Firing the Manager

If this were an ordinary summer we’d be in the middle of a Major League Baseball season about now, and some of the losing teams would be firing their managers. In most cases the team is losing more because of bad players than a bad manager, and whatever genius is hired as a replacement won’t turn that out around, but it’s easier to replace a manager than a team and the fan base must be reassured that the franchise is still trying to win.
In this extraordinary summer the only spectator sport to watch is politics, so we’re watching all the state and national polls with the same obsessive fascination with which we’d ordinarily poring over the box scores and batting statistics, so we noticed that President Donald Trump has fired the manager of his reelection campaign. In his stunning upset campaign of 2016 Trump promised we’d be sick and tired of winning by now if he were elected, but the firing of the campaign manager is further evidence that he’s losing at the moment. We see people posting on Facebook and calling to talk radio who are sure Trump is cruising to a landslide reelection, but they might as well face the facts as Trump has done.
All of the statistics indicate otherwise. The lotest poll, which is from the generally reliable Quinnipiac University, shows presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden with a 15 point lead over Trump, even the friendly Rasmussen poll show Trump trailing, and the average of the polls has Trump well behind albeit it a mere 9 points. Trump’s average disapproval rating in the polls is some 15 points lower than his average approval rating, and although Trump claims his own polling shows otherwise he has fired his campaign manager.

None of the other statistics bode well for Trump. Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations and death due to COVID-19 continue to mount, even the most Republicans states are re-instituting public health restrictions, which doesn’t bode well the 40 million or unemployed Americans, and it’s not likely to “magically disappear” by Election Day. Nor will racism, another big issue of the summer, which Trump has said can be “quickly and easily solved./div>

Last night we got bored and counted up all the states where polls showed Biden was ahead by at least eights points, and added up their electoral votes, and according to our calculator the total was 258. The magic number is 270, so at this point in the season Trump is already in a hole. We also calculated the electoral votes of all the states where Biden is leading by less than eight points, and it adds up to a President Herbert Hoover-style landslide defeat. Which is ample reason to fire the manager./div>

The defenestrated campaign manager Bradscale was no Joe McCarthy, if you’ll forgive us a perhaps obscure baseball allusion, but we can’t hold him entirely accountable for the team’s poor performance He got the job by being Trump’s successful “digital director” in ’15 and being friends with presidential daughter and son-in-law Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, and doing whatever the boss told him to do. He gained a brash reputation of his own, and was reportedly making a fortune from the campaign, but Trump hates that and it didn’t prevent Trump’s plummmeting polls. Still, we figure he was managing a losing team, and that the genius who replaces him probably won’t turn things around.
Biden isn’t leading in all those polls because he’s the 1927 New York Yankees of presidential candidates, if you don’t mind another baseball reference. It’s more because Trump seems to recall the legendarily losing ’62 New York Mets, whose Hall of Fame manager Casey asked during that season “Can’t anybody here play this game?” In politics as in baseball the fundamentals matter, and team Trump will have to quickly improve its numbers on a lot of vital indices. There’s plenty of season left if baseball were happening, but we’re in the late innings of a presidential race, and we don’t see a new manager turning things around.

— Bud Norman

How Bad Could It Get?

All of the published opinion polls show President Donald Trump trailing in his race for reelection, and although he claims that his own polling show him with a comfortable lead we believe that’s another o the boastful lies he routinely tells. Down-ballot polling and anecdotal evidence and the way things are going lately suggest that every major news organization including Fox News and every pollster including Rasmussen are not conspiring to mislead the public.
Trump and his die-hard supporters will note that last time around the polls failed to predict his Electoral College victory, but they tend to forget that the polls almost precisely predicted Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s 2 percent win of popular vote and the polls in the four states states where Trump eked out victories were all within their margins of error. This time around the national polls have Trump losing by 9 to 14 points, and faring as badly in those battleground states he won in 2016. Worse yet, the state polls also show that some states Republicans have long taken for granted are now battleground states.
According to a poll by commissioned by the Dallas Morning News, Biden even has a five point lead in Texas, which is very bad news for Trump. Texas is by the most populous state the Republican party counts on, and losing it would make Trump’s reelection impossible. The good news is that Biden has only 46 percent of the vote, compared to Trump’s 41 percent, with 14 percent of the electorate in the undecided column, bu that’s not great news. Trump needs to win well over have half of the undecideds just to catch up, and that will require time and money that can’t be spent in other states will need to prevent an electoral landslide.
If current trends continue Trump might be forced to write off the four Rust Belt states that got him elected in 2016, and try to hold on to such once reliably Republican states as Arizona and North Carolina and even Georgia and Kansas, as well as populous and always-competitive Florida and Ohio, where the polls show him in a fight for his life.
Current trends might not continue, of course, but at this point it’s hard to imagine what might reverse them. Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations and deaths are climbing steadily nationwide and spiking to new records in Texas and Arizona and Florida, while d public health experts are saying the worst of it might come fwhen lu season arrives in the fall. Economic experts are predicting that unemployment will remain in double digits through the end of the year. Perhaps Trump’s steadfast stand for the Confederacy and crackdowns on peaceful protests against racism might turn things around, and his pardons of convicted felons won’t undermine his “law and order” positions, but so far they’ve only been driving his approval ratings down.
Trump is a master at marketing, if nothing else, and maybe he’l pull something out of his Make America Great Again ball cap. It will need to be something pretty damned good, though.

