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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

“If You Have To Ask…”: Trump’s Baffled; ‘Why Am I Not Doing Better In The Polls?’

Last weekend, Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s campaign chairman, appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and expressed nothing but confidence about the state of the race. Chuck Todd noted recent polling showing Hillary Clinton leading and asked Manafort whether he’d concede that his candidate was trailing. “No,” he replied, adding, “[W]e’re confident that we are not behind the Clinton campaign.”

Obviously, the polling evidence is readily accessible, but more to the point, Manafort doesn’t appear to have convinced his boss. Politico had this report yesterday on Trump’s appearance on Mike Gallagher’s conservative talk-radio show.

“Well, you know, I really feel it, Mike. I go to Ohio, we were there two days ago, and Pennsylvania and near Pittsburgh and we – I was in West Virginia, the crowds are massive. And you know, I walked out of one, and I said, ‘I don’t see how I’m not leading,’” Trump said, invoking the size of his crowds.

“We have thousands of people standing outside trying to get in, and they’re great people and they have such spirit for the country and love for the country, and I’m saying, you know, ‘Why am I not doing better in the polls?’”

First, the fact that Trump is even asking the question is notable, given the campaign’s pretense that Trump is doing just fine in the polls. “I don’t see how I’m not leading” is the sort of thing a candidate says when he knows that he’s … not leading.

Second, and more important, is the fact that the first-time candidate doesn’t seem to understand the difference between having fans show up at public events and actually winning at the national and statewide level. Bernie Sanders also saw “massive” crowds, and as impressive as that was, the senator still came up short in the race for the Democratic nomination.

Every major presidential candidate can draw an audience. That doesn’t mean he or she is going to win.

That said, these comments from Trump aren’t just amateurish, they also shed light on why he assumes the polls are wrong. In the Republican’s mind, if the surveys were correct, he wouldn’t have thousands of people showing up to cheer him. That doesn’t actually make any sense, but from his perspective, it’s easier to believe “crowds = victory” than to accept polls showing him trailing.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, Junly 1, 2016

July 3, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Paul Manafort, Presidential Polls | , , , , | 1 Comment

“Do You Believe Trump Is Qualified?: The 2016 Question Mitch McConnell Doesn’t Want To Answer

In the new Washington Post/ABC News poll, an almost ridiculous 64% of Americans  – nearly two-thirds of the country – said Donald Trump is not qualified to be president of the United States. That number is unheard of in modern history, and it creates a hurdle the Republican amateur will struggle to clear.

But before Trump can somehow try to convince the American mainstream he’s capable and fully prepared to lead the free world, he’ll first have to persuade the Republicans who are already supporting him.

On ABC’s “This Week” yesterday, host George Stephanopoulos asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), in reference to Trump and the poll results, “Do you believe he’s qualified?” The GOP leader responded, “Well, look, I – I think there’s no question that he’s made a number of mistakes over the last few weeks. I think they’re beginning to right the ship. It’s a long time until November.”

It led to a rather striking exchange.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I didn’t hear you say whether you thought he was qualified.

MCCONNELL: Look, I’ll leave that to the American people to decide…. The American people will be able to make that decision in the fall.

In theory, this should be the easiest question in the world for a politician – is your party’s presumptive presidential nominee qualified for the Oval Office – and yet, Mitch McConnell just couldn’t bring himself to lie about this on national television. If the senator said, “No, he isn’t,” then McConnell would have no choice but to withdraw his endorsement. If the Majority Leader said, “Sure, I think he is,” it would have been painfully obvious that McConnell didn’t believe his own rhetoric. So instead, we were treated to an awkward evasion about the most basic of election tests.

Watching McConnell squirm was a reminder that, for all of their various troubles, this is a problem Democrats simply don’t have. Hillary Clinton is running on a lifetime of public service, including experience as a former two-term senator and a former Secretary of State. No one feels the need to ask Dems whether they believe she’s prepared for the job because the answer is so obvious.

Even Bernie Sanders, at one of the more contentious moments in the race for the Democratic nomination, said “of course” Clinton is qualified to be president.

On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), in his first national television interview after breaking his word about his re-election plans, struggled with similar questions from host John Dickerson.

DICKERSON: The presidency on national security issues sometimes comes down to one person by themselves in a room alone, no matter how much advice they have gotten. On those tough decisions, whether it’s about the nuclear codes or about the other kinds of decisions a single president can make, do you think that Donald Trump has better character and judgment in those alone situations than Hillary Clinton?

RUBIO: So, that’s the challenge Donald has over the next two, three months.

DICKERSON: Well, what does Senator Rubio think?

