Beto and the Way-Too-Early Buzz

Thursday’s news was chock full of significant with stories, as an unexpected dozen Republican senators voted against President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency, missiles were lobbed into Israel from the Gaza Strip, the United Kingdom still can’t find a way to make its Brexit from the European Union, Boeing’s 737 remains grounded around the world, and a couple of Hollywood celebrities have been charged with cheating their kids into fancy colleges. Even so, all the big news outlets found front page space and top-of-the-hour time to report that a former congressman and failed senate candidate named Beto O’Rourke has announced that he’s running for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The attention paid to this back page and bottom-of-the-hour story seems so inordinate, however, that we’ve decided to ignore all the rest of that stuff and write about and opine about it ourselves.
Let us begin by griping that it’s far too early to be writing anything about the 2020 presidential election. Did anybody at this point in the past many election cycles warn the country about the upcoming presidencies of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and Barack Obama and Trump? Not sufficiently, at any rate, even at the end of a two-year-long slog, and we don’t expect the big news outlets will do any better at this point this time around.
Nor do we think this O’Rourke fellow is the next big deal that all the big news outlets seem to think he is. He was very popular representing the El Paso part of Texas during a few terms in the House of Representatives, but was little noticed elsewhere. He came close enough to knocking off stalwart conservative and entrenched incumbent Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in a statewide race in such a reliably stalwart conservative state as Texas to tantalize a national Democratic audience, but in the end he did fall short by more than a couple of percentage points. O’Rourke’s undeniably a telegenically youthful and handsome and physically fit fellow with a punk rock band on his resume, which could pose problems for Trump in this reality show era of presidential politics, but it’s no guarantee he’ll win a Democratic nomination. Among the crowded field of Democratic contenders are some rather hot-by-politician-standards women, some of them women of color, and given the identity politics of today’s Democratic party the primary electorate might well prefer that to some white pretty boy, enough if he does have a Latin nickname.
One of the right-wing talk radio talkers is already calling O’Rourke “O’Dork,” which seems to be the height of conservative wit these days, and Trump took time during a news conference with the Irish Prime Minister to ridicule O’Rourke’s hand movements, asking “Is he crazy or is just the way acts?,” and he took care not do the usual weird imaginary accordion or flag-groping thing president does. The rest of the conservative media are similarly eager to take on his wild-eyed leftist extremism. Meanwhile, some of the late night comedy show hosts and the rest of the the liberal media are insinuating hat O’Rourke is a centrist sell-out. Late night network wag Seth Meyers is a relentless Trump-basher, and pretty darned funny about it, but he’s consistent enough to react to a Democrat’s quote as if Trump had said it, and when he read O’Rourke’s recollection to Vanity Fair of a campaign speech when “Because every word was pulled out of me, like by some greater force, which was just the people there,” and used the usual Trump impersonation, it got the same big laugh as one of Trump’s typically absurd quotes.
If this O’Rourke fellow really is the centrist sell-out his critics contend we him wish the best, even if he does seem to have a similarly annoying reality show appeal and knack for ridiculous quotes as Trump, as we’d rather not see the Democratic party go so far to the left as it very well might. At this point there’s no telling what the Democrats might do, however, and to the extent we’ve be following the race they have some relatively sane contenders, including a couple of relatively hot-by-politician standards and hot-for-their age women, which seems to matter in this age of reality show identity politics, and many Democrats seem more concerned with beating Trump than achieving a socialist utopia. Given the way things have lately been going in the courts and Congress and the economic forecasts, it’s also well within the realm of possibility that the eventual Democratic nominee won’t be running against Trump.
Starting Monday, therefore, we’ll resume paying more attention to the more pressing news of the day.

