In case you were worried you’d have to wait 577 days to see America head to the polls again, worry not! Georgia’s 6th Congressional district will be holding a special election in a mere ten. It will be to fill Tom Price’s seat, vacant now that he has taken the roll of Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Trump administration. No matter the result of the election, I can guarantee the they will be hyperbolically exaggerated in terms of their meaning. Before we worry about that though, let’s take a look at the state of things in the fightin’ 6th!
It is located just north of Atlanta and contains some of the cities more well off suburbs. This is a district that in 2012 was won by Romney by 23.3 points and in 2016 was won by Trump by 1.5 points. Newt Gingrich won the congressional seat in 1979, held it for 20 years, and has been won by Republicans ever since he retired. The lines were redrawn slightly after the 2010 census though, so we shouldn’t make too much of history.
There are 18 candidates currently vying for the open seat. The leader in the polls with 40% is Democrat Jon Ossoff, a documentary film maker and former Congressional aide. At 20% is the former Georgia Secretary of State, Republican Karen Handel. There are three other Republicans polling around 10% and the rest of the candidates are chopping up the remainder. This isn’t a run away for Ossoff though. If no one gets 50% of the vote then the top two vote getters will compete in a run off election on June 20th where Ossoff won’t have the benefit of a fractured Republican vote. If polling holds and June 20th sees Ossoff face off against Handel, current projections have it a virtual tie. Ossoff leads 42/41, but 17% of the electorate is undecided.
If Ossoff Wins
The narrative the next day will be that the GOP control of the House and Senate is as good as gone. If the Republicans can’t hold such a red district, what hope do they have for the rest of the country? Trump’s low approval ratings obviously reflect a nation that has already rejected him. People will point to cases like Republican Scott Brown’s win in the special election for Democrat Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat which foreshadowed the oncoming Tea Party Wave. This would be a mistake for a number of reasons.
- One data point should never be looked at as a trend.
- Enthusiasm is currently on the side of the Democrats, but that could easily fade in the next 20 months.
- This was an open seat so the Republicans didn’t have the incumbency advantage they will in other races.
- Trump could do any number of things to potentially turn his approval ratings around and win back the country. This is not intended as a conspiratorial statement, but wars traditionally have a ‘rally to the banner’ effect for the President.
- Also in 2010 was a special election for Pennsylvania’s 12th district in which Democrats outperformed to hold a seat in a red area, but still lost 63 seats that coming November.
All of these points should be further emphasized if Ossoff wins the race narrowly.
If Handel (or Another Republican) Wins
The narrative the next day will be that the GOP have an absolute and undisputed mandate to govern this nation. The approval ratings for Congress, Trump, and the AHCA/Republicare were obviously all fake news. The country is behind the President, his agenda, and his accomplishments so far. There is no anxiety about what the investigations into the Russian influence on the election might reveal. The Democrats are a dead party clinging to relevancy. This would be a mistake for a number of reasons.
- ONE DATA POINT SHOULD NEVER BE LOOKED AT AS A TREND.
- This has been a Republican district for 38 years, it staying that way isn’t Earth shattering news. To expand on that, this district is 9.5 points more GOP leaning than the nation as a whole. Democrats need 24 seats to take control of Congress which means they just need to flip districts up to and including districts that are 4 points more GOP leaning than the nation.
- The Democrats still have plenty of time to coalesce the multiple movements resisting Trump into one political force.
- Trump could do any number of things to plunge his approval ratings to new found depths. A President’s approval rating is the single most influential factor in predicting a party’s success in the midterm elections, so yes this really does matter. [I can’t link to the source on this as it was a politics podcast from the 538 crew, so that’s where I heard it.]
All of these points should be further emphasized if the Republican wins the race narrowly.
How You Should Read The Results
After Tuesday the 18th has passed, you should check the results. If no one has 50%, then don’t pay much attention to any of the spin since an election between two people can easily go differently than an election between 18. If someone does have 50%, then just don’t get carried away on reading the tea leaves. Montana, Kansas, South Carolina, and California will also be holding special elections in the next three months. To read more about them, I’d recommend this article. After all five of these races are done, then we can take a look at the data as a whole. Until then though, don’t pour too much energy into what is just the most recent play in a very long game.
After being introduced less than three weeks ago the AHCA/Republicare was going to be voted on yesterday, but the bill now seems dead without ever seeing the floor of the House. To say the least, this is a shocking turn of events. Getting it through Congress was supposed to be the east part, and the Senate was going to be the struggle. Instead we find ourselves here. This recasts how we must view the future of multiple groups in Washington, so instead of breaking down what happened, this post will focus on what we might expect going forward.
In my opinion it is Paul Ryan who is dealt the biggest blow by all of this. Republicare was clearly his bill as he was easily the loudest voice trying to drum up support for it. Now he finds himself as the last remaining champion of a bill his own party shot to pieces from multiple sides of the ideological spectrum and that the American people had a 17/56 approve/disapprove opinion of.
