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.

New York Times Corrects False Claim of Seventeen Intelligence Agencies Agreeing That Russia Hacked DNC

Hillary Clinton and her supporters have often claimed that all seventeen intelligence organizations have agreed that Russia is responsible for hacking the DNC email. A correction at The New York Times highlights how this claim of unanimous agreement is false:

A White House Memo article on Monday about President Trump’s deflections and denials about Russia referred incorrectly to the source of an intelligence assessment that said Russia orchestrated hacking attacks during last year’s presidential election. The assessment was made by four intelligence agencies — the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency. The assessment was not approved by all 17 organizations in the American intelligence community.

Robert Parry notes that this claim had already been debunked, with the assessment appearing like politicized intelligence similar to the claims of WMD under George Bush:

The reality of a more narrowly based Russia-gate assessment was admitted in May by President Obama’s Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Obama’s CIA Director John Brennan in sworn congressional testimony.

Clapper testified before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on May 8 that the Russia-hacking claim came from a “special intelligence community assessment” (or ICA) produced by selected analysts from the CIA, NSA and FBI, “a coordinated product from three agencies – CIA, NSA, and the FBI – not all 17 components of the intelligence community,” the former DNI said.

Clapper further acknowledged that the analysts who produced the Jan. 6 assessment on alleged Russian hacking were “hand-picked” from the CIA, FBI and NSA.

Yet, as any intelligence expert will tell you, if you “hand-pick” the analysts, you are really hand-picking the conclusion. For instance, if the analysts were known to be hard-liners on Russia or supporters of Hillary Clinton, they could be expected to deliver the one-sided report that they did..

CIA Director William Casey and Deputy Director Robert Gates shepherded the desired findings through the process by putting the assessment under the control of pliable analysts and sidelining those who objected to this politicization of intelligence.

The point of enlisting the broader intelligence community – and incorporating dissents into a final report – is to guard against such “stove-piping” of intelligence that delivers the politically desired result but ultimately distorts reality.

Another painful example of politicized intelligence was President George W. Bush’s 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq’s WMD that removed State Department and other dissents from the declassified version that was given to the public.

Despite being debunked in the testimony by James Clapper, the claim of seventeen intelligence agencies agreeing continued to be widely repeated. The correction by The New York Times is a step in the right direction. Now we will wait for a retraction of the unsubstantiated claims reported by Russia Maddow on MSNBC.

The release of DNC email on Wikileaks, regardless of source, provided factual information which nobody has disputed about dishonesty on the part of Hillary Clinton, and the DNC violating their rules regarding being impartial in the nomination process.

Earlier this month Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in his Congressional testimony: “To my current knowledge, the Russian government did not through any cyber intrusion alter ballots, ballot counts or reporting of election results.”

Both Political Parties Have Abandoned Principle

The 2016 election was a low point in our politics, with each party totally abandoning principle. Donald Trump ignored key ideas of the conservative movement, while Hillary Clinton became the establishment neocon candidate, running for George W. Bush’s third term. Newspaper columnists have noted this, with each party vulnerable to criticism for a lack of principles.

At Politico, Bruce Bartlett wrote Trump Is What Happens When a Political Party Abandons Ideas:

…conservatives—who, after all, believe in liberty and a system of checks and balances to restrain the government to its proper role—have plenty of reason to be upset by those actions Trump has taken that transcend our traditional right-left ideological divide. He’s voiced not only skepticism of NATO, but outright hostility to it. He’s pulled America back from its role as an international advocate for human rights. He’s attacked the notion of an independent judiciary. He personally intervened to request the FBI to ease up on its investigation of a former adviser of his, then fired FBI Director James Comey and freely admitted he did so to alleviate the pressure he felt from Comey’s investigation. For those conservatives who were tempted to embrace a “wait-and-see” approach to Trump, what they’ve seen, time and again, is almost unimaginable.

And yet as surprising as this all has been, it’s also the natural outgrowth of 30 years of Republican pandering to the lowest common denominator in American politics. Trump is what happens when a political party abandons ideas, demonizes intellectuals, degrades politics and simply pursues power for the sake of power…

One real-world result of the lobotomizing of conservative intellectualism is that when forced to produce a replacement for Obamacare—something Republican leaders had sworn they had in their pocket for eight years—there was nothing. Not just no legislation—no workable concept that adhered to the many promises Republicans had made, like coverage for pre-existing conditions and the assurance that nobody would lose their coverage. You’d think that House Speaker Ryan could have found a staff slot for one person to be working on an actual Obamacare replacement all these years, just in case.

