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“The No-Mandate Election”: No Matter What Happens In November, Don’t Expect The Gridlock To Go Away

Usually when there’s an election cycle full of passionate intensity and near-universal perceptions of high stakes, the compensation for the teeth-grinding angst is a sense of resolution, with voters answering big questions and providing something of a policy mandate. Yes, 2000 was a muddle because the results themselves were hotly disputed (not that this kept the new Bush administration from behaving as though it had a mandate to cut taxes massively and look for excuses to topple Saddam Hussein to avenge that plot to kill Poppy). But usually we know more about the direction of the country after rather than before Election Day. And we could sure use some public guidance after six years of a Republican Congress making the total obstruction of a Democratic president its central, holy mission.

But the closer we get to November 8, the more that hope seems forlorn. Brian Beutler explains part of the problem:

Trump has completely upended the platonic notion of elections as tools to settle public policy debates. His agenda, such as it is, either can’t or won’t be implemented, even if he wins. Mexico is not going to pay for a wall along the border, and the U.S. government is not going to expel 11 million unauthorized immigrants, much less ban Muslims from entering the country. It is altogether more likely that were he to win, the movement conservatives who still control Congress would present him the kind of plutocrat-friendly legislation that alienated their voters and drove them to Trump in the first place. His supporters would be rewarded for their triumph with a vision of change they don’t share and didn’t vote for.

In the likelier event that Clinton wins, but does not secure majorities in both the House and Senate, the public will have rejected Trump’s ugly vision of a resentful, bigoted America, but will not see that verdict translated into any policy changes that reflect Clinton’s vision of a more inclusive, cosmopolitan society.

But it’s actually worse than that. If Trump loses, what Barack Obama used to call “the fever” of conservative extremism won’t “break,” for the simple reason that the keepers of the ideological flame loathe Trump as a heretic and won’t for a moment accept responsibility for anything about his campaign. The lesson many of them would “learn” from a Trump loss is the same they “learned” from McCain’s loss in 2008 and Romney’s in 2012: Only a rigidly orthodox conservative GOP can win national elections.

If, somehow, Hillary Clinton loses, it’s unclear Democrats will “learn” much of anything, either, other than the peril of going into a competitive election with a nominee who has high unfavorable ratings fed by decades of conservative attacks. There is no way a defeated Hillary Clinton runs again in 2020, and the most obvious alternative this time around, Bernie Sanders, will be pushing 80 by then. And there’s nothing about this campaign that suggests Democrats would be open to much cooperation with President Trump.

Now, should things go the opposite way with a solid or spectacular Clinton win and a Democratic conquest of both houses of Congress, there’s a chance things would open up. But as Barack Obama’s experience in 2009 demonstrated, it would almost certainly require not only a workable majority in the House but a majority in the Senate willing to undertake radical filibuster reform (at least for Supreme Court nominations, though possibly for regular legislation). And the window for accomplishing anything would be narrow: If Democrats hang on to the White House this year, 2018 would likely shape up as another GOP midterm landslide (especially in the Senate, where the landscape will be insanely pro-Republican then).

The kind of atmosphere we are more likely to see was, interestingly enough, described by Hillary Clinton herself in her recent interview with Ezra Klein:

“A lot of governing is the slow, hard boring of hard boards,” she says. “I don’t think there’s anything sexy, exciting, or headline-grabbing about it. I think it is getting up every day, building the relationships, finding whatever sliver of common ground you can occupy, never, ever giving up in continuing to reach out even to people who are sworn political partisan adversaries.”

No wonder so many Democratic primary voters thrilled to Bernie Sanders’s talk about a grassroots-driven “political revolution” that would make this “hard boring of hard boards” unnecessary. It would be nice if an election cycle or two could mobilize a previously hidden majority and sweep away all of the gridlock. Ideologues of both flavors (Ted Cruz along with Bernie Sanders) endlessly fantasize about this magic solution; the fact that it’s equally plausible for people in both parties is a pretty good sign it’s an illusion. So any way you slice it, 2017 is likely to feel familiar, and frustrating.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, July 13, 2016

July 13, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Election 2016, Gridlock, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Without The Help Of Superdelegates”: Hillary Clinton Shatters America’s 240-Year-Old Glass Ceiling

History was a long time coming, but it arrived last night when the venerable Associated Press broke the news that Hillary Rodham Clinton had surpassed the needed number of delegates to secure the Democratic nomination.

