Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Along intraparty lines



We're still a year and a half from the election, and the 2020 campaign has already been a shape-shifting thing, with the biggest Democratic field in history, and a Republican president determined to prove that he and he alone can defy political gravity, a second time.

The Democratic herd will thin itself out, of course; it’s subject to the same law of political thermodynamics as the president*: things fall apart. Majorities narrow. Bedrock constituencies have second thoughts. Lately, everyday GOPeople have done just that, pushing back against the transmitted wisdom of the Republican church.

From those occupying the seats in Congress to the ones in folding chairs at town halls, Republicans are starting to think for themselves vis-à-vis Trump's legislative agenda, and who on the other side might be in a position to stop it a year from November. That fact will be problematical for a White House determined to establish a sense of Republican invincibility, behind a single party identity. The reliable party catechism—“Republicans fall in line”—may be falling out of favor with the people who matter most: Republicans. ...

Read the full piece at Swamp

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Pelosi's dilemma


REP. JERRY Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, announced on June 3 the intent to vote to find Attorney General and presidential tool William Barr in contempt in Congress. That happened the day before the committee issued subpoenas to former White House communications director and Trump whisperer Hope Hicks, and to Amy Donaldson, one-time chief of staff to former White House Counsel Don McGahn.

They're the latest moves in the attempt to continue the ostensible fact-finding into wrongdoing by President* Trump, fact-finding that many House Democrats and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi want completed before they even consider the process of Trump’s impeachment -- a process that, in meaningful respects, has already begun in fact, if not in name.

Speaker Pelosi has presided over much to'ing and fro'ing about pursuit of "the I word" by the members of the Democratic-majority House of Representatives. This strum und drang is happening mostly because Pelosi and most of the House Dems continue to look at impeachment through the purely political lens -- focusing on impeachment as a political event, rather than what it really is: a constitutional process.

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But the more Pelosi deliberates about it, the more she'll be forced to confront another side of the current dilemma, one that finds her in lockstep with the Republicans enabling a president* with no respect for the rule of law.

It's inescapable: Despite the divergence of their ultimate objectives, for now and into the foreseeable future, Pelosi and the Republicans are reading from the same page of the slow-walk impeachment hymnal.

Both are deeply invested in slowing down or derailing the advance of an impeachment narrative in Congress, albeit for different reasons. Both are eagerly watching the weathervane of popular opinion, each looking for different vindications.

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AND BOTH are hoping the immovable object of the 2020 presidential election will complicate a march, slow or otherwise, towards impeachment, each to serve a different agenda.

The Republicans are fine with this. They couldn’t care less about the short-term optics, as long as their long-term goals are pursued and achieved. It's more problematical for Pelosi. Any perceived alignment with Republican objectives makes her ability to hold a fractious election-eve caucus together that much more complicated.

Pushing back against an impeachment inquiry is, day by day, getting more and more indefensible for Pelosi, who leads a House that’s less concerned with the perception of a public unreceptive to impeachment, and more concerned with a reality of a president for whom impeachment proceedings may be the only check.

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That unintended adversarial alliance revealed itself before another inconvenient collision of theory and practice. On Tuesday, June 4, and purely by accident, Pelosi and the House Democrats undercut their own rationale for not pursuing impeachment.

That’s when, amid applause and pep-rally chants from the gallery, the Democratic-controlled House passed the DREAM and Promise Act of 2019, a bill to give 2.5 million undocumented immigrants a path to U.S. citizenship.

“The bill addresses DACA program recipients and the beneficiaries of Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforced Departure. This includes DREAMers or those brought to the United States illegally as children,” The New York Times reported. “Even if the bill is passed by the Republican-controlled Senate, the White House has said President Trump will veto it.”

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YOU DON’T have to be the most astute student of American politics to see the contradiction — or the disconnect — between what the House Democrats did on Tuesday and what Speaker Pelosi has been offering for weeks as a reason for not beginning an impeachment inquiry. Pelosi, and others opposing any impeachment overtures, have said it would be a waste of time and capital to make the effort to impeach Trump in the House if that effort had no chance of succeeding in the Senate.

Curious how that fatalistic perspective vis-à-vis House action on impeachment disappeared entirely when it came to the House voting on the DREAM and Promise Act (which passed 237-187, with seven Republicans voting for it).

Even though the DREAM bill’s fate in the Senate may be just as DOA as any impeachment vote would be, Pelosi and House Democrats nonetheless went through the motions, stood on principle, and took that DREAM bill vote anyway. It’s an inconsistency of position that seems hard to explain, much less defend. Not that Pelosi & Co. won’t try.

Image credits: Pelosi: J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press. Dream and Promise FAQ sheet: dreamandpromise.com

Monday, May 27, 2019

Expediting justice, like it or not


THE WHEELS of justice grind slow but grind fine,” Sun Tzu observed in The Art of War. That observation is a truism nowadays, and has been for a long time, but even that reality has exceptions. Sometimes, justice doesn’t just take its sweet time for its own sake; President* Donald Trump is learning that justice gets fast-tracked now and then — despite his best efforts and those of his proxies to keep that from happening.

House Trump is dealing with the inconvenience of that occasional judicial efficiency. Politico, for example, reported on May 23 that Trump’s fight to stop release of his financial records is being fast-tracked for a three-judge appellate panel to make a pivotal decision.

From Politico: “In a two-page order, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals’ judges scheduled oral arguments for July 12 in the case that pits the president’s attorneys against House Democrats, who issued a subpoena to the accounting firm Mazars USA for eight years of Trump’s financial records.

“The court date will come several weeks after a lower court rejected the president’s attempts to block the subpoena, arguing that the request was politically motivated. Trump’s lawyers immediately appealed the ruling, and the president called the opinion ‘ridiculous’ and ‘totally wrong,’ and noted Judge Amit Mehta was an appointee of President Barack Obama.

“In the next round of legal sparring, Trump will go before a panel of judges that includes another Obama appointee, Patricia Millett, as well David Tatel, a Bill Clinton appointee, and Neomi Rao, who joined the D.C. Circuit in March as a Trump appointee.”

That case follows the one presided over by Mehta, who ruled on May 12 that he would decide the Mazars USA matter in expeditious fashion.