— Bud Norman

The State of the Race, For Now

President Donald Trump’s most loyal supporters tend to dismiss any polls results they don’t want to hear as “fake news,” but Trump is taking his recent bad numbers very seriously. Polling commissioned by the Republican National Committee and the Trump reelection campaign reportedly corroborate the publicly released surveys showing a decline in Trump’s approval ratings in the wake of the coronavirus, and Trump is reportedly furious about it.
We’re inclined to believe the reporting, because Trump has started heeding the advice of Republican party officials to stop doing the daily press briefings that he clearly enjoyed and taking a less visible and voluble role in in the administration’s response to the epidemic. Some pretty convincing data is needed to pry Trump away from his highly rated television shows, and the opportunity to lash out at the reporters in attendance, so the party and campaign polling must be very worrisome.
All of the recent publicly released polls show a majority of the public is dissatisfied with Trump’s efforts regarding coronavirus and only a minority believe anything Trump says about it. The polls show Trump trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden not only nationally but also in the swing state’s that gave Trump his surprising victory in the Electoral College. There’s an ample amount of anecdotal evidence for Trump’s unpopularity, too, and with death toll rising daily an the employment rate falling it would be surprising if Trump were becoming more popular.
The election is more than six months away, though, and a lot could change between now and then. A quick end to the coronavirus and a rapidly rebounding economy are possible if not probable, and the chances of Biden making some catastrophic campaign error are very good. Trump has long predicted that the media will eventually start giving him favorable for fear that Americans will stop consuming news if someone more boring replaces him in the White House, but we probably shouldn’t bet on that happening.
According to both The Washington Post and The New York Times, Trump reacted to the internal polling by shouting angrily at his campaign. Trump will probably find other scapegoats, too, but that won’t solve his political problems. He’ll need to take responsibility, and change his behave to win over voters who aren’t satisfied to see reporters being insulted and critics ridiculed and want actual results instead. Nothing that’s happened in the past three years give us any confidence that might happen.
Trump faces difficult choices, and must weigh the often competing interests of public health and the economy, and we hope he chooses wisely. The best choices for the long term might not be the most popular in the short term, and we’ll even hold out faint hope that Trump does the right thing.

