Return to Normalcy

One can’t help reminiscing these days, and lately we keep wandering back to the long ago year of 2016. In retrospect is was a pretty good year. Unemployment was relatively low by historical standards, the economy was growing at a slow but steady pace, and people walked through public spaces to attend sporting events and public festivals and churches and bars without wearing uncomfortable face masks. Yet for some reason it was a very angry year.
Meanwhile, everyone to the left of that certain point was feeling betrayed and disillusioned. Just eight years earlier liberals saw Obama as a messianic figure, a “light giver” whose charisma and brilliance would at long last deliver the socialist utopia that generations o progressive thinkers had so
longed for.
Both sides, of course, overestimated the man. During the first two years he had the support o sizable majorities in Congress, and was able to pass a health care reform law that angered everyone on the right but was far short of the fully socialized health care system that the left wanted. After that he was constrain by the Constitution and a gridlocked government from passing any significant legislation, which of course furthered the anger on both sides.
Which in turn made for a weird presidential election that will surely befuddle historians for centuries.
Despite its many successes in retraining Obama much of the Republican party had come to blame “the establishment” for not destroying an opposition it no, routinely referred to as “satanic.” By “establishment” the party firebrands meant the professionals, and anyone with any claims to expertise in a given area, apparently on the logic that such people had wrought such devastation on America that only complete amateurs with no credentials whatsoever could repair the damage. A reality television show star named Donald Trump, an oft-bankrupt and thrice-married businessman who shared the populist disdain for pointy-headed types seemed the man for the moment.
Somehow all of Trump’s myriad flaws came to be seen as selling points. Yeah, he was a liar and a cheat and bully, but that was what it would take to defeat the damned Democrats, and he’d be lying and cheating and bullying for America. He was crude and vulgar and preferred to answer criticisms with a schoolyard taunt rather than a counterargument, but Senators John McCain and Mitt Romney had been perfect gentleman, and what good did that do? Trump was clearly a racist and sexist, but it turned out that more Republicans than we had suspected had no problem with that, and his supporters argued that any Republican nominee would face the same accusations.
The Democrats had their own sizable “anti-establishment” faction, which wanted to go full-blown socialist with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, but the party was more concerned about four years of Republican and placed its bet on the very establishment former First Lady and Secretary of State and Senator Hillary Clinton. Clinton had the credentials, but those were of little use in 2016, and she also had decades of scandals big and small to explain, and was a uniquely awful campaigner. Between the two, they offered America it’s worst choices in the history of American politics.
Clinton wound up winning the popular vote by some three millions, but razor-thin victories in four states handed the electoral college and the presidency to Trump, Which has done little to diminish the polarization and hatreds of the American people. The upcoming election will surely make it worse.
We’ve largely forgotten all of the dystopian details that the Republicans were sure would come about if Trump weren’t elected –something to do with Christians being rounded up behind barbed wire, we seem to recall — but at this point it’s hard to imagine how four years of Clinton could have wrecked the country more thoroughly.
The right will nonetheless throw around words like “satanic” and paint a Heronymous Boschian portrait of the hellish American landscape if the Democrats aren’t thoroughly vanished. The Democratic ticket of former Vice President and California Sen. Kamala Harris will respond accurate accounts of daily COVID-19 deaths and the number of unemployed and the unprecedented contraction of the economy, and hope that America has gotten over its msg aversion to experience and expertise.

At this point only the most idealistic fool holds out hope for a brave new world in the next four years, and we suspect most Americans will settle for what Warren Harding called a “return to normalcy”..</

