What makes this scandal unique in American history is that, while it is an offense that is impeachable, and that makes both Watergate and the Clinton scandals that brought about his impeachment, but not his conviction, look like a day at the beach, it all occurred and was known before the election. Other presidents committed offenses that drew attention, scrutiny and even impeachment once they were in office. Trump did it all in the year preceding the election. This has brought him immunity of a sort, because if he is impeached, it will be very easy to bring down much of the Republican Party with him. This is the Faustian, and poorly thought out, that the Republicans made when they nominated and then rallied behind this more than slightly unhinged kleptocrat with authoritarian, and perhaps treasonous tendencies.
The scope and unprecedented nature of this development has raised challenges for both parties. It is clear now that President Obama should have risked accusations of playing politics and more aggressively drawn attention to Russia’s hacking in October when the intelligence agencies became more certain that Russia was, indeed, doing the hacking. The Republicans, with a few exceptions, have made the mistake of simply denying the findings of the intelligence agencies and of supporting Donald Trump, the beneficiary of this hacking, as he tries to distract and bully his way out of this scandal. For both parties, and all Americans, the question of what to do now is not an easy one to answer.
Move beyond the Clintons. For a few aging Democratic insiders, the Clinton name is still magic, but for everybody else, for better or for worse, the brand is strongly identified with scandal and ethical shenanigans. Additionally, thanks to this recent campaign, there are probably many female voters younger than 40 for whom Bill Clinton is primarily viewed as a sexual predator. Despite this, there are some in the Clinton’s world who think Chelsea Clinton should run for Congress, presumably as the first step in a more ambitious political career. The main reason, however, that the Democratic Party must move beyond the Clintons, is that the brand of center right politics on which Bill got elected and reelected in 1996 has no place in today’s Democratic Party, or for that matter in Trump’s Republican Party. The sooner the Democrats can finally get beyond the Clintons, the sooner the Party will stop having to defend what a decade of Democratic governance that looks much more problematic from 2016 or 2017 than it did from 1999 or 2000. For this reason, the only Clinton who should even appear at the next Democratic convention is George.
The desire to portray Donald Trump’s campaign as more of an outlier than it actually is partially grows out of a legitimate bewilderment on the part of the media and others both at Trump’s behavior and at how well he has been doing in this election. However, it is also misleading and understates not the degree of racial polarization in this election, but the degree of racial polarization that has characterized American political life, and partisan politics, for decades now. Trump is a racist who has placed intolerance and bigotry at the center of his campaign in a way that is unique in modern times, but he would not have been able to succeed in this endeavor if the Republican Party had been a more pluralist and diverse institution for the last few decades. Moreover, the similarities between this and previous elections, while perhaps not consistent with more interesting election year narratives, demonstrate the enduring strength of our two party system and how difficult it is, even for a candidate like Trump, to disrupt it.
While people in Eastern Europe can’t vote in this election, Polish Americans, Latvian Americans, Ukrainian Americans and other Americans with roots in countries that feel threatened by an aggressive Russia do. Many of these voters are part of the very demographic groups upon whom Mr. Trump will rely on for his path to victory against Hillary Clinton. Mr. Trump needs a record proportion of white votes to win this election; and he particularly needs them in states of the upper Midwest, including Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that have long had large numbers of voters with roots in Eastern Europe.
As Obama's presidency winds down, one of the stranger stories to emerge has been the impeachment, or more accurately the Republicans threatening impeachment but not really meaning it, saga. Impeaching a president is difficult as it requires a vote by the House of Representatives followed by a trial and vote by the Senate. Two presidents, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, have been impeached. Neither were convicted by the senate. As long as the Democrats retain control of the senate, or have close to fifty votes there, it is almost certain that efforts to impeach Obama would lead to the same result.
The growing possibility of another Clinton-Bush race is also something that reflects significant problems with our democracy. In most other countries, the spouse of a former president running against the son and brother of another former president would be prima facie viewed as evidence of structural problems with the country and probably widespread corruption as well. This election will not be seen that way because, well Hillary Clinton is beloved by many Democrats, and Bush can become beloved by many Republicans if he is seen as the guy who can beat Clinton. It is probably, however, worth taking a closer a look about what a Clinton-Bush matchup tells us about about our democracy.
This is not just an observation about why Romney lost in 2012, but explains what has happened to a party where certainty and partisan inflexibility have not only become more important than governing or problem solving, but have been elevated as values that trump analytical rigor our sound strategic thinking. The Republican Party has become one where certainty and faith are among the most cherished values of both the leadership and the base. The same is true of the Democratic Party, but to a much smaller degree. President Obama's almost freakish commitment to the concept of consequence, for example, stands in stark contrast to his predecessor's incessant boasting about his certainty. The leap between being surprised on Election Night in 2012 and believing climate change is a hoax is not that big. In both cases, eschewing scientific approaches leads to fundamental misunderstandings of reality. In 2012 it helped cost Mitt Romney the presidency. In the policy arena the consequences for the anti-science approach could be much higher.
As the 2016 election approaches and the question of whether or not Hillary Clinton runs becomes an even bigger topic of discussion among the punditry, it is likely that we will also be told that having a clear nominee early in the process, rather than a hard fought, and potentially nasty, campaign for the nomination will be good for the party. This idea is intuitively appealing as contested primaries can make it hard to unite behind one candidate in the general election and can damage the eventual nominee. It is additionally something that we frequently hear from front-runners hoping to avoid a tough primary. This idea is intuitive and attractive, but it should be noted that it also completely false.
