Monday, September 19, 2022

Florida Governor Spends Taxpayer Dollars to "Relocate" from Texas Refuges from Brutal Communist Dictatorship

There are few governors more ridiculous than Florida's Ron DeSantis. Rather than embrace thoughtful policies that would help the lives of Floridians, DeSantis looks for issues that can garner media attention and boost his popularity among the MAGA folks who dominate GOP politics in the Sunshine State.  The Governor doesn't care if it means trampling conservative principles or wasting taxpayer money.

The Florida legislature appropriated $12 million to relocate "unauthorized aliens...from this state."  But DeSantis had a problem. Florida doesn't have a border at which the "unauthorized aliens" are crossing.  So he didn't have anyone to relocate.  So what does DeSantis do?  He uses Florida taxpayer money to go to Texas to ship them out from that state to places like Martha's Vineyard, New York City and Washington, DC.

Never mind the literal language of the Florida statute doesn't allow DeSantis to do this.  MAGA Republicans aren't real big on following "laws."   Remember when Congress refused to appropriate money to build the absurd wall President Trump wanted?  Trump simply seized other appropriated tax dollars and started building it anyway.  (Very little wall ever got built.)  Not only are MAGA Republicans not real keen on following laws, they don't mind wasting taxpayer money.  I would remind readers that neither of those hallmarks of MAGA Republicans are traditional conservative values.

DeSantis claims that he had people from his administration in Texas several months screening these individuals to ascertain whether they might be inclined to travel hundreds of miles through several states to end up in Florida.  He claims that people from his office fully informed these Florida-bound migrants of other options to live, such as Martha's Vineyard, and they voluntarily agreed to board planes to travel there instead.  Does anyone actually believe this?  I am sure even DeSantis most fervent supporters, know he's lying.  They just don't care.  Lying for a what is perceived to be good cause is perfectly acceptable in MAGA world.

But let's examine that "good cause."  Most of the migrants that DeSantis is busing are refugees fleeing a brutal communist regime in Venezuela.  In the olden days, Republicans welcomed people fleeing from Communist regimes.  Yet more proof that MAGA Republicans are not conservative Republicans.

I'm sure it is just a coincidence that the refugees fleeing Venezuela have brown-skin while the Eastern Europeans fleeing Communist regimes who were welcomed with open arms had white skin.  

The Republican Party needs conservative leadership.  They don't need a performative fool like Ron DeSantis.

OOP's short takes:

  • So for months New Hampshire GOP senate candidate Donald Bolduc has enthusiastically peddled the fiction that Joe Biden stole the 2020 election from Donald Trump.  Then, within days of winning the GOP primary, he announces he's done some "research" and has now concluded that Biden did legitimately win.  Apparently, Bolduc thinks New Hampshire voters are stupid.
  • More polls over the weekend from Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Arizona suggest that Democratic gains on Republican candidates made over the summer is stalling.  The irony is that this is happening while Biden's numbers are clearly improving.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Democratic Improvement in Senate Races Seems to be Stalling

As I write this, the political prognosticating website FiveThirtyEight is giving Democrats a 71% chance of winning the Senate.  Meanwhile, FiveThirtyEight gives Republicans a 72% chance of gaining a majority in the House.

With the large number of House races and the dearth of polling in those races, it's hard to track where the parties are in the House.  But the Senate is a different story.  The narrative over the last month or so has been Democrats doing better and better in the Senate matchups.  Much of that is due to poor candidate quality.  Thanks to the intervention of Donald Trump in GOP primaries, Republicans have been stuck with MAGA candidates who lack the broad popularity to win general elections. Add to poor candidate quality,  lower gas prices over the summer, the backlash to GOP overreach on abortion post-Dobbs, and legislative successes by the Biden administration which has boosted the President's popularity.

But in the last few days, I've noticed a new trend.  Democratic improving fortunes in the Senate races seems to have stalled.  In Nevada, the Democratic incumbent trails.   In Pennsylvania, the Democrats best chance for a pickup, Democratic Lt. Governor Fetterman campaign seems to be sputtering due in no small part to concerns about his health post-stroke.  In Georgia, Republican Herschel Walker, who is maybe the worst Senate candidate in history, has actually led the last few polls.  Republicans lead close races in Ohio, Florida and North Carolina, although within the margin of error.  Meanwhile, the Democrats lead in Arizona, New Hampshire, Wisconsin against horrible Trump-backed GOP candidates, but that lead is within the margin of error.  Colorado and the State of Washington even appear to have Democratic incumbents involved in reasonably close races. 

