On TAP: Kuttner + Meyerson

Kuttner
March 29, 2019

Expect Trump To Be Back on the Defensive Soon. Some commentators contend that Mueller’s non-finding of criminal wrongdoing on Trump’s part paradoxically “did Democrats a favor.” In this view, the door is now closed on further investigations of Trump’s misdeeds, and Dems can now focus on the 2020 election, the surest way of removing Trump. 

This theory is nonsense. Trump’s misuse of office has to be a major issue in 2020. And the aftermath of Mueller’s report is far from over.

Attorney General Bill Barr’s summary is a cover-up, pure and simple. It’s now up to key Congressional committees to get the details out, either via Mueller’s testimony or by doing their own investigative follow up, or by doing whatever else it takes to get the full report.

Despite the fact that Barr managed to charm some Democrats during his confirmation hearings, it was all to clear from his prior statements of executive power that he had been appointed for one reason—to protect Trump from Mueller’s findings.

Even if Trump’s flagrant footsie with Putin doesn’t rise to the level of criminal activity, it was a disgrace, and those details need to come out as well. It was good to see Nancy Pelosi take a hard line when she declared

"No thank you Mr. Attorney General. We do not need your interpretation. Show us the report and we can draw our own conclusions. We don't need you interpreting for us. It was condescending, it was arrogant and wasn't the right thing to do. The sooner they can give us the information, the sooner we can make a judgment about it." 

The idea that Dems need to choose between focusing on other election issues, or continue pursuing Trump’s misdeeds as president is preposterous. Trump will be back on the defensive soon. 

Meyerson
March 28, 2019

The Spurious Claims of Democratic Purplehood. “We’re actually a more purple caucus today than we were a year ago,” Rep. Jim Himes says in a story in today’s Washington Post. Himes’s own purpleness is beyond question: H’s a past chairman of the New Democrat Coalition, and is, to my knowledge, the sole Democratic House member who worked at Goldman Sachs. He also represents the Connecticut congressional district just over the line from New York, home to flocks of Wall Street mega-millionaires.

But is it true that the caucus is more purple? It’s certainly true that the caucus attained majority status by winning formerly Republican seats in the suburbs. At the same time, however, following the leftward movement of Democratic voters, many Democratic House members now support proposals for such leftwing policies as Medicare for All and a Green New Deal that they wouldn’t have supported in years past. 

That’s the problem with the purpling narrative: While it’s true that new members like AOC are outnumbered by new members from more moderate districts than hers, the claims for Democratic purplehood gloss over the fact that the vst majority of House Democrats today support progressive policies and ideas that weren’t even on their radar before 2016. 

Himes’s narrative has a cautionary function: It is intended to warn the Democrats not to go too far left. Depending on how you define “too far,” of course, it’s an unexceptionable narrative. But there’s another caution the Democrats need to heed: The share of rank-and-file Democrats who describe themselves as liberal today is nearly twice that of the share in the 1990s. A majority of Democrats have told pollsters that they prefer socialism to capitalism. There is a social democratic tide within the party that Congressional Democrats would be foolish—and self-destructive—to ignore. 

Recently, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has instructed all political consultants that they’d be blacklisted if they worked for primary challengers to incumbent House members. No such strictures, we should recall, were imposed against the Democrats who worked for Senators Eugene McCarthy or Robert Kennedy when they challenged incumbent Democratic President Lyndon Johnson in 1968, or who worked for Senator Edward Kennedy when he challenged incumbent Democratic President Jimmy Carter in 1980.     

Those challenges arose because a many Democrats opposed those two presidents on policy grounds—the Vietnam War in the case of LBJ, the rightward tilt in economic policy in the case of Carter. In 2018, in deep blue urban districts, several young progressives—AOC and Ayanna Pressley in particular—ousted longtime Democratic House members in primaries. Given the surge of young progressives into Democratic politics, it seems the height of arrogance and folly to try to retard any such efforts in 2020, particularly in safe blue districts. At a moment when the Democratic base is shifting leftwards, such an effort appears chiefly to be an effort to set the ideological composition of the current Democratic congressional delegation in stone, the leftward movement of rank-and-file Democrats to the contrary notwithstanding. 

The role of the DCCC shouldn’t be that of King Canute, standing on the shore, seeking to hold back the tide. 

Kuttner
March 27, 2019

Connecting the Dots in the Catastrophe that is Europe. There is a direct connection between the three core elements of Europe’s deepening calamity. Those would be (a) the failure of the EU leadership to prevent the Greek financial crisis from crippling the EU economy as a whole; (b) the popular backlash in a worsening economy against refugees; and (c) the rise of the far right; and in the case of Britain, the interminable mess that is Brexit. What connects all three is the utter default of leaders to lead.

Happily, the BBC is out with a superb three-part documentary connecting all of these dots, and it is the best explainer I’ve seen or read on what actually occurred. The documentary, which I’ve previewed, will be shown in the U.S. tomorrow (Thursday) evening on the Smithsonian Channel. 

