Thursday, March 22, 2018


We've all heard that President Trump doesn't drink alcohol or do drugs. His pharmaceutical of choice, apparently, is chaos -- or at least what you and I would consider chaos. To him, it's a highly stimulating permanent war for his affections. Vanity Fair's Gabriel Sherman reports:
[Trump's] standoff with his chief of staff, John Kelly, appears to be resolved for the time being, with Trump having decided to return to the seat-of-the-pants decision-making that he believes won him the presidency. That doesn’t mean he has fully given up the idea of firing Kelly, though. One outside adviser to the White House said Trump has recently mulled the concept of creating a new West Wing structure without a chief of staff, one that would instead have four co-equal principals reporting directly to him.
Now, it's possible that this is just a lot of bunk from Sherman's unnamed outside adviser, whom we can now identify as Steve Bannon. We know this because Bannon was talking up the same idea today at the Financial Times Future of News conference.

But it's plausible that Trump would want a presidency in which there's no notion whatsoever of acting on behalf of the American people. It's easy to imagine that daily life in the Trump White House will eventually consist of nothing but a 24/7 contest to determine who strokes Trump's ego most effectively.

I guess that would essentially be the office-politics version of that Trump weekend in Tahoe:
In a ... report for The New Yorker, Ronan Farrow details an alleged affair Donald Trump had with former Playboy Playmate of the Year Karen McDougal, saying, among other things, that McDougal and the future president had sex during a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe in July 2006.

This would be would be the same Lake Tahoe weekend that, according to other reports, Trump also allegedly began his affair with porn star Stormy Daniels, is said to have tried to entice adult-film star Alana Evans into a threesome and allegedly tried to force his attentions on a third porn star, Jessica Drake.
Who loves me most?

In one terrible moment, King Lear demanded that his daughters compete for his affections. Trump, if Sherman and Bannon are correct, wants to do that with his staff on an ongoing basis for the next three -- or, God help us, seven -- years.


This makes me sad:
President Donald Trump on Thursday called Joe Biden “weak, both mentally and physically,” suggesting he could easily beat up the former vice president, in response to Biden’s comment that he would have sought to fight Trump over his remarks about women if the two were in high school together.
I'm sure you saw the tweet:

It was in response to this assertion in a Biden speech to students at the University of Miami on Tuesday:
"A guy who ended up becoming our national leader said, 'I can grab a woman anywhere and she likes it,'" Biden said. "They asked me if I’d like to debate this gentleman, and I said 'no.' I said, 'If we were in high school, I’d take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him.'"

"I've been in a lot of locker rooms my whole life," Biden continued. "I'm a pretty damn good athlete. Any guy that talked that way was usually the fattest, ugliest S.O.B. in the room."
On Biden's remarks, I agree with Esquire's Jack Holmes:
This is cringeworthy rhetoric from the former vice president of the United States.... This kind of toxic, performed masculinity is all too common in politics, but it's discouraging to see it at the highest levels of leadership. We expect little more from the president.... But Biden ought to be different.

When he first big-talked Trump, Biden began with an incisive, impassioned salvo about why the Mobile Locker Room tape was so disgusting. The next part wasn't necessary:

I think that's exactly right. Biden is terrific in that earlier clip -- up to the point where he talks about beating up (then-candidate) Trump. Keep the denunciations of sexual assault, Joe. Lose the rest.

This, by the way, is presumably what Philippe Reines wants in 2020. Remember that his advice to Democrats seeking to defeat Trump included the following:
●Go high when you can. But when he goes low, take advantage of the kneeling to knock his block off....

●Boast. Gloat. About your accomplishments. Your biceps. Your everything.
I said it before and I'm sticking with this: You won't beat Trump by being Trump. Trump will always be better at this particular form of gutter politics than anyone else. You'll beat Trump by being cooler than Trump, by making him (and his bluster) seem pathetic and uncool. Barack Obama could have done it, as could Bill Clinton in his prime. I hope the next Democrat can do it. This won't do it.

But let's go back to Trump's tweet. Chris Cillizza says it shows that Trump "sees himself as a street fighter." I think it shows that Trump wants to be seen as a street fighter. A lot of people buy his act, but I don't. And do you know who else doesn't fully buy it?

Trump himself.

I see a lot of worried projection in that tweet. "Actually, [Biden] is weak, both mentally and physically" -- what evidence is there of that? On the other hand, Trump has been accused of both lately -- a while back, many people expressed skepticism about the glowing words of the doctor who conducted Trump's physical, and there's been a lot of speculation about Trump's mental acuity, which some observers think is in serious decline. These words in the Trump tweet seem as desperate to me as "No puppet. You're the puppet" -- Trump's I'm-rubber-you're-glue denial in a presidential debate of a subservient relationship to Vladimir Putin.