It’s also important to note his predecessor, John Boehner, had a beginning of the end that looked awfully similar to this. Boehner expressed repeated frustration at being rebuffed by the Freedom Caucus Republicans when trying to move forward on issues that benefited from party unity. February 24th of this year Boehner even commented that a replacement to Obamacare was going to be incredibly difficult because house members, “will never ever agree what the bill should be.” This lack of ability to wrangle the party and whip votes is what ultimately drove Boehner out of Washington and we might be seeing the same group pull the same move against the new speaker.
Republicare created some strange bedfellows, but probably none stranger than the elected Tea Party members known as the Freedom Caucus and those still supporting Obamacare. Their insistence that this bill was simply ‘Obamacare lite’ and ‘the largest welfare program every proposed by Republicans’ made them some of this bill’s most vocal opponents. The death of this bill is going to make this group feel emboldened and like they will be able to pull this administration further to the right.
On the morning of the second day this bill was supposed to get a vote, Trump tweeted:
Even accusations that they’d be cast as pro-choice couldn’t sway them though. There are interesting dynamics at play here because in many of their districts, they won their elections in landslides, but Trump beat Clinton by similar numbers. Trump was speaking specifically of the chairman of the Freedom Caucus Rep. Mark Meadows(R-NC) when he said, “I’m gonna come after you, but I know I won’t have to, because I know you’ll vote ‘yes,’” Will Trump attempt to primary out some of the people who opposed him in this bill? Would he succeed if his approval among Republicans starts to slip while Reps remain popular in their own districts? It’s tough to say and I’m not quite ready to start forecasting 2018.
Truthfully, I believe Trump is happy this is done. You could tell right away that this wasn’t a fight his heart was in because of how the White House rebuffed labeling the bill TrumpCare. If a man who is willing to put his name on average steaks sold at the Sharper Image actively fought putting his name on this, it was obvious what his opinion of the whole thing was.
Now, I don’t think he was happy to take the loss on this, but look at his reactions following Jeff Sessions recusing himself from the Russia investigation compared to this Friday afternoon. Either he’s pivoted to become much more presidential, or this loss really didn’t bother him much. Trump can now shift the focus to tax reform which is an issue that the American people give him more credibility on and that is a much more personal fight for him.
The question remains though, how much political capital did this fight cost him? The Freedom Caucus played chicken with Trump and he was the one to blink first. The storied deal making abilities of the man got put to their first legislative test and he was found woefully lacking. If anyone has proven they can brush off a failure and stumble forward it’s Trump, but this could signal to the rest of his party that he’s not invincible and could be challenged more regularly.
Finally we get to the group that Trump blamed for the whole thing falling apart. It seems like the current GOP plan is to let Obamacare continue on, possibly guarantee it fails but more on that in a moment, and then tell the American people that the group that doesn’t have control of a single branch of government was the one that orchestrated it all. Trump challenged the Democrats to reach across the aisle and bring him their plan and that’s exactly what they need to do.
Republicans are going to catch a great deal of flack for promising that they had a replacement ready to go seven years ago. They just needed to be given the house, the senate, and the presidency first. It seems increasingly likely that for the vast majority of that time there was no plan but to criticize, so Democrats now need to bring forward their plan. Every Democrat I’ve heard openly admits that Obamacare has flaws that need to be addressed so they should write the bill that they would have introduced if Clinton had won the election.
Doing so would help demonstrate that they intend to remain a governing party and not just turn into an opposition party. Failure to do so will also assist Republicans in their claims that every negative truth and fiction about healthcare in this country is entirely on their heads.
“We’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.” Those were Paul Ryan’s words at the brief press conference he held after the plan to vote on Friday was scrapped. Trump echoed similar sentiments in his words to the media. With no replacement to vote on, the plan from the GOP is clearly to wait until Obamacare gets so bad that everyone else will come to the table and work with them.
It is something of a strange stance because if we take Trump at his word that Obamacare is a disaster for people, businesses, and this country, but he’s content to just leave it in place for now, that seems incredibly heartless. Either its destroying the economy and the American way of life and therefor needs attention immediately, or it’s none of those things.
More importantly though, there are actually many things this administration has the power to do on its own to either help Obamacare better serve the needs of the people or to undercut it entirely. As HHS Secretary Tom Price put it:
There are also plenty of things happening on the state level with Medicaid tied to Obamacare that this administration could bolster or hamstring. It would be very easy for Trump and other Republicans to say they’ll just wait for Obamacare to fail while actively working behind the scenes to guarantee it does just that and for the fifth consecutive election, campaign on the idea that the American people need to grant them more power for them to come up with a replacement plan.