The series producer is Norma Percy, whose trademark is getting every major player in world events to talk for the camera or to use rarely seen footage that does the job as well. This documentary features original interviews with everyone from French President Sarkozy to the radical Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and dozens more. 

It’s not a happy story, but a cautionary tale full of insights. Disclosure: Norma is a longtime friend, and a friendship I cherish.

Kuttner
March 25, 2019

Mueller Punts to Congress. By leaving open the question of whether Donald Trump obstructed justice, Robert Mueller fairly begs Congress to pursue it. We may or may not learn from the full text of Mueller’s report why he chose neither to charge Trump nor to exonerate him. It would be useful to know, but either way the duty now falls to Congress.

The Constitution states that a president can prosecuted for crimes after he leaves office, but uses impeachment as the sole remedy while the president is in office. Hamilton, in three separate entries in the Federalist Papers, Numbers 65, 69, and 77 defined the nature and purposes of impeachment. 

In Federalist No. 77, he wrote that impeachable offenses were “those offences which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or in other words from the abuse or violation of some public trust.” That surely describes the Trump presidency.

The Constitution makes no mention of a special prosecutor or of criminal prosecution while a president is in office. So the remedy, and Congress’s duty, are unmistakable—a full investigation and if warranted, an impeachment. 

And even that doesn’t quite get Trump or his family off the hook for criminal prosecutions. The nature of the Trump organization, as a criminal enterprise, was not within Mueller’s remit except to the extent that it corrupted his presidency. But several prosecutors are still on that case.

Trump has had a good weekend. He still looks to have a bad year.

Meyerson
March 22, 2019

Conservatives: Fighting the Blowback from Their Own Idiocies. Back when American conservatism was actually a body of thought, and not just an apologia for Donald Trump’s racism and narcissism, conservatives liked to warn against the unintended consequences of governmental activism.

That said, some of the most catastrophic unintended consequences of governmental activism to have befallen us came from the governmental activism of conservatives themselves.

I was reminded of this by yesterday’s New York Times story on how Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is planning to designate a number of Iraqi political parties and governmentally supported militias as terrorist organizations due to their close relationship to the Iranian government. Of course, these close relations with (and, in many cases, dependence on) Iran are the direct result of the George W. Bush administration’s decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein, sworn enemy of Iran, and replace him with what inevitably would be a majority-Shiite Iraqi regime which, as a matter of course, would have close ties to Shiite Iran. Critics of the imbecilic decision to go to war in Iraq, including the editors of the Prospectloudly pointed this out at the time, but go to war we did.

So, this wasn’t just an unintended consequence; it was a foreseeable unintended consequence. Gotta give W credit where credit is due.

Kuttner
March 21, 2019

Will Democrats Snatch Defeat Out of the Jaws of Victory? So let’s see. We have two old white guys, one of them still the darling of the party’s young left and the other standing for what remains of the party’s center. Elizabeth Warren, meanwhile, is in many ways a far more creative radical than Sanders, but if he has a lock on the hearts of the lefties, Warren will have trouble gaining traction.

Call me an ageist, but in my view 78 is just too old to run for president. This would likely hurt either Bernie or Biden in the general election.

As for youth, we have Beto. But this party has had far too many young charismatic leaders who were campaigning on a smile and a shoeshine, and putting off deciding what they stood for to be decided later. Such candidates are ready made to be the candidates of Wall Street.

And then we have the identity left. There is a way to talk thoughtfully about race and class in a way that reminds white people and black people of their common interests against the one percent. Demos Action has a brilliant project on this called the Race Class Narrative. It’s all about both/and. I am the wrong person to be saying it, but I wish I heard more of this from the candidates.

Face it, the Democrats will have a hard time winning unless they maximize turnout from black and Latino voters—and they will have a hard time winning unless they can gain back the white working class voters of the heartland who Hillary Clinton lost. Both/and.

This was of course the Obama coalition. But Obama once elected did not deliver enough soon enough. His economic appointees were nearly all Wall Street Democrats.

Regular people are hurting even more than they were when Trump was elected. This election is the Democrats’ to lose.

A true economic populism that bridges race and gender is the key to victory, especially against a president who proved to be a fake populist. Let’s hope the Democratic nominee figures that out.

Meyerson
March 19, 2019

Just What the Democratic Presidential Field Needs: Two (2) Colorado Centrists. It was a bare two weeks ago that former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper announced he was seeking the Democratic nomination for president. Now comes Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, who told The Washington Post’s James Hohmann in an interview published today that, Hohmann writes, “he’s inclined to run for president and will decide in a matter of ‘weeks.’”

In the course of the interview, Bennet excoriated a number of progressive policies that have won increasing support among Democrats, leading Hohmann to conclude (I’d say fairly) that Bennet “represents an antidote to the Democratic Party’s leftward lurch.”