— Bud Norman

The Duel in El Paso

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

— Bud Norman

The Washington Post vs. The National Enquirer

The publishers of The Washington Post and The National Enquirer are currently feuding, and it’s as tawdry a spectacle as you might expect.
Jeff Bezos owns the eminently respectable Washington Post, and he also owns the retailing giant, which makes him one of the richest men in the world, and thus it has been widely reported in the Post and elsewhere that his recent divorce was the most expensive in history. A fellow with the unfortunate name of David Pecker owns the notoriously yellow National Enquirer, and naturally the inquiring minds of its supermarket readership wanted to know all about that. In January the tabloid known for its short attention span-sized stories ran an 11-page story about Bezo’s affair with some other big bucks businessman’s wife, and it somehow included some daringly salacious text messages Bezos had sent to his apparent paramour. Bezos didn’t deny go iit, although he unleashed some high priced lawyers to find out how the tabloid had acquired his legally-protected private texts, and for the moment the advantage seemed to belong to Pecker.
On Wednesday, though, Bezos blasted back that Pecker had tried to blackmail him with “intimate photos,” and offered an e-mail “confidential & not for distribution” e-mail sent by Chief Content Officer of The National Enquirer’s parent company to Bezos’ lawyer. The e-mail discloses that “in addition to a below-the-belt selfie — otherwise colloquially known as a ‘d*ck pic’ — The Enquirer obtained nine further images.” The e-mail goes on to describe some more tame “selfies” of Bezos but also a photo of his alleged paramour “smoking a cigar in what appears to be a simulated oral sex scene,” as well as other salacious shots. Bezos isn’t denying any of it, but instead has stated that “Rather than capitulate to extortion and blackmail, I’ve decided to publish exactly what they sent me, despite the personal cost and embarrassment they threaten.” Despite the admitted personal cost and embarrassment the photos do indeed seem to threaten, we think the advantage now clearly goes to Bezos.
The tawdry backstory to all this makes it all the more embarrassing for Pecker, and has some embarrassing political implications for President Donald Trump. Pecker and the president are good buddies, and The National Enquirer has a long history of running stories about Trump’s political opponents — including the fanciful claim that Republican primary opponent Sen. Ted Cruz’ father was in on the assassination of President John Kennedy– and it has since struck a cooperation deal with an investigation into the tabloid’s efforts to squelch stories about Trump’s alleged affairs with a pornographic video performer and a nude model, and whether or not that violated campaign finance laws. Bezos’ Post has been less friendly to Trump, who daily fulminates about their damnably factual accounts of his administration and frequently threatens new taxes and Post Office regulations against
It darn sure looks as if Bezos was cheating on his wife with some other big bucks businessman’s wife, and that they took some embarrassing “selfies” along the way, but the other players in this tawdry tale don’t come off looking any better. Bezos is far richer than than both Trump and Pecker combined, even after hat that record multi-billion dollars divorce settlement, and despite the best efforts of Pecker it darn sure looks as if Trump has prolifically cheated on all three of his wives, and who knows what Pecker has been up to, and Bezos hasn’t been forced into any cooperating witness arrangements with the feds, so we figure Bezos is better able to absorb the personal costs and embarrassment of this tawdry affair.
In any case, we’ll rely more on The Washington Post than The National Enquirer for news about the Trump administration, and expect that  it will also be plenty tawdry.

