The Democrats Are Hopelessly Lost

After terrible showings in the 2010, 2014, and 2016 elections, the Democratic establishment is looking for a solution. The Washington Post reports that they are going to announce a new slogan:

Completely sapped of power in Washington, top leaders of the Democratic Party now believe that the best way to fight a president who penned “The Art of the Deal” is with an economic agenda that they plan to call “A Better Deal.”

The campaign-style motto, panned by some liberal activists as details began to trickle out ahead of the Monday rollout, is designed to revive a party desperate to win back at least some control next year. The push comes months earlier than most campaign-year sales pitches begin — an acknowledgment of the need to shore up public opinion of the Democratic Party in the faster pace of modern politics.

Nancy Pelosi remains one of the captains of the sinking ship, saying this “is not a course correction, but it’s a presentation correction.” No, the Democrats need a full fledged course correction. The Democratic Party’s answer for the Titanic would be to find a better way to talk about the iceberg before hitting it.

At least there was one bit of sense in the article:

“When you lose to somebody who has 40 percent popularity, you don’t blame other things — Comey, Russia — you blame yourself,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in an interview previewing the new plan. “So what did we do wrong? People didn’t know what we stood for, just that we were against Trump. And still believe that.”

Unfortunately the new slogan still sounds like they are against Trump but otherwise stand for nothing. As Mahablog says, “The Democratic Party is like your unhip parents trying to be cool, and failing.”

The Democrats took the wrong lesson out of their loss. The conventional wisdom is that they lost because they concentrated on social issues as opposed to economics, but that is a misreading of their problem. They compromised so much on social issues with a socially conservative candidate such as Hillary Clinton that they had no chance to build a winning coalition on social issues. That does not mean that they should abandon liberal social issues entirely.

Just as they now look to abandoning social issues, they gave up on opposing neocon interventionism and support for civil liberties in 2016 with a candidate who was far right wing on both, throwing out their previous advantages over the agenda of George W. Bush. Democrats need to learn to walk and chew gum at the same time. Instead they focus on one voter group while giving others no reason to support them, and don’t even do a good job with the group they are focusing on.

The new slogan sounds like a watered-down copy of Bernie Sanders’ agenda. The Hill points out that Bernie Sanders is keeping the door open for 2020. Unfortunately the article points out that establishment Democrats oppose him, both because of Sanders being an independent, and as he is on their long list of people to blame for Hillary Clinton losing an election she should have been able to win. Establishment Democrats complain that Bernie Sanders is an independent and not a Democrat. In contrast, Sanders supporters complain about far more consequential matters, such as the Democratic establishment picking their nominees with an undemocratic process, the Democratic establishment choosing a neocon warmonger as their last nominee, and the Democratic establishment being in the pocket of corporate money.

Update:  The Democratic Leadership Has Failed To Give A Good Reason Why Their Party Should Continue To Exist

Clinton’s Popularity Continues To Decline, Possibly Affecting Democratic Voter Enthusiasm

Democrats lead in the generic Congressional polls, but there are warning signs for Democrats. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that by a 52 to 38 percent margin voters want Democrats to control Congress to be a check on Trump. However, 65 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning adults say they are “almost certain to vote,” only 57 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters say they are likely to vote.

There are probably many reasons why Democratic-leaning voters are less likely to vote, but the damage to the Democratic brand caused by the nomination by of Hillary Clinton in 2016 cannot be underestimated. For those who have voted Democratic in protest against the policies of the Bush administration, it was a great disappointment to see the Democrats nominate a candidate with essentially the same agenda. The undemocratic manner in which the party establishment essentially picks the nominees, despite the charade of a primary system, creates further disenchantment with the party. As bad a choice as Donald Trump was, at least he was nominated due to beating the establishment candidates in a year in which many voters from both parties did not want another Bush/Clinton, with the Republican establishment accepting the decision of its voters.

Normally losing candidates do better in the polls after the election. With Donald Trump doing such a terrible job and dropping in the polls, if she followed traditional patterns Hillary Clinton should be seeing a boost in her support. Instead a Bloomberg National Poll shows that Clinton’s support has declined and that she is even more unpopular than Donald Trump.

This is not based upon opposition to the party in general  as Barack Obama and Joe Biden’s popularity has increased since they left office, and Bernie Sanders has become the most popular politician in the country.

