Friday, April 29, 2016

In 2016, I Am A Single-Issue Voter.

As part of this post, I have started a list of Nebraska Republicans who support Donald Trump.

For the 2016 election, I have a threshold issue. One which, if you answer incorrectly, will foreclose the possibility that I ever vote for you for any office, or respect you as a politician ever again:

Will you support Donald Trump for President?

Now, for me, this isn't a terribly tough choice. Nearly every candidate who I am inclined to support for any office would never dream of supporting the vile, racist demagogue who is poised to win the Republican nomination for President. For those on my side of the aisle, the question is flipped, ever so slightly to say "Will you oppose Donald Trump for President?" so as to close off the possibility of supporting a third-party candidate who would ultimately help Trump win. But that is a slim possibility here, and it's not what I'm writing about today.

In just under two weeks, Nebraska voters will go to the polls and vote for the Republican nominee for President. Ted Cruz is widely expected to do well here, though that's mostly based on demographic trends in similar states. Nate Cohn of the New York Times still rates it as Trump's worst state, even under the most optimistic of scenarios for Trump. But I've talked to pros on the ground here who aren't so sure that Cruz will win.

What has been interesting in the run-up to the Republican Primary in Nebraska is that there has been very little activity in terms of endorsements for President. Until yesterday's somewhat surprising announcement that State Sen. Beau McCoy endorsed Donald Trump, very few Nebraska Republicans have spoken up about who they support. Sen. Ben Sasse, as the most prominent face of the #NeverTrump movement, has made clear that he won't support Donald Trump for President, and voted for Ted Cruz, but stopped short of endorsing him. State Sen. John Murante is part of the official Cruz campaign in Nebraska. Gov. Pete Ricketts' parents launched a Super PAC to run ads against Trump, and Cruz endorsed Ricketts in his 2014 race for Governor, but Ricketts has not endorsed Cruz for President.

But the distinction is academic. Donald Trump is going to be the Republican nominee. There isn't much of a question about that except among those who have been wishcasting all along in the face of ever-steeper odds. So the question becomes: If Donald Trump is the nominee, will you support him?

So far, only Sasse and former Gov. Kay Orr have been able to say, unequivocally, no. More than a few have said, if he wins the nomination, I will support him. (List of Nebraska Republicans Supporting Donald Trump). Including Sen. Deb Fischer, and both candidates challenging Rep. Brad Ashford in Nebraska's 2nd District.

I suspect we're going to see even more of these after Trump locks up the nomination, and I'm disappointed in all of them.

I recognize that it won't be an easy choice. Politicians don't want to get blamed for torpedoing their party's nominee by publicly saying they won't support him. Loyal Republican voters feel like they have to vote the party line, and many of them feel that no matter what happens, Hillary Clinton would be even worse. 

I'm of a strong belief that the 2016 election is an either-or choice, and that voting third party is a half measure, but I'm also realistic in understanding that few Republicans are likely to go that far to stop Trump, when they've done so little to stop him in their own primary. In any case, I speak mostly of the politicians here. 

Sitting on the fence, or pretending that Donald Trump is in any way an acceptable choice, demonstrates to me that you lack the judgment to be trusted with even the most basic decisions, and should not be trusted to represent anyone in any elected office. Over the next few months, I expect we're going to see a lot of Republican politicians who reluctantly support Donald Trump. They will be either genuine supporters of a proto-fascist demagogue or cowards. I suppose it's up to them which they would prefer.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Why #NeverTrump is Doomed to Fail, and The Democratic Party is the Last Best Hope for America

With a few peaks and valleys along the way, the Republican nomination campaign has played out essentially the way I predicted a couple of months ago (although quite differently from how I envisioned it last summer, before I properly appreciated the true reach of Trumpism). Only two men have a real, honest shot at winning the Republican nomination, and Donald Trump is the overwhelming favorite of the two. His many opponents realized too late that stopping Trump required a consolidation of the field, and a sustained message that confronted the danger he represented to the Republican Party and the American Republic. 

