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Americans will go to the polls on November 6 (or earlier in some cases) and pick the Congressional candidates who come closest to their views on the issues of the day. At least that’s the theory of how representative democracy works, although there is ample basis to question whether voters cast their ballots in such a rational way. Democracy for realists; Why elections do not produce responsive government, Christopher Achen & Larry Bartels, Princeton University Press (2016).
Most people lack definite ideas about government policy . . . and are not well informed about what is actually going on. They tend to choose parties/candidates that are welcoming to the groups they identify with, and then adopt/rationalize/support the policy positions that said parties/candidates happen to be espousing, rather than searching out parties/candidates whose views come closest to their own policy preferences. No wonder that even factual information tends to be distorted by partisan differences . . .
Accepting the representative democracy theory for purposes of discussion, what information should the voters be focusing on? Based on the current political conversation, it would be hard to draw any firm conclusions.
Although President Trump isn’t on the ballot, for example, the hottest arguments seem to be about whether he is (1) a scoundrel who is endangering our country, system of government, rule of law, economy, etc., or (2) a national savior who is keeping his promises and working tirelessly to “make America great again.” And inevitably this spills over into heated discussions about the intelligence and character of his supporters and detractors.
The debate has been heavy on personal attacks and uncivil (in some cases violent) behavior and light on meaningful substance. Many examples were cited in a recent essay, and more have surfaced since then.
For example, there was another conservative/leftist confrontation in Portland, Oregon last weekend. Although the police reportedly kept things under control, one has to wonder why the authorities keep permitting demonstrations and counter-demonstrations by these groups (both with somewhat unsavory histories) to be held on the same date. Fights break out between groups of demonstrators at Portland rally, Manuel Valdes & Gillian Flaccus, Washington Times, 8/4/18.
Also in Portland, an US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) office was closed by anti-ICE demonstrators. The Feds didn’t have the armed manpower to stop them, and the Portland police had orders from the mayor not to intervene. The office was reopened after federal police from out of state arrived, but the protestors continued to occupy a protestor camp in back of the building and create chaos in the area for another month. Even now, local residents fear that the mob will return at some point. Anarchy breaks out in Portland, with the mayor’s blessing, Andy Ngo, Wall Street Journal, 8/3/18.
On the other side of the ledger, Jim Acosta of CNN was the target of “CNN sucks” chanting at a Trump rally, which was probably a product of the president’s oft-voiced complaints about “fake news,” etc. There seems to be no evidence to support Mr. Acosta’s claims, however, that he and his fellow journalists have – like ICE officers in Portland and others, not to mention Republican members of Congress at a baseball practice in 2017 – become targets for personal attacks or violence. The imaginary violence against the news media, Eddie Scarry, Washington Examiner, 8/2/18.
To us, it continues to seem that most of the worst speech and actions has been on the Leftist side. There is fault on both sides, however, and our advice is that Americans should encourage the respective sides to “grow up.” A disturbing political climate, 7/2/18.
. . . both sides have resorted to overheated rhetoric and sharp practices. Mediating the bruised feelings could prove next to impossible, so our suggestion would be to change the subject. We don’t care why you liberals and conservatives don’t like each other, what we’re interested in is your proposed solutions to the nation’s key issues and the rationale therefor.
In the meantime, conservatives face a choice: should they support the president (subject to questions about his specific policies) or not? There’s been no shortage of advice that abandoning the president is morally imperative. We’ll evaluate two exhortations to this effect, with SAFE’s comments in contrasting font, and then move on to some thoughts about how the mid-term elections are shaping up.
A. Critic One– Former Senator Ted Kaufman characterizes the president’s actions as outrageous and dangerous, citing three examples, and says it is hard to find a single instance in which Congress has exercised its constitutional responsibility to act as a check on the president’s power – thereby preventing the triumph of “evil.” Why won’t good Republicans stand up to Trump? Ted Kaufman, News Journal, 7/29/18.
Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Evil is equated with the president of the United States, and “good men” doing “nothing” is equated with Republican senators turning “a blind eye to even the most outrageous and dangerous actions of President Trump.” Kaufman speaks of interactions with GOP senators during his time in the Senate, adding that “I consider most of them principled good men and women.” It now seems, however, that “nearly all of them have abdicated their responsibilities under the Constitution.”
#TRADE POLICY - Kaufman decries the president’s quick denunciation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive multi-country trade agreement negotiated by the previous administration, “after 48 Republican senators had voted for it in 2015.”
We tend to agree that the TPP should not have been abandoned without even specifying what was wrong with it let alone what improvements could be explored with the other countries involved. A barrage of presidential actions, #4, 1/30/17.
The US will need allies in the developing trade showdown with China, and the TPP coalition could have helped in that battle. America would win by rejoining the TPP, Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner, 4/13/18.
It’s not true, however, that 48 Republicans voted for the TPP in 2015. The vote was to renew the president’s authority to negotiate trade deals and submit them for “fast track” approval versus as a treaty requiring 2/3 Senate approval. When the extensive TPP text was subsequently unveiled, it was apparent that (1) TPP probably wouldn’t get a vote before the 2016 elections, (2) congressional Democrats were opposed, and (3) most of the presidential candidates, including Trump and Clinton, were also opposed. Trans-Pacific Partnership – yes, no or maybe? 11/16/15.
#DEFICITS & DEBT: Trump backed a tax cut that is now seen as adding as much as $2 trillion to deficits over 10 years. How does that square with the traditional Republican claim to be the party of fiscal responsibility?
If economic growth speeds up due to the tax cuts, much of the estimated deficit increase will be offset. A better point would be the failure to start pruning wasteful spending, of which there is a lot, and by the way this failure has clearly been bipartisan. Don’t overthink the fiscal problem, it’s not that complicated, 5/21/18.
#RUSSIA: There has been “an absolute U-turn” by Republicans on “our relationship with Russia,” as demonstrated by their failure to “counter President Trump’s bizarre love affair with President Putin.” Most everyone agrees that “Russia meddled in our 2016 elections,” yet “there have been no real efforts in the Congress to address the interference and prevent it from happening in the future.” Also strange is the absence of any “concrete action in response to the president’s recent trip to Europe, where he denigrated our historic allies and warmly praised Russia.”
Despite a longstanding congressional investigation, pursuant to the very separation of powers that Sen. Kaufman lauds, we still don’t really know what happened in 2016. Notably, why did the Obama administration choose to use the Russian meddling as an excuse to launch an investigation of the Trump campaign before the elections while taking little if any action against the Russians?
The president’s comments at the joint press conference with President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki did seem a bit odd, but we don’t know what was said during the one-on-one meeting of the two leaders. One of the possibilities is that the president was angling for Russian support against Iran. Trump to enlist Russia’s help to oust Iran from Syria, Margaret Brennan, cbsnews.com, 7/1/18.
In any case, it’s unclear that public accusations about 2016 election meddling at the press conference would have furthered US interests. And belying Kaufman’s claim about the docility of Republicans, there was plenty of second guessing – from both sides of the aisle – about how the situation was handled.
When it comes to actions vs. words, it would be hard to make a case that the president has been “giving away the store” to Putin. Sanctions - furnishing of weapons to the Ukraine - Syrian missile strikes - refusal to recognize Russian annexation of Crimea. President Trump is tougher on Russia in 18 months than Obama in eight years, Jen Kerns, thehill.com, 7/16/18.
#OTHER ISSUES –Kaufman fails to mention any of the things that have been going right on the president’s watch, e.g., regulatory rollbacks, judicial nominations, 4.2% GDP growth in the 2nd quarter, soaring stock market, and record low unemployment rate. There have also been some encouraging international moves, including confronting North Korea about its nuclear/missile program (even if this effort falls short, as it may well despite the administration’s best efforts, it seems to be a better bet than “strategic patience.”)