During his last years in office, Obama will have several items on his agenda, but fixing the ACA should be at the top of that list. The administration has framed the ACA as the signature legislative accomplishment of Obama's presidency. Fixing the ACA will not be easy, as clearing up computer problems is only part of it. The broader problems of ensuring that people can keep their insurance policies and that younger healthier people sign up for health care through the program are more important. Making progress, or even to be seen as working hard to make progress can begin to turn Obama's poll numbers around. The state of the Republican's in congress makes this somewhat easier for Obama as his political opponents are discredited outside of their own partisan base.
Hillary Clinton has not yet announced whether or not she will be a candidate for president in 2016, and already there is a PAC aimed at thwarting her candidacy. The creatively named Stop Hillary PAC is committed to trying to destroy Clinton's aspirations by running negative ads and otherwise seeking to portray her in the worst possible light. Clinton remains the front-runner for her party's nomination, should she run, but it is possible that the right is making a mistake by attacking Clinton.
Even if Weiner and Abedin had no connection to Clinton, it would be hard to watch Abedin's support for her husband and not think of Hillary Clinton's support for President Bill Clinton during the various sex related scandals during and before the Clinton presidency. Hillary Clinton has a long record of accomplishment since she and her husband left the White House. Should she run for president, that is the record she will want to highlight. Anything that brings attention away from that record and back to the worst periods of the Clinton presidency is bad for Hillary Clinton. That is precisely what this scandal is doing now.
The years from 1996 through the present have been a period of unusually strong unity for the Democratic Party. The deep divisions between north and south and the liberal and conservative wings of the party which defined much of Democratic politics in the second half of the 20th century have been considerably less visible during the last 15-20 years. Even the presidential primaries in the Democratic Party, which were competitive in 2000 and very competitive in 2008, were primarily driven by personal and demographic differences rather than substantive disputes over vision or ideology.
The Republicans not only draw their votes from a relatively narrow slice of the electorate, but Republican candidates, activists, operatives and strategists are also drawn from that same small segment of the electorate. While the Democrats have candidates representing all of America, the Republican candidates are still overwhelmingly white, Christian and straight. This necessarily limits the party's ability to recruit candidates and cedes much of the political talent to the Democrats. Obviously, not all Republican candidates, leaders and senior officials are straight white men, but the overwhelming majority are. A brief comparison of the crowds at the two recently completed conventions demonstrates this. The challenge the Republican Party faces is that to expand their appeal in anything other than a symbolic way, they will have to remake the party, not by seeking, for example, to win Latino votes by cursory appeals to Latinos as businesspeople or social conservatives, but by genuinely signaling that the party is inclusive, accepts America's diversity and has no room for bigots. This will not be easy, but will be necessary for the Republicans if they want to not just win elections, but to remain a truly national party.
Until Romney releases these tax returns, it is not possible to know what the most damaging thing in them will be; and to some extent it doesn't matter if there is any one specific thing that is very damaging. It is, however, a certainty that Romney's tax returns will continue to tell the story of Romney as an extraordinarily wealthy man whose financial life is very different from those of ordinary Americans, and who has engaged in the kinds of wealthy-person financial shenanigans which, while not illegal, will raise more questions about Romney and his wealth.
President Barack Obama's statement that he believes in marriage equality could have been sooner and could have been stronger, but it is still significant. While Obama may have been slightly behind the curve on this statement, it is also a reminder of how quickly public opinion has changed for the better on marriage equality. It was only 16 years ago when the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, announced his support for the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Clinton was also in the midst of a reelection campaign, but was in a better position regarding the election in 1996 when he made that decision than Obama is now. Nonetheless, outside of the LGBT community and a few other liberals, nobody was too upset about Clinton's decision.
Over the course of the primary, another more significant problem regarding Mitt Romney, one which is potentially much more serious, emerged. As Romney has campaigned for president, it has become increasingly clear that while he is smart, well-spoken, looks presidential and has an attractive family, he is also not a strong campaigner with little ability to build connections with people or inspire excitement from supporters.
Romney's treatment of Seamus is potentially damaging to his candidacy because it reinforces much of what many Americans, particularly swing voters, already feel about Romney -- that he is a smart enough man, but simply unable to connect or relate to the problems and challenges facing ordinary Americans. The Seamus story is consistent with this because it shows Romney to be goal-driven, singularly focused and insensitive -- it should be remembered that after the dog got sick, Romney pulled over, hosed him off and kept going -- even when taking his family on vacation.
The Republican primary has demonstrated that the far right is not as powerful as once thought. Predictions that Romney could not survive the deep south because of his views on social issues or the particular brand of Christianity he practices are going to be proven wrong in the coming weeks. Four years ago, John McCain was cowed by the activists in his party into selecting a running mate who while keeping the right wing happy was unable to appeal to independents and those in the political center.
The Gingrich ascendancy is at least as much about good timing, even luck, as about anything Gingrich has done, but timing and luck always play an important role in presidential politics. Gingrich is benefitting both from the predictable collapse of Herman Cain's campaign and of being the non-Romney flavor of the month at the right time. Gingrich's challenge is to hold on to that mantle until the voting starts. Significantly, others such as Cain, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann have been unable to maintain that position as scrutiny has increased.