If you would have polled any politician the day after the most recent election, I would bet 95% would have agreed that Obamacare was virtually dead and gone. I know I would have laughed in your face if you would have told me that Republicans wouldn’t even vote on either repeal or replace. You could easily argue that both Clinton’s and Obama’s attempts at healthcare fixes cost their party a majority in Congress in the following election. Normally I would suggest history will repeat itself, but nothing about this last week has made me want to use the word normal unless it’s proceeded by the letters ‘ab’.
The Congressional Budget Office(CBO) released its findings on the American Health Care Act(AHCA) which is also being called TrumpCare, RyanCare, and RepubliCare depending on who you ask. Their full summary can be read here. It is the first part of the GOP replacement for Obamacare and Paul Ryan wants the bill voted on in the house by Easter, but before we look at the findings, let’s recall some key things about the CBO.
The agency’s director is Keith Hall. He is an economist and was George W Bush’s pick for Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. He has many traditional Conservative Economist beliefs including raising the minimum wage is bad and regulations are harmful. In February of 2015 House Republicans appointed him as director of the CBO. This is important given that we should expect an agency under this man’s watch to either be neutral and data driven, or to lean right in their analysis.
Over the weekend several key Republicans preemptively took shots at the CBO and what they might find. From White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, “I love the folks at the CBO, they work really hard, they do, but sometimes we ask them to do stuff they’re not capable of doing, and estimating the impact of a bill of this size probably isn’t the – isn’t the best use of their time,” From White House Economic Adviser Gary Cohn, “We will see what the score is, in fact in the past, the CBO score has really been meaningless.” The White House was clearly bracing for this report, so let’s dig in to what it says.
Number of Insured
In January the President said, “We’re going to have insurance for everybody. There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.” According to the CBO there will be 14 million more uninsured people next year and 24 million more uninsured people by 2026. Both of those numbers are compared to the projections for uninsured under Obamacare. Twenty four million people is the rough equivalent to the combined populations of Vermont, Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Delaware, Montana, Rhode Island, Maine, New Hampshire, Idaho, West Virginia, Nebraska, New Mexico, Kansas, and Wyoming. Those 14 and 24 million are largely from one demographic though, the poor.
As you can see, the CBO estimates those living at 200% or less of the federal poverty level are hit the hardest. That would be a single person making $23,760 a year or a family of four making $48,600 a year. Particularly troubling is that age 50-64 column where the uninsured rate nearly triples.
This one is more complicated. The CBO estimates that by 2019, premiums on the individual market place would increase 15-20% over the Obamacare numbers, but would come in 10% under the 2026 Obamacare estimates. Once again though, there is a group paying a disproportional penalty. Prior to the release of the CBO numbers, the AARP ran some estimates too and found a 64-year old earning $25,000 a year would see an increase in their premiums of $7,000. The CBO disagreed and predicted a 64-year old earning $26,500 a year would have an increase in their premiums of $12,900. They would go from a net premium payment of $1,700 under Obamacare to $14,600 under the AHCA. That would mean a full 55% of their income would be going to their insurance premiums. The AARP had come out strongly against this bill before and I imagine there will be some heavy lobbying from them now.
Impact on Deficit
Over the next decade, the AHCA is expected to reduce the federal deficit by $337 billion over ten years. It was nearly a guarantee that this bill would cut from the deficit since it is being passed under reconciliation rules. This bill is technically a budget bill which is why it only needs a simple majority in both the house and the senate and therefor avoids the potential of a filibuster from the Democrats.
The bill largely accomplishes this with cuts to Medicaid. I was impressed they managed to remove the tax hikes from the ACA for top earners and still hit that number. This bill give a tax cut to the top 1% of earners of $33,000 and a tax cut to the top 0.1% of earners of $197,000. Less taxes on the wealthy and a budget deficit reduction are bound to get some big cheers from the GOP.
Expected Debate Points
The question now is will the tax hikes and deficit reduction be enough to sell the American people on the idea of 24 million people losing coverage and premiums increasing by over 700% for some of our citizens. There are three ways I’ve seen it spun so far.
- The CBO is wrong in general. I gave some quotes at the start of this article from this weekend. Since the report has been released, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has stated, “We disagree strenuously with the report,” The tricky part is cherry picking what to reject. It’s tough to say the report is entirely awful except for the part about the deficit reduction. It should also be noted again that the person running the CBO was appointed by Paul Ryan and is himself a lifelong conservative, so it would seem strange if he was biasing the numbers to hurt the party.
- The CBO doesn’t have all the numbers. It is true that the CBO estimate is just based on this bill and it isn’t the entire GOP plan. Trump has claimed there will be Phases 2 and 3. Those phases will be trickier since they can’t be passed under reconciliation rules and therefor can be filibustered by the Dems. Republicans are claiming that the rest of the plan, which hasn’t been released and we can’t see, will solve the issue of the rise in the uninsured. This sets up a dangerous showdown later on because if the AHCA passes as is then I’d predict Trump putting major pressure on the Dems to pass the rest. He’ll say if they don’t vote for it then all the uninsured will be their fault, essentially taking those 24 million people hostage to pass whatever is in the remaining two phases of the plan that we might not even get a chance to see publicly until after a senate vote on what has been proposed so far.
