These are, as the Chinese curse goes, interesting times. In a Republican presidential debate, the leading candidate defends the size of his penis and attacks the Constitution, asserting that he will order the U.S. military to commit war crimes. A few days earlier the same candidate said on national television that he had to “do research” on the KKK, David Duke, and white supremacism before he could take a position. During the week, the frontrunner threatened Jeff Bezos, owner of The Washington Post, because the Post had dared write articles he thought critical. “And believe me, if I become president,” Trump said, “oh, do they have problems. They’re going to have such problems.”
Welcome to Donald Trump’s world. Trump isn’t the first ridiculous character to run for president—Al Sharpton ran for the Democratic nomination in 2004—nor the first openly bigoted candidate—George Wallace ran for president three times. But Trump is the first ridiculous, openly bigoted candidate who stands a very good chance to win a major party’s nomination.
How did this happen? This was supposed to be the cycle with a great field of Republican candidates, experienced governors, two Cuban-American senators, a world famous African-American brain surgeon, a superstar female business leader. And yes, a reality television star billionaire who lived on Fifth Avenue and claimed to speak for the working men and women of America. The Democrats were mired in the past with two refugees from the 1960s, one an obscure democratic socialist from a tiny state who speaks fondly of a top marginal tax rate of 90 percent.With only 23 percent of voters believing the country was headed in the right direction, this election was to be a glorious march to a sweeping Republican victory. It all looked so easy, so sure.
But here we are in March and the leading Republican candidate is not only blasting Mexicans as “rapists,” researching the KKK, and treating the Constitution like it was an item on a menu you might or might not order depending on your mood; he is getting crushed by the socialist Larry David look-alike. You have to work at that.
Of course this sort of crazy confluence of events and unintended consequences has indeed happened before, and Barbara Tuchman described it beautifully in her classic Guns of August. The 1962 Pulitzer Prize winner describes how the civilized world blundered into World War I, that most savage of wars that no one seemed to have wanted and everyone was powerless to stop. In what was hailed as a moment of great renewal, a new century of golden opportunity quickly degenerated into the slaughterhouse of the Somme. That same toxic blend of miscalculation, greed, and arrogance that led to that war have all played out in the Republican primary.
It’s everyone’s fault and no one’s fault. There were some who welcomed Trump onto the presidential scene, confident that he could help scold an out-of-touch establishment slow to grasp the problems of a troubled America. In a July 2015 Politico piece, National Review editor Rich Lowry wrote that Trump had hit “on an important truth that typical politicians either don’t know or simply fear to speak. “When Mexico sends its people,” Trump said, “they’re not sending their best.” That’s obviously true,” wrote Lowry, who compared him to “Herman Cain squared—an early-nominating-season phenomenon with a massive media megaphone.”
By January, Lowry’s magazine was dedicating an entire issue to the urgency of stopping the threat of Trump, who “would destroy the conservative movement.” And I was just as wrong, if not more so. I wrote that facing a loss in Iowa, Trump’s ego would tilt him toward leaving the stage before being proven a loser. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
For various reasons, the Republican candidates have enabled Trump’s rise, slow to launch a concerted attack, largely giving him a clear path. Each candidate seemed more obsessed with this currently popular but insane notion of winning a “lane” rather than winning a race, while Trump was focused on winning a race. The civilized world raised a vast army and entrusted it to Jeb Bush’s Super PAC, Right to Rise. Instead of fighting the barbarians, it decided to fight other elements of the civilized word. Advantage, Barbarians.
So here we are. It takes 1,237 delegates to secure the Republican nomination. There seems little chance that any candidate other than Trump has a realistic shot at hitting that number before the convention. Logic dictates that the remaining candidates should focus on holding Trump as far below 1,237 as possible, with the goal of pushing the convention to a second ballot. While some speculate a second ballot might be a scenario for a new candidate like Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan to enter the race, that strikes me as unlikely. The far more plausible outcome would find two candidates joining together to form a ticket, pooling delegates to get over 1,237.
There are many—including, strangely, Ted Cruz—who attack this convention possibility as being one that would thwart “the will of the people,” to use a phrase that seems popular. This is utter nonsense. There are rules for securing the nomination, and as long as the rules are adhered to, the game has been played fairly. In 1976, the great conservative Ronald Reagan took his fight to the convention and came within one delegation (Mississippi’s) of defeating a sitting Republican president, Jerry Ford. Surely if a convention strategy is good enough to challenge a Republican president, it’s good enough to challenge a major Clinton donor like Donald Trump.