For women born in the middle of the last century, this is the kind of unimagined achievement that makes you wonder if you stepped into the middle of a new Broadway play, perhaps “Hamilton” spun in another way to make the Founding Fathers turn over in their graves.

Like Clinton herself, these women, and I’m one of them, found their voices during the women’s movement of the 1970s, the civil rights movement of the 1960s and beyond, and the antiwar movement of the sixties and seventies. And while Clinton has her flaws, as we all do, she was on the front lines of all this social change, especially when it comes to women and girls.

“I got to tell you, according to the news, we are on the brink of a historic, historic unprecedented moment, but we still have work to do, don’t we?” Clinton said at a rally in California, one of six states holding elections today, and the one that could send her off with a big boost if she can edge out rival Bernie Sanders.

History made quietly with math is history all the same.

Yet its arrival in the midst of a still heated primary race makes it awkward for Clinton to fully embrace all that it means. The AP’s count includes the so-called superdelegates, party leaders and lawmakers who Sanders has vilified as unelected and unrepresentative of the voters.

The irony, of course, is that, Sanders—if he weren’t running for president—would be a superdelegate along with every Democratic member of Congress, and Democratic governor. Also, Clinton is expected to win enough pledged or earned delegates in the other contests, that by the time the polls close in New Jersey, she will reach the magic number and be the victor without the help of superdelegates.

It is another irony that Clinton while achieving what no other woman in America has done at the same time is so disliked. How can that be? It’s partly a function of the Clintons themselves, the dodging and weaving we’ve come to know so well, and partly the fault of our politics. Negative campaigning works, and we’re in for a sustained period of mudslinging as the two presumptive nominees work to define each other as the worst of the worst.

Clinton campaigned in 2008 as a fighter, and the Democrats chose Barack Obama, the healer. Obama leaves the presidency with extraordinary accomplishments, but bringing the country together is not one of them.

Clinton often says on the campaign trail that after everything the other side has thrown at her, “I’m still standing.”

The changing nature of the country is on full display. After a long line of white men, Obama shattered the tradition, and now Clinton is poised to continue the change that Obama’s presidency began.  It’s been a long time since we’ve seen an incumbent president enthusiastically out on the campaign trail working to elect his successor.

President George W. Bush was constrained by an unpopular war from helping his party, and in 2000 Al Gore kept his distance from President Clinton, believing that Clinton’s moral lapses would hurt him.

Obama has given every indication he will be an active campaigner for Clinton, rallying the coalition of young people, single women, and minorities that elected him twice with over 50 percent of the vote, a threshold that Bill Clinton did not quite reach in his two elections—and that Hillary Clinton surely has set as her goal.

Perhaps it’s fitting then that 2016 is shaping up as a referendum on diversity, with Donald Trump making statements that have alienated certain groups and ethnicities, while Obama and Clinton have embraced this new America.

There are plenty more tests ahead, but for now Clinton has gone where no other woman in American history has gone. Adapting what Neil Armstrong said when he set foot on the moon, “That’s one small step for woman, one giant leap for humankind.”

 

By: Eleanor Clift, The Daily Beast, June 7, 2016

June 8, 2016 Posted by | Democratic National Convention, Election 2016, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Hysteria Of The Hillary Haters”: An Exaggerated Animosity Lacking Any Rational Connection To Reality

Over the past few weeks, Republican politicians and party officials have begun the dreary and demoralizing work of reconciling themselves to the prospect of Donald Trump serving as the GOP’s presidential nominee.

Conservative writers and intellectuals, by contrast, have been more obstinate.

A few have come out in grudging and grumbling support of the likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Most of the others, meanwhile, have expressed disgust at the prospect of having to choose between Trump and Clinton at all. This has inspired a small group of dissenters to fasten onto the fantasy of sparking a “true conservative” third-party challenge to Trump.

But many of the rest seem inclined to settle into a pox-on-both-your-houses position: Trump’s unfitness to serve as president is obvious, running the gamut from wholesale ignorance about policy to temperamental volatility and authoritarian instincts that alarm every informed and responsible observer. But Clinton is no better. She’s corrupt! She can’t be trusted! She isn’t qualified to be president! And oh boy, is she unlikeable!

This implies that the most responsible thing for a conservative to do is refrain from voting at all.

