The Likely Outcome of Impeachment

It was over a decade, but John McCain’s percentage of the vote should be familiar to you- he got 46% of the vote. McCain is generally viewed as an honorable, if flawed man, but had to run against the tides of history- an unpopular war, an economic meltdown, an imbecile running mate, a historic opponent, and most of all, an unpopular President from his own party. Four years later, Mitt Romney had to run against a popular President, with a growing economy, and he managed to bump his performance up to a whopping 47%. In 2016, the Republicans nominated a reality TV star that got caught on video saying “grab ’em by the pussy,” who had bankrupt casinos and stiffed contractors, and was hardly someone that should have appealed to Evangelical voters- he got elected President with 46% of the vote. I’m not a gambling man, but if I was, I would not take the under on Donald Trump getting 46%. It appears to not matter who the GOP nominates- they are getting 46%. Bank it.

It’s this reliability and stability in the GOP’s electorate that allows them to stick by their leaders, regardless of what happens. The Republican Party almost ceases to exist in some of the biggest states in the country, namely California and New York, but their stranglehold on “red” states, and even their enclaves in “swing” states remain solidly in their hands. Even as Democrats spent millions of dollars telling the country how bad Trump was in 2016, it did nothing. Republican voters stuck by him. No matter how terrible he is, he’s better than the alternative, to them.

So you’re going to have to excuse me saying this- no Republicans are coming to the Democratic position on impeachment. Zero. That’s even more clear in the Senate, where Democrats would need at least twenty Republican Senators to cross over and vote to convict. There are not twenty Republican Senators who would be considered “endangered” right now, in fact there are at least 34 that could credibly say the politics in their states favor backing Trump. In other words, you enter the impeachment process with no pathway to convicting the President.

What about the argument that the hearings could change that dynamic? I direct you above, to the part where I told you this President said of women that you can “grab ’em by the pussy,” and the video was released nationally, and he was elected a month later. Exactly what do you think could be said about Donald Trump to diminish him among the 46% that would vote for a turnip to be President, if it were the Republican nominee? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. There is no low, no embarrassment that would change their minds. Nothing. And knowing that, there’s no Republican members of Congress to move. Even for the few you’d flip trashing him, you’d lose others.

What of the argument that the hearings could galvanize Democratic voters? It’s hard to prove either way. What I do know is that we spent 2016 exposing his fraudulent behavior, his vulgarity, his lack of knowledge, and every bad trait that Trump has, and we got 48% of the vote- a lot, more than he had, but not enough. There are limits to how motivating the negatives on Trump are, even to Democratic voters. At least that’s what history tells us.

What harm could impeachment do? When Watergate began in 1972, it wasn’t a broadly popular investigation, nor was Nixon unpopular, but it grew into a movement that eventually pushed him out of office. Not every investigation takes that route, of course. Iran-Contra ended as a dud, having no sizable impact on any election, and largely not sending the principles to jail. The Whitewater investigation into Bill Clinton did end in impeachment, which in turn actually caused the Republicans to lose seats in the 1998 midterm, serving as the modern political argument against impeachment. While Democratic activists passionately want to impeach Trump, the rest of the electorate sits solidly (34-48%) against it– even as they give Trump the lowest approval in that poll of his Presidency. The political will for impeachment isn’t there, and the past shows it to be risky to push through that.

There is a solid argument that says the Democrats must do the right thing, for history, for the rule of law, and for our constitution. Of course, the tricky thing is what “the right thing” is? If there is truly no pathway to conviction of Trump in the Senate, if impeachment may politically help him, is it “the right thing” to impeach the President? Is the possibility of a second Trump term, possibly with a Republican House, and the probability of more Supreme Court appointments worth it? Even if we assume his guilt, which I do, what’s the value in impeaching him with no chance to convict. Yes, it might make me feel good, but what’s that do for the people Donald Trump is actively hurting every day he is in office? Is it worth risking RBG’s seat on the Supreme Court? Risking four more years of inaction on climate change? Risking more children in cages? What risk is too much to pursue something that is almost certain to fail?