Before dismissing a lawfully elected president as “evil,” one might have expected a more complete discussion of his record . Moreover, some of the president’s detractors and opponents have resorted to “resistance” style tactics versus principled opposition. In our view, this pattern is far more worrisome than the president’s tweets, etc. have been. A disturbing political climate, 7/2/18.
B. Critic Two – According to columnist Ruth Marcus, the president’s attacks on the Department of Justice investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections have been completely out of line. Trump’s Mueller tweets pose a real threat to the rule of law, Ruth Marcus, arcamax.com, 8/1/18.
How dare he attack Special Counsel Robert Mueller as “totally conflicted,” dismiss the prosecutors on the team as “17 Angry Democrats,” and call on his attorney general to “stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now before it continues to stain our country any further.”
“Note to the president: ‘Our country’ is doing just fine with the Mueller probe. Actually, the United States is benefiting from it. The country being stained by the investigation is the one that tried to interfere with our election on Trump's behalf.” Witness all those indictments of Russian nationals.
A president who cared about “the well-being of his country and the integrity of its elections” would be insisting that Mueller get to the bottom of what happened, not doing his best to undermine the special counsel's legitimacy. He would not be ordering, or even suggesting, that his attorney general -- his properly recused attorney general -- shut it all down.
Then there’s the tweet comparing the treatment of Paul Manafort (trial currently in process) to that of Al Capone, a notorious gangster who was prosecuted for tax evasion in the 1930s. “Future generations looking back on history, to use Trump's phrase, are not likely to feel pity for either Capone or Manafort. Or anything but contempt for Trump and the way he besmirched his office daily.”
Where should one begin? Of course Mr. Mueller is conflicted, he was a close friend and mentor of James Comey, whose firing led to the appointment of a special counsel. He also unsuccessfully applied for reappointment as the FBI director shortly before being appointed as special counsel.
Critics claim – and we believe rightly so – that the prime aim of the investigation is not to look into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, it is to get something on the president by whatever means possible. The Russian Hoax: The illicit scheme to clear Hillary Clinton and frame Donald Trump, Gregg Jarrett, July 2018.
The original FBI investigation was launched in July 2016, and after two years there has been no credible evidence produced of collusion by the Trump campaign (or ensuing transition team and then administration) with the Russian activities. “Finish it the hell up!” [Rep. Trey] Gowdy tells [Deputy Attorney General Rod] Rosenstein to show evidence of wrongdoing by Trump’s camp or end Mueller probe, Christina Laila, gatewaypundit.com, 6/28/18.
The Russian indictments were for show; it’s quite unlikely that any of these “defendants” will ever appear in a US courthouse.
Paul Manafort is being tried for crimes that date back to 2005 when Robert Mueller was running the FBI; at the time it was decided not to prosecute. Why are the charges being prosecuted now, except that the Mueller team needs to score some kind of “win” to justify the enormous amount of money and effort that has been put into the investigation and is trying to coerce the defendant into making charges against the president. [Harvard Law School Professor] Alan Dershowitz: Manafort’s real crime is “association with Trump,” Elizabeth Vaughan, freedomdepot.com, 8/1/18.
C. Outlook for the mid-terms
#HOUSE OF REPRESENTAIVES – As of July 10, the party line breakdown in the House was reportedly Republicans 236, Democrats 193, Vacancies 6. Sounds like a pretty good lead, but based on recent polling, historical patterns and enthusiasm, it’s been suggested that Democrats have a better than 50/50 chance of taking the House in November. After “30 days of sh-t,” GOP midterm elections fears rise, Byron York, Washington Examiner, 7/30/18.
Many pundits got things wrong in the 2016 presidential election, of course, and it’s possible they are once again underestimating Mr. Trump. Clearly the president plans to inject himself in the race, with numerous public rallies (e.g., last week: Tampa, FL; Wilkes-Barre, PA; Lewis Center, OH).
