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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

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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

Meanwhile, on the Democratic Side

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee lost yet another primary by a blow-out margin in Oregon on Tuesday, and was declared the “unofficial” winner of Kentucky’s contest by a mere hanging chad or two, and by now it’s none too soon for the Democrats to start to panic.
Former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and long-presumed First Woman President Hillary Clinton’s inability to finish off the geriatric Old Left fossil and self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders should be troubling enough for her party, but there are also those polls showing her suddenly in a very tight general election race with the self-described billionaire and real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-joint-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul Donald J. Trump, whose insult comic shtick has already vanquished a deep field of far more qualified candidates, not to mention all those young and enthusiastic fans of the Old Left fossil booing her high-powered surrogates off a Democratic state convention stage. It’s not at all what the Democratic powers-that-be intended way back when in ’08 when they decided Clinton would be the nominee after putting of the First Woman President for the First Black President and all his “Hope and Change” nonsense, and they’ve no one to blame but themselves.
Clinton’s blow-out loss in Oregon to a self-described socialist and Old Left fossil is easily explained to anyone who has watched the hilarious hipster satire “Portlandia” on Netflix or whatever cutting-edge cable channel it originally appears on, and the Kentucky close-call is easily explained to country music fans familiar with the great Kentucky-born-and-raised Loretta Lynn’s classic about a “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and Clinton’s walked-back but still irrevocable promise to continue the First Black President’s war on the coal industry, so we’re slightly surprised that she didn’t get blown out like she did in neighboring West Virginia, where Democrats were making downright Trumpian rude gestures towards her over the policy and vowing to vote for the self-described billionaire on the Republican side, but the rest of the party’s troubles can’t be so easily dismissed. Those tight-race polls should be more troubling, given that Trump has some sky-high negative numbers in all the polls himself, and deserves them at least as much as Clinton does her own severe negative polling numberw, but that the youngest and most enthusiastic segment of her party is booing her high-powered surrogates off the stage of a Democratic state convention should scare the hell out of the party “establishment” that so long ago cooked up her cockamamie candidacy.
Those disgruntled hipsters in Oregon will mostly wind up voting for Clinton in the general election if only for a well-founded fear of Trump, and those hillbilly coal miners and their daughters in West Virginia and Kentucky will largely wind up voting for Trump in a well-founded fear of their jobs, but such a well-established Democrat as California Sen. Barbara Boxer being booed off a stage for mentioning Clinton’s name is most troubling yet. There’s an unmistakable and easily understandable-to-anyone “anti-establishment” mood in this year’s presidential race in both parties, and at the moment the Democratic Party’s bet on a former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State seems as foolish as bet against the house odds at one of Trump’s bankrupt casinos. The hated Republican “establishment” couldn’t stave off the abhorrent likes of Trump, the hated Democratic “establishment” seems likely to drag Clinton’s at-least equally abhorrent and equally-negatively-polling carcass across the finish line, and after seven-and-a-half-years of “Hope and Change” this is where even those cocksure Democrats find themselves.
Our “anti-establishment” sentiment will be voting third party this year, and  for whichever hopeless candidate claims to take the strongest stand against the looming national bankruptcy and for common sense that the presumptive Democratic nominee and her still-pesky rival and the presumptive Republican nominee all agree can be forever forestalled by whatever establishment they hope to install, so at this point we’re quite neutral observers of this whole mess. From this perspective the Democrats seem more hopelessly split, as most of the Republicans seem willing to side with the self-described billionaire who seems to now on the angles on this awful reality showl, and we can hardly blame them given their desultory options, and we at least hope that those Democratic Party’s powers-that-be are as panicked as we are at the moment.