“The sole question before the court — is the House Oversight Committee’s issuance of a subpoena to Mazars USA LLP for financial records of President Trump and various associated entities a valid exercise of legislative power? — is fully briefed, and the court can discern no benefit from an additional round of legal arguments,” Mehta wrote. “Nor is there an obvious need to delay ruling on the merits to allow for development of the factual record.”

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THESE RULINGS suggest the existence of a judiciary, some of it vetted and approved by Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, that might have some pesky, inconvenient ethical affinities for actually following the law. They suggest there are judges that don’t like being presumed to be partisan, regardless of the law they’re sworn to uphold.

Mehta and the three-judge panel, at least, and maybe more, are inclined to push back against the intrinsic cynicism of the Trump administration, and its various attempts to slow down the progress of Trump-related cases through the court system — trying to manipulate labyrinthine bureaucracy and an already-crowded court calendar for a nakedly political purpose.

Judges probably don’t like being worked that way. Who the hell would?

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The administration’s hopes of running out the clock on subpoenas and congressional inquiries into Trump’s actions will run headlong into a problem they can’t control: There’s too much clock. There’s way too much time between now and November of this year for House Trump to navigate, let alone the time until November 2020; there’s already too much of a contrary dynamic loose in the national air.

And there’s too much in the court system that can’t be controlled by House Trump. If the swift rulings by Mehta and the three-judge panel are any indicator of what’s coming, the slow meandering  through the district-court judiciary garden, the scenic-route journey the administration was counting on, may not come to pass. The reasons why have more to do with practicality than politics.

The judges about to be tasked with ruling on the Trump-related congressional inquiries that can’t get resolved in Congress will realize (if they don't already) that the gravity of these matters — what’s at stake in the rulings for each or all of them, from the standpoint of their centrality to the rule of law itself — makes slow-walking cases like these an impossibility. They’re too important for that. We can anticipate House Democrats asking for expedited status on that basis.

But ironically, these cases are also too insignificant. Various legal analysts on the cable channels have said that some administration claims of executive privilege and other dodges to maintain Trump’s cherished business-records confidentiality are so obviously unlawful that they’d be effectively dismissed from the start. What better cases to make short work of than those that shouldn’t have come to court in the first place? We should expect the district courts, judges appointed by Trump or not, to expedite those cases — or reject them — for that reason.

Image credits: Trump side-eye: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images. Mehta: public domain.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Pelosi's head game


HOUSE SPEAKER Nancy Pelosi reacted recently to the stonewalling of the Trump White House with a statement that was slyly provocative, almost genially subversive. Speaking May 22 at an annual Center for American Progress conference in Washington, Pelosi related what happened at what was supposed to be a frank discussion about infrastructure with President* Trump and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

“In an orchestrated — almost to an 'oh, poor baby' point of view — he came into the room and said that I said that he was engaged in a cover-up and he couldn't possibly engage in a conversation on infrastructure as long as we are investigating him,” Pelosi told the audience.

That “cover-up” statement is about as close as Pelosi will get to a full-on shrieking call for impeachment. The statement didn’t exactly breathe rhetorical fire, but it didn’t have to. Trump’s reaction to it — a flurry of tweets, a mandatory chorus of denials from various Trump deputies who didn’t dare cross the boss — said everything. In the Trump Tower of the president’s mind, Joe Biden is happily living in one wing of the penthouse. Nancy Pelosi is happily living in the other.

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The Speaker of the House has been a gradualist on the idea of pursuing impeachment against Trump. More and more of the Democratic caucus are deciding otherwise, sometimes angrily so. They believe that the constitutional leverage is entirely theirs in clashes with the executive branch. And they rightly raise the inescapable question: If the actions of this president don’t warrant impeachment inquiry, the threat and threshold of impeachment — as a deterrent and a recourse — may be irrelevant, if not worthless, now and in the future.

Pelosi may be on to something: Trump is just enough of a fight fan to appreciate the rope-a-dope pugilistically engineered by the legendary Muhammad Ali. When Pelosi says Trump is daring Dems to impeach him, she’s saying she thinks Trump is getting the Democrats into playing his victim game: Trump the aggrieved.

Pelosi’s plan so far has been to let things play out organically without jumping to a full-blown impeachment inquiry. She’s making Trump wait. She’s letting Trump punch himself out on Twitter, with bluster, in public. She’s getting Trump ensnared in a head game, locking the presidential asterisk in a functional limbo, unsure whether House Democrats will move to impeach him or not, and unable to really make a move without the certainty of which way the Democrats will go. At the mercy of as many events as he’s in control of.

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NO QUESTION, Pelosi’s playing a high-wire game. She runs the risk of alienating her own caucus (and undercutting the House’s singular oversight responsibility) by not holding an impeachment inquiry. More and more House Dems are bringing pressure on her to call the question of how to formally hold Trump accountable using the constitutional machinery distilled in what Trump fearfully calls “the I word.”

But Pelosi has capably played on Trump’s vanity and his tragically outsized insecurities, and worked the minder of the Oval Office into a deep funk that’s more and more apparent every time their paths cross. She’s got his number, big time. And he knows it.

In one scene in the 2012 Daniel Espinosa film Safe House, the exasperated, outplayed CIA-agent protagonist Ryan Reynolds tells his turncoat antagonist (played by Denzel Washington) why he refuses to be, well, exasperated and outplayed.

Reynolds says, “I’m not gonna let you get into my head.”

Washington tells him, “I already am in your head.”

Guess which character’s Nancy Pelosi. Guess which character is Donald Trump.

Image credits: Pelosi: Andrew Harnik/Associated Press. Ali: Source tk.

Donald Trump’s great cascade


DONALD TRUMP has spent more time in getaway weekend mode than any modern predecessor in the Oval Office, but he earned some time away from the office this holiday weekend. He didn't decamp for Mar-a-Lago, his usual haunt, with Melania in tow. Trump, wife and associates instead left for Japan, to meet with Prime Minister Abe and to meet Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako, the first to ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne in more than 30 years.

It's just as well he left town. The fuselage door to Air Force One closed behind a president* with more than the usual bad news to be obsessed over. Some of it will be especially unwelcome, since it calls into question the power, if not the existence, of The Base that Trump has relied on since his term began.

Writing in The New England Journal of Medicine in 1986, James W. Mold and Howard F. Stein, of the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, defined the term “cascade” (in biological context) as a reference to “a process that, once started, proceeds stepwise to its full, seemingly inevitable, conclusion.” A political version of the same thing has been accelerating in and around the Trump White House, a succession of bad news events building one after another, never more frequently than the last seven days.