Politics can be emotionally unsatisfying much of the time. I have concluded that the odds of removing Donald Trump from office, at this time, are approximately zero. I have also concluded that there is no way to fail at removing the President without paying a political price. It would feel better to impeach Donald Trump, and the Mueller report does show that he deserves it, but I think it’s a losing idea. I’m not against holding hearings, subpoenas for documents, and keeping the door open for impeachment in the future. I think going into that today though is a fool’s errand.

Here’s the good news though- there is another way to remove Donald Trump from office- beating him in 2020. If Hillary Clinton has just received 49% instead of 48% in 2016, she would have probably (assuming they weren’t just more base, blue state votes) won at least four more states, and been elected President easily. She did that against incomparable negativity aimed her way, from the primary season through Election Day. She did so despite the fact that attacking Trump largely did not work. If the Democrats spend half as much time building up their potentially electable candidates as they do looking for a way to make impeachment happen, they absolutely can beat a President who’s approval is at -18%. We can win in 2020. We should win in 2020. We have to win in 2020. It’s really the only way forward.

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About the Presidential Race, 4/10

I think we’ve almost got the whole 2020 field- really! At this point, we’re waiting on Terry McAuliffe, Steve Bullock, and Michael Bennet to make their decisions, but really we’re all mostly waiting on Joe Biden to shake things up- one way or the other. Stacey Abrams and Seth Moulton still sit on the periphery as possible candidates for now.

While I’ve been watching very closely, I haven’t picked my final horse yet. There are 19 current candidates, and frankly it’s hard to see this race not hitting 20. I do have some generalized feelings though, so I figured I’d share them.

I Really Like a Lot of Candidates

I pretty much knew that I loved several candidates from the jump. I already had made up my mind that I felt positively about Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Joe Biden before this campaign (add Sherrod Brown here too, though he ultimately didn’t run.). I had more than a strong hint that I liked Julian Castro too, which hasn’t changed. Jay Inslee’s commitment to fighting climate change has made a fan of me. Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke have built strong followings in a hurry, and I am impressed by their charisma. John Hickenlooper’s record as Governor of Colorado has surprised me in a positive way, relative to how he’s been sold so far. That’s ten candidates I can already give a positive grade.

There are others whom I am not necessarily negative on, I just don’t have enough information yet to make a decision. Tim Ryan is always someone I liked, but I soured on a bit for his opposition to Nancy Pelosi as Speaker. His recent entry is too new for me to judge yet. John Delaney is a fairly wealthy former Congressman who is self-funding, and running towards the middle. I don’t see his pathway if Joe Biden enters, but it’s hard to judge until then. Wayne Messam is a very interesting Mayor of Miramar, Florida, but he hasn’t generated a ton of coverage yet. Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson come from outside of the government world, but like Messam aren’t getting much coverage. Eric Swalwell is an impressive Congressman, but he just entered this week, and so I have no feelings yet. I haven’t passed much judgment on these five so far.

This leaves Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Mike Gravel in the category where I’m less than supportive. My feelings towards them are not all the same, so let me address them individually.

  • Mike Gravel- The former Alaska Senator is commendable in some ways, particularly for reading the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional record in his Senate tenure. With that said, a lot of time has passed since those days, as has a mostly unnoticed 2008 campaign for President. Gravel pretty much freely admits he’s not running to win this nomination, so it’s hard for me to be excited.
  • Kirsten Gillibrand- If I voted entirely on issues, I could probably like what Gillibrand is saying now. The problem there is her career has put her on both sides of everything from guns to immigration. Evolution is fine, but it gets to be a bit of a stretch. While I believe Al Franken should have been afforded a Senate Ethics Committee investigation, I don’t blame Gillibrand at all for voicing her opinion on that. I do hold Gillibrand’s about face on Bill Clinton against her though. After a two decade relationship, working in the Clinton Administration, working in major allied law firms, having Bill and Hillary campaign and advocate for her House and Senate candidacies, for her to “evolve” and say President Clinton should have resigned over the Lewinsky affair was a bridge too far. You don’t turn on your mentors the moment they aren’t popular and useful anymore. Even so, her campaign positions are admirable, and while I’m not a fan, I feel better about her than I did before she entered.
  • Tulsi Gabbard- Gabbard is another candidate I was out on from day one. I’m unhappy with her 2016 decision to quit the DNC to endorse Bernie and call the process “rigged.” I could get over that though. What I can’t get over? Gabbard’s advocacy for Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad. It is one thing to oppose military intervention in the Syrian Civil War, it’s another thing to say he hasn’t committed war crimes against his people. In Gabbard’s defense, her campaign has laid out a desire to curb war spending in America, which has given her ideological consistency and clarity that I can respect. I’m just not forgiving advocacy for a bad guy.
  • Bernie Sanders- Absolutely not. Does Bernie have a few aspirational ideas that aren’t bad? Sure. I can’t say I generally agree with him though on the policies for right now, nor does his record suggest to me that he has any plan to enact his plans, much less pass them through Congress. I cannot forgive his 2016 behavior either. The guy’s not a Democrat, and he’s shown us that. There’s no way I’d support him to be the nominee in 2020.