It’s been suggested, however, that the president is focused on picking up Senate seats in “red” states and setting up his reelection bid in 2020. While a Democrat-controlled House might impeach him, this would simply make him a martyr as the Senate would surely acquit him. He could probably make spending deals with House Democrats about as easily as with House Republicans. The House has no say on his appointments. And divisive appeals that play well in red-state Senate contests may boomerang elsewhere. Trump’s lose-the-House strategy, Wall Street Journal, 7/30/18.
[There[ are swing districts where moderate Republicans and independents determine who wins. Think Miami-Dade, northern Virginia, the Denver and Philadelphia suburbs. *** A constant focus on immigration and making this a referendum on Donald J. Trump will drive up Democratic turnout.
#SENATE - There are more Democratic than Republican seats in play this year, so the GOP figures to increase its razor thin majority (51-49) rather than losing ground. This conclusion might not hold if there was a “blue wave” in November, but the president’s approval ratings seem to be holding steady. Total approval/disapproval is about even, although strong approval/disapproval remains under water. Selected Rasmussen results, accessed 8/4/18.
#KEY ISSUES - Among the developments to watch for, between now and Election Day:
(1) What will happen re immigration, if anything? Probably not much, although the president has threatened to “shut down the government” if he doesn’t get more funding for a border wall. Trump’s border wall shutdown threat bucks Republican spending agreement, S.A. Miller, Washington Times, 7/30/18.
Congressional Republicans aren’t showing much enthusiasm for going to the mat on this issue, claiming that it can be resolved after the elections. McConnell cool on Trump’s latest shutdown talk, David Sherfinski, Washington Times, 8/3/18.
One might think this dispute would endanger the effort to pass appropriation bills on time for a change, but ironically it may have the opposite effect. Lawmakers defuse Trump’s shutdown by passing partial spending bills ahead of deadline, David Sherfinski, Washington Times, 8/1/18.
On Wednesday, the Senate cleared a $154 billion package that funds the Food and Drug Administration, the IRS and other programs for 2019. Senators now have passed seven of the 12 bills needed to keep the government open. The House has passed six. Those measures still need to be reconciled in a conference committee, but lawmakers are pushing to have as many as nine bills completed before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, putting those operations on firm footing and outside the reach of a government shutdown.
(2) Which side will be in the best position to blame the other side for perceived problems with the healthcare system. The merits of this argument are debatable, but as the party in power Republicans “own” the problem.
The administration is apparently focused on coming up with new proposals that might resonate with voters in November, but time is running short and Senate Democrats aren’t likely to support any legislation that would make Republicans look good. Trump aims to increase value and decrease costs of healthcare, HHS secretary says, Rachel del Guidice, dailysignal.com, 7/26/18.
(3) What will happen re the Mueller probe? Will Paul Manafort be convicted of tax evasion, etc. and sentenced to 300+ years in prison? Will the president agree to be interviewed by Mueller, and if so when and on what terms? Will Mueller unveil bombshell evidence of Russian collusion, start winding down the investigation, or go silent until after the elections?
Just for fun, here are the composite predictions of five SAFE directors at the August 3rd board meeting:
•Will there be a government shutdown over border wall funding or other immigration issues? NO
•How many of the 12 appropriation bills will be enacted before Nov. 6? Four said average of 6, one said 0.
•Status of the Mueller probe on Nov. 6? (ended/completed/pending) Four said pending, one said ended.
•Will control of the House be flipped? One said yes, four said no. One of the four “hold the House predictors” added that GOP margin in the House would be cut to 225 GOP, 210 Dem.
•How will control of the Senate be affected? GOP margin increased from current 51/49 to either 53/47 (two) or 54/46 (three).
To borrow the president’s catch phrase, we’ll see what happens.
#Being an imperfect human being, President Trump has been rightfully vulnerable to criticism. However, he is the first president in fifty years to reverse the downward slide of the American economy. The people must be educated to understand that he is in the image of the founders - rough, active, brilliant, smart, realistic, and a slave to no party dogma. – New SAFE member
#I'm not a big fan of President Trump, but this analysis makes a lot of sense. - Retired financial manager