Archive

March 26th, 2016

The court fight is about democracy

    There's a reason beyond garden-variety partisanship that Senate Republicans resist even holding hearings on President Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Their gambit evades a full and open debate over the conservative judicial agenda, which is to use the high court in an aggressive and political way to reverse decades of progressive legislation.

    The central irony here: The very conservatives who use "judicial activism" as a battering ram against liberals are now the aggressive judicial activists. It's precisely because Garland's record reveals him to be a devout practitioner of judicial restraint that an intellectually frank dialogue over his nomination would be so dangerous to the right. It would expose the radicalism of their jurisprudence.

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Trump's personality is hands-down unpresidential

    Oh, those hands. Donald Trump holds them out, regards them, waves them for everyone in the gleaming conference room to see. How surreal is this? We are talking NATO, the Senkaku Islands, nuclear proliferation ... and hands.

    "My hands are fine," Trump says. "You know, my hands are normal. Slightly large, actually. In fact, I buy a slightly smaller than large glove, OK?"

    Is this really happening? "Surreal" may not capture the utter weirdness of the moment. We are talking hand size -- and other size -- with the Republican front-runner. For president.

    The topic, admittedly, has been broached not by Trump but by the otherwise cerebral editor of The Washington Post's editorial page, Fred Hiatt. "You are smart and you went to a good school," Hiatt says.

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Trump immigration attack begins in Brussels

    Here we go again.

    Speaking on NBC's Today show shortly after deadly terrorist attacks in Brussels, Donald Trump said the U.S. should "close up our borders until we figure out what's going on."

    The Trumpian rhetoric is now familiar: His proposal is both shockingly aggressive -- it was accompanied by another call to "expand" American law to permit the torture of terrorism suspects -- and intentionally, impossibly vague. Across the muddy terrain of statecraft in an age of stateless terrorism, "figure out what's going on" is not exactly a sure marker.

    Yet as a warning to Hillary Clinton of what awaits her in a general election, Trump's message couldn't have been clearer. Earlier this month, Clinton allowed herself to be pushed into a position on border security that she can't sustain in the general election. With Trump poised to strike, she will have to backpedal.

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Question of 2016: What makes America great

    In two months on the road covering the 2016 presidential primaries, I've seen the U.S. going through something of an identity crisis, after decades of dominance. The candidates are talking about what the voters are thinking about: What does it mean for America to be great?

    To a traveler, America's greatness is revealed in simple, visual ways. Everywhere, even in sparse rural areas, there's a healthy bustle of activity. Americans get up early, and they find it hard to keep still. At a Florida intersection, I watched a man expertly juggle a mattress-store sign to attract customers. He might hold the sign for minimum wage, but that's not why he juggles it.

    The whole country is never in repose; an energy runs through it that you won't find anywhere else, and a sense of constant, habitual competition is ever-present. This is the biggest economy in the world, and it feels like it. It feels like a great nation.

    To the presidential candidates, however, the issue of greatness is debatable.

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Trump gets another pass for his rambling

    Donald Trump gave an interview to The Washington Post's editorial board on Monday. He also was interviewed by CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

    Neither went well.

    I gave my reaction to his incoherent CNN interview on Twitter ("Trump on Iraq is ... babbling incoherently"), so I'll focus on The Washington Post session, which was, if anything, even worse. Here's a sample, with The Post's Fred Hiatt pressing him on his proposed ban on Muslims coming into the U.S.:

    HIATT: How would you identify people to keep them out of this country?

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Time to close the Castros' safety valve

    President Obama has repeatedly decried the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba's communist regime, most recently during his just-concluded visit to the island.

    Yet his administration insists it has no plans to reconsider a half-century-old law that's arguably more counterproductive with respect to political and economic change on the island: the Cuban Adjustment Act.

    Signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966, the act offered Cubans haven in the United States on much easier terms than those available to people fleeing other repressive or impoverished nations, in recognition of the uniquely totalitarian system Fidel Castro built. Cubans who reach U.S. soil and stay for a year get legal residency, without the usual immigrant visa application and regardless of how they arrive.

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Is Donald Trump leading a realignment of the GOP? Maybe not.

    Donald Trump's unexpected success in the presidential primaries has many wondering what it means for the future of the Republican Party. Trump has won an impressive number of delegates with virtually no support from Republican officeholders.

    Trump's rise is so dramatic that commentators at both FiveThirtyEight.com and the Mischiefs of Faction have speculated about whether Trump is part of a long term party realignment. Time will tell, but based on my forthcoming book on previous realignments, I wouldn't count on it anytime soon.

    When a realignment occurs, parties change the kinds of candidates they nominate and the positions they hold. But this sort of change does not come from candidates alone. It comes from organized interest groups.

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The west's Islamophobia is only helping the Islamic State

    The promise of the "global war on terror" was that "it was better to fight them there than here." That promise brought mass violence to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine, Yemen and Somalia -- in the name of peace in the West.

    That formula has clearly failed. Tuesday's bombings in Brussels come on the heels of similar incidents in Grand-Bassam, Ivory Coast; Maiduguri, Nigeria; Istanbul; Beirut; Paris; and Bamako, Mali, all in the last six months. Rather than containing violence, the war on terror turned the whole world into a battlefield.

    We should not be surprised. Violence inflicted abroad always comes home in some form. Last year, the U.S. military dropped 22,110 bombs on Iraq and Syria. The Pentagon says these bombs "likely" killed only six civilians, along with "at least" 25,000 Islamic State fighters. The true number of civilian deaths, though, is likely to be in the thousands as well.

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How Republicans licensed their brand to Trump

    Republicans act shocked that their party might as well be one of Donald Trump's hotels with his name plastered on it. He is almost certain to win the Arizona primary on Tuesday, and barring a miracle or a coup at the convention, he will be the Republican presidential nominee. Many millions have been spent by the anti-Trump forces, to no avail. A prominent mainstream member of the party recently told me that donors met secretly in a restaurant to plot their next move, but the only decision they have made was how they would like their steak done.

    No one should be surprised. It takes a big tent to house both Trump -- the non-Golden Rule billionaire with New York values and five children by three wives -- and Billy Graham, but that's what the Republicans built. The party of Main Street hung out a welcome sign to resentful white southerners, tea partyers, home schoolers, anti-tax, anti-spend fiscal conservatives, evangelicals and militiamen; those who embrace creationism and reject science, and anyone with a grudge, not to mention isolationists and hawks. To those who long to deport undocumented immigrants, love automatic weapons and believe global warming is an Al Gore hoax, the party said "come on in."

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The Republicans’ Sin of Endorsement

    How can things get worse for Republicans? Jeb Bush turned out to be a terrible candidate. Marco Rubio turned out to be an annoying twit. Donald Trump is a nightmare. Something had to be done, and so the solid, steady moderate elite decided the best strategy was to rally around ... Ted Cruz.

    Welcome to worse.

    They were terrified of Trump, whose short list of foreign policy advisers includes a 2009 college graduate with a résumé that boasts he once took part in a Model United Nations. Far better plan to nominate Cruz, whose list includes a guy who wrote an opinion piece suggesting President Barack Obama is a Muslim, and a woman who thinks Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s judgment about communists in the federal government was “spot on.”

    They thought Trump would be such an unpopular nominee that the party would face a historic disaster in November. Obviously, the way to improve chances was to support the most actively disliked Republican politician in America.

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