— Bud Norman

H. Ross Perot, RIP

H. Ross Perot died on Tuesday at age 89, and although one is always well advised not to speak ill of the dead we think he had a largely negative effect on the country’s history.
There was plenty to be said for the colorful character, and it should be acknowledged. Although he was the son of a prominent and politically-connected cotton trader in his beloved home state of Texas he became a multi-billionaire by his own considerable smarts and inexhaustible energy. After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy he found himself bored with peacetime service, and left the Navy as soon as his Annapolis obligations had been met. He took a job as a salesman for the International Business Machines Corporation that then dominated the nascent computer industry, and was by all accounts extraordinarily successful at it, once meeting his yearly quota in three weeks. Perot stuck around IBM long enough to learn everything he needed to know about the computer biz, and in 1962 he left to start his own business.
Texas-based Electronic Data Systems proved a very profitable company, mostly from a number of sizable contracts with the federal government. He used much of his share of the profits to become an early and significant investor in what became Apple Computers, which proved even more profitable, and in 1988 he created Perot Systems Corporation, which further increased his multi-billion dollar wealth. He increased his already considerable fame after the Iranian Revolution of 1979 when he claimed to have raised a mercenary army to rescue to EDS employees who had been there working on a contract with overthrown Iranian government. The story was apocryphal, but was rivetingly told in the best-selling book “Wings of Angels” and then on a highly rated made-for-television movie.
Like so many other self-made men Perot eventually came to worship his creator, however, and by 1992 had decided that he was the best possible person to be President of the United States. He ran as an independent, with a small but enthusiastic following doing the legwork to get him enough signatures to be on the ballot in every state, and he was included on the televised debates with major party nominees, and he wound up winning 19 percent of the popular, the biggest share for a third-party candidate since former President Theodore Roosevelt and his Bull Moose party’s 27 percent in 1912.
Just as Roosevelt’s run wound costing the eminently conservative Republican William Howard Taff re-election and handed the White House over to prototypical progressive President Woodrow Wilson, Perot took enough votes from quintessentially establishment Republican President George H.W. Bush to give cleaned-up hippie Democratic President Bill Clinton the office with a mere plurality.
Perot’s platform called for higher taxes but huge cuts in social programs and promised balanced budgets and the full payment of the federal debt, which was at that time an obsession for most Republicans. He also ran on the argument that he was untainted by any previous political experience, and that the billions he had in the bank were proof he was smart enough to run anything, which then as now is somehow persuasive to a lot of Republicans. His foreign policy positions were more vague, and he’d been critical of the first Gulf War, although it was quickly won and established a Pax Americana in the Middle East that would last several years, but Reagan and Bush had won the Cold War and no one seemed to care much about foreign policy.
The first President Bush was known for his cautious if clumsy language and patrician bearing and impeccable public service credentials and stay-the-course leadership, but an increasingly rural and blue collar and anti-establishment Republican party was growing weary of all that, and with his cheap haircuts and jug ears and folksy language and authentic Texas twang Perot provided a stark contrast. He might have peeled off a few votes from Clinton, but we believed at the time and still do that most of his 19 percent would have won the Republicans a rare fourth presidential election victory.
Perot then transformed his ad hoc political organization into the Reform Party, which mostly attracted the sorts of Republicans who thought that the Republican party had become effete. The Grand Old Party had recently won the Cold War and created a large and long-lasting economic expansions, but then as now many Republicans felt it wasn’t protecting them from the oftentimes disruptive economic transformations that resulted from free trade and new technologies, and felt a sense that those establishment know-it-alls with the impeccable credentials didn’t identify with them, and they were looking to disrupt even the most venerable of America’s institutions.
Perot ran as the Reform Party nominee in ’96, but a truce between Clinton and the newly-installed House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his fellow firebrand Republicans installed in the mid-term elections resulted in a balanced budget, which deprived Perot of one of his signature issues. The second time around he finished with 8.4 percent of the vote, and although that probably didn’t cost Republican nominee Sen. Bob Dole the election it might have peeled off enough Democratic votes that Clinton had to settle for another plurality.
The Reform Party stuck around for a short while after Perot’s departure from public life, but long enough to do further damage. Former boa-clad professional wrestler and bona fide nutcase conspiracy theorist Jesse Ventura became governor of Minnesota for tumultuous turn  on the Reform Party ticket, and paleo-conservative Pat Buchanan used the party’s presidential nomination to spread his paranoid populism and his admittedly fascist-friendly “America First” foreign policy. Outright racists such as former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and a large number of erstwhile Republicans with class and race resentments of an establishment they just knew was out to get them found a home there, and a brash self-proclaimed billionaire named Donald Trump made his first foray into politics when he sought the party’s nomination.
Perot was quite right to warn about the federal debt, and deserves credit for suggesting that an unpopular tax hike and painful spending cuts might be required to pay it off, but it doesn’t seem to have had any lasting influence on either party. We thought his xenophobic protectionism was wrong then and still think it’s wrong as President Donald Trump pursues it, and we retain the same opinion about both Perot’s and Trump’s isolationist foreign policy instincts.
We wish a Perot an eternally happy afterlife, and freely acknowledge he was one of those rare individuals who left his mark on history, but he always appreciated blunt talk, so we feel free to say he had a mostly corrosive influence. He not only got Clinton elected and helped him get reelected, but he fostered a paranoid and conspiracy-theorizing suspicion of well-credentialed public servants and venerable political and economic institutions that persists in the Republican party to this day. The Democrats have their own paranoid and conspiracy-theorizing elements with crazy protectionist and isolation ideas, on the other hand, so as we wish Perot a fond farewell we’ll be hoping the center still holds.