The poll doesn’t provide reasons for Clinton’s further decrease in popularity. Just losing to a candidate as terrible as Donald Trump further highlights how weak a candidate she was, with reports such as those in Shattered providing further confirmation. I would also bet that many people expressed positive views of Clinton in the context of an election campaign against Donald Trump, but now that the campaign is over have no reason to hide their distaste for her.

Clinton’s actions following her loss give additional reasons for an already unpopular politician to now receive even less support. Her frequent statements blaming others for her loss, while downplaying the serious mistakes she made, shows her lack of character. While her far right wing views on civil liberties has received too little attention, her call for Congressional action against fake news, which amounts to censorship of material critical of her, is alarming in light of her long standing support for restricting freedom of speech and dissent.

Clinton’s anti-Russia hysteria, going well beyond what has been proven in the investigations to date, might be fooling some Democratic partisans, but is alarming to others. Clinton does not benefit politically from the revelations involving the Trump administration and Russia when fear of world war with Russia was a motivating factor for some who voted for her. A recent study suggests that her ultra-hawkish views might have played a significant role in her loss. News out of Syria provides further reason to oppose Clinton, considering her push for greater interventionism, even to the point of risking direct conflict with Russia.

Clinton has been out of step with more liberal voters on other issues, including economics, trade, the drug war, and health care policy. While many Democratic leaning voters support a single-payer system (as promoted by people including Bernie Sanders and Al Gore), Hillary Clinton also showed she was out of step in campaigning against  Medicare-for-all.

It is hard for many independents, along with principled Democrats, to be enthusiastic about the Democrats after nominating a candidate which so many dislike for good reason. The attacks on liberals and progressives opposing Clinton from partisan Democrats, showing a gross lack of respect for the basic principles of democracy in thinking that those who oppose her had some obligation to vote for her, further alienates potential Democratic voters. If Democrats are to expand their base and win elections, they need to show more respect for the views of those who oppose their move to the right.

Democrats have done poorly in 2010, 2014, and again in 2016 after moving to the right and running as a Republican-lite party. Bloomberg reports that Democrats are again looking at promoting more conservative candidates in 2018, failing to learn that voters see no reason to turn out to vote for candidates who do not stand for anything. The Democrats should do well in 2018 in response to the Trump disaster, but they also appear capable of pulling defeat again out of what should be sure victory.

Over 2000 Civilian Deaths From Trump’s Air War In Less Than Six Months

Donald Trump said before he was inaugurated that he would “bomb the shit” out of ISIS. This is one of the few promises he has kept, and the consequence is a marked increase in the number of civilian deaths compared to under Barack Obama. The Daily Beast, in a study conducted with the watchdog organization Airwars, reports:

Civilian casualties from the U.S.-led war against the so-called Islamic State are on pace to double under President Donald Trump, according to an Airwars investigation for The Daily Beast.

Airwars researchers estimate that at least 2,300 civilians likely died from Coalition strikes overseen by the Obama White House—roughly 80 each month in Iraq and Syria. As of July 13, more than 2,200 additional civilians appear to have been killed by Coalition raids since Trump was inaugurated—upwards of 360 per month, or 12 or more civilians killed for every single day of his administration…

A number of factors appear responsible for the steep recent rise in civilian deaths—some policy-related, others reflecting a changing battlespace as the war enters its toughest phase. In one of his first moves as president, Trump ordered a new counter-ISIS plan be drawn up. Second on his list of requests were recommended “changes to any United States rules of engagement and other United States policy restrictions that exceed the requirements of international law regarding the use of force against ISIS.”

In short, Trump was demanding that the Pentagon take a fresh look at protections for civilians on the battlefield except those specifically required by international law. That represented a major shift from decades of U.S. military doctrine, which has generally made central the protection of civilians in war…

Though the U.S. military had shifted to such annihilation tactics—a change cited with glee by the Trump White House—Mattis claimed there have been no updates to U.S. rules of engagement. “There has been no change to our continued extraordinary efforts to avoid innocent civilian casualties,” he told reporters.

When Airwars asked the Department of Defense whether, once implemented, the new plan was expected to lead to more civilian casualties, officials did not answer the question and only pointed to Mattis’ remarks.

Yet beginning in March 2017—the month after Mattis handed over the new plan—Airwars began tracking a sharp rise in reported civilian fatalities from U.S.-led strikes against ISIS. In part this was due to the savagery of the battle for Mosul. But in Syria—where almost all strikes are American—likely civilian fatalities monitored by Airwars researchers increased five-fold even before the assault on Raqqa began.