With hindsight, it’s no surprise that the glorification of anti-elitism and anti-intellectualism that has been rampant on the right at least since the election of Barack Obama would give rise to someone like Trump. Anyone who ever read Sinclair Lewis’ “It Can’t Happen Here,” which imagined a fascist dictator taking power in 1930s America, recognizes that Trump is the real-life embodiment of Senator Buzz Windrip—a know-nothing populist who becomes president by promising something for everyone, with no clue or concern for how to actually accomplish it. Windrip was“vulgar, almost illiterate, a public liar easily detected, and in his ‘ideas’ almost idiotic,” Lewis wrote. “Certainly there was nothing exhilarating in the actual words of his speeches, nor anything convincing in his

While  I might not agree in all of his goals, Bruce Bartlett did express ideas as to what he wants the Republican Party to represent. The Democratic establishment lacks such a vision. Hillary Clinton’s campaign suffered from never being able to express a good reason why she should be present beyond the mistaken view that it was her turn. Democrats have lost every special election, most recently in Georgia with a centrist campaign which failed to stand for anything. Their strategy is limited to attacks on Trump, and raising hysteria about Russia which has gained no political traction.

Dan Baltz wrote in The Washington Post that Beyond opposing Trump, Democrats keep searching for a message:

The loss in last week’s special congressional election in Georgia produced predictable hand-wringing and finger-pointing inside the Democratic Party. It also raised anew a question that has troubled the party through a period in which they have lost ground political. Simply put: Do Democrats have a message?

Right now, the one discernible message is opposition to President Trump. That might be enough to get through next year’s midterm elections, though some savvy Democratic elected officials doubt it. What’s needed is a message that attracts voters beyond the blue-state base of the party…

History says a president with approval ratings as low as Trump’s usually sustain substantial midterm losses. That could be the case in 2018, particularly if the Republicans end up passing a health-care bill that, right now, is far more unpopular than Obamacare. But Trump has beaten the odds many times in his short political career. What beyond denunciations of the Republicans as heartless will the Democrats have to say to voters?

Though united in vehement opposition to the president, Democrats do not speak with one voice. Fault lines and fissures exist between the ascendant progressive wing at the grass roots and those Democrats who remain more business-friendly. While these differences are not as deep as those seen in Trump’s Republican Party, that hasn’t yet generated a compelling or fresh message to take to voters who aren’t already sold on the party.

Hillary Clinton, whose rhetoric often sounded more poll-tested than authentic, never found that compelling message during her 2016 campaign. She preferred to run a campaign by demonizing Trump and, as a result, drowned out her economic platform. This was a strategic gamble for which she paid a high price…

The long-running debate over the Democrats’ message probably will intensify as the party looks to 2018 and especially to 2020. It is a debate that the party needs. Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, writing in the American Prospect, sees a problem that goes beyond white working-class voters to those within the Democratic base who also were left behind by the post-2008 economic gains. He argues that the party’s problem is with working-class voters of all types, not just whites.

Greenberg has long been critical of the tepidness of the party’s economic message and puts some of the blame on Obama. He believes the former president’s economic message in 2012 and 2016 focused on progress in the recovery largely to the exclusion of the widespread pain that still existed. “That mix of heralding ‘progress’ while bailing out those responsible for the crisis and the real crash in incomes for working Americans was a fatal brew for Democrats,” he argues.

For progressives, the answer to this problem is clear: a boldly liberal message that attacks big corporations and Wall Street and calls for a significant increase in government’s role in reducing income and wealth inequality. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has been aggressive in promoting exactly that, as he did during the 2016 campaign, with calls for a big investment in infrastructure and free college tuition at public colleges and universities. He has said he intends to introduce legislation he calls “Medicare for All.”

Unfortunately, as has been the case in many articles of this nature which point out the lack of a message from the Democrats, Baltz ignored some key matters. Americans have become so accustomed to the wars started under George Bush and continued under Barack Obama that this was barely mentioned during the campaign. Even worse, Hillary Clinton has backed far further military interventionism than has been supported by Barack Obama–or George Bush and Dick Cheney.

