Three Reports Demonstrate How It Was A Horrible Mistake For Democrats To Nominate Hillary Clinton

Since Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump, many Clinton supporters and partisan Democrats have blamed her loss on sexism, Russia, James Comey, and even Barack Obama. They repeatedly fail to acknowledge that the real problem was that Hillary Clinton was a terrible candidate who ran a terrible campaign. Of course the exact same thing could be said about Donald Trump, but when two terrible candidates are running, only one can lose, and Clinton was even more out of touch than Trump. With many Democrats failing to acknowledge why they have lost badly in 2010, 2014, and now 2016, and some even speaking of nominating Clinton again in 2020, it is important for Democrats to face reality. Three recent studies shed some light on the election.

While perhaps not the most consequential, the most interesting was an experiment to look at sexism performed by Maria Guadalupe, an associate professor of economics and political science, and Joe Salvatore, “a Steinhardt clinical associate professor of educational theatre who specializes in ethnodrama—a method of adapting interviews, field notes, journal entries, and other print and media artifacts into a script to be performed as a play.”

After watching the second televised debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in October 2016—a battle between the first female candidate nominated by a major party and an opponent who’d just been caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women—Maria Guadalupe, an associate professor of economics and political science at INSEAD, had an idea. Millions had tuned in to watch a man face off against a woman for the first set of co-ed presidential debates in American history. But how would their perceptions change, she wondered, if the genders of the candidates were switched? She pictured an actress playing Trump, replicating his words, gestures, body language, and tone verbatim, while an actor took on Clinton’s role in the same way. What would the experiment reveal about male and female communication styles, and the differing standards by which we unconsciously judge them?

…Salvatore says he and Guadalupe began the project assuming that the gender inversion would confirm what they’d each suspected watching the real-life debates: that Trump’s aggression—his tendency to interrupt and attack—would never be tolerated in a woman, and that Clinton’s competence and preparedness would seem even more convincing coming from a man.

While Salvatore and Guadalupe were surprised at the results, I was not. Audiences did not like the character portraying Hillary Clinton, even when played by a man. The entire argument based upon sexism, with Clinton supporters finding absurd ways to blame any disagreement with Clinton on sexism, has always been absurd.  This is especially true on the left, where many opponents of Clinton had initially backed Elizabeth Warren, and some wound up voting for Jill Stein. Those on the left who opposed Hillary Clinton also object to Bill Clinton and other DLC Democrats for similar reasons, regardless of gender. For many, the choice of a running mate as conservative as Tim Kaine was the last straw. There are many reasons to oppose Clinton based both on her policy positions and her gross ethical misconduct in using her position to exchange influence for wealth which have nothing to do with gender.

Wesleyan Media Project study elaborates on what I have discussed previously on how Clinton ran a poor campaign, including in states such as Michigan which cost her the election. They noted that Clinton’s loss came from states in which she did not advertise until the last week. When I did start seeing ads for Clinton in Michigan, I questioned the judgement of her campaign. While Trump was advertising with promises (regardless of whether he could keep them) of creating more jobs and a brighter future, Clinton’s ads were based upon personal attacks (even if valid) against Donald Trump. The Wesleyan Media Project study showed that  “Clinton’s message was devoid of policy discussions in a way not seen in the previous four presidential contests.” They found that this strategy may have backfired badly.

Throughout the campaign, Clinton gave little reason to vote for her beyond her gender and it being her turn. Her own negatives, both on her record and her character, despite the denials of partisan Democrats, where on a level comparable to those of Donald Trump. It is no surprise that third party candidates Jill Stein and Gary Johnson did three times as well against Clinton and Trump than they did against Barack Obama and Mitt Romney four years previously.

Finally, Huffington Post ran yet another article making a case that the letter from James Comey cost Clinton the election. Many factors were involved in the loss, and it is simplistic to blame it on a single factor, but to blame it on Comey is actually an admission that it was a mistake to nominate Clinton.  There would have not been a criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton if Clinton had not violated the rules regarding handling email, as documented in the State Department Inspector General report, and then go on to repeatedly lie about the situation. This included her lies about the initial FBI report.  Clinton’s statement that, “Director Comey said my answers were truthful” was the first lie listed by Glenn Kessler (listed in no particular order) in his listing of The biggest Pinocchios of 2016. Hillary Clinton’s frequent lies during the campaign negated any advantage she might have had over Donald Trump, who has also shown very little regard for facts or reality.

I argued before the nomination that it would be a mistake for Democrats to nominate Clinton in light of the email and Foundation scandals. Beyond the details of these scandals, this emphasized Clinton’s dishonesty. An argument might be made that the coverage of Clinton’s scandals distracted from discussion of the issues, except for the fact that Clinton’s own campaign avoided discussion of the issues.

The lesson here is that it was a mistake for the Democrats to nominate a candidate who acted improperly in her last major government position, including grossly violating the ethics agreement she entered into before being confirmed as Secretary of State, and was already distrusted by voters before the nomination.

Democrats were lucky to come as close as they did in the 2016 election with a candidate as weak as Clinton, and would have probably lost by a far greater margin if not for the many problems with Donald Trump. Running Republican-lite candidates have also cost them control of Congress and many state governments in the 2010 and 2014 elections. Democrats were in a strong position during the Bush years, but squandered this by moving as far right as the Republicans of circa 2002 on far too many issues, and engaging in exactly the same types of unethical behavior as they have attacked Republicans over. Democrats had an alternative in Bernie Sanders in 2016 who could have both motivated voters to turn out for him, and brought in the votes of many independent voters. By rigging the system for a more conservative candidate such as Clinton, and ignoring her major ethical failings, very likely cost Democrats both the White House and control of the Senate.

Discussing Obamacare Replacement With A Republican Congressman

House Republicans have finally released their plan to replace Obamacare. I have a lot of concerns about the plan, such as whether the tax credits will be sufficient for low income families to afford health insurance, and their attack on Planned Parenthood.

