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With Eleven Long Days to Go

There are now just 11 days before some very consequential elections throughout the country, but there’s hardly any room for that on the front pages or even in the 24 hour news cycle. The number of suspected pipe bombs that have been sent to prominent critics of President Donald Trump is now ten, the Saudi Arabian government continues to provide fresh explanations for its brutal murder of an American resident, some five thousand refugees from Central America are continuing their thousand mile walk toward America’s southern border, and as usual President Donald Trump takes up a lot of the space.
Even so, we’ve been keeping an eye on several races of local and national interest. It still looks as if Democratic nominee and liberal dreamboat Rep. “Beto” O’Rourke will come closer than most Democrats typically do down there in Texas but will still lose to Republican incumbent Sen. “Ted” Cruz in their widely watched race. So far as we can tell from this distance the Democrats seem to have a very good shot at flipping a Senate seat in Florida, where all the polls show Tallahassee mayor and Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum leading Republican nominee Rep. Ron DeSantis.
There’s another intriguing Senate race in Arizona, where Democratic nominee Rep. Kyrsten Sinema is clinging to a well-within-the margin-of-error lead over Republican nominee Martha McSally. That Senate race in Tennessee is worth watching, too, as former Gov. Phil Bredesen has a good shot at beating of beating Rep. Marsha blackburn and becoming the state’s first Democratic senator since Al Gore. Not to mention a surprisingly close race for governor of Georgia between Democrat nominee and state Rep. Stacey Abrams and Republican nominee and Secretary of State Ted Matz.
For the moment the consensus of the pollsters and the pundits is that the Republicans have a very good of chance of retaining control of the Senate, while the Democrats have an even better chance of winning the House, and we’re inclined to agree. There are still 11 front pages and 24-hour news cycles to go, and God only knows what they might bring, but the early voting has already begun and certain trends seem likely to persist for a while.
So far, and for so far as we can tell, those trends are not favorable to the Republicans. The Republicans might well win most of the aforementioned Senate races, and in North Dakota Republican nominee Rep. Kevin Cramer seems a sure bet to unseat Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, and the fact that all of the Democratic incumbents were elected in the anomalous year of 2012 leaves them playing defense in several swing states and red states, but that should only make it all the more worrisome to Republicans that it’s so close. That far better chance all the polls and pundits give to Democrats to win the House should be all the more troubling to the Republicans, as it reflects the popular vote rather then the random chances of the electoral map.
Part of the problem is that the Democrats have been running some candidates with centrist pitches and made-for-TV-ads biographies, including veterans and business moguls and somehow unblemished records in public office, while the Republicans have chosen a few not-ready-for-prime-time contenders. Even for the sharper Republican candidate, several issues are breaking the Democrats’ way.
The Republicans seem to be getting less than their usual share of votes in the rural areas, too, and the news has plenty of farers on the record grousing about how the recent trade wars have severely reduced their income. A large number of well-educated suburban white women who usually vote Republican have abandoned the party in every special election since President Donald Trump was elected are expected to do so again, although that might well be a mere coincidence. The Democrats are also making political hay of the landslide popularity of that coverage-for-preexisting-conditions clause in Obamacare, and all the Republicans who once ran on their promise to repeal the law and reign in entitlement spending are reduced to lying that they certainly never meant to repeal that part, and that it’s actually those lying Democrats who want to kick out all those poor people with preexisting conditions and make cuts in Medicare. Meanwhile, the pipe bombs and the Saudi murder and the unarmed marching refugees still a thousand miles away from the border don’t seem to help, and neither most the news that Trump daily commands.
Several of the Democrats’ rising stars are young or black or Latino or Asian or women, and in the case of the surprisingly possible next governor of Georgia she’s both black and a woman, and even here in Kansas we’ve got a lesbian Native American kick boxer who seems to have a good chance of flipping a Republican House seat. Meanwhile the Republicans have mostly chosen the usual straight old white guys, except that white woman who’s slightly behind another white woman in Arizona and that white woman in Tennessee who lost the endorsement of pop chanteuse Taylor Swift and many of her fans to a straight old white Democratic guy. The Republicans’ current reputation as the Grand Old Party of straight old guys has made it quite popular with straight old white guys, but these days there are only so many of us, and some significant portion of us on both the right and the left would prefer a party that was more welcoming to freedom-loving and entrepreneurial and individualist individuals of every sex, class, race, religion, and sexual predilection, so it doesn’t seem a sound a long-term strategy.
Lying about the Republican party’s past opposition to mandating coverage of preexisting conditions won’t help, either, although we have to admit that reiterating the sound arguments Republicans once made likening it to buying home insurance while your house is on fire would probably once again go down in flames. The Secretaries of State who are running for governor against that black woman in Georgia and a white woman here in Kansas have both been credibly accused of suppressing the black and Latino vote, and although it might work in both of the very close races it’s not a long term solution to the Republican party’s problems, and could well be used against them down the road.
At this point we’re holding out for gridlock, with neither party able to impose it’s will on other, and with 11 long days to go we like our chances.

