The strangest thing about Donald Trump’s latest racist tantrum is how many people are surprised, outraged or think this is now the definitive proof of Trump’s racism. Trump has been a deeply racist individual and also the product of a deeply racist system since before Twitter was invented. To not recognize that is both a deliberate attempt to live in a fantasy world and also to fundamentally not understand America. Trump was a racist of the most venal and hateful kind long before he became a presidential candidate, yet because of America’s deep unwillingness to wrestle with, or even acknowledge, our racist history, well into 2018 you could turn on CNN or some similar media outlet and hear an earnest discussion of whether or not Trump is a racist.
Sinclair Lewis may or may not have written that "(w)hen fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." Regardless of who said it first, that sentiment has captured the revulsion many Americans have long felt when far right leaders cloak their bigotry, cruelty and anti-democratic policies in false patriotism and Christianity. As the tragedy of the Trump administration continues, it is evident that Lewis’s sentiment, while still resonant, should be modified somewhat. Under Trump, democratic rollback is wrapped in a clown suit and is carrying a smartphone.
The Democratic presidential debates on Wednesday and Thursday nights were without precedent. Twenty potential nominees, which did not even represent the full field, debated with each other over the course of two evenings. This field of twenty will be winnowed in the next months with a nominee emerging somewhere between April and mid-July of 2020. The debates are only one component of what will be a long campaign, but they are the most important and high profile to date.
The most important thing the DNC can be doing right now is not simply to determine the debate schedule or threshold for getting into the debates, or even to raise money for the general election campaign, but creating and implementing a comprehensive strategy to ensure and defend democratic elections next November. This includes things like assembling teams of attorneys in key states around the country, educating voters about their rights, creating hotlines and the like to report voter intimidation and similar problems, keeping the discussion of election security in the media and seeking commitments from Democrats and Republicans to accept the outcome of the election
In November 0f 1972, a very competitive US Senate in Delaware race saw Republican J. Caleb Boggs lose a bid for his third term by fewer than 3,200 votes to a 29 year-old Democrat. That campaign is relevant again today because it was the last time Joseph Biden won a competitive election. For incumbents, the best way to ensure reelection is to show enough strength that potentially strong opponents decide not to run. Biden was masterful at this winning reelection to the Senate against weak opposition six times, including in 2008 when he was also running for vice-president. The skills that Biden employed to do that have helped him get out to an early lead in the Democratic primary, but would be completely irrelevant against Donald Trump in a general election.
The consensus that has emerged from Mueller’s statement his that rather than indict the President, he has given Congress a mandate to pursue impeachment. This allows Mueller to present himself like an institutionalist, suggesting that our Constitutional processes can kick into gear and right the wrongs of the Trump campaign administration. The problem with this ostensibly patriotic notion is that anybody who has been paying attention knows that congress will never remove Trump from office because there will never be 67 votes in the GOP controlled Senate to convict him. Thus, by pushing the responsibility to Congress, all Mueller really accomplishes is to create a political conundrum for Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House and leader of the Democratic Party in Washington. If Mueller was not aware of this, it is not because he eschews politics, but because he is appallingly ignorant. For that reason, it is likely he was aware of the consequence of what he was doing, which raises the question of why he did it.
As the prospect of impeachment seems greater with almost every passing day, it is worth remembering that the most likely political scenario is that impeachment proceedings will have little impact on public opinion or the election of 2020. It is possible that a Senator like Harris, Warren or Booker might have a few moments that go viral, but that will little impact on opinions of Trump itself. The 35% or so of the country that stuck with Trump thus far will watch Fox News and be told that the Democrats are desperate, suffering from Trump derangement syndrome and the like, while a slightly larger proportion of the country will watch MSNBC and various other left of center media outlets, certain in the widespread criminality of Trump and the people around him. Some of those people will be even be foolish enough to believe that some finding or another will finally break the case open to the larger American public, but they will be wrong.
