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Kansas Politics Takes a National Stage

Kansas rarely makes the national news, which is fine by us and most other Kansans, as it’s usually something embarrassing, but we were intrigued to see the latest development in our state politics on the front page of The Washington Post. The paper reports that Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell is urging Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to come home and run for a Senate seat that’s recently opened up, which is pretty darned intriguing for a number of reasons.
The Senate seats for Kansas are rarely open, as Kansans pragmatically tend to reelect the Republicans with the seniority and significant committee assignments needed to protect the farmers and airplane builders and natural gas drillers and other key components of the state’s economy, but 2020 will be one of those occasions. At the relatively young of age 82 Sen. Pat Roberts has decided to end a locally legendary political career that started way back in the ’60s — that’s the 1960s, although it sometimes seems to have stretched back to the “Bleeding Kansas” days of the 1860s — and there’s already a crowded field of notable Republicans vying to succeed him.
The rumored candidates include former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, an anti-immigration hard-liner who made a failed effort to prove that at least three million illegal voters robbed President Donald Trump of a popular vote victory in the last presidential election, and wound up losing the last Kansas governor’s race to Democrat Laura Kelly. There’s also former Gov. Jeff Colyer, who took office after wildly unpopular Gov. Sam Brownback resigned to became President Donald Trump’s ambassador for religious freedom, whatever that is, and then lost the Republican gubernatorial nomination by a few hundred votes but probably would have the general election if he’d been nominated. Another frequently mentioned name is Matt Schlapp, who used to be an aide to long-forgotten Fourth District Rep. Todd Tiahrt and has since gained a high profile on Fox News and talk radio as the chairman of the American Conservative Union, and whose wife, Mercedes, is Trump’s director of strategic communications, whatever that is. Such well-regarded state legislators as Rep. Roger Marshall are also reportedly in the running.
Despite such a formidable field, the Republican nomination would be Pompeo’s for the asking, and given that the only time Kansas has ever elected a Democrat to the Senate was for one term back in the Great Depression, the general election would be easy. He’s a first-in-his-class graduate of West Point, a former editor of the Harvard Law Review, a successful entrepreneur in Wichita’s high-tech aerospace industry, and after Tiahrt abandoned his Fourth Congressional seat for an ill-advised and ill-fated Senate run he won four congressional elections by landslide margins. His service as Trump’s director of the Central Intelligence and then Secretary of State have surely endeared him to the Trump-loving sorts of Kansas Republicans, and his occasional differences of opinion with Trump on such important matters as Russia’s meddling in the last presidential election will satisfy the large and growing number of Republicans who are weary of Trump’s generally shoddy character and the endless trade wars that have hard hit the agriculture and aviation sectors and his strange preference for coal over natural gas.
In normal circumstances no savvy politician would rather be a junior Senator from a sparsely populated state rather Secretary of State, but Pompeo is surely savvy enough to know that the Trump administration is not normal circumstances. Pompeo might or might not know what Trump has been saying to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin during the occasional conservations, as Trump keeps it a very closely guarded secret, but in either case Pompeo probably shares our concern it won’t end well. With a presidential resume and presidential ambitions, Pompeo might decide he could make a better run as a centrist junior Senator from Kansas who did his best to warn of Russian meddling and restrain Trump’s worst instincts rather than a hard-line loyalist who went down with the Trump ship.
It’s intriguing, too, that McConnell is urging Pompeo to jump from the Trump ship into the Senate. By all accounts Pompeo is Trump’s most favorite cabinet member, probably because it’s hard for Trump to find lackeys with such excellent credentials, and a third Secretary of State of in four years would be hard for Trump to explain, especially after Trump calling his first choice “dumber than rocks,” so it suggests that McConnell might be hedging his bets on the Trump presidency. The map for the 2020 Senate races is even more unfavorable for the Republicans than 2018 races were for the Democrats, and the way things are going they won’t have any presidential coattails to cling to, and we can’t blame McConnell for being more worried about his status as majority leader than he is about Trump’s presidency. Kansas is a reliably Republican state in federal elections, but last November it elected a Democrat as governor over Trump’s heartily endorsed Republican, and up in the Third District, the sort of well-educated suburban jurisdiction the Republicans been losing ever since Trump took office, they even elected a Native American lesbian kick boxer, so McConnell is probably wise to back to the surest bet.