As the process moves into a slate of winner-take-all states, the key to the convention strategy—call it the Reagan Strategy, not the brokered-convention strategy—is for Rubio and Kasich to win their home states. But in what strikes me as a bizarre move, Ted Cruz is moving resources to Florida and attacking Marco Rubio on the air. Why? Does Cruz think he can win Florida? It seems the longest of shots. Much more likely is that he helps hand the state to Donald Trump. That will all but finish any chance Cruz has of becoming the Republican nominee.
So the madness and miscalculation apparently continues. The Republican Party is lurching toward the Somme, where death and destruction will replace hopes for a November victory. Dig your trench. Get your gas mask. The boys aren’t going to be home by Christmas.
By: Stuart Stevens, The Daily Beast, March 8, 2016
“Donald The Dangerous”: Heartbreaking Prospect That America’s Next Commander In Chief May Be A Global Joke
Is there any scarier nightmare than President Donald J. Trump in a tense international crisis, indignant and impatient, with his sweaty finger on the nuclear trigger?
“Trump is a danger to our national security,” John B. Bellinger III, legal adviser to the State Department under President George W. Bush, bluntly warned.
Most of the discussion about Trump focuses on domestic policy. But checks and balances mean that there are limits to what a president can achieve domestically, while the Constitution gives a commander in chief a much freer hand abroad.
That’s what horrifies America-watchers overseas. Der Spiegel, the German magazine, has called Trump the most dangerous man in the world. Even the leader of a Swedish nationalist party that started as a neo-Nazi white supremacist group has disavowed Trump. J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, reflected the views of many Britons when she tweeted that Trump is worse than Voldemort.
Leading American conservative thinkers on foreign policy issued an open letter a few days ago warning that they could not support Trump. The signatories include Michael Chertoff, the former secretary of homeland security, Robert Zoellick, the former deputy secretary of state, and more than 100 others.
“Mr. Trump’s own statements lead us to conclude that as president, he would use the authority of his office to act in ways that make America less safe,” the letter declared.
A starting point is Trump’s remarkable ignorance about international affairs. And every time he tries to reassure, he digs the hole deeper. Asked in the latest debate to name people whose foreign policy ideas he respects, Trump offered Gen. Jack Keane, and mispronounced his name.
Asked about Syria, Trump said last year that he would unleash ISIS to destroy Syria’s government. That is insane: ISIS is already murdering or enslaving Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities; executing gays; destroying antiquities; oppressing women. And Trump wants ISIS to capture Damascus?
A second major concern is that Trump would start a trade war, or a real war. Trump told The New York Times in January that he favored a 45 percent tariff on Chinese goods, then denied ever having said such a thing. The Times produced the audio (that part of the conversation was on the record) in which Trump clearly backed the 45 percent tariff, risking a trade war between the world’s two largest economies.
Trump has also called for more U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq, and raised the prospect of bombing North Korean nuclear sites. A poorly informed, impatient and pugnacious leader can cause devastation, and that’s true of either Kim Jong-un or Donald Trump.
The third risk is to America’s reputation and soft power. Both Bush and President Obama worked hard to reassure the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims that the U.S. is not at war with Islam. Trump has pretty much declared war on all Muslims.
The damage to America’s image is already done, even if Trump is never elected. Simply as a blowhard who gains headlines around the world, he reinforces caricatures of the United States and tarnishes our global reputation. He turns America into an object of derision. He is America’s Ahmadinejad.
On Twitter, I suggested that Trump was pugnacious, pugilistic, preening and puerile, and asked for other P words to describe him. The result was a deluge: petulant, pandering, pathetic, peevish, prickly, pernicious, patronizing, Pantagruelian, prevaricating, phony, presumptuous, potty-mouthed, provocative, pompous, predatory and so many more, including the troubling “probably president.”
There’s something heartbreaking about the prospect that America’s next commander in chief may be a global joke, a man regarded in most foreign capitals as a buffoon, and a dangerous one.
Trump is not particularly ideological, and it’s possible that as president he would surround himself with experts and would back off extreme positions. It was a good sign that on Friday he appeared to reverse himself and pledged that he would not order the U.S. military to commit war crimes, yet that’s such an astonishingly low bar that I can’t believe I just wrote this sentence!