— Bud Norman

The Cold Calculations of Here and Now

No one is more eager than we are for the country to get back to something like normal, as this stay-at-home-with-nowhere-to-go social distancing stuff is already driving us quite stir crazy, but we can’t share President Donald Trump’s optimism that he’ll be able to announce all is well and we can all come out of hiding and get back to business as usual by Easter. Easter is just 19 days off, and current trends suggest that by then the coronavirus will be exponentially more widespread than it is now.
Even so, Trump is ignoring the advice of the government’s most expert epidemiologists and hoping that churches will be packed on Easter and everyone will be back at work the next day. He figures Easter is well past the 15-day period he’s been hoping will suffice since he started taking the coronavirus seriously, and adds that Easter is a very important day to him. Trump is what we weekly worshippers sometimes call a “Chreaster,” meaning the sort of Christian who only attends services at Christmastime and on Easter, so we’ll not question the sincerity of his religiosity.
We do suspect, however, that Trump also has other motivations. Shutting down bars and restaurants and theaters and sports and travel and large gatherings while having everyone stay at home is disastrously bad for business, including Trump’s still wholly-owned businesses, as stock market indexes and unemployments claims clearly demonstrate, and Trump had hoped to run for reelection by boasting to the large gatherings at his campaign rallies about the record stock market highs and unemployment lows he had until the coronavirus came along. Continuing the current caution for weeks or even months past Easter might well spare an untold number of deaths, but there might well be severe economic repercussions to prolonging the status quo, and Trump now repeatedly argues that “We cannot let the disease be worse than the cure.”
Trump seems to have learned the phrase from a fellow who appeared on Fox News the night before Trump started using it, and much of the Trump-friendly media are already repeating it to bolster an argument that is coldly calculating yet deserving of careful consideration. An economic cataclysm might very well cause as many deaths and as much human misery as any pandemic, the argument goes, and those costs must be weighed against whatever deaths and misery that might be spared by everyone staying home until the crisis has passed. We weigh the benefits of automobile travel against the bigger-than-coronavirus number of deaths and human misery it causes every year, after all, and as a society have decided in favor of automobile travel, and in times of war and pestilence civilization our society have coldly and calculatingly made all sorts of similarly difficult decisions.
Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who is also chairman of Trump’s Texas reelection campaign, says he’d be willing to risk dying of coronavirus if it meant his grandchildren could inherit Trump’s robust economy, and many of Trump’s supporters seem just as committed to the argument. Still, we don’t find it entirely convincing.
The coldly calculating types can go right ahead and accuse us of being too warm-heated and wimpy, but we weigh heavily the lives lost and human misery that might very well occur if the current precautions are prematurely lifted. We can’t deny the economic repercussions of more prolonged precautions, which are already apparent and painful to everyone, but we’re looking beyond the next news cycle and election day and wondering how the economy might fare after a cataclysmic plague. Yesterday the stock markets reacted to the possibility of a big deficit-spending stimulus package getting passed with the biggest day on Wall Street since 1933, and although that was one of the darkest years of the Great Depression it suggests that big government might once again muddle us through death and human misery as we stay at home and watch out for the old folks.
Trump has a different perspective, though, and from his cold and calculating way of looking at things Easter might well be the best time for the miraculous rebirth of the Trump economy. For now most of the mounting deaths of the coronavirus are predictably in populous urban states that Trump wouldn’t have won in any case, so he can blame their Democratic governments for the death toll, and the minority of the national population in the electoral majority of the states he won last time around are staying at home with nowhere to go despite low local infection and mortality rates and becoming quite stir crazy. Depending on the death tolls and economic data between now and November, which are hard to foresee, it might just work.
For now Trump seems to be discounting the advice of America’s most expert epidemiologists, who have clearly annoyed him with their televised differences of opinion, and is trusting the gut instincts he prides himself on, which has resulted in several casino bankruptcies and numerous other failed businesses and marriages, but has always somehow left him coming out ahead. There’s no telling how it works out for America and the rest of the world, or how the sooner-or-later election between the damned Republican and the damned Democratsis resolved, but we’re holding out hope for ourselves and our families and friends and all of you and yours, no matter what side you take.