— Bud Norman

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On the Going On’s in Nearby Texas

Although we’re comfortably fifty miles of Kansas and a whole big ol’ state of Oklahoma away from Texas, there’s no looking away from the surprisingly close Senate race going on down there. Incumbent Sen. Rafael “Ted” Cruz should be well ahead in such a reliably Republican state, but all the polls show Democratic nominee Rep. Robert “Beto” O’Rourke well within striking distance, and it has national implications for both politics and country-and-western music, two matters of great importance to us.
All politics is indeed local, but Texas is such an outsized state that we follow its politics closely, or at least closely enough to understand that it’s a darn complicated state where such an unapologetic liberal such as O’Rourke is getting within the margin of error against such as unabashedly conservative as Cruz, and to know that what’s going on in the equally dysfunctional Democratic and Republican parties in the rest of the nation have something to do with it.
Despite its admirable stubborn streak the great state of Texas is by now very much a part of the modern media world, where that O’Rourke fellow is undeniably more telegenic than that Cruz guy, and we think that has a lot to do with those poll numbers. O’Rourke is objectively youthful and trim and handsome, can talk convincingly about growing up in the multi-racial yet exceptionally crime-free border town of El Paso, which he currently represents in Congress, and he has the same well-spoken appeal even when he spouts the national Democratic party’s most far-left looniness.
Cruz’ carefully considered and well-stated conservatism won him a national collegiate debate championship and such a successful tenure as a Texas state attorney that he was elected to the Senate, where he was lauded by all the conservative talk radio show hosts for single-handedly causing a government shutdown overcome thing or another, and he finished as the runner-up in the last Republican presidential primary. Even so, he’s not a noticeably handsome fellow nor an especially likable guy, no matter how sound those conservative principles he espouses might be.
So for, alas, Cruz has run a clumsy campaign. He started it off after the Democratic primary by sneering that Robert O’Rourke went by “Beto” only to endure him to Latino voters, but O”Rourke responded with a kindergarten photo of himself in a “Beto” sweatshirt, and rightly noted that the ethnically Cuban Rafael Cruz had long by “Ted” to endear himself to more anglophile Texans, and from the start Cruz has been leading with his chin. He’s made some hay of a long driving-under-the-influence charge, but President George W. Bush won the state’s electoral votes despite the same blot, and many women on “twitter” remarked that O’Rourke looked handsome in the arrest photo, and attempts to shame O’Rourke for his past membership in a punk rock band have fallen flat in the state that gave America both Ronnie D. and the Buttonhole Surfers.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has named Texas as one of the several races where he might lose his majority, and another administration official has also told the press that Cruz might not be “likable enough” to win reelection even in Texas. Back when they were vying for the Republican nomination, President Donald Trump opined that “The truth is he’s a nasty guy. No one likes him, nobody anywhere likes him once they got to to know him. He’s got an edge that’s not good. You can’t make deal with people like that, and it’s not a good thing, not a good thing for the country. He’s a very nasty guy.”
