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Posts published in “Richardson”

A half truth is a whole lie

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Our republic is in uncharted territory. Last Friday, the GOP majority on the House Intelligence Committee, with the approval of the White House, released a memo based on classified information.

Tim Weiner, former national security correspondent for the New York Times called the memo “a weapon of political warfare,” and a “cruel cudgel created to attack everyone who’s been in charge of the federal investigation of Team Trump.” The release of such a memo is unprecedented and unwarranted, and it shamelessly undermines federal law enforcement.

Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee strongly objected to the memo’s release, calling it inaccurate and misleading. The FBI concurred, publicly stating its “grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”

That their memo is, at best, a half-truth seems of little concern to House Republicans. But, as Mark Twain rightly observed, “A half-truth is the most cowardly of lies.”

There is a reason that witnesses are required to tell not just the truth, but the WHOLE truth and nothing but the truth. It is the same reason that judges instruct jurors to refrain from forming an opinion on the merits of a case until the ENTIRE case has been submitted for determination. Incomplete testimony and a partially presented case are unlikely to reveal the truth.

And just as jurors are also told that arguments and statements by lawyers are not evidence, the public should know that the GOP memo is not evidence. It is nothing more than a partisan argument, a set of bald, conclusory and very much disputed assertions.

The Republicans insist that their memo has been thoroughly vetted, but that claim is patently false. The memo was produced only two weeks ago and the committee has conducted no depositions or interviews nor has it held any hearings. Incredibly, no member of the committee, including Chairman Devin Nunes, has read the source documents that served as the basis for the memo. Moreover, the FBI was given only a very limited opportunity to review the memo and, when the FBI asked to meet with the committee to explain its concerns, Committee Chair Devin Nunes summarily denied that request.

It is also significant that the committee never referred this matter to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) which is much better equipped than the House Committee to assess whether there had been any actual wrongdoing. The sole mission of the OIG is to detect and deter waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct in Department of Justice programs and personnel, and to promote economy and efficiency in Department operations.

Unlike the House Intelligence Committee, the OIG has the staff – special agents, auditors, inspectors, attorneys and support staff – to thoroughly and objectively make findings of fact and conclusions of law. But the GOP, intent on shaping – and shading – the narrative, didn’t want to delay its rush to judgment.

Republicans argue that the public has the right to know the information contained in their memo and some even purport to support the release of the Democrats’ memo rebutting their own. However, they would delay the release of the Democratic memo until theirs has been in circulation for some time. The Democrats, understandably, have a problem with this approach knowing full well that “a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth puts on its boots.”
Finally, the president – who has told friends how delighted he is that the memo might undermine the special counsel investigation – is unlikely to approve the release of the Democratic memo. That would leave us with public access to only one version – the Republican version – of the truth, and that is very much contested.

Committee Chairman Nunes was discredited some time ago when he made a big production of delivering certain documents to the White House, documents which he received from the White House in the first instance. After this public charade came to light, Nunes ostensibly recused himself from the House investigation.

But now that Nunes has released the GOP memo his recusal seems illusory and transitory. It would appear that Nunes and the other GOP members are not exercising an oversight role so much as acting as defensive linemen for the president.

As you consider the merits of the GOP memo, remember the age-old adage: “Beware of the half-truth. You may have gotten hold of the wrong half.”

 

Disconnection

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For many years, it has been a staple of State of the Union speeches for presidents to populate the House gallery with heroic or sympathetic guests to introduce in connection with various policy initiatives. That Donald Trump, who so often ignores political norms and traditions, repeatedly used this technique in his first State of the Union address does not come as a surprise. The device enables a president – particularly one whose presidency is flailing – to bask in reflected glory.

But, as I listened to the president attempt to weave a coherent narrative in which such introductions aligned with his performance, I perceived a yawning gap between the guest’s actions, for which they were being recognized, and the policies of this administration. I’ll illustrate with a couple examples:

Noting that the past year called upon Americans to recover from floods, fires and storms, Trump lauded a Coast Guard petty officer who endured 18 hours of wind and rain, braving live power lines and deep water, to save 40 lives after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. No doubt the petty officer merited such recognition. But the evidence does not support Trump’s associated comments that the nation has been with all our citizens recovering from natural disasters.