There is much more detail in the full report.

This report is consistent with  a recent UN report cited by Reuters of ‘Staggering’ civilian deaths caused by US-led air strikes in Syria.

In comparing the number of civilian casualties since Donald Trump took office to those under Barack Obama, it should also be considered that Hillary Clinton had supported much greater military intervention in Syria than under Obama, which would probably have also lead to an increase in civilian deaths. There is no way to compare what the number of deaths would be under Clinton compared to Trump.

Last week I looked at a report on the failures from the U.S. war on terror. Another recent study suggested that her support for greater military interventionism might have cost Clinton the election.

Lessons From The Failed War On Terror

The United States has been at war in the Middle East since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, but has only been partially successful with regime change in Iraq, and far less successful in reducing terrorism. The United States has become the aggressor nation, with its actions only result in increasing anti-American sentiment and creating more “terrorists.” The “war on terror” started as a Republican mistake based upon lies under George W. Bush. Both major political parties now own this failure, with the Democrats nominating an ultra-hawkish candidate for president in 2016.

Hillary Clinton was not only one of the strongest proponents of the war in Iraq, making false claims of cooperation between Saddam and al Qaeda, but also was the major architect of the failed attempt at regime change in Libya, which was also based upon false claims. She also has pushed for greater intervention in Syria, including imposing a no-fly zone, which would have resulted in greater casualties, required U.S. troops on the ground to support, and would have put the United States into direct conflict with Russia. The revival of Cold War style anti-Russia hysteria and McCarthyism by establishment Democrats is also of great concern.

The Republican candidate, while less interested in interventionism, has been utterly incoherent on foreign policy. It is quite clear that Donald Trump’s claims of a secret plan to defeat ISIS were as imaginary as Richard Nixon’s secret plan to end the war in Vietnam. His only plan is more of the same type of counterproductive military attacks. At this point there are only signs of continued expansion of the warfare/surveillance state with no end in sight.

With both major political parties now becoming advocates of neoconservative interventionism, only third parties such as the Libertarian Party and the Green Party had a rational foreign policy position in 2016 opposing continued interventionism. In late June, the libertarian Cato Institute issued a policy paper entitled Step Back: Lessons for U.S. Foreign Policy from the Failed War on Terror. The full paper, along with an audio version, are available here.

Following is from the Executive Summary:

In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States launched an international war on terrorism defined by military intervention, nation building, and efforts to reshape the politics of the Middle East. As of 2017, however, it has become clear that the American strategy has destabilized the Middle East while doing little to protect the United States from terrorism.

After 15 years of considerable strategic consistency during the presidencies of George Bush and Barack Obama, Donald Trump now takes the reins having promised to “bomb the sh—” out of ISIS and “defeat them fast.” At the same time, however, Trump broke sharply in his campaign rhetoric from Republican orthodoxy on Iraq and Afghanistan. Whatever President Trump decides to do, an evaluation of the War on Terror should inform his policies.

We argue that the War on Terror failed. This failure has two fundamental—and related—sources. The first is the inflated assessment of the terror threat facing the United States, which led to an expansive counterterrorism campaign that did not protect Americans from terrorist attacks. The second source of failure is the adoption of an aggressive strategy of military intervention.

The lessons from the War on Terror indicate that it is time for the United States to take a different approach. Policymakers need to acknowledge that although terrorism is a serious concern, it represents only a modest security threat to the American homeland. Further, the United States should abandon the use of military intervention and nation building in the War on Terror. Instead, the United States should push regional partners to confront terrorist groups abroad, while the U.S. returns to an emphasis on the intelligence and law enforcement paradigm for combating the threat against the American homeland.

The Intercept On NSA Report Of Russian Hacking Attempt Prior To The Election

Previously claims of Russians “rigging” the election were primarily based upon the belief that Russia was responsible for release of the Wikileaks emails. This was also extended to still unsubstantiated claims of collusion with the Trump campaign. The Intercept now reports that there is evidence that Russia also attempted to hack computers connected to voter registration. From their report:

Russian military intelligence executed a cyberattack on at least one U.S. voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials just days before last November’s presidential election, according to a highly classified intelligence report obtained by The Intercept.