RUBIO: Well, but there’s a campaign. So, that’s what I’m going to watch now.

The senator knows the answer. He knows we know the answer. But partisanship won’t allow for candor.

It’s kind of sad to watch, actually.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 27, 2016

June 28, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, Mitch Mc Connell | , , , , | 2 Comments

“A Tale Of Two Parties”: Only One Party’s Establishment Was Already Dead Inside

Do you remember what happened when the Berlin Wall fell? Until that moment, nobody realized just how decadent Communism had become. It had tanks, guns, and nukes, but nobody really believed in its ideology anymore; its officials and enforcers were mere careerists, who folded at the first shock.

It seems to me that you need to think about what happened to the G.O.P. this election cycle the same way.

The Republican establishment was easily overthrown because it was already hollow at the core. Donald Trump’s taunts about “low-energy” Jeb Bush and “little Marco” Rubio worked because they contained a large element of truth. When Mr. Bush and Mr. Rubio dutifully repeated the usual conservative clichés, you could see that there was no sense of conviction behind their recitations. All it took was the huffing and puffing of a loud-mouthed showman to blow their houses down.

But as Mr. Trump is finding out, the Democratic establishment is different.

As some political scientists are now acknowledging, America’s two major parties are not at all symmetric. The G.O.P. is, or was until Mr. Trump arrived, a top-down hierarchical structure enforcing a strict, ideologically pure party line. The Democrats, by contrast, are a “coalition of social groups,” from teachers’ unions to Planned Parenthood, seeking specific benefits from government action.

This diversity of interests sometimes reduces Democrats’ effectiveness: the old Will Rogers joke, “I am not a member of any organized political party — I’m a Democrat” still rings true. But it also means that the Democratic establishment, such as it is, is resilient against Trump-style coups.

But wait: Didn’t Hillary Clinton face her own insurgency in the person of Bernie Sanders, which she barely turned back? Actually, no.

For one thing, it wasn’t all that close. Mrs. Clinton won pledged delegates by almost four times Barack Obama’s margin in 2008; she won the popular vote by double digits.

Nor did she win by burying her rival in cash. In fact, Mr. Sanders outspent her all the way, spending twice on much as she did on ads in New York, which she won by 16 percentage points.

Also, Mrs. Clinton faced immense, bizarre hostility from the news media. Last week Harvard’s Shorenstein Center released a report on media treatment of the candidates during 2015, showing that Mrs. Clinton received by far the most unfavorable coverage. Even when reports focused on issues rather than alleged scandals, 84 percent of her coverage was negative — twice as high as for Mr. Trump. As the report notes, “Clinton’s negative coverage can be equated to millions of dollars in attack ads, with her on the receiving end.”

And yet she won, fairly easily, because she had the solid support of key elements of the Democratic coalition, especially nonwhite voters.

But will this resilience persist in the general election? Early indications are that it will. Mr. Trump briefly pulled close in the polls after he clinched the Republican nomination, but he has been plunging ever since. And that’s despite the refusal of Mr. Sanders to concede or endorse the presumptive nominee, with at least some Bernie or Busters still telling pollsters that they won’t back her.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump is flailing. He’s tried all the tactics that worked for him in the Republican contest — insults, derisive nicknames, boasts — but none of it is sticking. Conventional wisdom said that he would be helped by a terrorist attack, but the atrocity in Orlando seems to have hurt him instead: Mrs. Clinton’s response looked presidential, his didn’t.

Worse yet from his point of view, there’s a concerted effort by Democrats — Mrs. Clinton herself, Elizabeth Warren, President Obama, and more — to make the great ridiculer look ridiculous (which he is). And it seems to be working.

Why is Mrs. Clinton holding up so well against Mr. Trump, when establishment Republicans were so hapless? Partly it’s because America as a whole, unlike the Republican base, isn’t dominated by angry white men; partly it’s because, as anyone watching the Benghazi hearing realized, Mrs. Clinton herself is a lot tougher than anyone on the other side.

But a big factor, I’d argue, is that the Democratic establishment in general is fairly robust. I’m not saying that its members are angels, which they aren’t. Some, no doubt, are personally corrupt. But the various groups making up the party’s coalition really care about and believe in their positions — they’re not just saying what the Koch brothers pay them to say.

So pay no attention to anyone claiming that Trumpism reflects either the magical powers of the candidate or some broad, bipartisan upsurge of rage against the establishment. What worked in the primary won’t work in the general election, because only one party’s establishment was already dead inside.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, June 20, 2016

June 26, 2016 Posted by | Democratic Establishment, Donald Trump, GOP Establishment, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s All Over, And It’s All Just Beginning”: Hillary Clinton’s Next Challenge: Bury Trump And Stay Out Of The Gutter

So the last Sanders argument, like umpteen others, has come around to bite him.

