Hot Takes On A Cold GOP Night

There is a very human tendency to ascribe significance to events in such as way as they can be used to predict the future.  Psychologically, I think this phenomenon is closely related to why people see the image of the Mona Lisa in a piece of toast, or the shape of a ducky or a horsey in clouds floating across the sky.  Since we’re always trying to impose a sense of order on the chaotic universe around us, we seek out patterns to try and make sense of it all.  Not only does this offer a sense of comfort, it also gives us a feeling of control:  if X happens, then Y is sure to follow.

It’s therefore no surprise that politicians and pundits alike are making all kinds of hay about the results of the Virginia and New Jersey elections yesterday.  In all fairness, there’s no other way you can spin it—the Democrats had a great night, and the GOP pretty much sucked wind.  Polling had Ed Gillespie running neck-and-neck with Ralph Northam, but in the end Northam blew him out with a comfortable margin.  In the Garden State, meanwhile, Phil Murphy utterly trounced Kim Guadagno, who had served as lieutenant governor to the notorious beachcomber Chris Christie.  Dems also racked up huge numbers in the Virginia legislature, erasing the Republican majority there in one fell swoop.  Naturally, this has all the talking heads asking what it all means for 2018, when control of Congress will be up for grabs in the first midterm election since Donald Trump won the presidency.

For what it’s worth, I summed it up in a single tweet:

As usual, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

THE DEMOCRATS

Give them credit, they were able to gin up and harness a mother lode of angst against Donald Trump, and then use it to drive voter turnout.  The enthusiasm gap between them and the GOP was indeed palpable, and as any seasoned politico will tell you, that’s where the battle is won and lost.  The Democrat rank and file saw themselves on a mission to save the country from Trumpzilla, whereas Republican voters largely yawned.  If they can keep the momentum they started going, the GOP just might have some big trouble ahead next year.

But let’s also look at the landscape.  New Jersey was a lost cause from the start, after Chris Christie throughly destroyed the GOP brand there.  The man who once thought he could be president rendered himself so toxic that he now couldn’t even get a Reform Party nod to run as dog catcher in Trenton.  Anyone connected to him was a long shot to begin with, especially in a state where Democrats enjoy a 2-1 advantage over Republicans.  Guadagno’s loss there was a foregone conclusion, so it doesn’t signify much of anything.

As to Virginia, the political terrain there was also tough for Gillespie.  He had already lost a Senate bid there before, and political comebacks are tough no matter how you slice them.  There are also a great number of people in Northern Virginia who make their living off the federal government—which doesn’t exactly make them friendly to Republicans.  Add to that the tens of thousands of felons that outgoing governor and Terry McAuliffe put back on the voter rolls, and what you have is a basically blue state getting even bluer.  That trend started before Trump entered the picture—although having him as president has probably accelerated the change.

In other words, what happened in Virginia does mean something.  But it doesn’t mean everything, in spite of what the Democrats would have you believe.

THE REPUBLICANS

There isn’t much positive to say about the GOP here.  While it’s true that Donald Trump has been a polarizing figure, he’s not the only one responsible for the drubbing that happened on Tuesday night.  The GOP itself has sunk to levels of disapproval that would make Kevin Spacey wince—except they can’t make a dash into rehab to pretend that they’re working on their problems.

How did this happen?  Simple.  Voters gave them the House, then the Senate, and then the White House in the hopes that the GOP would actually fulfill its promises it had been making for seven years to roll back the Obama agenda.  Instead, they got plenty of nuthin’ as the GOP Senate failed to deliver.  Balking on Obamacare was the last straw, which led voters to ask why they should bother giving Republicans a majority when they refused to do anything with it.

On the other hand, at least the GOP now has a clear message from its base:  get to work or be out of a job.  There’s still a full year before the 2018 midterms—lots of time to develop a clear agenda and then push it through.  Tax reform is already in the works, so they can start there.  Then they can actually show that they’re serious about meaningful immigration reform with national e-Verify and funding the border wall.  Get some of the Big Ticket items under their belts and demonstrate that Republicans are ready to seize the opportunity that the voters have given them and effect some real change.

Otherwise, jilted voters will treat them like jilted lovers always do—and it will get ugly.