— Bud Norman

How “The Mooch” Screwed the Pooch, If You’ll Kindly Pardon the Expression

The administration of President Donald Trump was already the most compelling show on television, with enough back-stabbing palace intrigue and occasional nudity to make “Game of Thrones” look like a “Romper Room” re-run, but the addition of new White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci will surely drive the ratings through the roof. Although he’s not yet been on the job for even a full week, on Thursday Scaramucci managed to grab all the headlines and the top of the news hour.
How he got the job in the job in the first place was already an interesting enough story, but on Thursday Scaramucci made it all the more intriguing with his “tweeted” threats of criminal action against a Politico reporter and his profanity-laden and tape-recorded tirade to a reporter from The New Yorker, along with all the disparagements of the rest of the Trump administration he made along the away. All in all, it was a pretty weird end to a first week of the job.
Scaramucci had gained a famously fabulous fortune on Wall Street, and been an outspoken critic of Trump right up until the point when Trump clinched the Republican nomination, but after that Scaramucci became an unabashed apologist for the eventual president. He even divested himself of a lucrative investment fund in apparent hopes of winning an administration post, but he found himself frozen out. Trump had campaigned in the Republican primaries on promise to destroy the Republican party’s establishment, but after he won the nomination he accepted the embrace of Republican National Committee chairman Rience Priebus, and after Trump’s unexpected electoral victory former Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer was installed as White House communications director and press secretary, and Scaramucci was left on the outside looking in.
Spicer did his best to bully the press into favorable coverage and defend Trump’s most indefensible claims, but his feeble efforts were effectively ridiculed on all the late night comedy shows, and Trump cut the cameras off his press conferences a few weeks ago and gave the audio-only spotlight to deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, so it was no surprise when he was eventually forced to resign. Despite having no relevant experience in politics or media relations other than his own life-long self-promotion Scaramucci thus wound up with the gig, which brings us to that manic-even-by-Trump-standards Thursday about the presumed leaker.
He responded to Politico’s scoop with a “tweet” that threatened to sic the Justice Department on whatever cad had leaked the now-confirmed information, and the reporter “tweeted” back that her only source was Scaramucci’s own public disclosure forms. Being new to the strange ways of the Washington cesspool, the Wall Street shark Scaramucci apparently didn’t understand that what he’d disclosed on his public disclosure forms would eventually be publicly disclosed, so we’d have to say he wound up losing round one in his war against “fake news.”
Scaramucci responded to The New Yorker “tweet” by calling up its intrepid reporter Ryan Lizza to demand the anonymous source, and at that point it really gets good. Perhaps it’s because he’s new to the strange ways of the Washington cesspool and didn’t realize that intrepid reporters don’t divulge their anonymous administrations sources and tape all their uninvited calls from identifiable administration officials, and that a president’s lunch with a media sycophant isn’t a state secret or really any big deal, but he wound up on a epic rant that has to be read to believed. As Eagle Scouts and evangelical Christians and old-fashioned establishment Kansas Republicans we have long maintained an editorial policy against profanity, and always added asterisks when the news of the day required it, but by now even such a genteel publication as The New Yorker can’t avoid it, and the age of “grab ’em by the pussy” Trump has already “schlonged” the standards of public discourse, so we’ll go right ahead and let Scaramucci speak for himself.
“Reince is a fucking paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoic,” Scaramucci said, mocking Priebus’ voice as he added “Let me leak the fucking thing and see if I can cock-block these people the same way I cock-blocked Scaramucci.” At that point The New Yorker politely and parenthetically noted that Priebus had declined to comment on the comment. If you’re following all the subplots closely you’ll have noted Scaramucci doesn’t have to report to the White House chief staff, as White House communications directors usually do, so he also promised that “I’m going to start ‘tweeting’ some shit to make this this guy crazy,” which was shortly followed by a “tweet” threatening to sic the Justice Department on the White House chief of staff.
“The Mooch” also opined on tape that “I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock. I’m not trying to build my own brand off the strength of the fucking president. I’m here to serve the country.” Which is weird enough even before you realize that Bannon represents the anti-Republican-establishment half of Trump’s team of rivals, and that Scaramucci had laid down a profanity-laden assault  to every part of the Trump administration except himself and Trump.
That’s your new White House communications director, however, and we’ll leave it to Sean Hannity and the Boy Scouts and evangelical Christians and establishment Republican types who are still on board the Trump train to defend it. He’s already got a lot communicating about “Russia” and the the the apparent failure of Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare to do, as well as all those administration jobs Trump hasn’t yet found anyone to fill, and from our Eagle Scout and evangelical Christian and old-fashioned Kansas Republican perspective he’s off to a bad start.

— Bud Norman

Health Care Reform in Surgery Recovery

Arizona Sen. John McCain is currently recovering from surgery, and for as long as that takes so is his Republican party’s attempts to reform America’s health care system.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has once again delayed a vote on a Senate health care proposal, not because McCain is a former party presidential nominee or exceedingly senior congressional member or otherwise an especially respected member of the party, but rather because at this point not a single a Republican vote can be spared. This point arrives after seven years of every establishment Republican and every anti-establishment Republican vowing repeal and replacement of the hated Obamacare law, with a solid Republican majority in the House and a sufficient one in the Senate and some sort of Republican in the White House, so the Republican effort to make good on that constantly made promise seems conspicuously sickly.
The prognosis for McCain’s recovery is reportedly good, and we certainly wish him our very best and offer our prayers, but the chances for that long-awaited Republican repeal and replace effort seem more iffy. Health care is complicated, as that putatively Republican president discovered shortly after he took office, and the politics of the issue are more complicated yet, so it’s foolish to make any bold promises such as the all of the Republicans have been making. The party’s congressional majorities might yet pass something, and that some sort of Republican president will surely sign it, but at this point there’s no guessing how that might turn out well.
That hated Obamacare law is indeed hateful, full of all the restrictions on individual liberty and increased costs for the middle class that the Republicans predicted, utterly lacking in the promises the Democrats made about keeping your doctor and your plan and pocketing a big chunk of change at the end of year, and the Republicans won three state congressional election and one-of-two presidential elections on the issue. The law never polled well, even when Obama was winning re-election, so replacing the damned thing should have been an easy enough task for a Republican congress and Republican president to do. Replacing it, though, has proved tricky even for the co-author of “The Art of the Deal.”
Some of Obamacare’s most unworkable provisions have always polled well, such as that guaranteed coverage of pre-existing conditions, and at least a few million photogenic and sympathetic folks have derived advantages from it, and it also expanded Medicaid coverage to a few more million folks in states that voted in Republican governors and senators and representatives. Obamacare still doesn’t poll particularly well, but both the House and Senate versions of repealing and replacing it are faring far worse, and at this point in this age of cynical pragmatism we can’t hardly blame any Republicans up for re-election in a year and a few month’s time.
Those poor politicians’ political calculations are further complicated by the complex nature of Republican politics at this point. One of the unsure Republican votes is Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who voted against Obamacare when it happened and is about as right-wing a Republican as you could hope for in a such a liberal state as Maine but is nonetheless reviled by the all the right-wing radio talkers in the red states and is voting against the Senate bill because it’s too austere. Another wavering vote is Sen. Ran Paul from McConnell’s own state of Kentucky, whose standing with the right-wing radio talkers is hard to assess at the moment, because the thinks the bill too spend-thrifty. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is holding out for an amendment that would allow young and healthy consumers the choice of low-cost and low-coverage plans for catastrophic care, which warms our traditional Republican hearts, but the Republican president called him “Lyin’ Ted” all the right-wing talk radio hosts aren’t sure what to make of the Cruz amendment.
Almost everyone on talk radio and the rest of the party still seems on board with that putatively Republican president, who ran on promises of coverage for everybody and the government paying for it and no cuts to Medicaid and lower costs somehow resulting, and he now tells his televangelist interviewer that he’s waiting in the Oval Office with his pen to sign anything the Republicans might put on his desk. He’s not given any speeches or even any “tweets” about why the Republican plan is so great it’ll make your head spin, but if the Republicans in congress do give him something to sign he’ll gladly take credit for it. If they don’t, he’ll be able blame it on those gutless and devious moderate and conservative establishment types of Republicans that he that he vowed to destroy, and we’re sure all those talk show hosts will heartily agree.
There’s a Republican case to be made for those widely unpopular House and Senate bills the Republicans came up, and for the compromise that should have been reached with complete Republican control of the government, and they might yet make it. Such Republicans as that putatively Republican president keep talking about how shrewd McConnell is at getting things done, and we note that he held a Supreme Court seat open long enough for the putatively Republican president to take credit for getting a conservative confirmed, but the Republican president ran on the argument that he or any other professional politician couldn’t get anything done, and that only a real estate developer could do the job.
If the Republicans don’t get the job done there will be plenty of blame to spread around, and we’re sure they’ll all do their best to spread it elsewhere. If something does get passed and sign, they’ll probably all claim credit, then start deflecting the blame somewhere down the electoral road.