So that’s my feelings on the candidates. So how about…

The State of the Race-

Polls really don’t mean much until Joe Biden either enters or exits the race, because he’s the undisputed polling leader. In the race’s current construction, with him as a probable candidate, the race is far different than if he doesn’t. If 30% or so of the electorate suddenly were free agents, that would shake things up, and probably dramatically change the current polling order.

What does matter is money though. There is no argument that Bernie raised the most in the first quarter. Kamala Harris also had an impressive quarter. Beto O’Rourke did pretty well as well, and Pete Buttigieg did fairly well. Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and Cory Booker all did well enough to compete, but have to keep up their pace.

What’s more important than cash raised though is burn rate. Bernie spent $4 million of his $18 million despite not being in the race very long. Warren spent 80% of her money raised, but still came out with a deceptively impressive cash on hand number by transferring Senate campaign funds. Can they sustain their spending rate? Meanwhile, while Klobuchar came in behind them, she only spent about 20% of her cash, and transferred more over from her Senate campaign. Watch the cash on hand, and the burn rates, when evaluating early fundraising.

In a race where most of the candidates are similar on issues, I’m watching who has the strong operations. Lean campaigns that raise respectable money, while remaining competitive in the polls, impress me. This is part of what has made “Mayor Pete” seem serious to operatives so far- he’s sustaining a competitive campaign without spending much.

Nobody is Perfect

Just about every candidate has some flaws in their candidacy. Some seem overblown, others concerning, but really none are disqualifying to me, unless I said so above. I’m not looking for perfect, or to be inspired, or to make history. I just want to elect a competent President.

This means I’m looking for an electable nominee. Some candidates, like Biden and Klobuchar, have solid arguments about their electability- but it’s anecdotal so far. Candidates need to prove that.

This Ain’t 2008

Because everyone in the field is trying to raise their money from the “grassroots,” rather than traditional bundling, the debate is more leftward than the country at-large, and it is favoring candidates with less experience and record. That may very well be a good thing in the end. It might also spell defeat for the Democrats. The 2008 process pushed us towards an electable nominee, this one may very well push us towards one that appeases our base, and no one else.

Conclusions

I’m going to stick with an upbeat outlook here. I absolutely love 3-4 candidates, like around 10, and could accept 15-16. That’s a good field. In the end, I want a nominee who can win though, and that is what will matter to me. I can give a bit on ideology and/or excitement, as long as they can beat Donald Trump. That’s what matters.

How the Democrats are Losing the Online Game

Tell the truth, how many fundraising e-mails did you delete this weekend? For me, it got so bad that I unsubscribed from close to a dozen e-mail lists. Back in the dark ages when I was in college (2002-2006), I got myself on every e-mail list I could. It felt like I actually got information about the 2004 Presidential candidates back then. That’s not what e-mails are used for on political campaigns in 2019.

Democrats now view digital campaign organizing, e-mails, and even their website as an ATM. In the wake of McCain-Feingold and the Citizens United Supreme Court Decision, Democrats face a real challenge in keeping up financially with the right-wing financial machine. They’ve exasperated that by ingesting the poison pill rhetoric that all lobbyists and political action committees (PACs) are terrible, and we can’t take their money. The Bernie purity rhetoric, and even President Obama’s a generation ago, puts Democrats behind the eight ball. So what’s been the answer? Go grassroots. Ask for $27 over and over again. We still can’t keep up, but it’s worth a shot. Pledge to take no PAC money or federal lobbyist money at all- even from unions, Planned Parenthood, or Environmental groups- to try and motivate activists who have little understanding of campaign budgets to fund your campaign.