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First there was the bad news everyone reported on all week: On Monday, May 20, in Washington, U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta upheld House Democrats’ subpoena for Trump’s financial records, ruling against Trump’s attempts to suppress the congressional subpoena intended to get Mazars USA, his accounting firm, to surrender his tax returns and other privileged financial docs.

In a 41-page opinion, the judge unraveled Team’s Trump legal arguments against the subpoena’s validity like a cheap suit. The special object of Mehta’s attention was the assertion by congressional Republicans that the House Judiciary Committee has to conduct an official impeachment inquiry before sending out subpoenas.

“It is simply not fathomable that a Constitution that grants Congress the power to remove a president for reasons including criminal behavior would deny Congress the power to investigate him for unlawful conduct — past or present — even without formally opening an impeachment inquiry," Mehta wrote. “Congress plainly views itself as having sweeping authority to investigate illegal conduct of a president, before and after taking office,” Mehta wrote. “This court is not prepared to roll back the tide of history.”

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THAT WAS MONDAY. That was bad enough. On Wednesday, May 22, it got worse. That’s when Judge Edgardo Ramos of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled against a Trump request to stop Deutsche Bank, Trump’s lender of first and last resort, from complying with congressional subpoenas seeking his cherished, deeply guarded financial records.

NBC News reported that Deutsche Bank had made “more than $2 billion in loans to the president during his business career, and he still owes the bank at least $130 million, according to Trump’s latest financial disclosures.”

The New York Times reported on May 22 that House Financial Services and Intelligence Committees “had agreed to hold off on enforcing the subpoenas until seven days after the judge’s ruling, giving Mr. Trump’s lawyers time to appeal the ruling. ... but House Democrats are now closer than ever to securing a vast cache of long-sought documents.”

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And oh yeah, that same day, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said flat-out that President* Trump was “engaged in a cover-up.”

"In an orchestrated — almost to an 'oh, poor baby' point of view — he came into the room and said that I said that he was engaged in a cover-up and he couldn't possibly engage in a conversation on infrastructure as long as we are investigating him," Pelosi told the audience at an annual Center for American Progress conference, as reported May 22 in The Hill.

What had happened? Trump threw a hissy fit when he first heard about Pelosi’s “cover-up” comment, then he showed up about 10 minutes late for a meeting he never intended to do anything at in the first place. He met with Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer at the White House for all of three minutes before noisily declaring the meeting over, and then decamping for the Rose Garden for the weak stagecraft of an obviously planned speech before the waiting press corps.

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TRUMP GOT more interesting news May 22 with the NBC News report that “Wells Fargo and TD Bank are the two of nine institutions that have so far complied with subpoenas issued by the House Financial Services Committee demanding information about their dealings with the Trump Organization, according to the sources. ...

“Wells Fargo provided the committee with a few thousand documents and TD Bank handed the committee a handful of documents, according to a source who has seen them,” NBC News reported.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Getting out of line: Four departures
from the partisan


WE PROBABLY shouldn’t have wondered. When you spend enough time in the bizzaro world of presidential politics, anything, it seems, can happen. Anything at all.

The one undying catechism of Republican identity in Trumptime, the absolute enduring reality is that the Republicans, from rank & file to leadership, constitute a solid wall for support for President* Trump in particular, and the Republican / conservative agenda generally.

But few things monkey-wrench a rule like a real-world, working exception to that rule. Or four of them. Within the last month, four things happened that call into question the willingness of conservatives — from everyday-people Republicans in two deep-red states to lawmakers on Capitol Hill — to abide by the expected Republican orthodoxy of behavior toward those on the other side. There’s been listening going on, and maybe even a reach, back and forth, across the aisle.

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On April 15, Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Democrat seeking the presidency, was favorably received by the audience at a Fox News town hall in Bethlehem, Pa. — an audience you’d think would be predisposed to make a red-meat meal of the progressive Sanders, by way of interrogation by two aggressive Fox News moderators, Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum.

But it didn’t happen like that. It was more than halfway civilized, Sanders in a spirited serve & volley with the Fox News team, and with the audience. Sanders engaged positively with the audience in a call-and-response that effectively made the town hall stage Sanders’ own campaign event.

And then there was the set-piece moment — when Baier asks the presumably conservative audience if they could support Medicare for all, and the presumably conservative audience applauded. For more than a moment.

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ON MAY 8, news reports surfaced that the Senate Intelligence Committee, stealing a serious march on the functions of the Senate Judiciary Committee, subpoenaed Donald J. Trump, Jr., a son of President* Trump, to examine his possible role in Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The Intelligence committee is chaired by North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr ... a Republican.

“The subpoena puts Burr at odds with some of his Republican colleagues who want to move on after the release of Mueller’s findings,” The Associated Press reported. Those colleagues include Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina pepper pot whose hair self-combusted when he learned of the subpoena.

“ ... if I were Donald Trump Jr.'s lawyer I would tell him, 'You don't need to go back into this environment anymore, you've been there for hours and hours and hours,” Graham said on Fox News Sunday, in an expression of toweringly bad advice. “And nothing being alleged here changes the outcome of the Mueller investigation,” Graham said. I would call it a day.”

Frank Luntz, a GOP pollster told USA Today that the subpoena “is a courageous move for Burr, for the senator, because he knew that the angriest people would be members of his own party. It shows that he is pretty secure both in his position in the Senate and among his own voters.”

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On May 10, Politico reported that Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee — Texas Rep. Mike Conaway leading the way — praised California Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the committee, “for creating a newfound sense of comity on the Intelligence Committee — reflected in the committee’s bipartisan request for all of special counsel Robert Mueller’s files.” This after Conaway took Schiff to task, about six weeks ago, in the wake of the Mueller report's release, urging Schiff to submit “your immediate resignation.”

“Schiff probably deserves the lion’s share of the credit because he sets the tone as chairman,” Conaway told Politico. “Let’s keep looking through the front windshield and not reprise a fight that’s behind us. The committee for the last several weeks has operated old school, and that’s a credit to leadership — Adam Schiff’s leadership as well as Devin’s,” Conaway said, giving a shoutout to California Rep. Devin Nunes, the panel’s top Republican.

