Monday, February 17, 2020

GOP Senators Will Pay for President Trump's Impeachment

One thing you learn in politics is that when one side wins a contentious issue, that issue no longer salient to the winners.  It is the generally losers of the issue who reap the benefits at the polls, especially when the election is several months down the road from the lost battle.

In 1973, liberals, mostly Democrats, won the abortion issue when the Supreme Court handed down Roe v. Wade.  Even though it was then, and still, is about a 50-50 issue, it is conservatives, mostly Republicans, who for 47 years have beat up those on the left on the issue.  If Roe v. Wade is ever overturned, expect conservatives to relax and the abortion issue to start working in the liberals favor
Army Lt. Col. Arthur Vindman
politically.

That brings me to the issue of impeachment.  Democrats were able to impeach President Trump in the House, but in the Senate removal fell far short as Republicans (sans Utah Senator Mitt Romney) voted lockstep to acquit the President.  In the process, an impeachment "trial" was held without witnesses or evidence being introduced.

Several Republican Senators, including Indiana's Mike Braun, opined that President Trump's behavior in trying to shake down an ally for help against a political opponent was over the line and Trump had learned a lesson from the impeachment.  In the days that followed his acquittal, President Trump proved he had, indeed, learned a lesson.  That lesson was that no matter what he did, no matter how illegal or morally wrong, Republicans in the Senate would always have his back..

Within days of the acquittal, President Trump removed Army Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman from his position with the National Security Council because he dared show up to testify in response to a House subpoena, which he was required to by law, and then proceeded to tell the truth under oath, which he was required to do by law.  Vindman has faithfully served in the Army for over 20 years, starting as an infantryman in 1999.  In 2004, Vindman was injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq and received a Purple Heart.

After Trump's retaliation against Vindman, Republican Senators rallied to his defense.  Kidding.  They said nothing or explicitly backed President Trump over Vindman.  Indiana Senator Todd Young, who publicly claims to support veterans, chose to publicly back the five time draft dodger Donald Trump over Vindman, whose commitment to his adopted country by any measure qualifies him as a patriot.

Young was not alone in his support for the questionable decision to sack Vindman over his testimony.  Other Republican Senators chimed in, while some said it was okay because he was not sufficiently "loyal" to the President, most most bypassed the merits of the reassignment, focusing instead on the notion that the workplace retaliation against Vindman was perfectly legal because of the President's absolute authority to remove appointees to the NSC.  Too long to discuss here, but the legal issues regarding the Vindman reassignment are much more complex than those GOP Senators wished to admit.  But even if the retaliation was legal, that does not make what Trump did morally right.  On that point, Republican Senators are mostly silent, or support the President.

In 2018, the Republicans lost the House because the GOP-led majority refused to do their job and hold President Trump accountable.  The only thing that saved the GOP majority in the Senate that year was the incredibly favorable map, i.e. 1/3 of senators are up every 2 years and the 2018 election featured scores of Senate Democrats defending seats in states Trump won in 2016.  The 2020 Senate map is much less favorable for Republicans.

Trump may well escape the political consequences of "winning" the impeachment issue due to the Electoral College and the Democrats' apparent stubborn intent to offer an avowed socialist, Bernie Sanders, as Trump's opponent in the Fall.  The GOP Senators though do not have the luxury of the Electoral College and they may well square off against Democratic moderates capable of picking up enough votes to swing competitive states in their favor.

Senate Republicans were extremely foolish to not allow for witness testimony and documents in the Senate impeachment trial.  It makes Republican Senators vulnerable to the charges that they were trying to cover up the President's misconduct...which, of course, is exactly what they were doing.  But it is worse than that.  The Senate Republicans failure to even call for evidence at the trial assured Trump he can do whatever he wants and the Republican-led Senate will do absolutely nothing to hold him accountable.

Surprise, surprise, surprise (channeling my inner Gomer Pyle)....Trump has taken that assurance and run with it.  You can expect that Trump will continue to try to cheat to win the 2020 election (asking foreign countries to intervene in the election will just be the start.)  You can expect Trump will use the departments of government to go after his opponents and protect his friends.  (Trump will make Nixon look like a rank amateur in that regard.) You can expect he will continue to use his position to enrich himself and his family.

And you can expect the Republicans in the Senate to lose a majority because they refused to do their jobs and hold this President accountable.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Hopefully the Tabulation Snafu Spells the End of the Iowa Caucus

I was at my computer last night, eagerly awaiting the results of the Iowa caucus to start trickling in.  Nearly 24 hours later, I'm still waiting.

From the reactions of the candidates, Mayor Pete might have won.  Or, maybe, Bernie Sanders did.  Warren probably finished third. Biden, who seemed the most displeased with the delay and raised the issue of election integrity, probably slipped to fourth if not fifth. 