"He doesn’t know me, but he would go down fast and hard, crying all the way," Trump writes, because he can't bear to lose. He has to insist that he'd win, and not only win, but swiftly and decisively. He can't tolerate the thought that someone would even assert that he'd lose -- even that is shameful to him.

The voices from his childhood still tell him that he has to be tough all the time. They'll never let go of him.

A mature person -- certainly a mature president -- would have ignored Biden's provocation, especially given the fact that no such fight will ever take place, as Trump and Biden both know. But Trump can't ignore Biden. That isn't because he's a tough guy -- it's because the voices won't stop.


The Washington Post's Samantha Schmidt writes:
For weeks, the 23-year-old suspected bomber terrorized the city of Austin with a string of explosions that killed two and injured several others.

But should the bomber, identified by authorities as Mark Anthony Conditt, be called a terrorist?

... Authorities avoided using the “terrorist” label, instead describing Conditt — a white man — as a troubled person motivated by frustrations in his life.

Interim Austin police chief ­Brian Manley said Conditt made a 25-minute video “confession” on his cellphone explaining how he built seven explosive devices.

“Having listened to that recording, he does not at all mention anything about terrorism, nor does he mention anything about hate,” Manley said in a news conference Wednesday. “But instead, it is the outcry of a very challenged young man talking about challenges in his personal life that led him to this point.”
At this point, as a liberal in good standing, I'm supposed to express outrage because Conditt is not being described as a terrorist. I agree that we shouldn't feel any sorrier for Conditt than we do for someone who kills in the name of ISIS or white supremacy.

The problem is that we don't have a sufficiently freighted term to describe someone who matches the police description of Conditt and does what Conditt did. We all agree that a "terrorist" is abhorrent. Why don't we feel a similar abhorrence for someone who chooses to take his personal pain out on the world with extreme violence? Why don't we have a name for someone like that, a term that embodies the same degree of abhorrence?

I know that Conditt was a home-schooled Christian conservative. I've read what he wrote about his political beliefs at the age of seventeen. (Go to to read his writings at length.) That's not enough to mark him as a terrorist. Millions of Americans are Christian conservatives who oppose gay marriage, abortion rights, and the release of prisoners from Gitmo; millions more support the death penalty. These aren't beliefs that should have made Conditt feel alienated -- he was a white man in Texas. In that demographic category, his beliefs were not only unremarkable, they have majority support. It's possible that the police are missing or downplaying evidence that these beliefs, or more radical conservative beliefs, were the motive for his murders -- but if they've got this right and he killed because he felt alienated, why can't we despise him for that? Who was he to kill, maim, and endanger people who'd never harmed him just because he was in pain? What made him think he had the right to do that?

We've given the word "terrorism" a specific meaning: It's violence meant to spread fear in order to advance an ideology or movement. Based on the police characterization, Conditt wasn't a terrorist -- he killed because he hurt inside and he felt entitled to murder people who'd never harmed him in order to make the hurt go away. He didn't have a larger goal in mind, ideological or otherwise -- his focus was strictly on himself. Even if that's a police mischaracterization of Conditt, it describes a lot of American killers -- Nikolas Cruz, for instance. Why do we need to fit them into a category to which they don't belong in order to feel angry at them? Why can't we be angry at them precisely for what they are?

I don't have a clever name for people whose motivation to kill randomly is purely private. The best I can do is call them "violent narcissists." Maybe you can do better.

Their motive isn't an ideology -- an ism. It's themselves. Why isn't that enough to enrage us?

Wednesday, March 21, 2018


I question whether this really is an unpopular opinion.

Nate Silver agrees:

Ross Douthat argues that Cambridge Analytica had less effect on the outcome than TV -- not because TV news obsessed over Clinton emails, but because television made Donald Trump seem larger than life:
... the media format that really made [Trump] president ... wasn’t Zuckerberg’s unreal kingdom; it wasn’t even the Twitter platform where Trump struts and frets and rages daily. It was that old pre-internet standby, broadcast and cable television, and especially TV news.

... Where did so many people originally get the idea that Trump was the right guy to fix our manifestly broken government? Not from Russian bots or targeted social media ad buys, but from a prime-time show that sold itself as real, and sold him as a business genius.... The core Trump demographic might just have been Republicans who watched “The Apprentice” ...

That was step one in the Trump hack of television media. Step two was the use of his celebrity to turn news channels into infomercials for his campaign....

Nothing that Cambridge Analytica did to help the Trump campaign target swing voters ... had anything remotely like the impact of this #alwaysTrump tsunami, which probably added up to more than $2 billion in effective advertising for his campaign during the primary season....