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ALSO ON MAY 10, Massachusetts Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren, headlong into her own campaign for the White House, was similarly received in Kermit, West Virginia, heart of the coal belt and as rock-ribbed a Trump constituency as Trump could ask for. Warren was heartily applauded by the audience, as she held forth on different issues, most notably the 800-pound gorilla crisis: the opioid epidemic for which West Virginia is one of several grounds zero in the United States.

Politico reported: “Warren entered the room from behind a large American flag draped in the station. Roving around a circle of people seated in fold-out chairs, she tried to strike a tone equal parts empathy and fury, while avoiding pity. She went full prairie populist, telling people their pain and suffering was caused by predatory pharmaceutical barons.

“The 63-year-old fire chief, Wilburn ‘Tommy’ Preece, warned Warren and her team beforehand that the area was ‘Trump country’ and to not necessarily expect a friendly reception. But he also told her that the town would welcome anyone, of any party, who wanted to address the opioid crisis. Preece was the first responder to a reported overdose two years ago only to discover that the victim was his younger brother Timmy, who died.

“Preece said after the event that he voted for Trump and that the president has revitalized the area economically. But he gave Warren props for showing up.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Biden's in. Deal with it.


AMERICA IS an idea,” Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. told us in the campaign video from the Biden web site, the web site that indicated like nothing else could that, as of April 25, the former vice president was officially joining the 2020 presidential conversation, making his bid to reclaim the American idea from its captors, foreign and domestic.

In the video, Biden speaks over footage of the deadly 2017 neo-Nazi marches in Charlottesville, Virginia, describing those involved as having “crazed faces, illuminated by torches.” “And that’s when we heard the words of the president of the United States. He said there were quote ‘some very fine people on both sides.’” Biden slowly repeats the words “very fine people.”

He then said that, with those words, “the president of the United States assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it. And in that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I’d seen in my lifetime.”

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Biden continues. “I believe history will look back on this back on four years of this president and all he embraces as an abhorrent moment in time. If we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation. Who we are. And I cannot stand by and watch that happen. ...

“That’s why today I am announcing my candidacy for President of the United States.”

Biden seeks the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination in a field of contenders too crowded by half, all of them facing a ruthless but damaged president whose disregard for the rule of law beggars the imagination. Biden also confronts a Democratic field eager to put distance between now and the past, even at the risk of alienating the voters whose loyalty has lifted the Democratic party before, more than once.

Ironically, Trump and the Democrats are using the same tactic in the runup to the primaries. Both are trying to frame the coming election as an inescapable existential choice. Trump hopes to cast Democrats as socialists and pit them against the nation; some in the Democratic party are working to pit Democrats against themselves. Both are doomed to fail, and Joe Biden may well be the reason why.

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WHAT I observed about Biden in October 2015 is true today: He’s “an Amtrak-corridor politician unafraid to meet people on their turf; a voluble man of outsize emotions; an empath of American politics — making the gaffes and outbursts of passion that mark him as human and, as such, eminently electable as one of us.”

Joe Biden is, among other things, someone who believes in the function of the American government, and the singular genius of that government’s operators’ manual — the United States Constitution. But Biden’s also a process guy, heartily embracing the muscular, intimate, in-your-face tropes of presidential campaign politics. He never met a baby he wouldn’t kiss. Among other people. Which has been a problem.

One of Biden’s main campaign challenges will be to fully grasp how the rules of tactile, retail politics have changed in the #MeToo era. Just weeks before Biden announced, two credible accusers came forward to call Biden on instances of unwanted touching and physical familiarity. It’s a problem Biden has addressed in the short term, even though it’s certain to come up again in the primary season.

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With these too-recent allegations of touching overstep, it’s clear that Biden needs to learn the new tolerances, the new rules of touch and permission in 21st-century public space, the way culture, society and the rules of attraction themselves have changed in #MeToo time.

We also have to consider the totality of Biden’s public life, rather than snapshot a relative handful of problematic events. But wait — what a handful of events: Biden’s historically embittering performance interrogating Anita Hill at the Clarence Thomas Senate hearings in 1991; the problematic optics of his work to advance the controversial Crime Bill in 1994; an unfortunate stand against school busing (a “bankrupt concept,” he said) to achieve integration in his state of Delaware, in 1974.

Americans like to think leaders are capable of evolving, and Biden is no exception. There shouldn’t be any doubt that Biden has been doing that evolution, making the necessary changes in the last 30 or 40 years — learning, however clumsily, how to be more emotionally and morally inclusive — how to enhance the, uh, articulate speech of his own heart.  Barack Obama wouldn’t have picked him for a running mate in 2008 and 2012 if Biden hadn’t shown documentary evidence of that evolution, and, importantly now, the potential for more of it.

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YOUNGER, progressive-leaning Democrats and their supporters have been ready to make the 2020 election a zero-sum-game referendum, a hard, stark, which-side-are-you-on choice between the quicksilver open-mindedness of youth and the sclerotic mindsets of the elders — even, yes, the Democratic elders.

But there are millions of Democratic voters who take pride in showing up on Election Day, happily taking the place of younger and more indifferent Americans, who, with weight of historical evidence as proof, don’t vote as consistently or reliably as their older counterparts on either side of the partisan divide.

Those loyal older voters? They’re Joe Biden’s people, and they have been for years. Age is no more valid a reason to pass on a Biden candidacy — and the voters that candidacy will require — than gender or race would be a reason to dismiss anyone else in the 2020 campaign.

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And if the Democrats are serious about inclusion and demographic breadth, Biden shouldn’t expect side-eye from rank-and-file Dems. Biden exhibits a baseline retail empathy that transcends orchestrated appearances on the campaign stage. It is foundational to who and what he is.

Yes he’s messy, he can be a tad sloppy, he blows through social boundaries when he shouldn’t, he’s almost too effusive in a deeply standoffish era. At first (or even second) blush, at all the cosmetic levels, Biden looks like a man out of step with his country ... until you reckon with where we are today, all of us, in a country out of step with itself.

The Democrats previously fixated on the problems they’d have if Biden got in the 2020 race. They should focus more on the problems they’d have had if he didn’t get in. Problems of a field of contenders with comparatively little or no name recognition. Of little or no affinity with millions of blue-collar Democrats in the vital Rust Belt states. ...