— Bud Norman

What Comes Next, and Then After That

Everything might change by the time you read this, but as we write there’s no telling what happens next in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.
The very unofficial whip counts of at least two major newspapers and a former Republican Senator say that only three sitting Republican Senators will join with all 47 Democratic and Democratic-aligned Senators to vote to allow witnesses to testify. That would result in a tie, but without any precedents to go on nobody seems to know if Vice President Mike Pence would cast the tie-breaking vote in his constitutional role as President of the Senate or if the honor goes to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in his constitutional role as presiding judge in the trial. A fourth Republican Senator who’s not running for reelection and has nothing to lose is currently being very coy about his vote, and Roberts is a famously unpredictable fellow, so we’re not making any bets with real money about how today goes.
Go ahead and bet the farm that the trial ends with Trump’s acquittal, if you have a farm, as there’s scant chance that enough Republican Senators will defy their party’s president and his loyal supporters in their states to vote for Trump’s conviction and removal to comprise the needed supermajority of the Senate. As to how that works for the two parties in the aftermath, that’s a dicier bet for both parties.
If the Senate allows the Democrats to call witnesses there will surely be some damning testimony, which is why Trump and the Republicans would rather not hear from them, but if it doesn’t that will also look pretty damned suspicious to every single Democrat and a majority of independents and even a stubborn few of us who have been Republicans far longer tan Trump has been. The Republicans can assert all of those witnesses are a bunch of lying left-wing tools of a “deep state” conspiracy who were through no fault of Trump’s hired as Trump administration officials, including that Ambassador to the European who gave a million dollars to Trump’s campaign and inauguration committees, but they don’t seem eager to swear in the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Energy or the White Chief of Staff and part-time Office of Management and Budget director who might clear all of this up. They’re even less eager to hear from Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and and his two recently indicted associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Forman, who have all forthrightly explained for their own personal reasons to the national news media how they’re tied up in all this.
The Republicans might also call for the testimony of former Vice President and current Democratic nominee contender Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who once worked without any apparent credentials but very great compensation on a Ukrainian energy company while his father was given responsibility by President Barack Obama to oversee Ukrainian policy. Which looks pretty damned suspicious, as all of our Democratic friends freely admit. They’ve got some convincing exculpatory evidence about just how bad it was, though, and it’s not as if the Trump kids aren’t doing pretty well for themselves, and neither Biden has any personal knowledge of anything to do with the charges against Trump, unless they give up that “Perry Mason” moment in this tele-drama and tearfully confess that they were guilty all along, and Trump was acting heroically when he pressured Ukraine with congressionaly-approved public money to expose their venal corruption.
We wouldn’t bet on that, though, because that’s just crazy. Even so, for now it seems to us an even-money bet that the Democrats lose this winning hand.
The Republicans don’t offer many arguments, but they lots of assertions about this being a witch hunt and a farce and a travesty and a mockery pf justice against an obviously blameless man, and although they have little evidence there’s great invective against anyone who’d like to hear the available and relevant evidence. For now that should suffice, at least with the hard-core fans, given that according to most of the polls somewhere between 42 and 47 percent of the country approves of Trump, and last time around his 46.1 percent of the popular vote was sufficiently spread the states to win a victory in the Electoral College. We’re not a six-times bankrupt casino mogul like Trump, but we’d already bet good money Trump will lose yet another popular vote in the coming election, and still say his odds of once again defying the Electoral College odds are about even money.
Especially if the damned Democrats go crazy left with their nominee, which they seem likely to do. If they don’t they’ll most likely wind up with Biden as the nominee, and he’ll have a harder time pressing the case against Trump’s obviously impeachable offenses, given that his son was also getting rich, just like Trump’s. By next November both affairs might be largely forgotten, which would be a shame, as someone should be held accountable, but that’s how it usually works out. Any Republicans wishing for a far-left Democratic nominee should be careful what they wish for or bet ob, though.

<div style=”text-indent:20px;” At this point we figure it’s probable that whatever crazy-ass leftist or relatively centrist nominee the Democrats come up with will win either a majority or plurality of the popular vote in the next election, but it’s well within the realm of possibility he or she would also win the more crucial Electoral College vote. However that works out we can’t see it working out well for the commonweal. Our constitutional order is hard to maintain, and for the time being nobody seems to be helping out.

— Bud Norman

A Lack of 2020 Vision

New Year’s Eve essays traditionally look back at the past year or ahead to the new one, but we don’t feel up to either task. Once again we’re afraid to look back for fear of being turned into a pillar of salt, and we can’t imagine what’s coming next.
Much of what’s happened over the past three years or so would have been unimaginable just four years ago, so we won’t make any predictions and will try not to be surprised. It seems a safe bet that the the Senate won’t vote to remove President Donald Trump from office, but there’s likely to be more information coming out about his impeachable offenses, and a slight chance it might be too much even for the Republican party. The Democrats are bound to nominate someone left of the American center, but lately they’ve been backing off some of their crazy talk about Medicare for all and it remains to be seen just how far left they go.
As for how all that shakes out in the Electoral College next November, don’t trust anyone who tells you they know.
The sun will continue to rise in the east and the national debt will continue to accumulate and Trump will continue to “tweet” outrageous things, but don’t count on anything else. We suggest you indulge in some revelry tonight, some rest and heart eating tomorrow, and be ready for a wild ride through 2020.