Son of a Mitch! McConnell Voted Least Popular Senator in Poll

The votes are in, the ballots counted, and now it’s official.  The GOP’s very own Mitch McConnell—up until now, known primarily for his razor sharp political instincts and his rakish wit—is America’s least popular senator:

According to Morning Consult’s latest Senator Approval Rankings – compiled from a poll of 255,120 registered voters in 50 states from July 1 to Sept. 30 – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is yet again America’s least popular senator.

In Kentucky, one-third of voters approve of McConnell’s job performance, while 55 percent of voters said they disapprove — more than any other senator.

McConnell’s net approval, the difference in his approval and disapproval percentages, dropped 15 percentage points, the third-largest drop in the Senate, from the second quarter, according to the survey. The slide came as he failed to advance Obamacare repeal — a key pillar of the GOP’s political agenda since the law’s enactment in 2010.

This ranking, by the way, puts McConnell well behind Democrat Bob Menendez, who registered only 41% disapproval from his constituents—and he’s on trial for corruption.  Granted, Menendez is from New Jersey so they grade on a curve over there, but come on!  A guy who’s about to spend the next three to five years playing Shawshank with a hairy cellmate named Dutch is outpolling the distinguished gentleman from Kentucky?  For the second time?  Right about now, Harry Reid must be kicking himself for retiring.

Still, it’s not all bad news.  Congress is held in somewhat low esteem by most of the American people—at around 13% approval, their popularity hovers somewhere between OJ Simpson and Harvey Weinstein—so it’s not like McConnell is alone in his public disdain.  On the other hand, to be the most reviled in that particular rogues gallery is quite the achievement.  It’s kind of like being voted the Uday Hussein of the Senate:  “You thought the other guys are bad, but look at me!”  If not for all the Chamber of Commerce and insurance company lobbyists on Capitol Hill, McConnell might start to feel unloved.

Might I suggest some couples therapy, before Republican voters get tired of waiting for McConnell to break it off with the establishment and keep his campaign vows?  Actually advancing a conservative agenda would be a good show of faith.  Right now, tax reform is out there like a big bouquet of flowers and a yuge box of chocolates, just waiting to charm the pants off your base.  They won’t play hard to get if you’re ready to show them some real commitment.

Otherwise, they’ll just keep asking, “What have you done for me lately?”  And they’re not going to like the answer.

But Trump Hires The Best People

Either he’s powerful, or he’s gullible. Either he’s a great manager, or a bad one. He cannot be both.

For what it’s worth, Trump doesn’t appear to regret his hiring choices, but his cult base seems to think he’s being played.

Yet, if he hires the best people, why did he lose Michael Flynn, one of his closest aides and National Security Advisor? Reince Preibus? Ryan “Puerto Rico Lineman” Zinke, Tom Price, Steve Bannon… and Paul Manafort, or Rick Gates? And what the heck happened with Scaramucci?

The list of those he’s hired, then had to fire is no longer just a chyron of cable news, it’s an actual list.

Today, the President told the world that the Mueller indictments announced this morning are for crimes from “years ago,” and says Manafort’s role in the campaign was a small one.

This is simply untrue. No one likes the word “lie,” but call it what you want: the indictment includes crimes committed last summer, during the campaign, and Manafort’s role was a large one. He was hired March 29 to run the campaign. In every way.

Here’s what Trump said at the time:

“Paul [Manafort] is a great asset and an important addition as we consolidate the tremendous support we have received in the primaries and caucuses, garnering millions more votes than any other candidate. Paul Manafort, and the team I am building, bring the needed skill sets to ensure that the will of the Republican voters, not the Washington political establishment, determines who will be the nominee for the Republican Party. I look forward to winning the nomination, and ultimately the presidency in order to Make America Great Again.”

And here’s what I said at the time:

“The man doesn’t hide that he plays the card tables across the globe. His digital rolodex swerves the topographical surface of earth from French presidential candidates and African rebel force commanders to Ukrainian oligarchs and American senators. He doesn’t just rub shoulders with dictators and arms dealers, or lobby on behalf of Saudi princes, he runs PR for their organizations – when he’s not fraternizing with them. Think: OLIVIA POPE WITH A BLACK HAT – the Lord of War, and masseuse of criminal legacies. This is the master of Donald trump’s machine today.”