It is sad that Reaganite Bruce Bartlett wrote that conservatives “believe in liberty and a system of checks and balances to restrain the government to its proper role,” but we see little concern among Democrats regarding these matters. Democrats don’t even think of opposing the increase in government surveillance and restrictions of civil liberties in the name of supposedly fighting terrorism. Neither major party candidate had any respect for First Amendment liberties, and Clinton has a far right record in backing restrictions.

With neither party standing for anything, we are seeing an unprecedented degree in dissatisfaction with both major parties, with a recent icitizen poll showing that, “seven in 10 Americans believe the two major parties do not represent them well and that a third party is necessary.” While Hillary Clinton calls third party voters crazy, showing a disdain for democracy in attacking voters for being unwilling to vote for her, this might be the only principled option unless the major political parties are reformed. One of the most vile arguments from establishment Democrats is that we must vote for the Democrats as lesser of two evils to stop Republicans while ignoring the evil promoted by their own party. This is a sick argument to say that we should have voted for a corrupt war monger like Clinton, endorsing her wars, right wing views on the First Amendment, and economic policies, while ignoring how she has used government positions to amass a fortune through influence peddling. Voting for the lesser of two evils over the years has only led to increasing how evil the nominees of both parties are.

Centrist Democrats Lose Again In Georgia Special Election

Yesterday’s loss by Jon Ossoff has Democrats now wondering if opposition to Donald Trump is enough to enable them to retake control of the House. It remains to be seen if special elections in traditionally safe Republican seats provide a meaningful indicator, but Democrats did more poorly than expected in the Georgia race. This is causing some to question the strategy and messaging utilized by the Democrats.

Molly Ball has a rather boring description of Ossoff and his campaign:

Just as Handel aspired to be as generic a Republican as possible, Ossoff hoped be, as much as possible, a blank slate, a nice young man in whom disgruntled voters of all stripes could see the alternative they wanted. His campaign slogan proclaimed him “Humble. Kind. Ready to Fight”—a positionless vessel of 2017’s cross-cutting political angst. It was a decision many would second-guess after the results were in. For this district, at least, Ossoff believed it was the only way he could possibly win.

David Adkins thinks Democrats are making a mistake in trying to attract Romney voters:

In July of 2016, Senator Chuck Schumer made a statement that will go down as one of the greatest political miscalculations in modern history: “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.

This strategy undergirded every decision of the doomed Clinton campaign, from ignoring the white working class in her Rust Belt firewall, to chasing suburban Republican women in Missouri and the South. It is a strategy that establishment Democratic operatives continue to pursue to this day…

In GA-06, Jon Ossoff ran a deliberately anti-ideological campaign. Centrist think tank Third Way bragged that Ossoff used a “centrist message aimed at attracting disillusioned Republican voters.” South Carolina’s Parnell, despite his Goldman Sachs background, ran a much more hard-charging campaign of Democratic values

In the end, Steve Kornacki told the tale, referencing not only Parnell’s surprisingly strong showing, but also the strong performances of other populist Democrats around the country: In specials so far, Dems have seen double-digit improvement in HRC’s ’16 # in KS-4, MT and now SC-5. In GA-6, Ossoff may not improve at all.

The lesson of the special elections around the country is clear: Democratic House candidates can dramatically outperform Clinton in deep red rural areas by running ideological, populist campaigns rooted in progressive areas. Poorer working class voters who pulled the lever for Trump can be swayed back to the left in surprisingly large numbers—perhaps not enough to win in places like Kansas, Montana and South Carolina, but certainly in other more welcoming climes. Nor is there a need to subvert Democratic principles of social justice in order to accomplish this: none of the Democrats who overperformed Clinton’s numbers in these districts curried favor with bigots in order to accomplish it.

But candidates like Clinton and Ossoff who try to run inoffensive and anti-ideological campaigns in an attempt to win over supposedly sensible, wealthier, bourgeois suburban David-Brooks-reading Republican Romney voters will find that they lose by surprisingly wide margins. There is no Democrat so seemingly non-partisan that Romney Republicans will be tempted to cross the aisle in enough numbers to make a difference.

The way forward for Democrats lies to the left, and with the working classes. It lies with a firm ideological commitment to progressive values, and in winning back the Obama voters Democrats lost to Trump in 2016 without giving ground on commitments to social justice. It does not lie in the wealthy suburbs that voted for Romney over Obama in 2012, or in ideological self-effacement on core economic concerns.