After Hurricane Maria slammed Puerto Rico, Trump made a cameo appearance in San Juan, tossing rolls of paper towels, like boxes of cracker jacks at a baseball game, to people whose lives had been devastated. He suggested that Maria wasn’t “a real catastrophe” like Hurricane Katrina and complained about how much money it cost the federal government to respond to the crisis. His comments reflected a cavalier indifference to a ravaged people. And then he left town.

Alexia Fernandez Campbell, writing for Vox, described the dire situation confronting the more than 3 million US citizens living in Puerto Rico. Observing that the lack of basic services has “fueled a mass exodus from the island,” she wrote that “[g]oing to school, having clean drinking water, and even getting regular trash services remains a daily challenge four months after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island.” And Puerto Rico continues to experience the longest blackout in US history with almost 1 million Puerto Ricans still without power.

So, when President Trump, intoned “[t]o everyone still recovering . . . we are with you, we love you, and we will pull through together,” the people of Puerto Rico have every reason to respond with anger and disbelief. Trump has spectacularly failed Puerto Rico, and his words ring hollow.

Another area in which there was a ginned up connection between Trump’s introduction of gallery guests and his administration’s policies was in the area of immigration reform. Trump began his call for immigration reform by introducing two sets of grieving parents whose teenage daughters were brutally murdered on Long Island. Members of the MS-13 gang have been charged with those murders. Trump claimed that “these gang members took advantage of glaring loopholes in our laws to enter the country as unaccompanied alien minors,” and he attempted to use this terrible tragedy to link those gang members with young immigrants who came to this country illegally at a young age.

U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California called out the president’s exploitation of the parents' grief explaining: “MS-13 is an example of some of the worst of criminal gang behavior. To equate that with Dreamers and DACA was completely irresponsible and it was scapegoating and it was fear mongering and it was wrong.” She justifiably observed “We’re not supposed to convince the American public of policy because we make them afraid. And that’s what the president apparently thinks he needs to do . . . .”

I would also submit that, if the president were truly concerned about stopping violence in our country, he might more productively look to closing other loopholes in our laws – namely those that allow private citizens to buy and sell firearms at gun shows without conducting background checks that licensed firearms dealers must perform. This loophole allows felons, minors, and other prohibited individuals unfettered access to firearms. Closing the loophole would be consistent with the Second Amendment and put an end to what the Violence Policy Center has called “Tupperware Parties for Criminals.” Sadly, the president did not give even passing mention to the eleven school shootings that have taken place in our nation since the first of this year.

Elsewhere in his address, Trump introduced an Army staff sergeant who had rescued a fellow soldier severely wounded by an explosion in a booby-trapped building in Raqqa. Trump rightly observed that that “Terrorists who do things like place bombs in civilian hospitals are evil,” and noted that he had decided to keep open the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay. Here again, though, he might also have considered closing the gun show loophole. Unfortunately, his goal was not to take the broad view on identifying all responsive policies but to take the narrow approach that would appeal to his base. That said, he elicited our sympathy for a courageous soldier but never connected the dots as to why that soldier’s actions should require that Guantanamo Bay should remain open.

According to pundits who count these things, the president’s speech elicited applause 115 times. Most of the applause was not for the president but for people – everyday Americans – who found themselves in tragic circumstances and who rose, often heroically, to the occasion. We can and we must honor these individuals, but we should not attribute by association their courage, tenacity, and sacrifice to Donald Trump nor should we embrace for their benefit his policies which are not substantially related to their actions.
 

Character matters

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My senior year of high school, I served as a page for the Idaho House of Representatives. I was also a member of the Lewiston High School chapter of the National Honor Society. The NHS recognizes scholarship, service, leadership, and character, and four graduating seniors were tapped to address these topics at the year’s end initiation ceremony. I was assigned to speak on character.

In preparing my remarks, I took advantage of my access to key legislators in Boise and interviewed several leaders from both parties to elicit their views on the importance of character in the legislative process.