— 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

Kennedy Hands Trump a Final Win

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement on Wednesday, which is good news for President Donald Trump. No matter how many porn stars Trump pays or longstanding allies and trading partners he needlessly alienates or essential institutions he seeks to undermine, his die-hard defenders can always make the strong argument to pre-Trump conservatives such as ourselves that we’re better of with him making Supreme Court picks rather than that awful Hillary Clinton woman.
Trump got his first chance to pick a Justice because Republican Senate majority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell — now widely reviled by the Trump-ian party as a squishy establishment type — ruthlessly held the seat open through the last year of President Barack Obama’s second term following the death of reliably conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, and Trump’s choice of the equally rock-ribbed Justice Neil Gorsuch further endeared him to his loyal supporters and earned begrudging praise from his party’s last skeptics. Kennedy’s retirement gives Trump an opportunity to replace him with someone even more rock-ribbedly conservative, and although we’re sure he’d appoint his abortion-loving appellate judge sister or idiot-sin-law to the seat if he thought he could get away with it, we’re also sure he’s shrewd enough that he’ll once again let the Heritage Foundation choose someone the fans will love and the conservative skeptics will begrudgingly respect and the Democrats can’t come up with any persuasive beyond-the-pale arguments about.
Kennedy was appointed to the court by President Ronald Reagan and confirmed with unanimous Republican support and several Democratic votes in the Senate, and he was not a judicial activist type who thought that whatever the consensus of liberal opinion believed was constitutional, but neither was he a reliably conservative vote in controversial cases. He acquired a reputation as the rare “swing vote” on the Supreme Court, and for whatever idiosyncratic reasons he frequently wound up on the winning side of many five-to-four decisions that wound up outraging the left some of the time and the right some of the time. In his final session he provided Trump with some much-needed five-to-four wins on the travel ban and a California case involving the free speech rights of anti-abortion advocates and another matter about the power of public unions, but his replacement will likely provide both the Trump-ian and pre-Trump conservatives with even more five-to-four wins over the coming decades.
There’s already concern on the left that the Supreme Court might even undo the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that found a right somewhere in the penumbra of the Constitution for abortion in the first trimester and exceedingly complicated cases afterwards, which is well past the panic by point even by the left’s panicky standards, but they don’t have much power to stop it. They’ll put up a good fight in the Senate confirmation process, and do whatever they can with the filibuster rules the Republicans used to rely on in their days on the political desert, and make a not-quite-convincig argument that because Obama’s appointment had to await the next presidential election Trump’s pick should await the next mid-term election, but they’ll wind up with Trump winning a more conservative Supreme Court for a long while.
As much as we hate to see it redound to Trump’s political benefit, that’s fine with us. We’ve always believed the Constitution says what the words written in it say, and not whatever the current consensus of liberal opinion is, and we have to admit we do shudder to think of the nominees that awful Clinton woman would have chosen. If Trump’s picks prove the strict constructionists the Heritage Foundation claims they are they’ll probably uphold a special counsel subpoena of the president, and even if the Court does undo Roe v. Wade it will just set off 50 state legislative battles and countless street brawls which the rather recent and obviously insincere pro-life convert Trump will mostly lose.
No matter how stellar a pick the Heritage Foundation comes up with, however, we’ll still be infuriated by almost everything else Trump is doing.

— Bud Norman

Trump’s Imperfect Storm

That whole “Russia thing” has lately merged with those porn star and Playboy playmate scandals, and it all seems to be closing in on President Donald Trump.
Trump’s longtime lawyer and sex-scandal “fixer” Michael Cohen recently had his office and home and hotel raided by the Justice Department, and is widely expected to be indicted soon, and Trump’s most longtime lawyer is advising him that Cohen is almost certain to start providing state’s evidence in whatever matters might arise from all the seized files and recordings and other potential evidence. The Federal Bureau of Investigation director that Trump fired has a best-selling book full of newsworthy allegations, with Trump offering explanations for the firing that contradict his past statements, and efforts by Trump loyalists to discredit James Comey have resulted in the leaking of some formerly classified memos he wrote after his conversations with the president that contain even more newsworthy allegations. Meanwhile, the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” that resulted from Comey’s firing, which has already secured several indictments and guilty pleas and has prominent Trump campaign and administration officials fully cooperating, plods irresistibly along.
Trump has now added former star federal prosecutor and legendary New York mayor Rudy Giuliani to a legal team that’s been depleted by defections and impending indictments, and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has vowed not to allow a vote on a bipartisan bill that would prevent Trump from firing the Justice Department officials he needs to replace in order to fire the special counsel and perhaps end the investigation into the “Russia thing” altogether. According to all the opinion polls he also has the support of about four-fifths of the Republican party, as well as the fierce apologetics of prominent voices on the talk radio airwaves and other right-wing media, but he nonetheless looks outgunned on all fronts.
Giuliani was a formidable lawyer who locked up a lot of New York City mobsters back in the ’80s, and his three terms as Mayor of New York in the ’90s saw crime and tax rtes decline dramatically while employment and and tax revenues and general quality of life soared, and his response to the Sept. 11, terror attack on the World Trade Center made him a national hero and Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year” in 2001, but since then he’s been on a long losing streak. A sex scandal ended his second marriage and commenced his third, and once upon a time in the Republican party that sort of thing combined with the Republican party’s former suspicion of smartypants New Yorkers doomed his presidential campaign in the good old days of 2008. He cashed in with some lucrative lawyering and lobbying and consulting, but he largely faded from the news until he remerged as an advocate for his fellow New Yorker and serial philanderer and far less qualified friend Trump, who by then was palatable to a plurality of the Republican party.
Giuliani told the press that he expects to negotiate a quick end to the various criminal and counter-terrorism investigations regarding the “Russia thing,” which suggests to us that his legal skills have rusted over the past few years, and that his losing streak is likely to continue.
McConnell says he’s not going allow legislation protecting special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired because he doesn’t believe Trump would ever be stupid enough to fire him, but that doesn’t do Trump much good. A credibly accused child molester that Trump campaigned for lost a seemingly safe Senate seat in Alabama, Arizona Senator and erstwhile Republican hero John McCain is busy battling brain cancer, so the Republican majority in the Senate is down to the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Mike Pence, and McConnell is reviled as the epitome of the “Republican establishment” by the party’s pro-Trump “burn it down” wing and quickly losing control of his fractious and increasingly Trump-averse caucus. You can call the Cable News Network “fake news” all you want, but unless you think they can produce computer generated images more convincingly than Industrial Light and Magic they taped a full dozen big-name congressional Republicans who wouldn’t say on the record that they’re on board with Trump’s reelection.
Even if McConnell does somehow allow the president to fire the people he needs to fire the special counsel and put an end to the whole “Russia thing,” McConnell is quite right that it would be a damned dumb thing to do.
That fired FBI director’s best-selling book and widely publicized book tour is getting mixed reviews, as his seeming mishandling of the undeniably difficult problem of presiding over investigations of serious allegations of criminal activity by both major party candidates during a presidential election has made him a hated figure on both ends of the spectrum, and that storm should soon pass. Those memos Comey wrote in the lead-up to his firing are likely be more troublesome when these matters enter a court of law, though, and for all his undeniable and admitted flaws we’ll find Comey a more credible witness when it inevitably comes down to that.
At this point we can’t imagine what might shake that four-fifth of the Republican party’s faith in Trump, but we notice that some of the right-wing talk radio hosts are fulminating about Trump’s betrayals of his non-interventionist promises with his missile strikes in Syria and a possible betrayals on building a border wall and deporting all the “dreamers” and waging trade wars around the globe. By now all but the most protectionist and isolationist Democrats still hate Trump as much as ever, a fifth of the Republican party and at least a dozen prominent congressional Republicans are outspokenly unenthused about him, and our view from the sidelines sees Trump taking a licking on all fronts.