I agree that centrism doesn’t work, but the need for a message extends beyond economics. Shaun King had a better analysis last week when looking at the Virginia primaries, and tying it to the presidential election:

The Democratic Party has shifted to the right. It’s not anti-war. It’s not strong on the environment. It’s not strong on civil and human rights. It’s not for universal health care. It’s not strong on cracking down on Wall Street and big banks or corporate fraud. Ralph Northam was and is weak on all of those core principles of the progressive left, but we’re expected to get behind him, and candidates like him, as if we’re just a few small details away from seeing eye to eye with him. We aren’t. He’s not a progressive. He’s not a liberal. He’s hardly even a Democrat.

Millions of us who ultimately voted for Hillary Clinton felt the very same way about her. On issues ranging from war, to corporate fraud, to campaign finance, to universal health care, and so much more, her positions were not discernibly different from the most basic Republican talking points.

Was she better than Trump? Of course she was. But I’d literally rather have a Kardashian sister or Curious George be President of the United States over Trump. Someone being better than Trump cannot be our key metric for choosing candidates.

I’m hearing more and more of my progressive friends talk seriously about the need for us to form our own political party. I get it. At the very best we are slightly tolerated guests in the Democratic Party. We are as different from establishment Democrats as those establishment Democrats are from everyday Republicans.

Being begrudgingly tolerated is a terrible feeling. We are an enthusiastic, organized bunch, but I certainly don’t feel welcomed.

MSNBC’s Joy Reid all but confirmed as much in a widely shared tweet earlier this week in which she said, “Bernie and his followers are like that college friend who stays at your place for weeks, pays $0, eats your food & trashes your aesthetic.”

That Reid, who makes a living as a political commentator, came to this conclusion about Bernie Sanders and his millions of followers was deeply disappointing, but revealing. Bernie Sanders is the most popular politician in America. He has done far more for the Democratic Party than it has for him.

When the new head of the Democratic Party, Tom Perez, went on a speaking tour recently with Bernie, the enthusiastic crowds of thousands didn’t show up at every single venue to hear Tom — they were there for Bernie. Tom didn’t do Bernie a favor, Bernie did Tom a favor. Bernie got behind Hillary Clinton and campaigned for her all over the country and asked his supporters to follow his lead.

I was one of those people who did just that. I’ve been a Democrat all of my life and have campaigned for and donated to so many Democratic candidates across the years. That the millions of us who support Bernie and his values have been reduced to bad guests who don’t pay our way, eat up all the food, and trash the place, is a terrible insult rooted in something other than reality.

Democrats lost the House, the Senate, the presidency, the Supreme Court, and the strong majority of state houses and governorships across the country. I agree that it sure does look like somebody trashed the place, but it damn sure wasn’t Bernie and his followers. Anybody saying that is delusional.

King accurately describes how many on the left feel about the Democratic Party–including both those who held their nose and voted for Clinton, along with others who would not do this out of principle. These days it seems like the major difference between the parties is that the Republicans pander to fear of Muslims while Democrats spread hysteria about Russia. The great paradox of American politics is that we have hyperpartisanship in Washington, yet both parties promote essentially the same policies. Both parties support similar economic policies and continuation of the warfare/surveillance state.

When Republicans lost in a landslide in 1964 under Barry Goldwater, conservatives did not give up. It takes time to spread a message and build a party around it. Democrats mistakenly thought they had a winning strategy when Bill Clinton won, but his success was probably more due to his personal charisma than overly conservative policies. They squandered what could have been an advantage with the unpopularity of George W. Bush by moving to the right and ultimately adopting much of his agenda.

Once Again, The Data Shows Clinton Lost Because Obama Voters Backed Trump Over Her

When people have taken a serious look at the data available related to the 2016 election,  similar findings keep coming up. Hillary Clinton did not lose because of Russia, misogyny, James Comey, Bernie Bros, or Jill Stein voters. In March I noted data which showed that Clinton lost because of white working class voters who previously voted for Obama but shifted to Trump. Democratic Party strategists looked more data, and came to the same conclusion. McClatchy reports:

Many Democrats have a shorthand explanation for Clinton’s defeat: Her base didn’t turn out, Donald Trump’s did and the difference was too much to overcome.

But new information shows that Clinton had a much bigger problem with voters who had supported President Barack Obama in 2012 but backed Trump four years later.