That would position Bennet as the sole moderate in the field, along with Joe Biden (if he runs), Beto O’Rourke, Amy Klobuchar, John Delaney, Cory Booker (who, if elected, may compel schoolchildren to read David Brooks’s columns), and fellow Coloradan Hickenlooper, among others.

In his interview with the Post, Bennet took particular aim at the suggestion that Democrats should consider increasing the number of justices on the Supreme Court—a position to which many Democrats have been driven by the Republican Senate’s refusal even to consider President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland, and the prospect that the Court that has emerged since Republicans blew off Garland (and Obama) is likely to strike down any remotely progressive legislation that a Democratic Congress and president might enact.

In opposing increasing the number of justices and in a host of other positions he took in the interview, Bennet made clear his aversion to partisan warfare where Republicans “have their version of one-party rule for a while and then we substitute it with our version of one-party rule.” The problem with that diagnosis is that it’s empirically wrong. Obama, for instance, modeled the Affordable Care Act on a conservative think tank’s proposal, which Mitch Romney subsequently signed into law in Massachusetts—and every congressional Republican nonetheless voted against it. Given what the Republican Party has become, Democrats have one-party rule thrust upon them, and anyone seeking the Democratic nomination for president should understand that or consider seeking a lower office, like, say, City Sealer in Dubuque.

Nonetheless, Bennet says he’s likely to jump in the pool. “I am the person that can bring people together on the other side and actually get stuff done,” he said. Whoops! That wasn’t Bennet; that was Hickenlooper two weeks ago. It’ll be challenging keeping these two guys apart.

Kuttner
March 18, 2019

Truth Time for Trump’s Turtle. Senate Majority Mitch McConnell has been the most loyal of the Trump loyalists. But in his home state of Kentucky, where he is up for re-election in 2020, McConnell is running behind in the polls.

About 33 percent of Kentucky voters approve of the job McConnell is doing, while some 56 percent disapprove. 

Lately, McConnell has had trouble holding his Senate troops. Twelve Republicans defected on the resolution to overturn Trump’s emergency wall declaration, while six voted with Democrats to reject his Yemen policy.

And life will only become more difficult for McConnell once Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report is released. There is a great deal of speculation about whether the report will ever be made public. The odds are overwhelming that it will, one way or another.

Congress has demanded it, in a rare show of bipartisan solidarity. Also, Mueller need only produce indictments of the Trump Organization as a criminal enterprise, with Trump (Individual 1) as an un-indicted co-conspirator, and Mueller’s whole case is on the public record.

As the waters rise around Trump, it becomes harder and harder for McConnell to retreat into his shell and continue his role as loyalist to the end. His own neck will increasingly be on the line. He could end up as mocked turtle soup. 

Kuttner
March 15, 2019

Trump’s Very, Extremely, Seriously Bad Week. This was the week that Trump’s senate supporters began deserting him big time, on the Wall (12 Republican Senate defections), on support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen (7 defections) and most ominously, on Special Counsel Mueller’s report, which both parties want made public.

This is how it works. Support is solid, until it starts to crumble, and then it can crumble fast. 

Nancy Pelosi would be wise not to throw more cold water on impeachment. Let the facts come out, and let the process play out. 

Yes, it would be terrific to beat Trump at the polls. But the more cornered he is, the crazier he becomes. And it’s best to get him out of office sooner rather than later.

So let’s see what Mueller has. Let’s see what House investigations unearth. And let’s savor the process of Republicans deserting Trump. 

We will known soon enough whether an impeachment is in the cards. In the meantime, no avenue should be foreclosed. 

Meyerson
March 14, 2019

Beto: The Tabula-Rasa-for-President Candidate. Among the gazillion Democrats now running for president, former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who announced his candidacy today, is the most unformed.

His brief tenure in the House gives few clues as to his politics, though he did support centrist Democrat Seth Moulton’s challenge to Nancy Pelosi for House Democratic leader in 2016. His relatively near-miss challenge to Republican Senator Ted Cruz was due in no small measure to Beto’s charisma and Cruz’s lack thereof, but also to the rapidly changing demographics of the Texas electorate.

Beto’s extended musings before he announced today, and the announcement itself, provide equally infinitesimal guidance as to his politics. We know he supported the NFL players who took a knee. He’s against the border wall and assault weapons, for granting citizenship to many undocumenteds and for some form of universal health coverage. That’s about it.

In theory, participating in the primary debates, and being confronted by questions from voters and reporters on the campaign trail will compel him to say something more specific about what he’d hope to do as president.

In practice: Who knows? As the story on his declaration of candidacy in today’s Washington Post notes, “When asked [during his Senate campaign] about policy on the campaign trail, O’Rourke often answered not with a specific remedy, but with a call for Texans to solve the problem together, allowing him to remain vague in many of his positions.”

It’s hard not to get the feeling that he’ll ask voters to vote for him because, well, he’s Beto. In an interview with him that Vanity Fair just posted, when asked about the presidential contest, he replied, “Man, I’m just born to be in it.”

You have to hope Democratic voters ask a little more of him than that. 

Pages