The top-secret National Security Agency document, which was provided anonymously to The Intercept and independently authenticated, analyzes intelligence very recently acquired by the agency about a months-long Russian intelligence cyber effort against elements of the U.S. election and voting infrastructure. The report, dated May 5, 2017, is the most detailed U.S. government account of Russian interference in the election that has yet come to light.

While the document provides a rare window into the NSA’s understanding of the mechanics of Russian hacking, it does not show the underlying “raw” intelligence on which the analysis is based. A U.S. intelligence officer who declined to be identified cautioned against drawing too big a conclusion from the document because a single analysis is not necessarily definitive…

The NSA analysis does not draw conclusions about whether the interference had any effect on the election’s outcome and concedes that much remains unknown about the extent of the hackers’ accomplishments. However, the report raises the possibility that Russian hacking may have breached at least some elements of the voting system, with disconcertingly uncertain results.

The NSA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence were both contacted for this article. Officials requested that we not publish or report on the top secret document and declined to comment on it. When informed that we intended to go ahead with this story, the NSA requested a number of redactions. The Intercept agreed to some of the redaction requests after determining that the disclosure of that material was not clearly in the public interest.

The report adds significant new detail to the picture that emerged from the unclassified intelligence assessment about Russian election meddling released by the Obama administration in January. The January assessment presented the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusions but omitted many specifics, citing concerns about disclosing sensitive sources and methods. The assessment concluded with high confidence that the Kremlin ordered an extensive, multi-pronged propaganda effort “to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.”

That review did not attempt to assess what effect the Russian efforts had on the election, despite the fact that “Russian intelligence obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple US state or local electoral boards.” According to the Department of Homeland Security, the assessment reported reassuringly, “the types of systems we observed Russian actors targeting or compromising are not involved in vote tallying.”

The NSA has now learned, however, that Russian government hackers, part of a team with a “cyber espionage mandate specifically directed at U.S. and foreign elections,” focused on parts of the system directly connected to the voter registration process, including a private sector manufacturer of devices that maintain and verify the voter rolls. Some of the company’s devices are advertised as having wireless internet and Bluetooth connectivity, which could have provided an ideal staging point for further malicious actions…

The full report has far more information on how the hacking was allegedly attempted. Of course note the tremendous number of qualifiers in this report, casting doubt as to whether we can believe a single report.

Shortly after the report was posted, the FBI arrested a contractor who allegedly released the report to The Intercept. The Daily Caller portrays the leaker as “A Bernie Supporter Who ‘Resists’ Trump.” I’m sure we will continue to see many attempts to politicize the news, but what is needed is the facts as to what Russia actually did, and whether there was any collusion from the Trump campaign, without using this to promote any political agendas.

It is premature to come to any conclusions, but so far there is a lot of suggestion of a cover-up from the Trump administration, including the firing of James Comey, but far less conclusive evidence of any initial crimes which they might be covering up. I have suspected that in the end this very well might come down to financial dealings on the part of Trump and his associates. Along these lines, NBC News is reporting that Congressional committees are looking into whether Jared Kushner was seeking a back channel with Russia in order to obtain a bailout for a Manhattan building he owns.

Such a reason makes more sense than the theories that this was tied into alleged collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign to rig the election. If there was really such collusion, there would have presumably been some sort of back channels already present prior to the election.

Update: The original post has been revised, primarily to clarify that the alleged hacking attempt was directed towards computers involved with voter registration, not voting machines themselves.

Donald Trump Thought He Could Negotiate End Of Cold War In 1980’s

There have been multiple stories in recent months about Donald Trump’s misplaced admiration for Vladimir Putin, but The Hollywood Reporter has uncovered a story about Trump being interested in an earlier Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev:

Donald Trump, in the mid-1980s, aggressively pursued an official government post to the USSR, according to a Nobel Peace Prize winner with whom Trump interacted at the time.

“He already had Russia mania in 1986, 31 years ago,” asserts Bernard Lown, a Boston-area cardiologist known for inventing the defibrillator and sharing the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize with a top Soviet physician in recognition of their efforts to promote denuclearization. Lown, now 95 and retired in Newton, Massachusetts, tells The Hollywood Reporter that Trump sought and secured a meeting with him in 1986 to solicit information about Mikhail Gorbachev. (Gorbachev had become the USSR’s head of state — and met with Lown — the year before.) During this meeting, Lown says, the fast-rising businessman disclosed that he would be reaching out to then-President Ronald Reagan to try to secure an official post to the USSR in order to negotiate a nuclear disarmament deal on behalf of the United States, a job for which Trump felt he was the only one fit.

