bet that in nearly every competitive Senate race, there are going to be ads targeting the Republican that will try to tie him or her to the Republican presidential nominee, particularly if Trump’s popularity stays as low as it is now. “Senator X stands with Trump,” they’ll say, as sinister music plays in the background. “Demeaning women. Threatening immigrants. Encouraging violence. Is that what we want representing us? Tell Senator X and Donald Trump that our state says no thanks.”

Some Republican incumbents are running in extremely conservative states, in which case they probably don’t have to worry. But others will face two questions: Whether they even want to distance themselves from Trump, and if they do, whether they can do it successfully. One thing’s for sure: it isn’t going to be as easy as Mitch McConnell would have you believe. And the farther you go down the ballot, the harder it’s going to get.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, March 22, 2016

March 23, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Mitch Mc Connell, Senate Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Talking Encourages Effective Change”: Obama In Cuba, And The Astounding Legacy Of A Pragmatic President

I’m old. Not as ancient as, say, the dinosaurs, but I’m certainly not young. In fact, I’m only a few years younger than the president, which, while young for the White House, is kind of old in my house.

How old am I? Well, I’ll tell you: I’m old enough to remember when all manner of things now the stuff of daily life were the stuff of Hollywood — the notion of an African-American president, for one.

Or, for instance, relations with Cuba. Are you mad, son? That embargo outlived the Iron Curtain! We will never have anything to do with Cuba (other than smuggled cigars) until the Castros are dead and a unicorn sits on a throne of dollars in the heart of Havana. The sky is blue, the grass is green, and Cuba is natio non grata, forever and ever.

Until this month. Until Sunday. Until, actually, December 2014, when the president announced, “Today, the United States of America is changing its relationship with the people of Cuba” — an announcement which frankly left me gobsmacked and a little pie-eyed. I hadn’t been paying attention, you see, and seemingly out of the blue, this president had done the undoable, as if 50 years of human history could be changed with human hands. Now he’s walking around Havana and meeting with Raul Castro.

Or how about that other impossibility: U.S.-Iranian détente? I actually remember when the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was stormed. I’m also old enough to remember George W. Bush’s 2002 Axis of Evil speech, the one that torpedoed active Iranian cooperation with America in post-9/11 Afghanistan. And yet here we are, one president later, in possession of a nuclear deal with one of our most implacable foes, a foe that has in the meantime elected a slate of surprisingly moderate politicians to its parliament, reinforcing Obama’s position that talking encourages change more effectively than ceaseless saber-rattling.

Oh, I’m old enough to remember all kinds of things. I remember when “LGBTQ rights” were called “the homosexual agenda” and orange juice pitch-woman Anita Bryant told America that the gays wanted to hurt your children. I also remember the AIDS crisis, and how many people had to die before anyone in power began to treat them with dignity. I think that as a young woman I literally wouldn’t have been able to imagine a circumstance in which a sitting U.S. president would oversee the establishment of same-sex marriage as a constitutional right. Obama “evolved” on the issue, he told us — bringing America along with him, allowing us to evolve toward that more-perfect union of which our founders spoke.

And don’t think I’ve forgotten health care reform, which has been impossible since Harry Truman. I remember when the current Democratic frontrunner tried her hand at reshaping health care and got so badly burned that she and her then-president husband paid for it for years. Today, on the other hand, millions of Americans for whom basic health care was once as unimaginable as that unicorn in Havana now have insurance, and cannot be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions — such as, for instance, domestic violence or having a cervix. ObamaCare is, in many ways, feminism at its most brass-tacks, and I’m pretty sure Young Me also couldn’t have imagined having a president who is a feminist.

No one accomplishes anything on their own, no matter the office they hold. In the course of seven years, the president has had to learn from, respond to, and work with people ranging from grassroots activists to Pope Francis (while, it should be noted, the opposition party has done all it can to prevent him from accomplishing anything at all). And on many of these matters, Obama has just barely been ahead of the curve. When he announced the change in relations with Cuba, for instance, just less than half of Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County supported the embargo anymore — down from 66 percent in 2004 and 56 percent in 2011.

The president has never been a revolutionary; to borrow from Lin-Manuel Miranda, he is and has always been a bold pragmatist — which is, in my book, a compliment.

I don’t want to give the impression that I agree with everything Obama and his administration have presided over. Ask me (or better yet, don’t) about Obama’s record on Israel/Palestine — or maybe talk to the Central Americans deported back to their home countries after fleeing unspeakable violence. To borrow from the internet, your faves are always problematic. My faves are, too.

And yet. There are days on which this old woman looks at her young president’s record, and all but falls out of her chair. The foregoing is but a partial list, missing many things Obama has accomplished or advanced that were, as far as I once knew, impossible or pretty near. The beautiful thing, of course, is that you don’t actually have to be old to see it — you just have to be paying attention.

Thanks, Obama.