I am going to wait until I have a chance to look at the details of the plan to discuss it in depth, but for other reasons I have found it a good day to blog about health care. Hours prior to the release of the plan, I met with my conservative Republican Congressman, Bill Huizenga, along with a few colleagues, to discuss health care. I figured it would be futile to change the mindset of a conservative Republican, but when I received the invitation I also thought I should make the attempt to try to explain how health care really works. After all, there is zero chance of changing anyone’s mind if no attempt is made to persuade them. I was also appreciative that he was willing to meet with a group which strongly disagreed with him on the issue, while many Republicans around the country are reportedly hiding from their constituents.

The first time I spoke today I made a point of explaining how I am self-employed and have purchased health care on the individual market for my entire life. Therefore I could definitely state that high premiums and high out of pocket expenses, often cited as a failing of the Affordable Care Act by Republican, have always been a characteristic of the individual market–and are not something created by Obamacare.

Discussion got bogged down for quite a while over philosophical issues, especially when someone referred to health care as a right. Congressman Huizenga disagreed. While I managed to get out most of what I wanted to say today, in a conversation with multiple people present, sometimes the topic changed before I got a chance to speak. I didn’t get a chance until after the meeting while speaking to a colleague that I can understand a Republican’s position in not seeing health care as a Constitutional right in the same way as civil liberties specifically expressed in the First Amendment. After all, the Founding Fathers would have never conceived of health care being as expansive, and expensive, as it is now. However, regardless of whether you want to call it a right, access to affordable health care is both highly desirable, and something which is expected in a modern, advanced, industrialized society such as the United States. We should do it regardless of whether you want to label it a right.

The limited nature of assured coverage in the United States, compared to the rest of the world, was an underlying thought in many of our comments. It did come up that 1) the sick can show up to the Emergency Room and will not be turned away and 2) a significant portion of the Medicare population consists of the disabled. In typical Republican dodging of the issue, the Congressman at one point tried to claim that this does provide some form of basic health care as people can go to the Emergency Room. I pointed out that it is one thing to receive coverage in the Emergency Room, but this does not mean that people will receive necessary follow up medical care, especially for the types of chronic medical conditions I typically treat, such as diabetes, heart failure, and emphysema. Initial stabilization in an Emergency Room is both costly and not adequate health care. Plus an Emergency Room physician present pointed out that being seen does not mean patients do not receive large bills, which could be well beyond their ability to pay.

Congressman Huizenga responded that the disabled can receive coverage on Medicare, but I pointed out that people with chronic medical problems are not necessarily disabled, especially if they receive adequate medical treatment. Someone with diabetes, for example, can live and work for many years with the condition. However, without adequate care, twenty years down the road they are far more likely to develop problems such as heart attacks, strokes, and renal failure.

The Congressman’s philosophy on limited government (which, like most Republicans, is terribly selective, ignoring everything from infringements on reproductive rights to today’s revised anti-Muslim travel ban), also influenced his responses. Before his arrival I had discussed with others how market solutions have not worked well, with insurance companies having developed a business strategy based upon collecting premiums and then finding ways to deny care. Congressman Huizenga brought up irrelevant matters such as restrictions on choice present in Canada and other countries which Americans might not tolerate. The typical Republican scare stories. My response was simply that we do not have to adopt the restrictions which he mentioned, regardless of what other countries have done. One point I did not manage to get in was that in the United States, private insurance plans are often far more restrictive on the choices which patients and physicians can make than the government Medicare program is.

The physicians present generally saw Obamacare as an improvement over the previous system, but not going far enough, with Medicare for All being seen as a preferable solution. As a couple of us discussed afterwards, this is a far easier sell for physicians, who see first hand the amount of time and money wasted in having to deal with multiple different insurance companies, with  multiple different sets of rules. Plus this has the huge advantage of taking the astronomical profits received by the insurance industry, and using that money to actually provide health care. (Medicare for All was promoted by Bernie Sanders in the 2016 nomination battle, leading to politically-based opposition from Hillary Clinton.)

If Medicare for All is too hard a sell immediately, I, and others, suggested phasing it in. I also mentioned ideas such as the public option and the Medicare buy-in which were considered when the ACA was being written, but died when the two most conservative Senators voting with the Democrats (Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson) opposed the ideas. Either would help with the high costs on the individual market.

The  higher cost for caring for older individuals, with some of that cost spread to the premiums of younger purchasers, is a major problem in health care coverage.  I doubt insurance companies even want to cover their older customers, who are responsible for the bulk of their costs. Either outright lower the Medicare age (even if gradually, such as initially to 50 or 55, and ultimately to around 40) or allow a Medicare buy-in.

After the Congressman left, his Legislative Director remained for a brief time and suggested that Americans would not go for expanding a government program such as Medicare. While a typical Republican thought, it does not hold up. I pointed out that we all do wind up on a government program, with most people going on Medicare at age 65. Not only are Americans failing to rebel at the though of going on Medicare at age 65, many look forward to the opportunity. Remember all those tea party protests with signs like “Keep Government Out Of My Medicare.”

My parting comment to Congressman Huizenga before he left was that Republicans must move beyond their anti-Obama rhetoric and actually address the problem. I related how for the past eight years I have often heard patients blame Obama for anything wrong with the health care system, even if it was over matters not even related to the Affordable Care Act. However, in early January, before Donald Trump even took office, I started to hear patients blame Trump for their healthcare problems. Republicans now “own” healthcare and must deliver.

I have my doubts as to whether the plan released today does deliver, but I do want to take a look at the details beyond what is in the initial news stories I have read.