— Bud Norman

The Whisker Rebellion

The ongoing and seemingly endless argument about a border wall and its resulting partial government shutdown seemed the most absurd story of the day, but then we caught our first glimpse of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz wearing his newly-grown beard.
Apparently we were late notice, as the beard looks fairly far along, and the terms “Ted Cruz” and “beard” yielded more than 5 million “hits” when we typed it on the Bing search engine. So far the beard seems to be getting decidedly mixed reviews, as beards usually do. Some find it rather dashing, others consider it ridiculous, and quite a few paid the backhanded compliment that at least it covers up a certain portion of Cruz’s face.
Cruz does have an unlovely visage, which bears an unfortunate resemblance to Al Lewis’ “Grandpa Munster” character on the old “Munsters” sit-com, and that has no doubt been an impediment to his political ambitions. It can’t explain his runner-up finish in the Republican primaries to President Donald Trump, who is by no means a matinee idol, but it probably had something to do with his relatively narrow win against the crazily leftist but youthfully handsome Democrat Beto O’Rourke last November. Our guess is that the close call prompted Cruz to grow the beard, as these days beards are thought to convey a hip and up-to-date style.
Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, James Garfield and Benjamin Harrison all wore beards, while Presidents Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft all sported mustaches, and President Martin Van Buren had some formidable sideburns, but back then facial hair was meant to convey the wisdom of age and an Old Testament sort of seriousness. Since Woodrow Wilson every president has been clean shaven, as until recently beards were largely associated with bums and beatniks, and except for Kansas Gov. Bob Bennett back in the mid-70s we can’t recall any politicians with any sort of notable whiskers. Former Vice President Al Gore famously grew a beard, and might still have it for all we know, as he hasn’t been in the news for a while, but that was after he’d lost the electoral vote to President Bush and around the same time he got divorced.
Beards are back in fashion, though, and might yet reappear on a presidential portrait. They no longer convey the wisdom of old age and a certain sort of Old Testament seriousness, but those qualities are by now hopelessly out of fashion, and we can well imagine modern voters preferring something more hip and up-to-date. Even so, we think the Cruz beard is a mistake.
To our admittedly heterosexual tastes few men look better with facial hair, and Cruz is not the exception. In his case a beard won’t fool anyone into thinking that he’s anything but a bookish and ideological square, and we still think he’d do better with that image. He can’t maintain the tough guy image he once sought to portray after so much obsequiousness to the victor who dubbed him “Lyin’ Ted” and ridiculed his wife’s looks and insinuated that this father was in on the assassination of President John Kennedy, and he’ll never be anybody’s idea of hip and up-to-date, and he’s unlikely to ever be president, so he might as well be the authentically clean-cut conservative that we hope still lurks behind that shiny new beard.