Trump also peddled “birther” conspiracies about Cruz’ admitted and well-documented Canadian birthplace, “re-tweeted” a “meme” suggesting that his third wife was way hotter than that the bride of Cruz’ youth, and nominated The National Enquirer for a Pulitzer prize after its article suggesting that Cruz’ dad was in on the JFK assassination. Cruz responded that Trump was a narcissist and pathological liar and utterly unfit for the presidency, and a cowardly punk who had better not ever again mention Cruz’ wife, and even at the Republican convention he was urging his party and fellow conservatives to “vote your conscience.”
Since then Trump and Cruz have buried the proverbial hatchet, if you’ll forgive a potentially politically incorrect proverb. Family pride notwithstanding, Cruz has realized that he needs Trump’s support in a state the president carried by almost the usual Republican margins, Trump has realized he badly needs another Republican Senate seat to preserve his razor-thin margin in the chamber, especially if the House races go as badly as expected, and thus they have achieved the Art of the Deal. Trump is promising to pack the biggest stadium in Texas — where everything is the biggest — with a rally on Cruz’ behalf, and Cruz has promised to sign off on whatever cockamamie thing Trump might think of.
Our cynical guess from two states away is that this tawdry show of Republican unity should be enough to put Cruz past the finish line in his race with O’Rourke, but these days there’s no telling, even in Texas or even up here in Kansas. The Democrat down in Texas is bringing in enough denotations from Texas and the other 49 states to put up billboards along the busy interstates that remind motorists of how much Trump once hated “Lyin’ Ted” and how much Cruz once hated the sociopathic Trump, however, and their past quotes are more are more convincing than their current posterior-kissing, so we expect a close even in reliably Republican Texas.
Even if “Beto” does lose a close race, at least he’ll have inflicted sone damage on the Republican party, and will have a bright future in the Democratic party. All the time and money and presidential attention the Republicans now have to invest in a reliably Republican Senate seat must now be diverted from all those other close Senate races that the for-now majority leader is worrying about, and O’Rourke is getting much attention and many donations from all those Democratic states on those crazy coastal areas, and he seems by far the better guy to have a beer with at Kirby’s Beer Store or your local dive, and he might ultimately outlast Cruz.
Which seems a shame, as we quite disagree with most of this liberal nonsense that O’Rourke is so charmingly peddling, and are more inclined to agree to with most of the right-wing rhetoric that Cruz is so so convincingly but un-charmingly peddling. If it’s a choice between O’Rourke style progressivism and Trump-ism we’re not sure how we’d vote, but if it’s a choice between O’Rourke and Trump and what Cruz was once saying about Trump back when he voted for him and shook his hand during the ’16 Kansas Republican caucus, we’ll let the good people of Texas decide.
Meanwhile, Willie Nelson is scheduled to play a concert for O’Rourke, and we read that many of his reliably Republican Texas fans are appalled. So far as we can tell they never noted the long pony-tail and tie-dyed shirts of the “Red Headed Stranger,” nor the red cast of his eyes and the ever-present reefer in his lips, and based on his true-to-God country singing they assumed he was politically simpatico. Nelson never was, we hate to say, but with Johnny Cash and George Jones and and Merle Haggard having died in the past few years he and Dolly Parton are the last singing voices of the last great era of country music, and we much prefer it to all this recent politics on the glorious plains and elsewhere.