- The numbers don’t matter. There is a group of Republicans who philosophically believe that health care is not something the government should provide at all. They believe it should be entirely left to the free market. I’ve seen comments today on conservative message boards praising this bill as fighting back against tyranny and that this is people reclaiming their liberty. To this set of people it could remove coverage from every single person in the country, but they’d still think it would be better for everyone because it reduced the deficit and allowed capitalism to solve the issue. I don’t want to spend too much time rebutting this, because I disagree fervently with this stance, but it’s still important to remember that several congressman and senators are approaching the healthcare problem with this mindset.
In January, Obama had a message for the GOP, “I am saying to every Republican right now: If you, in fact, can put a plan together that is demonstrably better than what Obamacare is doing, I will publicly support repealing Obamacare and replacing it with your plan.” The numbers from the CBO make it clear that Obama will not be supporting this bill. The numbers also make it clear that Trump’s campaign promises of providing better and cheaper healthcare coverage for everyone are not fulfilled by this bill. Is it possible Phases 2 and 3 could solve all the issues? Theoretically yes, but like the CBO I can only go off what has been released, and if this is the best the GOP can do after promising for seven years they had the silver bullet for our country’s healthcare woes, we just needed to give them full control over the whole government, then we’ve been severely lied to.
Trump Cabinet Update
Secretary of State – A great deal of speculation continues about this key position. Fortunately, it looks like the John Bolton possibility has fallen by the wayside. Now things seem to be between Giuliani and Romney. Inside sources are saying that for Romney to be offered the position he needs to apologize for the scathing speech he gave about Trump back during the GOP primaries.  Although it’s a nice thought that Trump would build a ‘Team of Rivals’, it’s a long way off for now.
Attorney General – Jeff Sessions seems to be the leading choice for this position. He was the first senator to endorse Trump, so it isn’t surprising he’s up for some cabinet post. The awful thing here is that Sessions was up for a federal judgeship 30 years ago, but was denied the post because of concerns about his racism. There was testimony that he called assistant US attorneys who were black ‘Boy’, thought the NAACP and ACLU were un-american, and joked that he thought KKK members were, “OK, until he learned that they smoked marijuana.”  It was unacceptable for a federal judge in the 80s, but it may be acceptable for Attorney General in the Trump administration.
Secretary of Education – This one is a done deal, it’s Betsy DeVos. Now, I will say that she has a long record of supporting Arts Education in schools, so major positive points there. There is a glaring flaw though. She has spent her entire career fighting to undermine public education through voucher systems and school choice. There are ways that system can be used for good, but given that Trump just settled one of the fraud lawsuits about his own university for 25 million dollars, we can guess what a voucher system might look like under Trump. Michigan has around 80% of its charter schools run by private companies.  This is an issue that deserves more attention than just this paragraph, but if you’d like to see more examples of how this system has worked so far in this country, I’d invite you to watch the segment John Oliver did in August on charter schools. Overall it’s just strange to have a secretary of education who didn’t attend public schools herself, didn’t send their children to public school, and has never worked in a public school.
Before the Meeting
Because we can’t have a news story about Trump without a bizarre series of events that include twitter, I relay the following. There was plenty of anticipation for the meeting between Trump and the NYT staff, but then the President-elect tweeted this:
This was news to the NYT who hadn’t changed any conditions of the meeting, and hadn’t been contacted about the cancellation. They found out along with the rest of us when Trump tweeted the above. When the Times told Trump nothing had changed then the meeting was back on as planned. The question remained though, why did Trump think something was being changed?
According to three sources who talked to the NYT, it was RNC Chair and soon to be Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. Supposedly he thought Trump wasn’t ready for the interview and instead of telling him that, attempted to sabotage the whole thing.  As these sources have remained anonymous, it’s impossible to know. I’ve seen other people suggest it wasn’t Priebus, but instead it was members of Trump’s staff who don’t like Priebus since he’s such a key member of the establishment and this was their attempt to undermine his authority. Again, tough to say anything for certain other than somehow Trump thought things were changed, ranted on twitter, and then upon finding out they weren’t, put everything was back on.
It was an hour long interview and you can read the entire transcript here, but there were three things that really jumped out at me.
“The Times is a great, great American jewel,” and “Well, I just appreciate the meeting and I have great respect for The New York Times. Tremendous respect. It’s very special. Always has been very special.”
Both of those were comments Trump made about the NYT after calling them failing earlier that exact same day. During the campaign he repeatedly called them liars, threatened them with litigation, and his supporters even invoked the term ‘Lugenpresse’ to refer to them.  Now they’re a jewel he has great respect for? I don’t see how he can possibly ump back and forth between those two opposed stances so readily.