The interview I most remember is the one I had with Sen. Richard (Dick) High who represented a district in Twin Falls and later served with distinction on the Idaho Public Utilities Commission. Sen. High, a Republican, was universally respected by his colleagues on both sides of the political aisle.

“What role does character play in legislative success?” I asked the senator.

“Character makes all the difference,” he replied. “A man’s word is his bond. If you give your word and break your word, you are finished here.”

Sen. High went on to explain why trust, once broken, is so very hard to regain. He acknowledged that legislators will occasionally have good reason to change their minds but, when they do, they should give their reasons and inform those to whom they earlier made a commitment. He emphasized that anything less would be dishonorable.

I incorporated Sen. High’s comments, with attribution of course, into my speech on character, noting that the cornerstone of character is honesty, fair dealing, and keeping one’s word.

Last weekend as negotiations to keep the government open spiraled downward, I was again reminded of the importance of trust among players in the legislative process and the age-old truth that the ability to rely on one’s word is critical, that trust, once broken, is very hard to regain.

President Trump promised to sign DACA legislation that had garnered bipartisan support. He promised to “take the heat.” He promised not to second guess the senators. He promised not to require changes. And, then – in the blink of any eye – he broke each and every promise.

When Senators Graham and Durbin, a Republican and Democrat, met with the president to present their agreed upon proposal, Trump flipped and he flopped – and he broke his word.

In the aftermath of Trump’s abrupt reversal, Mitch McConnell tried mightily to pin the blame for the ensuing government shutdown on the Democrats, but try as he might, his words rang hollow.

Senator Schumer, observing that negotiating with the president was like negotiating with Jello, directly called-out the elephant in the room. Schumer said, in no uncertain terms, that the president had reneged on his promise. Schumer made clear his view, based on experience, that the occupant of the Oval Office could not be trusted.

While Schumer spoke, McConnell maintained his game face, keeping up the pretense that the president was blameless. But McConnell knew better. Just the previous day, McConnell himself had publicly complained that he felt paralyzed in moving forward not knowing what legislation the president would accept. McConnell knew that his GOP caucus, no less than Schumer’s Democrats, could not rely on the president to keep his word.

It seems that Trump has stiffed employees, contractors and others his entire adult life. His businesses have seen repeated bankruptcies. American banks so devalued his credit that he couldn’t get a loan, so he turned to Russian banks to bail him out.

Always, it seems, he moved on.

But he is beginning to find out that, as president, there is no moving on. There is no other Congress to which he can turn. Neither party trusts him, though the Republicans will pretend they do. But at the end of the day, his credit is worthless.

Dick High was right. And character still matters.
 

Stop the cover-up

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The dual and complementary concepts of separation of powers and checks and balances are fundamental to our republic. Embedded in the very fiber of our Constitution, these doctrines serve to ensure that no one branch of government becomes all powerful, that we will remain a republic.

Perhaps at no time in our nation’s history have these bedrock concepts been put to so strenuous a test. As Washington Post opinion writer Eugene Robinson recently observed, if the president and his campaign did not coordinate with Russia in its actions to interfere with our 2016 election, it was not for lack of trying.

Consider how many times members of Team Trump failed to disclose their meetings with Russian officials and emissaries. Consider, too, Trump’s evolving “explanations” for firing former FBI Director James Comey and General Flynn and the many reports of Trump badgering officials, elected and appointed, to stop investigating, to exonerate him of any wrong-doing, to turn their heads and sweep matters under the rug.

With the avalanche of reports on Russian meddling, Robinson cautions that we must not lose sight of the big picture, writing, “Ask yourself a common-sense question: If nothing wrong happened with Russia during the campaign, why is Trump so desperate to cover it up?”

If our Constitution is to endure, Congress must responsibly exercise its powers to serve as a check on the executive. When both houses of Congress are controlled by members of the president’s party, that need is not diminished, but enhanced. Members must put country before party. Anything less violates their oaths of office.

The president’s legal apologists have gone so far as to claim that the president cannot obstruct justice because he is the president. This nonsense loudly echoes Richard Nixon’s claim that, “If the president does it, it’s not illegal.”