Such efforts were slow to develop, showing an embarrassing lack of preparation and appreciation on the part of the Republican field for the way Trump has completely dominated the campaign since he announced his candidacy in June. Jeb(!) Bush, in what can only be described as the greatest waste of donors' money in the history of presidential politics (and this is in a campaign that included Ben Carson's Ponzi scheme), spent tens of millions of dollars attacking Marco Rubio, emerging with a grand total of four delegates. Bush, Rubio, and many others badly miscalculated the fundamentals of the nomination campaign, abiding by the conventional wisdom that a candidate would emerge from an establishment "lane" to become the one to take Trump down. The problem, of course, is that there were seventeen candidates for the Republican nomination, and sixteen of them wanted to get into a one-on-one contest with Donald Trump.

So, about two months ago, establishment Republicans started talking to the Washington Post and the New York Times, laying the groundwork for the possibility of accepting Trump as the Republican nominee. None particularly cared for Ted Cruz, and floated the possibility that Trump would be a better nominee than Cruz. The longstanding assumption that the establishment would ride to the rescue with a barrage of attacks against Trump finally met its demise, and with it, any hope that Donald Trump was not the overwhelming frontrunner for the Republican nomination.

This shocked the conservative movement into action. The National Review published a series of essays under the banner of "Against Trump." But the toothlessness of the gesture was apparent from the very beginning, with the submission of Erick Erickson, formerly of RedState:
would vote for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. Many of the Republicans who have declared that they would never vote for Trump gave carte blanche to politicians who have been complicit in the growth of the government leviathan. These Republicans have ignored conservatism in the name of party politics, and their broken promises gave rise to Donald Trump’s candidacy.  
Nonetheless, I will not be voting for Donald Trump in the primary. I take my conservatism seriously, and I also take Saint Paul seriously. In setting out the qualifications for overseers, or bishops, Saint Paul admonished Timothy, “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, . . . he must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (I Timothy 3:1, 3:6).
It's here where I rewind a bit. As you'll recall, the Republican Party spent much of the early summer terrified at the prospect of a third party bid by Donald Trump. It was partly this fear that paralyzed them into inaction until it was too late to stop him, but it also motivated what was perhaps the dumbest move I've ever seen by a major political party during its nomination process: The Pledge. 

Entirely one-sided, The Pledge committed Donald Trump to support the eventual Republican nominee, and committed every other candidate to do the same. During these crucial early months, where the other Republican candidates could have rejected Trump, they instead symbolically embraced him. From that point forward, every criticism of Donald Trump as unfit to be commander-in-chief, or dangerously unqualified for the presidency was necessarily followed by the words "but I'll support him if he's the nominee."

This went on for far too long, and made every criticism of Trump sound just like the typical political bluster that voters are used to. It understated the danger Trump represented to the survival of the modern Republican Party, and to the Republic itself.

In short, his opponents were arguing that Trump would be a disastrous nominee, so you shouldn't vote for him because he would lose, when they should have been arguing that Trump would be a disastrous President, so you shouldn't vote for him because he might win

After Trump won in three of the first four states, conservatives started to catch on that he was very likely to be the nominee unless something drastic was done to stop him. And so the very same Erick Erickson urged those who opposed Trump to declare #NeverTrump, that they would never support Donald Trump if he won the Republican nomination, even against Hillary Clinton. Most said they would vote third party. The movement gained a prominent supporter in Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, an ambitious Tea Party Republican. But Super Tuesday came and went, and Trump was still the overwhelming favorite to win the nomination. And a new problem had emerged: virtually the only way the Republican Party could stop him now would be with a contested convention.

Then, 2012 nominee Mitt Romney came out and gave the speech that will be re-aired in Democratic TV ads across the nation in the fall. In it, he laid out a strong argument for why Trump would be a terrible President, but the message was lost with the messenger. Romney, too, was #NeverTrump.