In 2016 [cable news] polarization didn’t just mean that Fox became steadily more pro-Trump as he dispatched his G.O.P. rivals; it also meant that a network like CNN, which thrives on Team Red vs. Team Blue conflict, felt compelled to turn airtime over to Trump surrogates like Jeffrey Lord and Corey Lewandowski and Kayleigh McEnany because their regular stable of conservative commentators (I was one of them) simply wasn’t pro-Trump enough.
But so much of this happened because it's what the audience wanted. The audience wanted it because -- despite the supposed dominance of the "liberal media" in our discourse -- much of America had fallen for conservative narratives and the right's long-developed view of what America really needs.

The right has been telling us for years that "career politicians" are evil and that we should have a government that's "run more like a business." Particularly in the Reagan era and its immediate aftermath, even a number of Democrats fell prey to this thinking. Businessmen are supposed to be tough and decisive; they're supposed to cut through red tape. I don't blame the producers of The Apprentice -- they thought they were just making an entertainment program. But they inadvertently made a lot of people believe Donald Trump should be America's CEO.

Wall-to-wall Trump coverage and mindless support of Trump by cable pundits were what conservatism had conditioned much of America to want because the conservative message for so many years has been "government is evil" and "Democrats and liberals are evil." No one expressed more contempt for the normal process of government than Trump, and no one bashed Democrats and liberals as vigorously as he did. That's what a large portion of the population wanted, and the media obliged.

America has also been told for years that Hillary Clinton is a terrible person -- corrupt, condescending, castrating, physically unappealing. That;'s a right-wing message, but it's also regularly heard from the non-conservative media as well. Much of America was ready to believe all that. The obsessive attacks on Clinton were what a large percentage of the public wanted -- what they had been primed to want. The media delivered.

I'm not prepared to apportion blame for the 2016 election result -- but whether new media or old media were to blame, the most potent messages were bad ones that America has believed for years. They all just came together in one election.


While we wait for more information on the now-deceased Austin bombing suspect, I'd like to comment briefly on Ralph Peters, who says he'll no longer be a Fox News commentator.
A retired United States Army lieutenant colonel and Fox News contributor quit Tuesday and denounced the network and President Donald Trump in an email to colleagues.

"Fox has degenerated from providing a legitimate and much-needed outlet for conservative voices to a mere propaganda machine for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration," wrote Ralph Peters, a Fox News "strategic analyst."

"Over my decade with Fox, I long was proud of the association. Now I am ashamed," he wrote.
Roy Edroso has the details on the man he calls "Blood 'n' Guts," particularly on his incessant cheerleading for the Iraq War and his insistence that the media and liberals were on the side of America's enemies in that war. I question Roy's assertion that Peters was less fevered after Obama's election (with the exception of the time he called Obama a "total pussy") -- the Peters archives at Media Matters include items such as "Fox's Ralph Peters: 'Lincoln Freed The Slaves, Obama Freed The Terrorists"'; "Fox's Ralph Peters: Obama Won’t Say 'Radical Islam' Because Of “His Experience With Islam Was As A Child ... He Romanticizes Islam'"; and "Fox's Ralph Peters: I'm Waiting For Obama To Bring Eric Holder Out Of Retirement 'To Lead A New Movement, Jihadi Lives Matter.'"

It's being argued that we shouldn't regard Peters as enlightened because he's the same guy who expressed these opinions in the past. He is -- but that tells us something about conservatism in the Fox News era.

It often seems as if the conservative ideology rigidly follows Cleek's Law: Today’s conservatism is the opposite of what liberals want today, updated daily. That's mostly true. But Peters reminds us that there's a non-Cleek conservatism -- and it's completely nuts. The career of Ralph Peters reminds us that conservatism won't be polite and reasonable once President Trump is out of office -- it will still be extreme, and unwilling to make any compromise with liberals, or even moderates, on any subject it's passionate about.

So don't expect a return to political comity once we're rid of Trump -- expect Ralph Peters and conservatives like him.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018


At Vox, Andrew Prokop offers several possible reasons President Trump hasn't had Robert Mueller fired.
The process of getting rid of Mueller is much more complicated and legally fraught than, say, firing FBI Director James Comey or Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Furthermore, dismissing Mueller himself wouldn’t end Mueller’s investigation — an even more controversial intervention would be required for that. Then, even if he pulled it off, Mueller’s firing would likely lead to a flood of leaks. Finally, the ensuing backlash could help Democrats regain control of Congress — which could make Trump’s legal and political situation even worse.
On that last point, Prokop writes:
... the real risk for Trump is in what that political backlash could make likely — a Democratic takeover of one or both chambers of Congress in 2018....