— Bud Norman

Another Farce in France

As bad as the choices were in the past American presidential election, which was pretty darned bad, the French seem to have sunk even lower. They had an open field primary to pick a new president on Sunday featuring candidates ranging from outright communists to outright fascists, and wound up with a run-off between Emmanuel Macron and Marie Le Pen, who aren’t quite outright about their respective communism and fascism but are close enough to the descriptions by American standards.
Macron is the more moderate of the alternatives by French standards, but even the Sen. Bernie Sanders sorts of voters in this country’s Democratic Party would find him a bit extreme. He’s a graduate of the country’s most prestigious university program for civil servants, served a key role in the government of Francois Hollande after earning a sizable fortune in the current Francois Hollande administration, talks tough on increased defense spending and the war against terror, and proposed some business-friendly economic policies, but Hillary Clinton had similar credentials and Macron is way to the left of her on almost everything else.
Until recently Macron was a member of the same Socialist Party as Hollande, as well as being part of his government, but Hollande is lately polling at an eye-popping 4 percent approval rating, which even the most loathsome American political figures somehow never achieve, so he ran as an independent. Given France’s apparent anti-establishment mood that was a shrewd move, and the official candidate of the Socialist Party, which is pretty much the equivalent of the Democratic Party over there, fell far short of the two-way run-off election. Despite the independent status and the centrist rhetoric, though, Macron seems to have been largely responsible for the soak-the-rich economics that have left the country in a state of decline, he’s also touting higher pay for teachers in the country’s various public school war zones and the usual slate of socialist goodies, and his enthusiasm for a war on terror seems suspiciously newfound. He’s only 39 years old, too, and his wife is 64, and he strikes us quite inscrutably modern and French.
There’s no doubting Le Pen’s longstanding enthusiasm for a war on terror, but there are plausible concerns all over the world about how she might wind up waging it, and other worries as well. She ran as the candidate of the Front National, but on Monday she also declared herself an independent, probably because her party is even more unpopular than the Socialists. The Front National was formed in 1972 by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, to oppose the nascent European Union and mass immigration while restoring traditional values and boosting the country’s ever-low immigration rate, but he also denied the Holocaust, peddled various anti-semitic conspiracy theories, at times seemed to welcome the newfound allies arriving in the Muslim neighborhoods, called for the quarantine of people with HIV, and groused about the darker players on France’s World Cup soccer team. He was an apologist for the Vichy government’s Nazi collaborators, too, but he still made it to a run-off back in 2002. Everyone but his 18 percent of the voters in that crazily fractured field then united against him under the slogan “vote for the crook, not the fascist,” so he lost in a landslide against a guy who really was a crook, and a few years ago he was kicked out of his own party.
Jean-Marie Le Pen’s daughter is an attractive and articulate 48-year-old Member of the European Parliament and a former well-regarded councilwoman in a major French city who sounds perfectly reasonable making arguments against the European Union and mass immigration and terrorism, and she seems to embrace the Jewish community as part of a coalition against the Muslims arrived, and knows better than to wade into soccer controversies, and she’s far enough removed that Vichy legacy that France would just as soon forget. Still, she apparently felt it necessary to shed her father’s party label. The younger Le Pen advocates the same nationalize-and-socialize economic prescriptions for the country’s already over regulated economy, and she keeps the to the same nationalist themes, to there remains a rather unpleasant redolence of past nationalist-socialist movements in Europe, and she’s still considered a 20-point underdog in the run-off race.
Not only is the entirety of the left sure to rally to Macron, but a large portion of the right will probably do so as well. The closest thing to a traditional American conservative in the primary was a guy named Francois Fillon from the Republican Party, which is the closest thing you’ll find to America’s Republican Party, and although the sorts of American Republicans who grumble that John McCain and Mitt Romney were a couple of damned liberals would surely hate this guy he was about the best you can hope for in France. He was outspokenly pro-American and pro-Western in his foreign policy speeches, tough but carefully nuanced in his talk about the threats from mass immigration and Islamic terrorism, and his business-friendly economic proposals seemed heartfelt rather than newfound, but he’d also been caught giving some lucrative taxpayer-paid sinecures to his wife and kids, and he came in a close-but-no-cigar third place with 20 percent of the vote behind Le Pen’s 21 percent. He has urged his followers to join with the 24 percent who voted for Macron, to some degree or another most of the center-right parties throughout Europe have done the same, and so far the bets are mostly against Le Pen.
The bettors have been taking a beating lately, though, so we won’t be laying any money down on this unfamiliar game. As odd as the French are we suspect they’re still prone to some of the basic human behaviors we’ve observed elsewhere, and by now we can well understand why they’d be fed up with all those terrorist attacks coming from recent Muslim arrivals and looking for any old idea about how to stop the chronic unemployment, and if the French yahoos are anything like the ones around here we’re sure they found that almost-Republican candidate far too nuanced in his tough talk. We’ve warned for years that if the mainstream parties don’t forthrightly address the very serious if somewhat embarrassing problems posed by immigrations, it will be left to the fringe candidates to do it, and that seems to have proved true both here and in France.
Some of those center-right voters are going to go with Le Pen, just as many wary Republicans went with Trump, some of the voters for the outright communist candidates are going to sit it out rather than vote for such a sell-out as Macron, just as many Sanders sorts of Democrats did with Clinton. Even if she doesn’t make up a formidable 20 percent deficit — far bigger than the polls had Brexit or President Donald Trump’s election or all the recent mis-called races that are being invoked — we expect it will be close. France is split 50-50 on the European Union, all those Muslims and the tiny number of Jews left in France will likely join with some wary allies against Le Pen, and just as in America everybody in France seems to hate everybody else and anything that reeks of of any kind of establishment.
America seems relatively sane by comparison, but our Republican president, who ran on an anti-Republican-establishment platform, has been “tweeting” comments about how a recent Islamist terror attack in Europe vindicates the same anti-immigrant stand that he and Le Pen ran on, even as his spokespeople insist that he didn’t mean to endorse anyone. American presidents are best advised not to comment on French elections, but if a Republican one were to do so we would have expected him to tout that Fillon guy, and surely this president can’t fault him for using his office to funnel some money towards his wife and kids, so that’s also curious. Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is reportedly helping Le Pen’s campaign, just as he’s supported anti-establishment nationalist movements elsewhere in Europe, and there are ongoing investigations about how Putin meddled in the election that resulted in Trump’s anti-establishment and nationalist victory, and even if there’s nothing to it that’s all the more reason Trump should have stayed neutral.
In any case, we have a slightly familiar and all-too-desultory feeling that neither of these awful candidates are going to make France great again.