That night, the Republicans met for a debate which may have been the most embarrassing spectacle of a campaign full of embarrassing spectacles. Trump took time early in the debate to defend the size of his penis, prompted by jokes Rubio had made earlier in the week about the size of his hands. The fighting dominated the coverage, but it was what happened near the end that was most illuminating: All remaining candidates pledged to support Donald Trump if he won the nomination. 

#NeverTrump is just a slogan without a candidate willing to stand up for it. Those who have declared their intent to stop Trump at any cost must realize that unless the candidates competing for the nomination feel the same way, their effort is doomed to failure. A convention strategy was always a risky gambit, and it is literally the only way that Marco Rubio or John Kasich could now win the nomination. But both are staying in at least through Tuesday in order to attempt to deny Trump wins in their home states of Florida and Ohio. Rubio even went so far as to tell his supporters to vote for Kasich in Ohio. Kasich did not reciprocate.

Ted Cruz is hoping that he will be the last candidate standing against Trump, but there's no guarantee he'll win a one-on-one, and if Kasich wins Ohio as expected, he will probably stay in the race despite having no mathematical path to the nomination. Trump may not reach the convention with a majority of delegates, but it is a near certainty that he will come into Cleveland with a healthy plurality, and it is going to be nearly impossible for candidates who have all said they'll support the nominee to justify wresting the nomination away from him under such circumstances.

So, #NeverTrump is doomed to fail in its task of keeping Trump from winning the Republican nomination. Which brings us to the Democratic Party.

There are two reasons I say "Democratic Party" here. First, I have no desire to turn this into an argument about which of the Democratic candidates is best suited to take on Donald Trump in the fall. I've made my opinion clear on that subject, but it is most assuredly beside the point here. Second, and most importantly, we are going to need every Democrat to unite behind the nominee of our party against Donald Trump, once our nominee is picked. No pettiness from the primaries can carry over when we face such a threat to our nation's future. This is essential. This is non-negotiable. This is our patriotic duty.

That said, for the sake of clarity in what lies ahead, I am going to use Hillary Clinton as the example here. For one thing, if I believe that Donald Trump is most likely going to be the Republican nominee, the same can be said of Clinton and the Democrats. But as an illustration of what the Democratic message against Trump will be, I think Hillary plays a key role in that (even if she somehow does not win the nomination).

The Democratic Party must forcefully lay out the case against Trump: he is a proto-fascist, a white nationalist in the mold of so many European far-right parties which have risen to prominence in recent years. To the extent that his policies have any coherent philosophy behind them, it is that: nationalism. He has, at various times throughout this campaign, insulted Mexicans, Muslims, the disabled, women, Asians, black people, and pretty much every single one of his opponents. He refused to denounce the KKK and David Duke. To say nothing of his prominent campaign to slander Barack Obama by questioning his citizenship. The policies are almost irrelevant to the case against him, and engaging him in a serious policy discussion obscures the fact that he is a demagogue who does not belong anywhere near the Oval Office.

The case against Trump will follow three simultaneous paths. The first is basically LBJ v. Goldwater on steroids. Trump is a dangerous man who will lead to the destruction of the very Republic if he is elected. "Vote for Hillary Clinton on November 8. The stakes are too high for you to stay home." Many Republicans throughout this campaign have made this case for the Democrats. All that will have to be done is roll the tape. But a forceful messenger for this track will be President Bill Clinton. He can be an attack dog when necessary, but his greatest strength on the stump is his attention to detail. He can lay out a convincing and complicated argument in the simplest terms while still holding your attention at all times.

Second, you have my favorite track, which is to ridicule Trump. It's a delicate balance, because treating him as a joke undermines the very real fear of a Trump presidency. And candidates like Marco Rubio fatally misunderstood this tactic in resorting to sophomoric insults instead of sarcastic wit. The template for this is Barack Obama's 2011 speech at the White House Correspondents Dinner. Obama is going to relish the opportunity to go after Trump with everything he's got. And it's going to be a sight to behold.

