Border Wall Bewilderment

As President Trump and Congressional Democrats are skirmishing over the level of U.S. tax dollars that should be allocated to build Mr. Trump’s border wall, and the President is threatening a shutdown if he doesn’t get the level of funding he seeks, I confess that I’m a bit … baffled.  Recognizing that I’m primarily preaching to the choir:

Don’t border security experts pretty unanimously agree that there are many approaches we can take that will enhance our border security more effectively than a physical wall?

Since the shutdown is projected to occur on December 21, and the Republicans control the entire federal government until January 1, how can any failure to secure the border wall funding that the President seeks be considered … the Democrats’ fault?

Isn’t Mexico supposed to be paying for the wall?

I admit that there is no original insight here; I just couldn’t resist.

2020 GOP Presidential Tea Leaves, Part II: Musing about Nikki Haley

If one intends to review this post, but has not yet read Part I (which is immediately below), I would start there  😉.

As I indicated in the first part of this note, there may be a basis to suppose that President Trump will ultimately choose not to run for a second term, and if that occurs, there will be a free-for-all for the GOP presidential nomination similar to that now beginning to unfold on the Democratic side.  The challenge faced by any Republican candidate could be more daunting than that faced by a Democratic aspirant, because it might be argued that given Mr. Trump’s legacy, we now have three political parties, not two:  Democrats; and two groups sharing the Republican mantle — the “Reaganites” (“traditional” Republicans) and the “Trumpers” (those drawn to Mr. Trump’s proclaimed nationalism that view America as a homogeneous community with specific cultural mores and maintain a visceral distaste for “political correctness” and mainstream media).  It would seem that any Republican wishing to succeed Mr. Trump will need to gain significant support from both groups.  Since the two groups have fundamental policy and philosophic differences submerged by the Trump tsunami, this will be no small challenge.

The one person coming to mind that has departed the Trump Administration with an enhanced political standing is U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.  A close friend recently told me that he felt that Amb. Haley currently has the best chance to be our first woman President, and it’s hard to disagree.  She’s bright, knowledgeable, articulate, and attractive; she projects both toughness and femininity; she’s had executive experience as a Governor; she’s Indian-American, the child of immigrants; she was born and raised in the South, but as Governor removed the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state grounds; she has established foreign policy bona fides by representing us at the U.N.; she has fiscal policy views that appeal to traditional conservatives; her husband serves in the armed forces, and she has what appears to be a beautiful family; she identifies as Christian, but has a Sikh background; and while with the Administration, she managed to walk the fine line of supporting while sometimes maintaining a position independent of President Trump, who clearly has high regard for her.  In short, a deep and balanced resume of a deft politician with crossover potential.

I would offer that Amb. Haley’s departure from the Administration will enable her to avoid the fallout from the investigations into the Trump campaign and Administration that seem destined to dominate the remainder of the President’s current term.  Although she has pledged not to run against Mr. Trump in 2020, I’d be very surprised if she and her close advisors don’t already have draft plans for a run in 2020 if the President is either driven from office or chooses not to seek re-election.  2020 could be her year, in the way that 1960 belonged to John Kennedy, 1976 to Jimmy Carter, 2008 to Barack Obama, and 2016 to Donald Trump.

If the President doesn’t seek re-election in 2020, other Republican aspirants will obviously emerge.  Vice President Pence is clearly attempting position himself to succeed Mr. Trump, but I find it hard to believe that any voter of any political stripe will be interested in a bootlicker with charisma akin to a damp dishrag.  I admire outgoing Ohio Gov. John Kasich, but it’s difficult to imagine that he can garner sufficient support from the Trumpers.  Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has perhaps too blatantly waffled as he attempts to keep a foot in both camps, and may have been too indelibly labeled as diminutive by Mr. Trump.  Outgoing Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake seems to be viewed as a turncoat by Reaganites and with antipathy by Trumpers.  Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’ transparent antics in preparation for the 2016 election cycle and the way he debased himself before Mr. Trump during the last two years to keep his Senate seat (which, for a red state, he won only narrowly) have made him an anathema to Reaganites while appearing to gain little credence with Trumpers.  Ms. Haley’s odds seem favorable against any of them.

This was simply musing – a handicapping exercise.  While it now feels, based upon her statements at the U.N., that I’m in general alignment with Amb. Haley on most foreign policy issues, she and I have little common ground on domestic issues.  She would nonetheless bring certain attributes to the presidency that, given our current state, I would find helpful.  There would be the possibility that certain taboos might – finally — be laid to rest for additional segments of our populace if those of our people that are “Republicans First” had their woman, their person of color, their person one generation away from immigrants, their person with a flavor of a non-Christian background, in the White House.  If Ms. Haley proved to be generally truthful in the conduct of the presidency (“fudging” is okay — all politicians “fudge” — but President Trump has taken us way beyond “fudging”), governed based upon facts (not alternative facts), showed respect for the press and the First Amendment, and considered those that didn’t agree with her as “adversaries,” not “enemies,” I would, given the toxic environment we now have, consider her a step in the right direction.  (If we could at least regain our footing regarding truth and decency, we could argue about domestic issues in the next election).