— Bud Norman

What Goes Unbuilt to Build a Wall

As every civic-minded American newsreader already knows by now, President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency to re-appropriate a few billion dollars from the defense budget to build a big beautiful wall along America’s southern border. By now you should also know that majorities in both chambers of Congress voted to block the action, but Trump vetoed it, and it seems unlikely that a super-majority in the Senate will be able to override it, and despite some court challenges Trump seems likely to eventually get some wall money.
We commend you for having followed it that closely, but if you’re as obsessively civic-minded a newsreader as we are you might want to know from where those few billions of dollars will likely be re-appropriated.
A couple of intrepid reporters at The Washington Post were curious enough to look into it, and although we’re supposed dismiss their findings as “fake news” from “enemies of the people” their conclusions sound plausible enough to us, and better sourced than what Trump usually has to say about what some people are saying. Much of the report is based on a list that the Defense Department reluctantly released under pressure from Congress that identifies $12.9 billion of military construction projects that been funded but not yet contracted, which according to the convoluted theories of the vaguely written law that Trump is invoking are fair game for presidential re-appropriation. The Pentagon has ruled out defunding the projects they expect to finalize contracts for within the year, which leaves only $4.35 billion available, and Trump has announced he expects to spend $3.6 billion of it on his wall, an a civic-minded newsreader can make an educated guess about which projects are most vulnerable.
There are 10 projects with a combined cost of $403 million slated for Puerto Rico, which has no electoral votes and has long seemed of little concern to Trump, so they seem likely to be slashed. The projects include a school for military children on former Air Force base and improved training for the Puerto Rican National Guard, which previous Defense Departments and congresses had considered important to the national security, but Trump will easily able to explain to the die-hard fans that $403 million worth of wall along a few miles of the southern border is more important than anything that might happen in Puerto Rico.
There’s another $745 million to be had from the European Deterrence Initiative, which includes 23 projects spread throughout Europe and was launched by President Barack Obama back in 2014 after Russia’s assaults on the sovereignty of Ukraine and Crimea, that’s surely a tempting slice of the budget to Trump. He can still tell the die-hard fans that no president has ever been tougher on Russia, and that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is a nice guy who’d never do anything to hinder American democracy, anything Obama did had to be wrong, and all those supposedly allied countries where the money was being spent are all taking advantage of us and laughing behind our backs. What’s more, none of those countries have any electoral college votes.
Another $258 is slated to be spent in Guam, which is mostly a strategically crucial military base but has no electoral votes, and the rest is spread out over eight states. The Washington Post generously provides a graph showing how much spending had been slated for each state, and without bothering to dig into what the projects are we assume the cuts will be made according to how many votes each state is expected to deliver in the next electoral college. That’s bad news for Washington and Maryland, good news for Texas, and probably the best news of all for states the Republicans hope they can possibly flip and suddenly have to worry they might lose. The math might require that some Republican district or another will take a hit, but Trump can still count on its Representative’s support.
Which is no way to appropriate money for the national defense, of course, but we suppose it’s always been so. The smart defense contractors always spread their work around the country just enough to sway congressional and electoral college majorities, the smart politicians always defend their home turf’s share, and we notice that a significant portion of Obama’s spending went to such reliably Democratic states as Washington and Maryland, even if we also notice that Boeing is still big in Washington and has always gotten its share based on merit. Even so, the politics of this particular moment seem especially peculiar.
For one thing, we’re not at all persuaded that a big beautiful wall along the entire southern border is a pressing national security need, much less the stuff of a state of national emergency. Our assessment of the worldwide threats to national security finds far more pressing needs, and the very official-souning “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the National Intelligence Community” seems to agree with us. According to all the polls everybody but the die-hard Trump fans are similarly unimpressed, and so are majorities of the people’s representatives in both chambers of Congress also disagree, even if they can’t muster a super-majority in the Senate to override a veto.
For another thing, the few measly billions of dollars that Trump intends re-appropriate will only pay for a relatively few miles of it, and much of that will be tied in legal fees fighting the landowners who have been happily living along an unwalled border objecting to the government’s eminent domain seizure of their private property. An affinity for private property and an aversion to government seizures used to be a defining characteristic of American conversation, which is yet another thing we don’t like about the politics of the moment.
Conservatives also used to believe in the Constitution, which gives the legislative branch the power to appropriate funds and doesn’t mention the executive branch doing any re-appropriating, and that’s even one more thing we don’t like about the politics of moment.