Third, you have the alternative. This is where the candidate comes in, and why I chose Hillary Clinton as the illustration. In the last two weeks, she has pivoted to a message about "love and kindness" which in isolation sounds rote, but when compared to Trump's demagoguery and hatred, will be a welcome contrast. The heavy lifting on the attacks will be done by surrogates and television advertising. What Clinton, or Sanders if he wins the nomination, has to do is lay out the positive case for election as President.

None of us, I promise you, are taking this lightly. We've seen the Republican Party get caught flat-footed and fail to stop Trump from taking over, and the media's complicity in giving him roadblock coverage for all of his rallies. We know just how dangerous he is, and we are all committed to stopping him.

To my Republican friends who see what is happening to your party and are terrified, I can only say this: I don't expect you to vote for my candidate in the fall. Faced with a similar situation I cannot say that I would vote for the Republican. I would probably vote third party, or leave my ballot blank, or write in another name. But I would implore of you only this: please, do not allow yourself, out of blind loyalty to your party, to vote for this man. Follow, if you must, the example of your Republican Senator, and find an alternative. But do not give in to Trump.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Don't You Know That You Can Count Me Out

I'll start this off by saying this: I have many friends who support Bernie Sanders for President. I have friends who are working for his campaign. I don't doubt their sincerity or their commitment to the Democratic Party and I expect that they will support the Democratic nominee, whoever that may be. We simply disagree on who the best person is for the job. And despite my reservations about Bernie Sanders, I will absolutely support him if he becomes the Democratic nominee.

I've written about the case for Hillary Clinton before. The case is very simple: she is the most qualified candidate for the job, and she will protect and defend Barack Obama's legacy. I could go on about her proven record, or her resilience in the face of relentless attacks by the right wing, but I've laid out that case in large part, before. This is something different.

I want to press upon Democrats, particularly Nebraska Democrats who will caucus on March 5, the choice that we now face for the Democratic nomination, and why we should not take that choice lightly.

In 2008, we were faced with a choice between a candidate who promised the experience to be ready on day one, and a candidate who dared us to hope. This year, we face a choice between that same experienced candidate, this time with even more credentials, and a candidate who promises a revolution.

But lest you think Bernie Sanders is offering the same thing as Barack Obama, I'd encourage you to look deeper at what he's saying. He's not offering us hope. He's offering us the most cynical possible view of the American political system. Genuine disagreement is secondary as an explanation for our political differences to the corrupting influence of money. Pragmatism is a vice. Moderation in the service of coalition-building is less important than ideological purity.

You could be forgiven if you listened to the rhetoric coming from Sanders' campaign and forgot that we currently have a Democratic President, and a pretty good one at that. At the heart of the problem with Bernie Sanders' campaign is this question: How is he going to do these things better than Barack Obama did? 

He can't answer that question honestly and directly, because he's running for the Democratic nomination for President. He can't outright say that Barack Obama is beholden to the same corrupt establishment that he not-so-subtly insinuates Hillary Clinton takes her marching orders from. He can't say Barack Obama is compromised by the system. He can barely even hint at it. But it's the logical conclusion of his message.

It'd be one thing if Sanders were offering a way forward, a way out of this. Some way to prevent the corrupting influence of money in politics so the gears of Washington would not grind to a halt and prevent progressive change. I'd find the underlying premise that money was the central reason for the lack of progressive change, or even the assumption that progressive change hasn't happened over the last eight years, to be unconvincing, but at least he'd have a solution to the central problem he says plagues our politics.

I'll give you an example. Sanders is dissatisfied with the Affordable Care Act, and believes that a corrupt campaign finance system contributed to a watered-down version of health care reform that was far from his perfect version of the bill. (He claims in debates that he helped write the bill. This is a stretch). The bill was signed into law in late March, the very same week that v. FEC was decided. Super PACs were born the same week as Obamacare. Whatever campaign finance holes are to blame for the imperfections of health care reform in Sanders' view, they weren't the result of Citizens United.

