Archive

May 13th, 2016

Trump has one strategy for defeating Clinton

    There are two ways that Donald Trump can become president. Either he must become significantly more popular among general-election voters. Or his likely opponent, Hillary Clinton, must become significantly more unpopular.

    It won't take long for Trump to figure out which is the more promising path.

    Right now, flush with optimism after a stunning victory over more than a dozen primary foes, Trump's campaign has both goals in sight. Trump is hoping to rally conservatives and independents behind his candidacy. In his victory speech after the Indiana primary last week, Trump magnanimously refrained from calling defeated Sen. Ted Cruz a liar, or implying that Cruz's father aided the assassination of an American president. It was a veritable charm offensive.

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The US and Britain see corruption very differently. Here's why.

    Corruption is a morally charged word. When we say someone is corrupt, we don't just mean that a person broke a rule or failed to meet an expectation. The word implies something is rotten at its core, that something fundamental has been betrayed. The power of the word can get attention, mobilize public opinion and express disapproval in the strongest terms.

    Given the power of the term, it is unsurprising that its meaning is hotly debated in the field of politics, not least when it comes to the impact of money on policymaking. The narrow view of corruption taken in U.S. courts - along with an attitude of distrust of government - has shaped the U.S. campaign finance system into something vastly different from those in other countries, such as Britain.

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The U.S. political system is flawed but not corrupt

    Though our political system is flawed and perhaps even "rigged" in certain important ways, there is very little political corruption in the United States. This claim is typically met with disbelief. How can anyone argue that our political process is not corrupted by the vast amounts of money spent on campaigns and the countless hours elected officials and their challengers spend raising that money?

    One's answer to that question depends, of course, on one's definition of "corruption." The standard definition is that corruption is the use of public position for private gain. From this perspective, the archetypal corrupt act is a bribe. So if we are judging U.S. politics by the number of bribes being taken, we can reach no other conclusion than that there is little political corruption in the United States .

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The corruption continuum: When giving gifts bleeds to bribery

    When we talk about political corruption, what often comes to mind is what the law calls "quid pro quo": I give a politician money and in exchange he or she gets me a government contract or votes in my favor. But there is a continuum of quid pro quo exchanges, some plainly illegal, some not and some ambiguous.

    In the case of former Virginia governor Robert McDonnell, the Supreme Court will decide whether it is constitutional to prosecute a public official for conduct on that continuum, conduct never before determined to be at the illegal end. The issue is not whether we should regulate gifts to public officials; the issue is whether the criminal law can be used as a bludgeon when we have not done so. I think not. As a matter of due process, criminal prosecutions can be brought only when we have clearly defined what is legal and what is not.

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How the Supreme Court gets corruption totally wrong

    Members of Congress spend the majority of their time fundraising from wealthy donors, learning the smallest details about donors' lives - at the expense of learning about the policy details most relevant to their legislative work. When they're not fundraising, members may be anxious about meeting their fundraising quotas set by the national committees, or worried about offending the secret donors to powerful super PACs. This lurking fear undoubtedly shapes policy decisions, lest a wrong move trigger a deluge of attack ads from special interests.

    The Supreme Court has said that none of this is corrupt or corrupting. That defies law, history and logic. In a recent case Chief Justice John Roberts wrote: "Any [campaign finance] regulation must instead target what we have called 'quid pro quo' corruption or its appearance. That Latin phrase captures the notion of a direct exchange of an official act for money."

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Hillary Clinton just issued a challenge to progressives - they should take her up on it

    On "Face the Nation," Hillary Clinton was asked if she's trying to nudge Bernie Sanders out of the race, and offered a reply that, at first hearing, sounded like a standard-issue denial. But buried in her answer was an interesting challenge to progressives -- one that suggests a way for the Sanders movement to reconstitute and reinvent itself after the primaries are over:

    "I'm three million votes ahead of Senator Sanders, nearly 300 pledged delegates ahead of him. He has to make his own mind up.

    "But I was very heartened to hear him say last week that he is going to work seven days a week to make sure Donald Trump doesn't become president. And I want to unify the party. I see a great role and opportunity for him and his supporters to be part of that unified party, to move into not just November to win the election against Donald Trump, but to then govern based on the progressive goals that he and I share.

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Donald Trump isn't the next Barry Goldwater. It'd be easier for Republicans if he were.

    In the immediate aftermath of the 2012 presidential race, I ran into a prominent former Republican governor in D.C. I asked him what he thought the party needed to do to solve its increasingly problematic demographic issues and the ever-widening chasm between tea party conservatives and the party establishment.

    "We may need another '64," he told me.

    That, of course, is a reference to the 1964 election when conservatives got the candidate they wanted - Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater - and watched as his message proved too far to the ideological right for a large majority of the country. Goldwater got just 52 electoral votes and lost the popular vote to Lyndon Johnson by almost 16 million. The reckoning occasioned by that massive loss produced Richard Nixon, an establishment type who was tonally much more moderate than Goldwater. Nixon's convincing wins in 1968 and 1972 were, to hear Republicans tell it, the direct result of conservatives getting what they wanted in 1964 and seeing that their vision for the country wasn't a majority view.

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Does more wealth mean less political corruption?

    When it comes to the international pattern of corruption, the beginning of wisdom is to know how little we know. I have been studying the topic for almost 20 years, and progress has involved many steps back as well as forward. Despite tens of thousands of papers written by scholars during that period, virtually the only thing one can say with confidence today is that richer countries, such as the United States, tend to have cleaner government than poorer ones.

    Since the mid-1990s, the nongovernmental organization Transparency International has published an annual "Corruption Perceptions Index," which rates countries on the extent of graft in their public sectors. The World Bank has a similar measure. The ratings are based mostly on polls of international businesspeople and evaluations by risk analysts and other experts. Such indexes tend to match the conventional wisdom about which countries are more - and less - corrupt. In 2015, North Korea and Somalia did "worst," and Denmark "best."

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Democrats should fear Donald Trump

    I know the polls say Donald Trump cannot win. But what if we are looking at the wrong poll question?

    What if Trump's overwhelming negatives don't matter? Or, to put it another way, what if the country's negatives matter more?

    Right now, about 6 in 10 Americans have an unfavorable view of Trump, and only 36 percent view him positively.

    But the country is faring even worse. In the most recent average of polls calculated by RealClearPolitics, 26.9 percent of Americans think the nation is headed in the right direction and 64.9 percent think we are heading down the wrong track.

    So what if even voters who respect Hillary Clinton's competence reject her as the embodiment of business as usual? And what if even voters who do not like Trump's bigotry or bluster care more that he will, in their view, shake things up?

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Conservatives in Congress won't stand for a Caesar

    As the Republican Party reaches an uneasy truce with Donald Trump, ideological conservatives still insist that he is not one of them and that his victory is a defeat for their ideas.

    Such skepticism isn't new for conservatives, especially when it comes to presidents.

    Of the six Republican presidents in the modern era, only two -- Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush -- firmly embraced the conservative movement. The other four -- Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush -- were moderates and on most issues governed from the center.

    Conservative strength flowed elsewhere, from Capitol Hill, just as it does today and will again should the Republicans hold on to their congressional majorities in November. This is the message Paul Ryan sent in his sharp rebuke of Donald Trump, who at this point, Ryan said, doesn't seem to "share our values and our principles on limited government, the proper role of the executive, adherence to the Constitution."

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