— Bud Norman

The Brawl about Kavanaugh

The confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh got off a to an unruly start on Tuesday. Judiciary committee chairman Sen. Chuck of Louisiana was just 13 words into his opening statement when he was interrupted on a point of order by California Sen. Kamala Harris, who request the hearing be postponed was met by loud cheers from an unruly group of Code Pink protestors, with Grassley ignoring them as he tapped his gavel and continued saying something or another.
Given what’s at stake for both sides of our increasingly angry political discourse, and who’s at work in the judiciary committee, we don’t expect things will get any friendlier. It’s most likely the whole hubbub will wind up with Kavanaugh getting confirmed by the committee’s Republican majority and then by the Republican majority in the full Senate, but the Democrats aren’t going to make it easy.
The Democrats can’t deny that Kavanaugh has all the Ivy League credentials and prestigious clerkships and the long experience of legal work in the executive branch and on the federal bench, and have to admit he seems a nice enough guy, but they don’t like the way he’s almost certain to vote several issues dear to their hearts. At this point they’re not holding out any hope that such hated-by-the-left decisions as Citizens United and Heller will be overturned anytime soon, but they can still wish for a Justice who would allow a few of the campaign finance regulations that Citizens United did away with and perhaps chip away at the individual right to gun ownership established by Heller. More importantly they have good reason to believe that Kavanaugh might be the fifth vote needed to overturn such beloved-by-the-left decisions as Roe v. Wade, which legalized most abortions, and Obergfell, which established a right ┬ásame-sex marriages, as well as all sorts of cases involving labor unions and environmental laws and other matters that all too often wound up being settled in the Supreme Court.
Although they’re out-voted until at least December, the Democrats do have a few things going for them. Opinion polls show that many of the ways Kavanaugh is almost certain to vote are widely unpopular with the general public, and only a slim plurality of 41 percent wants to see him confirmed. The Roe v Wade decision is lately enjoying a 63 percent approval rating, and although the Republican party has long vowed to overturn it some of the members are probably skittish about actually doing so. Kavanaugh was also nominated by President Donald Trump, whose latest poll numbers are back down in the high 30s, which provides the Democrats with a possibly persuasive talking point.
Between the “Russia thing” and the hush money payments to a porn star and a Playboy playmate and a suspicious family charitable foundation and the many unprecedented interactions between his still wholly-owned businesses the government Trump runs, Trump has more than the usual president’s share of legal woes. There’s a good chance that some or even all of it will wind up before the Supreme Court, and while Kavanaugh was working as a lawyer for President George W. Bush he had a very expansive view of presidential power, which shouldn’t give only Democrats pause. Trump has lately “tweeted” his view that the Justice Department shouldn’t indict popular Republicans, and Kavanaugh did once write that a sitting president cannot legally be investigated by anyone in the government, so we’ll expect some pointed questions in the coming days and hope for some pretty persuasive answers.
The Republicans also have some things going in their favor besides their slim Senate majority. Kavanaugh does indeed have the impeccable credentials, he comes across as a nicer guy than any of those unruly Code Pink types that the capitol cops kept hauling out of the room, and in most cases there’s sound legal reasoning behind even the decisions that his critics hate most. Once upon a time in America such credentials would win a quick and bipartisan decision, but that was long before Trump came along, and he hasn’t done much to restore civility.
Sound legal reasoning is too complicated for most busy Americans, and it’s easier to take sides on an issue based on how you feel about abortion or same sex marriage or owning a gun than to consider the underlying constitutional issues. For the politicians who are on the committee and will be starring on television for the rest of the week, it’s far easier to pander to those prejudged opinions. Among the players in this week long reality are at least two Democrats and two Republicans who are potential contenders for their party’s presidential nominations, and at least three are clearly eager to get high ratings.