In any case, Trump is nothing if not unpredictable, and it seems equally plausible that he would start new wars. It’s a risk that few sensible people want to take. As Mitt Romney notes, “This is the very brand of anger that has led other nations into the abyss.”
Peter Feaver, a Duke University political scientist who was a national security official in the Bush White House, noted that most Republicans are united in believing that President Obama and Hillary Clinton have damaged the United States and added to the burdens of the next president.
“Yet what Trump promises to do would in some important ways make all of the problems we face dramatically worse,” he told me. “Why, at a moment when the country desperately needs our A-team, would we send in the clowns?”
By: Nicholas Kristof, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 5, 2016
I’m not qualified to second guess the considered judgment of constitutional scholars about the original meaning of the term “natural born citizen.” I think it may well be the case that anyone who was not born in the United States of America cannot be considered eligible to serve as president of the United States. I also think it’s possible that they can be.
Either way, there’s a distinction to be made between people like John McCain and my brother, Phil, who were born abroad in military installations while their fathers were serving in the military, and Ted Cruz, who was born in Calgary, Canada because that’s where his parents were voluntarily living at the time.
It’s my strong suspicion that the Founding Fathers would not have wanted to punish the children of citizens who they had sent to serve abroad. But they would not have been willing to make an exception for citizens who were living in another country for their own reasons.
I can imagine some tricky cases, like a mother who was spending a summer in Europe rather than actually relocating there. But the basic intent of the constitutional provision seems clear to me. If you are born a Canadian, you can’t become president.
A separate question is whether anyone is really interested in enforcing this provision in a case like Ted Cruz’s.
For me, I have no such interest. His mother was a citizen. As far as I am concerned, that’s good enough. I don’t like Ted Cruz but I don’t think he’ll sell us out to Ottawa.
If some people want to be sticklers, I think they have that right. I don’t feel like being a stickler.
You know, there’s another provision of the Constitution that (sort of) says that the president and vice-president cannot come from the same state. I think it’s an outdated provision and we shouldn’t care about it. But it should have been discussed more when George W. Bush selected Dick Cheney as his running mate. They were both residents of Texas at the time, and I don’t think Dick Cheney maintaining a second residence in Wyoming should have allowed him to pretend that he didn’t live in Texas. As it turned out, Cheney registered to vote at his second residence which was actually critical because the Electors from Texas were prohibited from casting their votes for more than one Texan. Because the Electoral College vote was so close (271-266), if Cheney hadn’t been considered a citizen of Wyoming, Bush could been elected but Cheney could not have been.
I thought Cheney posing as a Wyoming citizen was a fraud. But, I actually didn’t care too much about it. I didn’t see any real reason why we should still care if the president and vice-president come from the same state.
Likewise, I don’t care that Cruz was born in Calgary. But some people will care. And I will laugh my ass off if the Republicans discover that after falsely accusing the current president of being born in another country they wind up having a problem electing a president because he actually was born in another country.
By: Martin Longman, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 12,2016
The future of the death penalty in the United States is murky, and we know there are some justices who believe the Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment necessitates the policy’s end.
The resolution of that debate, however, remains on the horizon. Today’s decision on Florida’s death penalty isn’t entirely what it appears to be at first blush.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday declared Florida’s death penalty law unconstitutional because it requires the trial judge and not the jury to make the critical findings necessary to impose capital punishment.
That’s at odds with a string of Supreme Court cases which held that facts that add to a defendant’s punishment – known as aggravating circumstances – must be found by a jury.
It was an 8-1 ruling, the entirety of which is online, written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. “The Sixth Amendment requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death,” she wrote for the majority. “A jury’s mere recommendation is not enough.”
The sole dissent in Hurst v. Florida was written by Justice Samuel Alito.
So now what happens? The defendant, Timothy Lee Hurst, will see his case go back to the lower courts, while lawyers scramble to review the convictions of other inmates on Florida’s death row.
For opponents of capital punishment, it’s certainly a victory, but it’s worth emphasizing that it may be short-lived.
In this case, Florida’s current law was struck down, but the ruling focused on criminal procedure in the courtroom. The question of whether the law is cruel or unusual is left for another day.
The Miami Herald reports that state lawmakers are already preparing to “fix” what the Supreme Court said is broken.