I want to get back to the term Lugenpresse though. It was often invoked during Hitler’s rise to power and many people have pointed that fact out in tying Trump’s ‘Alt-Right’ supporters to the Neo-Nazi and White Supremacist groups that all seem to share so much of the same ideology. Trump had comments about the Alt-Right directly:
“I don’t want to energize the group, and I disavow the group…It’s not a group I want to energize, and if they are energized, I want to look into it and find out why.”
“Well, there was a report that somebody said that I’m not enthused about it. Look, I want to move forward, I don’t want to move back. And I don’t want to hurt the Clintons. I really don’t….Yeah, look, you know we’ll have people that do things but my inclination would be, for whatever power I have on the matter, is to say let’s go forward. This has been looked at for so long. Ad nauseam. Let’s go forward. And you know, you could also make the case that some good work was done in the foundation and they could have made mistakes”
For those of you who aren’t friends with me on Facebook, I did most of my political analysis running up to the election there. Since the vast majority of my traffic came when I linked my posts to Facebook, I figured I’d just cut out the middle man. Political novel posts fly during election season, but now that things are done-ish I’ll be mostly shifting back to here. More on that at the end of this post, but for now let’s talk about what we know now that one week has passed since we all heard the words we didn’t expect ‘President Donald Trump’
Election Night Numbers
The first thing I want to address is all the hate that pollsters are getting right now. People are asking, how did the polls get it so wrong? I’m here to tell you that they didn’t and to blame pollsters is to commit a grave error. On the morning of the election Clinton held a 3.5 point lead over Trump. After all the votes are tallied it looks like Clinton is going to win the popular vote by 1.8 points. Since 1968 a 2 point polling error is the average which means the pollsters were actually closer than normal on this one. Now the people who looked at a 3.5 point lead and assigned a 95%-99% chance of Clinton winning? Those people definitely carry some blame.
Unfortunately it’s a near guarantee that in 2020 (Yes, I’m going to talk about 2020, after all the primary season is only two years away) people are going to claim that all the polls are wrong, just look at 2016! That’s not what happened here. Like I said, please blame groups that looked at the polls and gave inflated probabilistic forecasts, but don’t blame the polls. Clinton was roughly a 70/30 favorite on election day, so despite how it’s being spun, this isn’t the greatest upset in American political history.
Looking at a couple additional interesting numbers from this election. Clinton outdid Obama by around 200,000 votes in Florida but still lost the state. Clinton lost Michigan by only 16,000 votes which is notable because in the country in which Detroit is located, she under performed Obama’s 2012 numbers by 60,000 votes. Clinton lost Wisconsin by 60,000 votes and it’s estimated that 200,000 people were turned away from the polls because of the new voter ID laws in the state. If you take Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania combined, Clinton lost those states by just shy of 150,000 votes total which is why she’ll lose the electoral college despite being up in the national popular vote by over a 1.2 million votes and counting. I know a ton people are going to focus on the electoral college, but in all honesty looking at Wisconsin and looking at North Carolina (A state that had 10% less turnout of the black vote than in 2012 after passing voting laws that were struck down in courts for targeting minorities) there are other more winnable legal battles that also have immediate consequences.
I watched Trump’s acceptance speech the next morning. I really was impressed. He struck a nearly humble tone, thanked Clinton for her service to the country with what sounded like sincerity, and discussed infrastructure which wasn’t really a plank of his campaign platform. In an exercise in grasping at straws with a friend I suggested that maybe Trump really had Art of the Dealed the whole country. You start from an extreme position and then through negotiation end up in the middle. Perhaps Don the Con earned that name and the next four years weren’t going to justify the fear. Nancy Pelosi even eagerly came forward saying that Democrats would be happy to talk about an infrastructure bill. That hopefulness of mine lasted precisely four hours, then the theoretical appointments started turning up.
It should be noted that all appointments except three are hypothetical. Several names have been thrown around for Secretary of State. First it was Newt Gingrich, but at least according to Giuliani, the top choice now is John Bolton.  Again, this is a theoretical pick, but it needs discussion. John Bolton, aside from being a Washington insider, establishment politician, and therefor the exact sort of person Trump said he was draining the swamp of, was one the key architects of the Iraq war and instrumental in allegedly falsifying the intelligence that said Iraq had WMDs. Trump made such a huge deal out of how much he knew ahead of time the Iraq War was a mistake and then Bolton gets floated for SoS? We’ve also seen Carson brought up for Department of Education, but Carson has already said no in a statement, “Dr Carson feels he has no government experience, he’s never run a federal agency. The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency.”  Which has to be a joke given that he was running for the Presidency, but I digress.