Part of what is going on might just be gravity exerting itself.  It is extremely hard for the party controlling the Presidency to win mid-term elections.  Inflation continues to be a problem.  While Biden's numbers have improved, he remains unpopular.  Democrats also may be putting too many eggs in the abortion basket thinking their new-found political advantage on that issue will carry them across the finish line.  Pushing too hard on that issue can eventually lead to a backlash. 

Despite FiveThirtyEight giving Democrats a 71% chance of winning the Senate, the closeness of several contests suggest the final weeks of this election will be critical.

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Book Review: "Why We Did It, a Travelogue From the Republican Road to Hell"

A couple weeks after the 2016 election, I met "Jim" for a beer after work.  Two decades earlier, Jim and I had worked together on a gubernatorial campaign and had been good friends ever since.  We had a lot in common.  We both had interned with Republican state senators while in college and had come to know campaign strategy and communications.   We shared conservative views on most issues.

As we sipped our craft beers, our discussion, inevitably, turned to politics.  That once enjoyable topic had grown increasingly uncomfortable.  Months earlier, as the primaries wound down, Jim had boarded the Trump Train and never looked back.  Jim had always had been a thoughtful policy wonk, but as he embraced Trumpism he increasingly brought to our meetings nothing more than the latest Trump talking points.  When it came to Trump the man, Jim seemed willing to overlook everything because, as he claimed, "Trump fights back." 

Near the end of the conversation, Jim made a suggestion.  He said that if I would start supporting the President-Elect,  I could parlay my political and professional experience into a job in the upcoming Trump administration.

Unlike Jim and most of my fellow Republicans, I never once considered supporting Trump.  Before the now, thankfully, ex-President came down the golden escalators, I knew who Donald Trump was and still is.  Trump was a legendary bad businessman who led his companies into six bankruptcies.  I knew about the scams Trump had run, things like Trump University and his hawking dietary supplements on late night television. I remembered how Trump had used eminent domain to take away a little old lady's house so he could have more parking for limos at one of his casinos.  I recalled how Trump almost single-handily sank the USFL with his idiotic idea to confront the NFL head on by moving USFL games to the fall.  Trump was infamous for not paying employees and contractors who worked on his properties.  I  remembered Trump's support for China murdering its citizens who had protested for democracy in Tiananmen Square.   At home, Trump had pushed for the execution of the Central Park Five defendants even after they were exonerated.

Politically,  former Democrat Donald Trump had been on the liberal side of virtually every issue, changing his positions to conservative ones in 2015 to run for President as a Republican..  Trump had given money to prominent Democrats over the years, including Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton.  More generally, I knew Trump to be not very bright, poorly educated, someone with extremely poor judgment.  He had also proven himself to be someone completely lacking in ethics, character and integrity.  Trump was not fit to be the night manager at a Seven Eleven, much less be President of the United States.

Given what I knew about Trump, there was no way I was going to ever cast a vote for him.  And I sure as hell wasn't going to work for him in any capacity.  It is not that my decision wasn't rooted in selfishness - it most certainly was.  No matter how much I could earn or how high I could rise in the Trump administration, working for the former reality show star, failed businessman would have meant selling out my honor, my decency, my integrity.  Looking at the balance sheet, the pros and cons, it wasn't even remotely a close call.  I was certain that my fellow Republicans would reach that same conclusion once they got to know Trump as well as I did.

Wrong.  Republicans still didn't get off the Trump train when the now ex-Presidents' flaws were on full display.  Rather, when the ride became bumpy, they just held on to the handrail even tighter.  Perplexed, I have been searching for answers as to why other Republicans made a different calculation than I did. Particularly, I was interested in understanding the motivations of those who went to work for the Trump's administration, knowing the price of admission was one's soul.  