Trump Returns To Madman Role In Tweets Accusing Obama Of Wiretapping His Phone

The attempts to portray Donald Trump as a sane president in his speech before Congress earlier in the week were destroyed in a series of Tweets this morning. Without citing any evidence, Donald Trump accused Barack Obama of having wiretapped his phones prior to the election. The Tweets said:

Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!

Is it legal for a sitting President to be “wire tapping” a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!

I’d bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!

How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!

This round was preceded by a Tweet accusing the Obama administration of setting up Jeff Sessions, and followed by a Tweet attacking Arnold  Schwarzenegger (who recently announced he is leaving Celebrity Apprentice).

Trump’s speech on Tuesday, received strong approval in the polls and the stock market soared. There were subsequently questions as to whether Trump was at least managing to act sane in public, and the Trump administration even postponed the release of the updated travel ban to take advantage of the positive reception. By late in the week, the news was dominated by stories of Attorney General Jeff Sessions having lied to the Senate about having met with the Russian ambassador. This does look like a warped response by Trump to the negative stories, and resolves any questions as to whether Trump is capable of changing his behavior.

While no evidence was cited, it appears Trump is repeating thing being said on right wing talk radio and at Breitbart. Once again, it is hard to take Trump’s attacks on “fake news” seriously when he, and his administration, have become the major source of spreading “alternative news.”

Former deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes Tweeted in response to Trump: “No President can order a wiretap. Those restrictions were put in place to protect citizens like you.”

The New York Times adds:

Mr. Trump’s aides declined to clarify whether the president’s explosive allegations were based on briefings from intelligence or law enforcement officials, or on something else, like a news report. A spokesman for Mr. Obama did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The president’s decision to lend the power of his office to such an accusation — without offering any proof — is remarkable, even for a leader who has repeatedly shown himself willing to make assertions that are false or based on rumors.

It would have been difficult for federal agents, working within the law, to obtain a wiretap order to target Mr. Trump’s phone conversations. That would mean the Justice Department had gathered sufficient evidence to persuade a federal judge that there was probable cause to believe that he had committed a serious crime or was an agent of a foreign power, depending on whether it was a criminal or foreign intelligence wiretap.

Politico reports that Trump’s top aides were caught off guard:

Trump’s top aides were caught off guard by the tweets Saturday morning, a senior administration official said. The president is scheduled to spend a quiet day golfing and relaxing at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla. After several days without a controversial tweet and a relative message discipline following his speech to Congress Tuesday evening, Trump’s angry Twitter tirade marked a return to form—and a trusted tactic of turning around the exact words being used against him on his opponents.

All We Hear About Is Trump, But The Resistance Is Winning (So Far)

If you feel that all we hear about these days is Donald Trump, you are right. Due to a combination of factors including his breaks with conventional norms and his own use of social media, Donald Trump is dominating the news more than is usual for a newly-elected president. His impact on the media extends beyond the conventional news. Farhad Manjoo even found a way to measure this:

Consider data from mediaQuant, a firm that measures “earned media,” which is all coverage that isn’t paid advertising. To calculate a dollar value of earned media, it first counts every mention of a particular brand or personality in just about any outlet, from blogs to Twitter to the evening news to The New York Times. Then it estimates how much the mentions would cost if someone were to pay for them as advertising.

In January, Mr. Trump broke mediaQuant’s records. In a single month, he received $817 million in coverage, higher than any single person has ever received in the four years that mediaQuant has been analyzing the media, according to Paul Senatori, the company’s chief analytics officer. For much of the past four years, Mr. Obama’s monthly earned media value hovered around $200 million to $500 million. The highest that Hillary Clinton got during the presidential campaign was $430 million, in July.

It’s not just that Mr. Trump’s coverage beats anyone else’s. He is now beating pretty much everyone else put together. Mr. Senatori recently added up the coverage value of 1,000 of the world’s best known figures, excluding Mr. Obama and Mr. Trump. The list includes Mrs. Clinton, who in January got $200 million in coverage, Tom Brady ($38 million), Kim Kardashian ($36 million), and Vladimir V. Putin ($30 million), all the way down to the 1,000th most-mentioned celebrity in mediaQuant’s database, the actress Madeleine Stowe ($1,001).

The coverage those 1,000 people garnered last month totaled $721 million. In other words, Mr. Trump gets about $100 million more in coverage than the next 1,000 famous people put together. And he is on track to match or beat his January record in February, according to Mr. Senatori’s preliminary figures.

This includes Trump dominating conversation beyond the news. He is everywhere on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, and Reddit. He comes up elsewhere:

It wasn’t just news. Mr. Trump’s presence looms over much more. There he is off in the wings of “The Bachelor” and even “The Big Bang Theory,” whose creator, Chuck Lorre, has taken to inserting anti-Trump messages in the closing credits. Want to watch an awards show? Say the Grammys or the Golden Globes? TrumpTrumpTrump. How about sports? Yeah, no. The president’s policies are an animating force in the N.B.A. He was the subtext of the Super Bowl: both the game and the commercials, and maybe even the halftime show.

It is impossible to ignore Trump. His impact has been seen in many areas already, but probably the most on immigration. This excites the haters on the right, and is met with appalled criticism from others. The New York Times is not exaggerating in writing, Mr. Trump’s ‘Deportation Force’ Prepares an Assault on American Values.

Probably the most fearful narrative about Donald Trump is that he is an authoritarian, in Putin’s mold. There has been increased attention paid to George Orwell’s  1984 and other books about authoritarianism. Jonathan Chait has looked at these fears:

The prospect that President Trump will degrade or destroy American democracy is the most important question of the new political era. It has received important scholarly attention from two basic sources, which have approached it in importantly different fashions. Scholars of authoritarian regimes (principally Russia) have used their knowledge of authoritarian history to paint a road map by which Trump could Putinize this country. Timothy Snyder, Masha Gessen, and other students of Putin’s methods have essentially treated Putinization as the likely future, and worked backward to the present. A second category of knowledge has come from scholars of democracy and authoritarianism, who have compared the strengths and weaknesses of the American system of government both to countries elsewhere that have succumbed to authoritarianism and those that have not. Their approach has, more appropriately, treated Trump’s authoritarian designs as an open question. Trump might launch an assault on the foundations of the republic. On the other hand, he might not.