Manafort’s greatest asset was to network the world’s most powerful with the world’s most degraded, and to run PR and campaigns for them. But somehow it was overlooked that his resume’s crown jewel was to elect a pro-Putin Ukrainian president through questionable means. Or, perhaps that’s why he was hired. First, as campaign chairman, then, as manager when he pushed Corey Lewandowski aside to take over the entire campaign a month later.

At this exact moment, trump was teasing the Russians to hack servers on national TV. Donald, Jr., Kushner and Manafort were meeting with Russians about “adoption.” A now-dead GOP operative was communicating with Wikileaks about finding Hillary’s emails. And Roger Stone (Manafort’s longtime business partner and friend) was messaging Guccifer 2.0 about the Wikileaks dump that month. This isn’t “liberal fake news.” It’s on FoxNews. It’s not denied.

The only Russia-connected hires he still has on board are Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (Rosneft/Exxon oil field) and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross (Bank of Cyprus). Both of which stand to earn billions among their small circles if sanctions are lifted in the Arctic.

Yeah, it’s all coincidence. And it’s not Trump’s responsibility that he hired all these “great people.” Nah. This is all Hillary.

 

The GOP Tax Reform Proposal is a Good One. But Leave 401(K) Plans Alone.

The Republican Party will not privatize social security plans, but is considering cutting the amount people can place in 401(K) plans. It is not a good idea and disincentivize saving for retirement. I have seen some on the left note that few can actually contribute the maximum. But the reality is we should want all those who can to save as much as they can now. Yes, they will probably be in a lower tax rate later in life, but we should want people saving as much as they can with every incentive to do so. Just because some cannot, does not mean we should punish those who can.

With the exception of this, the GOP’s tax framework is good. While I will personally be hurt by an inability to deduct my state taxes, I think it is a sound idea. People in high tax states are allowed the luxury of not realizing it because they get that deduction. Governor Cuomo of New York is already lamenting how unfair it would be to the people of New York, but the reality is the people of New York would actually hold people like Cuomo accountable for tax reform if they knew how much they were taxed.

I am one of the people regularly and highly critical of the GOP. There are a number of things I wish they would improve in this tax plan, including lowering the top rate. But based on what has been released of the plan and the compromises thus far, this is a good step in the right direction and we should always want the tax code advancing in the right direction.

Even When Jeff Flake Is Right, He’s Wrong

There was a lot to like about Arizona Republican Jeff Flake’s speech on the Senate floor yesterday.  It was an impassioned call for a decency that is sorely lacking in our politics today, and on substance I think he was largely correct.  The coarseness that has become the new normal in Washington is indeed lamentable, and–more dangerously–it has also obfuscated the debate over what should be far more important issues.  President Trump, who has an unfortunate habit of running his mouth when prudence would be a far better course of action, bears a great amount of responsibility for this sorry state of affairs, and Flake was justified in calling him out for it.

What Flake doesn’t realize is that he’s also dead wrong.

Here’s the passage that undermines his own argument:

Here today I stand to say that we would be better served — we would better serve the country — by better fulfilling our obligations under the Constitution by adhering to our Article 1 — “old normal,” Mr. Madison’s doctrine of separation of powers. This genius innovation which affirms Madison’s status as a true visionary — and for which Madison argued in Federalist 51 — held that the equal branches of our government would balance and counteract with each other, if necessary.

“Ambition counteracts ambition,” he wrote. But what happens if ambition fails to counteract ambition? What happens if stability fails to assert itself in the face of chaos and instability? If decency fails to call out indecency? Were the shoe on the other foot, we Republicans — would we Republicans meekly accept such behavior on display from dominant Democrats?

 The answer to that question is yes, the GOP has meekly accepted such behavior from dominant Democrats–and they’ve been doing it for a long time.  An ad featuring a Paul Ryan lookalike pushing granny over a cliff in her wheelchair?  Check.  How about another one accusing George W. Bush of going easy on the monsters who dragged a black man to death in Texas?  Got that too.  Let’s also not forget Harry “Red Eye” Reid calling Mitt Romney a tax cheat on the Senate floor.  Republicans grumbled about it, but ultimately Reid suffered no consequences for his slander.  Then there was 8 years of the Bush presidency, during which he was accused of everything from knowing about 9/11 in advance to blowing up the levees in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  Bush never wanted to sully the dignity of his office by fighting back, which was noble–but it also allowed his enemies, including the media, to define him.