Tweeting and Twisting the GOP

The internecine Republican feuding has lately become more complicated. It’s still the same old story of the establishment versus the insurgents, the squishy moderates versus the principled conservatives, and the real Republicans versus the Republicans In Name Only, but the days it’s hard to tell who’s on which side. At this point in the plot President Donald Trump is “tweeting” threats against the House of Representative’s “Freedom Caucus,” so all the old labels of establishment and insurgent and principled and squishy no longer make any sense, and who the real Republicans are is very much up for debate.
As a relatively recent Republican Trump won the party’s nomination with a plurality of primary and caucus votes by running as an outsider and populist renegade hellbent on burning down the hated GOP establishment, as exemplified by party chairman Reince Priebus and House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, but following his improbable win of the electoral vote he seem surprised to find that he suddenly was the establishment. After running on grandiose promises of repealing Obamacare within days of taking office and replacing it with coverage for everyone at and lower costs and so beautiful it would make your head spin, Trump made Priebus his White House Chief of Staff and turned to Ryan McConnell to make good on his word, then went off to golf at his fabulous Mar-a-Lago resort, as populists do.
That was fine with the plurality of the party that now defines Republicanism as obeisance to Trump, and when it all went down in flames many of them were eager to blame Priebus and Ryan and McConnell and the rest of the hated establishment who had hoodwinked the naive Trump, even if he had also been elected because of his boasts of being both anti-establishment and the savviest deal-maker ever, and there was plenty of blame to be spread around the whole party. Some of those squishy moderates who somehow survived the past six years of insurgent anti-establishment primary purges bucked the party line on the bill because they were cowed by its 17 percent approval rating and all the looming sob stories from the 24 million people expected to lose health care coverage the first three years of premium hikes that were also forecast. More votes were lost from the “Freedom Caucus,” the same insurgent populists who had gained office by running on the original “Tea Party” wave of dissatisfaction with the Republican establishment, as they objected to the bill because it didn’t fully repeal Obamacare and replaced it with something that retained too many of the taxes and regulations and outrageous infringements of free market principles and individual liberty that the entirety of the party had claimed to be against from the get-go.
Trump took to “Twitter” to blame the “Freedom Caucus” members and threaten them with primary challenges by more obeisant Republicans if they didn’t come around. “The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast,” Trump “tweeted,” adding with similar eloquence that “We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!” Later “tweets” mentioned individual members by name, with similar political intimidation repeated, which leaves us wondering what the Republican establishment but not doubting that it’s likely to be burned down.
The “tweets” don’t seem likely to settle the matter, though, as the “Freedom Caucus” members defiantly “tweeted” back in Trump’s own blustery style. Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie responded with a snarky “#Swampcare polls 17%. Sad!” Virginia Rep. Tom Garrett of Virginia “tweeted” a simple “Stockholm Syndrome?” to suggest that Trump was now stuck with the hated establishment label. None appeared to be at all intimidated, and we can’t see why they should be. It’s easy to resist a populist movement that’s polling 17 percent in the polls, which is truly is sad, Trump’s numbers are hovering around 40 at a time when a president should be getting a honeymoon bump, and most of those “Freedom Caucus” members won their districts by bigger margins than Trump. Some of them really believe what they ran on, too, and can more persuasively argue why they voted against the bill Trump backed than Trump can argue for it.
To the extent that they can’t “tweet” the argument, conservative media ranging from the rabble-rousing radio talkers to the old eggheaded and think-tanky ink-and-paper publications will make it for them. Given that Trump’s remaining support won’t listen to any media that isn’t explicitly conservative, that’s a problem. Some of the conservative media are by now obeisant to Trump, but given their past full-throated supported for the “Freedom Caucus” and its anti-establishment stand they’re going to have some tricky talking to do. There are still enough Democrats hanging around Congress that Trump will need pretty much Republican vote to “get on the team, & fast,” which will be hard to do with a party that prides itself on its rugged individualism and stubborn independence and despite a certain reverence for order and tradition has lately come to regard any sort of establishment as needing to be burned down.
All of which leaves the Republicans with a whole lot of soul-searching about what their party really stands for. Given the current state of the Democratic Party, the country desperately needs the Republicans to get on with it.