Over the last few election cycles we have learned pretty definitively that we know a lot less about electability than we think we do. Our last two presidents, Barack Obama and Donald Trump, were both viewed as axiomatically unelectable when they began their campaigns for the White House. Moreover, most candidates have both positive and negative and electoral traits so their overall electability becomes a post facto assessment rather than having any predictive value. For example, in 2016 Hillary Clinton was very electable until she wasn’t. Similarly, had John Kerry beat George W. Bush in 2004, the punditry would have explained that as a war hero with years of experience he was the perfect candidate, but he lost narrowly, so we have been told he was a northeaster liberal with limited charisma and therefore a week candidate. Given this, when somebody tells you they think a particular primary candidate is electable, what they usually mean is simply that they are supporting that candidate.
On April 25th, 2019 the San Francisco Historical Society hosted a discussion of my book Baseball Goes West: the Dodgers, the Giants and the Shaping of the Major Leagues. The discussant was longtime baseball executive Corey Busch. The event was held at the San Francisco Athletic Club.
In the years since the 2016 campaign, various media figures and institutions, including the New York Times,haveapologizedfor their shoddy coverageof that election and of Donald Trump. The gist of these sentiments have been that media outlets made a mistake by allowing themselves to be pulled like moths to the flame that was Donald Trump’s strange, unconventional and sensational candidacy, while failing to give enough coverage to his primary opponents and creating a false equivalency between Trump’s scandals and those related to Hillary Clinton. Despite these mistakes, most of the media similarly botched their coverage of Attorney General William Barr’s letter to congressional leaders summarizing the final report by Special Investigator Robert Mueller.
The Mueller report is an important historical document that scholars will study closely in future decades, but as a political document it was always going to going to have a limited impact. Based on the indictments and information we have learned in the 20 months of the investigation, it is clear that Trump had, at the very least, an untoward relationship with Moscow that should make any American, regardless of party, deeply concerned. It was also clear that even if the report had called for indicting the entire Trump family, Trump’s Tweets about “witch hunts” and “no collusion” were going to be believed by the third or so of the American people that are now his praetorian guard.
It may be that in 2016, it was not Sanders who consolidated the anti-Clinton sentiment, but Clinton who consolidated the anti-Sanders sentiment. As the primaries went on voters who found Sanders too far left, did not like his inability and seeming unwillingnessto connect to non-white voters, or chafed at the sexism of many in his campaign, had nowhere to go but to Clinton. In 2020, according to this view, the vote that went to Clinton will be dispersed among all the other candidates while Sanders will hold his base. If that happens, Sanders will be in a very good position to win the nomination.
By running in the Republican primary, Bloomberg would be able to force Trump to campaign and to answer charges from somebody who is viewed not as a fiery liberal, like almost the entire Democratic field, but from an older white businessman. Keeping that political heat on Trump for the first half of 2020 would further weaken the incumbent President going into the election. It would also present a new vision for the Republican Party, one that is largely true to the economic principles that have always been at its core, but that is not dominated by the magical thinking of tea partiers, climate change deniers and religious fundamentalists.
For decades, one America’s most valuable assets in the economic, security and foreign policy sectors, was its stability. This is why the dollar became the most trusted currency in the world and why the US was able to lead the way in crafting alliances and relationships that benefited our allies as well as ourselves. Trump has destroyed that stability. Today our European allies look at the Trump administration and recognize if the US can elect somebody like him once, it can do it again. The forces in American society that elected Trump are unlikely to go away simply because a Democrat wins an election in 2020. Those forces have been cultivated and activated by this administration and in the 2016 campaign, but they are here to stay. As long as that is true, the trans-Atlantic alliance is under threat and America can never be trusted the way it once was to honor its word and fulfill its commitments to its allies.