“He said to me, ‘I hear you met with Gorbachev, and you had a long interview with him, and you’re a doctor, so you have a good assessment of who he is,'” Lown recalls. “So I asked, ‘Why would you want to know?’ And he responded, ‘I intend to call my good friend Ronnie,’ meaning Reagan, ‘to make me a plenipotentiary ambassador for the United States with Gorbachev.’ Those are the words he used. And he said he would go to Moscow and he’d sit down with Gorbachev, and then he took his thumb and he hit the desk and he said, ‘And within one hour the Cold War would be over!’ I sat there dumbfounded. ‘Who is this self-inflated individual? Is he sane or what?'”

On the one hand we see Trump was the same then as now in believing his knowledge and abilities are far beyond what they actually are.  On the other hand, nuclear disarmament and ending the Cold War were hardly bad goals.

Further in the article:

In an April 8, 1984, profile in The New York Times, Trump revealed that concern about a nuclear holocaust had plagued him since his uncle, the groundbreaking nuclear physicist Dr. John Trump, first spoke to him about it 15 years earlier. “His greatest dream is to personally do something about the problem,” wrote the TimesWilliam E. Geist (NBC anchor Willie Geist‘s father), “and, characteristically, Donald Trump thinks he has an answer to nuclear armament: Let him negotiate arms agreements — he who can talk people into selling $100 million properties to him for $13 million.” Geist continued, somewhat snarkily, “The idea that he would ever be allowed to go into a room alone and negotiate for the United States, let alone be successful in disarming the world, seems the naive musing of an optimistic, deluded young man who has never lost at anything he has tried. But he believes that through years of making his views known and through supporting candidates who share his views, it could happen someday.”

Trump expounded on these ambitions in a Nov. 15, 1984, Washington Post profile at the urging, he said, of his mentor and lawyer Roy Cohn, who was best known as Joseph McCarthy‘s chief counsel during the Army-McCarthy hearings. The Post‘s Lois Romano asked Trump for specifics about how he would approach a U.S.-Soviet deal, and recounted how he demurred (using terms familiar to those who followed the 2016 presidential campaign): “‘I wouldn’t want to make my opinions public,’ he says. ‘I’d rather keep those thoughts to myself or save them for whoever else is chosen. … It’s something that somebody should do that knows how to negotiate and not the kind of representatives that I have seen in the past.’ He could learn about missiles, quickly, he says. ‘It would take an hour and a half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles. … I think I know most of it anyway. You’re talking about just getting updated on a situation.'”

In Ron Rosenbaum‘s November 1985 profile of Trump in Manhattan, Inc. magazine (later republished as part of the 1987 book Manhattan Passions: True Tales of Power, Wealth and Excess), Trump discussed his obsession with brokering this ultimate deal, stating, “Nothing matters as much to me now.” He coyly suggested that he already was “dealing at a very high level on this,” hinting at connections in Washington and at the White House, and that negotiators like him were needed: “There’s a vast difference between somebody who’s been consistently successful and somebody who’s been working for a relatively small amount of money in governmental service for many years, in many cases because the private sector, who have seen these people indirectly, didn’t choose to hire these people, any of them, because it didn’t find them to be particularly capable.”

By December 1985, Trump’s infatuation with negotiating a deal between the Americans and the Soviets was so widely known that The New York TimesGeorge Vecsey proclaimed, “People used to titter when Donald Trump said he wanted to broker a nuclear-arms reduction. … If the United States gave Donald Trump an official title and let him loose on the arms race, he might lay off on his threat to darken the western sky of Manhattan with his personal Brasilia North. Make peace, not skyscrapers, that’s the general idea.”

With his limited understanding of foreign policy and nuclear weapons I certainly have doubts about Trump’s ability to negotiate successfully with Russia, and bet that Putin would outsmart Trump in any deal. I also have my doubts as to whether the post-election attempts to open back channel lines of communication with Russia were for such benign purposes.  However, Trump’s stated goal of ending the Cold War is far more admirable than Hillary Clinton’s plans in recent years to return to Cold War  hostilities with Russia, despite the great dangers inherent in her policies.