I concede that Mr. Trump has dramatically lowered my expectations for the presidency of the United States.

Enough musin’ for now!

2020 GOP Presidential Tea Leaves: Part I

Despite President Trump’s protestations to the contrary, the recent election returns appear in their entirety to be a fairly stinging rebuke of his conduct of the presidency.  I intimated in the Election Day post that I thought the President understood what the results were likely to be – and they did come in within the bounds most prognosticators had projected — and was ready for it.  It’s pretty clear that I was wrong in that regard.  [And not only on that point.  As anyone that has seen the last two Packer games will attest, I was clearly mistaken in my recent suggestion that Packer Quarterback Aaron Rodgers might have lost some arm strength; that may be the only problem the Packers don’t have  ;).]  It seems, given Mr. Trump’s flailing since Election Day, that only when the results registered did he realize that the wildly enthusiastic response he received at his rallies was not indicative of the predominant sentiment of the American people and has only now begun to focus on the prospects he faces with a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives and in any run for a second term.

Although November of 2020 is a figurative eon away – recall that given the success of Desert Storm, President George H. W. Bush was hugely popular in early 1992 and still lost the presidency the following November — the 2018 election results arguably cast a daunting 2020 Electoral College picture for the President.  Hillary Clinton – who proved to be a candidate sufficiently unlikeable and untrustworthy that a large-enough segment of the electorate was willing to gamble on the leadership of a lecherous, intemperate reality show star with no governmental experience – nonetheless claimed 232 Electoral College votes of the 270 needed to win the presidency.  Mr. Trump in effect gained the presidency by very narrowly prevailing in Pennsylvania (20 Electoral College votes), Michigan (16), and Wisconsin (10) – three states no one thought he would win – and by winning, amongst his other states, Arizona (11) (by 4 points).  While this analysis may someday prove to be only so much Noise, one could infer from the 2018 election results that any reasonably acceptable Democratic nominee running against Mr. Trump will pretty readily carry the 232 Electoral votes that Sec. Clinton, despite her limitations, won in 2016; if so, the Democrat in such a contest will simply need to win Pennsylvania (where the incumbent Democratic Governor just beat the Republican challenger by 17 percentage points), Michigan (where the Democrat beat the Republican for an open seat by 10 percentage points) and either Wisconsin (where the Democrat beat – albeit narrowly — incumbent Gov. Scott Walker, who had an effective organization and a string of electoral victories to his credit) or Arizona (where the Democrat beat the Republican by 2 points for the state’s U.S. Senate seat).

It does appear highly likely that there will be plenty of opportunity in coming months’ notes to consider the particulars of the President’s challenges with the House and resulting from the evidence submitted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team; however, from strictly a political handicapping standpoint, unless the Democrats overplay their hand (Mr. Mueller, nothing if not circumspect, almost certainly won’t overplay his hand), it’s hard to see how events arising from those struggles will do anything but further darken Mr. Trump’s 2020 electoral prospects with those segments of the electorate that have soured on him.  (An extraordinary political athlete – Bill Clinton in his prime comes to mind – might be able to cajole enough of those dissatisfied voters back into the fold to eke out another victory, but Mr. Trump has never demonstrated the range or flexibility that would seem to be required.)

I would submit that it’s not unwarranted to suggest that if the President envisions a likely defeat in 2020 – whether due to deepening dissatisfaction with his brand of leadership, the economy, the Mueller investigation, or otherwise – he will proclaim his single term a “fantastic success,” and find some pretext for not seeking re-election (pardoning as many of his cohort as he can during his last days in office).  It appears to me that there are a number of Republicans that are reading the tea leaves and preparing to make a 2020 run for the Republican nomination if Mr. Trump doesn’t – Vice President Pence, former Ohio Governor John Kasich, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio perhaps among them.  That said, I would offer that at this point, there is one prominent Republican that may be better positioned than any other obtain the nomination and win the presidency if the President chooses not to run.  Since I do make an effort (admittedly, sometimes in vain) to keep these notes to a manageable length, we’ll leave that to Part II.

On Ivanka Trump’s Email

As I expect that all that read these pages are aware, it’s been confirmed that Ivanka Trump, while serving as an aide to the President, has used a private email account stored on a private email server to conduct government business.  (And for anyone who wasn’t already aware:  Yes, really.)  Her lawyer claims to have now turned over to the proper authorities copies of all of Ms. Trump’s emails involving official business sent through the private account.  The lawyer also indicates that no emails have been deleted.  Hopefully somebody official is in the process of securing the server.