While recent events are a reminder that racism and anti-Semitism are problems that do not know partisan boundaries, the faux earnest concern about anti-Semitism from Republican leaders who have quietly sat through the festival of intolerance that is the Trump administration are not just hypocritical, but offensive. Those who see the anti-Semitism in Omar’s Tweets, but not in actions, associates and messages of the Trump administration, care about settling political scores, not about ridding America of this ancient, but sadly persistent, hatred.
During the past few weeks, two American billionaires have floated their name as presidential candidates. Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, has indicated his interests in running an independent candidacy in 2020, while Michael Bloomberg, the former Mayor of New York City, has suggested he may run in the Democratic primary. At first glance, these two men seem to have a lot in common. Both of these men, who have built extremely successful businesses, are offering a message that their business skills make them uniquely poised to solve the problems facing the US while presenting a vision of fiscal conservatism and social liberalism that is popular among some segments of the educated elite, but has no traction beyond that. Additionally, both have attacked the more economically progressive elements within today’s Democratic Party. Lastly, they are both very unlikely to ever be President.
This means that rather than turning to our attention to who might win Iowa, which candidate is racking up the most endorsements, the latest great speech, gaffe or negative story about a candidate, we might be better off paying attention to a different set of issues. The question of whether or not the 2020 election is likely to be conducted freely, fairly and democratically is much more central to the future of our country than whether Kirsten Gillibrand or Corey Booker is in third place in Iowa or other such inside baseball campaign dynamics. The questions of which states are passing more restrictive voting laws, which of these laws are being upheld in the courts, why the federal government continues to do nothing to protect our elections from further Russian interference like what we saw in 2016, and the extent to which major media outlets traffic in lies and fear-mongeringare among the much extremely critical issues that too easily get overlooked as we all handicap the Democratic primary.
The impeachment hope rests on the belief that Mueller will find something out that is so extraordinarily bad about the President that almost half of the Republicans in the Senate will vote to remove Trump from office. To hold out hope that will happen is to believe that Republicans in positions of leadership do not already know about Trump’s involvement in Russia and will be shocked when they find out, but given the last two years that is not plausible. The only way Republican senators will vote to remove Trump is if their constituents demand it, but many Republican senators come from strongly red states where Trump is still quite popular.
As Donald Trump’s presidency careens into its third year leaving a wake of avarice, cruelty and enduring damage to American democracy and America’s standing in the world in its wake, it is still difficult for many Americans to believe this can go on much longer. Some hold out for Robert Mueller III to be a deus ex machina whose findings will lead to impeachment and removal from office for the President, but that is very unlikely. Others believe that the Donald Trump will tire of the office and the ongoing investigations and resign after securing a promise of a pardon from Mike Pence, who as vice-president would assume the presidency in such a circumstance, but that ignores the likelihood that Trump would then face legal problems from state Attorneys General, particularly in New York. Still others believe that Trump will lose the 2020 election. That is a real likelihood, but there is no certainty that Trump would leave office even if he loses. Despite all this, Trump will not be President forever. Ultimately, an election defeat in 2020 could push him out of office. Similarly, if he is reelected, he would probably leave after his second term. Moreover, Trump is a man in his mid-seventies who is overweight, eats a poor diet and rarely exercises. There are some actuarial realities in that area that cannot be ignored.
For the second time in twenty years, a major national election outcome hangs in the balance as election officials in Florida count votes, bicker over the counting of the votesand, in some cases, try to prevent the counting of the votes. The stakes are different in 2018 from what they were in 2000. Eighteen years ago, the presidency itself would be determined by whether George W. Bush or Al Gore was awarded Florida’s electoral votes. Now a US Senate seat and the governorship are being contested. That is not the same as the presidency, but with the GOP likely to have a slim majority in the Senate, the difference of one seat there will make a difference. Additionally, given the history of voter suppression in Florida and the potential challenges around the recently passed Amendment Four, which returns voting rights to many felons who have served their time, the difference between a pro-voting rights Democrat and a voter suppression oriented Republican as governor could have a big impact in the 2020 when Florida will again be the country’s biggest swing state.