The net result is a million micro-messages from every group and candidate on the left to try and motivate you to give some cash. It turns into annoying white noise. It works fine for interest groups in DC, who do the best in this messy void, but leaves everyone else all over the map. It leads to the “Democrats have no message” meme.

What about the Republican Party? They don’t have quite the same issues. In 2016 everyone knew that the Trump message was “Make America Great Again,” and “Crooked Hillary.” Hillary Clinton was a criminal that would take the America you and your descendants built away from you, and give it to “other” people, but Donald Trump would stop that and restore it to you. Yes, they did field, television, and mail to get that message to you, but on a far scaled down level from what Mitt Romney and John McCain has done. They understood that the race would be decided at the margins, so they went cheaper and more straight to the point- they talked to you online. Sure, maybe some GRU guy in Moscow was giving them an assist, but don’t underestimate what the GOP did. They were getting 20 impressions on your brain through Facebook, for the price of one TV ad, at a far more efficient clip too. They hit their audience directly with one simple, straight forward message- Make America Great Again. The whole right-wing took part.

So what’s going to happen in 2020? Look no further than this week’s Wisconsin election for the State Supreme Court. Democrats narrowly lost, despite hitting their turnout targets across the board. Republican turnout simply spiked. What was their message? Socialism. It didn’t matter if it was the Koch funded groups, the NRA, or religious conservatives, they simply told you the Democratic “socialists” are coming to take what you want away from you. They’ll take your guns, your church, and your tax dollars, and give America to those “others.” They will spend hundreds of millions of dollars into digital ads on the internet that tell their voters to fear Democrats, because socialism.

As the really smart friend of mine that does digital campaign work explained this to me yesterday, I realized just how messed up the Democratic Party is on digital. We’re trying to use the internet to finance our campaigns, while they’re using it to poison the Democratic brand. It’s a mismatch. If no one in the Democratic Party figures this out soon, it could be too late- and Donald Trump could be basking in “four more years” chants.

Making Sense of Barr, Rosenstein, and Mueller

Donald Trump and his campaign will not be charged with conspiracy to collude with Russia to interfere in our 2016 Election. While the Mueller report makes no final recommendation on charging Trump with obstructing justice, Attorney General Barr will not charge him. Mueller and the Department of Justice have found that Russia did interfere in our election.

Those are the official legal findings as the Mueller investigation ends.

In pure legal terms, Mueller does not believe there was a legal conspiracy between Trump or his campaign, defined as a two-sided agreement, to interfere in our last election. He is not saying Russia didn’t interfere at all. He is rather saying the Trump campaign and candidate weren’t a part of that interference. This may seem odd, since Don Jr. met with Russians about Hillary dirt, and Paul Manafort shared polling data with Russians. Mueller seems to be saying neither had any actual part in the Russian interference though. Perhaps because they were inept, or perhaps because Russia never wanted their help, but they seem to be but a footnote in what he alleges happened.

There is the question of obstruction, which remains more murky and incomplete than it may seem right now. Mueller did not charge Donald Trump or exonerate him on this question, in part because Trump used legitimate Presidential powers to seemingly stonewall the investigation, as well as vague and not-so-vague attacks to intimidate witnesses. With the question left to Barr, who is both a believer in executive power and an appointee of the President. He was never going to charge him, if left with an open question. That’s not the end of the story though.

I tend to believe in and accept Bob Mueller’s findings. With that said, there are still some important questions. Why did Trump associates keep lying about Russia? Did Russian interference determine the outcome in 2016? Did finding out about Russian interference later change Trump’s behavior or policies towards Russia? These aren’t all Mueller’s questions to answer, but they still remain today.

A lot of people on the left seem despondent, and even willing to engage in crazy conspiracy theories over this. It’s important to understand that those conspiracy theories aren’t grounded in any reality. After indicting 37 people, Bob Mueller is certainly not going to cover for anyone. Rod Rosenstein put him in place and supervised him, and doesn’t seem to be a figure who would cover for the Administration. While there are questions about Attorney General Barr, it’s worth noting the obvious here- Congress can subpoena all of these men. Mueller can talk about his report. Barr won’t be afforded cover to lie to Congress. Neither would Rosenstein. The room for anybody to be lying right now is non-existent. The potential exposure is too great.