— Bud Norman

Kansas, Kobach, Voter Fraud, and That Darned Popular Vote

There was a bewildering amount of news out there for an extended Fourth of July weekend, what with the Republicans’ health care reform efforts stalling and all the “tweeting” about other things about by the president, but it was the story about the newly created voter fraud commission that caught our eye. The issue of voter fraud has long been of general interest to us, now has some specific political implications right here in Kansas, and we’re not sure what to make of it.
So far as we can tell the voter fraud commission has been newly created because President Donald Trump believes some three million illegally-cast votes denied him his rightful popular vote victory in the past election, and he wants an official body to back up the “tweeted” claim. We’re not at all sure that anyone will ever prove that to everybody’s satisfaction, and note that a system so well-rigged it can manufacture three million votes wasn’t able to spread a mere hundred thou or so of them over the three states where they could have tilted the Electoral College outcome, but that’s no reason not to have a commission making sure that the voting in our democratic republic isn’t entirely on the square.
Some of our Democratic friends insist that although people might rob and rape and murder but no one has ever stooped so low as to commit voter fraud, but we’re not so sanguine about it. Historians have definitively documented several cases of past stolen American elections, including the one that elevated future President Lyndon Johnson to the Senate, in more recent years there were some reasonable suspicions about the razor-thin counts in a gubernatorial race in Washington and a Senate race in Minnesota, and except for that Florida re-count in the ’00 presidential race all the ties have gone to the Democrat. There really are an awful lot of non-citizens in the country, too, and we can’t vouch for each of them, but reasonably assume the minority of that might try to vote will vote for the Democrat, so we can’t blame the Republicans for wanting to restrict voting to eligible voters.
Three million ineptly dispersed votes are awfully hard to account for, though, and the Republicans are facing other political problems. The Democrats are protesting that in a zeal to limit voting to eligible voters the Republicans will wind up disenfranchising many eligible voters, most of them poor and minority people inclined to vote for Democrats, and thus far the courts have found that’s exactly what wound up in happening in North Carolina when the state’s Republicans passed its voter integrity law, and of course much of the media and the public are also sympathetic to the argument. The commission is run by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the latter being the the country’s most notorious Republican hard-liner on voter fraud, so we can’t blame the Democrats for suspecting that the commission is seeking federal laws along the same lines as North Carolina’s.
Several Democratic secretaries of state have defiantly refused to provide all of the information requested by the commission, and the president and several conservative news sources have plausibly inferred it’s because they have something to hide, but the Republicans also have a problem with several Republican secretaries of state who have been similarly defiant for very Republican reasons. Mississippi is hardly a fever swamp of Democratic liberalism, but its Secretary of State responded with a letter citing state’s rights and individual privacy and other concerns before advising the commission to “go jump in the Gulf of Mexico.” Alabama, home of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, also declined to cooperate with many of the requests for similarly southern reasons. Arizona, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Texas were also defying at least some parts of the federal order. Even Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach was forced to confess to The Kansas City Star that the state’s very Republican privacy laws prohibited him from fully complying with own demands.
Up until Trump decided he’d been robbed of his rightful popular victory, Republicans generally believed that elections were a business handled at the state and county and precinct level, where things have lately been going pretty well for Republicans. This still seems reasonable to our Republican sensibilities, the last presidential popular vote notwithstanding, and we’re heartened to see that so much of the party establishment is also opposed to federalizing elections. We’re steadfastly for restricting voting to eligible voters, steadfastly opposed to disenfranchising even those eligible voters who might be inclined to vote for Democrats, and at this point don’t really care much about Trump’s pride.
We voted for Kobach both times he ran for secretary of our state, and we don’t regret it. The photo identification laws for voting and other election reforms he helped enact seemed commonsensical and proved not at all inconvenient, and despite the best efforts of the state’s Democrats they haven’t come up with anyone for the state’s media to interview who’s been disenfranchised as a result. Every time we vote we run into Democratic and Republican poll watchers we trust, and the local election officials are up for re-election every few years, and although we can’t vouch for California or certain parts of Philadelphia we have confidence in the system around here. Kobach’s critics like to note that in nearly eight years in office he’s only found nine convicted cases of voter fraud, which is nowhere near enough to affect even the closest races in this reliably Republican state, and even on a per capita basis can’t negate that three million vote loss in the last presidential popular vote, but we figure that demonstrates that his Jean Valjean-like zeal is working pretty well.
We’re not sure we want to impose that on Mississippi or even California, though, and we’re not sure if we’ll be voting for Kobach when he runs for governor next year. He’s still a steadfast proponent of current Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax-and-budget cutting stands, which worked in theory but left the state with annual budget shortfalls in practice and were recently repealed when a coalition of Democrats and recently-ascendant moderate Republicans overrode his veto, and at this point we can see him losing to a moderate Democrat even in this reliably Republican state. We still like that economic theory of Brownback’s and expect it would work well in practice at some more fortuitous future date, but for now we’ll be happy to balance the books and avoid all the political acrimony our state has lately endured.
There’s also something unsettling about how Kobach seems intent on proving Trump’s unlikely claims about the popular vote, Republican principles about federalism and privacy and every citizen’s right to vote notwithstanding, and the party’s seeming unconcern with Russia’s obvious meddling, and we’re not sure how that will play with the rest of the state. Trump won the state by the usual Republican margins, and he has his defenders here, but those old-fashioned budget-balancing establishments types who prefer to avoid all the acrimony lately seem ascendant, and we’ll give them a good look before casting our votes in the gubernatorial primary.