What are the signs of impending authoritarianism? Trump has rhetorically hyped violence, real or imaginary, committed by enemy groups, while downplaying or ignoring violence or threats from friendlier sources. He said nothing about a white-supremacist terror attack in Canada that killed six people before denouncing a knife attack a few days later by an Islamist radical in France that killed nobody. He quickly directed a government program on countering violent extremism to focus exclusively on Muslim radicalism and stop work halting white-supremacist terrorism. Just as he urged his campaign crowds to rough up protesters, he treated news that pro-Trump bikers would patrol his inauguration not as a threat to create chaos but as a welcome paramilitary force. “That’s like additional security with those guys, and they’re rough,” he gleefully told reporters. Trump’s rhetoric follows a pattern of politicizing violence, simultaneously justifying stringent government action against enemies he has designated while tacitly justifying vigilantism by extremists sympathetic to his cause.

Since his election, Trump has obsessively fabricated a narrative in which he is the incarnate of the will of the people. According to his own concocted history, he won a historically large Electoral College victory, and would have also won the popular vote if not for millions of illegal votes. He has dismissed protesters against him as paid agents, denied the legitimacy of courts to overrule his actions, and, most recently, called mainstream media “enemies of the people.” This is an especially chilling phrase to hear from an American president. Totalitarian dictators like Stalin and Mao used designation of a political figure or a social class as an “enemy of the people” as a prelude to mass murder.

Fortunately, while Trump has done many undesirable things, the talk of the loss of American democracy remains only talk. Checks and balances on the presidency still work. We are seeing the start of a strong anti-Trump protest movement. While far too many liberals were willing to ignore Hillary Clinton’s extremist positions on American interventionism, with many even defending her positions on Iraq, Libya, and Syria, and ignore her views on restricting civil liberties which are nearly as far right as those of Donald Trump, the left (and others) are already forming a resistance against Trump. Chait notes that, at least for now, the resistance has the upper hand:

It is worth noting that, so far, normal political countermobilization seems to be working quite well. “The Resistance,” as anti-Trump activists have come to be known, has already rattled the once-complacent Republican majorities in Congress, which Trump needs to quash investigations of his corruption and opaque ties to Russia. Whatever pressure Trump has tried to apply to the news media has backfired spectacularly. His sneering contempt has inspired a wave of subscriptions that have driven new revenue to national media, which have blanketed the administration with independent coverage. Popular culture outlets, rather than responding to Trump’s election by tempering their mockery, have instead stepped it up, enraging the president.

The most plausible (to me) mechanism by which Trump might ensconce himself in power was laid out by Matthew Yglesias three months ago. The scenario Yglesias described would be one in which Trump used the authority of the federal government to compel large firms to give him political support. Companies that opposed him, or who even refused to offer support, might be punished with selectively punitive regulation, while those that played ball might be rewarded with lax enforcement of labor, antitrust, or other regulation.

So far there is no evidence such a scenario is playing out. To be sure, Trump is attempting, sporadically, to bully the private sector. But the effort has backfired. Firms whose leaders make favorable statements about the president have seen their stock get hammered. A long list of prominent CEOs has openly criticized Trump. The reason for this is obvious. Trump’s supporters may have disproportionate power in the Electoral College, but his opponents have disproportionate power in the marketplace. Firms cater in their advertising to the young, who overwhelming oppose Trump, rather than to the old, who strongly support him.

If Trump has a plan to crush his adversaries, he has not yet revealed it. His authoritarian rage thus far is mostly impotent, the president as angry Fox-News-watching grandfather screaming threats at his television that he never carries out. The danger to the republic may come later, or never. In the first month of Trump’s presidency, the resistance has the upper hand.

Donald Trump’s Lying Streak Since Taking Office

The 2016 election was a contest between two of the most dishonest politicians in America, with Donald Trump probably taking the lead in this category. Donald Trump has continued to behave the same since taking office with The Washington Post’s Fact Checker keeping score. He counted 132 false or misleading claims in his first 33 days in office, with at least one per day. Many of these were fairly significant:

Donald Trump earned 59 Four-Pinocchio ratings as a presidential candidate. Now that he’s president, he has continued his proclivity for making dubious, misleading or false statements. He also often repeats the same debunked claims even though they have been fact-checked. It’s hard to keep up with all of Trump’s rhetoric, so the Fact Checker is assembling in one place all of his suspect statements from his first 100 days as president. You can sort them by various categories and see how many times he has repeated the same false statement.

The most frequent topic of these claims is immigration, which came up 24 times. Other frequent topics are biographical record (17 claims) and jobs (17 claims).

The most common source of false claims was Twitter, but there were also plenty in other remarks, prepared speeches, and interviews.

Will this matter? Chris Cillizza questions whether people care:

Will that affect Trump’s political future? Perhaps less than you might think. In a Fox News poll conducted earlier this month, 45 percent of people said they trust his administration more than the media to tell the truth to the public while 42 percent said they trust the media more. That distrust of the media coupled with Trump’s aggressive efforts to discredit the press make stats like those above irrelevant to many of his supporters.

It is understandable why Donald Trump has been attacking the press, including calling the news media an enemy of the people. While this is having some success, polls have also been showing a drop in support for Trump.

Donald Trump Versus Freedom Of The Press

Donald Trump got off to what might be the worst first month of a presidency since William Henry Harrison (who died after his first month in office). While  the apparently impotent White House chief of staff Reince Priebus denies it is a reset, The Washington Post reports that Trump attempts a reset with a rally, new staff and a renewed fight with the media. Regardless of whether it is part of a reset, Donald Trump appears to be further escalating his war on the media. This includes some of his latest Tweets, such as this one proclaiming the media to be “the enemy of the American People.”

