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The Duel in El Paso

The typically placid border town of El Paso, Texas, was a political hotspot on Monday night, as both President Donald Trump and former Democratic congressman Beto O’Rourke held competing rallies about a mile away from one another. The main topic of conversation, of course, was the big beautiful border wall that Trump has vowed to build.
Both rallies were reportedly well-attended, and of course widely reported on, so it’s hard to say who got the better of it. Back in Washington a congressional conference committee announced it had reached a tentative agreement on some sort of spending bill or continuing resolution or other legislative legerdemain to keep the government open past Friday, which seems to include some funding for a wall but far less than what Trump has demanded, and we doubt anyone involved in the negotiations was paying much attention what was said in El Paso.
As at every Trump rally in every city the crowd was chanting “build that wall,” but Trump asked that they change it to “finish that wall,” as he assured them that construction is already well underway. There’s not a bit of evidence to back up the claim, which seems to contradict his claim that the darned Democrats are preventing him from building the wall, but no one in the crowd seemed to mind. Trump also claimed that El Paso’s enviable status as one of America’s most crime-free cities was due entirely to some 40 miles of tall fencing along the Rio Grande, although city officials noted that the city had a low crime rate for a full decade before the fence was built, and attributed El Paso peaceableness to carefully cultivated friendly relations between its white and Latino populations, which they suggested Trump has threatened with his rhetoric, but nobody seemed to mind Trump’s hyperbole.
Even Trump can’t talk about big beautiful walls and the imminent threat at border all night, however, so he spent most the rest of his 70 minutes of impromptu stream-of-consciousness speech ridiculing his potential Democratic rivals, including the aforementioned O’Rourke, who last November lost a senate race to Sen. Ted Cruz by a slimmer-than-usual margin in the reliably red state, and became a left-wing darling in the process.
Trump lost El Paso County by a 40-point blowout, however, and O’Rourke won the county as easily as he’d won in three successful House races, so he was also able to attract a sizable and enthusiastic crowd for his anti-border wall rally. He probably helped himself in a potential Democratic primary race by decrying the implicit racism and xenophobia of Trump’s big beautiful wall, but probably hurt his chances in a general election by edging a bit too close to the “open borders” stance that Trump attributes to all Democrats. Still, the crowd didn’t seem to mind a bit, and cheered on all the leftist policies that the Trump rally was booing. El Paso is a pleasant city where the people seem to generally along with one another, but apparently it’s not immune to the political spats that divide the nation at large.
Our guess is that the large and emboldened Democratic majority in the House of Representatives isn’t going to pay for Trump’s big beautiful wall, that the slender and skittish Republican majority in the Senate doesn’t want another partial government shutdown over the issue, and that Mexico most definitely won’t be paying for it. Trump has threatened to declare a national emergency to divert funds for the wall, but all the Democrat Trump any support, and we also guess that the courts will eventually put an end to such unconstitutional power-grabbing nonsense.
Even so, both Trump and O’Rourke got some publicity that their favorite media could exploit, and we’re sure they’re both satisfied with that. Our hope is that the good people of El Paso continue to get along peaceably, and that the rest of the nation muddles through as well.

— Bud Norman

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Shoot-Out at the GOP Corral

Pretty much every last Republican left in the country hates Obamacare with a red-hot passion, and wants to see it tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail, but there is disagreement about how to go about this. The debate over the best tactic is quickly becoming quite vituperative, in fact, and to a point that it could cripple the party and leave all its members stuck with the law for the rest of their lives.
Misfortunes and miscalculations have the left the Republicans with control of only the House of the Representatives, so repeal is politically impossible, but some are urging that the party use that last bit of political clout to deny funding for the implementation of the hated law. This would effectively kill the law for a while, as the constitution gives the House power of the federal purse, thus delaying all of its harmful consequences save the economic uncertainty it has created, and it would also stave off the enticing entitlements that will be difficult to take away once a sizeable segment of the country has become used to them. Given how very harmful the law’s consequences will be, and how deeply entrenched entitlement programs tend to become, the argument for de-funding Obamacare is strong.
There’s a downside to every idea, though, and others in the party argue that in this case it will be worse than even a fully-funded Obamacare. Even in the unlikely case that enough Red State Democrats could be rounded up in the Senate to pass an appropriations bill without Obamacare the president would surely veto it, and the resulting impasse will almost surely end in at least a partial shut-down of the government. No true Republican believes that a partial shut-down of the government is a bad thing in and of itself, but it is feared that the Democrats and their allies in the media will be able to convince the typically oblivious voter that a bunch of radical anarchist Republicans are the cause of whatever problems they can find to exaggerate and convince the public that obstructionism is responsible for all of Obamacare’s failures to boot. The manufactured outrage could even result in Democratic control of the House as well as the Senate and the presidency, and any hopes for complete repeal would be forever gone. Given how powerful the media remains, and how very oblivious the average voter is, the fears seem quite well-founded.
There might be a more palatable alternative, but no one seems to have come up with one yet. The kind of discussion that might yield a better idea has been preempted by infantile name-calling and sneers, with those wanting to de-fund Obamacare no matter the political cost accusing anyone who balks at the idea of being squishy and unprincipled, while those urging caution have used language that is just slightly more polite than calling them radical anarchist Republicans. Much of the impetus for the de-funding effort is coming from conservative talk radio, an invaluable medium but one with an unfortunate tendency toward shrillness, while the arguments for a more careful plan are being laid in out the more influential conservative columns and publications, which have an unfortunate tendency toward excessive carefulness, but the ferocity of the debate is mainly due to a very troublesome divide in the party that runs deeper than just an argument over tactics.