More Bad News For Trump On Travel Ban, Russia Probe, And GOP Health Care Plan

There was yet another round of bad news for Donald Trump the last couple of days. This includes a federal appeals court refusing to reinstate Trump’s travel ban. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond ruled that this was a violation of the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion:

“Then-candidate Trump’s campaign statements reveal that on numerous occasions, he expressed anti-Muslim sentiment, as well as his intent, if elected, to ban Muslims from the United States,” Judge Gregory wrote. He cited, as an example, a 2015 statement calling for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our representatives can figure out what is going on.”

The travel ban is far more about prejudice than effective defense against terrorism. Donald Trump continues to show that his policies are counterproductive, most recently with police in the U.K. not wanting to share information with the United States due to leaks. Of course the biggest leaker of intelligence information in the Trump administration is probably Donald Trump himself.

There was additional bad news. Jared Kushner is reportedly under scrutiny by the FBI in the Russia probe. There are no specifics as to what his role was but the inclusion of Kushner is consistent with my suspicions that any misconduct by high administration officials will most likely turn out to be financial. Despite partisan claims, those involved with the investigation have consistently stated that there is no evidence of any collusion between Trump and the Russians with regards to meddling in the 2016 election. Without such collusion, any Russian meddling becomes of far less significance, representing the type of activity which both the United States and Russia has engaged in for decades. Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign showed how the Clinton campaign initiated a strategy to blame Clinton’s loss on others, such as Russia, within twenty-four hours of her loss. 

While no crimes have been proven on Trump’s part before being elected, there has been a suspicious pattern of cover-up–and most likely obstruction of justice with the firing of James Comey. Evidence of this was further increased this week when news came out that Trump had attempted to get two top intelligence officials to help him block the FBI investigation. The Washington Post reported:

President Trump asked two of the nation’s top intelligence officials in March to help him push back against an FBI investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and the Russian government, according to current and former officials.

Trump made separate appeals to the director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats, and to Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, urging them to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during the 2016 election.

Coats and Rogers refused to comply with the requests, which they both deemed to be inappropriate, according to two current and two former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private communications with the president.

Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans also received bad news this week when the Congressional Budget Office released their scoring of the House health care bill. Their report indicated that repealing ObamaCare in this nature would result in twenty-three million people losing health care coverage over ten years, and that many people with pre-existing conditions would find health insurance either unavailable or affordable.

Poll Shows More Voters Supporting Impeaching Trump; Health Care Puts House In Play

Public Policy Polling’s latest survey shows that only 40 percent of voters approve of the job Donald Trump is doing, which is better than the 36 percent approval in the latest Quinnipiac poll. For the first time PPP shows more voters (48 percent) in favor of impeaching Trump than are opposed (41 percent).

There is also bad news for Republicans as PPP found that health care has put control of the House in play:

Democrats now have a 49-38 lead overall on the generic Congressional ballot, up from 47-41 a month ago. Even more notable though is that among voters who say they’re ‘very excited’ to turn out in the 2018 election, the Democratic lead balloons to 27 points at 61-34. The outcome of lower turnout midterm elections often hinges on which side is more engaged, and Democrats have the clear advantage at this point on that front- 63% of their voters say they’re ‘very excited’ about voting in next year’s election, compared to only 52% of Republicans who say the same.

The American Health Care Act has been a complete disaster politically for Republicans.  Only 25% of voters support it, to 52% who are opposed. Even among Republican voters there’s only 49% support for the measure, while Democrats (76%) are considerably more unified in their opposition to it. Voters say by a 20 point margin that they’re less likely to vote for a member of Congress who supported the AHCA- just 27% say they’re more likely to vote for a pro-AHCA candidate, compared to 47% who are less likely to vote for one.

The health care debate has left Congress with a 15% approval rating and 68% of voters disapproving of it. Paul Ryan (25/59 approval) and Mitch McConnell (21/55 approval) are both very unpopular individually as well.

The current health care debate is also stoking new found respect for the Affordable Care Act. By a 53/27 spread, voters say they prefer the current ACA to the new AHCA. And just 29% of voters say they want to repeal the Affordable Care Act at this point, to 64% who would prefer to keep it and make fixes as necessary.

In other topics polled, only 37 percent support Donald Trump’s decision to fire James Comey, with 48 percent opposed.