The aforementioned Sen. Harris of California and New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker are clearly near the front of the line for the next Democratic nomination, and both did their best to take advantage of the airtime. Harris’ early point of order to call for a postponement was based on the legitimate gripe that Kavanaugh’s White House handlers had provided 42,000 pages of long-requested documents just hours before the hearings began, and we’re sure those Code Pink punks weren’t the only Democrats who appreciated her futile effort. Her opening statement was a familiar but fairly well-stated litany of all the instinctive reasons liberals will hate the way Kavanaugh is almost certain vote on so many issues dear to liberal hearts, and she well made the good points about what might happen if Trump winds up as a litigant before the Supreme Court. Booker’s turn at the cameras and microphones was even more conspicuously a campaign stump speech, invoking the holy liberal trinity of race, class and gender, and the former mayor of Newark even put in a pitch for the beleaguered farmers out here on the prairie states.
Both were a bit too over-the-top with the righteous liberal outrage shtick to our old-fashioned ears, but we can see them playing well with our more righteously outraged liberal friends.
One of the Republicans who valiantly rode to Kavanaugh’s defense was Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and we think that the former national collegiate debate champion handled himself rather well. Cruz came in second in the latest Republican primary race to Trump, and having ended a bitter feud with his former rival he might be next in line in ’24, or even ’20 is those don’t turn out so well for Trump, but first he has to survive a surprisingly close reelection run against a young and telegenic and well-funded Democrat named Rep. Beto O’Rourke, so of course he relished the air time. Despite his aw-shucks Texas persona Cruz is a Harvard Law graduate, and couldn’t help complimenting Kavanaugh’s impeccable Ivy League credentials “even though you did go to Yale,” but then proceeded to make a more persuasive case for Trump’s nominee than Trump ever could, and even fit a clear explanation of originalist legal theory into his time.
Cruz is clearly eager to get Trump’s nominee confirmed, and Trump has lately “tweeted” that he’s seeking the biggest stadium in Texas to campaign for his loyal Senate soldier, but all the Democratic money is putting up billboards all over the state remind voters of earlier Trump “tweets” about “Lyin’ Ted” and his ugly wife and how Cruz’ father might have been in on the Kennedy assassination and how the Senator was “all talk and no action.” Next we expect all of the Cruz quotes about Trump being a narcissist and a pathological liar and intellectually and temperamentally and morally unfit for office, and although we expect Cruz to eventually win reelection in reliably Republican Texas we’re not surprised that the polls have it close.
If Trump doesn’t even make it to the ’20 race, which does not seem at all outside the realm of possibility, the young and telegenic Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse will be well positioned to win the Republican nomination, and we thought he had the best turn at the camera. He rightly decried that Supreme Court confirmation hearings have been partisan brawls since at least President Ronald Reagan’s failed nomination of Robert Bork way back when we were young, and yearned for the “elegant and fair” process that confirmed justices who cases based on facts and law. Sasse made the case that Kavanaugh’s resume and work record suggest he will rule in the same time-honored way, and defended nice enough family guy’s character against the liberal slurs that are sure to come, and pleaded with his colleagues for a civil deliberation.
If Trump doesn’t make it to the ’20 election it will be because of the “Russia thing” or various shady business dealings or the Constitutions emolument clause or the 25th Amendment, or any number of things that might derive from that narcissism and pathological lying and general unfitness for office that Cruz used to talk about, and not because of his tax and deregulation policies of and the judicial policies that all the liberals hate. Sasse is the rare Republican who will openly criticize Trump for the crude disrespect for well-established traditions and the brazen corruption and crazy “tweets,” and as a farm state Senator he’s none too pleased with Trump’s trade wars, but on every traditional Republican thing Trump wants to do he’s been a reliable vote. As we say, this will leave him well positioned in a post-Trump race in ’20, if that should come to pass, which is not outside the realm of possibility.
Kavanaugh finally got an opening statement of his own, and we thought he did well enough. He made the familiar case for his originalist theory of legal interpretation, talked about his dad some and his mom a lot more, and talked about coaching his daughter’s basketball team, and how grateful he is to all the coaches had along the way. He noted the disproportionate-to-the-population number of law clerks who were female or of some ethnic minority, which took some of the wind out of the sails that both Harris and Booker had raised, and didn’t seem at all the type to poison the air or force back alley abortions or any of the other things he stands accused of.
All in all it was reassuringly bland, which we much prefer to the more common righteously outraged politics on both the left and the right these days, so unless the Democrats come up with some convincing evidence that Kavanaugh was nominated to rig the system in some upcoming Trump-related case, which is not entirely outside the realm of possibility, we’ll take that Sasse fellow’s word for it and give him the benefit of the doubt.