Which all leads back to where this began- Mueller was never going to indict Trump, nor would Trump’s Department of Justice allow it. The only body with legal oversight of the President’s activities is the Congress. The House Judiciary Committee should call all of these men in to testify about their findings. Mueller can tell us what he found in the first person. I suspect the real question here will be on the judgment of Mueller to not recommend either way on obstruction of justice, and of Barr to say he will not charge the President for it. If the House reaches a different conclusion, after hearing the evidence, then they should act. Even if crimes were found, that committee would have been charged with deciding this then.

The Global Moron Movement

Like most people in December of 2016, I wasn’t happy Donald Trump was going to be President, and hoped somehow it wouldn’t happen. Of course, a month later he was President, and over time I’ve come to realize that was pretty much the only outcome that could happen. Sure, he’s awful in every way, but he was declared the winner under the system of elections that we have in our country. As painful as it was, and for as much damage as Trump will probably do, the best hope for maintaining any legitimacy in our democracy is a resounding 2020 defeat that sends Donald Trump home to Trump Tower, or Mar-a-Lago, or wherever the hell he wants to call home. Rooting for some other outcome is essentially hoping to delegitimize our process in the eyes of some group of voters, which never goes away easily. What’s to stop Trump voters from seeking the same outcome for a future Democratic President over whatever crazy grievances they have?

Let’s be clear here, I am not categorically against impeachment, provided Robert Mueller or another prosecutor accuses Trump of a crime, nor do I disagree with the sentiment of wanting Trump gone. I simply believe we shouldn’t give the appearance of simply wanting to overturn election results that we don’t like. Removing an elected leader because you don’t like them should be the job of elections, in so much as possible. Now to be clear, there is some moral hazard in this position on Trump- our Republican friends spent eight years trying to de-legitimize President Obama as a Kenyan-born “Muslim,” and the last two years ignoring Donald Trump’s failings, which is also behavior that threatens to de-legitimize our democracy. Gerrymandering, voter suppression, and all other attempts to game our electoral system also de-legitimize our democracy. So we’re not dealing with rational, adult actors across the table of American politics from us. If we match their behavior though, the sad truth is that they’ll only go lower, and we’ll continue to chase. At some point, the hellscape we’ll create won’t even be worth saving.

I get that some people don’t care, and I get it- who wants to be the one bringing a knife to a gun fight? This is not purely an American problem, it’s becoming a problem across Western democracies. In the United Kingdom, anti-Brexit forces in Parliament seem fine with no Brexit deal to leave the EU, calling for either a new vote or to just let the carnage hurt every piece of society, if they can’t have their way. Leftists in France are calling for the resignation of popularly elected President Macron, and the implementation of their policy platform- even though the French-left’s candidate lost to Macron in 2017. Right-wing Americans want to send American forces into Venezuela to remove the winner of their last election, and left-wing Americans want us to ostracize Brazil’s new President and his right-wing extremism. Essentially, democracy is only cool if it yields the results we want, otherwise we need to remove the winner.

It is worth noting that many of these elections had irregularities and maybe even outright interference that casts doubt on the outcome. That is a serious problem. If it can be absolutely proven that an election was stolen (as seems clear in NC-09’s Congressional race), an election like that should not be recognized. Short of that, we should make it our mission to insure the fairness of future elections. Invest in ballot security. Break down barriers to citizens voting. Insure that our elections are free and fair, and that all votes count. Trying to overturn elections in the absence of absolute and indisputable proof will only insure Russia’s election of making Americans, and the west in general, doubt our electoral systems. We’d be much better off campaigning in the next election on safeguarding our electoral system for everyone. Basically, I stand with Speaker Pelosi on how we should move forward.

You win some, you lose some. If we dispute every election we don’t win, and try to overturn all of those results, we will do as much to damage the strength of our democracies as anything Vladimir Putin could ever try to do.

Unhinged Trump- Landing a Plane With No Wings

Let’s be clear, none of this is normal. The President of the United States spent his Sunday taking to Twitter to attack dead Senators, special prosecutors, and television personalities. He called for government sanctions against “Saturday Night Live” for making fun of him. Last week Donald Trump said it would be “very bad, very bad” if his supporters are unhappy. Again, this isn’t normal.