The problem for Trump is not that he’d be sentimental about the GOP’s electoral fate. It’s that Democratic control of even one chamber would unleash empowered opposition party–controlled investigations into him and his administration on Russia, obstruction, and a host of other issues.
To Paul Krugman, that's the obvious reason Trump is restraining himself:

I agree that if Trump doesn't have Mueller fired before the midterms and Republicans retain control of Congress, there'll be no constraints on Trump after the votes are counted -- he'll shut the investigation down. But I don't think we should assume that that's his principal motivation for leaving Mueller in place.

Trump lives in an epistemically closed world. He addresses all of his rhetoric to his fans and none of it to opponents or the unpersuaded. He believes only polls that show him doing well. He thinks Democrats are wildly unpopular and win elections only through voter fraud. And because he was like this all the way through the 2016 election, an election no one expected him to win, he thinks he understands elections better than the experts, and doesn't believe he has to do anything to counter Democrats except trust his gut and fire up his base. In his gut he certainly wants to fire Mueller. He knows his base would be ecstatic if he did. He knows that Rasmussen would produce polls showing that the move was extremely well received, and he'd believe only those polls.

It seems more likely to me that he simply can't find someone willing to fire Mueller and shut down or bottle up the investigation (because none of the potential hatchet persons want to be facing obstruction of justice charges). So what's the point of dumping Mueller at all? Or maybe he watches Lindsey Graham and others on TV and really believes there'd be a reckoning for him in Congress if Mueller is canned. If so, Graham and all the phony believers in the rule of law (we know they'd actually do nothing) are performing a public service: They're faking a sense of patriotism, and Trump is stupid enough to believe them.


I'm delighted that Facebook and the Mercers are spending some time in the barrel, and obviously there can never be enough Trump scandals, but I'm having some trouble maintaining a sense of outrage about how Cambridge Analytica gained access to voter data, given how much personal information is obtained by campaigns through similar means, as The Washington Post notes:
Facebook last week suspended the Trump campaign’s data consultant, Cambridge Analytica, for scraping the data of potentially millions of users without their consent. But thousands of other developers, including the makers of games such as FarmVille and the dating app Tinder, as well as political consultants from President Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, also siphoned huge amounts of data about users and their friends....

Cambridge Analytica — unlike other firms that access Facebook’s user data — broke Facebook’s rules by obtaining the data under the pretense of academic use. But experts familiar with Facebook’s systems and policies say that the greater problem was that the rules for accessing the social network’s information trove were so loose in the first place....

In 2011, Carol Davidsen, director of data integration and media analytics for Obama for America, built a database of every American voter using the same Facebook developer tool used by Cambridge, known as the social graph API. Any time people used Facebook’s log-in button to sign on to the campaign’s website, the Obama data scientists were able to access their profile as well as their friends’ information....

“We ingested the entire U.S. social graph,” Davidsen said in an interview. “We would ask permission to basically scrape your profile, and also scrape your friends, basically anything that was available to scrape. We scraped it all.”
And as the Pulitzer Center explained a few years ago, big data also flowed to campaigns via the finance industry:
As Americans increasingly conduct their lives online ... collecting data on Americans’ online purchasing and browsing habits has become a lucrative business. Political campaigning is one industry that is increasingly using this wealth of consumer information to target individual voters with more and more accuracy....

Presidential campaigns — particularly President Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns — have made headlines for their use of technology, but smaller races are also taking advantage of sophisticated targeting opportunities to reach voters in their districts....

“... the big, well-financed presidential campaigns have either collected data themselves or rely on [data] firms like Aristotle or Catalist,” explained Ira Rubinstein, an adjunct professor of law at New York University School of Law and a senior fellow at the Information Law Institute.

... data broker Experian’s website has a category for “Life-Event Triggers” and advertises the company’s ability to predict when individuals are new parents, homeowners or have recently moved.

Data broker Datalogix’s website asks potential customers, “Need to reach pet owners? SUV drivers? Green consumers?” The firm markets more than 700 “segments” of Americans, divided into categories based on their past purchases, demographics and financial data.
We were told that the Obama campaign made much more sophisticated use of technology than his opponents' campaigns did, and many of us thought, "Oh, cool." But part of what that meant was targeting us using our credit card purchases. We "consented" to the use of that information after accepting privacy agreements we never read. If we shrugged that off then, should we be outraged now?

Monday, March 19, 2018


I assume every thinking person was purged of techno-utopian hopes a long time ago, but if any of that thinking still persisted, I imagine it's gone now. We've known for a long time that every major website and app is just a machine for collecting monetizable personal data, but the story of Cambridge Analytica's unauthorized leveraging of information obtained via Facebook really brings that home. And now we learn that using Big Data, even the purloined kind, to stimulate voters' emotions in order to motivate them to vote for CA's preferred candidate isn't the company's slickest trick:
Senior executives at Cambridge Analytica – the data company that credits itself with Donald Trump’s presidential victory – have been secretly filmed saying they could entrap politicians in compromising situations with bribes and Ukrainian sex workers....