None of that happened in a vacuum.  GOP voters noticed, and started asking, “How come our guys don’t get as nasty with them as they get with us?”  In short, they got sick of Democrat bullies kicking sand in their faces on the beach and decided to send away for Donald Trump’s body building kit.

Flake goes on to say:

We were not made great as a country by indulging in or even exalting our worst impulses, turning against ourselves, glorifying in the things that divide us, and calling fake things true and true things fake. And we did not become the beacon of freedom in the darkest corners of the world by flouting our institutions and failing to understand just how hard-won and vulnerable they are.

Again, he’s talking about Trump here–but couldn’t he just as easily be talking about the media?  What have they been doing, if not dividing us along the lines of man and woman, black and white, straight and gay, liberal and conservative?  With every issue, they try to drive a wedge between Americans and then peddle the outrage, turning it into clicks and views while pushing a simple, constant narrative:  Democrats Good, Republicans Bad!  That’s also the old normal–one in which conservatives reliably lose.  If those are the good old days Jeff Flake is pining for, he can have them.

Why Is the GOP Establishment Such a Loser? It’s Kristol Clear

I was never #NeverTrump, but back during those crazy days of the 2016 GOP primary I had a certain amount of sympathy for those who were.  That’s because I respected quite a few of them—and in opposing Donald Trump, they weren’t exactly taking the easy road.  Our own Erick Erickson paid a steep price for abiding by his principles, and other writers whom I follow closely—Jonah Goldberg and Jay Nordlinger among them—built a convincing case against Trump’s brand of celebrity populism.

Since I have little use for cult-of-personality politics, and since my own conservatism springs primarily from intellectual and policy roots, I agreed with most of their arguments.  I also knew that Trump was not, at heart, a conservative, even if the agenda he proposed largely was.  One thing that Trump had going for him, though, was that he really made the GOP establishment nervous.  He wasn’t afraid to call them out as creatures of the DC swamp, a little too comfortable with a status quo in which they talked a good game but never actually did anything. Ted Cruz expressed the same sentiments, and the establishment hated them both for it—but since Cruz was the true conservative, I cast my vote for him in the primary.

Trump, however, was the one who prevailed, and I was fine with that.  Would I have preferred the nominee to be someone actually schooled in conservative thought and tradition?  Sure.  And would it have been better for the Republican standard-bearer to be more of a steady hand and less of a character from a WWE pay-per-view special?  Absolutely. But even if Trump was a flawed vessel, he talked about issues that the GOP base actually cared about—things like unchecked illegal immigration, which establishment toadies like Jeb! called an act of love.  Trump also understood what the Democrats had long known—that politics is a street fight and you don’t win by playing nice.  To a guy like me, who was still angry over how a decent man like Mitt Romney had his reputation trashed by a dishonest media and the likes of Harry Reid, this was nothing short of a vindication.

There are some, however, who never quite got over the vulgarity of it all.  Like the country clubbers of Bushwood horrified at the antics of Al Czervik, they still can’t believe that man was allowed anywhere near the White House.  Count among them Bill Kristol, who was a leading conservative voice and a champion of limited government, but who now defines himself wholly by his resistance to all things Trump.

 

I may be a simple blogger, but I can’t find the part of the Constitution that stipulates a strong preference for democratic norms except in cases when the duly elected president is kind of icky.  By those standards, Kristol should have advocated a Deep State overthrow of Bill Clinton—but I don’t remember seeing an article like that in the Weekly Standard at the time.

No matter.  To Kristol, being #NeverTrump means never having to give the president credit for anything, even when he takes actions that you wholeheartedly agree are good for the country.  Or, as he put it in a recent tweet:

 

For sure, it would have been far better if Hillary had picked the next Supreme Court justice.  I mean, our Second Amendment rights would be hanging by a thread and we’d be one court case away from erasing our religious liberties forever—but it would totes be worth it if Bill Kristol didn’t have to say, “Eww!” every time he had to watch a Trump presser.  As for Iran getting a nuclear weapon and the UN’s non-stop Israel bashing through UNESCO, would that really be such a large price to pay for not offending Kristol’s delicate sensibilities?  We have our standards to maintain, after all.