And the problem of having no experience in the White House. Few things will be harder to ignore than a track record of success. Trump can dismiss Biden, and the Democratic field of candidates, as weak nanny-state socialist apologists; those same candidates might be tempted to try defining Biden as an overrated anachronism. What they have in common: both have to take him seriously. Biden’s got the gravitas of experience, and they know it, each for different reasons.

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TEAM TRUMP, for example, reluctantly recognizes that, by way of his time in the public sector, at a variety of levels, Biden thoroughly dismantles the emerging Republican binary identifier of the collective Democratic campaign. Trump-versus-the-socialists branding might work against Biden’s younger fellow candidates, whose styles and policy prescriptions are thought to bear the whiff of the radical.

It definitely won’t hurt him. Biden’s deep affinities for the union — that deeply American institution — and for the blue-collar workers who characterize its identity will frustrate the idea of painting him as a Molotov-throwing outsider. Biden’s spent far too long working within the machinery of the federal government, being a part of its operation at levels Trump can only dream of. He's spent enough time among his fellow Amtrak-riding capitalists for them to know who he is. Joe Biden’s the institutionalist William Barr wishes he was.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The misinformation:
William Barr's redaction of truth


IT WAS ALL supposed to be clean, neat, surgical. The newly-minted Attorney General William Barr would deign to read the overwhelming volume of the 400+ pages of the Mueller Report so we wouldn't have to.

Barr, previously hailed as the last institutionalist left alive in Washington, would burn up a weekend to consume the report, and release its findings in a breathtakingly short four! page! summary that would satiate critics of President* Trump, burnish Barr's sterling reputation, and calm the turbulent waters roiling the moats around House Trump. All would be well in the fullness of time.

Only it ... didn't turn out that way. What's been developing, or metastasizing, ever since in Washington and the nation has been a growing unease with Barr, President* Trump, and an increasingly brazen willingness to disregard the Constitution in the service of a single president. Barr, once the ostensible new adult on the block, has dug in his heels and refused to release the unexpurgated work product of Mueller & Co., in what looks more and more like a deal Barr has struck with Trump, a private transaction that has effectively secured for the presidential asterisk an attorney general of, literally, his very own.

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Who would have believed it? After 2,800 subpoenas, 199 criminal complaints, 37 indictments and five guilty pleas achieved by Special Counsel Robert Mueller III over a long and painstaking 22 months, it took Barr just 48 hours -- the weekend of March 22-24 -- to apparently consume Mueller's 400+ page report and decide that, you know what, there was no there there profound enough to call for its immediate release.

If that strikes you, after almost two years, as something of a leap into the improbable, you are not alone. Team Trump spiked the ball that weekend in what it thought was the end zone, on the days of presumed triumph in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and the possible role that government functionaries and freelancers played in that interference.

They proclaimed victory — "Hoax! No collusion! No obstruction!" — on the basis of Barr's early and strangely comprehensive determination that House Trump was in the clear on everything. The final determination would have to come after Barr had time to more fully read the report and decide on what needed to be left in, for Congress' eyes and the public, and what had to come out ... before either Congress or the public got to see it.

Barr, and by extension Trump, tore down the goal posts before the game was over. In the days to come, Barr would double down on his initial intransigence, finally announcing plans to release the Mueller report on Thursday, April 18, on Holy Thursday, just in time for the news vacuum of Easter recess, when lawmakers and government insiders would be out of town. When it was released, Barr had held the completed report, with and without redactions, for a total of 28 days.

◊ ◊ ◊

ONE OF the deeper, structural problems with Barr's stonewalling/slow-walking strategy, at least in terms of the public, was that Barr himself apparently doomed it to failure.

There was nothing to be defended, by Barr or Trump or anyone else, until the full report was released. The report's "conclusions" couldn't possibly satisfy the House Judiciary Committee or the public ... until the final conclusions are known.

Trump's in a trickier spot there, in a black hole of his own design. He can't talk about it without embarrassing the attorney general he's come to revere. If Trump hasn't read the full report, and it's a safe bet he hasn't, he can't possibly speak to the report's findings with anything approaching credibility.

The absence of the full unredacted Mueller report is problematic; the full report is still necessary. But the longer Barr takes to make the full report public, the more excuses and explanations he gins up before he releases the document, the more he undercuts the public's ability to believe — in him.

◊ ◊ ◊

Writing in Politico on April 9, Asha Rangappa got to the core of the two central problems with Barr’s extraconstitutional gambit:

“Since Congress alone has the power to take action against the president, if he has broken the law or abused his power—which is true if the Justice Department adheres to its policy of not indicting a sitting president, even if it is not settled law—Congress would by necessity need to see the evidence Mueller has gathered to determine if impeachment is warranted. If lawmakers weren’t able to see the report, then the president would effectively be immunized from accountability for wrongdoing while he is in office, putting him above the law.”

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Bernie in the Fox's den


BERNIE SANDERS turned up on Fox News on Monday night. No, that's not a typo nor a hallucination. The self-described Democratic socialist seeking the presidency for the second time was the guest of honor at a Fox News town hall in Bethlehem, Pa., a kind of Daniel in the lion's den that Roger Ailes built (and unfriendly confines for a liberal of any pedigree).

But the fire Sanders brought to his questioners, Bret Baier and Martha McCallum, and the upbeat reception many in the audience gave him, point to a sea change that could make the primary season (at least) an interesting time. Sanders' appearance was one of the more profound shots fired in the still-nascent 2020 presidential campaign, and coming as it did on television, it almost certainly won't be the last of its kind.

It got people's attention. The Sanders town hall attracted 2.55 million viewers, with 489,000 of them in the holy grail demographic sweet spot of ages 25 to 54. His audience drew the biggest viewership of the town galls this year (so far). On that basis, Sanders' flinty, combatively principled approach to dealing with the GOP, and the weaponized Fox News bloviation machine, might be exactly what Democratic candidates need this year and next.

◊ ◊ ◊

First, it was an opportunity to prove that Democratic candidates as holistically perceived are not the angry, fire-breathing bomb throwers of President* Trump's tireless invention, but real people with policy prescriptions that maybe, just maybe, less reflexively doctrinaire Republicans could get their heads around.

We saw some of that possibility as Sanders fielded questions on a wide range of topics, from income inequality to Sanders' tax plan, from the likelihood of Joe Biden entering the race to the very idea of what a Democratic socialist is. On the matter of health care, Baier polled the house in Bethlehem: “A show of hands,” Baier said. “How many get their [health] insurance from work right now?”