— Bud Norman

Handicapping the Hypothetical

There’s always a lull in the news between Christmas and New Year’s Day, even in such a crazy election year as this, so the papers have fill to space with what might have been. President Barack Obama helped out on Monday by confidently speculating, in a widely quoted interview, that he would have won a third term if he’d run for re-re-election. The 22nd amendment to the Constitution prevented it, so he didn’t, but it nonetheless makes for interesting speculation on a slow news day. Donald Trump, who did wind up winning the race, of course helped out further by responding with one of his typically eloquent “Tweets”: “President Obama says that he thinks he would have won against me. He should say that but I say NO WAY! — jobs leaving, ISIS, OCare, etc.”
Although we’re loathe to say any such thing about either of these loathsome men, we think that both can make a plausible case for their boasts.
Obama’s approval ratings are inexplicably high at the moment, despite his party’s loss, and far higher than Trump’s, despite the honeymoon bump a president-elect always gets in the fresh aftermath of a victory. Many of the economic numbers are also better than last time around when Obama beat a Republican who didn’t go out of his way to offend women and minorities, and the awfulness of his foreign policy was just as apparent back then. Trump did wind up losing the popular vote by a whopping 2.8 million to a charmless old white woman with 30 years of scandals the press could not ignore, so it’s not hard to believe that Obama could have used his teflon-coated charm and undeniable political savvy to muster just enough young folks and black people in those three rust-belt states he won twice but where Trump’s razor-thin pluralities swung the electoral vote.
On the other hand, we suspect that Obama’s approval ratings can be explained by the fact that he’s mostly been out of the news lately, what with Trump’s illiterate “tweets” and other embarrassing antics taking up all the space. Given all the vastly more qualified candidates he thrashed on his way to that electoral victory, it seems quite plausible Trump could have dragged Obama down to the same unfavorable muck. Trump and all the rest of the Republican party ran on various platforms that were mostly defined by their opposition to the past eight years of Obama, and most of them did pretty well with it, so we can see how even Obama himself might have faced difficulties. At this point it’s hard to put much in the faith in the polls, too, and some of those seemingly rosy economic numbers are also fishy to a whole lot of people.
So there’s no telling how that hypothetical Obama versus Trump cage match might have turned out, and whose head would have been shaved at the end, but as long as we’re speculating about what might have been we will wistfully wonder how it might have been decided on the merits.
The headline employment rate is in undeniably better shape than when Obama took office just as one of the worst recessions ever was beginning a recovery, but the rebound has been historically weak and the less-mentioned U-6 rate of unemployment that includes the under-employed and part-timers and those who have given up on finding work still hasn’t fully recovered. Obama’s massive “stimulus package” of budget-busting infrastructure spending and other market interventions clearly didn’t do any good, but the combination of Trump’s promised tax cuts and even bigger infrastructure spending and meddlesome decisions about the hiring policies at Indiana furnace factories don’t appear any more promising over the long run. The stock market is still sky-high, but that has more to do with the Federal Reserve Board than either Obama or Trump, and we’ll have to wait to see how that might turn out. That Obamacare law is so horrible it should have run its eponym out office eight years when he was running against that Republican who didn’t go out of his way to offend women and minorities, but Trump said too many things about universal coverage and pre-existing conditions and how great things are in Scotland to make us confident things will get better.
The Islamic State turned out to be far worse than the jayvee team that Obama thought it was, and his ridicule of his final Republican opponent’s warnings about Russia looks ridiculous to the Ukrainians and every other country threatened by the rapidly re-organizing Soviet Union, and his deal with Iran seems destined to provide that apocalyptic suicide cult with a nuclear bomb. On the other hand Trump is promising to join forces with Russia to defeat the Islamic State while re-negotiating with the Russian’s good friends in Iran, meanwhile “tweeting” up a renewed arms race with the Russians, and he’s also “tweeted” his disdain for whatever the Central Intelligence Agency or the United Nations or Boeing or Lockheed have to say about it, so there’s no telling how that will end up.
In any case the Obama years are about to come to a decisive end, which will surely bring some good, and the Trump years are about to commence, which might not be all bad, and the both of them are apparently the boastful and thin-skinned sorts we would never trust with such a high office. Once you start to speculating the possibilities are infinite, but in all of them we find ourselves for voting that same quixotic third-party write-in candidate who never had a chance.