But who knows what happened?  By 5 pm, eastern time, Iowa Democratic officials are supposed to
release "partial" results. 

I frankly don't know how you mess up the count on a caucus.  Tabulating the votes in a primary involves much more moving parts and is much more complicated than a caucus.  With a caucus, people are declaring their preferences publicly and standing in a group with a group of people who support that candidate.  The precinct captain then counts the number of supporters each candidate has then reports that total.  So simple.

Apparently, the Iowa Democratic Party tried to use an app for the tabulation that had bugs.  That's why they should have had a backup plan. And there should have been a second backup plan if the first one didn't work.  That is why you always have test run of the equipment.

It appears the tabulation snafu has people so angry, the institution of Iowa caucus, founded in 1972, might be in danger.  Hallelujah!  First, caucuses are stupid.  In an age where privacy is of utmost concern and our politics is incredibly divisive, voters do not want to go to public meetings and declare in front of their neighbors who they support for President. 

But I have another reason I want the Iowa Caucuses to end - Ethanol.

When it comes to alternative energy sources, ethanol is far and away the worst.  It takes more energy to produce a gallon of ethanol than the energy that gallon of ethanol provides for consumers.  Blending ethanol with gasoline significantly reduces fuel economy, which results in cars requiring more gas to travel the same distance. Not only is ethanol bad for the environment, putting corn into our gas tanks drives up grocery prices.  Not only do humans consume corn, the farm animals we consume do as well.  There is only so much corn that farmers can grow.  When demand for corn is high due to the use of ethanol, the prices for corn, beef, pork and chicken all go up.

Environmental activists long ago figured out the flaws in ethanol and stopped advocating for its use.  So, if environmentalists aren't pushing for ethanol, it reduces mileage, and it raises prices for consumers, why is ethanol still being pushed.

Farmers.

In particular, the farmers from Iowa, the biggest ethanol producing state in the country.  Iowa farmers make a lot of money off ethanol.  So what is the tool by which those Iowa farmers ensure that powerful politicians protect the ethanol industry?  The Iowa presidential caucus held every four years.  For presidential candidates to do well in the all important first electoral contest, they must promise to support ethanol. 

If the wait for vote totals in Iowa spells the end of the Iowa Caucus and ethanol, the wait will be worth it.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Expect Iowans to "Feel the Bern" Tonight

Because caucuses, unlike primaries, require a substantial time commitment on behalf of participants, candidates who have a core of highly energized, committed supporters tend to do best.  Because of that, I would be shocked if Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders does not come out on top tonight. (A caveat, however.  Because of the way they are tallying votes in Iowa, there may be more than one
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders
winner). 

As someone who studies politics, I am more interested in how the other candidates do.  Will Joe Biden fall to third or maybe even fourth place?   Will Elizabeth Warren finish a strong second, which runnerup status would keep her alive to possibly win New Hampshire?  Can Mayor Pete, who I think is the most talented politician in the field, recover some of the luster that briefly propelled himself to the lead in Iowa and New Hampshire polls?  And what about Minnesota Amy Klobuchar?  Can she have a strong showing in Iowa that will keep her campaign going?

Have I mentioned how ridiculous it is that we put so much meaning on the differences in candidates' totals in the Iowa caucuses that amount to just a few hundred voters?

If Sanders wins both Iowa and New Hampshire, I think Warren's campaign is effectively over.  If Mayor Pete and Klobuchar perform badly in Iowa, they are also on the ropes.  While I think Biden's campaign could survive bad performances in Iowa and New Hampshire, surviving is not the same thing as succeeding.  

I believe when it is all sorted out, there is likely to be one "progressive" candidate (almost certainly Sanders) and one moderate candidate (Biden, Mayor Pete, Klobuchar or former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg) left pursuing the Democratic nomination.   I was originally dismissive of Bloomberg's chances, but I am not anymore.  I think he may have stumbled onto a strategy, the only strategy, that makes him viable for the Democratic nomination.  If it comes down to just Sanders or Bloomberg, my money is on Bloomberg, who Democrats would believe is a much stronger general election candidate.

GOP: The Conservative Party Becomes the Party of Corruption, Cover-Up

Nearly 40 years ago, I walked into my first Young Republicans meeting on the campus of Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.  I had grown up with Democratic parents, but they were not liberals.  My father, in particular, complained constantly about liberals at the dinner table.  When I asked him why he didn't vote for Republican since he disliked liberals so much, he responded that the GOP did not support the working man.  He was the epitome of what used to call a "yellow dog Democrat," someone who would vote for a Democrat even if the party's candidate was a yellow dog.