Given President Trump’s years-long harping about Secretary Clinton’s email use, Ms. Trump’s undisputed behavior is of course saturated with irony, hypocrisy, arrogance and – there is no kinder description for it – downright stupidity.  After the Democrats take control of the House of Representatives, the House undoubtedly will – as it should — call upon the appropriate internal federal authorities to review Ms. Trump’s behavior, email account and server to determine whether there have been any instances of unauthorized disclosure of classified government information.  That said, I hope for the country’s sake that Democrats are mature enough to maintain perspective once the import of Ms. Trump’s activities has been determined.  Absent evidence of malign intent or the compromise of information that can truly be used to harm our national interests, Democrats should address Ms. Trump’s inappropriate email use in the manner that Republicans should have addressed Ms. Clinton’s inappropriate email use:  make the points that errant activity has occurred and, if the situation has been addressed, that the matter should be put aside.  Everything doesn’t need to be a source of confrontation and hyperventilation; we as a people should reserve our concern for issues that merit it.

Election Day Reflections

In the last weeks, some liberal commentators have shown satisfaction as they have described how President Trump “doubled down” on his attacks on immigrants as the mid-term elections approached.  While they appropriately and undoubtedly genuinely abhor his stoking of prejudices and fear mongering, they claimed surprise – and in some cases, apparently were surprised — at his strategy, which seemed likely to alienate moderate voters in the “swing” House districts that the Republicans need to retain control of the House of Representatives even as it bound the President’s fervent supporters more tightly to him.  Many came to speculate that since the polls indicated that the House was very likely to fall under Democratic control (today, we’ll see how accurate the polls were), Mr. Trump shaped his message to do what he could to ensure that the Republicans maintained their current advantage in the Senate.  Mr. Trump himself has suggested that this was his objective.

Say what you will about the President – and I’ve obviously said my share – he is bright, possessed of an uncanny intuition about popular reaction to him, and savvy.  I wonder, in what is admittedly the purest of speculation, if Mr. Trump really cares that much whether the Senate remains in Republican hands in January; I consider him, as I’ve mentioned in previous notes, a brilliant showman who knows that a good show needs a worthy antagonist.  Whether he has one House of Congress or both bedeviling him might make little difference to him, since there is seemingly no chance that there will be 67 Senate votes in the next Congress to remove him from office, no matter what the House does.

I would offer that the goal that the President might have been primarily seeking to achieve through his campaign rhetoric is to harden his base against the evidence in the Special Counsel report widely expected to be issued not long after Election Day.  I suspect that most Americans, whether they support or oppose Mr. Trump, expect the Mueller Team to issue a report which will include fairly damning particulars incriminating senior members of the President’s staff, including his son and son-in-law, and perhaps the President himself.  (Given the email string Donald Trump, Jr., has admitted to relating to the senior campaign staff’s Trump Tower meeting with Russian operatives in the summer before the election, it’s hard to envision that Messrs. Trump, Jr. and Jared Kushner won’t be charged with something.)

Perhaps the overriding impression one gained from Michael Wolff’s book, Fire and Fury (it was released only 10 months ago, but it seems like a decade ago), was that Mr. Trump never intended or wanted to be President; that the campaign was an immense publicity venture intended to further his business and media interests.  (Some credence for this is provided by the behavior of some of the nationally-experienced leaders in the campaign, such as Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, who presumably would have behaved more circumspectly than they did had they thought that Mr. Trump might actually win.)  If this was Mr. Trump’s true campaign goal, it does not seem unreasonable to assume that it might remain so.  If such is the case, he may have concluded that his and his family members’ ability to escape this endeavor unscathed and to reap the harvest that their efforts have wrought lies in convincing a substantial part of the electorate – through his own efforts and those of his megaphone, Fox News and the rest of the alt-right conservative media — that no matter what is presented against them by Mr. Mueller’s team or other authorities, it’s a “lie,” “fake news,” “biased,” and “rigged”; that black is white.

As anyone that reads these pages is aware, I believe that the President and his cohort habitually lie and distort facts for their benefit, while I consider the mainstream media – unquestionably given to nit-picking, hyperventilation, and liberal coloring – to have generally had the better part of describing what the facts actually are.  That said, what might be the most disturbing aspect of our current national condition is that too many of our people seem to almost wantonly cling to what they want to believe.  The President’s obvious fabrications and racially-tinged messages over the last couple of years have kept me hoping that a substantial part of his base would come to see his demagoguery for what it is.  That hasn’t happened – indeed, his supporters seem more avid now than they were the day he took office.  This trend will certainly help Mr. Trump and his family weather any coming storm from the Mueller investigation, but his behavior has eroded and I fear will in the future further eat away at our capacity to agree upon truth, value compromise, and respect the input of all well-intended citizens.  If we cannot together figure out a way re-embrace these principles, our system will cease to flourish.  Today’s results – in terms of both outcomes and the level of turnout among various segments of our electorate – will provide us a measure of the size of the task we as a nation face starting … tomorrow.