I don’t so much fear what an avowed moron can do within the limits of the Presidency, but I do fear the future he is making possible. Many of the limits on Presidential power are created by adherence to norms. They are based on respect for the process and the rule of law. This man doesn’t accept any of that. Fortunately he’s largely incompetent. That will not always be the case.

The bigger fear is the creation of a “generation Trump.” Would a successor, whether it is Don Jr., Pence, or something even worse, find both motivation in Trump, and increased competence in themselves? Could we find his erosion of norms and our government processes becomes a long term problem?

Donald Trump may lose in 2020 on the strength of pure opposition to all he stands for. The only way for his ideology to be defeated and sent to the scrap heap of history is for conservative Americans to reject his unhinged behavior. I hold out little hope that he loses the Republican nomination in 2020, but I do hope that 20 or 30% of Republicans will choose to vote for someone, anyone else in 2020. It’s the only way to destroy this dangerous ideology.

So You Want to Drag Rep. Ilhan Omar

I’m not a big fan of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. I’m not a big fan of other more hard-line lefty freshman House members like AOC either. I don’t agree with Rep. Omar’s position on Israel. I’m unhappy with her rhetoric on Israel. In short, I’m not willing to defend her position on Israel.

I also understand a few other things. Rep. Omar represents her very blue district, not my swing district. Rep. Omar holds positions that she ran on. Rep. Omar holds positions that I won’t ever have to vote for, unless she seeks national office. Rep. Omar may be something I consider to be bad, but there are limits to her importance.

Perhaps Rep. Omar is worth rebuke. Before we get there, let’s ask ourselves a few questions. Did you defend the violence in Charlottesville by saying there were “fine people on both sides?” Did you agree with the positions of David Duke on racial issues? Have you supported thinly veiled white nationalist lingo and propaganda? Did you defend putting kids in cages because “they don’t belong here?” Defend Congressman Steve King? Refer to African and non-white nations as “shit holes?” Do you normally talk about anti-Semitic code language, such as “the global elite,” talk about how “the Jews control Hollywood,” or otherwise make light of Jewish people and their supposed ties to money? These are important questions that should tell you a lot about yourself.

If your answer to any or all of the questions I just asked is “yes,” I have a request for you- do not worry about Rep. Omar. There are many of us who never supported or said any of that, and we are perfectly equipped to deal with her beliefs and rhetoric without your help. I’m neither defending her or agreeing with her, I’m simply saying your interest in her is not the defense of Israel or the Jewish faith, but probably rather your biases against her race and religion, and Lord knows that we don’t need anymore anti-Muslim rhetoric out there. If you were fine with President Trump’s hateful rhetoric against any number of people and groups, just sit this one out and let those of us who don’t want to make Rep. Omar into the symbol of anti-Muslim propaganda figure out if her words have become too much. Honestly, just sit this one to the side and let the adults handle it.

Dividing Lines

The political order is breaking down right in front of us. While DC is immersed in ideological battles, we’re seeing traditional liberalism and conservatism morph right in our eyes, you have cultural liberals arguing for free trade, cultural conservatives railing against billionaires, and moderates on both sides picking and choosing amidst the carnage.

This is not to say there aren’t still more traditional left and right, or even extreme left and right. That still exists. The main point is that there are new politics emerging, like a spring blooming from the Earth. In the aftermath of 2016, there are new coalitions forming, some good, some bad.

Americans aren’t satisfied with their political choices. This is why 42% self-identify as independent. It’s why more radical voices are rising on the left and right. It’s why people who lack credibility (Trump, Bernie, AOC) are gaining followings. People want to hear what they want to hear, not what is “possible” or “electable.” It’s why talking about the cost of something, or Congressional viability, or details of a plan haven’t derailed some of the frauds and grifters who have risen in our politics. Nobody cares about what’s wrong with their lies.

The only way out of this hellscape is vision. Someone will have to put something real, appealing, and truly good for people’s lives on the table. Tax subsidies for Amazon to bring minimum wage jobs to Queens aren’t exciting, even if they’re an upgrade for people who need more income there. Activists will sabotage that every time, because there’s no real joy in it. People want their standard of living improved. They want opportunity. The only way to stop them from dumb ideas is to offer good ones.

