Tuesday, May 7, 2019

When Will This Nightmare End?


The other day I read a Letter to the Editor in The New York Times from Jay Markowitz. Commenting on a May 2 Op-Ed piece by former FBI director James Comey entitled, “How Trump Co-Opts Leaders Like Barr” (https://nyti.ms/2VDZsEX), he crisply wrote, “In William Barr, President Trump has found his Roy Cohn. When will this nightmare end?”

First, let me say that in the two-plus years that The Donald has been our fearful leader, this is the first time I wrote the consecutive words, “President Trump.” Oh, the downside of accurate reporting!

Now, to respond to Jay Markowitz’s obviously plaintive plea—Not until January 20, 2021, at the earliest, but only if the American people wake up from this nightmare, only if they have not become inured to Trump’s assault on the Constitution and its tricameral form of equal branches of government, only if they have not been lulled into submission or complacency by an economy that continues the remarkable rebound initiated by Barack Obama, only if they have not become complicit or accepting of his destruction of the rule of law, only if the American people believe again that their country’s values are the best export we can offer the world and the best import are people from all creeds, religions and regions who are dedicated to equal opportunity and freedom for all. 

It will be impossible to remove Trump from the White House through impeachment, unless he fulfills his wild 2016 campaign boast—that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any votes—and Senate Republicans defy all reason and excuse his assault as, in the words of Attorney General William Barr, that of someone “frustrated and angry.” 

It was just such reasoning that enabled me to co-win a friendly contest predicting the length of Trump’s presidency. All but two of the 15 contestants thought he would vacate the White House by April 6 of the second year of his term. Connie Goldberg and I chose his full term as the end date.

Of course, I previously opined that Trump might be emboldened to declare a national emergency and not recognize the 2020 election if he loses. He’s already started to lobby for a six year first term, retweeting a Jerry Falwell Jr. comment that he deserves a two year extension because the first two years of his tenure were “stolen” because of the Mueller investigation. 

The man’s chutzpah knows no bounds.

Trump’s defiance of constitutional norms goes beyond the actions of most presidents to minimize scrutiny of their administrations by Congress. James Reston Jr. argued in The Times that failure to comply with congressional subpeonas is an impeachable offense, as Richard Nixon found out during his impeachment proceedings 25 years ago (https://nyti.ms/2ZVizK5).

But Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is in no rush to impeach. “Trump is goading us to impeach him,” Ms. Pelosi said at a Cornell University event in Manhattan, according to The Times. “That’s what he is doing, every single day he is just, like, taunting, taunting, taunting. Because he knows that it would be very divisive in the country. But he doesn’t really care; he just wants to solidify his base.”

Her reticence or political savvy aside, the Democratically-controlled House might be more willing to act if it is able to secure testimony from former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and former White House counsel Donald F. McGahn II, both of whom Trump has said should not appear before Congress. Both are privy to information on alleged obstruction of Mueller’s probe into Russian interference with the 2016 election by Trump and his gang of family and aides. 

McGhan is a private citizen; Mueller attains that status at the end of the month. Thus, their willingness to testify would not be subject to Trump’s authority. 

Rather, it would position them as either patriots or more Trump dumpster detritus. 

Trump has repeatedly degraded the FBI, the Justice Department and members of the judiciary. Lately, he has cast the FBI investigation of his campaign as “spying,” a term repeated by Barr during Senate testimony last month. But the current FBI director, Christopher A. Wray, refuted the characterization during a Senate hearing Tuesday (https://nyti.ms/2Wz6isI).

And so, the nightmare continues. Trump’s handpicked FBI chief is staying independent as an officer of the law, even as Trump’s handpicked attorney general, ostensibly the people’s lawyer, has shifted the interpretation of his  role to be defender of the malevolent.  

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Interference at KY Derby a Metaphor for Election


Lots of people are talking about the stunning results from Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. Of course, Donald Trump has tweeted his opinion, as well. I’m okay with that. There’s no reason he shouldn’t express his views. 

For the record, Trump believes the “best horse did NOT win” because “political correctness” influenced track officials to declare apparent winner Maximum Security (how could Trump not like a horse by that name?) interfered with other horses on the final turn (naturally, Trump would disagree with any suggestion interference affected the outcome of a race. He also took the time Sunday to opine that special counsel Robert Mueller should not testify before Congress. Obstruction, or as the Churchill Downs stewards called it, interference, was clearly evident in Trump’s post-election actions by anyone save sycophantic Republicans). Track judges stripped Maximum Security of the title and awarded the race to Country House who had finished second by about a length and a half. 

Let’s leave it to racing touts to work out the final results of the Kentucky Derby. I’m more interested in handicapping the 2020 presidential race.

First, a short review of 2016. Trump lost the popular vote but won the presidency by securing 304 Electoral College votes; 270 being the threshold required to win. Despite more voters preferring Hillary Clinton, she captured just 227 Electoral College votes. 

Conventional wisdom has it that Hillary lost the election by not attracting a combined 80,000 more votes in Michigan (16 EC votes), Pennsylvania (20 EC votes) and Wisconsin (10 EC votes). That would have given her 273 Electoral College votes, a slight but sufficient margin of victory.

By my calculations, the 2020 race will be determined by more than just the outcomes in those three states. Indeed, the field of battleground states is 12, divided equally between states Trump won and those that polled Democratic in 2016.

Trump starts out with a lock on 195 EC votes from states across the South and the middle of the country. He needs 75 more to win reelection. But 106 of his remaining 109 EC votes in 2016 can be considered in play. 

He won Florida’s 29 EC votes by (round numbers) 100,000; Michigan by 13,000; Pennsylvania by 44,000; Wisconsin by 20,000; North Carolina (15 EC votes) by 170,000; and Georgia (16 EC votes) by 200,000. Given the razor thin Republican gubernatorial victories in Florida and Georgia in 2018, it is conceivable Democrats could flip those states in 2020. Dems won governors’ seats in Wisconsin and Michigan in 2018 after flipping North Carolina in 2016. They retained the governorship in Pennsylvania in 2018. 

For the Democratic standard bearer the challenge begins with a lower sure-win number. He or she can expect 182 Electoral College votes mostly garnered from Northeast and West Coast states, 88 fewer than the needed 270. 

In 2016 Hillary Clinton amassed 227 EC votes. But 44 of those nods could turn to Trump in the following states: Clinton won Colorado (9 EC votes) by 120,000 votes; Minnesota (10 EC votes) by 40,000; Virginia (13 EC votes) by 200,000; Maine (2 EC votes) by 20,000; New Hampshire (4 EC votes) by 3,000; and Nevada (6 EC votes) by 27,000. 

What the numbers tell us is that it is waaaaay too early to provide meaningful predictions on who will emerge successful. It’s rather like the recent National Football League draft of college players. Experts try to rank the potential of players, but nothing is certain. For every “sure thing” top draft choice there’s a bust. Considered by many the best quarterback ever, Tom Brady was not drafted until the sixth round, almost as an afterthought. 

Your choices are to tune out political pablum and prognostications for the next 18 months or sit back and enjoy (Is that the right word?) the race, without, hopefully, any interference.