By the summer of 1974, it was clear to leading Republicans that Richard Nixon would not be able to survive Watergate. It fell to Republican leaders like Barry Goldwater, Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania, and House Minority Leader John Rhodes of Arizona to tell the president that support among his partisans in congress had collapsed and his presidency was over. The secret White House tapes had been made public and Nixon’s criminal culpability was clear enough to lead once-supportive Republicans to abandon a president of their own party. This was a wrenching decision but it spoke to the political reality of the moment. Nixon would be forced from office because his allies concluded that they needed to abandon him to survive.
As you may have noticed, this isn’t 1974. Republicans—even some who had been critical of Donald Trump in an earlier day—are clinging to him tightly. They are condoning or joining efforts to discredit the probe into Russian hacking of the 2016 election, going so far as to elevate partisan attacks against the FBI and Justice Department over national security concerns. Remember when Republicans were the self-proclaimed “law and order” party that venerated the FBI? Not so much today. It’s kind of hard to respect the rule of law when you’re defending a president who disregards it.
The Russia investigation isn’t as far along as Watergate was in mid-’74, but there is plenty of evidence of Trump attempting to obstruct it—enough to support impeachment hearings tomorrow if Republicans wanted to throw Trump overboard. But they would rather enable his efforts to derail the investigation. What’s different? Watergate occurred at the start of a long period of Republican rule, when the party coalition was expanding and resilient. Today, Republicans are at the end of the line. Nixon was less than two years removed from a 49-state Electoral College sweep when he left Read More
The government has re-opened but governing by crisis continues. On Monday, Senate Democrats opted for a tactical retreat and agreed to a resolution to fund the government for three weeks in exchange for a promise from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to permit debate on an immigration measure. This allowed Republicans and the White House to claim victory in the weekend standoff while angering progressives and immigration rights groups, and permitted Democrats the flexibility to adjust their strategic position in an ongoing battle over immigration policy that still has no obvious conclusion.
On Saturday, I wrote that short of a new election only intense political pressure would end the standoff. Weekend polling confirmed that Republicans were receiving a larger share of the blame for the shutdown—as expected for the party controlling the White House and both houses of congress. But there were warning signs for Democrats. The margins were not overwhelming, and the narrative that Democrats shut down the government through a senate filibuster was taking hold in the mainstream press. Democratic leaders quickly concluded that these circumstances would make it hard to generate the political pressure necessary to bring Republicans around to their position, and understood that a prolonged shutdown would hurt their members from red states expecting close re-election contests this year while dramatically raising the stakes with an energized base if they ended up retreating after a long fight. It’s instructive to look at the senators who were given a pass by leadership to keep the government running on Friday. McCaskill. Manchin. Heitkamp. Donnelly. All red-state Democrats up for re-election. Now look at the senators who voted against yesterday’s resolution re-opening the government. Sanders. Warren. Harris. Booker. Gillibrand. Your 2020 presidential hopefuls.
If this were just a stand-off between Republicans and Democrats, it wouldn’t be difficult to envision how it gets resolved. In fact, we’ve already seen the winning compromise in the form of the bipartisan agreement rejected by the president last week. Democrats get protection for DREAMERs. Republicans get funding for border security. Everybody Read More
Maybe presiding over a government shutdown on the first anniversary of his administration is too perfect a metaphor for the most incompetent president in American history. Perhaps it was inevitable that a president whose business resume is filled with wreckage would be at the center of negotiations that would lead to such a fundamental and glaring failure. But I have long contended that the Trump presidency is a symptom of larger political dynamics. The government began closing its doors at midnight because of the same mix of political toxicity that has defined our politics for the past decade.
The government was shut down because of a disagreement over DACA, the Obama-era policy protecting DREAMERs, undocumented children brought to the United States by their parents, from deportation. Trump rescinded the policy last fall without any guidance on what would happen next, then tossed it to congress to fix the mess he created without any instructions on how to do it. For a brief moment, a bipartisan resolution looked possible, with Trump indicating his openness to supporting an arrangement that would have offered a path to citizenship for DREAMERs as part of a broader budget agreement that included funding for his border wall. That was before hardliners in congress and his administration appealed to his native anti-immigrant sentiment and got him to back down. When the agreement fell apart, Senate Democrats refused to go along with a stopgap measure funding the government for a few weeks, making it inevitable that the resolution would fail to overcome a filibuster. Since then, both sides have been trying to pin blame for the shutdown on the other.