Balloon Juice responded to the Tweet in asking if Trump is “a paranoid, unhinged demagogue who doesn’t understand the role of the press in a free society.”

The news media, broadcast more than press, does have serious problems, but we must not confuse legitimate criticism of the media with opposition to the free press, or ignore the importance of the role of the press in a free society. Just look at Donald Trump’s Twitter account, or watch his last press conference. Imagine if there was no free press, and this was our main source of information. Look at the media in totalitarian societies. With all failings of the news media, their reporting is far more representative of reality than what we would get from Trump. As John McCain warned, “That’s how dictators get started.”

CHUCK TODD: I’m curious of your reaction to a tweet that the president sent Friday night. “The fake news media, failing New York Times, NBC News, ABC, CBS, CNN is not my enemy. It is the enemy of the American people.” You believe the press is the enemy? You believe any group of Americans are the enemy of another group of Americans?

JOHN MCCAIN: I was talking about the period as, you know, of the new world order. A fundamental part of that new world order was a free press. I hate the press. I hate you especially. But the fact is we need you. We need a free press. We must have it. It’s vital. If you want to preserve – I’m very serious now – if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started.

CHUCK TODD: That’s how dictators get started, with tweets like that?

JOHN MCCAIN: No. They get started by suppressing free press. In other words, a consolidation of power when you look at history, the first thing that dictators do is shut down the press. And I’m not saying that President Trump is trying to be a dictator. I’m just saying we need to learn the lessons of history.

Daniel Politi put this in further historical perspective at Slate:

Trump blasting the news media is nothing new, of course. Even a day earlier, Trump uttered the phrase “fake news” seven times during a White House news conference. Yet labeling the media the “enemy of the American people” seemed to take things to a new level and many quickly drew parallels to tyrants throughout history that were fond of the phrase. Although it harkens back to ancient Rome, many remember that the phrase was used during the purges ordered by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. “It is one of the most controversial phrases in Soviet history,” explained Mitchell Orenstein, professor of Russian and East European studies at the University of Pennsylvania. “What it basically meant was a death sentence.”

The expression was also a favorite of China’s Mao Zedong, who used the “enemies of the people” label against anyone who opposed his policies. Identifying and later punishing those enemies was central to Mao’s rule. A Chinese journalist, Li Yuan, pointed out the parallel on Twitter, noting that “every dissenting voice was ‘the enemy of the people’ under Mao.”

Beijing seems to be welcoming this fresh attack on the news media with glee. China’s state-run newspaper Global Times noted in an editorial that Trump’s “war with mainstream media” would make it difficult for the president to challenge Beijing on “ideological” issues such as human rights. “His war with mainstream media makes it difficult for Trump to ally with the media on [the] ideological front against China,” the newspaper said. “Many have predicted that Trump’s presidency would exacerbate the recession of liberalism.”

Presumably we will also hear some Democrats speaking out against Trump, but far too often they give the impression of opposing Trump more based upon opposition politics and not principles. The Democratic Party has put itself in a poor position to defend civil liberties after nominating someone with as conservative a record on First Amendment issues as Hillary Clinton in 2016. (The nomination of Clinton similarly weakens the position of Democrats on foreign policy and matters of government corruption.)

While written before his latest attack on the media, Jonathan Rauch looked at comparable problems under Richard Nixon and George Bush when writing Containing Trump for the The Atlantic:

The 45th president, Donald Trump, might pose the gravest threat to the constitutional order since the 37th. Of course, he might not. Perhaps we’ll get Grown-up Trump, an unorthodox and controversial president who, whatever one may think of his policies and personality, proves to be responsible and effective as a chief executive. But we might get Infantile Trump, an undisciplined narcissist who throws tantrums and governs haphazardly. Or perhaps, worse yet, we’ll get Strongman Trump, who turns out to have been telegraphing his real intentions when, during the campaign, he spread innuendo and misinformation, winked at political violence, and proposed multiple violations of the Constitution and basic decency. Quite probably we’ll get some combination of all three (and possibly others).

If we get Strongman Trump or Infantile Trump, how would we protect our democratic institutions and norms? “Don’t be complacent,” warns Timothy Naftali, a New York University historian who was the founding director of the Nixon presidential library. “Don’t assume the system is so strong that a bad president will be sent packing. We have someone now saying things that imply unconstitutional impulses. If he acts on those impulses, we’re going to be in the political struggle of our lifetimes.” Meeting that challenge, I think, hinges on whether civil society can mobilize to contain and channel Trump. Fortunately, that’s happening already.

It’s tempting to think of Trump as a fluke, and to believe that at the end of his administration everything will return to normal. Many people hold a darker view, though—among them Yascha Mounk, the co-founder of a new watchdog group called After Trump. A lecturer on government at Harvard and a fellow at the New America Foundation, Mounk thinks the stakes are high. “Most people,” he told me, “are thinking about Trump as a policy problem: how he will lead to the deportation of undocumented immigrants or lead the U.S. to pull out of the Paris climate agreement. But I think Trump is also potentially an authoritarian threat to the survival of liberal democracy.”

The bad news is that we are not seeing any signs of this fictional Grown-up Trump. The good news is that resistance is already mounting to Strongman Trump and Infantile Trump:

“Civil society had a huge and unprecedented impact during the Bush administration,” Goldsmith told me. The networks that constrained Bush are still there, and Trump has put them on red alert. “Every single thing he does will be scrutinized with an uncharitable eye,” Goldsmith said. “That’s true of most presidents, but it’s true to an even greater degree with Trump.”