In one exchange, when asked about digging up material on political opponents, [Cambride Analytica CEO Alexander] Nix said they could “send some girls around to the candidate’s house”, adding that Ukrainian girls “are very beautiful, I find that works very well”.

In another he said: “We’ll offer a large amount of money to the candidate, to finance his campaign in exchange for land for instance, we’ll have the whole thing recorded, we’ll blank out the face of our guy and we post it on the Internet.”

...An undercover reporter for Channel 4 News posed as a fixer for a wealthy client hoping to get candidates elected in Sri Lanka.

Mr Nix told our reporter: “...we’re used to operating through different vehicles, in the shadows, and I look forward to building a very long-term and secretive relationship with you.”
Data manipulation is what these guys put in the shop window, but if want the real goods, you have to slip into a back room and get ... the same kinds of dirty tricks that political operatives and other unsavory creatures have used for generations. If we're to believe their sales pitch, these guys are basically Roger Stone or more adroit versions of Jared Kushner's dad:
... Charles Kushner pleaded guilty to 18 counts of making illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion and witness tampering. The last charge involved a particularly nasty incident where Charles Kushner send his sister Esther a tape showing her husband William Schulder with a prostitute hired by Kushner to discredit his brother-in-law, who was cooperating with federal authorities.
Everything sucks the same way it always did, except for the stuff that sucks more.


it's being widely reported that Donald Trump is shaking off the restraints that have prevented him from doing whatever the hell he wants to do as president. We're learning this from, among others, Maggie Haberman of The New York Times.

But Haberman also told us yesterday on Twitter that Trump isn't fully in charge even now.

Credit where it's due: Kristinn Taylor of Jim Hoft's Gateway Pundit spotted this, although Taylor is simply appalled at the insinuation he's reporting:
Who’s the boss? According to New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, President Donald Trump went golfing on Sunday under orders from White House aides who ‘whisked’ him to a golf course trying to keep him from tweeting and watching TV....

Haberman’s unsourced, unverified report was not reported by the New York Times, but it did the damage intended as it was repeated by several liberal outlets and went viral on Twitter as it confirmed liberal bias of Trump as a child who must have his Twitter taken away by adults.
In other words, the report is accurate.

Here's what Haberman tweeted:

(Note that she doesn't say that this happened "under orders from White House aides." She just says it happened suddenly.)

As Taylor notes, reporters from CNBC and the BBC followed up:

Taylor didn't publish any of these responses to Haberman's original tweet:

Bill Maher once wrote that watching Trump is "like watching a toddler play with a gun." Apparently there are still some people in the White House who are trying to get Trump to put the gun down, at least temporarily.

But distraction is clearly required, and there are only so many things that might distract Trump. What else besides golf? Women? Or maybe more than two scoops? If we read about a new Trump girlfriend, or if he gains more weight, I guess we'll know why. Otherwise, maybe he'll start playing golf on weekdays, too, after some parental nudging.

Sunday, March 18, 2018


A story in The New York Times tells us that Scott Pruitt has big ambitions. How big? Big enough that the headline in the print edition is "Perched Atop E.P.A., Pruitt Plots '24 Run," and it's not a reference to a run for senator or governor (although one of those may come first):
In the past year, Mr. Pruitt has emerged as a hero to President Trump’s supporters for his hand in rolling back environmental rules at an agency long disliked by farmers, the fossil fuel industry and the far right....

Now, people close to Mr. Pruitt say he is using his perch as Mr. Trump’s deregulatory czar to position himself for further political prominence — starting with a run for office in his home state of Oklahoma....

Mr. Pruitt’s national profile has soared. He has appeared on the cover of the prominent conservative magazines National Review and The Weekly Standard. And Mr. Trump has privately praised some of Mr. Pruitt’s more controversial proposals, such as his idea to stage “red team, blue team” debates of climate-change science....

The endgame, say people who have spoken with Mr. Pruitt, is a possible run at the presidency in 2024 or later.
He's laying the groundwork:
Last year, Mr. Pruitt made two trips to Iowa, a key campaign state in presidential elections, to talk about his agenda....

Behind the scenes, Mr. Pruitt has spent time with major political donors. Last year he met with Foster Friess, a Republican fund-raiser, and with investors connected to Sheldon Adelson, the party megadonor, according to meeting records obtained by The New York Times. He also met with Steven Chancellor, an Indiana coal executive and Republican fund-raiser, according to documents obtained by the Sierra Club and published by Politico.
It's possible that he's just planning a run for Senate in 2020 (assuming that the octogenarian incumbent, James Inhofe, retires). Or he could get into the governor's race this year.

But I find it plausible that he'd like to be president.