— Bud Norman

A House Divided Against Itself

These are the times that try a Republican’s soul. There’s still no telling how such a crazy election year as this will turn out, but at this late date in the process the polls aren’t hopeful for the presidential prospects of the Grand Old Party, and the intra-party fighting is already underway.
Republicans started this election cycle with solid if not-quite-veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate, a number of Republican governors and state legislatures and county commissions and city councils not seen since the Roaring ’20s, not to mention a strong field of successful governors and legislators and business leaders vying for the presidential nomination, and were destined to face the most deservedly unpopular Democratic nominee of our lifetimes, but at this dire moment in this crazy election we seem to have blown it. The erstwhile party of family values and free market capitalism and keeping the international bad guys at bay chose to nominate a twice-divorced casino-and-strip-club mogul whose latest wife is an illegal immigrant nudie model, whose casinos and strip clubs have gone bankrupt and whose vodka brands and minor-league football teams and ill-timed mortgage companies and scam real estate schools have gone under, and who now insists he can force Apple to make its products in America and sell them for a hundred grand or so a pop, and seems to have a strange attraction to the Russkies’ suddenly revanchist dictator and insouciance toward other international bad guys.
Apparently much of his appeal to the plurality of the party who nominated him was his tough talk about taking it to those darned Republican politicians that the party had previously put into office in such formidable numbers, and yet failed to make America sufficiently great again, so it’s not surprising that as the nominee’s poll numbers are lately tanking as the result of latest predictable scandals the “establishment” he vowed to destroy is taking the opportunity to fight back. Speaker of that Republican-majority House Paul Ryan has announced that he’s no longer defending the party’s presidential nominee and is instead focused on retaining those Congressional and state and county and local majorities, four of the party’s last five presidential nominees are also withholding their support, 36 statewide and Congressional Republican office-holders have called on their nominee to step down, another ten have withdrawn their support but stop short of calling for his withdrawal, and another 18are  offering pointed criticism of the nominee’s recently revealed and widely-panned boasts about being able to grab random women by the whatever, among his other recent problems. Meanwhile the party’s big business wing is withholding contributions, such formerly definitive non-talk-radio conservative media as The National Review and The Weekly Standard and The Central Standard Times remain as critical of the nominee as ever, and even the most reliably conservative publications in the daily and monthly press are refusing for the first time in their history to offer a Republican endorsement, with Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson leading the Republican by five-to-zero among the nation’s top 50 circulation newspapers, and the poll numbers among the college-educatated suburban-dwelling sorts of Republicans, especially the distaff portion, are almost as horrible.
Which is likely to result that in that most deservedly unpopular Democrat nominee of our lifetimes becoming president, but as she might put it, what difference, at this point, does it make? At this particular moment in this crazy election year the more pertinent question is which faction of the party should survive the recriminations, and there’s no telling how that might play out.
Should Republican nominee Donald J. Trump somehow survive this moment and become president, we’ve no doubt he’ll be so awful that all those fancy-schmantzy establishment types and such less well-healed and well-credentialed NeverTrump folks as ourselves will be vindicated, for whatever slight consolation that might be worth. In the seemingly more likely event that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton becomes the most deservedly unpopular newly-inaugurated president ever we’re also sure that she’ll be so awful that Trump fans will be able to make an argument he couldn’t have possibly been worse, but there will still be an at least equally plausible argument that any other Republican name you might have picked out of a hat would have prevented that calamity, and at this glum point in this crazy election we expect to spend the next four years fighting that intra-party battle. We know which side we’ll be  on, at least, but we won’t relish the fight, and would much prefer to be fighting the Democrats as we would in a less crazy year.