— Bud Norman

With Eleven Long Days to Go

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

— Bud Norman

On the Going On’s in Nearby Texas

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

— Bud Norman

The Brawl about Kavanaugh

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

— Bud Norman

Conservatism in the Age of Trumpism

Way back in late February of 2011, the reality show star Donald Trump was roundly booed during a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference’s annual convention. Trump declined his next invitation to CPAC’s 2016 convention during the Republican presidential primaries, which is something Republican presidential hopefuls normally don’t dare, but was nonetheless roundly booed when then conservative hero Sen. Ted Cruz derisively mentioned his name.
President Trump was greeted as a conquering hero at the 2017 CPAC confab, however, and is expected to as rapturously received when he returns today. This raises question of whether it’s Trump or conservatism that has changed over the past six or seven years.
There’s a strong case to be made that Trump has been transformed. Back in ’11 he was still flaunting his friendship with Bill and Hillary Clinton, writing checks to all the New York and Florida Democrats he relied on for favors, and was still on the record in favor of banning “assault rifles” and allowing unrestricted access to abortion, among his other many heretical opinions. By 2016 he’d been a leading proponent of the “birther” theory that President Barack Obama was not and American citizen, was saying the nastiest things anyone had to say about the Clintons, promising to get tougher on illegal and legal immigration than anyone else dared, all in the snarling rhetorical style of talk radio, but his conservative credentials were still in doubt.
By the time he made his triumphant return to CPAC last year as the Republican party’s very own president, having triumphed over such well-credentialed conservatives as the aforementioned Cruz, Trump was clearly not the New York City liberal he had once claimed to be. When he takes to the stage today he’ll be able to wave a big tax cut bill that he signed into law, point to all the burdensome regulations he’s eliminated, brag about the strict constructionist he appointed the Supreme Court, and rightly claim that although he didn’t repeal and replace Obamacare his tax cut bill at least rescinded the hated individual mandate. So far he hasn’t caved on promises to kick out all those illegal yet sympathetic “dreamers” who were brought here as children, or his promises to deliver the favors the National Rifle Association paid him for, and although he’s sounded kind of wobbly on both lately his conservative credentials probably won’t be checked at CPAC’s door.
Still, we can’t quite shake a sad feeling that this is not the conservatism we signed up for so long ago. In our idealistic youth, which occurred during one of those occasional epochs of cataclysmic cultural change, we embraced a Burkean conservatism that sought to maintain the best of what our culture had established over the generations, to move cautiously toward its highest and most time-tested ideals, and resist the worst of all the craziness coming from the left. This led us to certain conclusions about the government that governs best being the one that governs least, the enduring wisdom of the Judeo-Christian tradition and the many ways that humans gotten it wrong, not letting petty disputes devolve into warfare, and the importance of eventually balancing the books.
For the most part the Republican party has imperfectly followed these general principles for most of our lives, but these days it seems to have made a predictably bad deal with the guy who had “The Art of the Deal” ghost-written for him. The craziness coming from the left is crazier than ever, and we feel it must be resisted, so it’s especially sad to realize that’s about all we have left in common with the right these days.
The conservative cheers for Trump won’t be for the enduring wisdom of Judeo-Christian tradition, as anybody understands it, and the mention of any institutions that have been painstakingly established over the generations to resist his worst impulses will surely be met with talk of “deep state” “silent coups” by “enemies of the people” and chants of “Burn it down!” The CPAC crowds have already indulged themselves with the ritual chant of “Lock her up” at the mention of vanquished Democrat foe Hillary Clinton’s name, just like the crowds at the Ukrainian strongman’s rallies arranged by Trump’s former and now-indicted campaign manager, which did result in the losing opponent going to jail, which actually outraged most conservatives way back then.
These days too many self-described conservatives seem to like that strong man style of governance, even as they insist they’re freedom-loving small government types. They still insist they’re against annual deficits and multi-trillion dollar debts, but don’t seem to mind that all of Trump’s budgets lead to a bigger-than-Obama hole. They still insist they’re the party of family values, but they’ll give a Trump a pass on his extramarital flings with porn stars and Playboy centerfolds. They still want to lock Clinton up for mishandling classified information, but they’re perfectly fine with alleged-wives beaters and a suspicious-as-hell son-in-laws and dozens of other uncleared staffers getting daily access to top security intelligence briefings.
At least he’s not Hillary, the CPAC conventioneers will surely say, and we have to admit they’ve got a point. The CPAC convention has always drawn almost every sort of self-described contrastive, but mostly the types who take it far too seriously, so it’s always been a bit of a freak show. When Trump was booed back in ’11 it was because he disparaged far-libertarian Rep. Ron Paul, who had easily won the convention’s primary straw poll over eventual nominee Mitt Romney, and this time around it featured the last French election’s nominee from the National Front, a far-right nationalist party with fascist roots whose campaign also received cyber support from the Russian government, and she was more warmly received than Trump was back in ’11. As bad as that sounds, though, we’re quite sure the next big liberal confab, full of people who also take this stuff far too seriously, will have something just as bad. The CPAC convention’s one saving grace has always been that it united all those factions in their opposition to the worst of all that leftwing craziness, and for now Trump is the only champion to rally around in that righteous cause.
If conservatism is thus defined as rallying around Trump, though, it’s in worse trouble than anybody at CPAC seems to realize.

