Archive

October 16th, 2016

Reasonable Republicans can't save the GOP from Trump

    In the town hall debate in St. Louis on Sunday night, Hillary Clinton made an appeal to those reasonable Republicans who have been turning away from Donald Trump. Many Republicans and independents have said Trump is unqualified to serve as president, Clinton said, part of an apparently ongoing effort to reach out to Republican voters disillusioned with Trump.

    Pointing out that Trump has hardly solidified support with respectable members of his own party may be good politics, but it's a grave disservice to the American people. After all, one might be led to believe that those moderate, reasonable Republicans are unlike Trump in key ways. But the truth is that Trump didn't come from nowhere.

    Trump is the most obnoxiously bigoted candidate to run for president on a major party ticket in generations, but his actual positions and beliefs are not that far out of the Republican mainstream. Many of the defectors turning away from Trump's cause hold positions that are in effect, if not in expression, as disturbing as Trump's. And any attempt to mitigate that truth - however well-intentioned or politically calculated - is a mistake.

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October 15th

Trump has no idea what's going on in Syria

    The Trump campaign has no clear policy on how to stop the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Donald Trump and his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, don't agree on the way forward. But the more important takeaway from Sunday night's presidential debate is that Trump doesn't grasp the basic facts of the situation, doesn't understand the history of the conflict and doesn't seem curious enough to figure it out.

    Monday morning, the Trump campaign was in full spin mode trying to pretend that Trump and Pence didn't openly disagree on whether or not the United States should consider using military force against the regime of Bashar al-Assad to stop the slaughter of civilians in Aleppo. On CNN's New Day, Pence accused moderator Martha Raddatz, of ABC News, of mischaracterizing his statements from his own national debate last week.

    In fact, Raddatz asked Trump repeatedly to address the same question Pence answered. Namely, what would Trump do about the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo and should the United States be prepared to use military force against the Assad regime to halt the bombing there? In his debate, Pence clearly stated he supported such a policy.

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Pushing back on Putin is the best way to defeat ISIS

    In the space of just one year, the West has twice made Russian President Vladimir Putin an offer too good to refuse. Or so it thought. In February 2015, under the auspices of the OSCE, negotiators in Minsk overlooked Russia's annexation of Crimea in order to reach a cease-fire agreement for the Donbas region of Ukraine. One year later, in February 2016, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sidestepped questions over Bashar al-Assad's future in return for a cessation of hostilities deal for Aleppo. In effect, the United States and its allies offered Putin Crimea and a rump Syria in return for peace. Sensing weakness, the Russian president pocketed both offers and promptly violated the agreements, most egregiously in Syria.

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October surprises can skew November results

    It'd be nice to be able to tell you how this craziest week of a crazy campaign will affect the final vote totals on Nov. 8.

    But I can't. Neither can anyone else. We'd be bluffing if we claimed we could.

    Normally, the job of political scientists like me is to caution everyone that the latest gaffe or political ad or campaign event won't matter on Election Day. This was the gist of what I wrote a week ago: I suggested that most polling swings back and forth over the last few months have probably been illusions, and that there was a good chance Hillary Clinton has had a lead of 4 to 6 percentage points throughout.

    It's what political scientist Matthew Dickinson said on Sunday in response to the "Access Hollywood" tape of Donald Trump bragging about sexual assault: "Count me as one who thinks that Trump's 'latest' comments (made in 2005) - as reprehensible as they are - are unlikely to have nearly the impact on this race that the pundits claim."

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Low voter turnout isn't necessarily bad

    It's election season, so it's time to bemoan low voter turnout. Americans do not vote in numbers comparable to the citizens of other democracies, we're often reminded. Then the laments start: Low turnout is a sad commentary on the state of the republic. This year could be even sadder because many people don't like either of the main parties' presidential candidates.

    For sure, low turnout can be a sign of voter frustration. However, for low turnout to distort the election result, it must be that the people who do show up at the polls don't accurately represent the views of the citizenry as a whole.