— Bud Norman

Winners and Losers and Dreamers

The Republicans are claiming victory and the Democrats admitting defeat after a deal that ended the latest partial government shutdown in record time, but it’s not apparent to us that anybody won or lost anything that won’t be quickly forgotten.
The deal that minority leader Sen. Chuck Schumer and a sufficient number of his caucus agreed to fully funds the the government in exchange for a promise by majority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell to have a vote of some sort at some undetermined date about the so-called “dreamers” who were illegally smuggled into the country as children, which is pretty much the same deal that was on offer prior to the vote that shut down parts of the government over the weekend. That was bad enough from a Democratic perspective that all the left-wing pundits were wailing about it, and their anger alone was sufficient reward for all the right-wing pundits to gloat about it.
The deal only fully funds the federal government for the next 17 days, though, and by then no one will remember who voted for what, and in the meantime everyone involved looks petty and stupid. McConnell’s promise to put the “dreamer” problem up for a vote was made on the Senate floor and recorded in the congressional record, too, and when he’s eventually forced to keep that promise the Republicans will likely find themselves in a losing position.
The “dreamers” are so-called because the Democrats wrote a bill to grant them permanent status that was cleverly called Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors, and its acronym makes gives those alien minors that very sympathetic nickname. They’re a sympathetic lot, anyway, as they can hardly be blamed for being brought here as children, the vast majority haven’t caused any noticeable problems for anyone, and a significant and photogenic number of them are attending college or serving in the military or performing some other sort of useful labor for the country. That wasn’t enough to get the DREAM act enacted in Congress, but it kept the Republicans from preventing President Barack Obama from temporarily more or less enacting by an executive order for a Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals, which had a rather cacophonous acronym but kept all the “dreamers” who could prove they aren’t gang-bangers or welfare mooches to hang around indefinitely.
What can be done by executive order can just as easily be undone executive order, though, and President Donald Trump decided to sign one that would leave all those “dreamers” susceptible to deportation back to countries they only vaguely remember by March. His hard-line anti-illegal immigrant supporters loved it, but all the polls showed that a much larger number of Americans hated it, so Trump quickly explained that it was one of his three-dimensional chess moves to force congress to pass that DREAM act he excoriated on the campaign trail. He even wound up telling a televised bipartisan gathering of senators that he would happily sign any “bill of love” for the “dreamers,” whom he claimed to love, along with all kids.
That didn’t play well with Trump’s hard-line anti-illegal immigrant supporters, with his usual talk radio defenders crying betrayal, so he quickly clarified that he’d sign any “bill of love” so long as it included funding for his big, beautiful sea-to-shining-sea border wall and other draconian border enforcement measures. After that his chief of staff was assuring the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that Trump’s previously “uninformed” promises of a border wall had “evolved,” which was followed by an indignant presidential “tweet” that he has never evolved, and by the time the negotiations to prevent a partial government shutdown went south both the majority leader and the minority of the Senate were complaining they had no idea what the president wanted.
At this point Trump has taken more positions than his pal Stormy Daniels — insert risqué rim shot here — and there’s no telling where he’ll wind up. If he caves to some soft-hearted protections for the “dreamers” without sufficient concessions from the Democrats he’ll annoy his hard-line anti-illegal immigrant supporters, which he hates to do. If he winds up deporting a bunch of photogenically sympathetic soldiers and college students and otherwise upstanding semi-citizens back to countries they only vaguely recall his ratings will take a bigger hit, and he might hate that even worse.
Perhaps it’s all some three-dimensional chess-playing that will arrive at such an artful deal that even the most outright xenophobic portion of his hard-line anti-illegal immigration supporters will join hands with all those “open borders” left-wing crazies to sing his praises, but we doubt it. Trump’s much boasted-about deal-making genius didn’t prevent the last partial government shutdown, by all accounts those hated Republican establishment guys in congress had much more to do with it ending over a mere weekend, and Trump looks unable to long delay the inevitable next partial government shutdown.