This came before the latest controversy to affect Trump with stories that he divulged classified intelligence to Russian officials. This is particularly embarrassing for Trump after all of his calls to lock up Hillary Clinton for her mishandling of classified material as Secretary of State.

Do Not Reward Trump For Looking Presidential In Unilaterally Going To War

Our history of military intervention in the middle east has consistently failed to provide the desired results, and has repeatedly added to further destabilize the region and produce results contrary to our national security interests, including fueling terrorism. Intervention in Syria is even harder to justify when there is no favorable goal even being proposed, or sides worthy of supporting. Despite this, far too many people who should know better, both in the media and on the left, have been applauding Trump’s bombing in Syria, which appears far more impulsive than based on any coherent strategy to reduce deaths.

There are some who we would expect to be cheering Trump on. As Jack Shafer notes, “Nobody projects network war delight better than CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.”  He showed that MSNBC is no better:

If cable news is just a fancy talk show about the news, then the hoarse hollering of MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews is an hour-long news monologue. Almost gleeful about the war, which has temporarily lifted him from the slog of the Trump-Russia and Gorsuch stories, Matthews battled Blitzer Friday night for the title for Cable News’ Most Unbearable.

Unfortunately, far more journalists have fallen for the appeal of war. Margaret Sullivan has chastised those in the media who have become excited over the attack, giving a few examples:

“I think Donald Trump became president of the United States last night,” declared Fareed Zakaria on CNN, after the firing of 59 missiles at a Syrian military airfield late Thursday night. (His words sounded familiar, since CNN’s Van Jones made a nearly identical pronouncement after Trump’s first address to Congress.)

“On Syria attack, Trump’s heart came first,” read a New York Times headline.

“President Trump has done the right thing and I salute him for it,” wrote the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens — a frequent Trump critic and Pulitzer Prize-winning conservative columnist. He added: “Now destroy the Assad regime for good.”

Brian Williams, on MSNBC, seemed mesmerized by the images of the strikes provided by the Pentagon. He used the word “beautiful” three times and alluded to a Leonard Cohen lyric — “I am guided by the beauty of our weapons” — without apparent irony.

She further discussed the media coverage in general:

Why do so many in the news media love a show of force?

“There is no faster way to bring public support than to pursue military action,” said Ken Paulson, head of the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center.

“It’s a pattern not only in American history, but in world history. We rally around the commander in chief — and that’s understandable.”

Paulson noted that the news media also “seem to get bored with their own narrative” about Trump’s failings, and they welcome a chance to switch it up.

But that’s not good enough, he said: “The watchdog has to have clear vision and not just a sporadic bark.”
Clara Jeffery, editor in chief of Mother Jones, offered a simple explanation: “It’s dramatic. It’s good for TV, reporters get caught up in the moment, or, worse, jingoism.”
She added: “Military action is viewed as inherently nonpartisan, opposition or skepticism as partisan. News organizations that are fearful of looking partisan can fall into the trap of failing to provide context.”

Dan Rather once again put matters in perspective, and showed what we have lost in journalism over the last few decades:

The President of the United States is the Commander in Chief. It is an awesome responsibility. Committing the use of force and American men and women in uniform is about as serious as it gets. But the truly great presidents understand that knowing when NOT to act is as important as knowing when to act.

It is a whole lot easier starting wars than finishing them. And there are many historical examples of where a promise of limited engagement quickly metastasized into something much bigger.

There is a tendency to rally around the flag, and a President who takes on a war footing can see a boost of support. It is often transitory. There are arguments to be made that President Assad in Syria has crossed a line that demands U.S. military interference. Whether this should have been a unilateral action is something we all must consider. Whether President Trump has a plan for what comes next must be debated. Whether there is a coherence to this missile strike fitting into a larger foreign policy strategy is a question that should give us all pause.

The role of the press is to ask hard questions. There is ample evidence that this Administration needs to face deep scrutiny. The lies we have heard, the chaos in governance, and the looming questions about ties with Russia – itself a major player in Syria – demand that the press treat this latest action with healthy skepticism. Perhaps it was the right thing to do. Perhaps a strong and wise policy will emerge. But that judgement is still definitely hanging in the balance.

The number of members of the press who have lauded the actions last night as “presidential” is concerning. War must never be considered a public relations operation. It is not a way for an Administration to gain a narrative. It is a step into a dangerous unknown and its full impact is impossible to predict, especially in the immediate wake of the first strike.