The forces are already mobilizing. In the first five days after the election, the American Civil Liberties Union saw what it called the greatest outpouring of support in its history: more than $7 million from 120,000 contributors, a 25 percent increase in Facebook followers (to nearly 1 million), and 150,000 additions to its email list. By early January, the ACLU had raised an impressive $35 million online, from almost 400,000 contributors. Meanwhile, according to Politico, progressive donors were discussing “forming a liberal equivalent to the right’s Judicial Watch, which spent much of the past eight years as a thorn in the Obama administration’s side, filing legal petitions under the Freedom of Information Act.”

I have seen evidence of mobilization firsthand. Just days after the election, a friend told me that he and others were organizing a network of law firms willing to provide pro bono legal services to people fending off harassment or bullying by the new administration or its allies. Before November was out, the Niskanen Center, a center-right think tank in Washington, announced a project to bring together intellectuals and activists and politicians (especially Republicans) to make the case for liberal democracy, hold the line against incursions, and try to prevent Trump’s excesses from being normalized. “It’s important for people coming from the center and center-right to resist the forces and ideas coming out of the Donald Trump campaign,” Jerry Taylor, the center’s director, told me. “We’ll be keeping a very close eye on administration undertakings and events on Capitol Hill, and when things cross the line we will be energetically pushing back.”

Update: Trump Continues To Receive Criticism For His Attacks On The News Media

Two Down In Trump Administration

Two days ago I wrote about how James Flynn was on thin ice, and that Andrew Puzder’s confirmation as Labor secretary were in jeopardy. Later that day Flynn was forced to resign, and today Puzder has withdrawn his nomination.

Both the choices of Flynn and Puzder were examples of poor management from Donald Trump and a failure to perform traditional vetting. The Puzder withdrawal is a fairly straightforward story, but Flynn’s resignation has only led to many additional questions which do require further investigation.

Objective people recognize that there was something improper with Flynn lying to both Vice President Pence and the American people, and with the attempted cover-up by the Trump administration. We have no way to know the degree to which Flynn was acting on his own or under the direction of Donald Trump. We do know that Trump waited three weeks after being informed of Flynn’s calls (regardless of what he might have known previously) to take action. We do not know the full story regarding contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence.

We are seeing considerable partisan hypocrisy here, such as in Rand Paul saying it would not make sense to investigate other Republicans. The Republicans who refuse to acknowledge the importance of the Flynn scandal, or question how much leads directly to Trump, sound just like the Democrats who refused to acknowledge the importance of Clinton’s scandals. Partisan politics creates such blindness. This deserves to be investigated regardless of your overall opinion of Trump, and regardless of where you stood in the race between Clinton and Trump.

Of course, while we have strong reasons for further investigations, this does not mean we should buy into every claim made about Trump without evidence. There is no evidence that Trump knew anything until three weeks ago. There is no evidence tying Trump to any attempts to influence the election the results. Claims about Trump’s business dealings with Russians appear to be exaggerated but we should have more information including, but not limited to, his tax returns for further evaluation.  We need to get the facts before coming to conclusions.

There has been a lot of anti-Russia hysteria being spread by Clinton and her neocon allies. The Clinton camp has strong reasons of their own to distort the facts, stemming from both their history of hostility towards Russia and their use of Russia as an excuse for their loss. Clinton lost because she was a terrible candidate and ran a terrible campaign, regardless of what Russia did. We need to find out exactly what Russia did without jumping to conclusions based upon hysteria being created for political reasons.

Dan Rather, who has considerable experience in White House cover-ups, compared this to Watergate:

Watergate is the biggest political scandal of my lifetime, until maybe now. It was the closest we came to a debilitating Constitutional crisis, until maybe now. On a 10 scale of armageddon for our form of government, I would put Watergate at a 9. This Russia scandal is currently somewhere around a 5 or 6, in my opinion, but it is cascading in intensity seemingly by the hour. And we may look back and see, in the end, that it is at least as big as Watergate. It may become the measure by which all future scandals are judged. It has all the necessary ingredients, and that is chilling.

When we look back at Watergate, we remember the end of the Nixon Presidency. It came with an avalanche, but for most of the time my fellow reporters and I were chasing down the story as it rumbled along with a low-grade intensity. We never were quite sure how much we would find out about what really happened. In the end, the truth emerged into the light, and President Nixon descended into infamy.

This Russia story started out with an avalanche and where we go from here no one really knows. Each piece of news demands new questions. We are still less than a month into the Trump Presidency, and many are asking that question made famous by Tennessee Senator Howard Baker those many years ago: “What did the President know, and when did he know it?” New reporting suggests that Mr. Trump knew for weeks. We can all remember the General Michael Flynn’s speech from the Republican National Convention – “Lock her up!” in regards to Hillary Clinton. If Hillary Clinton had done one tenth of what Mr. Flynn had done, she likely would be in jail. And it isn’t just Mr. Flynn, how far does this go?

The White House has no credibility on this issue. Their spigot of lies – can’t we finally all agree to call them lies – long ago lost them any semblance of credibility. I would also extend that to the Republican Congress, who has excused away the Trump Administration’s assertions for far too long.

We need an independent investigation. Damn the lies, full throttle forward on the truth. If a scriptwriter had approached Hollywood with what we are witnessing, he or she would probably have been told it was way too far-fetched for even a summer blockbuster. But this is not fiction. It is real and it is serious. Deadly serious. We deserve answers and those who are complicit in this scandal need to feel the full force of justice.

He is right. This all needs to be settled by finding the facts–not by ideology or partisanship.

A Way Too Early Look At The 2020 Election, Including A Pundit’s Prediction That Clinton Will Run Again

Yesterday I looked at very early discussions from pundits and pollsters regarding the 2018 Congressional elections. It is far too early to say what will happen, but at least there is old data correlating presidential approval ratings and changes in seat in the midterm elections. There are also pundits with way too early predictions as to the 2020 presidential elections, including one predicting that Hillary Clinton will not only run again, but win the Democratic nomination. Fortunately any predictions made today have a good chance of not coming true.