— Bud Norman

The Ticking Clock and the Ensuing Blame Game

As we start to write this the clock on The Washington Post’s internet front page is showing 23 hours and 51 minutes and 21 seconds left to avert a government shutdown, although it’s already down a few seconds more by now and time will be even shorter when you read this. There’s still plenty of time left to avert the worst possible outcome, which probably wouldn’t even be all that bad, but at this point we can’t see things turning out very well.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives managed to pass a continuing resolution to fund the government through February 16, but the chances of the Republican-controlled Senate passing a similar continuing resolution look bleak. The Republicans control the House by a sizable enough margin that they could afford to lose a few votes from some hard-liners on spending on immigration and other matters, and they even picked up a few stray Democratic votes with peculiar local politics. In the Senate the Republicans now have a razor-thin 51-to-49 margin thanks to the recent electoral debacle in Alabama, and the absence of Arizona Sen. John McCain due to health problems has sharpened that edge, and except for one senator from President Donald Trump-loving West Virginia none of the Democrats have any political incentive to help the Republican-controlled congress and the Republican president from averting the embarrassment of a government shutdown.
Even if the Republicans are willing to offer the kinds of concessions that would outrage their core voters and somehow get something passed on the Senate side, it would all have to be worked out in a conference committee, which takes some doing, and as we write this The Washington Post’s doomsday clock has ticked down to 23 hours, 29 minutes and 10 seconds. Even if everyone talked as fast as those guys who read the side effects disclaimers on the pharmaceutical advertisements and something got passed by both chambers, it still has to be signed by Trump, who is the wild card in everything these days.
These all-too-frequent continuing resolution debates are threat of always complicated, but this time it involves complicated questions about immigration policy and health care, and of course Trump also complicates things further. The Democrats want the continuing resolution to continue protections for illegal immigrants who were brought to the country as children and can now prove their good citizenship, and the that’s polling so well the Republicans are largely willing to go along if they also stricter border enforcement from now on, which also polls well. Meanwhile there’s another deadline looming to reauthorize the Child Health Insurance Program, which provides coverage to the children of families too wealthy to qualify for Medicaid yet too poor to pay for private sector health insurance, and although it polls so well it’s always had bipartisan support the Republicans failed to meet a previous deadline for its reauthorization and the Democrats thus have a huge bargaining chip.
In a televised and much-discussed meeting with a bipartisan gathering of senators earlier in the week Trump promised to sign whatever they came up with regarding immigration, but he quickly backtracked to insist that what every they came up with would have to include funding for a big, beautiful wall along the Mexican border and various other strict border enforcement efforts, and that he was still willing to hold those upstanding illegal immigrants brought here as children hostage to get it. Then he was angrily denying his Chief of Staff’s comments to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and a cable news network that Trump’s views on the big, beautiful wall and other border issues had “evolved” since his campaign days. Then Trump “tweeted” that he didn’t like the reauthorization of the CHIP program in Republican bills, staking out ground to the left of both the Republicans and Democrats by insisting it should be permanently reauthorized rather temporarily reprieved by a continuing resolution on spending.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was preemptively blaming the Democrats for a government showdown on Thursday, as Republican senate majority leaders are obliged to do, but he also frankly acknowledged to the press that “We don’t have a reliable partner at the White House to negotiate with,” and with a politely bowdlerized nod to a recent presidential comment that has even further complicated the immigration debate he added, “This has turned into an s-show for no good reason.” McConnell is not only hated by all the Democrats, as all Republican senate majority leaders are, he’s also hated by that large swath of the Republican party that has the Grand Old Party’s establishment, but we think he has a valid point.
We’ll also give due credit to the equally-loathed-by-both-sides Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan for corralling enough of his herd of mavericks and enough stray Democrats to get something to pass in the House, and although he’s carefully avoided any public criticisms he can’t give much credit to Trump. If the government does shut down and those upstanding illegal immigrants start getting deported and whole bunch of kids lose their health insurance in 22 hours and 37 minutes and 33 seconds, as The Washington Post times it, it’s likely that at least a majority of the hated Republican establishment will have voted to avert it.
Our guess is that won’t make much difference in the opinion polls, among Democrats or a large swath of the Republican party or any of those self-described independents. The Republicans control both chambers of Congress and in a certain sense the White House, and those arcane rules about a sixty-vote majority being needed in the Senate and all the nuances of immigration and health care are far too complicated for most folks to consider, so the Republicans will probably wind up shouldering their usual blame for all these all too frequent government shutdown. The Republicans will divide themselves between those who blame the mercurial Trump or that set-in-stone Republican establishment, and the Democrats will unite in their indignation with both.
The good news for everybody is that government shutdowns aren’t so awful as they sound, and that if this one happens it will likely be short-lived. Sooner or later both that hard-nosed if out-of-his-water negotiator Trump and those more hep-to-the-game but lily-livered Republican establishment types will once again government operations and give all sorts of concessions to the Democrats, including several that poll so well that a savvy party would have been on board all along, and if it doesn’t include a border wall that was a stupid and badly polling idea all along.
The bad news for everyone is that the best we can expect is yet another continuing resolution to keep the government somehow afloat through February 16, with the same motley assortment of Democrats and Republicans that Trump guy all reviving all the same noisome arguments. Once upon a time in America the two chambers of America’s congress used to pass annual budgets, presidents would sign, some longer term agreements were also agreed upon, and the nation’s businesses and taxpayers and our foreign allies and adversaries could plan accordingly, and for the most part it worked out well.
That all broke down long before Trump took office, so we can’t blame him for that, but with 22 hours and 10 minutes and nine seconds remaining on The Washington Post’s doomsday clocked neither he nor that hated Republican establishment nor any of those damned Democrats deserve any credit for fixing it.