Income Assistance for those “Unwilling to Work,” Cow Farts, Killing the Airline Industry, and Placating Some Folks

Call me cynical- I don’t believe AOC’s botched roll out of her “Green New Deal” was a mistake. The Justice Dems poster child and former Bernie Sanders organizer has promised to “lean in” to an oncoming “war” in the Democratic Party, complete with primaries across the party. She’s been clear that she’s not willing to compromise with anyone, on much of anything. Her response to Democrats that want to repair Obamacare instead of overhaul the system for Medicare for All was very telling:

There are lots of questions to be answered on Medicare for All, and plenty of good reasons to look at other alternatives that get you to universality, or at least better than you have now. AOC isn’t willing to look at them though, and the reasoning has been hiding in plain sight for a long time now- her goal is eliminating any moderation within the Democratic Party. Why, you ask? Because AOC and Bernie Sanders aren’t radical or extreme anymore if everyone agrees with them.

Take the Green New Deal resolution AOC has been leading the charge on along with Senator Markey. There is nothing extreme about putting forward an actual bill (not a Resolution) to combat climate change, develop green energy, and create millions of jobs- in fact it’s smart policy on every level. During the roll out the details were a bit hazy, but the concept is so good that old pros like Markey wanted to join AOC’s cause. So did some of the party’s Presidential candidates too. It seemed like a good idea, not just harmless.

Then of course, came the details. They weren’t so good. The “FAQs” (frequently asked questions) weren’t signed off on by anyone else, and didn’t match the actual resolution. There was talk of income assistance for “those unwilling to work,” a Republican messaging wet dream. Then there was talk of cow farts. Yes, really. And yes, there was mention of eliminating airline travel. Yes, she uses planes regularly. And yes, they included language saying nuclear energy is off the table. It was an ugly “screw up,” one they even tried to claim was doctored- it wasn’t.

There are pretty decent arguments to be had for universal income, cutting back consumption of red meat, cutting back flight traffic, and not making nuclear energy central to our energy future- and nowhere near universal support for doing anything. I doubt that Democrats want to campaign on eliminating the union jobs in the nuclear sector, ending steak and burger consumption, closing airports, and giving tax dollars to “lazy people”- which is exactly how Donald Trump and Republicans will label those ideas, while spending millions of dollars to tell swing voters in Michigan and Pennsylvania just how radical Democrats are. Presented this way, you can’t build majority support for any of it. That’s even more true among swing voters.

So why release this? If you want to believe it was an honest mistake, have at it. Of course, you’re being willfully ignorant though. Why release anything to accompany the actual resolution, which was pretty clear on it’s own? FAQs can be helpful to the press, sure, but why did a draft version exist with a bunch of things not in the actual resolution? Their FAQs describe what might as well have been a different resolution altogether, so why was this draft written in the first place? How was the office staff so incompetent as to release the wrong version? I mean really, they’re calling for a massive overhaul of our energy policies and economy as a whole, but they can’t use a Congressional website correctly? If they’re truly just incompetent in this case, that should worry you too.

All of this leads me to the conclusion that they’re actually not incompetent, this wasn’t a mistake, and this was the plan all along. The idea was to have the entire Democratic “establishment” get behind the ideas that some would call “radical”- because if everyone agrees with AOC (and of course Bernie), then you can’t call them extreme or radical anymore. They’re now the mainstream. Their ideas are mainstreamed by the endorsement of them coming from the rest of the Democratic Party. Try arguing to the press that these other Democrats “didn’t sign onto that,” because they signed onto the actual resolution instead. It’s muddled messaging at best, and impossible at worst. Lefty activists will ask why they oppose the Green New Deal. The press will drag them into the weeds. The GOP will mock them over the details in the FAQs and call them radicals.

Inevitably AOC will eventually endorse her old boss Bernie, in part because she agrees with him, and in part because he’s a nice placeholder until she’s eligible to run herself. When his opponents try to label him as unelectable and extreme, she’ll trot out to his defense and not that they agreed with him, on this and other matters, such as health care. Trump will elevate her in the debate as a representative of the Democratic Party of 2020, because he sees her as vulnerable among the voters he needs. She’ll embrace that image. Everyone will be forced to pick sides. Being that so many Democrats are embracing her now, it will be tough to get back the space later. Welcome to being pinned in the corner.