— Bud Norman

Pompeo and Circumstance

The “anti-establishment” sentiment in the Republican Party has been simmering to a point lately that almost anyone who ever held any office is now presumed guilty of something or another, which is a healthy inclination up to a point, but at some other point it becomes necessary to be more discerning. That “anti-establishment” sentiment has been simmering for a while now, after all, at least here in the heartland, long enough for the more vigilant sorts of Republicans to have installed some pretty darned good public servants in office, and we’d hate to see any of these promising political babies thrown out with the proverbial bath water.
Here in the south-central Fourth District portion of reliably Republican Kansas our rising-through-the-ranks Rep. Mike Pompeo has twice lately attracted the attention of the national press, and on both occasions we think he acquitted himself well. First he asked the Islamic Society of Wichita to withdraw a speaking invitation to a controversial cleric with ties to the Hamas terrorist organization, then he took a leading role in a Congressional investigation into the latest problems demonstrating how awful the Obama administration’s awful nuclear deal with the terror gang running the Islamic Republic of Iran has become. On both occasions he was widely criticized by many of the national and local media, of course, but we expect he further endeared himself to the vast majority of voters he’s won the past few elections.
Pompeo’s widely publicized request to withdraw that invitation was merely a request, thoughtfully explained in terms of cultural sensitivity, and implied no threats, but even here in Wichita many of the local media were worried about the inevitable violent backlash against the city’s relatively tiny number of Muslims. Even the Islamic Society of Wichita agreed that the proposed speaker’s suspect background did make him a culturally insensitive choice right around Easter and in a city where the mosque just across the corner from one of our favorite dives was once frequented by one of the guys who made the first attempt to bring down the World Trade Center, and they threw in some unsubstantiated concerns about how the allegedly threatened armed militias showing might affect the neighboring Lutheran church, and they got some good press out of it, but the Hamas-loving cleric didn’t deliver his rant and we figure it worked out about as well as any of those drivers with the “Coexist” bumper stickers could hope for.
Those nationally-circulated criticisms of that awful Iran nuclear deal struck our south-central Kansas Republican sensibilities as ridiculous, too, given how awful that deal is becoming every day. Now it’s to the point that even the Obama administration is acting indignant about the intercontinental ballistic missile tests that Iran has been pumping up, along with all the chest-thumping they’ve been doing ever since the deal was not signed by anybody but somehow sealed, and we’re sufficiently well-attuned to and typical of the local mood to be confident that Pompeo won’t suffer any political damage from his common-sense stand. We’ve even had some Islamic controversies around here at the county level, with our favorite penny-pinching County Commissioner giving an impromptu rant against Islamism we didn’t find at all offensive but which set the local media all aflutter, and another making the obligatory visit to the mosque, which had already received much favorable media coverage for its culturally sensitive stand against Hamas-affiliated clerics, and here in the very middle of America the local consensus favors a plain understanding of the millennia-old conflict.
Pompeo’s been pretty stalwart on everything else we consider important, and our occasional disagreements have been principled enough for our tastes. He’s a steady Second Amendment man, a budget hawk enough to oppose the ethanol-like win-penergy subsidies that are very lucrative and popular in these windswept parts, and usually a reliable opponent of President Barack Obama. He and another worthy-of-doubt conservative supported Obama’s plea for Congressional authority to act in Syria, which we thought futile given that the Secretary of State John Kerry was assuring all those Democrats in the benighted regions outside Kansas that it would be mere “pinpricks,” and we’re still not sure it would have been a good idea, but given how badly it’s worked out and how vaguely plausibly future historians might be able to blame it on Republican obstruction we’ll have to again allow a measure of doubt. He also supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which we publicly opposed because we plausibly presumed that any deal the Obama administration could be improved upon by a subsequent Republican administration, but we don’t doubt his crack staff has actually read the thousand-plus-page monstrosity and come to more knowledgable conclusions, so we’ll again give him the benefit of the doubt, even though the current Republican front-runner’s so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters would string him up for it. In any case we agree with Pompeo’s generally free-trade philosophy, which is largely shared here even among the angry white men in the Fourth District of Kansas, where the two biggest components of the local economy are agriculture and aviation, which also happen to be the first and second biggest export industries of the country. Those portions of the country where industries more vulnerable to foreign competition are the drivers of the local economy might consider Pompeo a globalist establishment tool, but they can’t deny he’s looking out for his constituents.
Pompeo first joined Congress back in ’10, when the longstanding Republican incumbent decided to make an ill-fated run at the Senate and he wound up winning a crowded and distinguished primary field. After the ’08 elections the local Democrats were beguiled by the notion that their well-funded and Harvard-educated and Indian-American think thank veteran would have the same effect on the Fourth District here in reliably Republican Kansas that a Ivy League exotic did on the nation at large, but the backlash against Obama had already begun here and the locals weren’t buying any of it, and Pompeo was not only the top in his class at West Point and an iron-curtain commander of an actual tank and editor of the Harvard Law Review just like that Obama guy but also a hugely successful and never-once bankrupt businessman in the high-tech aviation industry, and we think he’s one of the high-quality guys we can point to that the past years of anti-establishment activism have brought to public service. We  think that that everyone-describes-as-conservative and former collegiate national champion Texas Sen. Cruz, who was also swept into office on an already-simmering “anti-establishment” mood,  is also one of those guys, and the same the south-central Kansans in this reliably Republican-all-along state have agreed with their votes on a recent windswept day, and if that makes us establishment then so be it.

— Bud Norman