— Bud Norman

The Establishment Strikes Back, Again

Donald J. Trump’s winning of the Republican presidential nomination was supposed to have signaled the end of that Republican “establishment” supposedly hated by all the “real” Republicans, but the ancien regime seems to be faring well enough in the subsequent party primaries. Tuesday night saw a couple of targets of Trump’s “tweeting” wrath winning comfortably against self-described “anti-estalishment” challengers, with Senator Marco Rubio easily winning re-nomination in Florida and Senator John McCain prevailing just as easily in his home state of Arizona.
Trump had scoffed at Rubio as “Little Marco” during their presidential primary rivalry, and the combined power of that schoolyard taunt and the otherwise impeccably conservative’s support for a bipartisan “Gang of Eight” deal in the Senate that swapped vague promises of stricter border enforcement for a vague semi-legalization of those illegal immigrants already here pretty much doomed Rubio’s candidacy, and he even lost his home state’s presidential primary to Trump to by an embarrassing margin. That Trump had four years earlier decried the Republican nominee’s “self-deportation” policy as “maniacal,” and contributed generously to the campaign funds of five of the “Gang of Eight” members, seemed to matter little when Trump was promising all the “real” Republicans that he was going to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it and set up a ruthless “deportation force” that would kick out every last illegal immigrant.
By Tuesday night Trump was recently scoffing at the idea of “deportation forces” rounding up more than 11 million people, and no one could really say for certain where he stood on immigration, except that he was still talking about the wall Mexico will pay for and making other huge but vague promises about border enforcement, and that it should be clearer after a long-delayed speech on immigration that will occur after his meeting today with the President of Mexico. We’d wager a few pesos that the Mexican president won’t agree to pay for the wall Trump intends to build, but other than that we have no idea what position Trump might momentarily settle on in the long-delayed speech, and in any case it won’t keep Rubio from a good shot at reelection. Rubio had said he would return to private life after his public humiliation, but what was left of the GOP “establishment” begged him and his formidable fund-raising machine to help keep alive the hopes of a Republican Senate, and by sticking to his for-the-most-part impeccably conservative easily rebuffed a challenged by an “anti-establishment” and very wealthy real estate mogul.
Longtime Arizona Senator and former Republican presidential nominee John McCain’s heroic sacrifices as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam conflict was scoffed at by the draft-dodging Trump’s sneer that he “was only a hero because he got captured,” but he wound up more or less endorsing Trump’s nomination nonetheless, and Trump wound up giving him a similarly ambivalent on endorsement, and then on Tuesday he ended up with a similarly more-or-less endorsement from the party’s nominee, and the oh-so-establishment and “Gang of Eight” octogenarian wound up winning by a more or less comfortable margin against an “anti-establishment” challenger. It’s a messy race, but another win for the establishment by our scoring.
Both Rubio and McCain still have to square off against Democratic challengers, and there’s no telling how that might turn out in this crazy election year, but the the aggregate of the latest polling suggests they’re both doing at least as well in their respective states as the Republican presidential nominee. In several other states those boring old “establishment” Republicans are polling better than Trump, and in the crucial swing state of Ohio where Trump is currently down by 3.8 percentage eight points in the Real Clear Politics average the soporifically Republican “establishment” Sen. Rob Portman is so far ahead of a generic Democrat that the Democratic donors are abandoning the race. In this crazy election year Trump might yet wind up winning the presidency, but it seems increasingly likely that there will still be both a Democratic and Republican party that he’ll have to deal with.

— Bud Norman

Another Win for the Establishment

There are a lot of political races being run in this crazy election year besides that dispiriting presidential contest, so we like to check in on them from time to time in vain search of some faint sense of hope for the country. Last week the intriguing race was just west of the county line in Kansas’ First Congressional district, where an “establishment” type knocked off an “anti-establishment” type incumbent in a unusually heavily-funded Republican primary in that remote and largely unpeopled district, and this week the big news has come out of the distant First District of Wisconsin, where incumbent Republican House Speaker and very personification of the “establishment” Paul Ryan won an even more lopsided victory over a tattooed and otherwise impeccably “anti-establishment” challenger.
We do find some faint sense of hope for the country in both outcomes, albeit with the same nagging ambiguity that marks this crazy election year. There was some appeal to that fire-breathing anti-establishmentarian out in western Kansas, but when you’re so darned rebellious that you wind up getting kicked off the Agriculture Committee and so ideologically pure that you vote against a Farm Bill which had satisfactory cuts in the Food Stamp program and keeps the current business model of the First District economy more or less intact we figure you’re asking for trouble. In the case of Paul Ryan, the feelings are yet more mixed.
The handsome and youthful Ryan has had a starring role in the past many years of the binge-worthy Republican reality show, and veered from hero to villain and back again through all the plot twists. He first took a seat in the House of Representatives as a budget-cutting villain to the left and hero to the right, back when the two sides used to fight over such things, and was held in such high regard by the “tea party” enthusiasts for fiscal solvency that he was named Mitt Romney’s running mate in the ’12 race to appease all the hard-core “anti-establishment” Republican types. That didn’t work out, of course, and since then Ryan has been increasingly reviled by his erstwhile anti-establishment supporters because of his reluctant support for some less-than-ideal continuing-resolutions they strike these days instead of establishing real budgets, and he’s been in some on some illegal immigration and free-trade deals that weren’t popular with the anti-establishment types, and after taking over from the hated-by-the-anti-establishment types John Boehner he was pretty much stuck with another awful continuing-resolution fiascos that further aroused talk radio ire. Then he wound up with Donald J. Trump as a nominee, whose newly popular version of anti-establishment furor was very much against illegal immigration and every single trade deal passed in the last 100 years or so and not at all concerned with any of that politically-toxic fiscal solvency nonsense, which added yet another plot twist.
The Republican Speaker of the House was initially reluctant to endorse the Republican presidential nominee, but eventually wound up doing so without much enthusiasm, and the Republican nominee used the very same language to express his reluctance to endorse the Republican Speaker of the House and then wound up doing so with the same lack of enthusiasm, then sending sending out a thankful “tweet” to the challenger just before Ryan wound up winning with a blow-out percentage of the vote anyway. The anti-Trump press gleefully reported it as a win for the non-Trump faction of the GOP, and although we agree we’re only ambiguously gleeful about it.
Ryan is all wrong on that illegal immigration issue, as far as we’re concerned, even if we’re not quite so hopped up about it to embrace the Republican presidential nominee’s crazy talk about building a wall and making Mexico pay for it, and we can’t help recalling a time so recent as Ryan’s vice-presidential bid when the Republican nominee was saying that any talk of merely enforcing immigration and thus causing self-deportations was “cruel.” We’re with Ryan on those free-trade agreements, along with most of the First and Fourth Districts here in Kansas, where the export-dependent agricultural and aviation industries predominate, but at the moment we seem to be facing a bipartisan consensus against us. Ryan has signed off some continuing-resolution deals that are horrible by any Republican measure, but the alternative was a government shutdown that might well have halted those subsidy checks to the First Districts of both Wisconsin and Kansas and had other political consequences that no one can forecast, and we’re more inclined to trust the political deal-making instincts of a 16-year-veteran of the Congressional wars than a private sector deal-maker whose casinos went bankrupt four times despite house odds.
For all our frustrations with him, we note that Ryan is one of the few people left on the American political scene who is still stubborn about all that politically toxic fiscal solvency nonsense, and at least has some sort of half-assed over-the-coming-decades plan to deal with it. The American experiment is currently hurtling toward financial insolvency, neither of the major political party nominee have expressed any willingness to address the matter, and indeed both are trying to out-bid one another on how much they’ll spend to make America great again, so it’s nice to know that such an obstinate fellow as Ryan will likely be around to perhaps provide some hopeful plot twist or two about keeping America afloat.
All politics is local, as the venerable cliche goes, and we suspect that the First District of Wisconsin had the same self-interest in a Speakership that the First District of Kansas had in a seat on the Agriculture Committee, and that little of it has anything to do with that dispiriting presidential race.. Both seats are safely Republican, though, so no matter how that dispiriting presidential race turns out at least Kansas’ First District will likely once again have a seat on the Agriculture Committee and the First District will have either a Speaker of the House who’s willing to take on entitlement reform, or at least a minority leader with the same admirable yet suicidal inclination. If the faint hope we find in this makes us “establishment,” so be it.