And although it's left unstated in the story, I wonder if he's thinking about a presidential run earlier than 2024. I don't think he'd run against Trump in the primaries (unless there's a Democratic rout in 2018 and Trump tacks leftward after the Dems retake Congress, a scenario I don't think is plausible -- I think Trump would remain affiliated with Fox News and congressional Republicans, who would go into saboteur mode while demanding a restoration).

The 2020 scenario for Pruitt is a run if Trump doesn't seek a second term, because he's resigned, he's been removed from office, or he's chosen not to run again, for reasons of unpopularity or health. I have my doubts about those scenarios, too, but if one of them happens, I think it's unlikely that GOP primary voters will seek a return to normalcy -- the angriest among them (the largest bloc) will want someone who'll avenge the loss of Trump and own the liberals the way they believe Trump did. Pruitt's an ideal choice. As a signal to GOP voters that he's conservatively correct, he's done everything short of wringing a spotted owl's neck on live TV. (Someone who did that would have the nomination locked up by Super Tuesday.)

The Times article tells us that there's some skepticism about the pace of Pruitt's deregulatory efforts:
Some former E.P.A. chiefs noted that Mr. Pruitt’s unusual speed at attempting to dismantle regulations could mean that those efforts might not stand up to later legal challenges. “The policies he’s pushing play very well in his home state and with the base — but you can’t do them overnight,” said Christine Todd Whitman, who headed the E.P.A. in the George W. Bush administration and before that was the governor of New Jersey. “They’re getting rushed out. I don’t think the homework is being done. It makes for good sound bites, but they might not stand up legally.”
But that's perfect for Pruitt if he wants to run for president. If the changes are upheld in court, he wins. If not, he can say he's been thwarted by "activist liberal judges." Stab in the back! Molon labe!

A lot of people believe that if Trump goes down in disgrace it will shame Republican voters, who'll turn to more traditional Republicans in the future. But Pruitt is a traditional Republican now. He's what the party was becoming long before Trump. What GOP voters might say they don't miss is Trump's narcissism and lack of policy focus. They'll want a lean and hungry culture warrior who's more devoted to the Cause than to himself. That could easily be Pruitt.

I don't know if he could win a general election, but doubts about that didn't prevent GOP voters from picking Trump in 2016. So, yeah, this guy has a real shot at the nomination.


In The New York Times, Michelle Goldberg urges former Trump appointees to go public with the truth about the White House:
Since the beginning of this nightmare administration, we’ve been assured — via well-placed anonymous sources — that a few sober, trustworthy people in the White House were checking Donald Trump’s worst instincts and most erratic whims.... Through strategic leaks they presented themselves as guardians of American democracy rather than collaborators in its undoing....

Increasingly, however, the people who were supposed to be the adults in the room aren’t in the room anymore.

... if from their privileged perches these people saw the president as a dangerous fool in need of babysitting, it’s now time for some of them to say so publicly.
She singles out Rex Tillerson:
“Rex is never going to be back in a position where he can have any degree of influence or respect from this president,” my Republican source said. Because of that, the source continued, “Rex is under a moral mandate to do his best to burn it down.” That would mean telling the truth “about how concerned he is about the leadership in the Oval Office, and what underpins those concerns and what he’s seen.”

... If Tillerson came out and said that the president is unfit, and perhaps even that venal concerns for private gain have influenced his foreign policy, impeachment wouldn’t begin tomorrow, but Trump’s already narrow public support would shrink further. Republican members of Congress like Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, might be induced to rediscover their spines and perform proper oversight.

Why would whistleblowing by Tillerson (or any other departed Trump staffer) influence public opinion in a way that other Trump revelations haven't? We might imagine that the information in Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury caused a deterioration in Trump's poll numbers, but that's not true. The first excerpt from Fire and Fury, with many of the book's most alarming revelations, was published by New York magazine on January 3. Trump's poll numbers at that time, according to the Real Clear Politics average were 40.4% approval, 55.9% disapproval. His poll numbers now? They're up slightly: 41.1% approval, 54.2% disapproval.

Does Goldberg think Tillerson's word would carry more weight because he's more respected than Michael Wolff? As Vanity Fair's Tina Nguyen notes, he isn't respected by Trumpers. Nguyen notes
the generally ecstatic reception in MAGA-land to the news that Mike Pompeo, the hawkish, Harvard-bred director of the C.I.A., would be replacing Tillerson as secretary of state. “It’s the revenge of the nationalists,” Posobiec told me. “I wouldn’t say he’s like an America First guy,” he conceded, “but he was a Tea Party guy, and he’s definitely more of movement conservative.”