He’s spent the last two weeks talking about the “momentum” he was going to have after winning California, but as the primaries draw to a close, the momentum is on Hillary Clinton’s side.

She exceeded expectations in California, with her victory called early Wednesday (what was up with those polls that had Bernie Sanders beating her among Latinos? They always smelled fishy to me). She demolished him in New Jersey, won New Mexico, and even pulled off a stunning (if small-potatoes) win in South Dakota, which came out of nowhere.

Speaking of nowhere, there’s nowhere for Bernie to go now. He ran an impressive race in many ways, and annoying in others, but he lasted a lot longer than almost anyone thought he would. But today the story isn’t him. It’s the nominee.

It’s a huge historical marker, as Clinton noted in her speech. “Thanks to you, we’ve reached a milestone, the first time in our nation’s history that a woman will be a major party’s nominee,” Clinton said. “Tonight’s victory is not about one person—it belongs to generations of women and men who struggled and sacrificed and made this moment possible.”

It’s also a huge personal moment for Clinton. For all the arrows, justified and not, she’s absorbed for the last quarter-century, she’s made it. She’s made history in a huge way. If you read biographies of her, you’ve read about the people who thought back when she was at Wellesley that maybe she had it in her to be America’s first woman president. It’s an expectation that has hovered over her for many years, and she’s now in a position to achieve it.

The Democratic Party has now nominated in succession the country’s first African American and its first woman. This is a great sign of progress, but more tellingly it’s a sign of what the two major parties have become over the course of the past 20 years. The Democrats are the party of multicultural America, while the Republicans have become in essence a white ethno-nationalist party. Yes, it has some nonwhites, but it’s a party whose raison d’etre is increasingly to save white America from the new hordes, a point made clearly by its collective decision to reject two Latino nominees and instead elevate the first openly racist major-party candidate since maybe Woodrow Wilson.

So now it’s (almost) officially Clinton vs. Trump, the question is, what will it look like? Big-time ugly. Trump, in his speech, said he’s giving a speech next Monday about the Clintons and corruption, signaling what his campaign is basically going to be about. And Clinton already showed us last week in that San Diego speech on Trump and foreign policy, and reminded us again in splashes Tuesday night, that her main argument is going to be that temperamentally and otherwise, Trump just doesn’t belong in the Oval Office. Every election, people like me say, “This is going to be the nastiest presidential election ever,” and, every time, it turns out to be true—each one has been a little nastier than the last. But this one is going to be hyper-space nasty.

The key challenge for Clinton is going to be one of tone and balance—she’ll need to find a way to trade punches with Trump without letting him get in her head and without reducing herself to his drooling level. This is what the other Republicans could never get right. Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz let Trump get inside their heads, toy with them the way Ali used to toy with the bums of the month he was fighting in 1963. Marco Rubio made the mistake of lowering himself to Trump’s level, trading insults. As I tweeted at the time, the two of them came off like Don Rickles and Joan Rivers. Rubio was good at it, but it wasn’t what people wanted out of him, and it certainly isn’t what voters want out of Clinton.

She found the sweet spot in that San Diego speech. She shredded his dignity but managed to maintain, and even augment, her own. Trump is going to be continually trying to take her down into the gutter from which he operates. She needs to stay out of it while staying on the attack. That won’t be an easy thing to do.

And in the near-term, she has an intra-party issue to attend to: How will she woo the Sanders voters? It’s mostly on Bernie, especially the way the air went out of the balloon Tuesday, to do the right thing. Maybe the fact that he requested a meeting with President Obama is a sign that he’s ready to. But it’s incumbent upon Clinton to handle this right, too, not for Sanders’s personal sake, but for the sake of his voters. She needs those voters in November, and they probably represent the future direction of the Democratic Party.

Clinton’s had a great couple of weeks—the terrific San Diego speech, the better-than-expected performance Tuesday night, and most importantly Trump’s self-immolation around Judge Curiel, which led to members of his own party calling him a racist. There’s no way she could have hoped for a better start to the general-election campaign. But she’s still barely ahead, and every week isn’t going to be like these last two.

Back when this was just getting started, I thought that yes, Clinton is going to win, which places a special burden on her to run a better race than she did in 2008 and not blow this. Given who she’s running against, that’s a lot truer now than it was when I first thought it.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, June 8, 2016

June 9, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, General Election 2016, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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