History tells us that many members of Congress were loath to believe that Nixon obstructed justice in his attempts to cover up the Watergate break-in. At that dark time, unrelenting public pressure made a difference and ensured that the truth ultimately came to light. In Watergate, however, there was never a suggestion that members of Congress were complicit. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said today.

To date, we have repeatedly seen Trump – despite his protestations to the contrary – demonstrate that he has little intention of “fully cooperating” with the Congressional investigations. The most recent obstruction appeared as a White House directive that Steve Bannon refuse to answer questions from the House Intelligence Committee.

Up to this point, the House Committee has seemed not to be conducting a serious investigation focused on getting to the bottom of Russian meddling. But its willingness to subpoena Bannon’s testimony may, at long last, signal GOP willingness to move beyond charade.

The groundswell of grassroots activism that has emerged in response to congressional foot-dragging has been unprecedented in modern history. We must continue to demand that members of Congress do their jobs thoroughly and without partisan favor.

Now, more than ever, we must insist upon it.
 

Without fear or favor

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Last week I attended the investiture ceremony of Idaho's newest U.S. attorney, former Idaho Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis. The ceremony, held in the Lincoln Auditorium of the Idaho State Capitol Building, bespoke the peaceful transition of power.

I do not know Bart Davis well, but what I know of him is very positive. He and I may not agree on some matters of public policy, but his reputation for integrity is strong. He strikes me as a thoughtful and considerate person, one who can work constructively with those holding different perspectives and who approaches difficult problems with humility and civility. These attributes will serve him well as he transitions from enacting state laws to enforcing federal laws.

Incredibly, it has been 24 years since I took the same oath of office. Watching Bart Davis’ investiture, I was reminded of Senator Craig's comment when I visited his office during my confirmation proceedings: "Betty, I'd be happier if you were a Republican." "Yes, I understand," I replied, "But if I were a Republican, President Clinton likely wouldn't have nominated me." Craig smiled.

I told Senators Craig and Kempthorne – then Idaho’s members of “the world’s most exclusive club” – that I knew the office required its occupant to leave partisan considerations at the door and promised to do exactly that. Afterward, having received their support, my nomination was unanimously confirmed by the full senate.

Upon taking office, I inherited a staff assembled over the years by my predecessors, both Republicans and Democrats. I found – pretty much without exception – that all of these professionals, attorneys and support staff alike, were committed to the mission of the office.

During my seven year tenure, I had the opportunity to hire many more employees. Merit mattered. Party affiliation did not.

So now, at a time when many people are quick to identify first and foremost with political tribes, it was reassuring to attend an investiture in which the person taking office held a broader view. Among those speaking at Bart Davis' investiture was Wendy Olson, who was appointed U.S. Attorney by Barack Obama. I am pleased to say that I hired her as an Assistant U.S. Attorney and could not be more proud of the able and honorable manner in which she served in the top job. I thought it said a lot about Bart Davis – a Republican – that he asked Wendy Olson, a member of the “other” party, to speak.

At my investiture, I asked one of my Republican predecessors, Guy Hurlbutt, to speak. The message I hoped to send – and one I believe was echoed by Davis’ request of Olson -- was that the office belongs to no party, no president. It belongs to the people of Idaho.

Those of us who are fortunate enough to be selected for this opportunity in public service take an oath to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic and to enforce the law without fear or favor. That oath requires that U.S. Attorneys, once invested, do not think in terms of political party but focus solely on applying the facts to the law in each and every case, to strive to secure justice, and to uphold the Constitution.

For many months, I have been deeply troubled by comments made and actions taken by President Trump seemingly intended to politicize the Department of Justice; I will write more about these concerns in the future. For now, though, I add my voice to the chorus of people who applaud the appointment and confirmation of Bart Davis as U.S. Attorney for the District of Idaho. I believe he will honor every word of his oath of office and that Idaho will be well-served.
 

Could Utah be the next Alabama?

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85 year old Orrin Hatch has announced he’s not running for an eighth term to the U.S. Senate from Utah. For so many reasons, that’s a good thing.

Hatch has been a Trump sycophant of the first order. Hatch’s lavish praise (describing Trump as “one heck-of-a leader”) and subservient tone (calling Trump “the best president I’ve ever served under”) played to Trump’s well-documented need for incessant adulation. Not surprisingly, Trump publicly and audibly encouraged Hatch to run again.