Bannon responded to Tillerson’s ouster by texting a reporter, “Come on dude!!!...end of the globalists !!!”
The worldviews of the deplorable rank-and-file might not be as well developed as Bannon's or Posobiec's, but the deplorables know one thing: An enemy of Trump is their enemy. Anyone who openly turns against Trump will become the Antichrist in MAGAland -- and, therefore, in the right-wing media.

No Republican officeholder would dare to cross the MAGA hordes, so Tillerson revelations won't lead to increased congressional oversight -- at least not before the next Congress is sworn in.

I'd love to find out what Tillerson knows. Maybe he'll start leaking. But no act of forthrightness on his or any ex-Trump aide's part is going to save us from this president as long as Republicans control Congress. Republicans will never put country over party. It would be political suicide.

Saturday, March 17, 2018


Our petty tyrant president had Andrew McCabe fired last night, a little more than 24 hours prior to his scheduled resignation, which was to take place on his 50th birthday. It's widely believed that this act of vindictiveness has cost McCabe his entire pension. I believed that when I woke up this morning. I imagine the president also believes it.

But as CNN reported prior to the dismissal, it's not exactly true:
As a law enforcement officer covered by the Federal Employees Retirement System, known as FERS, McCabe is set to receive an annual pension payout calculated at a special "enhanced" rate and available at the early age of 50....

If he were to be fired before Sunday, it appears likely McCabe could be docked his pension until he hits another, later age milestone.

... per federal rules, McCabe may not be able to draw an annuity until a date ranging just shy of his 57th birthday, and as late as his 62nd. That could put the value of his uncollected pension in the realm of a half-million dollars.

On top of that, McCabe could also lose his law enforcement boost....

Under the rules of FERS, that means he could be left with the standard multiplier of 1% on top of his years of service, down from the 1.7% enhanced rate for law enforcement.
James Gagliano, a former FBI special agent who's now a CNN analyst, acknowledges that McCabe will take a hit:

But it takes a lot to strip an FBI agent of his pension altogether:

This was a nasty thing to do. It could have a chilling effect on other law enforcement officials who are investigating the president (although I think Trump is much less likely to target you this way if you haven't been singled out for a series of Two Minutes' Hates on Hannity's show).

But McCabe should be able to make up the difference. James Comey's book advance was in the neighborhood of $2 million -- McCabe's should be in the mid-six figures. McCabe still ought to be employable for more than a decade, at a fairly high level.

I think Trump wants to believe he left McCabe on the verge of destitution. He didn't. McCabe will come of out of this in better shape than Trump probably realizes.

Friday, March 16, 2018


The victory of Democrat Conor Lamb in a solidly pro-Trump Pennsylvania congressional district is -- of course! -- bad news for the Democrats. Politico has the story, under the headline "Democrats’ Civil War Flares After Lamb’s Upset Win."
Conor Lamb’s triumph in Trump country is being heralded by conservative Democrats as a major victory in their ongoing turf battle with the far left — and an object lesson on the kind of candidates the party needs to promote and win to take the House in November.
Lamb is "an object lesson on the kind of candidates the party needs to promote and win to take the House in November"? That's what this lead paragraph says -- but that's not what we're told in subsequent paragraphs. We're told that Democrats should run some Lamb-like candidates. And both progressives and moderates seem to agree.
For the Blue Dogs, Lamb’s successful center-left campaign is proof that the Democratic Party’s “big tent” mentality is still a winning electoral strategy, despite an aggressive push from liberals for candidates that more closely adhere to the progressive purity made popular by the likes of Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

But while liberals have praised Lamb’s win in Pennsylvania, they’ve also been quick to caution that his message shouldn’t be copied by Democrats across the House map.
So Blue Dogs believe in a "big tent" -- i.e., a party open to lefties and centrists -- while liberals think Lamb's approach "shouldn’t be copied by Democrats across the House map" (that is, in every district), even though they're happy that Lamb won. Sounds to me as if everyone's basically in agreement.

A direct quote:
“[Lamb] didn’t run on an identity politics, one-size fits all message,” said Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), co-chairman of the Blue Dog PAC, the fundraising arm for the conservative Democratic coalition. “He ran on the Blue Dog message.”
If Schrader thinks "one-size-fits-all" is bad, it would seem that he thinks the Blue Dog might be inappropriate in blue districts. I agree.

And then there's this pair of quotes:
Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, a Rust Belt Democrat who ran against Pelosi for leadership in 2016, [said,] “At the end of the day, ... I hope that whoever our nominees are, we let them be who they are. And run the kind of races they think is best for their district.” ...

“People [who] say this is the direction all of us should take are kind of missing where the energy is coming from,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. He mentioned issues such as universal health care, the minimum wage and regulating Wall Street as being especially important to base voters.
There's disagreement here, but Ryan says that candidates should run with district-appropriate messages, while Grijalva says centrism isn't "the direction all of us should take." They're both saying that there's more than one ideological route to victory, and it depends on the district. Works for me.