– Bud Norman

In Praise of America’s Least-Popular Man

The news has slowed down in the frigid holiday air, as it always does and always should, so we’ll seize the opportunity to say a few kind words about Kentucky’s Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. He’s probably the most hated politician in America, which makes our contrarian selves all the more warm to him, and we’re sure he could use some holiday cheer.
All the Democrats hate him, of course, because he’s not only a Republican but also the party’s Senate majority leader and thus bears the most blame for everything the Republicans did to thwart President Barack Obama during the eight years he was in office. Most Republicans also hate him, though, because all the talk radio hosts and the opinion journalists on Fox News have convinced them that McConnell and the rest of the dat-gummed Republican establishment didn’t do nearly enough thwarting. All the independents have a healthy suspicion of anyone from either party, so they also don’t bolster his horrid poll numbers.
We take a more pragmatic measure of man’s public service, on the other hand, and by our accounting McConnell’s done about as well as can be expected.
All those Democrats should be grateful for McConnell’s restraints on the Obama administration. For the first two Obama years there were big Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, and there wasn’t much McConnell could do about it when they went for such big moves as Obamacare and that trillion-dollar “stimulus package” and various other budget-buusting do-goodery, which of course led to the not only a Republican majority in the House but a “tea party” majority at that. With the Democrats’ whittled-down Senate majority vulnerable to shrewd filibustering that soon led to half-trillion budget deficits of the George W. Bush administration, and although the Democrats lost the Senate and a lot of governorships and statehouse and county commission seats we suspect it would have been worst if the Democrats had been able to finish their to-do list.
All those Republicans, especially the Trump-loving ones who get their news exclusively from Fox and talk radio, should also give McConnell his due. There wasn’t much McConnell could do to stave off Obamacare and the “stimulus package” in those darks days of the Obama-Reid-Pelosi regime, but he somehow managed to convince the notoriously individualistic Republicans to stand together to deny those abominations a single Senate vote of bipartisan support. Even when the Republicans won a Senate majority to go along with a House majority there wasn’t much McConnell could do about Obama signing executive orders, but McConnell did play a key role in preventing hard-to-undo legislation and forcing Obama to sign executive orders that could just as easily be undone by any old future Republican president, and he did take a lot of heat for cooling a seat on the Supreme Court until any old future Republican president could make the appointment.
Those Trump-loving sorts of Republicans like to boast about all the Obama-era executive orders Trump has undone and that great Supreme Court pick he made, but they’re also the first to spit and cuss at the mention of McConnell’s name. They seem convinced that only Trump would have done what any old Republican president would have done, and that up until Trump the Grand Old Party was q quisling.
All those independents with their healthy of suspicion of anyone from either party should also acknowledge some gratitude to McConnell. He was a restraint on the excesses of the Democratic party during the Obama years, and in subtle but significant ways he’s also been a restraint on the worst excesses of the Trump years. He somehow managed to to herd all the Republican cats in the Senate to get on the big tax cut bill Trump wanted, which is probably going to bust the budget but maybe not to Obama-Reid-Pelosi levels, and he’s put all but Trump’s most egregious judicial nominees on a quick approval process, but he’s also had a more centrist influence. So far the Senate hasn’t authorized anything more than symbolic sums for Trump’s fantasy of a great translucent wall across the the Mexican border, the body remains committed to finding the truth about the “Russia thing,” and whatever quibbles you might have about his policies McConnell you will have to admit McConnell has carried them out in a quite gentlemanly way without any unnecessarily insulting “tweets.”
These days our healthy suspicion of anyone from either party is such that we find ourselves rooting for the effete establishments of both. We’re rooting for those Democrats who won’t go whole hog for Bernie Sanders-style socialism, rooting against the Trumpist Republicans, and hoping that the likes of Mitch McConnell and the rest of the gat-dummed establishment will stick around a while.