The New York Post looks at who the Trump White House sees as potential challengers, claiming that they are already working on finding negative information on them. A lot will change between now and 2020 and any predictions are risky. Who would have predicted that Barack Obama would be the nominee four years before he ran? However, it is interesting to see who the Trump White House is concerned about, assuming that the Post has reliable information as to their thoughts:

Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, asked consultants to scour the backgrounds of four outspoken Democrats — Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, two sources close to the administration said.

“The White House political department wants people to start looking into them,” said one source close to the White House. “Trump is obsessed with running for re-election.”

Both Murphy, a freshman senator who has lambasted Trump’s immigration orders, and Brown, a 10-year Senate vet who made Hillary Clinton’s VP short list, are seen as viable threats who can quickly raise money and build a network of supporters, the sources said.

Hickenlooper, who founded a brewery before becoming governor of the Western swing state, is seen as a less-combative rising star, the sources said.

But the White House’s “biggest fear” is that Cuban, a billionaire businessman, would run because he can appeal to Republicans and independents, the sources said.

“He’s not a typical candidate,” the second insider said. “He appeals to a lot of people the same way Trump did.”

This could be one reason that Trump is attacking Cuban, not that he needs any reason to attack anyone who has been critical of him.

Making predictions based upon age is risky, but reportedly they have eliminated not only Bernie Sanders but Elizabeth Warren as possibilities due to being too old. They eliminated Kirsten Gillibrand, believing she is too young. The Post also says, “Trump’s political team is also counting out Cuomo and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, because they’ve been tainted by corruption probes.” The nomination of Hillary Clinton in 2016 showed that being tainted by corruption might not be a disqualification.

I would hope that the Democrats have learned their lesson and would not consider nominating Clinton again, but Matt Latimer predicts in Politco Magazine that not only will Clinton run again, but that she will win the nomination. His evidence for why he thinks she plans to run could indicate such plans, but is hardly conclusive. It is also conceivable that she wants to remain in the public eye, and rehabilitate her reputation, without plans to run. While perhaps she should take this advice, I really doubt that this is what she will do:

Hillary Clinton has 100 percent name ID, a personal fortune and a bastion of loyalists. She could enter the race at the last possible moment—at the behest of the people, of course—and catch her Democratic Party rivals by surprise. To soften her reputation as a programmed, overly cautious and polarizing figure, Clinton should eschew the front-runner label and run as an underdog, praising the other candidates and their proposals, opening up her campaign bus to the press corps and offering to have a freewheeling debate with any major rival, at any time, and anywhere.

It is possible she could win again, especially if their is a divided field without a clear front runner as he predicts, but based upon Clinton’s past I doubt this is what she will do. If she wants to run, her first instincts will be to once again try to clear the field and start running early with claims of inevitability.

Opening up to the press corps is the last thing Hillary Clinton would feel comfortable doing. She will continue to oppose liberal views which are far outside of her comfort zone. She certainly does not want to agree to frequent or freewheeling debates. Clinton knew exactly what she was doing when she tried to get the DNC to set a limit of four debates (with the DNC agreeing to limit it to six). Postponing the first debate until fairly late in the cycle made it harder for other candidates to establish themselves. Initially, due to her long experience in politics, she did dominate the debates. However, as Sanders developed experience in debating her, and the fact checkers reviewed her falsehoods, the debates turned against her, such as before the Michigan primary (which foreshadowed her general election loss). If there had been multiple debates starting earlier in the process, I doubt Clinton would have won the nomination.

Regardless of whether Clinton can win the nomination, I hope that Democrats have learned their lesson after loses in 2010, 2014, and 2016. Running as a Republican-lite party does not work. Democrats need to run their best possible candidate in 2020, not one so weak that she could not beat Donald Trump. It is especially important for Democrats to regain control of some of the state legislatures they have lost prior to redistricting in 2020, and a weak candidate on top of the ticket will make this more difficulty. Even if Clinton could win, after Trump we do not need a conservative DLC-type Democrat and neocon in the White House.

Opposition To Trump Could Cost Republicans Control Of Congress

I have said many times that the party winning the 2016 presidential election would very likely suffer for it, considering how flawed and unpopular both candidates were. If Hillary Clinton had won, most likely we would see Democrats lose further seats in Congress and the state legislatures in 2018 and 2020. Opposition to Donald Trump should help the Democrats, especially with Hillary Clinton not on the ballot. The elections will largely be a referendum on Donald Trump. Will Jordan recently showed that historically a president with an approval rating as low as Trump’s typically  loses thirty-nine House seats, with the Democrats needing twenty-four votes to retake the House. Larry Sabato had similar findings:

History is on the Democrats’ side: The president’s party has lost ground in the House in 36 of 39 midterms since the Civil War. The average loss is 33 seats, a shift in seats that would flip the House next year. Unpopular presidents can galvanize the opposition — and Democrats already seem highly engaged in battling Trump — and President Trump’s approval rating is already underwater in some polls, meaning he hasn’t had much of a honeymoon. Of course, there’s plenty of time for that to change, both positively and negatively for the president.

While it is far too early to be certain that Trump’s approval rating will remain at its currently low levels, there is considerable cause for concern among Republican House members. This is exacerbated by the complaints many are seeing from their constituents. CNN has reported on the anger at Republican town halls and  The Washington Post reports that Swarming crowds and hostile questions are the new normal at GOP town halls:

Republicans in deep-red congressional districts spent the week navigating massive crowds and hostile questions at their town hall meetings — an early indication of how progressive opposition movements are mobilizing against the agenda of the GOP and President Trump.

