Archive

April 9th, 2016

Trump, leader of a modern Know-Nothing movement

    Donald Trump's inconsistency on foreign policy has the Washington punditry in a tizzy. His disjointed and, frankly, ignorant responses to questions on basic matters of international security in the Republican debates, on the campaign trail, and, more recently, in long interviews with the Washington Post and New York Times editorial boards leave much to be desired from a potential commander in chief.

    And yet: For all the complaints about how he doesn't know what the nuclear triad is, or has no grasp on the realities of NATO, or his unconstitutional-sounding plans to deal with immigrants and refugees, Trump's positions are often more in tune with the typical Republican - and even the average American - than Twitter pundits would like to acknowledge. Sadly, a major reason for this is that the American public is as ignorant about foreign policy as Donald Trump.

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Start learning Republican convention rules

    Rules and credentials could prove extremely important at the Republican National Convention if no candidate has acquired the necessary 1,237 delegates -- and possibly even if one does.

    Yet you shouldn't believe the hype about Rule 40(b) -- that the fight over this rule will wind up determining the nomination, or at least forcing a choice between only two candidates. In fact, it's unlikely to make any difference.

    The rule is designed to ensure a smoothly running convention by limiting the number of candidates who can be formally nominated. It was strengthened in 2012 to prevent Ron Paul from getting a formal nomination. As Josh Putnam explained, instead of needing a plurality of the delegates in five states, Republicans in 2012 required a majority of delegates in eight states, a much tougher hurdle. Either way, however, this rule would prevent John Kasich (who as of now has only won a single state) or any other candidate from being formally nominated before the first ballot.

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Republicans can't stop hurting themselves

    For Republicans to break the Democrats' hold on the White House, hard-line conservatives may have to loosen their grip on red states. That's a corollary to an argument put forth by political scientist Thomas Schaller in his 2015 book, "The Stronghold."

    Schaller's thesis is that Republican success in deeply conservative, overwhelmingly white congressional districts is preventing the party from altering its ideological and demographic course to make it possible to win presidential campaigns. Instead of remaking itself to appeal to a more diverse and moderate national majority, the GOP's "rising congressional fortunes have led the party quite rationally down a path that has made retrenchment more attractive and recovery less so," Schaller wrote.

    In effect, it's hard to convince hard-core conservatives who keep winning elections that their party is a mess. And through a sustained campaign of massive resistance to President Barack Obama and the federal government, conservatives keep on winning at the state and local level.

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Putin's a pauper, if he were to lose power

    Recent reports by two consortia of investigative journalists purport to have exposed the dealings and offshore accounts of some of Russian President Vladimir Putin's closest associates. They don't name him as a beneficiary of any account, suggesting that Putin is as poor as a church mouse -- or would be if he ever lost power.

    The investigations were published by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, respectively. The first names St. Petersburg businessman Grigory Bayevskiy as someone who provided valuable real estate to, among others, Katerina Tikhonova, reportedly Putin's daughter. The Kremlin has neither confirmed nor denied that connection when asked about the reports.

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Immigration agents whistle Trump's tune

    How disconnected is border policy in Washington from the border patrol agents who carry it out in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and California?

    Last week, the National Border Patrol Council, which represents 16,500 of the nation's more than 21,000 border patrol agents, endorsed Donald Trump for president. In case this obvious affront to the current president was insufficiently pronounced, the union's press release took pains to spell it out, saying its members "selflessly serve this country in an environment where our own political leaders try to keep us from doing our jobs."

    The rest of the release -- "our first-ever endorsement in a presidential primary" based on Trump's unique campaign -- reads like a tea party decree circa 2014.

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Dog bites woman, and now it's a federal case

    Dog bites man may not be a news story -- but in nine western states, it's grounds for a constitutional case. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has allowed a lawsuit by a woman who fell asleep in her office after a hard night's drinking, accidentally tripped a burglar alarm, and was bitten in the lip by a San Diego police dog responding to the alarm.

    What makes the case so interesting is that the San Diego Police Department trained Bak, a service dog, to enter a room and bite the first person she saw. Her training was to hold the bite in place until her handler ordered her to release her grip.

    The constitutional issue is whether this technique, used against someone who has made no resistance, violates the bite victim's Fourth Amendment right not to be detained by the use of excessive force. This question is especially charged given the troubling use of police dogs to subdue protesters.

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Court upholds 'one person, one vote,' mostly

    In a victory for both noncitizens and common sense alike, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected the argument that state election districts must be drawn equally based on eligible voters rather than population. The court's decision staves off a xenophobic push to discount noncitizens, which is a good thing. But almost equally noteworthy was an opinion by Justice Samuel Alito, who was joined by Justice Clarence Thomas in saying that states could use eligible voters to redraw their districts if they wish.

    Begin with the background: All states currently use population, not eligible voters, when drawing their legislative districts. When it comes to congressional districts, the Constitution expressly requires the use of consensus population, not voters. And the Senate has no districts at all, a reflection of the famous compromise at the Constitutional Convention held in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787.

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April 6th

Who had the worst week in Washington? Donald Trump

    If the only bad thing that happened to Donald Trump this week was that his campaign manager was charged with battery after grabbing a reporter at a campaign event last month in Florida, he might have escaped this "honor."

    After all, Trump insisted that Corey Lewandowski, the manager in question, had never even touched the reporter -- and that Michelle Fields, the reporter in question, had been bothering him and had made up what actually happened on that day at the Trump National golf course. Trump, said Trump, was the one who was the victim here!

    Yes, in the normal world of politics, your campaign manager being charged with battery would be bad. And not only refusing to fire him but going on the attack against the female reporter who had been grabbed would have been really, really bad. But, this is Donald Trump we're talking about. He has turned every piece of political conventional wisdom on its head -- so why not this one too?

    Then came Trump's town hall interview with MSNBC's Chris Matthews on Wednesday. And that's when his week from just bad to horribly awful.

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Trump Has Reached Peak Incoherence

    Perhaps the laws of political gravity are about to take hold in the case of Donald Trump. But the lesson of this appalling primary season cautions against discounting Trump's appeal -- which prompts another Trump column, this one on the utter incoherence of his policy views.

    It's not simply that Trump is wrong on policy. Ted Cruz is wrong on policy. Trump is wrong on policy and argues for policy positions glaringly inconsistent with his asserted principles. All politicians do this, sure. But Trump's incoherence is classically Trumpian -- huge, glitzy, unembarrassed.

     That phenomenon was on vivid display last week, as world leaders gathered for a summit on nuclear non-proliferation. On this topic, Trump stands, or says he does, with the global consensus. He raised the issue in his discussion with The Washington Post editorial board, in response to a question about whether he believes in man-made climate change.

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The End of Trump

    It's time to go back where we began: not only that Donald Trump will lose the Republican presidential nomination, but that he could be so weakened by the end of the primaries that his party will not even have to worry about choosing someone else.

     I feel your skepticism. Hasn't Trump so far defied all predictions of his demise? Absolutely. Hasn't every claim that "now he's gone too far" been wrong? Of course.

    Let's be honest about journalists: We find a lot of ways of being wrong.

    One trap is "presentism," the idea that whatever is happening now will keep happening. And it is, indeed, easy to project Trump's impending doom after his most miserable week yet.

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