One of the picks we know for sure is Reince Priebus for Chief of Staff. Being the head of the RNC, you can’t get much more establishment than that, so to his supporters that might seem like a slap in the face and another example of his claim of ‘draining the swamp’ being more hollow than the Cheetos Trump is so often compared to. We also know that at least as far as the transition team, not necessarily a permanent post, is Myron Ebell for the EPA. This is a man who thinks climate change is “Silly”, has lobbied with Arizona Congressman John Shadegg on an effort to rewrite parts of the Endangered Species Act to be “more respectful of property rights”, and his current organization The Competitive Enterprise Institute received multiple donations between 1998-2005 totaling 2 million from Exxon Mobile. And yet it’s the third appointment that has me the most concerned for the next four years.
Steve Bannon has been called many things. He’s been called anti-Semitic for not wanting his children to go to a school that had too many Jews. He’s been called a White Nationalist for all his work helping to found and stoke the fires of the Alt-Right. He’s been called a misogynist for publishing articles on Breitbart news blaming women for the wage gap because of their poor interview skills and saying that birth control makes women ugly and crazy. Glenn Beck, yes that Glenn Beck put it this way, “When people really understand what the alt-right is, this neo-nationalist, neo-Nazi, white supremacy idea that Bannon is pushing hard; I hope they wake up because, if not, we are racist. If that’s what we accept and we know it, then we are racist. I contend people don’t know what the alt-right is yet.”
Here’s the thing though. Of all the things in the above list that trouble me, it’s the publishing articles on Breitbart part that legitimately worries me the most. Steve Bannon is the co-founder of the alt right news website and now he’s Chief Strategist in Trump’s White House. Sean Hannity, a close friend of Trump and Fox News contributor, has suggested that CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post shouldn’t get White House press credentials.  Trump is also known to have an extremely adversarial relationship with multiple media outlets. Steve Bannon has the resume of a bigot, but it’s the fact that he’s a bigot with a publishing arm that could easily muscle its way into becoming a state sponsored media outlet with the only access to the White House that has me wondering what the Fourth Estate is going to look like down the road.
Policy Sneak Peak
For the optimists though, Trump continued to throw out scraps, but they need to be identified for what they are. I watched people on MSNBC’s Morning Joe talk about the relief the LGBT community must be feeling about Trump’s comments that he views marriage equality as “Settled law.”  I could point out the oddity of viewing Obergefell v. Hodges as settled but not Roe v. Wade. Instead I want to focus on one of the 20 supreme court justices on the list Trump posted as candidates for Scalia’s spot. William Pryor filed a brief in the landmark Lawrence v. Texas decision decrying not gay marriage, but gay sex as possibly having, “…severe physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual consequences, which do not necessarily attend heterosexual sodomy, and from which Texas’s citizens need to be protected. [There is] no fundamental right to engage in homosexual sodomy just because it is done behind closed doors” [8 PDF Warning] Trump may not care about marriage equality, but if he puts a man who views two gay men having consensual sex in the privacy of their own home to be spiritually damaging onto the Supreme Court, then the potential damage is out of the President’s hands.
The other Trump soundbite getting a lot of play recently was his apparent softening on the campaign promise to repeal Obamacare.  This came after his meeting with the current President where the two apparently discussed the matter and Obama attempted to impress upon Trump just how vital some of the pieces of the law are. Similar to the issue of marriage equality, this is a thing that even if Trump changes his mind on, I’m not certain it will effect the potential fallout during the incoming administration. Don’t forget how many times Congress has voted to repeal Obamacare and how many of those Congressmen have campaigned on continuing to do just that. Now that they finally have a clear path to doing so, would they stop and give up the opportunity to put that notch on their bedpost? Would Trump go so far in his new view of the law that he would veto such a bill if it didn’t have a replacement plan attached? What will Trump do with Paul Ryan’s new plan to rewrite Medicare while they’re already working on the ACA? One key thing to keep in mind with any new promises Trump makes that might seem moderate, will the Republican controlled House and Senate fall in line or will they continue on the same track they took while Obama was in the White House? Trump doesn’t have to do the damage himself, he just has to not get in the way of other groups much more intent on some of these proposals than he is.
This Blog Moving Forward
You all know how I like titles. I debated about this one because although headlines and puns are not strangers, perhaps this matter was too serious. To quote Who Framed Roger Rabbit though, “A laugh can be a very powerful thing. Why, sometimes in life, it’s the only weapon we have!” I’ve always lived by those words. A laugh can take the sting out of an event that then lets you start to deal with it. When you laugh at a thing, it also sticks in your mind longer. It’s easy to disengage when things are feeling down, but now is not the time for that. I’m going to work to not go too long without posting here myself, but I also want to invite others to do the same.