But Sen. Hatch, whose unfavorable rating in Utah now exceeds his favorable rating read the tea leaves. He had long promised to retire after this term; it was time for him to keep that promise. Hatch’s decision to exit the senate will not sit well with Trump -- not because Trump has any genuine affection for the good senator – but because he can’t stomach the idea of Mitt Romney, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, replacing Hatch. By most accounts, Romney is interested in running for Hatch’s now-open seat and would be the prohibitive favorite if he announces.

Of course, Trump and Romney have had a tumultuous relationship, showcasing both their respective disdain for each other and their mutual willingness to pretend otherwise from time to time. When they occasionally and awkwardly embrace, the moments are wince-worthy. Trump-Romney defines the term “frenemy.”

Back in 2012 when Romney sought Trump’s endorsement for the Republican presidential nomination, Trump demanded Romney meet him for a photo op at a Trump casino to seal the deal. Romney complied. Team Romney draped the room in blue to conceal the garish trappings, but Trump got what he wanted – Romney appeared the supplicant. Trump proceeded to say nice things about Romney, and Romney returned the favor. Then both of them hurried off the stage, eager to put distance between them. Mrs. Romney, who accompanied her husband to the charade, looked like she was going to be ill.

Fast forward four years and Trump became the Republican frontrunner, seeking to succeed where Romney had failed. Romney lambasted Trump noting “[his] personal qualities, the bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, [and] the absurd third grade theatrics." Trump, of course, hit back: "You can see how loyal he is. He was begging for my endorsement [in 2012]. I could have said, 'Mitt, drop to your knees.' He would have dropped to his knees."

Unlike most Republican poohbahs, Romney didn’t capitulate and endorse Trump after Trump secured the GOP nomination. He opted instead to support Evan McMullin, a third-party candidate, sparing little in his criticism of Trump.

Then, after the 2016 election, it was payback time. Trump dangled the Secretary of State position before Romney – and Romney, predictably, grasped. Romney gripped and grinned with the president-elect, engaging in a public courtship of the man he had justifiably condemned weeks earlier. Romney should have known better, but ambition got the better of him. Trump was Lucy with the football and Romney the hapless Charlie Brown. Rex Tillerson got the nod. Trump insiders claim that Trump never intended to offer Romney the job, but wanted to put him through his paces, torture him a bit, have him kiss Trump's ring.

Even now the Romney name grates on Trump. The Washington Post recently reported that, when Trump asked Romney’s niece Ronna Romney McDaniel to head the Republican National Committee, he requested she stop using her middle name in public. I don’t recall that Trump made the same request of Mike Huckabee’s daughter and Trump spin-mistress Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Some might wonder which Mitt Romney would show up in the senate chamber were he to win the office. Would it be the Romney who happily drinks Trump Kool-aid if there’s something in it for him? Or would it be the Romney who pulls no punches and calls Trump out on his odious behavior and utter lack of principles? Given his past willingness to “make up just to break up” with Trump, it’s hard to know the answer.

But the question may be premature. After all, before he can win a general election, Romney must secure the Republican nomination. It’s unlikely another GOP contender could defeat him, but it’s not impossible. Certainly, Donald Trump will look to recruit a strong challenger to Romney, someone in the lapdog mold of Orrin Hatch. And, even though Trump and Steve Bannon seem headed for a permanent split, Bannon and his ideological ilk will also be looking for an alternative.

If there is, in fact, an intramural contest, Romney will likely win; but we’ve seen other instances in which the GOP’s most zealous ideologues capture the flag. Look no further than the recent special election in Alabama where Republicans rejected the ultra-conservative incumbent Luther Strange and nominated the profoundly flawed and even more right-wing Roy Moore. Utah, like Alabama, is a ruby red state and – under ordinary circumstances, a Democrat would have little chance to win there. But it’s possible that a Republican civil war could produce another weak candidate - a Utah version of Roy Moore - for the general election.