Those Obama-Trump voters, in fact, effectively accounted for more than two-thirds of the reason Clinton lost, according to Matt Canter, a senior vice president of the Democratic political firm Global Strategy Group. In his group’s analysis, about 70 percent of Clinton’s failure to reach Obama’s vote total in 2012 was because she lost these voters.

In recent months, Canter and other members of Global Strategy Group have delivered a detailed report of their findings to senators, congressmen, fellow operatives and think tank wonks – all part of an ongoing effort to educate party leaders about what the data says really happened in last year’s election.

“We have to make sure we learn the right lesson from 2016, that we don’t just draw the lesson that makes us feel good at night, make us sleep well at night,” Canter said.

His firm’s conclusion is shared broadly by other Democrats who have examined the data, including senior members of Clinton’s campaign and officials at the Democratic data and analytics firm Catalist. (The New York Times, doing its own analysis, reached a similar conclusion.)

Greg Sargent reviewed polling data and further connected this to economic concerns:

“[Hillary] Clinton and Democrats’ economic message did not break through to drop-off or Obama-Trump voters, even though drop-off voters are decidedly anti-Trump,” Priorities USA concluded in a presentation of its polling data and focus group findings, which has been shown to party officials in recent days.

The poll found that Obama-Trump voters, many of whom are working-class whites and were pivotal to Trump’s victory, are economically losing ground and are skeptical of Democratic solutions to their problems…

A sizable chunk of Obama-Trump voters — 30 percent — said their vote for Trump was more a vote against Clinton than a vote for Trump. Remember, these voters backed Obama four years earlier.

There was brief mention of  Clinton’s“high unfavorable ratings,” but it appears they might be paying too little attention to this key factor. Polls have shown that Clinton is distrusted. There have been numerous stories during the campaign cycle about how she used her political positions to obtain personal wealth, between her influence peddling as Secretary of State and her Wall Street Speeches. This would be expected to alienate those voting based upon economic anxieties, and reinforce the view that the Democratic nominee was not offering solutions to their problems. These people previously voted for Barack Obama, and showed they would support Bernie Sanders. They were not willing to vote for Hillary Clinton.

While there is no doubt that Clinton lost many Obama voters over economic concerns, I do wonder if other problems are missed due to not being represented in the polling data released per the above link. Going beyond economics, during the Bush years, and going into Obama’s presidency, the conventional view among Democrats was that Bush and the Republicans are evil for going into Iraq, restricting civil liberties to supposedly fight terrorism, and decreasing government transparency. Hillary Clinton’s record here is virtually indistinguishable from George Bush’s, and now the Democratic establishment says: Don’t listen to purists on the left who object to Clinton’s support for war in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, along with a resumption of Cold War style hostilities with Russia, her support for restricting civil liberties to fight terrorism, and her hostility towards government transparency. We must unite to fight the evil Republicans.

Democrats have a serious messaging problem, including but certainly not limited to economics.

Another Prediction That Trump Could Cost Republicans Control Of The House

The failure of Donald Trump to repeal and replace Obamacare, as he repeatedly claimed he would do as soon as he took office, has led to a further deterioration in public perceptions of Trump’s job performance, and risks hurting the entire Republican Party. I have previously looked at predictions that a low approval rating for Trump could cost Republicans control of the House. National Journal has another prediction that Dems Could Take House in 2018:

Demo­crats now have a real­ist­ic shot at re­tak­ing the House in 2018. Each of the past three midterm elec­tions have swung wildly against the party in power—re­flect­ive of the long­stand­ing dis­sat­is­fac­tion of voters to­wards polit­ic­al lead­er­ship, no mat­ter who’s in charge. Trump’s job ap­prov­al rat­ing is hov­er­ing around 40 per­cent, a tox­ic level for the dozens of Re­pub­lic­ans run­ning for reelec­tion in swing dis­tricts. Re­pub­lic­ans would be fool­ish to as­sume that Pres­id­ent Obama’s co­ali­tion of mil­len­ni­als and non­white voters—many of whom stayed home in past midterm elec­tions—re­mains dis­en­gaged giv­en their aver­sion to Trump.