— Bud Norman

The Premature Fix

The Republican primary race is pretty much over, even if the Washington state party pledged 40 of its 41 delegates to the presumptive nominee’s last vanquished rival in the most recent contest just to express their understandable dismay about it, and the presumptive nominee has lately refrained from the outrageous comments and obnoxious behavior that somehow won him the nomination, so all the attention is now on the still-slightly-in-doubt Democratic race. No wonder the presumptive Republican nominee has lately taken a slight edge in the polls, because the Democrats are arguably in even worse shape yet.
Although a professional wrestling-style fix has been in for years to coronate former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, she somehow still hasn’t finished off a self-described socialist who literally honeymooned in the Soviet Union and rants about he plethora of underarm deodorants available to American consumers and goes by the until-recently unfamiliar name of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. This is partly because Sanders’ brand of Old Left anti-choice kookiness has a strong appeal to a significant portion of the party’s equally kooky base, but mostly because the party’s presumptive nominee is simply awful. Her tenure as First Lady mostly involved smearing anyone who noted her perv husband’s serial sexual depredations, her otherwise forgettable few years in the Senate are best remembered by the still sore base for her vote for the Iraq War, and with the possible exception of her successor we’d be hard-pressed to name a more disastrous Secretary of State. There are also all those old financial and political scandals that should have disqualified her from public life decades ago, as well as the ones recent enough they are still being diligently investigated by everyone from Congress to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the unavoidable questions about her health, and the undeniable fact that she’s an utterly unappealing candidate.
From an old-fashioned Republican perspective it’s almost enough to make think of voting for Donald J. Trump, and even from the kookiest Democratic perspective people are still moved to cast their votes in dismay for the last vanquished foe. That First Lady tenure of smearing the victims of her presidential perv husband’s sexual depredations was happily excused by all the aging feminists back when they had to worry about abortion rights, but by now they’re more concerned about the “culture of rape” and Clinton’s hectoring that any woman who alleges rape must be believed regardless of the evidence suddenly sounds ridiculous, and the sensible and effective welfare reform and crime bills and trade deals that he was forced to sign on to by a Republican Congress are now denounced by the presumptive Democratic nominee and the rest of her party. That Senate vote for the Iraq war is still a sore point with her party, and no one on either side of the aisle who can think of anything to brag about from her four years as Secretary of State. There’s an understandable “anti-establishment” mood afoot in the Democratic Party similar to the understandable one on the Republican side, too, which makes any former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State automatically suspect.
In retrospect, whoever the hell it was who put the fix in clearly should have picked someone else. At the time the deal went down the First Black President and his “Hope and Change” mantra had some reason to expect that the First Woman President would easily continue his fundamental transformation of America, which by then would surely be almost universally popular, but it just goes to show the futility of making political predictions more than 30 seconds or so ahead of schedule. Even way back then we could foresee that the fundamental “Hope and Change” transformation of America would not be universally popular at any point in 2016, but even our mighty powers of prognostication could have predicted that the coronated queen would be facing this particular presumptive “Make America Great Again” Republican nominee.
This is a candidate willing to make a perfectly valid issue of the Clinton’s many unsavory sexual scandals, even if he’s got more than a few of his much boasted-about own, and will even bring up that alleged rape, even if rape has also been alleged against him. Certainly no one could have predicted that the presumptive Republican nominee would be running to the left of that hated-by-the-left Iraq War vote, and even parroting the Code Pink “Bush lied, people died” line that not even Obama or Sanders will dare. The presumptive Republican nominee is even claiming to have opposed the disastrous and dishonest Libyan policy that Clinton is responsible for, and although he’s lying about that and there’s no reason to believe he wouldn’t have been just as dishonest about denying culpability for opinions of the moment he’s still arguably got the better end of the argument. The presumptive Republican nominee also has a better pitch with his tough-on-the-bankers pitch, having bested his creditors many times in his sleazy private sector career, and he’ll surely be willing to after Clinton’s sleazy influence-peddling “family foundation” even though he was six-figure contributor. One can hardly blame the Democratic powers that be for not foreseeing this admittedly strange turn of events.
By now even those far-seeing powers-that-be can surely see what they’ve wrought, however, and we wouldn’t be much surprised by some readjustments. If the polls between now and convention time show the presumptive Republican nominee moving farther ahead, they can easily put another fix in. Those ongoing Congressional and Federal Bureau of Investigation inquiries could easily be allowed to end her candidacy, or the threat of that could allow those obvious health problems to provide a more gracious exit, and someone other than a kooky self-described socialist could be chosen, and it might be that fake Indian professor that all the Old Left types wanted as the First Woman President all along, or they might even figure that the self-described socialist still leads the presumptive Republican nominee in all the polls and go with him. This has been an unpredictable year, though, so we offer no predictions.

— Bud Norman