But Citizens United is the easy scapegoat. It's the soundbite. It's what everyone wants to hear. Citizens United, the group that sued so that they could air a movie attacking Hillary Clinton. That's what the case was about. Hillary: The Movie. This is a fact. (One more thing: *another* group which was formed to attack Hillary Clinton, started by Donald Trump supporter Roger Stone, called itself Citizens United, Not Timid. You can figure out the acronym for yourself.)

The point is: Sanders believes the central problem facing our democracy is the corrupting influence of money in politics, but doesn't present a realistic solution to dealing with that problem. Revolution? What does it look like?

I understand that the prospect of incremental change isn't the sexiest message. I understand that selling competent, pragmatic leadership over fiery rhetoric and unabashedly liberal positions doesn't speak to the hearts of Democratic voters.

But this is about using our heads.

We face a great opportunity, and a great danger, in this election.

The Republican Party is on the verge of nominating a demagogue. Their best hope of stopping him suffered a mortal wound to his candidacy in the last week. And the temptation among many Democrats, seeing the specter of Donald Trump, is to believe that the Democrats cannot possibly lose the 2016 election.

I cannot emphasize enough how dangerous this attitude is.

I do not believe that Donald Trump is likely to be President, but this is mostly because of my firm belief that Hillary Clinton will and should be the Democratic Party's nominee for President. That her team will not flinch from a fight with the racist, sexist, bigoted asshole should he become the nominee of his party.

On the merits, Hillary Clinton's qualifications to be President are so much better than anyone else who is running that it is almost laughable. She's also deeply committed to policy, and remarkably intelligent to boot. And yet, many of us who support her have been made to feel guilty for supporting her. I've seen language used about her by liberals that I do not dare repeat here. I've seen women told that the only reason that they are supporting Hillary is because they are voting with their anatomy, as if there could be no other possible reason to support her.

I believe firmly, that the 2016 election should be a defense of Barack Obama's presidency.

Everything I hear from Sanders lately shows me that he is incapable of mounting that defense on general principle. He is running against Barack Obama from the left. That's fine, that's certainly a way to impact the party, and in running to replace a less popular President, it might honestly be a way to win the nomination. But to many of us who have been proud supporters of Obama throughout his presidency, it comes across as insulting. A man who could not deign to call himself a Democrat until this past year, seeks the Democratic nomination while paying little more than lip-service to the Democratic President's accomplishments.

My great worry is that Bernie Sanders' general election campaign becomes not a defense of Barack Obama's presidency, but a defense of socialism.

If we nominate Bernie Sanders, we will be facing the most important election of our lifetimes, very likely against the most dangerous candidate for President this country has ever seen, and our party will be running on socialism.

I'm not interested in that. I want solutions, not soundbites. I want leaders, not iconoclasts. I want someone who will stand up for Democrats, all Democrats.

I'm not interested in going back to a time where demanding perfection left us with nothing at all. I want to move forward.

I'm with her.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Six Years Later, What We're Getting Wrong About Citizens United

As it happened, I was planning to write about campaign finance reform, prompted in part by Bernie Sanders' repeated criticisms of a "corrupt political system," when I realized that today was the sixth anniversary of the Citizens United v. FEC decision which ended the ban on corporate independent expenditures. So, I figured today was as good of a day as any to write it.

I have a number of problems with Citizens United, not the least of which is the way it was decided. The Court had, in McConnell v. FEC several years earlier, decided the precise question that it later overruled in Citizens United, after scheduling the case for reargument. The only thing that had changed between 2003 and 2010 which had any effect on the result was that Sandra Day O'Connor was no longer a Supreme Court Justice, and Samuel Alito was. 

After the D.C. Circuit struck down contribution limits to independent expenditure committees in v. FEC, the FEC issued an advisory opinion which essentially created what we now know as "Super PACs." So, while it's true to say that Citizens United led to Super PACs, there were a couple of steps in between.