Polit­ic­ally speak­ing, the health care bill couldn’t have been more dam­aging for Re­pub­lic­ans. In a dis­cip­lined Con­gress, safe-seat Re­pub­lic­ans would be more will­ing to take risky votes so those in com­pet­it­ive seats could main­tain some in­de­pend­ence from the party. But this time, hard-line con­ser­vat­ives in the Free­dom Caucus de­clared their un­stint­ing op­pos­i­tion early on, for­cing some vul­ner­able Re­pub­lic­ans to go on re­cord in sup­port of the un­pop­u­lar le­gis­la­tion—which didn’t even come to a vote. Adding in­sult to in­jury, Trump bragged on Twit­ter that the health care ex­changes would col­lapse as a res­ult of his in­ac­tion—the worst pos­sible mes­sage to send to any­one who viewed Trump as a can-do ex­ec­ut­ive…

There are already signs that Trump’s sag­ging ap­prov­al rat­ing is rais­ing the pos­sib­il­ity of a stun­ning up­set in an up­com­ing con­gres­sion­al elec­tion in sub­urb­an At­lanta. The race, to fill the va­cant seat held by Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­ret­ary Tom Price, couldn’t be more rel­ev­ant to the health care de­bate. One pub­lic poll shows the Demo­crat­ic front-run­ner, Jon Os­soff, nar­rowly lead­ing sev­er­al of his GOP op­pon­ents in a run­off—this in a con­ser­vat­ive dis­trict that has elec­ted Re­pub­lic­ans to Con­gress for over four dec­ades. Fear­ing an em­bar­rass­ing de­feat, the party’s lead­ing House su­per PAC is spend­ing over $2 mil­lion on at­tack ads con­nect­ing Os­soff with Nancy Pelosi.

Of the 36 at-risk House Re­pub­lic­ans, ac­cord­ing to The Cook Polit­ic­al Re­port’s rat­ings, 28 rep­res­ent urb­an or sub­urb­an dis­tricts where Trump isn’t par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar. In last year’s elec­tion, most of these GOP rep­res­ent­at­ives sig­ni­fic­antly out­per­formed Trump as voters dis­tin­guished between the pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee and the re­cord of their own mem­ber of Con­gress. But with Trump as pres­id­ent, that dis­tinc­tion is harder to make…

Demo­crats need to net 24 seats to win back the House ma­jor­ity, which sounds a lot more im­pos­ing than it ac­tu­ally is. As polit­ic­al ana­lyst Nath­an Gonzales noted in a re­cent column, the pres­id­ent’s party has lost House seats in 18 of the last 20 midterms, with an av­er­age loss of 33 seats in those 18 los­ing cycles. Two of the most im­port­ant big-pic­ture factors—pres­id­en­tial ap­prov­al and par­tis­an en­thu­si­asm—are now point­ing against the GOP.

Un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances, Re­pub­lic­ans would ex­per­i­ence some early gov­ern­ing suc­cesses and rally be­hind their pres­id­ent. With Trump, Re­pub­lic­ans have come up empty-handed so far. We’re more than a year away from the next big elec­tions, but there are already signs that a Cat­egory 5 hur­ricane is build­ing.

The Republicans risk further losses following their defeat on health care. Trump continues to lose credibility, and is losing in his attacks on the press. Many sources, including The Wall Street Journal, have discussed the difficulties they will have on rewriting the tax code. Trump’s executive order to reverse Barack Obama’s efforts to fight climate change could also turn out to harm Republicans. The New York Times, in an editorial describing the harm which Trump’s actions will do, concluded in noting the possible public opinion backlash:

And then there is public opinion. It punished the Republicans severely in 1994 when Newt Gingrich and his allies tried to roll back environmental laws. It punished them again in 2008 after eight years of denialism and prevarication on climate change under George W. Bush and his fossil fuel acolyte, Dick Cheney. There is time enough before Mr. Trump’s ignorance translates into actual policy for the public to make its opposition to this anti-science agenda felt again.

It is possible that the Democrats might benefit from Trump’s unpopularity regardless of what they do, but it must also be kept in mind that the Democrats did lose to Trump in 2016 despite all the blunders from Trump during his campaign. That might be written off as the consequence of the Democrats fielding a weak candidate against him, but it also must be kept in mind how the Democrats also  lost badly in 2010 and 2014 when they ran as a Republican-lite party. The Democrats need to have the courage to stand for something, giving voters a positive reason to vote for them rather than counting on dislike of Republicans to be enough.

GAO To Investigate Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Trips And Hotel Profits

The Government Accountability Office is going to investigate the security of classified information at  Mar-a-Lago and hotel profits. Reuters reports:

A U.S. government watchdog has agreed to review how classified information is kept secure at President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, the agency said on Monday, after Democratic lawmakers raised concerns about the issue last month.