— Bud Norman

The Not-So-Quite Grand Old Party

These should be the best of times for the Republican party, what with complete control of the federal government and most of the states, but Tuesday seemed more like the worst of times. The party’s latest effort to repeal and replace Obama proved as futile as the previous ones, the Senate candidate backed by both the party establishment and the anti-established President Donald Trump lost to a full-throated theocrat in an special Alabama primary, and another shoo-in incumbent moderate decided not to make another run for Congress, along with all the other assorted bad news.
No one was surprised by the party’s latest failure in its seven year crusade to repeal and replace Obamacare, which went down without a vote for the same reasons it did on the previous tries. The GOP’s majority is in the Senate is too slim to lose even three votes, there are moderates who don’t like any of the offered health care bills because they’re too austere, conservatives who don’t like any of them because they’re too profligate, and every attempt to modify the bills to appease one faction inevitably offended the other. Each of the bills had something for everyone to dislike, all the opinion polls they were even more unpopular than the hated Obamacare law, and no one in the party could muster much of a sales pitch.
That conspicuous lack of a sales pitch was partly because the Republicans were in too much of a hurry to make one, for no good reason we can discern, but it’s also due to a lack of salesmanship in the party. The Republicans did spend seven years making a strong case against Obamacare, to the point that all the opinion polls showed it was widely hated, and steep insurance premium rate hikes in most markets made it all the easier, but they had less luck pitching the alternatives. They couldn’t talk the public out of liking the provision that insured coverage people with pre-existing conditions or the subsidies that allowed many millions of Americans to get some sort of policy, and since those were the market-distorting features that resulted in those sky high premium rate hikes that made Obamacare so unpopular it was hard to come up with an alternative, much less sell it to a wary electorate.
Neither the moderates nor the conservatives in the party were up to the task, and despite his reputation for salesmanship Trump couldn’t offer any help. During his presidential campaign Trump had promised coverage for every American at greatly reduced price and care that would be so great your head would spin, but he clearly didn’t have a plan that would have accomplished that, and of course no Democrat or Republican or independent knew how to do it, so he was never an enthusiastic supporter of what was on offer. He threw a beer party for the Republicans in the House of Representatives after they passed a repeal and replace bill on a second try, but the later “tweeted” that the bill was “mean,” and except for one little-seen speech on a weekday afternoon his efforts were mostly limited to trying to bully reluctant Republicans into voting for anything he might get on his to sign.
Trump’s salesmanship also fell short in Alabama, where a clear majority of Republican voters chose the state’s former Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore over Trump-backed incumbent Luther Strange in a race that reveals all sorts of internecine Republican squabbles. Strange was the incumbent because he’d been appointed to the seat after longtime Sen. Jeff Sessions was appointed to be Trump’s Attorney General, which has turned to be a complicated matter, and had been a loyal ally to Republican majority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, whose political action committee donated generously to Strange’s campaign, yet despite these impeccable establishment credentials he was also endorsed during an open primary round of voting by the same Trump who was blaming McConnell and the establishment for all the party’s recent failures. The open primary featured a fellow named Mo Brooks who was so severely conservative that all the talk show hosts and numerous other Trump apologists were touting him, all of whom come right out and griped about Trump’s endorsement, and when Strange and Moore wound up in the run-off they all sided with Moore. The final days of the campaign saw former Trump “chief strategist” Steve Bannon and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, both of whom had proved their populist credentials back when Trump was contributing to Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign, giving fulsome speeches on behalf of Moore.
Trump’s efforts on behalf of Strange, meanwhile, were less enthusiastic. He tried to convince Alabamans that Strange hardly knew McConnell and was a true fellow disestablishmentarian, but no one was buying that. By now too many rank-and-file Republicans in Alabama and elsewhere loathe McConnell and the Republican establishment even more than they love Trump, and Trump seems to sense this with his usual keen political instincts. He showed up for a 57 minute speech at a raucous campaign rally for Strange last week, but he spent most of it bragging about his popularity and blasting Republican Sen. John McCain and starting a feud with the National Football League that took up most of the news cycle, and in one of the few mentions of Strange he admitted that “I might have made a mistake in endorsing the guy.” He also promised to campaign for Moore if that’s how the election turned out, and although we’re sure he’ll keep that promise it remains to be seen how it will work out for the Republicans.
Moore is the favorite in his special general election against Democratic candidate and former U.S. attorney Doug Jones, if not as heavy a favorite as Strange would have been, but we doubt he’ll play as well as a Republican standard-bear in the other 49 states. In the recent Republican past we have proudly supported the party’s stand that the Judeo-Christian traditions which have done so much to create our enviable western civilization should continue to inform our decisions into the future, and steadfastly insisted that such time-tested principles enhance rather than threaten our freedom and democracy, but we have to admit Moore really is the theocratic Republican that Democrats have always caricatured. He was twice removed from Supreme Court seat, once for defying a federal order to remove a Ten Commandments sculpture from public grounds and the second time for ordering lower Alabama courts to ignore a Supreme Court decision to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples, and in both cases he made clear that God’s law should supersede civil law, which is pretty much the dictionary definition of theocracy.
We’re the church-going sorts of Republican Kansans who think it ridiculous that anyone would object to the Ten Commandments taking up some small space in the public square, and we had our old-fashioned constitutional originalist reasons for disagreeing with that Supreme Court decision that found a previously hidden right to a same-sex marriage license, and we still don’t think the government should compel anyone to baking a wedding cake, yet we’re not entirely comfortable with Moore. If fate should ever compel us to choose between following either God’s law or man’s law we hope we’ll opt for the former, and we give thanks that hasn’t to us happened yet, but there’s God’s law according to Moore and God’s law according to us and God’s law according to the rest of you, and we’re left here on Earth to sort it out. Our version of God’s law includes verses about rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and obeying civil authority, and a Savior who came not to establish His heaven and not on earth, and as crazy as that sounds we invite everyone to share our faith but won’t try to compel anyone to do so.
Maybe Trump will muster more enthusiasm for it. He’s a thrice-married and six-times-bankrupt casino-and strip club mogul who has bragged about all the married babes he’s bagged and said at a religious gathering he’s never felt the need to ask God’s forgiveness for anything, and talked fulsomely about the lesbian and gay and bisexual and transexual communities at the Republican convention, of all places, but he’s somehow big with a lot of the Christians in Alabama and elsewhere and has a keen political instinct. How that will play with the rest of America, of course, also remains to be seen.
Tuesday also brought the news that Tennessee’s Sen. Bob Corker was bowing out of the Senate. He’d had a long and admirably unnoticed career holding off the crazier Democratic ideas and letting down the party on its crazier ideas, and was regarded as one of the party’s wise old hands on foreign policy matters, so naturally he was a frequent target of Trump’s “tweets.” His departure provides an opportunity for a more Moore-like or Trump-friendly candidate to win the Republican nomination, and be a slightly-less-favored front-runner for the seat, but it’s hard to say that would play elsewhere.
There’s still a chance for the party to make the best of it. Surely there’s something better than Obamacare that the Republicans can come up with, and even if it doesn’t cover everyone at lower prices and is so great it makes your head spin a regular order of hearings and deliberation and compromise and public protests to match what the Democrats have been staging could prevail. Those time-tested Judeo-Christian principles will surely survive Moore’s attempts to impose them on a wary populace. There’s speculation that Corker is bowing out to set up a primary challenge to Trump, and that will prove interesting.