The obstacle here is the hardline sentiment against any policy that normalizes the situation of undocumented immigrants, a sentiment that lies at the heart of Trumpism. Radicals are interested in purity, not compromise, and without the support of their radical faction the Republican Party lacks a functional congressional majority. This is why Read More
Republicans are not going to impeach Donald Trump. They are not going to invoke the 25th Amendment to take away his nuclear toys. They are not going to do these things because for the past ten years Republicans have been committed to finding ways to hold power after their political coalition had fallen apart, and they can no longer hold power without Donald Trump. Talk of Republicans abandoning Trump now that they passed their tax bill misses this point. Trump and the Republican Party have a kind of murder-suicide pact. Either one takes the other with them if they go down.
Donald Trump is a destructive man. He hunts what he wants and takes it, whether for pleasure or enrichment. He acquires things and extracts value, indifferent to how he hurts others as he flattens norms and flaunts the law. Women, contractors, the USFL, Atlantic City, the Republican Party, American democracy, the world—it doesn’t matter to him. He’ll break it if that’s the quickest way to ego gratification or personal wealth. Someone else can come along and fix the damage once nothing remains for him to take.
Trump the predator found a perfect takeover target in a Republican Party that was itself in a destructive cycle, preying on the fears of its supporters in order to survive in a hostile political climate. Wedded to a shrinking core of older white voters, Republican leaders understood the longterm risks of being unable to appeal to an expanding, diverse electorate, but they were unwilling to withdraw to the wilderness and do the hard work of rethinking conservatism in the new millennium in a way that might appeal to voters with different sensibilities about government than the white Reagan-era boomers who had sustained them for years. Rather than retreat following sweeping losses in the 2008 election, Read More
Political events in 2017 offer many reasons to believe that 2018 will bring a sweeping rebuke to Donald Trump at the ballot box. With the mandatory caveat that nothing should be taken for granted or regarded as predetermined, the past year has provided all the necessary preconditions for a backlash which—depending on its size—threatens to undermine or possibly eliminate the advantages Republicans have used to hold power without the benefit of a natural electoral majority.
Just as waves originate in the open sea before crashing ashore, the requirements for a political upheaval are in place months before becoming visible. This means it isn’t premature to look at present conditions for guidance on where we may be heading next fall. Political waves are a reaction to a deeply felt situation that disproportionately motivates one portion of the electorate while everyone else exhibits normal or depressed levels of engagement. This differential tilts the playing field toward candidates aligned with the energized group and overrides factors that determine the outcome of normal elections like candidate strength, campaign effectiveness, local issues, and the natural partisan leaning of the electorate. This is why wave elections will generate unusual results, producing competitive elections in atypical places and taking down candidates who would survive ordinary years.
Early signs of a brewing wave will appear in fundraising figures, candidate recruitment, measures of interest in the election, and—imperfectly—in special and off-year election results and presidential approval ratings. So where do Read More
The first norm-shattering, chaotic year of the Trump administration will be remembered for the president’s relentless assault on every democratic institution that threatens his power and ego needs. He delegitimized the press as purveyors of fake news. He characterized bureaucrats as malevolent “deep state” actors. He attacked the judiciary when it refused to rubber stamp his dictates and the FBI and justice department for investigating him. He empowered an election commission determined to disenfranchise minority voters in the name of rooting out nonexistent voter fraud. His actions were met with strong, sometimes overwhelming resistance in the streets, in the courts and at the ballot box by countless individuals determined to check his unquenchable authoritarian impulses. We survived, but this has been the easy part. Things are about to become much more intense.
We are entering what may well be the most dangerous moment of this reactionary period. Two forces are converging to make the next six to nine months especially fraught: Trump’s world is collapsing around him and Republicans in congress are unwilling to sacrifice their power to check his worst impulses.
Robert Mueller’s investigation into the unsavory relationship between Trump and Russia, despite what the president might want to believe, is widespread and expanding. It has already reached into the Oval Office in the form of the plea deal struck with former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and in the coming months is poised to ensnare Trump’s immediate family and expose the corruption at the heart of his business empire. How will Trump react if his son or son-in-law are indicted? How will he react if the financial dealings he has kept so jealously guarded are made Read More
It’s been well over two months since I last posted here—and that wasn’t by design. My day job has been keeping me unexpectedly busy while national events have moved so rapidly that a brief post here or there wouldn’t have been sufficient to keep up with our exhausting political reality show. Things are finally starting to quiet down at work, and I should soon be able to begin posting again on a more regular basis. But our politics is anything but calm. In the time since my last post in early October, the Mueller probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election reached deep into the Oval Office with indictments of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and news that former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was cooperating with investigators. Republicans were destroyed in November’s off-off year elections in Virginia, New Jersey and smaller localities across the country, then rocked by defeat in this month’s Alabama special senate election. As the casual bellicosity of Trump’s rhetoric made nuclear conflict with North Korea imaginable, Republicans in congress scrambled in secret to pass tax legislation that is reviled by the public but demanded by their donors. We are one day away from the start of a year divisible by two, which means things are only going to heat up.