Tim Miller's book, Why We Did It, a Travelogue From the Republican Road to Hell, seeks out those answers.  Miller for years worked in communications for Republican candidates.   His first prominent political job was as an Iowa staffer for John McCain as the Arizona Senator sought the GOP nomination for President in 2008.  That was followed by a short stint with the John Huntsman 2012 Presidential campaign.  Later in that election cycle, Miller worked for the Republican National Committee which was seeking to elect Mitt Romney as President.  Following Romney's loss, Miller helped found America Rising, a opposition research consulting firm which focused on promoting negative stories about Democrats.   Miller worked as executive director of that group before taking a position with the Jeb Bush presidential campaign during the 2016 campaign.  When Bush dropped out, Miller resumed Republican consulting work which included a brief stint assisting, albeit indirectly, Trump's 2016 election efforts.  During that time, Miller was approached to work more directly to help elect Trump.  Miller, who had previously been a harsh critic of Trump, found he couldn't set aside his feelings, let alone his integrity, to work for the reality show star who had become the Republican presidential nominee.

In Why We Did It, Miller attempts to answer the question as to why Trump staffers, many of whom were long time friends of Miller's, made a different decision than he did.  But before Miller engages in a fascinating review of conservations with and observations of former political colleagues in answering the question, he shares with readers his own personal journey through life and politics.  Miller, as a closeted gay man, had come to grips with his own sexuality while working in the party that preaches family values. Miller didn't find his sexual orientation to be incompatible with his (mostly) conservative political values, but his view was not shared by many Republicans.   The irony is that many of those same Republicans had no problem worshiping a casino owner who was on his third marriage, someone who is a serial liar who had cheated on every one of his wives.  Meanwhile, Miller who is now married and has a daughter, is living the very family values that those Trump-loving Republicans claimed to support.

As a communication specialist, Miller discusses getting caught up in the "Game."  The Game is an approach to politics that says the only thing that matters is the scoreboard, i.e. whether you're winning or losing.  In the Game, the ends always justify the means.  Players like Miller who begin to question the ethics of a strategy or who become squeamish about certain tactics, find themselves mocked by the other players in the game.  Having moral qualms is seen as weakness.

From the book:

For those who were able to find a way to justify supporting Trump, the most demoralizing part was watching their friends and family members struggle with Trump's character and his win
I couldn't believe that everyone in my life was going along with this.  I was flabbergasted by the unanimity.   I tried to explain to them how crazy it would be to work for Trump, but they didn't listen.

Understanding why they supported Trump, and what they were willing to do, is important to understand how he rose to power....

Increasingly isolated in a Trump-dominated Republican Party, Miller reflected on his own values.:

I began to realize that I was making the same mistakes that had gotten me and the party in trouble in the first place.  I was not taking the ramifications of my work seriously, but rather was cashing checks and acting as if it was all part of some big game devoid of real-world consequences.

At this point in the book, Miller begins discussing his colleagues who chose to board the Trump Train rather than join him in walking away.   He starts by identifying various categories to explain their motivations, including "The Team Player" and "Compartmentalizers."  But then Miller begins naming names. First up is Reince Preibus, the former head of the Republican National Committee, who became Trump's first chief of staff.  Miller skewers Preibus as a weak-willed enabler, the type of politico that Trump eats for breakfast.  Miller then goes after the self-promoting Sean Spicer who rose to a level as Spokesperson for the President of the United States, a job that was far beyond his limited ability.

Probably my favorite Miller target is Elise Stefanik, the former moderate, anti-Trump Republican who sold out her principles to grovel at Trump's feet. As a result of her sucking up to Trump, Stefanik was able to wrest the position as head of the Republican Conference, the third ranking party position in the House, from the much more principled, and conservative, Liz Cheney,  Miller diligently tried to get his now former friend to talk with him about her metamorphosis, but Stefanik angrily denied his request.  No doubt she knew Miller would intellectually shred any explanation she offered for her conversion.