Citizens United is based on the assumption that 1) quid pro quo corruption is the only form of corruption that the government has a compelling interest in regulating or preventing; and 2) independent expenditures do not lead to corruption or the appearance of corruption. As any one who has been around politics and witnessed the lack of any meaningful enforcement of anti-coordination rules can tell you, this is a ludicrous assumption. 

The other thing Citizens United did, which unfortunately has been largely ignored by the lower courts when it comes to state law, was generally uphold the federal disclosure scheme. Sadly, given the relatively toothless nature of FEC enforcement, the prohibition on coordination is really not a prohibition at all, and the IRS' loose enforcement of the political campaign activity restriction for 501(c)(4) organizations means that some groups are evading federal disclosure rules altogether. (You'll generally hear these groups referred to as "dark money" groups).

All of this combines to give us a campaign finance system that is arguably worse than what existed before McCain-Feingold. About the only things that have survived are the ban on soft money for political parties, (though not entirely), the increased contribution limits indexed to inflation, and the disclaimer which must air on every broadcast radio or television ad. (You know the one: I'm [candidate] and I approve this message.) 

And so, it's hardly a surprise that some liberals have taken up overruling Citizens United (often said as "repeal," which would be a legislative act) as their chief cause. In the Presidential campaign, the cause has found a champion in Bernie Sanders (though Hillary Clinton has also supported overruling Citizens United). He rails against a corrupt political system and vows to end the corrupt influence of money by appointing judges who would overrule Citizens United and Buckley, and pushing for a constitutional amendment to allow for strict campaign finance regulation. He's right to be concerned about money in politics. He's wrong about the solution.

I don't mean to pick on Bernie here. His position is no different than many other Democrats. But he's a good example of what I'm afraid too many Democrats and liberals are getting wrong about Citizens United in particular and campaign finance reform more broadly. 

1. Citizens United is not the source of our campaign finance problems. It did make things considerably more difficult, but the primary effect was to cut out the middleman when it comes to corporate independent expenditures. The effect is not all that different than the soft money which McCain-Feingold tried to ban, except now the spending is in the hands of nominally independent committees, instead of the political parties. 

The worst impact of Citizens United has not been on the federal level, but on the state level, where state regulatory schemes have been gutted by federal courts which went even further and struck down mandatory disclosure laws, and by the Supreme Court in striking down a public financing scheme that included spending limits in Arizona (which in turn gutted the campaign finance limits in Nebraska, essentially leaving Nebraska with no caps on contributions or spending whatsoever). 

Which brings us to our next point: Even if Citizens United is overruled, likely through a challenge of a state law, Super PACs will not go away on their own. For one thing, Citizens United itself didn't create Super PACs, and federal campaign finance law probably won't be at issue if and when Citizens United is overruled. The FEC is probably unlikely to enforce a law that was struck down by the Supreme Court, even if the decision had been subsequently overruled. What it means is that Congress would have to actively ban Super PACs. Now, anyone want to place bets on how likely that is?

2. A common refrain from proponents of campaign finance reform is this: "money isn't speech." The problem lies in the hypocrisy of that statement. Think about how many times you have been asked by a campaign over the last year to give money. What's their pitch? Help us. Come be a part of the campaign. Bernie Sanders touts the number of small donors who give to his campaign, and calls his supporters part of a movement. Are we really going to argue that there isn't a First Amendment implication on contributions to a political campaign at all?

3. The FEC is a joke. If you follow me on Twitter, you'll know that I throw this phrase around, usually in reference to some campaign brazenly skirting rules against coordinating with Super PACs. While disclosure usually runs smoothly, enforcement is rather toothless, and the structure of the commission is a major reason why. No more than three members of the six-member body may be from the same political party. This is obviously meant to prevent partisan abuse, but in reality means that the commission is hopelessly and perpetually deadlocked on any controversial issue. The process of appointment and the hot-button nature of campaign finance reform also means that new members are rarely appointed and confirmed by the Senate. Five of the six current members of the FEC are serving expired terms. Four members were appointed by George W. Bush. Remember, we are in year eight of the Barack Obama administration.