On talk radio and in dinner conversations at the more conservative households, the division is usually described as the grassroots versus the establishment, but we suspect that in the halls of congress and around the more ivied think tanks and editorial boards it regarded as the amateurs versus the professionals. All of these descriptions are apt, and accurately convey an unfortunate class friction that underlies the conflict, but none are especially useful in deciding what to do about Obamacare. The grassroots sort of Republicans are quite rightly concerned with taking back their liberties from an ever-expanding leviathan of a government, understandably suspicious of anyone who is a longtime member of that establishment even if he does carry an “R” behind name, and can be easily forgiven their resentments of anything slightly elitist, but those who accuse the other side of being Republicans In Name Only should remember that a cautious pragmatism and patient acceptance of political realities is a longstanding and largely successful tradition of the party. The freshly-politicized members of “tea party” were amateurs in the very best sense of the word were was essential to win that House majority and the party’s only slight power, and it would be disastrous for the Republican incumbents to forget that, but an excess of that amateur enthusiasm also cost the party at least three Senates seats that would have been won if their only advice been heeded, and those activists would do well to consider that before running a primary challenge to a sure-fire winner and turning over another seat to a liberal Democrat.

Alas, this is not the only division in the Republican party. The GOP’s beloved Ronald Reagan won landslides with the famous “three-legged stool” of defense hawks, social conservatives, and free-market libertarians, but these days capitalist standard-bearers such as Sen. Rand Paul are at odds with the “neo-cons” who would continue to enforce a Pax Americana, the social conservatives are susceptible to any social engineering scheme that might further an anti-abortion agenda that seems to trump all other concerns, and those favoring a robust foreign policy tend to be intellectual or big-business types uncomfortable with the moral traditionalists. Each of these internecine squabbles is exacerbated by that perceived chasm between the so-called grassroots and the so-called establishment, however, and there is no Ronald Reagan on the horizon to bring the party together.
The Democrats are just as fissiparous, being little more than a coalition of interest groups defined by race, class, and sexual preference, but in recent years they have maintained a formidable party unity even when the interests of those groups are clearly at odds. African-Americans and the lowest rungs of the working class will face increased political and economic competition from the millions of immigrants that their party hopes to bring into the country, for instance, and homosexuals are unlikely to benefit from a massive infusion of Latin machismo into the culture, yet all seem willing to accept the plan for the sake of their party. It is a strength of the Republican party that its members are not prone to such blind obeisance, but it is a weakness that they cannot muster such party discipline when it is sorely needed. When its internal debates cannot even be conducted with civility and mutual respect, the Republican party is enfeebled, and both sides would do well to keep that in mind.
Obamacare should be the Republicans’ biggest advantage going into next year’s mid-term elections. The law is an atrocity, most Americans know that in spite of what they’ve been told by a billion-dollar advertising blitz and the best efforts of the media propagandists, and such key elements of the Democratic coalition as the labor unions and government workers are now forced to admit it. More bad news about the law will be arriving in million of Americans’ mailboxes over the coming year, even the most determined media will be unable to ignore it, and any candidate running on an anti-Obamacare platform should be a shoo-in. That opposition to this nonsense might well prove the Republicans’ fatal flaw is too infuriating a prospect to contemplate.
Letting the damned thing happen so every can find out what it is might well be best for the party’s long-term prospects, because in a rare moment of blessed unity every single Republican in Congress voted against it and the party will forever be able to say to the country that it told you so, but that satisfaction will be hollow when people are sick and dying from a thoroughly wrecked health care system. The law needs to be repealed and repudiated, then tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail, not just delayed for an election cycle or two, but every last Republican seems to understand that well enough. Now the party just needs to figure out how best to get it done, and they need to do it with a mutually respectful discussion, and to somehow stick together on whatever they wind up with. The bad guys aren’t the ones who are quibbling about tactics, the bad guy is Obamacare.

— Bud Norman