The Government Accountability Office’s review will examine whether Secret Service agents subject Mar-a-Lago guests to any security screening, and evaluate the expenses incurred by government employees who travel with Trump to Mar-a-Lago, according to a letter the agency sent the lawmakers on Friday.

The GAO will also check whether Trump has made any payments to the U.S. Treasury from profits at his hotels, the letter said. Trump’s lawyer pledged at a Jan. 11 news conference to donate Trump Hotel profits from foreign governments to the Treasury.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump’s handling of U.S. security information at Mar-a-Lago came under congressional scrutiny in February after photos taken by private guests in the club’s public dining area showed Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reviewing documents following a North Korean missile launch.

The White House denied afterward that any classified material was present in the dining room.

This might turn out to be just one of several investigations into Donald Trump in the upcoming months. Last week I posted about a public corruption prosecutor hired to investigate Trump.

In somewhat related news today, Gallup reports that Donald Trump’s approval has hit a new low:

President Donald Trump’s job approval rating fell to 36% for the three-day period of March 24-26, following Republican House leaders’ failed effort to pass a new healthcare bill that would have replaced the Affordable Care Act.

Trump’s three-day reading prior to Friday’s events was 41%. His previous low point was 37%, recorded March 16-18. His highest reading was 46% in the week following his Jan. 20 inauguration, and he has averaged 42% for his term to date.

Trump’s current 36% is two percentage points below Barack Obama’s low point of 38%, recorded in 2011 and 2014. Trump has also edged below Bill Clinton’s all-time low of 37%, recorded in the summer of 1993, his first year in office, as well as Gerald Ford’s 37% low point in January and March 1975. John F. Kennedy’s lowest approval rating was 56%; Dwight Eisenhower’s was 48%.

Presidents George W. Bush (lowest approval rating: 25%), George H.W. Bush (29%), Ronald Reagan (35%), Jimmy Carter (28%), Richard Nixon (24%), Lyndon Johnson (35%) and Harry Truman (22%) all had job approval ratings lower than 36% at least once during their administrations.

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

Trump’s Incompetence And Mental State Alarm Washington

Donald Trump continues to show both his bigotry and his incompetence in his attacks against the federal judges ruling on his travel ban. The Hill reports:

Trump argued the law gives him broad powers to control who enters and leaves the U.S.

“A bad high school student would understand this. Anybody would understand this,” he said.

Yes, a bad high school student very well might be fooled into thinking that Trump is right. Fortunately judges who went beyond high school to study law are more likely to understand how Donald Trump is violating the law and violating the Constitution.

If we can trust Huffington Post as a source, reportedly his own staff is alarmed at Trump’s conduct. Leaks include the content of a rather strange 3 am call:

President Donald Trump was confused about the dollar: Was it a strong one that’s good for the economy? Or a weak one?

So he made a call ― except not to any of the business leaders Trump brought into his administration or even to an old friend from his days in real estate. Instead, he called his national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, according to two sources familiar with Flynn’s accounts of the incident.

Flynn has a long record in counterintelligence but not in macroeconomics. And he told Trump he didn’t know, that it wasn’t his area of expertise, that, perhaps, Trump should ask an economist instead.

The story goes on to describe how leaks are becoming commonplace because of government officials who are alarmed by Trump’s bizarre conduct:

Unsurprisingly, Trump’s volatile behavior has created an environment ripe for leaks from his executive agencies and even within his White House. And while leaks typically involve staffers sabotaging each other to improve their own standing or trying to scuttle policy ideas they find genuinely problematic, Trump’s 2-week-old administration has a third category: leaks from White House and agency officials alarmed by the president’s conduct.

“I’ve been in this town for 26 years. I have never seen anything like this,” said Eliot Cohen, a senior State Department official under President George W. Bush and a member of his National Security Council. “I genuinely do not think this is a mentally healthy president.”

There is the matter of Trump’s briefing materials, for example. The commander in chief doesn’t like to read long memos, a White House aide who asked to remain unnamed told The Huffington Post. So preferably they must be no more than a single page. They must have bullet points but not more than nine per page.