    But low-turnout elections aren't necessarily unrepresentative. The key question is not how many people vote, but which ones. My current research with my Harvard colleague Louis Kaplow shows that to figure out whether an election is representative, we need to think about who decides to turn out, and why - and whether their decisions to turn out are linked to their political views.

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I was out and proud as a student. So why did my job send me back into the closet?

    I joined my high school's gay-straight alliance when I was 14 and became its co-president the following year. In college, I led the Queer Student Union, and in 2005, my full-color photo graced the front page of the local newspaper for National Coming Out Day.

    In fact, for the better part of a decade, I worked either as a student organizer or professional activist and, later, as a board member for a national LGBTQ youth nonprofit. It's no hyperbole to say that I marched around wearing rainbow flags, because on several occasions, I did just that.

    After college, being queer was practically my job. I went to work for Campus Progress (now Generation Progress), where I mentored college activists. I was very "out" at Campus Progress and talked about queerness in my day-to-day job, referencing my activist experiences when relating to students and collaborators.

    While my identity and self-understanding continued deepening and shifting over the years -- sometimes dramatically -- I was used to being out and was comfortable with it.

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Daughters and Trumps

    As the father of no daughters, I’m appalled by Donald Trump’s comments about groping women. As the husband of no wife, I’m offended.

    What, you ask, do my parental and marital statuses have to do with recognizing the outrage of what he said? I wonder, too. But they must be germane, because Republicans seem unable to censure Trump without invoking female spouses and especially offspring. In this version of Take Our Daughters to Work Day, the work is displaying concern for women, and the daughters are less protégées than props.

    Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, used a written statement of displeasure with Trump to identify himself as “the father of three daughters.” This was apparently a wellspring of his pique, which didn’t rise to the level of actually rescinding his endorsement of Trump. Would a fourth daughter have done the trick? A fifth?

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Can the U.S. Win This Election?

    Seriously, why didn’t we sell tickets? If only our national election had been pay-per-view for the rest of the world, we could have wiped out the national debt. But while viewers around the world seem to be lapping up our national reality TV show, are we, the citizens of America, going to get anything out of it?

    Specifically, are we going to get the thing we need most and have enjoyed least this century: effective government? We have too much deferred maintenance to fix, too much deferred leadership to generate and too much deferred re-imagining to undertake to wait another four years to solve our biggest problems, especially in this age of accelerating technology and climate change.

    If we will have indulged in almost two years of electoral entertainment and pathos just to end up back where we were, only worse, with even more venomous gridlock in Washington, it won’t just be emotionally depressing, we’ll really start to decline as a nation. When we forfeit governing our country strategically at the national level for this long, inevitably the roof will start to leak and the floors will start to buckle.

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When Trump went low, Steve Bannon found a new direction: Lower

    Donald Trump preened when vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence got good reviews last week for his debate performance. The Donald bragged that Pence was the "first choice" he had made, and thus a praiseworthy indication of his hiring prowess.

    Fact check: False.

    Trump made a much more telling choice two months earlier - a hiring decision that was appallingly evident before, during and after the presidential debate Sunday night.

    In picking Stephen K. Bannon to run his campaign, Trump tethered his hopes to a combative propagandist - Bannon is the executive chairman of Breitbart News, the right-wing website that a Bloomberg News profile called "a haven for people who think Fox News is too polite and restrained."

    And while Fox has sometimes been split in its coverage of Trump - occasionally critical, often fawning - Breitbart seems to have no such internal conflict. Which explains why people call it Trump Pravda.

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Trump would jail Clinton? There's a name for that

    Donald Trump's threat in Sunday night's presidential debate to appoint a special prosecutor to go after Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server is legally empty -- but it's genuinely dangerous nevertheless. Federal regulations give the appointment power to the attorney general, not the president, precisely to protect us against a president who uses the special prosecutor as a political tool.

    What separates functioning democracies from weak or failed ones is that political parties alternate in power without jailing the opponents they beat in elections. That sometimes means giving a pass to potentially criminal conduct, but that's a worthwhile sacrifice for making republican government work.

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