Florida lawmakers are prioritizing a fix to Florida’s death penalty sentencing procedures after the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a state law giving judges the final say on capital sentencing.
House Criminal Justice chairman Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, said his committee will take on a bill to address the Supreme Court’s problems.
The article added that another member of the Republican-run legislature intends to use this opportunity to consider broader reforms to the system, including a proposal to “require jurors to unanimously find that there are aggravating circumstances in a case, which would warrant a death sentence. Right now, it only takes a simple majority – 7 of 12 jurors.”
Capital punishment in Florida is, for now, on hold. That may not last long.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 12, 2015
“Murderous Minds Are Here To Stay”: Altering Gun Laws Isn’t An Absolute Answer, But It’s Change Within Our Control
What made a young couple walk into a health facility and start shooting people? It wasn’t our gun laws. It wasn’t the easy ability to purchase a weapon in this country.
If such things made people killers, all Americans would be killers. In that narrow way, gun advocates who bristle at any change after the San Bernardino killings are right.
No one makes you pull a trigger.
But if you stop the argument there, you’re being naive — as naive as saying no one makes you abuse drugs, no one forces you to drink and drive, no one tells you to give your money to phony investment advisors. Yet we have laws regarding all those things.
Laws, smartly written, address the dangers facing a society. The item in question should be less important than the threat.
But our biggest gun law was written 224 years ago, and it remains mostly about that — guns, and the ownership of them. It’s not about bad behavior, murderous thoughts or anything else that guns frequently exacerbate. We have been arguing over this law, the Second Amendment, for centuries.
But we don’t touch it. Because it’s part of our Constitution. Because it’s cherished by many. And because, supporters argue, it’s not the law that makes people put on vests, drop their baby at a relative’s house, then go on a mass murder spree and die.
That’s a sick mind.
And you can’t legislate against a sick mind.
Recently, the New York Times ran its first front page editorial in nearly 100 years. It called for the end of the “gun epidemic.” Before that, the New York Daily News, in criticizing lawmakers who offered prayers for victims but no new legislation, ran the headline “GOD ISN’T FIXING THIS.”
Naturally, both papers were buried in insults, dismissed as “typical liberals,” and argued against with an avalanche of selected facts and figures that make the case for doing nothing — or for arming more Americans, not fewer. President Obama, calling for tougher gun laws, was shouted down by a well-practiced chorus of critics, who cynically noted, “How’s it working for Paris?”
But being loud and being right are two different things. It’s always easier to scream against change than to create it. Especially since what change would be 100 percent effective? If we banned every gun in the country, some criminals would still get their hands on them, or use bombs instead, etc.
But is that a reason to watch the next whacked out fundamentalist go freely into a U.S. gun shop, legally purchase guns designed for quick, multiple killings, then use them on fellow citizens to go out in a blaze of infamy?
Because you know it will happen again.
I don’t have a fast answer for this. Nor do I have the energy or stomach to argue with hate-spewing people who are so mesmerized by gun possession they won’t budge an inch. It’s pointless.
But I do take issue with those who refuse to accept that mass killings with assault weapons fall under the same category as a hunter wanting to go after ducks. Yes, we have had guns in this country since its inception, but we have not had other things: a media that sensationalizes violence on a global scale, a population that feels alienated, video entertainment that numbs you to murder and a Internet that can connect all these elements with warped minds that see death as a badge of honor.
I’m pretty sure if America in 1791 had IEDs, jihads and YouTube, our Second Amendment wouldn’t read the way it does. But we cling to words written 224 years ago in a world that changes by the blink. This fact remains: people without a previous criminal history can make their first bad deed a doozy with legally purchased American guns, and killing them once they do only speeds up what many of them hope for: a sensationalized death. This is not limited to Islamic fundamentalists. Mass shootings in Colorado Springs (three dead), Oregon (nine dead) and Charleston, S.C. (nine dead) — all in the last six months — had nothing to do with Islam.
We can leave gun laws untouched, but something else will eventually give: maybe surveillance on every home and business; metal detectors on every door frame; random interrogations, sweeping immigration reform, airborne snipers, rounding up of particular religions. All things that will make America look a lot less like America than if its people were a little less armed.
Our choice. But sick, murderous minds are here to stay. How easy we make it for them is the only thing we can control.
By: Mitch Albom, The National Memo, December 30, 2015