Miller even attacks Republicans like Alyssa Farah, a communications specialist who regularly appears as a critic of Trump on cable news programs.  Farah had been a spokesperson for the Freedom Conference.  Later she worked for Mark Meadows when he was in Congress and joined him again when he became Trump's chief of staff.  Farah at one time had supported Trump, but quickly grew disenchanted with him.  Yet Farah kept working in the Trump administration, albeit not directly for the President.  Farah talked with Miller for the book in an effort to explain why she chose to work in the Trump administration.  Miller could have easily cut her slack given Farah's current position as Trump critic.  Miller though chose not do that.  Instead he easily tore apart Farah's justifications for staying on the Trump Train.  No doubt Farah expected better treatment from her old friend.

I cannot end this review without saying a word about Miller's writing style.  I have read many well-written political books authored by journalists and others who work in the media.  Why We Did It certainly belongs in that category.  But Miller brings color and humor to his writing that his fellow writers lack.  I especially enjoy it when Miller sets up and then delivers a punch line.  You know from a mile away that it is coming, but you are nevertheless delighted when it arrives.

I have ready many political books in my life, but Why We Did It is the very best.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

President Biden's Speech That MAGA Republicans Are Threat to Democracy Baits Trump Into Political Mistake

Last week, President Joe Biden gave a speech highlighting the danger posed by MAGA Republicans who do not support American democracy, the rule of law, the Constitution or see the need to respect the results of free and fair elections.  He said MAGA Republicans who harbor hostility to democracy are "semi-fascists."  It was one of the best speeches Biden has ever given.  

Biden's use of the label "MAGA Republicans" was intended to target Trump supporters for their autocratic, anti-democratic views, while dividing them from other Republicans and independents who support American democracy.  Making up only 35% of the electorate, MAGA Republicans cannot win most elections unless they get the support of non-MAGA Republicans and independents.  This fact was demonstrated in 2020 when then President Trump lost re-election because in every swing state, a significant percentage of Republican-leaning voters cast ballots for Biden, before returning to the GOP column for the down ballot races.  As a result, Trump ran behind virtually every Republican in the country.

Timothy Hale-Cusanelli
I've long said the problem is not Donald Trump.  Trump is who he has always been  The problem is his brain-washed group of followers who lifted the reality show star to power.  The demise of Trump as a political force doesn't end Trumpism.  It merely transfers the crown to a different leader.  Any attack on Trumpism has to be focused on challenging the motives and character of the mob that gives power to the movement.  These folks are hostile to American democracy and our institutions. They need to be called out.

And that's what Biden did.  

On the Bulwark podcast, Charlie Sykes often speaks of Trump's reptile-like political cunning.  I have never bought that.  Every time Trump has a political move to make, he almost always chooses the one that hurts him politically.  The obvious political play after the Biden MAGA attack was to play the role of the victim, to earn sympathy.  Many Republican elected officials did exactly that after the Biden speech.  Not Trump.  

At a rally the following Saturday, Trump attacked the FBI and called Biden "an enemy of the state."  The ex-President said that, if re-elected, he might pardon the January 6th insurrectionists who did his bidding in violently storming the Capitol (Will someone please point out that he had a whole two weeks to pardon them in January 2020 but chose not to do so?).  The Trump rally in Pennsylvania also featured Cynthia Hughes, the leader of a group supporting the January 6th insurrectionists.  During the speech, Hughes promoted the case of Timothy Hale-Cusanelli, a supporter of Adolph Hitler, who has been in jail following his arrest on charges related to the assault on the Capitol.  The judge is fearful that Hale-Cusanelli, who has said he looks forward to a civil war and said Hitler "should have finished the job", will go after an informant who gave the FBI information to arrest him.  Hale-Cusanelli was convicted of five counts earlier this year.

In addition to dividing Republicans, Biden's speech was also aimed at making the mid-terms about Donald Trump.  Again, Trump always takes the political bait.  The Democrats mid-term fortunes have improved dramatically and the chief reason why is that Trump is back in the news doing crazy things like attacking law enforcement officials who are simply doing their job.  That won't sit well with non-MAGA Republicans and independents.

OOP's short takes:

  • Interesting polling results from Trafalgar this weekend.  In New York, Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul leads Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin by just 5 points (48-43) in the governor's race.  In the Washington Senate race, Democratic incumbent Patty Murray leads Republican challenger Tiffany Smiley by just 3 points (49-46).  While Trafalgar's methodology has always seemed more favorable to Republican candidates, the polling outfit has proven to be fairly accurate in recent years.