 

By: Emily L. Hauser, The Week, March 21, 2016

March 23, 2016 Posted by | Cuba, Diplomacy, President Obama, Raul Castro | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Supreme Court Fight Is About Democracy”: Conservatives Want To Bring Back Pre-New Deal Jurisprudence

There’s a reason beyond garden-variety partisanship that Senate Republicans resist even holding hearings on President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Their gambit evades a full and open debate over the conservative judicial agenda, which is to use the high court in an aggressive and political way to reverse decades of progressive legislation.

The central irony here: The very conservatives who use “judicial activism” as a battering ram against liberals are now the aggressive judicial activists. It’s precisely because Garland’s record reveals him to be a devout practitioner of judicial restraint that an intellectually frank dialogue over his nomination would be so dangerous to the right. It would expose the radicalism of their jurisprudence.

Some conservatives are quite open about this, and few have been more candid than George F. Will, my Post colleague. To begin with, he deserves credit for making clear in his most recent column that Garland really is a stout advocate of judicial “deference” and for pointing out the absurdity of the Republicans’ refusal to take up his nomination. And in the past, Will has been unusually direct in defining the stakes in our battles over the role of the courts.

In a 2014 column aptly headlined “Judicial activism isn’t a bad thing,” he wrote: “Conservatives clamoring for judicial restraint, meaning deference to legislatures, are waving a banner unfurled a century ago by progressives eager to emancipate government, freeing it to pursue whatever collective endeavors it fancies, sacrificing individual rights to a spurious majoritarian ethic.”

Will’s attack on “a spurious majoritarian ethic,” of course, is another way of criticizing the workings of democracy. Where does this lead?

It leads to the Citizens United decision (which Will supports as emphatically as I oppose it) that overthrew decades of precedent and a century of practice involving limits on the power of big money in politics; to the Supreme Court’s evisceration of the Voting Rights Act; and to the scrapping of all manner of legislation aimed at protecting workers’ rights, the environment and consumers. Historically, it’s an approach that, more often than not, leans toward employers over employees, creditors over debtors, property owners over less affluent citizens, and corporations over individuals.

We know what this approach looks like because it’s the one the court pursued for decades before the New Deal. It is this pre-New Deal jurisprudence that conservatives want to bring back. Some conservatives have talked openly about the “Constitution in Exile,” referring to the way our founding document was once read to overturn many New Deal and Progressive Era laws. Starting in the late 1930s, the court moved to a different approach that gave Congress broad latitude to legislate on matters related to social justice and economics and saw its task as intervening primarily on behalf of individual rights.

Will’s outright embrace of “judicial activism” has brought him some critics on the right. One of them is Ed Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a leading defender of the Senate Republicans’ current strategy. “Most contemporary conservative proponents of judicial restraint,” Whelan has written, “are also proponents of originalism and see judicial restraint merely as supplementing originalist methodology when that methodology fails to yield a sufficiently clear answer to a constitutional question.”

Whelan added that his approach would, like Will’s, allow judges to “enforce the rights, and limits on power, that the Constitution, fairly construed, sets forth.” But it would also “prevent judges from inventing rights and powers that are not in the Constitution.”

Here’s my translation of Whelan: He’s instructing Will to notice how originalism — the conservative theory that insists we can apply the original meaning of the Constitution’s words and the Founders’ intentions with some ease — leaves judges with plenty of power to toss out progressive laws. At the same time, it gives conservatives grounds to oppose liberals on such issues as abortion and gay marriage.

I’ll stipulate that there are some legitimate conservative arguments against liberals on their own forms of social-issue activism. But I’d insist that we will understand this court battle better if we pay attention to Will’s straightforward language: Through originalism and other doctrines, conservatives have embraced an astonishingly aggressive approach to judging. It allows them to reach outcomes through the courts that they cannot achieve through the democratic process.

At heart, this is a debate over how we define democracy. It’s also a struggle over whether government will be able to serve as a countervailing force to concentrated economic power.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 20, 2016

March 23, 2016 Posted by | Conservatives, Democracy, Senate Republicans | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Obama’s Visit Will Hasten Freedom In Cuba”: The Culmination Of Common-Sense Revamping Of U.S. Policy Toward Cuba

The historic visit of a sitting U.S. president to Havana — which should have come a half-century sooner — will almost surely hasten the day when Cubans are free from the Castro government’s suffocating repression.

President Obama’s whirlwind trip is the culmination of his common-sense revamping of U.S. policy toward Cuba. One outdated, counterproductive relic of the Cold War remains — the economic embargo forbidding most business ties with the island nation — and the Republican-controlled Congress won’t even consider repealing it. But Obama, using his executive powers, has been able to reestablish full diplomatic relations, practically eliminate travel restrictions and substantially weaken the embargo’s grip.

All of which is long overdue. The United States first began to squeeze the Castro government, with the hope of forcing regime change, in 1960. It should be a rule of thumb that if a policy is an utter failure for more than 50 years, it’s time to try something else.

I say this as someone with no illusions about President Raúl Castro, the spectral but still-powerful Fidel Castro or the authoritarian system they created and wish to perpetuate.

Hours before Obama’s arrival Sunday, police and security agents roughly arrested and hauled away members of the Ladies in White dissident group as they conducted their weekly protest march; this time, U.S. network news crews happened to be on hand to witness the ritualized crackdown.