At the Young Republican meeting and the other Republican meetings I attended that year and the
years that followed, I learned of a burgeoning group of intellectuals whose ideas provided the foundation for what became the conservative movement.  Over the years, I read many of their positions papers, books and other writings.  To this day, I still have on my bookshelves Milton Friedman "Free to Choose," Robert Bork's "Tempting of America, and the bible of privatization, "Reinventing Government."   

The conservative movement was about limited government, reduced budget deficits, a devolution of power from the national government to the states (i.e. federalism), a support for freedom and democracy around the world, family-friendly social policies, a commitment to the Constitution as written (and the Framers intended), and open, honest, and ethical government. It was about marshaling the better nature of people who choose to live in this great country and giving them the opportunity to succeed.  The conservative movement provided a positive vision of the future, a welcoming and supportive environment.  Liberals were not the enemy.  They were just people who had not yet been convinced of the correctness of our ideas..

Don't get me wrong.  The Republican Party, to which the conservative movement attached itself, often fell far, far short in implementing those objectives over the decades that followed. But there was never any doubt what those goals were. 

About a decade ago, the conservative movement, which came alive during Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign, began dying.  Led by a multitude of hosts on FoxNews, Rush Limbaugh and others, the intellectual underpinnings of the conservative movement were replaced by the oversimplified dichotomy, "we good, they bad."  Except that the other side, the liberals, were not just bad, they were downright evil, worse than even the most brutal foreign dictators who repress freedom and kill their own citizens.  People no longer were expected to think critically about issues...instead they were asked to focus on who is for which policies.  Conservative politics became not about intellectualism, but about tribalism.  The conservative media's feedback loop created a flock of sheep who would simply support whatever policy or candidate they were told to support. 

With the intellectual underpinnings of conservativism gone, it wasn't long before the goals of the movement began falling as well.  Today, we have a Republican Party supporting record budget deficits (during a time of sustained economic growth no less).  The GOP has also apparently forgotten about federalism, enthusiastically mandating states adopt preferred policies such as a 21 year old smoking age.  On the foreign policy front, we have a Republican President who warmly embraces dictators who repress freedom and kill political opponents, while that same President, at every turn, undermines our allies and refuses to support American democratic values both at home and abroad..  Today's Republicans, in and out of Congress, regularly support these views, which just a few years early would have been called, rightfully, un-American and unpatriotic.

And let us not forget the Constitution.  The first few decades after I became a Republican, GOP candidates and elected officials bragged about carrying a copy of the Constitution in their pockets.  Today members of Congress, at least the Republican ones, have turned to gutting provisions the Founders put in the Constitution to protect our Republic.  The requirement that emoluments being given to the President be approved by Congress?  Ignored.  The power of the Senate to confirm key members of the executive branches, including those appointees conducting foreign policy?  Gone.  The President can just appoint unconfirmed "acting" officials or have his private attorney do the whatever he wants done.  The power of Congress to appropriate money for programs?  Never mind.  The President can just make a phony claim of an "emergency" and take money from other programs for his pet project. 

But at least Congress still has the power to conduct oversight of the executive branch, right?   Nope.  This past few days though we learned Congress has no right to subpoena documents or witnesses from the executive branch.  The President can just ignore the subpoenas without any consequence whatsoever.  Indeed as the impeachment saga played out, Justice Department officials were in federal court in another matter arguing that Congress had no authority to go to counts to enforce its subpoenas.  Congressional oversight is gone.  Not sure when gutting constitutional checks and balances to give the President absolute power became a Republican concept. 

Then you have impeachment.  The President used his office to illegally withhold congressionally appropriated military aid (a violation of the Impoundment Act) desperately needed by Ukraine to get that country's President to intervene into an American election.  In doing so, the President was willing to put America's national security at risk to get something he could use (the announcement of an investigation) politically against a rival.   Of course, the President does what he routinely does - he lied, saying there was no quid pro quo, that he didn't ask that the Bidens be investigated in an exchange for military aid.  The President then did everything he could to cover up what he did, ordering executive officials to not testify and not turn over a single page of documents in response to House subpoenas.  When impeachment reached the Senate, Republicans complained, wrongly,  there was no direct evidence of such a quid pro quo.  Of course, when there was an opportunity for Republican Senators to get even better direct evidence such as the testimony of former national security adviser John Bolton, they said they didn't want to hear it.  The first impeachment "trial" in American history without evidence will conclude this week. 