Alex Pareene warned about the consequences of pundits praising Trump for the bombing:

You think Donald Trump noticed how the first thing he did that actually got the TV guys to like him was kill a troop?

Here are some things Donald Trump is famous for:

1) Noticing which things he does that elicit positive attention and then doing those things over and over and over again.

2) Craving the validation of the press, generally the sort of press a 70-year-old upper class New Yorker pays attention to, especially cable news.
If one dead American service member won him this much praise, just imagine how much they’ll respect him when he kills a couple hundred—or a couple thousand!

Now that Trump has learned that there is a direct relationship between a president’s body count and how “presidential” the mainstream political press considers him to be, the whole world is fucked.

Eric Levitz gave four reasons why it is “profoundly irresponsible to commend last night’s events without equivocation.”

(1) While eyewitness accounts strongly suggest that the Assad government was behind Tuesday’s attacks, Trump’s retaliation came before any thorough investigation confirmed that evidence. The speed of Trump’s reaction betrays a lack of caution that should be unnerving even to those who support confrontation with Assad.

(2) The strike reportedly killed 16 people, including four children. In the opinion of the White House’s national security adviser H.R. McMaster the strike did not eliminate Assad’s ability to deploy chemical weapons, but merely degraded it. What’s more, there are already signs that the attack might enrage Assad more than it deters him.

If our concern is minimizing the deaths of Syria’s beautiful babies, it is by no means certain that last night’s action will not, ultimately, prove counterproductive.

(3) Congress never gave Donald Trump the authority to commit an act of war against the Syrian government, and to claim otherwise is to give the executive unilateral authority to kill people anywhere in the world, in the name of our republic. It is astounding that more people aren’t perturbed by that prospect, given that:

(4) We know that our president is an ill-informed, obscenely incurious conspiracy theorist who routinely retreats into self-delusion when reality frustrates his ambitions. He is a demagogue who has attacked the judiciary as a threat to national security, and repeatedly insinuated that in times of war constitutional laws become mere suggestions. These sentences may sound polemical, but they aren’t. They merely describe a basic fact that much of the media is eager to forget: Donald Trump’s presidency is an ongoing national crisis.

Plus, if Trump truly has any concern for “Syria’s beautiful babies,” he should reverse his policies to both keep Syrian refugees from entering the country, and his reductions in spending in diplomacy.

Staying out of Syria was one of the few things which candidate Trump had right. Instead he has impulsively followed the lead of Hillary Clinton, who has been calling for far more extensive, and dangerous, intervention, along with the Republican hawks who previously opposed him on foreign policy.

Trump Reduces Nations’s Fears Of A Madman In The White House In Speech To Congress

After just over a month of Donald Trump’s presidency, Americans have very low expectations. His speech to Congress (transcript here) was received very favorably as he did not attack the media, or anybody else, and there wasn’t a single false claim about how large his election victory was. He even managed to wear a good looking tie which was not too long.

The speech boosted optimism. Hopefully that came more for a general feeling of decreased panic over fears that we might have an insane president, as opposed to any true belief in his policies. While the preliminary polls do show support for his agenda, viewers are often initially supportive of the speaker. The devil is in the details, and he gave very little detail as to how his general principles could turn into legislation. As Politico put it, Last night, Trump promised America could have all the cake it wants, and lose weight, too. What happens when he needs to deliver? Unfortunately this point seemed to be lost by many in the media who gushed over the speech, relieved that they were not attacked once again.

Brian Beutler also pointed this out, among several other failings in the speech which the media has paid too little attention to:

He alluded to courtroom convictions to create the false impression that terrorism in the U.S. is principally a consequence of weak vetting and porous borders—a false justification for his Muslim ban, which the courts have enjoined. He cited an increase in homicides in 2015 to foster the impression that violent crime is at a historic high, rather than a historic low. He outsourced to Defense Secretary James Mattis a lie about a raid he ordered in Yemen—which resulted in the death of a Navy SEAL, numerous civilians, and an eight-year-old American girl—falsely heralding it as “a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence.” Hours earlier, Trump had blamed his own military planners and Obama for its obvious failure. He also claimed to support NATO, which he has previously described as obsolete.

Fact checkers, including The Washington Post, PolitiFact, and Factcheck.org had their usual lists of falsehoods from Donald Trump. These might not matter with regards to public perception of the speech. The facts will matter when they try to govern based upon fantasy.