A healthy number of hands went skyward. “Okay. Now, how many people are willing to transition to what the senator says, a government-run system?” Nearly every hand in the room went up. That plurality was further underscored by approval shouts, and a hearty applause for a idea that Trump and congressional Republicans have loved to vilify.



Even accounting for the possibility that Team Sanders had liberally seeded the room with its own supporters, there were certainly enough real Republicans in the place. Their rousing reaction to Sanders' presumably heretic proposal runs contrary to the attitudes of those in the amen corner of the GOP leadership.

◊ ◊ ◊

SECOND, SHOWING up within the conservative media ecosystem counters the myth that Democrats don't have the courage, or the nerve, to engage Republicans on their turf, and their televisual terms. Just as candidates are increasingly compelled to trying to campaign in all 50 states if they're serious about the presidency, the Democrats may need to get real about taking their message to all the places that matter, even if they haven't been welcome there in the past. Places like Fox News.

Gut-check moments like that are remembered by the opposition, even if they'd rather pretend it didn't happen. You get props for just showing up. That may have been Sanders' calculus; it's surely the same reason that South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg has reportedly been talking to House Ailes about hosting a Fox-hosted town hall of his own.

Feisty, articulate, smashmouth when necessary, Sanders brought a progressive message into a place where its toleration was least expected. To go by the reaction of some Republicans — presumably the voters of Trump's base — there's cause for concern. Reacting to Sanders' appearance, Heycel commented on the You Tube page dedicated to the town hall: “Voted Republican all my life. My next vote goes to Bernie!” Steven Porras couldn't agree more: “I’m not a Democrat but I’m on the Bernie train.”

For the loyalists of Team Trump, reactions like that suggest there's something new to fear, or at least think about: A cohort of voters as willing to vote their consciences in 2020 as they were in 2016, when many of them crossed over to Trump. What makes this so potentially important isn't not so much that Bernie Sanders came to Fox News. It's the fact that Bernie Sanders left Fox News amid an audience apparently more inclined to praise him than to bury him.

Image credits: Sanders: Fox News. Fox News Channel logo: © 2019 Fox News Channel.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Thinning the herd: Donations, Democrats
and the process of elimination


HAVE YOU launched your Democratic presidential campaign yet? That question has its roots in the political reality of the 2020 cycle; the Democratic field is as crowded now as it's been in a generation, with 17 contenders either formally in the race for the White House or seriously considering a bid.

But the 2020 contest, like every other such campaign, will be subject to its own attrition, and probably sooner rather than later. If the April 15th finance-tracking report from Politico is to be believed, that winnowing process is already underway, with the electorate making its choices by way of the wallet instead of in the voting booth.

The frontrunners at this time are, in some ways, the usual suspects, the ones whose campaigns either started early or benefited from some buzz or another. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the elder statesman of the season (by virtue of running in 2016 and not because of his age) was out in front with $20.7 million, followed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren ($16.5 million) Sen. Kamala Harris ($13.2 million), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand ($12.6 million), John Delaney, ($12.1 million) and Beto O'Rourke ($9.4 million).

◊ ◊ ◊

The next tier of five candidates drops off from there financially, by a little or a lot: Sen. Amy Klobuchar is next ($8.8 M), then Sen. Cory Booker ($7.9 M), South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg ($7.1 M), Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard ($4.5 M), and former Washington governor Jay Inslee ($2.3 M).

After that, there's another serious falloff in donations. Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper comes in with $2 million, businessman Andrew Yang with $1.8 million, and spiritualist author Marianne Williamson with $1.5 million.

The last drop-off doesn't seem to follow any chronological protocol. Julian Castro, for example, whose campaign started months ago, hasn't gained the kind of traction his campaign needs, or the traction one expects from a White House bid  several months along. Castro, who deserves better, is in last place in Politico's tally, with $1.1 million.

Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio isn't included, likely since his campaign started after Politico's chart was published. And of course the 800-pound gorilla in the room, former Vice President Joe Biden, hasn't entered the race yet.

Because we're in a fluid situation, Politico's chart already has limited utility; the constant flow of money will see to that soon enough. But it does give us an early snapshot — a campaign-math group portrait — into which candidates are catching fire, or not, where it counts.

To be continued, for some more than others.

Image credits: All graphics: Politico.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Watch Kamala Harris. Now keep watching.


Don’t fall asleep on Kamala Harris.

The Democratic California senator, who jumped out front as a declared candidate for the presidency, has been quietly going about her business since her splashy Oakland campaign rollout in January, when Harris both announced her candidacy and set the emotional bar for the campaign — a deft blend of ebullience and duty — that no other Democrat in the race has matched yet.

Other candidates have announced since then, like Beto O’Rourke, the early imagistic darling of the 2020 race. Others haven’t formally announced but might as well have; South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg, a startlingly nimble, intellectual force seemingly come out of nowhere, comes to mind.

But modern American politics needs money; modern American presidential politics demands it. Cash flow buys a campaign time and space, and imparts the credibility of staying visible. Money keeps the lights on in the office of a presidential dream ... and Kamala Harris has got a lot of it. ...

Read more at Swamp

Image credit: Swamp logo: © 2019 Jerrick Media LLC.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Trump and the price of vengeance


IT IS NOT enough that I succeed, others must fail,” said Genghis Khan, the 12th century superdespot who inspired merciless boardroom tactics, equally merciless dictators, and the taste for vengeance savored by the current occupant of the Oval Office.

All the punditalk about a possible overreach by House Democrats in the wake of the pending release of the Mueller report pales in comparison to the proven overreach of President* Donald Trump, doing a protracted victory lap over apparently prevailing in that closed-but-not-closed investigation. Trump can’t celebrate a win for its own sake; chaos and conflict are the twin north stars of his persona and his psyche. And now, in the wake of victory, Trump has reanimated conflict with an old foe to address a new enemy.

With the potential Richter-scale disclosures in the Mueller report now largely downplayed by Attorney General William Barr’s Cliff’s Notes synopsis of the Mueller report, the president* hasn’t shifted his sights to a new domestic policy program. Instead he’s focused on remounting the thrice-beaten dead horse of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.

With a statement to the Fox News bloviation ecosystem (“The Republican party will be the party of great health care. You watch.”) and apparently ready to make dismantling of that health care a central priority of the 2020 campaign — at the expense of at least 21 million Americans who can’t do without it — Trump’s busy turning the gold of a win into the dross of a stalemate or a loss, acting like a man blind to his own refusal to let a little success stand between himself and a major failure.