— Bud Norman

The Center Asserts Itself

President Donald Trump specifically denounced the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis and other white supremacists on Monday, with none of the talk about the bigotry and violence of “many sides” that characterized his earlier statement about the deadly events the white supremacists had provoked over the weekend in Virginia, and we suppose it was better late than never. Still, widespread suspicions will likely linger about his sincerity.
No one should suspect that Trump has any affinity for the violent sort of white supremacists who provoked the events in Virginia, but by now no one can trust his commitment to racial equality. Trump’s real estate business has been fined for discrimination against black tenants, he continued calling for the execution of five black teenagers convicted of rape even after scientific evidence had definitively proved their innocence, suggested that judges of hispanic descent were unfit to hear any case he was involved in, “re-tweeted” bogus statistics and racist “memes” from white supremacists web sites, and this weekend wasn’t the first time he was slow to denounce the violent sort of white supremacists who had openly expressed their support of him. The White House chief strategist is Steve Bannon, former editor of a web site he described as a “platform the ‘alt-right,'” other key aides have offered apologetics for the “alt-right,” and if you’re not hep to latest political lingo the “alt-right” is basically white supremacism with pretensions of intellectual respectability.
Our liberal friends would cite Trump’s border enforcement policies, restrictions on travel from some several Muslim-majority countries, and willingness to investigate the affirmative action policies at publicly-funded universities as further evidence of his racism, but except for that stupid wall idea we think there’s a sound conservative case to be made that each of these benefit the country as a whole. Those arguments have to be precisely stated, though, and with due respect to the complicated array of perspectives in such a polyglot country as this, and without any lingering doubts on the part of the listener about the speaker’s sincere commitment to racial equality. Trump, alas, seems the wrong guy for a job with those particular requirements.
Which is not good for the country at large, and as straight white conservative male Republicans out here in the heartland we’re bearing some small part of the burden. We’re “Bleeding Kansas” Republicans, whose political forebears signed up in record numbers to fight the Confederacy and the Nazis, whose flags those white supremacist idiots in Virginia were waving, and for years we’ve struggled to convince others on that complicated array of perspectives that our commonsensical views on taxation and regulation and defense spending all the rest of it are not tainted by association with those noxious causes. Trump’s delayed denunciation of the KKK and neo-Nazis, and continuing silence about the re-branded white supremacism of the “alt-right” elements that are still next door to the Oval Office, do not make our task any easier.
Nor do Trump’s apologists further the conservative Republican cause. Some of the first punches that were thrown when those white supremacists gather in Virginia came from counter-protestors, to be sure, but others just as surely thrown were thrown by the armored-and-armed protestors who started the whole mess, and it did turn out to a white supremacist who is charged with ramming his car into a crowd of protestors and killing an especially non-violent counter-protestor, and it was not a time to be equally condemning of “many sides.” There have indeed been far too many case of similarly unprovoked violence by the worst elements of the left, including assaults on people leaving Trump rallies, which the left is indeed not similarly condemned for, but the aftermath of a deadly melee that started with a bunch of armored-and-armed white supremacists invading a picturesque college town is not the right time to be making that argument.
Most of the Republican party, at least, moved quicker and convincingly to disassociate themselves from the KKK and neo-Nazism. Texas’ Sen. Ted Cruz is widely vilified by the left as an extremist conservative, but he went to “Twitter” shortly after the deaths to denounce the racism that clearly the cause of the tragedy, and it vindicated our vote for him the Kansas Republican caucus. The party’s congressional leaders and the Vice President and the president’s favorite daughter were also well ahead of him in singling out the KKK and neo-Nazis for condemnation, as were the more respectable quarters of the conservative print media. The comments sections were full of people still fuming about the past violence by the sleazier segments of the left, along with all the usual conspiracy theories about George Soros and Jewish cabals paying for it all, but the mainstream Republican reaction was enough to prompt Trump’s more specific remarks on Monday.
So for now the center holds, and the news will likely soon return to North Korea and that Russia thing, with a difficult debt ceiling fight in Congress quickly coming up, but those stories probably won’t be helpful, and Trump and such Trump-wary Republicans as ourselves will be diminished. The KKK and neo-Nazi story grew another day’s new pair of legs when the chairman of the giant Merck pharmacy corporation, one of the very few black Fortune 500 chief executive officers, resigned his post on a White House advisory council in protest of Trump’s initial statement, and Trump “tweeted” back a petty insult about the company’s “ripoff” drug prices, so that also doesn’t help the free market conservative cause.
Trump’s specific denunciation of white supremacism is better late than never, though, and a hopeful sign that the center will somehow hold. Nudging the country’s path slightly to the rightward direction we’d prefer, though, won’t be any easier.