I’ll be back shortly with an assessment of where things stand as we enter what without hyperbole should be considered the most important election year of our lives.
Two items this weekend from the New York Times speak to the possibility that we are well along the road to a political realignment, a theme I have been writing about for a long time.
First, a column by Frank Bruni describes Steve Bannon’s plan to destroy the Republican establishment if he is unable to reshape the party in his white nationalist image by backing radical challengers to entrenched Republican congressional incumbents. Writes Bruni, “If Bannon can bend the G.O.P. in its current form to that vision, great. If he can’t, then he might as well destroy it to make room for something else.”
Second, a story titled, “The ‘Resistance,’ Raising Big Money, Upends Liberal Politics,” describes the challenge to Democratic Party orthodoxy posed by a nexus of dozens of grassroots protest movements that sprung up in opposition to Donald Trump’s election. Upstart groups advocating an aggressively progressive agenda are drawing liberal high rollers away from legacy organizations affiliated with the neoliberal politics of the Clinton era, igniting a “tug of war” between the two camps that “foreshadows a once-in-a-generation reorganization of the American left that could dictate the tactics and ideology of the Democratic Party for years to come.”
These two dynamics feed on each other and, as I wrote in Next Generation Netroots, reflect asymmetric but interlocking battles within the two camps. The left is undergoing a power struggle between a burgeoning progressive Read More
John Danforth, a long-serving former Republican senator from Missouri, on Thursday became the latest unelected member of his party to condemn Donald Trump. In an opinion piece published in the Washington Post, Danforth ripped into Trump as un-American for sowing dissent and division. He correctly noted that “Trump is always eager to tell people that they don’t belong here, whether it’s Mexicans, Muslims, transgender people or another group. His message is, ‘you are not one of us,’ the opposite of ‘e pluribus unum.’ And when he has the opportunity to unite Americans, to inspire us, to call out the most hateful among us, the KKK and the neo-Nazis, he refuses.”
It’s hard to argue with that. But Danforth goes further, contending that Trump is also un-Republican, invoking Lincoln to claim the mantle of inclusiveness as the overarching principle of Republicanism and imploring “my fellow Republicans” not to permit Trump “to redefine the Republican Party.”
Not so fast. While language like this will be comforting to Republicans looking to convince themselves they are not defined by their leader, it is dangerously in error. Trump did not emerge in a vacuum. He is the end product of decades of division employed for electoral advantage. You can draw a straight line from Nixon’s southern strategy to Reagan’s welfare queens and Bush’s Willie Horton ad to Birtherism to Donald Trump. To say, as Danforth does, that “our party has been corrupted by this hateful man” is to deflect from this history. And without a correct diagnosis it will be impossible for Republicans to treat the disease consuming their party.
You need look no further than the unwillingness of most elected Republicans to speak or act against Trump for evidence that the rot extends well below the top. Most Republicans who have to face real voters live in fear of Trump’s Read More
So much winning.
Donald Trump wanted congress to send him legislation repealing the Affordable Care Act and leave him alone to formulate foreign policy with Vladimir Putin. Instead, congress tied his hands on Russian sanctions and failed spectacularly to give him the victory he craved on Obamacare repeal. This led to a predictable stream of angry tweets toward the Republican Congress from a chief executive incapable of accepting responsibility for anything. But congressional Republicans are not afraid of Trump’s bluster and they were not cowed. Republican Lamar Alexander and Democrat Patty Murray announced that their Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee would hold hearings in September on bipartisan plans to strengthen the individual insurance market rather than follow the president’s wishes and allow Obamacare to collapse. Meanwhile, Republican Thom Tillis and Democrat Chris Coons and Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Cory Booker have teamed up on two separate bipartisan initiatives protecting Robert Mueller’s investigation of Trump’s Russian connections, while the Senate quietly approved a procedural maneuver that will prevent Trump from replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions with a recess appointee who could potentially fire the special counsel.
Even if this doesn’t signal the start of a golden age of bipartisanship, it is a meaningful step toward congress asserting its institutional prerogatives for the first time in the Trump era. In this regard, we are moving into a new phase in the Read More