◊ ◊ ◊

Michael Kruse in Politico observed on March 29: “Barely more than a day after triumphantly (and incorrectly) blazoning his “Total EXONERATION,” Trump abruptly seized upon a Justice Department filing to pledge his intention to obliterate Obamacare. Bent on delivering on a campaign promise, Trump couldn’t resist the urge to try to parlay one win into an even larger one, no matter how improbable the odds. He ignored the advice of top staff and important allies, who pointed out that neither he nor his party had anything to offer as a replacement and that this almost certainly would work to the advantage of Democrats.”

The health-care issue is a convenient avenue where Trump can air a plethora of other grievances with his opponents, real and imagined. Even now, in the aftermath of what should be an easy layup of a victory lap with a touch of winner’s charitability, Trump’s hit full-vengeance mode, inveighing with a renewed vigor against the mainstream media, social media platforms, Hollywood and other available whipping boys and targets of opportunity.

He may well hope to exact revenge on his tormentors purely for its own sake. But never mind the mind-numbing logistical challenges of visiting Oval Office vengeance on each of more critics than he can count. In pursuing a mindless course of retribution, there’s a very real risk Trump runs by clumsily relitigating the purported wrongs against him for the last two years: the risk of turning voters off.

◊ ◊ ◊

VOTERS UNAFRAID to entertain something close to civility in the public discourse have reason to fear, or expect, tuning Trump out. The meanness of the man, his essential smallness, have been obvious in the worst way, and not just recently. Kruse reports: “To those ... who have watched him and known him longer than the insiders in Washington, this is par for the course for Trump. His vengeful, punitive, zero-sum worldview, they believe, dictates that a win alone is never enough; somebody else has to take the loss, and feel it.”

“Trump’s energy,” a former Trump associate told Kruse, “comes from conflict.”

“He is not interested in pleasures such as art and food and friendship, and he doesn’t seem to be motivated by love or creative impulses. The one exception is his drive to create conflict, which brings him the attention of others,” said Michael D’Antonio, a Trump biographer, to Politico.

“When he says he likes to fight — all kinds of fights — he is telling the truth.”

◊ ◊ ◊

Waging a punishment campaign is unproductive and potentially damaging to a presidency at any time in a term in office; A combative Richard Nixon tried that for months during the Watergate debacle, and look what good it did him. By waging vengeance on the eve of a presidential campaign, Trump risks alienating voters — not so much his Base voters, who’ll happily drink his bathwater if he asked them, but the swing voters and independents that helped him win in 2016, the same cohorts of voters he needs to have a chance at winning in 2020.

Finally, inexplicably, Trump goes even further. He didn’t have enough real working adversaries, it was time to go out and gin one up. That’s what he’s doing with the resurrection of the health-care issue; the personal vengeance campaign is yoked to the revival of a new old Trump policy objective: the destruction of Obamacare.

If the stars misalign somehow and the president* gets his way, the 20+ million people most likely to be badly hammered by a repeal of the ACA would certainly hollow out a serious chunk of the 35 percent of the electorate, give or take, that defines The Base from which all blessings flow.

◊ ◊ ◊

THERE’S A better use of Trump energies than revisiting the old battleground he keeps losing on, again and again. The fact that he insists on doing just that is to focus on a proven loser in the polls and the courts, two of the three places that matter the most in the debate.

In the wake of the release of Barr’s index-cards-and-a-Sharpie summary of Mueller’s report, there have been calls to Democrats from conservative analysts and the Fox News star chamber, asking them to accept the findings (the findings of the summary, mind you, not the full report) that Trump wasn’t ever involved with Russia in any way — requests asking Dems to “just get over it” and “get on with your lives” and (the usual go-to shorthand) “move on.”

How sadly ironic it is that Trump, the prickly, tragically hypersensitive standard-bearer of the Republicans, seems to be unwilling to take that same advice.

Image credits: Trump: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik. Nixon: Public domain.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Democrats, democracy
and the shock of the new


THE PROCESS of making a magazine cover doesn’t happen overnight. It’s an endeavor of weeks and sometimes months in preparation, the result of an army of creatives marching, for a minute, in exactly the same direction.

By that fact, then, there was no reason to be coy about whether or not Robert Francis O’Rourke of Texas was going to seek the presidency. A publisher like Vanity Fair doesn’t commit to a cover story (and Annie Liebovitz taking the photos!) about someone just pulling his chin about the presidency — like so many in the emerging 2020 cycle. You’re in or you’re out. And O’Rourke’s been in since before that VF cover was published; there was no other reason to put him there.

And in that magazine profile, the phenom Beto O’Rourke set the table, and the bar, for every Democrat who’s serious about winning next year. “I think that’s the beauty of elections: You can’t hide from who you are,” he told Joe Hagan of Vanity Fair. “The more honestly and directly you communicate to people why you’re doing this, the way in which you want to serve them, I just think that the better, more informed decision that they can make.”

Beto, who formally announced on Thursday, March 14, is one of the latest entrants into the 2020 race for the Democratic nomination. His talent for orchestrating the slow rollout of something apparently inevitable has been repeated by others who’ve decided, before and since, to seek the nomination for the presidency in 2020.

That’s nothing new; every four years, it seems, we get an ever-increasing field of aspirants for the Oval Office. But the would-be Class of 2020 is another animal entirely. For one thing, and for the first time, the current field of 13 Democratic candidates is almost as demographically diverse as America itself.

◊ ◊ ◊

The traditional white-male recipe of presidential contender shares countertop space with Asian, African American, Latino candidate flavors, male and female alike. One of the 2020 campaign’s early stars is the gay mayor of an Indiana city. With one notable exception, the current crop is dramatically younger than the candidates of recent years.

Most of these 13 candidates represent a true generational shift in the Democratic party identity. They could be the vanguard of the party’s future if — if the youngblood Democrats don’t get hoist internally on the petard meant for their interparty adversaries: building the litmus tests that can divide a party from within.

Maybe the ones who got in early knew, or sensed, what was coming, from the shape of the times and the perilous arc of the current presidency. The earliest adopters jumped in months ago, and even further back than that. Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney came out early in July 2017. New York businessman Andrew Yang announced on Nov. 6.