— Bud Norman

The Politics and Other Problems of Nicknames

The stock markets were down but not precipitously in the calm before the trade war on Wednesday, all the late night comics had already beaten us to the obvious jokes jokes about the president and the porn star story, and there were no new “tweets” or significant developments in the “Russia thing.” During this blissful lulls in the news we came across one of those inside-the-pages and bottom-of-the-hour stories about the upcoming senatorial race in Texas, and we took a peculiar interest because it involved nicknames.
Even if you don’t usually follow Texas politics, as we usually don’t, you’re no doubt by now familiar with incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz, the ferociously anti-Republican establishment Republican who came in second in the Republican primary to the even more anti-Republican establishment candidate and eventual Republican President Donald Trump. Cruz easily won his party’s renomination in Tuesday’s Republican primary, partly with help from the endorsement of Trump, who had nicknamed him “Lyin’ Ted” and disparaged Cruz’s wife’s looks and accused Cruz’s father of complicity in the assassination of President John Kennedy during the primary battles, and for now he’s the betting favorite in the race.
In the general election Cruz will be pitted against Democratic winner Rep. Beto O’Rourke, which is a name you probably won’t recognize even if you’re a Democratic news junkie in Texas. He’s a congressman from one of the southwester-nmost of Texas’ many congressional districts, and a Democrat in a reliably Republican state, and apparently one of those occasional Texas liberals, but this is the first we’ve heard of him.
The first thing that Cruz pointed out, though, is that he’s not really “Beto” O’Rourke. He’s actually Robert “Beto” O’Rourke. In Spanish-speaking cultures “Beto” is an affectionate shortening of everyone from Roberto to Albertino to Henberto, although not usually Robert, and the Canadian-born and Cuban-descended released a satiric poem implying that the clearly-not-Latino O’Rourke was shamelessly pandering to the Latino community. In this age of shameless identity politics pandering by Democrats it would usually be a plausible argument, but in this particular case there are a couple of problems.
The first is that O’Rourke has apparently been going by “Beto” since long before he launched his political career. He’s among the fourth generation of O’Rourkes to grow up in the very latino town of El Paso, which he now represents in Congress, he immediately responded to Cruz’s taunts with a photo of himself as an adorable elementary school student clad in a “Beto” sweatshirt, and by all accounts all of his latino and caucasion classmates and constituents have always known him as “Beto.”
Then there’s the fact that Sen. “Ted” Cruz is actually Sen. Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz. He’s not lyin’ when he calls himself “Ted,” as he’s been going by that moniker since long before he launched a political career, but in this age of shameless identity politics by the Democrats he stands credibly accused of pandering to the racial resentments of the Republican party. How that plays out in the complicated politics of faraway and unfamiliar Texas remains to be seen, but from our Kansas perspective we would have advised that Cruz commence his reelection campaign ┬áby pointing out that by any name O’Rourke is still an indisputable Democrat.
Our longstanding policy is to refer to any person we meet by whatever name they prefer, but that’s a matter of mere politeness rather than politics, and it’s rather personal. For many decades now we’ve gone by “Bud,” which of course is not our given name, as no decent parents ever named a child “Bud,” and although it’s an old inside joke that’s by now impossible to explain we still insist on it in all social occasions. We used to do all our bank transactions by the name, but one day we had to fill out a whole lot of forms to deposit a check written to “Bud,” something to do with the Democrats’ damned Dodd-Frank Act. We still sign everything important with “Bud” in quotation marks after the first and middle names, just to avoid any possible confusion, and always resent the imputation that a friendly nickname is a nefarious alias.
To whatever extent O’Rourke was hoping to ingratiate himself to Latino classmates, or Cruz was hoping to win over WASPy neighbors, we figure they they were both being friendly.
In any case, we wish both Rafael and Robert or “Ted” or “Beto” or whatever you call them the best, and hope it doesn’t come down to their preferred nicknames and the dumb identity politics on both the left and right. If it came down to a blind test by voters based solely on the candidates’ last names, we suspect a lot of Texas Democrats would go for Cruz and a lot of Texas Republicans would go for O’Rourke, Irish though it is, and that seems a damned dumb way to decide an election.

— Bud Norman