This has always been a personal blog of mine to just talk about whatever. It turned into more politics because that was the topic I had the most motivation to share my thoughts on. This election has stirred a lot of people into wanting to take a more active roll in things. Starting a blog can be intimidating, so I’m opening up mine. If you want to do a guest spot, reach out to me. This space isn’t much, but if it can be used to help others find and amplify their voices, especially now, then let’s speak up and speak out together.
In case you missed how this started, a man named Khizr Khan spoke at the DNC. It’s only a six minute speech, so I’d invite you to take the time to watch it all if you have the time.
Trump fired back Friday in an interview with George Stephanoloplis that can be seen below You may watch the whole thing, but the piece relevant to this post starts at 14:30.
Since Trump’s response there has been a boatload of coverage coming in from every media outlet but I need to make a point I don’t think is being understood in the matter. This individual incident won’t sway a single vote in the presidential election. I purposefully loaded that sentence with two key qualifiers though, so let’s take a look at those.
“This individual incident”
Odds are that Trump attacking a Muslim family isn’t going to shock anyone. His supporters already agreed with him on that issue, and his detractors already saw it as a huge flaw. You might think attacking the family of a fallen soldier might be a step too far, but don’t forget what Trump has already said about the military and veterans while suffering virtually no setback in the polls.
On POW and GOP Senator John McCain, “He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” 
On ordering the military to follow orders that are in direct violation of the Geneva Conventions by killing unarmed noncombatants, “They won’t refuse. They’re not gonna refuse me. Believe me.” That remark drew sharp criticism from CIA Director Hayden who questioned how Trump could be Commander in Chief without understanding the military is expected to disobey immoral and illegal orders.
Trump even had a small, by his standards, scandal regarding his claims that he’d given money to charities for veterans and whether or not he’d actually given the groups the money he claimed. 
Yet none of this has moved the needle much as far as his support goes, so I don’t imagine attacking a Gold Star family is going to break that trend. But this incident does demonstrate something else that could be a problem down the line for Trump. He is completely unable to respond to criticism in a rational and, more importantly, targeted manner.
Plenty of people have pointed out that Stephanopolous really did force the issue and that Trump may have laid low on this one on his own. I would suggest it’s the job of the interviewer to force the issue, but either way the key is in the way Trump responded. Trump didn’t just address the criticism he made it personal with not just the person doing the criticizing, but also their family.
Mr. Khan’s wife stood nearby and never said a word during the speech. Trump made it a point in his response to attack her as well. The reason this matters is because one thing that often supersedes political allegiances is going after family. I maintain a major reason Cruz didn’t endorse Trump is because of the attacks Trump made on Cruz’s wife. Attacking the family of a Muslim fallen soldier might not end up meaning anything, but if Trump doesn’t understand that there are people who are off limits politically, he’s going to find himself with no allies left while he’s running for the oval office.
“In the presidential election”
Since Trump’s remarks went public, the Khans did an interview in which they specifically called for Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whom he called, “leaders and patriots,” to denounce Trump’s comments. Each has released a brief statement:
McConnell said, “All Americans should value the patriotic service of the patriots who volunteer to selflessly defend us in the armed services. And as I have long made clear, I agree with the Khans and families across the country that a travel ban on all members of a religion is simply contrary to American values”
Ryan said, “America’s greatness is built on the principles of liberty and preserved by the men and women who wear the uniform to defend it. As I have said on numerous occasions, a religious test for entering our country is not reflective of these fundamental values. I reject it. Many Muslim Americans have served valiantly in our military, and made the ultimate sacrifice. Captain Khan was one such brave example. His sacrifice — and that of Khizr and Ghazala Khan — should always be honored. Period.” 
Notice what’s missing from both of those statements? Any mention of Trump. The media has definitely noticed and has been asking for more specifics from both of them. This is a big key to this election I’ve been trying to point out for a while. Every time Trump creates a controversy, it’s not just him that has to be Mr. Teflon, it’s everyone running lower on the ticket. The 24 GOP senators running for reelection will hardly be able to run their own campaigns without being stopped every third day to be asked how they feel about Trump’s latest comments. Being asked to choose between supporting the military and supporting their party’s nominee is not a situation they want to be in. Will this impact votes in the presidential election? Likely not, but as far as the House and Senate are concerned?
If there’s one thing the Democrats have learned under Obama, it’s just how empty a victory with the executive branch can be if it’s coupled with a loss in the legislative branch. Trump needs to stop forcing his fellow Republicans into press conferences entirely focused on Trump or else he’s going to find himself with no allies left if he’s in the oval office.
Last night Ted Cruz addressed the Republican National Convention. You can find the full text of the speech here. You can watch the minute relevant to this post and to the current news cycle below. It should be noted that throughout the speech Cruz only said Trump’s name once and that was to congratulate him on winning the nomination. He even included complimentary things about the idea of building the wall. He never said a negative thing about Trump, but the absence of an endorsement was extremely loud.