The odds may seem very long, but Utah Democrats would be remiss were they not to recruit an exceptionally well-qualified senate candidate. There’s an old saying that luck happens when preparation meets opportunity. It’s possible that Utah Republicans will present Utah Democrats with an opportunity. Democrats need to prepare for that eventuality – and they need to do it now.

(photo/Gage Skidmore)
 

Mob boss in the White House

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Every American who has ever pledged "allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands,” should have a shudder running down their spine. At the helm of that republic sits a would-be tyrant who denigrates the rule of law and thinks himself above the law.

In an interview with the New York Times, Donald J. Trump declared: “I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department.” Claiming to have the power to open, or end, an investigation, Trump referenced the Mueller inquiry saying, “[F]or purposes of hopefully thinking I’m going to be treated fairly, I’ve stayed uninvolved with this particular matter.”

His not so cryptic message is both stark and horrible: “If Mueller does not exonerate me, I can – and I will – shut him down.”

Were Trump to attempt to do this, it would be a manifest obstruction of justice, an offense for which he should be impeached and convicted; but we cannot count on the Republicans in Congress to rise to the occasion.

Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and so many of their GOP colleagues have become Trump’s defenders. They have no objectivity, no sense of shame. As former George W. Bush speech writer David Frum has wisely observed, "This isn’t remotely like Watergate. During Watergate, Congress cared whether laws had been broken."

In the same interview, Trump continued his criticism of Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation – a recusal absolutely required by Justice Department protocol. Trump then claimed that former Attorney General Eric Holder protected President Obama and deemed such “protection” praiseworthy.

Trump has no facts to support his conclusion that Holder “protected” Obama and offers no evidence in support of that assertion. What is profoundly troubling, though, is the unmistakable implication that a good attorney general will protect the president who appointed him. The attorney general serves the country and the constitution, not the president. Trump’s view of the ideal attorney general is a “yes man,” a sycophant, a political hack who will reward his patron with “protection.”

We do not have a president, as our founders envisioned a president; we have a mob boss running a criminal syndicate from the Oval Office. In 2018, we must elect a Congress that understands the difference.
 

Heads I win . . .

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If you're familiar with the expression: "Heads I win; tails you lose," you will understand the glee with which the GOP Congress is taking a "victory" lap, patting themselves on their collective backs for cynically passing a self-enriching tax bill at the expense of the middle class.

With precious few exceptions, Republicans who - for years - have been bleating about the escalating national debt, embraced a bill that will, by all objective accounts, increase the debt by upward of $1.4 trillion.

They smile and shake their heads at those of us silly enough to remind them of their previous stance, blithely "explaining" that the corporate tax incentives will enable today's "corporate citizens" to create more and better jobs, resulting in more taxpayers, higher pay for current taxpayers, and hence more revenue that will pay for the cuts.

This explanation would be charming in its simplicity, if it weren't debunked by almost every credible economist who has studied the legislation. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office tells us that, at best, the GOP tax scheme represents "wishful thinking.” This is the modern day iteration of “trickle down,” also known as "Voodoo” economics. At worst, it will imperil our nation’s economy.

But, the GOP assures us, we ought not to worry. If their gambit fails and economic growth doesn't pay for the cuts, they "win" anyway. If the yearly deficit explodes, further expanding the national debt, they will be ready with their scissors. They are ever so eager to cut Social Security and Medicare, ready to shred what most consider our social safety net. They call it "slaying the beast."

As the K Street crowd pops champagne corks, it is a matter of time before 13 million Americans lose health care coverage; trust fund babies reap a windfall, and future generations inherit the wind.

So much "winning" we can hardly stand it.
 

Politics is local

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In the aftermath of the Alabama special election for the U.S. Senate, national Democrats, along with their stable of strategists, pundits, and pollsters, need to wake up and smell the coffee. Labeling a state as “red” or “blue” – winnable or not – based solely on the results of the last presidential election is a narrow, self-defeating perspective. Alabama is a case in point.

Most pundits, eyes firmly fixed on the rearview mirror and focused on the 2016 election, doubted Doug Jones would win. After all, they explained, Trump won the state in 2016 with 62.9% of the vote.

And, they were quick to opine, “Trump remains very popular in Alabama.” Exit polls gave the lie to that opinion.