4. We need to be very, very careful about unintended consequences. Setting aside the feasibility of a campaign finance reform amendment, I think every proponent of free speech should consider what the potential consequences of such an amendment might be. You're amending the Constitution to give the government the ability to ban speech. You can dress that argument up however you'd like, but in reality, that would be exactly what you are doing.

I know that some of this can come across as defeatist. I don't believe getting money out of politics is all that realistic. And I think Sanders' campaign structure is a pretty good example of why it might not be such a good idea to open the door wide to restrictions. He's raising a ton of money from small-dollar donors, and making a strong case for his agenda. Meanwhile, a guy who has raised comparatively little money is dominating the race for his own party's nomination because he has so much of his own that he doesn't even care about raising from other people. I'm not sure creating an environment in which the latter is incentivized would be such a good idea, either.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

I Was Wrong, and I'm Sorry: Why Donald Trump is Going to be the Republican Nominee

Late Friday night, Robert Costa of the Washington Post reported that high-dollar donors, the elites of the Republican Party who mainstream political observers had long assumed would unite against Donald Trump in an effort to save the party from itself, had instead decided upon unconditional surrender.

 The writing was on the wall after Thursday's debate. For the first time, Ted Cruz went after Donald Trump, and held his own against the Republican frontrunner, but gave Trump a massive opening to hammer him on 9/11 by renewing his line of attack on "New York Values." Cruz also didn't get a clean win on the issue of his citizenship, in large part because even acknowledging the issue elevates Trump's status even more. But it wasn't the Trump-Cruz feud that gave the signal that the debate was a "nightmare" for the establishment, or that the Republicans had "surrendered" to Donald Trump. 

It was Marco Rubio, who outside of a couple of obviously prepared moments, was an afterthought to the two top Republicans in the race. It was Chris Christie, who took every opportunity available to hammer Marco Rubio. It was Jeb! Bush, who not only failed to land any criticism of Donald Trump, let alone any other candidate on the stage, but also managed to undermine the entire Republican case against Trump as a candidate by telling the viewing audience not to take any criticism they hear in the next few weeks all that seriously.

For the longest time, people like me made some assumptions about how the Republican primary would play out, based on how it has always played out in the past. Establishment Republicans and high-dollar donors would exert considerable influence and money to destroy Donald Trump's chances to win the Republican nomination. Even during the summer when Trump's poll numbers started to rise, there was always an assumption in the back of our minds that eventually, an alternative would emerge and consolidate the anti-Trump faction of the Republican Party, who would of course be a majority. 

But one by one, every single potential alternative to Donald Trump has fallen off. Jeb!, despite a massive campaign warchest, proved to be a terrible candidate, severely outmatched against Trump in debates and possessing the weakest of field organizations among the serious candidates for the nomination. Marco Rubio has stayed exactly where he has been for most of the race: polling in the low single digits, unable to break into the top tier because the other, more conventional candidates are splitting the vote. 

In the last month, the race has crystalized as a two-man race, with Marco Rubio just outside hoping to break through as the establishment alternative. But what six months of Donald Trump's unchallenged supremacy of the Republican primary has done is numb most of the party faithful to the possibility of his nomination. As the candidates on the stage signaled multiple times Thursday night, they believe that even Donald Trump would be an acceptable nominee for the Republican Party. And without even that most basic criticism to level against Trump, what remains? Ted Cruz is betting on personal attacks. Having abandoned his bear hug strategy, and finally gone after the man dominating all polls for the Republican nomination, Cruz is banking on winning a battle of personal attacks with Donald Trump. 