That would be foolish. Does Clinton have flaws? You bet she does. But the Hillary hatred that seems to motivate the right’s most adamant objections to her ascending to the presidency is rooted in unfair and exaggerated animosity lacking any rational connection to reality.

The national threat posed by a potential President Trump more than justifies that conservatives promptly get over it.

I can certainly understand ambivalence about Clinton. I feel some of it myself, even though she’s pretty close to my ideological (neoliberal) sweet spot on domestic policy. My hesitation comes mainly from the air of scandal that, as I’ve put it before, seems to follow her and her husband around like the cloud of filth that trails Pig-Pen from Peanuts. If I also opposed her economic agenda, as most conservatives do, I could imagine that concern curdling into something harsher.

On the other hand, I have strong objections to Clinton on foreign policy, where I think her hawkish instincts (on Iraq, Libya, and Syria) have led her badly astray on numerous occasions — and where conservatives probably find her outlook pretty congenial.

That’s a mixed bag. But under present circumstances, it should be good enough to win her conservative support, however reluctant.

Those on the other side usually begin with the signs of corruption that trouble me as well.

The contrast with Barack Obama is instructive. Contending with a rabidly hostile Congress for five of his seven years as president, Obama has nonetheless managed to avoid becoming embroiled in any significant scandals. There have been no subpoenas of White House staff, no special prosecutors.

Is it even conceivable that a Hillary Clinton administration would be so clean? Not a chance. From the string of scandals during Bill Clinton’s presidency (including an impeachment proceeding) to Hillary Clinton’s email imbroglio to signs of questionable practices at the Clinton Global Initiative, the Clintons seem to be plagued by a mix of bad luck and congenitally poor judgment that we have every reason to assume would follow them back to the White House.

But here’s the thing: Every single accusation is trivial. Petty. Penny-ante. Yes, even the business about Clinton’s private email server. And especially the septic tank full of hyped-up, conspiracy-laden nonsense that goes by the name of “Benghazi.” (If well-meaning members of the conservative movement want to explore how the Republican electorate ended up hoodwinked by a transparent charlatan-demagogue like Donald Trump, they could do worse than reflecting on their own complicity in publicizing, or at least failing to defuse, this endless, cockamamie “scandal.”)

In an ideal political world, all administrations would be as clean as Obama’s. But as the events of this election cycle have demonstrated quite vividly, this is most emphatically not an ideal political world — and in the deeply troubling world we do inhabit, the prospect of a president dogged by minor scandals shouldn’t distract us from the far higher stakes involved in the upcoming election.

As for the other conservative objections to Clinton, they are even less compelling.

She’s unqualified? Compared to whom? Clinton’s been a successful lawyer. A first lady. A senator. A secretary of state. If that isn’t a stellar resume for a would-be president, I don’t know what would be. It’s certainly far more impressive than Barack Obama’s remarkably modest list of accomplishments when he ran for president — let alone Trump’s background of inheriting a few hundred million dollars and using that wealth to play a real-life game of Monopoly in the richest real estate market in the country (while still managing to file for bankruptcy four times).

Can Clinton be trusted? Probably no more or less than any other politician. Public servants go where the votes are, and in a primary season in which she’s had to fight a left-wing insurgency against the Democratic establishment and her husband’s centrist legacy as president, Clinton has undeniably moved modestly to the left. The question is whether it’s possible to imagine any presidential hopeful in the same situation not doing precisely the same thing. I think the answer is no.

Finally, there’s Clinton’s likeability. Follow conservatives on Twitter during a Clinton speech and you’ll hear the litany. She shouts. She hectors. She condescends. She’s shrill. She laughs in a really annoying way.

I’ll give Clinton’s conservative critics this: She isn’t the most charismatic politician in the world. But you know what? That’s her problem, not anyone else’s. If the voters find her sufficiently off-putting, they won’t elect her. The question is whether, when conservatives are presented with a candidate whose defects go far beyond style, they will be willing to put the good of the country ahead of what really is a merely aesthetic objection.

The path ahead for conservatives is clear. If they want to assure that Donald Trump loses, they need to assure that Hillary Clinton wins.

 

By: Damon Linker, The Week, May 19, 2016

May 22, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Election 2016, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“I Can Feel Your Excitement Already”: Sorry, Liberals. Elizabeth Warren Isn’t Going To Be Hillary Clinton’s Running Mate

As speculation on whom the presidential nominees will select as their running mates gets louder, almost inevitably eyes are turning to Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren. Joe Biden apparently wanted her to be his vice presidential candidate if he ran for president this year. She’s gleefully turning herself into a thorn in Donald Trump’s side. And as Sam Stein and Ryan Grim report, people within Hillary Clinton’s campaign are pushing her to select Warren as her running mate.