How Will We Answer Lynyrd Skynyrd and Mrs. Trump?

Although I strongly suspect that everyone that sees this either has or intends to vote, it recently struck me that two questions posed 45 years apart sum up what is facing us in the next week.  In its song, Sweet Home Alabama, Lynyrd Skynrd asked in 1973:

“Now, Watergate does not bother me.
Does your conscience bother you?  Tell the truth …”

Although Melania Trump has perhaps never heard of Lynyrd Skynyrd, she seemingly posed much the same question to us last June when she wore a jacket bearing words that she later confirmed were intended “… for the people and for the left-wing media who are criticizing me …”:

“I really don’t care.  Do U?”

I don’t believe that criticism of a First Lady is generally warranted unless she chooses to actively participate in a substantive policy realm (which Mrs. Trump hasn’t).  Skynyrd’s reference was obviously to another time when an otherwise able President was ultimately driven from office because he let his partisan fervor override his respect for our laws.  Even so, I would offer that Mrs. Trump and Skynyrd were in their respective ways asking us:  Do you care enough to address what you see happening in your country?

We have to care.  My stomach is genuinely upset by the level of intense conflicting emotions currently loosed in our country.  I want to “turn off” – to focus on sports, hiking, the Weather Channel, whatever.  I’m not allowing myself to.  I’ve been extraordinarily blessed to be an American, and it’s time to stand up for what our country is – which has nothing to do with skin color, religion, sexuality, or like differentiators.  It’s time to begin returning to responsibility, civility, and good faith compromise between informed citizens of different perspectives seeking truth; to decency.  While “political correctness” can admittedly be carried too far, it’s time for some in our citizenry to remember (and for some, if necessary, to learn) that ugly emotions – such as anger, resentment, greed, intense dislike (or worse) of those not like us — should be suppressed, indeed, need to be suppressed for us to thrive as a nation … not given free rein.

The outcome of no one election – certainly not of the impending one — will quell the caldron of passions – I would suggest the demons – in our national psyche unleashed during President Trump’s campaign and presidency.  Still, we have to start somewhere.  I acknowledge that if the Democrats gain control of one or both Houses of Congress next Tuesday, the most immediate outcome of a divided government will be yet more rancorous exchanges while giving the President the foil that, as a great showman, he knows he needs in order to continue to stoke his followers.  I absolutely agree that Democrats, every bit as subject to their special interests as Republicans are to theirs, have a significant share of the responsibility for exacerbating the tensions we must now overcome.  That said, since Mr. Trump is demonstrably incapable of doing anything other than inciting division amongst us – indeed, he and his enablers have a unique talent for and revel in making Americans of different persuasions ever more intensely dislike each other – I would submit that any vote that serves to thwart them will, like the very first movement of a long and painful physical therapy regime, begin our nation’s process of returning to a stable footing.

Hopefully, we will answer:  Yes — Our conscience does bother us.  And yes — We do really care.

On Polls of Wisconsin Governorship and U.S. Senate Races

I am more than a little puzzled by the discrepancy between the respective margins that I’ve seen polling organizations recently report in the races for the Wisconsin U.S. Senate seat and the Wisconsin Governorship.  I understand that pollsters are currently finding that Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin leads her opponent, Republican State Senator Leah Vukmir, by perhaps as many as 15 points, while Republican Governor Scott Walker is indicated to be trailing his opponent, Democratic Wisconsin State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, by only a few points – either at or within the margin of error.

While incumbency has always been a distinct advantage in American electoral politics, in the hyper-partisan, polarized environment currently existing both within the country and the State of Wisconsin, it’s hard for me to believe (as one seemingly should, if the polls are to be credited) that up to ten percent of the Wisconsin electorate will split their tickets to retain both Sen. Baldwin and Gov. Walker.

Although voter sentiment could swing heavily one way or the other in the ten days remaining before Election Day – those with longer memories will recall that the Carter-Reagan Presidential race was razor-thin until the electorate split heavily for then-Candidate Reagan in the weekend before the 1980 Election Day – it seems to me that the reported narrow margin between Gov. Walker and Superintendent Evers is closer to the existing state of our Wisconsin political climate than the wide margin reported to exist between Sen. Baldwin and State Sen. Vukmir.  I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see both races decided (either way) by fairly narrow margins.