◊ ◊ ◊

OTHERS, ALMOST certain long shots, started the new year running, or pulling their chins about running. Hawaii’s Tulsi Gabbard announced her candidacy on Jan. 11. Pete Buttigieg, the millennial mayor of South Bend, Ind., came out on Jan. 23. Spiritual author Marianne Williamson, a confidante of Oprah Winfrey, announced on Jan. 29.

But rightly or wrongly, those candidacies are seen as outliers, in the early going, anyway. Since Julian Castro, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary, joined the race, on Jan. 12, the trickle of Democratic contenders with more gravitas (read: fundraising clout and/or political experience) became a flood:

California Sen. Kamala Harris joined the race with a high-profile, high-energy launch in Oakland on Jan. 28. New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker jumped into the race on Friday, Feb. 1, with a video sent to supporters and the media. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren jumped in on Feb. 9. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar announced her candidacy in a raging snowstorm on Feb. 10.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders started his campaign on Feb. 19. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee entered the race on March 1. Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper followed suit on March 4. Wayne Messam, the mayor of Miramar, Fla., announced formation of an exploratory committee on March 13. And New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand formally began her quest for the White House, announcing on March 17 and officially kicking off her campaign in a March 24 campaign event as bold and optically rich as you could ask for: In front of Trump International Hotel and Tower in Manhattan.

A survey of other possible contenders is about as long as the one for those who have declared: Former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams; Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet; Montana Gov. Steve Bullock; New York Mayor Bill de Blasio; former Secretary of State John Kerry; former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe; California Rep. Eric Swalwell; Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton; Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan ...

... and oh yeah, there's also some guy named Joe Biden.

◊ ◊ ◊

START GETTING used to it right now: the phrase “2020 vision” will get thrown around a lot next year, and in a context that has nothing to do with ophthalmology. For Democrats, the vision thing will be very real, and multifaceted.

Almost to a person, the emerging Democratic field is painting in very broad strokes right now, and there's nothing wrong with that ... right now. Much of what's propelling O'Rourke, Booker, Harris and Sanders to the top of the pops is a willingness to daringly, and maybe even impossibly, go outside the lines on policy prescriptions.

With such a big field of early contenders, the very idea of what makes a Democrat, what (beyond slogans and stereotypes) identifies a Democrat to the American electorate is undergoing several elastic interpretations — every one of them part of what makes this country what it is.

And there’s the rub: not everybody's gonna get to drop the mic. The process by which the Democrats perform this bloodsport surgery is never pretty, and thinning the herd certainly never is. The battle for the nomination will see to that.

◊ ◊ ◊

But this election season, the Democrats have the advantage of wielding, in a political context, what the renowned art critic Robert Hughes once called “the shock of the new” — his phrase that contextualizes the evolution and power of contemporary art, its velocity into the culture, and its reach and impact on our world.

The panoramic demographics of the new class of candidates, and the boldness of their convictions, impart much the same kind of frisson, the same jolt, to the political realm. The new wave of Democratic presidential contenders is, to some degree, a direct result of the blue wave of the 2018 midterm elections.

The forthright embrace of Democratic social and economic values we saw embodied in the campaigns of Andrew Gillum and Stacey Abrams, what we see distilled in Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Rashida Tlaib is finding its way into the campaigns of Sanders, Harris, Booker, and Warren, and others now finding their true, full populist voices.

◊ ◊ ◊

YOU CAN’T accuse the Democrats of playing small ball. O’Rourke set the terms of engagement in Vanity Fair; so did Booker at a recent town hall event.

“We are better when we help each other,” he said. “I believe that we can build a country where no one is forgotten, no one is left behind; where parents can put food on the table; where there are good paying jobs with good benefits in every neighborhood; where our criminal justice system keeps us safe, instead of shuffling more children into cages and coffins; where we see the faces of our leaders on television and feel pride, not shame.”



One of the sweetly grand certainties of the 2020 campaign: Unlike most of the presidential campaigns in any of our lifetimes, the future of the serious bid for the presidency of the United States will be not just polychromatic — Harris’ and Booker’s campaigns stand on the shoulders of antecedent giants, from Shirley Chisholm to Jesse Jackson to Barack Obama — but also ... well, what would the word be — poly-experiential?

◊ ◊ ◊

Because that’s what it is on the Democrats’ side of the aisle: more women, more younger members, more members of color. For the first time in a long time, the Democrats are interesting again: hungrier, a bit angrier when it’s required, and at times fearlessly foolish. Some of that will change; the young guns of the Democratic House will learn the law and the rules, like all of those who came before them. And in that process — knowing what to do and what never to do — they’ll have had a good teacher in the presidential asterisk occupying the Oval Office.

In Washington, the shock of the new takes its sweet time, but it does show up, and when it does, we never look back. That’s slowly happening again.

A new Morning Consult poll found approval for President* Trump in GOP bellwether state Ohio down 19 percent since 2017. At the Five Thirty Eight website, a poll of polls — YouGov, Rasmussen, HarrisX — discovered a nearly 10-point difference, a mood swing if you like, in approval / disapproval ratings. People disapproved of Trump by 52 percent; Trump’s champions gave him 42 percent in support.

These aren’t outliers. They reflect the ways in which, little by little, an abiding fact of American identity is coming into play. Donald Trump doesn’t move us like before. The shock of the old never trumps the shock of the new.

◊ ◊ ◊

WHY? SIMPLY PUT, we’re getting tired of The Don™. His angry orange madman shtick is getting old, and we know it and so does he. We can’t say that out loud because we don’t need the aggravation from neighbors and complete strangers, but it’s true: Donald Trump has worn out a welcome that was never a real, proper welcome in the first place.

He’s gotten predictable in doing what he believes is unpredictable. We know his every move; we can forecast every tic and twitch, and two years in, deep down we can tell: This is as good as it’s gonna get.

Whether the Democrats can move the needle enough — combating their own perverse appetite for self-destruction and overreach with an engaging, credible, palatably principled bid for the White House — remains to be seen. But it’ll be fun to watch what happens.

Is everybody in? The circus is about to begin.

Image credits: Beto Vanity Fair cover: © 2018 Vanity Fair. © 2018 Annie Liebovitz. Yang: tk. Buttigieg: tk. Booker: CNN. Shock of the New cover: Thames & Hudson 1980, 2004. Trump side-eye: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.
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