Angry constituents swarmed events held by Reps. Jason Chaffetz (Utah), Diane Black (Tenn.), Justin Amash (Mich.) and Tom McClintock (Calif.). They filled the rooms that had been reserved for them; in Utah and Tennessee, scores of activists were locked out. Voters pressed members of Congress on their plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, on the still-controversial confirmation of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and even on a low-profile vote to disband an election commission created after 2000.

House Republicans had watched footage earlier this week of McClintock’s raucous town hall in northern California and his police-assisted exit — a warning of what might come. And with Congress scheduled for a week-long recess and a raft of additional town halls starting Feb. 18, the warning may have been warranted…

Remembering how voter anger and heated town halls helped end Democratic control of Congress in 2010, Republicans have begun taking security precautions. Some have avoided in-person town halls, holding forums on Facebook or by telephone instead. Many were briefed on security recommendations for public events and their district offices at a closed-door meeting led by Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), a former county sheriff.

If the Democrats are to retake Congress, it will depend on Trump’s popularity remaining low. Pollsters such as Mark Blumenthal are looking at both whether it is likely to remain low, and how low it can go:

One striking characteristic of Trump’s initial job rating is the relative intensity of disapproval. In our most recent full week of tracking, for example, far more Americans strongly disapprove of the way Trump is handling his job (41 percent) than strongly approve (29 percent). That gap means that Trump’s overall 46 percent approval rating includes 17 percent who only “somewhat approve” of his performance…

One of the themes of new administration, as the NBC News Politics team recently noted, is how “Trump picks fights with, well, almost anyone.” Those stories help reinforce the perception of his toughness and outspokenness.

The downside of these “sprays of attack,” as CNN’s Jake Tapper called them, are the “sprays of falsehoods coming from the White House” that accompany them. These controversies help further reinforce negative perceptions about Trump’s honesty forged during the campaign.

A second theme has been the flurry of initial executive actions that helped drive the sense, especially among Republicans, that Trump can get things done. But note that relative softness in perceptions of effectiveness among Trump’s least committed supporters. As the NBC Politics team points out, executive actions aside, the Trump team has made little progress so far on his “big ticket agenda items (Obamacare repeal and replace, tax relief, paying for that border wall).”

Again, it is very early in the Trump presidency and the long term trends in his approval rating will be influenced by the direction of economy and by war, peace and scandal, or the lack thereof. However, if the initial flurry of executive action gives way to gridlock and legislative stagnation, perceptions of Trump’s ability to “get things done” may atrophy, and with it, his overall approval rating.

We don’t know where Trump’s approval rating will be in 2018 and 2020. There are many factors beyond the actual actions of the president, and if the country is doing well despite Trump’s actions, the Republicans will benefit. However, the first three weeks of Trump’s presidency give Republicans a lot to worry about.

Country Now Evenly Divided On Impeachment Of Donald Trump

Donald Trump’s first three weeks in office have been a disaster, with Trump learning that being president is a hard job which he is not prepared for. Public Policy Polling shows that his support has dropped further from last week, with 46% both favoring and opposing impeachment:

PPP’s new national poll finds that Donald Trump’s popularity as President has declined precipitously just over the last two weeks. On our first poll of his Presidency voters were evenly divided on Trump, with 44% approving of him and 44% also disapproving. Now his approval rating is 43%, while his disapproval has gone all the way up to 53%. If voters could choose they’d rather have both Barack Obama (52/44) or Hillary Clinton (49/45) instead of Trump.

Just three weeks into his administration, voters are already evenly divided on the issue of impeaching Trump with 46% in favor and 46% opposed. Support for impeaching Trump has crept up from 35% 2 weeks ago, to 40% last week, to its 46% standing this week. While Clinton voters initially only supported Trump’s impeachment 65/14, after seeing him in office over the last few weeks that’s gone up already to 83/6.

While I don’t actually see impeachment as anything imminent, Common Dreams reports that, “On Thursday, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) filed a ‘resolution of inquiry’ that amounts to the first legislative step toward impeachment.”

The poll looked at several issues where support for Trump is falling. This includes Obamacare:

47% of voters now say they support the Affordable Care Act to only 39% who are opposed. It just keeps getting more popular. And only 32% think the best course of action to take on health care is repealing the ACA, while 65% would like Congress to keep it and just fix parts that need fixing.

More now oppose Trump’s executive order on immigration than back it. Among those in support, a strong majority see the Bowling Green Massacre as a reason for why it is needed.

Voters think he’s over reaching to make a country safe…that they already consider to be safe. 66% of Americans consider the United States to be a safe country, to only 23% who consider it unsafe. Perhaps as an outgrowth of that sentiment only 45% of voters support Trump’s Executive Order on immigration, to 49% who are opposed to it. Among those who do support it you have to wonder how well thought out their position is- by a 51/23 margin Trump voters say that the Bowling Green Massacre shows why Trump’s immigration policy is needed.

By a 48/43 spread, voters do think that the intent of the Executive Order is to be a Muslim ban. And just 22% support a Muslim ban, to 65% who are opposed. The order has also increasingly raised issues about Trump’s competence in voters’ eyes- only 27% think the Executive Order was well executed, to 66% who think it was poorly executed. The spread on that question was 39/55 when we asked last week.

Another aspect of voters already feeling safe is that they don’t want to pay for the wall with Mexico. Just 32% support a 20% tax on items imported to the United States from Mexico, to 55% who are opposed to that concept. And in general only 37% of voters want the wall if US taxpayers have to front the cost for it, to 56% who are against that.

Betsy DeVos is also unpopular. Protesters were trying to prevent Betsy DeVos from entering a public school. While I totally sympathize with their view of her, I’m not sure this is a good idea. I don’t know if she has ever even seen the inside of a public school before. It might be a good idea for her to see what a public school is like, and that they are not threatened by grizzly bears. If they did want to keep her out they might have dressed up as grizzly bears in burkas. What could be scarier to her? (For those not familiar with her record, see this post.)