Obviously I'm simplifying, and obviously these people have some significant disagreements. In addition, we don't know whether genuine progressives can surprise us by doing well in centrist districts. There will be mismatches, probably in both directions, and those will be missed opportunities. There'll be some bitter fights, like the progressive challenge to Dan Lipinski. But what I'm seeing is Democrats largely agreeing to disagree. This is not a civil war -- we may have one in 2020, when only one person can be the presidential nominee, but I don't see one taking place now.


David Brooks, to his credit, believes that President Trump is immoral, and that his immorality is infecting the Republican Party:
Trump is a revolutionary figure not because he changed the G.O.P.’s position on trade or international engagement. He’s morally revolutionary....

Trump ... asked the Republican Party to accept the proposition that it doesn’t matter if your leader is a liar, a philanderer and a narcissist. It doesn’t matter if he is cruel to the weak and bigoted toward the outsider. What matters, when you’re in a death match in which the survival of your nation and culture is at stake, is having a bastard in charge who understands and is tough enough to win.
Needless to say, Brooks is telling us this in order to prepare us for a critique of the Democratic Party.
The question of 2018 is whether the Democrats will follow suit.
Really? Does it seem likely that Democrats are going to sell their souls to a corrupt, treasonous pathological liar and sexual predator who knows less about government than a high school freshman who's getting a B in civics? Please explain, David.
The question of 2018 is whether the Democrats will follow suit. The temptation will be strong. In any conflict the tendency is to become the mirror image of your opponent. And the Democrats are just as capable of tribalism as the Republicans, just as capable of dividing the world in self-righteous Manichaean binaries: us enlightened few against those racist many; us modern citizens against those backward gun-toting troglodytes. Listen to how Hillary Clinton spoke in Mumbai last weekend.

There’ll be a tendency this year to nationalize each of the congressional races, to focus on Trump and not the country’s actual problems, to push the tribal hot buttons that excite the passionate Resistance in the great culture war.
So, to David Brooks, being a progressive ideologue is as awful as Donald Trump's business malfeasance, personal amorality, political recklessness, scorched-earth assaults on enemies, and contempt for the national interest. Treason, larceny, sexual assault, and character assassination are the moral equivalent of wearing a pussy hat.

But Brooks thinks Conor Lamb might save Democrats from plunging into the moral abyss.
... Conor Lamb’s victory in Pennsylvania this week gives at least a glimmer of hope that the Democrats may go the other way.

... He campaigned in a way designed to bridge divisions, not exacerbate them.

... He embraced issues that grabbed from each political persuasion, for universal health care, against the tax cuts, but also for fracking, against the assault weapons ban, skeptical of the $15 minimum wage. He opposed both Nancy Pelosi and Paul Ryan in congressional leadership races.
In his failed run for a Georgia congressional seat last year, Jon Ossoff did many of the same things. He refused to embrace single payer and rejected tax increases on the rich. He said he was not a fan of Pelosi. Yet Brooks never wrote about Ossoff. Ossoff lost, obviously, but the party's embrace of Ossoff as well as Lamb gives the lie to the notion that the Democratic Party is on the verge of conducting Stalinist purges of moderates and launching a jihad against the American heartland. Brooks needs for that to be true -- otherwise, his entire thesis collapses.

Brooks believes that Lamb is morally extraordinary because he didn't sink to the Trumpian gutter:
[Lamb] emerges from a serious moral tradition. He is a Catholic who attended a parochial school run by the Christian Brothers....

Now it’s obvious that you would run to the center as a Democrat in a heavily Republican district. But it’s not obvious that you would keep your integrity in such a tight campaign. It’s not obvious that you would put real but unsexy issues like opioids first, above the cable TV symbolic ones. It’s not obvious that you would be restrained by democratic norms, when the president comes into your district and shreds them.

Moral character is always the same essential things. Putting a higher love, like nation, over a lower love, like party. Going against yourself — feeling that urge to lash out with the low angry insult, and instead rising upward with the loving and understanding response.
According to Brooks, a Democrats needs serious religious training in order to avoid behaving like Donald Trump. He tells us this even though ity's impossible to name a Democrat currently in electoral politics who acts remotely like Trump. Who would? I know Philippe Reines says they all should, but you have to be a moral monster to do that, and Democrats running for office just aren't like that -- yes, even the ones who don't go to church.

Also , note that Brooks believes that you can either care about opioids or be a committed progressive -- it's impossible to be solidly left and care about your community. That's preposterous.

The overt message of this column is that the Democrat didn't act like Trump in the Pennsylvania special election -- both sides didn't do it. The subtext is that both sides might, because Democrats are potentially as bad as the worst person who's ever been president, and the worst party that's ever had this much power.