Re-Alignment

I registered to vote in 2001, as a Democrat. Michael Bloomberg was a Republican, no one was discussing whether or not demographic politics were destiny or not, and Donald Trump beating a Clinton or a Bush for President seemed like a total joke.

The two parties are changing quickly, right before our eyes. The Republican Party of 2001 was very different than 2019. Gone are the aristocratic Bush types at the top. Gone is the globalist view of military engagement and global trade from the Bush days, and in it’s place is Trump isolationist policy. The Republican Party is now a cultural identity party for “traditional” America, stressing nationalism, law and order, and aggressive anti-elitism. They’re both longing for a cultural America that is traditional, but also calling into question the last 80 years of globalism in American foreign policy. This is a far cry from the Republican Party of Bush- a neoconservative foreign policy, pro-big business (which they still mostly are in policy, but not as much rhetoric.), and theocratic morality politics.

The Democratic Party is basically on another planet too. Bill Clinton’s moderation politics are taking a beating from the activists. “Safe, legal, and rare” to describe abortion policy would almost be disqualifying in a primary. The party has moved a solid step left on everything from taxes to guns, from abortion to criminal justice reform, on health care to LGBT rights. Would a Democrat reiterate Bill Clinton’s pronunciation that “the era of big government is over” in a 2022 State of the Union? Would they even consider a balanced budget, such as Clinton oversaw, as a positive? While the reality is that the Democrats have not really moved crazy left as a practical matter, the rhetoric has shifted dramatically. The Democratic Party is abandoning much of the strategic practicality of Clinton and Obama for more ideological, direct appeal to what it sees as it’s base.

Perhaps that is the biggest shift in American politics over the past 18 years- who each party views as it’s base. When I started in politics in 2002, the Rust Belt man in a Ford pick-up truck was a Democrat, or at least a swing voter. The wealthier suburbs of Philadelphia were moderate Republicans. Now that’s switched. For all the talk of rural Republicans and urban, more diverse Democrats, perhaps those changes are minor compared to the exchange of blue collar whites to Republicans, and educated, white collar whites to Democrats. The Democratic Party is now more Starbucks, the Republicans more Dunkin (for the record, I love both.). The Democratic Party is adapting to a coalition of white collar suburban white people joining African-Americans and most every other group that is considered a minority. The Republicans, under the colorful rhetoric of Trump, are welcoming blue collar, lower middle class, Rust Belt whites to their billionaires and traditionalists.

The biggest driver of the political shifts is the way the two parties now view America’s place in the world. Donald Trump’s new base has driven the Republicans away from international trade deals, rhetorically against cheap foreign labor, to want out of NATO, to want to withdraw from treaties such as KORUS, and to want out of conflicts in places like Syria and Afghanistan. The basic tenet of the Trump doctrine is “why are we paying for it” with regards to the world, and for a desire to spend that money at home. Just as dramatic is the shift on the Democratic side. The Democratic Party is suddenly the party of free trade, foreign intervention in places like Syria, and arguing for at least a more liberal border. Republicans are increasingly uninterested in international collaboration with allies like Canada, South Korea, and our traditional EU allies. Democrats aren’t feeling so great about collaborating with nations they see as against their values, such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, or Italy. This shift has had impacts both in foreign and domestic policy.

All of this has left some people out of place in their own political parties. Michael Bloomberg, mentioned above, has gone from a Republican, to an independent, to a Democrat. The Blue Dog Democrats are virtually gone away, while there aren’t pro-choice Republicans in Congress anymore. Those pieces of their coalitions have left them, eliminating the base of support for most of those members. They’ve gradually lost primaries to more ideological candidates, and lost general elections because their own voters abandoned them.

The major question for the future is if the left-right divide will break down- will the Bernie voters and Trump voters eventually link up? Both are populists that want to shock the system. One took over their party, the other has not been able to so far. Could they eventually all be in the Republican camp if Democrats continue to reject populism?

We are living through a realignment in our politics that is changing both coalitions. The political parties are not what they were when I registered. If you had told me in 2001 that a Republican President would be for isolationist trade and foreign policies, and that I’d oppose that President like I do, I would not believe you. So imagine America by 2040.