Earlier in the week, Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman of The New York Times reported on the isolation of Donald Trump and difficulties faced by the Trump administration in its first two weeks:

Aides confer in the dark because they cannot figure out how to operate the light switches in the cabinet room. Visitors conclude their meetings and then wander around, testing doorknobs until finding one that leads to an exit. In a darkened, mostly empty West Wing, Mr. Trump’s provocative chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, finishes another 16-hour day planning new lines of attack.

Usually around 6:30 p.m., or sometimes later, Mr. Trump retires upstairs to the residence to recharge, vent and intermittently use Twitter. With his wife, Melania, and young son, Barron, staying in New York, he is almost always by himself, sometimes in the protective presence of his imposing longtime aide and former security chief, Keith Schiller. When Mr. Trump is not watching television in his bathrobe or on his phone reaching out to old campaign hands and advisers, he will sometimes set off to explore the unfamiliar surroundings of his new home…

The bungled rollout of his executive order barring immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries, a flurry of other miscues and embarrassments, and an approval rating lower than that of any comparable first-term president in the history of polling have Mr. Trump and his top staff rethinking an improvisational approach to governing that mirrors his chaotic presidential campaign, administration officials and Trump insiders said…

Cloistered in the White House, he now has little access to his fans and supporters — an important source of feedback and validation — and feels increasingly pinched by the pressures of the job and the constant presence of protests, one of the reasons he was forced to scrap a planned trip to Milwaukee last week. For a sense of what is happening outside, he watches cable, both at night and during the day — too much in the eyes of some aides — often offering a bitter play-by-play of critics like CNN’s Don Lemon.

Until the past few days, Mr. Trump was telling his friends and advisers that he believed the opening stages of his presidency were going well. “Did you hear that, this guy thinks it’s been terrible!” Mr. Trump said mockingly to other aides when one dissenting view was voiced last week during a West Wing meeting.

But his opinion has begun to change with a relentless parade of bad headlines.

Can a president whose reading is limited to single page memos make the changes needed to turn this around, or will he become increasingly isolated, perhaps to the point of talking to the pictures on the White House walls like Richard Nixon in his final days in office?

Bowling Green Massacre And Nomination of Betsy DeVos Promote Further Protests

After being mocked for her alternative facts in using a Bowling Green Massacre which never existed to justify Donald Trump’s Muslim ban, Kellyanne Conway admitted she was wrong said that, “Honest mistakes abound.” This was after the Bowling Green Massacre became the subject of further demonstrations. The New York Daily News reported:

New Yorkers can be a sentimental — and satirical — bunch.

That’s why it was no surprise that an impromptu vigil was held Friday honoring the Bowling Green massacre victims that never were.

“We’re commemorating the victims of Bowling Green,” said Chris Bauer as he stifled a smile. “It never happened so they were never commemorated.”

Bauer and a handful of others stood near the Lower Manhattan park, holding signs and shouting, “We all are Bowling Green, never remember never forget.”

The protests against Donald Trump’s Muslim ban included the cover of The New Yorker, showing “Liberty’s Flameout.”

The protest was international, including this cover of Der Spiegel:

Fortunately the ban has been temporarily lifted by a federal judge appointed by George W. Bush, promoting Donald Trump to make his own protests on Twitter. While he might not like it, Donald Trump is slowly being forced to learn that there are limitations on his power. In addition, there are reports that he is backing away from the idea floated last week of reopening black site prisons.

Protests against Trump are likely to be commonplace over the next four years (unless impeachment or 25th Amendment solutions make this unnecessary). The Washington Post reports on How protesters plan to get under Trump’s skin wherever he goes:

This is the reality of Trump’s honeymoon-free presidency.

Having sought to create unprecedented disruption in Washington, his critics will now seek to bring unprecedented disruption to his life as president — including demonstrations that follow him when he travels, and protests that will dog his businesses even when he doesn’t.

Already this week, Trump — the most unpopular new president in modern times — canceled a trip to visit Harley-Davidson in Milwaukee, where local groups had planned to protest his appearance; the White House said the protests were not the reason for the cancellation.

And, around the business empire that Trump still owns, his critics treat each location as an avatar for the president.

 

The Muslim ban is not the only reason for protests this weekend. Others are protesting the appointment of Betsy DeVos as Education secretary. Comedian Mike Birbiglia tweeted, “Betsy DeVos teaches us that if you’re born rich, never go to public schools, and hate public schools, someday you can run public schools.” With two Republican Senators saying they will vote against DeVos, supporters of public education are hoping to obtain a third Republican to flip, but the odds do not look good.