— Bud Norman

Bannon with Abandon

If you weren’t watching the continuous Florida storm coverage on all the cable news channels on Sunday evening, you might have caught former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s interview with the Columbia Broadcast System’s “60 Minutes” program. We didn’t, as we were out enjoying the perfect weather we’ve been having around here lately, but of course we couldn’t avoid reading and hearing all of it on Monday.
Even after being fired or having resigned in order to better serve President Donald Trump from the outside, depending on which version of events you prefer, Bannon still has a knack for making news. He was a controversial figure as the “chief executive officer” of Trump’s campaign, even more so in his administration post, and got enough media attention that Trump was reportedly miffed about. To Trump’s most ardent supporters Bannon was considered the keeper of the nationalist and isolationist and populist and protectionist faith that was going to make America great again, and to Trump’s most strident critics on both the left and right he was the authoritarian and alt-right quintessence of everything they hated about Trump.
His exit from the White House and his return to his previous gig of running the Breitbart.com internet news site was a big story before all the storms started, and even with the floods still rising in Florida his first on-air interview took up a full half of “60 Minutes.” He took full advantage of the opportunity to generate another days of news, of course, offering several opinions that will surely outrage Trump’s most strident critics on both the left and the right, which will surely gratify Trump’s most ardent supporters, but Trump himself also came in for some notable criticism.
Bannon said that Trump’s decision to fire Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey was “the biggest mistake in modern political history,” so of course that got the most media attention. This does not strike us as much of an overstatement, especially by Bannon standards, and we note that he also said “worst political mistake ever” was too bombastic even for him, but it was still some criticism from Trump’s most ardent supporter that Trump’s most strident critics relished. Bannon explained that Comey’s firing was a mistake because it inevitably led to the appointment of special counsel James Mueller, who’s now conducting far more thorough investigation of “Russia” than the one Trump effectively stopped Comey from pursuing, so he’s implicitly conceding he expects that to turn out even worse than Watergate or the Monica Lewinsky business or the many other worst modern political mistakes.
Bannon also pledged to be Trump’s “wing-man,” though, so maybe he’s just trying to give some good advice about exposing oneself to enemy fire. In the rest of the interview he remained fiercely loyal to Trump’s agenda, at least the nationalist and isolationist and populist and protectionist parts of it, and he vowed the mighty wrath of Breitbart.com and Bannon’s own media clout, and potentially the backing of his billionaire backers, against any Trump administration officials or any sorts of Republicans who won’t pledge their loyalty to whatever Trump might want to do at any given moment.
Even such a veteran interviewer as Charlie Rose seemed quite taken aback by it, which allowed Bannon to make specific threats and name specific names, and clearly explain his master plan to burn down the Republican party and raise a new nationalist and populist and all that party from the ashes. He dismissed the entirety of Republican party’s pre-Trump foreign policy and defense experts as “idiots” he “holds in contempt, total and complete contempt,” threatened primary challenges to any congressmen deemed unloyalw to Trump, cited Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan as people he’d like to get rid of, and accused the broader Republican “establishment” of “trying to nullify the election.” He also defined loyalty to Trump by “the Billy Bush day” standard, which means who was still loyally defending Trump when the entire nation heard the soon-to-be-president bragging on audiotape about how he could grab women by the wherever because he’s a star, and that’s a pretty high standard.
He also said he hoped all those “dreamers” who are suddenly the national sob story will be forced to “self-deport,” and we’re sure that Trump’s most ardent admirers loved every part of it, but we’re not sure what Trump made of it. Bannon also took aim at several Trump administration officials for publicly criticizing the president’s response to the violence that occurred during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, saying they should quit if they’re not entirely on board with whatever the president says at any given moment, but good look finding replacements who can meet that very high standard. He further took aim at senior White House advisor and jack-of-all-trades Jared Kushner, a Manhattanite and longtime Democratic donor and suspected globalist who frequently clashed with Bannon on such matters as nationalism and populism and the wisdom of firing Comey, but Kushner is also Trump’s son-in-law and we notice that he’s still working at the White House while Bannon isn’t, so that will likely play better with Trump’s most ardent supporters than Trump himself.
Bannon and his Breitbart.com and their billionaire backers have a limited influence in the grand scheme of things, but it’s enough to further fracture an already fractuous Republican party. There are a lot of Republican districts where Bannon’s efforts would only bolster a Republican incumbent’s chances in a primary, but there are others where the combined efforts of Bannon and Trump could find some true believer to knock off an office-holder who might otherwise have impeccable conservative credentials but doesn’t meet that “Billy Bush day” standard. In some cases this would lead to the election of some sane-by-Democratic-standards challenger, and maybe in enough cases to affect Democratic majorities in Congress that wouldn’t go along with any part of the Trump agenda now matter how far left might veer, but Bannon and other ardent Trump supporters can be consoled that at least we’d be done with that darned Republican establishment.
Both Trump and the “establishment” along with the rest of the country have recently survived two horrific hurricanes, though, and we expect most of us will survive the likes of Bannon as well.