— Bud Norman

Enquiring Minds Want to Know

The National Enquirer isn’t usually on our reading list, but on our last trip to the supermarket we couldn’t resist plunking down five bucks to see what was behind the tantalizing headline. “At last the truth about Russia,” that tabloid boasted over a picture some people familiar from the more respectable press, “What Trump Doesn’t Know!”
We were further struck that the front page also promised “Revealed: 10 spies murdered in 15 months to bury proof of Putin’s election hacking,” not to mention those pictures of Trump next to such infamous and now former associates as Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort and Carter Page. For more than a year now we’ve checked out the covers of the National Enquirer during our supermarket check-outs the same way Kremlinologists used to scrutinize the front page of Pravda, for the same reason that it provides the same official line, so the headline brought an intriguing plot twist.
Back in the ’80s The National Enquirer used to torment the young the celebrity billionaire Trump with salacious stories about the alleged infidelities of his wives and mistresses, but ever since he cultivated a a friendship with the tabloid’s editor in the early ’90s the coverage has been far friendlier. His presidential campaign received adulatory attention, while the rest of the Republican field was either ignored or scandalized. When retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson was inching ahead in the polls the Enquirer ran a story alleging he’d left a sponge in a patient’s sewed-up skull, and when Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was last the challenger it ran a picture purporting to show his father standing next Lee Harvey Oswald just before the assassination of President John Kennedy, and when it came down to Trump against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton there were all sorts of stories about her even worse than the ones the more respectable press were obliged to run.
Since his election Trump has been getting the same support from the Enquirer, with a recent front page proudly proclaiming the president’s war on dictators, with sinister photographs of North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Russia Vladimir Putin, so it was quite a surprise to see them follow with another headline linking Putin to four people who have elsewhere been directly linked to Trump.
The article claims that Putin ordered meddling in the election that included the hacking and public release of embarrassing e-mails from the Democratic National Committee, an allegation which has of course been widely reported, but it leads with the “bombshell finding” that he also ordered the assassination of 27-year-old Clinton campaign aide Seth Rich and nine Russian operatives to cover it up, which of course has not been as widely reported. Although the article makes no mention of the aforementioned Stone, Flynn, Manafort and Page, who have been fired from their prior respective positions as longtime friend and National Security Advisor and Campaign Chairman and campaign foreign policy advisor over their Russian relations, which the more respectable press have reported are all under investigation, but it does run their pictures again on the inside, which is also darned curious.
Throughout the campaign Trump took an unusually friendly stand toward Putin, basking in the compliments Putin had reportedly paid him and talking about how great friendship with Russia would be and how obsolete the anti-Russian North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and in one debate he said the hacking of the DNC e-mails was just as likely “someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds,” and he dismissed a question about the occasional Putin assassination order by asking “Do you think we’re so innocent?” After the election he conceded the Russians had “probably” hacked the DNC, but continued to avoid saying that the Russians had done anything improper at all. The Enquirer story, therefore, seems to deviate from the party line.
This comes a week or so after Trump’s newly appointed Central Intelligence Agency gave a speech that reiterated the intelligence community’s consensus conclusion that the Russians did meddle in the election, days after the Republican head of the House committee that’s looking into the matter said that Flynn had likely committed a crime by not disclosing his contract work for the Russians and Turks, and with the Federal Bureau of Investigation still looking into Page, and God only knowing what such a “political dirty trickster” as the Enquirer euphemistically describes Stone is currently facing. By now there’s enough suspicion about it that all of the official investigations are likely to continue, and unlikely to lead to any conclusions that the Russians are blameless and even if they aren’t no one in the Trump campaign had anything to do with them, so our guess is that the National Enquirer is trying out a new party line that at least the president himself had nothing to do with it.
All of the reiterated charges and “bombshell findings” and guilt-by-association photographs are huddled under the headline “What Trump Didn’t Know,” after all, and his most vociferous critics will have to admit the possibility that he didn’t know anything about what was going on. If we were one of the infamously defenestrated four on the cover of this week’s National Enquirer we’d read between the lines to see that we count on any further favors from Trump, and would be lawyering up to tell whatever we have to tell, and hoping that people are more interested in Wynnona Judd’s daughter being jailed in a meth bust. The more respectable press is likely to keep looking into this Russian thing, though, and so will the FBI and the Republican-led House committee, without any interference from the Trump-appointed Attorney General who has recused himself from all that Russian stuff and the former Trump-friendly committee chairman who has done the same, so we expect more intriguing headlines.