My dear liberal friends, I can feel your excitement already. But while Warren will be a great anti-Trump surrogate for Clinton — maybe the best Clinton will have — she’s not going to be on the ticket. Sorry to deliver the bad news.

There are a few reasons for this. The first is that Clinton and Warren aren’t close or even particularly friendly, and personal rapport is a key part of an effective working relationship between the president and vice president, as Clinton surely understands. Warren would come to the office with her own agenda on economic affairs — an agenda more aggressively liberal than Clinton’s, particularly when it comes to how the government should deal with Wall Street. Warren would also bring her own constituency, which could make her an unwanted headache for Clinton, who like all presidents would want a vice president who has no goal other than advancing the president’s goals.

Second, picking Warren would make for a historic all-female ticket, and that could be a risk. To be clear, it’s ludicrous that there should be something troubling to anyone about having two women running together. After all, we’ve had over a hundred all-male tickets in our history, and only two with one man and one woman. But there could well be some number of voters — how many is difficult to tell — who would vote for Clinton with a male running mate, but would find Clinton with a female running mate just too much to handle. It’s sexist, but Clinton is going to need the votes of people who have some sexism somewhere in their hearts, just like Barack Obama needed the votes of people with some racism somewhere in their hearts.

And Hillary Clinton is nothing if not a risk-averse politician. She’s been blessed with Donald Trump as an opponent, and she isn’t going to take any big chances between now and November that might complicate things.

Third, and probably most important, right now the governor of Massachusetts is a Republican, Charlie Baker. That means that if Warren stepped down to become vice president, Baker would appoint a temporary successor for her Senate seat. In other years this might have been a relatively minor consideration, but in 2016 it’s absolutely central to the fate of Clinton’s presidency.

Right now Republicans have a 54-46 advantage in the Senate, but they’re defending many more seats up for reelection. Seats in Democratic-leaning states like Illinois, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire may well turn to the Democrats, but it’s likely to be very close. It’s entirely possible that we could have a Senate that’s 51-49 for the Democrats, or even 50-50. One vote could make the difference between Clinton getting her nominees confirmed and having some chance at legislation passing (depending on what happens with the filibuster and the House), or finding herself utterly paralyzed by Congress. Giving up a seat for the sake of a compelling running mate is an enormous risk, one Clinton would be foolish to take. Which, by the way, also rules out a number of other potential vice presidential candidates, including Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Cory Booker of New Jersey.

And though Warren won’t rule out accepting a spot on the ticket if it’s offered, there are good reasons why she would view the vice presidency as a step down. It won’t be a springboard to a presidential campaign, since Warren turns 67 next month, and if Clinton were to win and then run for reelection in 2020, the next chance Warren would have would be in 2024, when she’ll be 75 and probably too old for a bid. Warren has built her career on policy entrepreneurship (the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was her idea, and she has advocated for initiatives like postal banking), but as vice president she’d have to just sell whatever President Clinton wanted to do. If she stays in the Senate, she can keep using her office as a platform to advocate on the issues that are important to her, and she can probably keep her seat for the rest of her life if she wants to.

The good news for Warren’s fans is that it looks like she’ll still have an important role to play in the general election. She has turned her Twitter feed into an unceasing string of criticisms of Donald Trump, and not too surprisingly, it has gotten under his skin (Trump obviously finds it deeply unsettling when a woman stands up to him). He has countered by dubbing her “Goofy Elizabeth Warren,” which is not exactly the most stinging moniker he has come up with.

Warren’s popularity on the left means she could play a key role in convincing Bernie Sanders’ supporters to get behind Clinton, and the plainspoken charisma that made her a star in the first place will also make her a sought-after surrogate for Clinton in the media. All of which means that once the election is over, she’ll return to the Senate in an even stronger position than she was in before. Don’t be surprised if Warren — to an even greater degree than Sanders — becomes the clear leader of the party’s liberal base as it grapples with a Democratic president with centrist impulses. That could make her even more important than if she had been vice president.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, May 13, 2016

May 16, 2016 Posted by | Election 2016, Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Did He Pay Anything At All?”: Donald Trump Says He Won’t Release Tax Returns

Months after he said he would release his tax returns, Republican frontrunner Donald Trump has decided that the American public doesn’t need to see how much (or little) he has paid in taxes until after the November elections, marking a shift in the vague promises he previously made to release the records to the public.