But it gets worse.  In reaching the conclusion that the President did in fact withhold military aid for a political favor, i.e. there was a quid pro quo, the Republicans in the Senate de facto adopted the doctrine put forward by former Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz which states that if a President does something in furtherance of his re-election, that is by definition in the public's interest, and cannot be a subject of impeachment.  In fact, the President cannot even be investigated for such conduct.   The Dershowitz Doctrine makes Presidents immune from criminal and non-criminal acts, as long as they can tie it to an effort to get re-elected.   Too bad Nixon did not know about this "Get Out of Impeachment" card that Dershowitz, but no other legal expert, found buried in our Constitution.

To say the performance of the Republican Senators during impeachment has been an embarrassment is to be kind.  But it apparently won't end with the impeachment trial.  Iowa Senator Joni Ernst continues to gloat about the trial outing the supposed corruption of Joe Biden.  Back in the real world, Biden did absolutely nothing wrong.  The Ukraine prosecutor Biden pushed (at the behest of President Obama and scores of others) to get fired had long ago stopped investigating Burisma, the company his son, Hunter, was on the board of.  In fact, that stopped investigation and several others is why virtually everyone was pushing to get rid of the Ukraine prosecutor widely viewed as corrupt.  Biden's actions didn't stop an investigation of his son's company.  It in fact, made it possible for the investigation of Burisma to be restarted.  No doubt, Senator Ernst knows all of this.  But one you thing you learn in the Trump era is if the truth does not advance the cause politically, just tell a lie instead. 

Now South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham is giving interviews in which he says he will subpoena the whistleblower whose report that sparked the investigation that led to impeachment.  Never mind that everything in the whistleblower report turned out to be true and the whisteblower became irrelevant the minute evidence was found supporting those claims, Graham and several Senators still want the whistleblower outed, which action they undoubtedly know will put his life in danger.  Their purpose behind doing so is clear - that want to intimidate future whistleblowers from speaking out about the wrongdoing they witness in the executive branch.

I have long preached that Donald Trump is not the cause of the Republican Party's problems.  Rather Trump is the symptom.  As a candidate and recent Republican convert, Trump swooped in and took advantage of a political party whose conservative intellectual moorings had been stripped away.  Trump filled in that vacuum with his own flexible version of populism and nationalism, which often had little if anything to do with the conservative positions that underpinned the rise of Ronald Reagan four decades earlier.

The problem is not Trump.  The problem are his enablers, the people who decided to surrender the Republican Party completely to Trump and have refused to hold him accountable for anything he has done.  As someone who studies election trends, I just do not understand those Republicans who think the GOP's long-term future is Trump, a political candidate who has shown virtually no electoral strength.  In 2016, Donald Trump won the electoral college by 78,000 votes in three key states, one of the closest presidential elections in American history.  In the process, Donald Trump ran behind virtually every Republican statewide candidate.  In almost every special and regular election in 2017, 2018 and 2019, the support for Republican candidates declined dramatically.  This included in 2018, when Republicans suffered historic losses in the House despite heavily gerrymandered maps in the GOP's favor.  Exit polls show women, suburbanites and college-educated voters fleeing the Republican Party in droves during the Trump era. 

As far as 2020 goes, Trump runs behind virtually every Democratic candidate and his popularity level has never reached 50% despite having a strong economy.  Any other Republican President would be cruising to re-election.  While Trump may still win re-election because of the strong economy (which he did not create by the way...Presidents do not run the American economy) and the foolishness of Democrats, who appear eager to nominate the avowed socialist, Bernie Sanders.  While Trump is one of the few Republican presidential candidates who could actually lose to a socialist, the odds of his winning go way up if the Democrats nominate someone on the far left such as Sanders or Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren instead of a moderate. 

While the Electoral College and the Dershowitz Doctrine, which sanctions a President cheating to win re-election, may save the White House for the GOP, the Republicans in Congress and state legislatures have no such protection and will continue to lose seats in the Trump era.  Republican Senators, in particular, will pay a price at the polls for their conduct during the impeachment.  Voters know that trials are supposed to have witnesses and evidence and what Republicans in the Senate did was doing was covering up the corrupt actions of a corrupt President.

Most of the intellectuals who provided the ballast for Republican policies have fled the party in the Trump era.  They saw the GOP, a party that used to be based on conservative ideals, becoming a party that is willing to condone and cover up corruption by a President that they refuse, at all costs, to hold accountable. 

As I write this, I see a law school classmate of mine, Ed Adams, has announced he is leaving the Republican Party.  So too has one of my brothers.  That is not a choice I have made.  I think the best choice of action is for real conservatives and the intellectuals is to fight to get the Republican Party (or whatever name it will be known by in the future) back.  There is certainly no future in Trumpism.  The general election electorate is sending that message at every election. 

Today's Republican Party, the conservative party I chose to associate myself with in my youth, has become instead the party of corruption and cover-up.  And that makes me incredibly sad.