If you ever needed an illustration of exactly why the GOP establishment has become so hated by its own base, look no further.  In essence, Kristol is saying that losing the election and cementing the Obama legacy would have been preferable to the faux pas of Donald Trump.  Most voters see it differently.  They would rather win and advance their own agenda.  If that means putting up with some boorish behavior on the part of the president, then so be it.  That’s because they know the alternative is far worse.

Kristol, for his part, doesn’t seem to care.  If he can’t have things his way, he’d rather take his ball and go home—no matter how badly the rest of the country suffers.  Problem is, the voters are on to his little scam, and now he’s pitching a hissy fit.

It’s really too bad.  Kristol is s smart man, and has contributed greatly to the conservative moment over the years—more than I ever will, I’m certain.  But right now, his pride seems to be getting the better of him. Rather than try to convince everyone he was right about Trump all along, maybe he should try cutting the administration some slack when it’s deserved.  Then, when he calls them out for doing something stupid, his criticism will sound more genuine.

Kasich Hints At Leaving The Republican Party

During an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday, Ohio Gov. John Kasich surprised no one when he expressed dissatisfaction with the state of the GOP and gave indications that he may leave the Party altogether.

In response to Tapper’s review of GOP senate candidate Roy Moore’s past controversial remarks, Kasich issued the following comment.

“I don’t run the party, I can tell you for me — I don’t support that. I couldn’t vote for that,” he said on Tapper’s State of the Union program. “I couldn’t tell you what the heck I’d have to do, but I don’t live in that state (Alabama). Those claims — I mean — the’re ludicrous. They’re divisive. And if that’s where we’re headed… If the Party can’t be fixed, Jake, then I’m not going to be able to support the Party. Period.”

Tapper then asked for clarification. Specifically, the CNN anchor questioned if the outgoing governor would ever become an independent if the GOP does not change its ways.

To that, Kasich did not offer a definitive answer.

 

The idea of leaving the Republican Party and becoming an independent is, of course, a serious consideration of Kasich’s.

The governor of Ohio ran as an anti-Trump candidate during the 2016 Republican primary. After winning only his home state, Kasich went on to become one of the president’s most vocal critics from the right. Taking centrist positions on various issues, such as Defending Obamacare and wanting permanent legal status for Dreamers, the GOP governor has continually called for moderates on both sides of the aisle to come together to enact change.

In August, a source to Axios revealed that the idea of a “unity ticket” between Kasich and Colorado Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper has been causally discussed between the two men. Under the proposed plan, both candidates would run together as independents in the 2020 cycle, with Kasich at the top of the ticket and Hickenlooper as his running mate.

Claims of formulating an independent run for the White House in 2020 were emphatically denied.

However, it should be noted that CNN also reported an independent claim that the governor duo were in talks of running a unity ticket together.

Kasich and Hickenlooper are both finishing the remainder of their second terms and will be vacating office in January 2019 — they have nothing better to do. The two governors have become very familiar with each other over the years, having worked together extensively on health care, economic and other reform packages.

Having made two separate bids for the White House already — both times only drawing lukewarm interest from conservative voters — Kasich may feel that an independent campaign is his only possible route to the Oval Office.

As for now, Kasich has not completely shed his Republican affiliation.. but let’s not be too surprised if (or when) that day finally comes.

Building the Wall Will Require Presidential Extortion

Multiple news outlets are reporting President Trump agreed to exclude demands to build the southern border wall from a deal on DACA legislation. (Wash Examiner)

The White House hailed a “constructive working dinner” Wednesday night between President Trump and top Democratic congressional leaders, who claimed afterward they agreed to exclude the border wall from a deal on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. “We had a very productive meeting at the White House with the President,” Schumer and Pelosi said in a joint statement. “The discussion focused on DACA. We agreed to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that’s acceptable to both sides.”