You could call the reaction in the hall mixed. You could call it that if you managed to hear his words over the boos of the crowd. How bad was the reaction in the arena? Well Ted’s wife Heidi Cruz had to be escorted from the room by security because people were physically approaching her and being verbally abusive. Then when the Cruzs tried to get into the sweet of major GOP donor Sheldon Adelson they were turned away. I feel obligated to say Adelson is one of the biggest forces in this country behind keeping online poker illegal, so I have something of a personal grudge against the man.
First things first though, why would Cruz do this? There are three possibilities, and it could really be any combination of the three.
- Cruz is bitter he lost. Cruz, as a losing candidate, is bringing more delegates to the convention than anyone else in that spot has had in decades. That can be a tough pill to swallow especially for someone whose rise has been as rapid as Cruz’s has.
- The comments Trump has made about Cruz’s family. Ignoring Trump calling Cruz ‘Lyin’ Ted’ every day for six months, Trump insinuated Cruz’s father was in on the JFK assassination, and we also shouldn’t forget Trump’s tweets comparing the looks of their wives. It was clear at the time that Cruz found the attacks on his wife completely out of bounds and to ask Cruz to endorse the man who said such things about his family is quite the stretch.
- He’s setting himself up for 2020. This is the big gamble. It’s possible GOP voters won’t forget this in much the same way the several hour tour of storm destruction in New Jersey with President Obama is still held again Chris Christie. It’s also possible an endorsement of Trump is going to become similar to a vote for the Iraq War in the sense that if you did it, it will forever be a commentary on your judgement. (Unless you’re Trump picking a VP, but that’s a different post.)
Any one of those three could justify Cruz’s decision. I lean towards the third point being the biggest because of some of the content in the rest of Cruz’s speech because up until the ‘vote your conscience’ moment it really was a traditional stump speech. Lines from the speech like, “Freedom means religious freedom, whether you are Christian or Jew, Muslim or atheist. Gay or straight, the Bill of Rights protects the rights of all of us to live according to our conscience,” really sound like the words of a candidate getting ready to run and trying to reach out to different voting groups. This speech could be remembered along the lines of Reagan in ’76 if Cruz plays the next four years correctly.
I want to say two other brief things about the content of the speech before talking more about the lack of the endorsement since this is probably the only post I’ll have time to do about the convention as a whole. The line ‘vote your conscience’ getting booed is notable because of how much the GOP has been relying on the whole idea of people going with their conscience against the government and that being important. You hear that line about conscience when Republicans defend businesses discriminating against the LGBT community or refusing to include birth control on employee insurance plans. Now I know people were really booing the lack of unity behind Trump more than the idea of going with your conscience, but in the examples I gave they’re also attacks against the unity of us all being one people more than attacks of conscience.
Also in the speech were the lines, “Our party was founded to defeat slavery. Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. We passed the Civil Rights Act, and fought to eliminate Jim Crow laws,” Now that I live in Mississippi I find it extremely odd to hear Republican’s claiming Lincoln while at the same time demanding the Confederate flag continue flying as part of the flag of this state and while of the 2,472 national delegates at the convention, a grand total of 18 are black, the lowest percentage in over a century. That’s right, there were more black people invited to the convention when they had to drink out of separate fountains. Someone should also send the memo to Iowa Representative Steve King who gave an interview outside the convention hall insinuating only white people have contributed anything to civilization.
The other key question is did Trump know what Cruz was about to do. Most indicators say yes. Cruz has said that he told Trump to his face he wouldn’t endorse him several weeks ago and told him over the phone on Monday. Trump also claims he had seen the speech, but just that it was a couple hours before as can be seen in Trump’s only response so far to the speech.
Trump knowing ahead of time would also explain Trump entering the convention hall right as Cruz hit the spot that garnered all the boos. That also could have been a coincidence since at a Cruz event earlier in that day the Trump plane flew overhead at a key point in that speech too.
Even if Trump knew, he must not have shared it with the rest of the RNC or they didn’t anticipate the strength of the response. Newt Gingrich spoke immediately after Cruz and had several lines about Cruz’s speech trying to smooth things over, but those lines weren’t in the copy of Newt’s speech that was distributed to the press an hour before he took the stage Given all the issues with getting the RNC and the Trump campaign on the same page with the Melania Plagiarism this could be another case of Trump’s campaign knowing but not including other Republicans in on the process.
It’s tough to say who came out on top here. Did Cruz win because this looks like Trump has no control, can’t unite the party, and had his VP pick entirely overshadowed by his top rival from the primaries? Or does Trump win because this looks like he allows his opponents time to speak their mind, Cruz may have just massively angered 50% of the GOP electorate, and as Trump is fond of saying, “All press is good press?” I don’t think we’ll know for four months. If Trump wins in November then Cruz’s gamble was a failure, but if instead we see Cruz as the final speaker at the 2020 GOP convention then we’ll see many replays of this speech leading up to that moment.