— Bud Norman

Recounting All the Craziness

Sometimes it seems this crazy election year will never come to an end. The weather around here has turned from a glorious indian summer to a windy chill since Election Day, but that awful presidential race is still being disputed and both sides are claiming its all rigged.
None of it is likely to change the apparent Election Day outcome that Republican nominee Donald Trump is the president-elect, and will be duly designated as such after the Electoral College meets next month, but in such as a crazy election year when something like that happens almost anything is still at least slightly possible. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s apparent Election Day lead in the popular vote has grown to nearly two percent as all the votes have been counted, Trump is “tweeting” that the popular vote was tarnished by millions of illegal ballots cast against him, three states where Trump won by 1 percent or less to give him is Electoral College majority are now being recounted due to a challenge by a third party candidate, with Clinton joining in on one of them, and as always there’s still a long shot the Electoral College will wind up doing something crazy like choosing someone less widely reviled than any of the aforementioned contenders.
Probably not, even in this crazy election year, but we’re bemused by the spectacle nonetheless. The third party nominee shelling out for the recounts in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin is the Green Party’s Jill Stein, whose 2 or 3 percent of the votes in each of those state could have swung them all to Clinton, and we can’t imagine why she’d shell out a few million dollars of Green Party funds to highlight that embarrassing fact. Green Party nominee Ralph Nader’s 1 percent in the Florida presidential race of ’00 would have overwhelmed George W. Bush’s infinitesimal 500-or-so vote victory that won him the Electoral College despite a popular vote loss in that crazy election year, which wound up causing quite a fuss, but at least even Nader had the good sense not to be party to the ensuing lawsuits.
The differences in the contested states this time around are in the thousands rather hundreds, and there aren’t any hanging chads this time around, or at least none that have been reported yet, but we expect the next few days of melodrama will still provide plenty of fodder for any conspiracy theorists who want to theorize that Trump somehow stole the election. The races in the contested states are very close, if not quite 500-votes-and-a-few-hanging-chads close, and with voting being a government-run business there will always be a certain of margin of error. There will be renewed debates about voter suppression and voter fraud, as well, and yet more argument about the hard-to-deny fact that Clinton won the popular vote.
Trump denies that she did win the popular vote, of course, and has taken to “tweeting” that it only seems so because of millions of ballots cast by illegal immigrants, the deceased, and other ineligible voters. His source seems to be Alex Jones’ “Infowars,” which is also the source for all those stories about the Twin Towers terror attack being an inside job and Barack Obama being born in Kenya and reptilian shape-shifters running the Illuminati’s secret world government, and plenty of Republican election officials around the country share our skepticism of the claim. We’re strong advocates for photo identification requirements and periodic reviews of the registrations, as well as other common sense protections against voter fraud, and we’re not ones to put anything past the Democrats, but we find it easier to believe that Clinton really did win the popular vote than that such an inept candidate somehow managed to slip an extra couple million votes into the boxes.
No matter how it all turns out, even in the craziest popular scenarios, we’re sure that much of the country will remain convinced it was all somehow rigged. They’ll have ample reason for it, too, and even that shape-shifting reptilian Illuminati theory will seem slightly plausible. Which is for the best, probably, because at the end of such a crazy election year as this we have to start considering all the possibilities.

— Bud Norman