I wrote a book about Cuba, and each time I went to the island for research I gained more respect and admiration for the Cuban people — and more contempt for the regime that so cynically and capriciously smothers their dreams. Those 10 trips convinced me, however, that the U.S. policy of prohibiting economic and social contact between Americans and Cubans was, to the Castro brothers, the gift that kept on giving.

I saw how the “menace” of an aggressive, threatening neighbor to the north was used as a justification for repression. We’d love to have freedom of the press, freedom of association and freedom of assembly, the government would say, but how can we leave our beloved nation so open, and so vulnerable, when the greatest superpower on earth is trying to destroy our heroic revolution?

Most of the Cubans I met were not fooled by such doublespeak. But they did have a nationalistic love for their country, and their nation was, indeed, under economic siege.

There are those who argue that Obama could have won more concessions from the Castro regime in exchange for improved relations. But this view ignores the fact that our posture of unmitigated hostility toward Cuba did more harm to U.S. interests than good. Relaxing travel restrictions for U.S. citizens can only help flood the island with American ideas and values. Permitting such an influx could be the biggest risk the Castro brothers have taken since they led a ragtag band of guerrillas into the Sierra Maestra Mountains to make a revolution.

Why would they now take this gamble? Because they have no choice. The Castro regime survived the collapse of the Soviet Union — and the end of huge annual subsidies from the Eastern Bloc — but the Cuban economy sank into depression. Copious quantities of Venezuelan oil, provided by strongman Hugo Chávez (who was Fidel Castro’s protege), provided a respite. But now Chávez is gone, Venezuela is an economic ruin and Cuba has no choice but to monetize the resource it has in greatest abundance, human capital. From the Castros’ point of view, better relations with the United States must now seem unavoidable.

It is possible that Raúl Castro, who has promised to resign in 2018, will seek to move the country toward the Chinese model: a free-market economic system overseen by an authoritarian one-party government. Would this fully satisfy those who want to see a free Cuba? No. Would it be a tremendous improvement over the poverty and oppression Cubans suffer today? Absolutely.

Fidel Castro will be 90 in August; Raúl is just five years younger. At some point in the not-too-distant future, we will see whether Castroism can survive without a living Castro. Anyone who wants U.S. policymakers to have influence when that question arises should applaud Obama’s initiatives.

And speaking of applause, did you see the rapturous welcome the president and his family received in Havana? Cubans seem to have a much more clear-eyed — and hopeful — view than Obama’s shortsighted critics.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 21, 2016

March 23, 2016 Posted by | Cuba, President Obama, Raul Castro | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Jim DeMint Looking Over His Shoulder”: Trump Made A Big Promise Aimed At Winning Over Nervous Conservatives

It sort of got lost in competing news about his efforts to seem a mite more normal now that he’s almost certain to head to Cleveland in July as the leader in delegates, if not the putative nominee, but Donald Trump made a very unusual and highly significant promise aimed right at the beating heart of movement conservatism:

Speaking at the construction site for his new hotel in Washington, D.C., Monday, Trump said he will make a list public in the next week of 10 conservative judges that he would consider nominating to the Supreme Court. If elected, Trump said, he would only pick from that list, which is being made in consultation with the conservative Heritage Foundation.

He first made that promise over the weekend in Florida, and he seems to want to make sure it’s widely heard. This means somebody is giving him good advice about how to address the concerns of conservatives about his ideological reliability.

Of all the things they fear about a President Trump, the most urgent is that he will throw away a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape SCOTUS and constitutional law. And of all the temptations they have to hold their noses and support the man despite all of his heresies and erratic behavior, the most powerful would be the confident belief that at least he would position the Court to overrule Roe v. Wade, protect Citizens United, overturn Obama’s executive orders, eviscerate regulation of businesses, inoculate religion-based discrimination, and maybe even introduce a new Lochner era of constitutionally enshrined property rights. This would be a legacy that might well outweigh the risks associated with a Trump presidency.

Promising to make his SCOTUS list public right now is smart, because otherwise it’s an empty promise, and involving the Heritage Foundation in developing it is key to its credibility. Not only has Heritage had a long history of vetting Republican appointees; its current president, Jim DeMint, is arguably the most reliable of “constitutional conservatives,” a man who believes conservative policy prescriptions ought to be permanently protected from the occasional liberal majority via a divinely inspired and unchanging Supreme Law.

Bonding with conservatives over SCOTUS makes some psychological sense for Trump as well. Nothing symbolizes the betrayal of the conservative rank and file — whose abiding exemplar is arguably the humble anti-choice activist staffing phone banks and licking envelopes to protect the unborn from “baby-killers” — by those GOP elites in Washington better than the long string of Republican SCOTUS appointees who have turned out to be traitors to the Cause, from Roe v. Wade author Harry Blackmun to the generally liberal John Paul Stevens and David Souter to the current Obamacare-protecting chief justice. If Trump can break that pattern with Jim DeMint looking over his shoulder, maybe he won’t be that bad for conservatism after all.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, March 22, 2016

March 23, 2016 Posted by | Conservatism, Donald Trump, Jim DeMint, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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