Indeed, exit polls showed that Trump’s support in Alabama has eroded considerably in just a little over a year. In fact, he is now ever so slightly under water, with only 47% of Alabama voters approving of Trump’s performance in office; 48% disapprove.

In advance of the election, pundits were also quick to obsess about the partisan leanings of Alabama. No doubt it is a red state and tilts decidedly Republican, but here too the exit polls give us pause. Those voting in the special election actually gave the Republican Party lower ratings than they did the Democratic Party – Republicans 43% favorable, 52% unfavorable; Democrats 47% favorable, 50% unfavorable.

The political odds-makers need to move beyond past assumptions. The political climate is dynamic; the electorate is changing, and predicting the outcome of down ballot races by fixating on past presidential returns is simplistic and unwise.

As former House Speaker Tip O'Neill famously said, "All politics is local." He was right, and Alabama is Exhibit "A."

 

Silver linings

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In the closing days of the 2016 presidential campaign, candidate Trump threatened not to accept the outcome if he lost. And there is every reason to believe that, had Hillary won, he would have made good on that threat. After all, Russia wanted him to keep stirring the pot.

Undoubtedly, Trump would have continued screaming that the election was “rigged.” He would have escalated his vicious attacks on “corrupt Hillary” and mobilized the “Lock her up!” crowd to dog her every public appearance. His Fox News fanboys and fangirls would have featured his tweets 24-7, and the Breitbart-Hannity echo chamber would have amplified his every utterance – just for starters.

Then, there’s Congress to consider. Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Trey Gowdy, and the rest would have had a field day, ginning up new reasons to investigate Hillary and recycling old ones.

And there is no reason to think that McConnell would have approved a Clinton nominee to the Supreme Court. If the incredibly well-qualified Merrick Garland didn’t pass muster, it’s doubtful anyone would. McConnell wasn’t waiting, as he claimed, for the next president to appoint a new justice. He was waiting for a REPUBLICAN to be elected president. And he would have waited as long as it took. Justice, quite literally, could be damned.

As for those Hillary might have nominated to cabinet and other high-level positions, McConnell and his lieutenants would have subjected them to an unprecedented level of obstruction. And with Republicans also holding the majority in the House, Hillary’s legislative initiatives would have been gutted at every turn.

It would have been gridlock on steroids -- not a pretty picture.

But in an effort to find the silver lining, I offer one significant reason to be hopeful: Trump’s election has allowed us to look into Russia’s attack on our republic to an extent that Hillary’s election would have made much more difficult, if not impossible.

Certainly, in a Hillary Clinton Administration, any DOJ investigation into collusion between Russia and the Trump Team would be seen by many as political retribution against Hillary’s defeated opponent. It’s probable the country would have had little appetite – or patience – for an in-depth Mueller-style probe.
During the campaign, when Trump bellowed he would instruct his attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor to look into Hillary’s “lies” and “deception,” many lawyers and legal scholars shuddered. Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe told Fortune that “[m]aking threats or vows to use a nation’s criminal justice system against one’s vanquished political opponent is worse than terrible policy: it’s incompatible with the survival of a stable constitutional republic.”

Indeed, precedent for a winning president to seek some sort of criminal action against a recent opponent is not easily found in democracies or republics, but is a defining feature of authoritarian regimes.

Had Hillary won, the GOP Congress and many in the media would have condemned a DOJ investigation into the Trump-Russia connection as a “witch hunt." Never mind that the DOJ would not be acting on Hillary's orders as she adheres to the long-established norm that DOJ must be independent of partisan politics. And never mind that the landscape was scattered with brooms, kettles, and pointy black hats.

But now that Trump sits in the Oval Office, there is every incentive to know whether he and his campaign danced with the devil, whether he – or they – conspired with a foreign foe. We need to find out whether the man who so warmly and inexplicably embraces Putin has, in fact, been compromised.

Russia’s attack on our election was nothing less than an act of war. But our commander in chief has shown no interest whatsoever in learning the truth. Perhaps he already knows the truth; perhaps it incriminates him.

Had Hillary won, we might never know what really happened. But Trump won. And now – God willing – we will.