— Bud Norman

Grand Old Party Poopers

With a solid Republican majority in the House of Representatives, a slight Republican majority in the Senate, and a slightly Republican president in the White House, the Grand Old Party should be having a grand old time about now. Alas, things haven’t yet worked out that way,, and after the slightly Republican president sided with the Democrats Wednesday on the latest debt ceiling debate it’s hard to see how they ever will.
These all-too-frequent debt ceiling increases are complicated affairs even in more normal circumstances, so of course this time around it’s all the harder to make sense of it. As always a debt ceiling increase is much needed to keep the government operating and avoiding a federal default that would have far more catastrophic economic consequences, everyone is eager to avoid that politically suicidal fate at any cost, yet everyone is trying to take advantage of the situation to get pet causes included. The usual result is some scary brinksmanship followed by yet another desultory compromise that pleases no one, and we’ll hold out hope for another similarly happy outcome this time.
Democrats typically use this all-too-frequent game of chicken to get further exorbitant spending for all sorts of crazy social engineering regulations, Republicans always try to win severe spending cuts and argue that even though they’re voting for another debt ceiling increase they don’t think we can keep this up forever, and we’ve always been more inclined to the Republicans on the issue. We’re as disappointed as any snarling caller to your local talk radio station that the Republicans always wind up voting for another debt ceiling increase, but we have to admit that at least the annual federal deficits have been halved since the Republicans took over the House and then the Senate back in the ill-remembered days of President Barack Obama, and we guess they’d have doubled if not for all those congressional Republicans who came to the rescue before Trump joined the party.
This time around the debate is complicated by all sorts of things that don’t even involve Trump. An historic natural disaster has lately occurred in America’s fourth-most populous city, another bad storm might be headed for the densely populated east coast of Florida, and a significant down payment has to be made on the budget-busting cost of all that lest a political disaster bear down on both Democrats and Republicans alike. That’s not to mention all the complications caused by Hurricane Donald, who had already threatened to veto anything that didn’t include full funding for his crazy and unpopular idea of a tall and translucent wall across the entire border with Mexico, long been “tweeting” schoolyard taunts against both the Republicans and Democrats in Congress, and had won office by railing against the establishments of both parties and promising no entitlements and balanced budgets.
So far as we can tell the latest congressional negotiations had come down to a difference of opinion about how long the latest desultory compromise which pleased no one would last. The Democrats wanted a mere three-month extension, the Republicans preferred a year-and-a-half before they had to go through all this again, everyone was willing to cough up the necessary funds for all those natural disaster victims, and in normal circumstances a Republican majority Congress and Republican president would have at least granted a weary nation that slightly longer respite.
On Wednesday, though, Trump met with the Democrats’ Senate minority leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and House minority leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, gave them both videotaped hugs,  and agreed to back their side, which complicated things beyond comprehension. Both Schumer and Pelosi are longstanding villains in the Republican narrative of the way things are, Trump had previously “tweeted” that Schumer was a “clown” and taunted him as “Cryin’ Chuck,” long been at least as unkind to the long-hated-by-Republicans Pelosi, so it came as something of a surprise.
Less surprising if you’ve been following how a certain segment of the talk-radio-listening Republicans have come to hate House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky with a nearly as red-hot hatred, and how Trump tapped into that anti-establishment mood to win the Republican nomination and eventually the presidency. Trump more or less vowed to vanquish the Republican establishment, kept up the feud from his election up to now, and his most die-hard supporters probably like it.
We can’t see what satisfaction they’ll get out of it, though, except for seeing Ryan and McConnell and their establishment Republican types properly irked. The Democratic offer that Trump is backing doesn’t come closer to what every sort of Republican has long wanted from all these all-too-frequent debt ceiling increase debates, and any old Republican should be irked by the satisfaction than the even more loathsome Schumer and Pelosi surely feel. Trump’s staunchest defenders will dutily explain that it’s another master move by The Art of Deal, being played out on a 3-D chess board we cannot comprehend, but that’s harder than ever to believe. The Democratic side basically means that they’ll have all their leverage back in a mere three months, when there’s no telling what disarray the Republicans might be in, the Republican side at least gives them a year and a half to perhaps right ship, and conceding such leverage might work in New York real estate deals but we can’t recall the last time it worked in these complicated legislative negotiations.
It might be for a mere three months or a whole year and a half, but we expect the government will ultimately stay open and continue paying its bills over either span. That grand old time for the Grand Old Party and its long promised balanced budgets seems further away than ever, though, and in the meantime there’s a lot of other very complicated messes to be figured out, We’ll keep following the news, and hoping for the best.

— Bud Norman