While this is the Democrat’s spin from dinner last night, the White House quickly denied it: (Wash Examiner)

“While DACA and border security were both discussed, excluding the wall was certainly not agreed to,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders shot back shortly afterward.

Whether the President includes a border wall funding demand in the upcoming DACA vote is uncertain, but if he doesn’t,  you can depend on conservatives screaming to high heaven, and never-Trumpers crowing “I told you so…”.  Yet, perhaps they should be focused on GOP leadership and the Chamber of Commerce.

The MSM and Democrats would have you believe the GOP wants to build a border wall, and only they stand in opposition. This is not true and they know it, however; it is great for fundraising. The plain and simple fact of the matter is the current congressional GOP leadership is virulently against a border wall and will not support passage of border wall funding legislation.  (Wash Times)

Speaker Paul Ryan reportedly said during a private dinner earlier this year that nobody but nobody in Congress wanted a border wall — well, nobody except “one member,” Breitbart reported, citing a one-on-one with the former congressman, Tom Tancredo. “Ryan told a group of Republicans he met with … that only one person wants a wall,” Tancredo  said, “You have to understand the level of fear that exists in the Republican establishment about this issue.”

GOP opposition to border wall funding is predicated upon fear of the media, fear their big business donors, and fear of not being re-elected (Breitbart)

“The Chamber of Commerce doesn’t want a wall … the pressure is greater from the Chamber of Commerce than it is from the members,” Tancredo, who for years in the House fought a mostly fruitless battle to get Congress to combat the flood of illegal immigration, added. “That’s the basic problem. It was then. It is now.”

As the Washington Times reports, the GOP has obstructed any funding legislation (Wash Times)

Republicans, through action — or more to truth, inaction — and most recently, through Ryan, have shown an utter reluctance to get the process going. It’s not only their business backers they fear. It’s public relations and media coverage. There’s been a growing trend from the left to set fires, break glass and toss rocks at police and citizens alike whenever a conservative idea seems to gather steam on Capitol Hill. It’s not just the Chamber that lurks; it’s antifa and its thuggish cohorts. Combine that with a media heck-bent on taking down this White House, and the final result, in the minds of campaigning Republicans, is this: Bad press leading to reelection loss.

It doesn’t seem to make sense to double down on border wall funding when your own party stands in opposition. This fact isn’t hidden from the Democrats, all they have to do is sit back and wait for the President to cave, and then make political hay over it. When all along, GOP leadership knew it was a non-starter.

That being the case, there is only one way the President and his bonder control conservative supporters will ever see the southern border wall built. It will be messy, require considerable spine, and take around 90 days. But it will work, threatening corporate cash flow and profits always works.

The President should instruct Attorney General Sessions to issue a new directive, announcing ICE will shift its focus from the southern border temporarily, instead concentrating on interior control for the next 90 day.  The focus would be conducting a crackdown on corporations that hire illegal aliens.

He should announce ICE will start at the southern border from California to Texas and sweep north. No company would be excluded. General Sessions should be very explicit in explaining ICE will hit agriculture, poultry farms, construction firms, road-building companies, etc; with the intent of arresting and deporting illegal immigrants, slapping fines, penalties and obtaining as many indictments as possible.

The White House should braced itself for the howls of protest. Initially the Democrats and MSM will be the loudest, followed by liberal open-borders devotees. But once the enforcement takes effect, they can expect the Chamber of Commerce and GOP establishment leadership is be fiercely and defiantly opposed.

However, if the White House has the will to see it through, it wouldn’t be long before those companies begin to see profits fall as well as announcements of not hitting their quarterly projection. This will surely trigger Wall Street. Nothing like falling stock to motivate those guys.

It is a stone cold lock those CEOs would begin storming the gates of the White House in their limos in such numbers, it would take a team of valets to sort them out.

Mr Trump should then sit them down and explain the facts of life. Interior enforcement until the wall is funded, it is their responsibility to convince Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. You can bet when Wall Street and big business money dries up, those four will cave so quick it would make your head spin.

The sad thing is interior border enforcement should be an given and be an on-going ICE effort. However in the case of funding of the southern border wall, it is just about the only chip on the table that has the power to bring all the players to the table.

It is a twofer win for Trump supporters, They get to see the wall built and watch Congress squirm. Win Win

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