He solidified his position in an interview published by the Associated Press today, in which he said that “there’s nothing to learn from them.” Trump has also claimed that he is in the process of being audited by the IRS, and that releasing his returns for the year under audit would be imprudent, despite the agency confirming that being audited doesn’t legally interfere at all with the ability to release one’s tax records.

As far back as October 2015, Trump promised to release his tax documents. “I’m not going to say it, but at some point I’ll release it,” he said at the time. In that same interview, he also said, “I pay as little as possible, I’m very proud to tell you.”

In January, Trump said again that he would release his taxes soon. “We’re working on that now. I have big returns, as you know, and I have everything all approved and very beautiful and we’ll be working that over in the next period of time,” he said. Months later, they still haven’t been released.

Then again on May 8, just days before his announcement that he wouldn’t release his returns, he said, “Sure. If the auditors finish. I’ll do it as fast as the auditors finish.You don’t learn much from tax returns. But I would love to give the tax returns. But I can’t do it until I’m finished with the audit.”

But how little does Trump actually pay in taxes? David Cay Johnston, who spent three decades covering Trump as he moved from one business venture to another, noted that in 1978 and 1979 the businessman had paid exactly $0 in taxes.

He further explained how wealthy Americans like Trump use the tax code to their advantage, writing:

It’s all about tax rules that require you to depreciate, or reduce, the value of buildings over time, even if the market value of the structures is going up. If your depreciation is greater than your traditional income from work and businesses, Congress lets you report negative income. If these paper losses are just a dollar more than traditional income, it wipes out your income taxes for the year.

If Trump’s returns show he has paid no income taxes in some years, that could be a reason he has not yet released details.

Congress says most Americans can deduct no more than $25,000 of real estate depreciation against their income. But if you work two days a week managing real estate and own enough that the depreciation exceeds your salary and other income, Congress lets you live income-tax-free. And for as long as you keep buying buildings and depreciating them, the tax does not come due.

There are numerous reasons why Trump wouldn’t want to release his taxes. First, he has amassed his fortune partly by using tax loopholes that allowed him to effectively pay no income tax for years — possibly up to the present day. More recently, he changed his tune, saying, “I am willing to pay more, and you know what, the wealthy are willing to pay more.” America should be thankful Trump wants to pay more than… whatever he’s currently paying. It could be nothing at all.

Second, the tax returns could show that he has far less money than he claims. This possibility was seized upon by anti-Trump Republicans who have tried to coerce Trump into releasing his returns. During the opening shots of the fight against the racist billionaire’s takeover of the party, Mitt Romney raised the possibility, saying, “Either he’s not anywhere near as wealthy as he says he is, or he hasn’t been paying the kind of taxes we would expect him to pay.”

There is evidence to back up Romney’s claim. Forbes calculated Trump’s worth to be $4.5 billion at most. “Trump has filed statements claiming he’s worth at least $10 billion or, as he put in a press release, TEN BILLION DOLLARS (capitalization his). After interviewing more than 80 sources and devoting unprecedented resources to valuing a single fortune, we’re going with a figure less than half that–$4.5 billion, albeit still the highest figure we’ve ever had for him.”

Even harder to explain is the jump in Trump’s cash-on-hand. The National Review wrote that his organization showed documentation for cash and cash equivalents of $307 million in 2014. This year, that number jumped up to $793 million, sans documentation, making it difficult to believe that he actually has that much money. “I’m running for President,” said Trump in an interview with Forbes. “I’m worth much more than you have me down [for]. I don’t look good, to be honest. I mean, I look better if I’m worth $10 billion than if I’m worth $4 billion.”

Trump’s obstruction has not only served his purposes, but that of his likely rival, Hillary Clinton. During the Democratic debate in Brooklyn last month, she responded to a question about her speech transcripts with a criticism of other presidential candidates, namely Trump, who didn’t release their tax returns.

“There are certain expectations when you run for president,” said Clinton. “This is a new one but I will tell you this, there is a longstanding expectation that everybody running release their tax returns.”

 

By: Saif Alnuweiri, The National Memo, May 11, 2016

May 12, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Election 2016, Tax Returns | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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