Our assumptions were wrong. We were blinded by our personal bias against the candidate to recognize that, structurally, he has been the frontrunner since July. I'm not simply speaking of his polling numbers. It wouldn't matter if he lead the race for six months or one day prior to actual votes being cast. I'm speaking of the way in which he has impacted the race and driven the debate since day one. Any candidate who hopes to win the nomination has to get through Donald Trump. And so far, Donald Trump has shown himself to be impervious to the type of criticism his opponents have leveled against him. He has completely changed the discussion on immigration. One-time champion of immigration reform Marco Rubio now spends his time attacking Ted Cruz for being soft on immigration. 

Which is why this report of establishment donors attempting to cozy up to Trump is so important, and why it was the final straw which broke my belief that Donald Trump would not be the Republican Party's nominee for President. Because the final assumption was that they would unite to destroy Donald Trump, around whatever candidate could defeat him. They would recognize the existential threat a Trump nomination would pose to the Republican Party, and do whatever they could to prevent it from happening. But here, with the Iowa caucus just over two weeks away, Republican donors have signaled their intent to surrender, instead. 

All of our assumptions were wrong. Republicans believe Donald Trump is going to be the nominee, and many have decided it isn't worth fighting anymore. The only person who could conceivably stop him, at this point, is Ted Cruz, and the Republican establishment has evidently made the calculation that Trump would be better. 

I predicted many months ago that Donald Trump would not win the Republican nomination. I was wrong. I'm sorry. I badly miscalculated the Republican Party's desire to nominate the worst possible candidate.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Why I Support Hillary Clinton For President

In 2008, I was an early supporter of Barack Obama's campaign. I knew from the moment he stepped off the stage at the 2004 convention that he would be President someday, and I was enthusiastic to help make that happen in any small way I could. I gave whatever meager contribution I could as a poor college student, canvassed and knocked doors, and caucused for him in Nebraska at a middle school where turnout was so high they had to move the whole thing outdoors.

I'm damn proud to have voted for Barack Obama, to have supported him, and even despite some of the things he was not able to accomplish, to defend his record to anyone. Barack Obama is my President. And but for the 22nd Amendment, I would gladly cast my vote for him for a third term in office.

Folks will remember that 2008 primary campaign was heated. The Clinton campaign stoked some very ugly fires and played to some terrible tendencies in order to claw back into the race after losing Iowa. They were not helped by a chief strategist who did not know the rules of the game, and felt that insulting the voters of any state where Hillary did not do well (again, largely because her campaign didn't know the rules) was the best way to win.

I knew early on in the 2008 campaign that I would not support Hillary Clinton. The biggest reason why I could not support her for the Democratic nomination was her vote on the Iraq War resolution. Though George W. Bush was not going to be on the ballot in 2008, the Iraq War was going to be his legacy, and anyone who voted for it was going to have a hard time explaining that to voters.

Obama not only had outspoken opposition to the war on his side, but a compelling and urgent message that brought a coalition of young and minority voters together. A lot has been written about how the Democrats have struggled during Obama's time in office, but I think that sells him short quite a bit. The man revitalized the Democratic Party. Barack Obama was the right man for the moment. 

And now, Hillary Clinton is the right woman to succeed him. There is no candidate who possesses the political skill and policy knowledge necessary to being a good President more than Hillary Clinton.

Amidst a lot of rhetoric about a corrupt political system and the need for a revolution, it's easy to forget that we have a Democrat in the White House, and a pretty good one at that. I don't have any particularly strong objection to Bernie Sanders, but it often seems as if he doesn't believe that Barack Obama has done a good job. He's the embodiment of every disillusioned liberal fed up with the practical realities of the American democratic system who thinks the President can simply do whatever he wants. If he were to win the nomination, he might get elected, although I wouldn't be quite so confident, but he would enter the Oval Office woefully unprepared for the work of governing. If a pragmatic idealist like Obama found a Republican Congress difficult to work with, can you imagine what the job is going to be like for a self-professed socialist? 

I could give you a laundry list of policy positions or criticisms of Sanders, but that really is beside the point. 

The single most important issue in the 2016 election is the preservation of Barack Obama's legacy.

Every single thing that Obama has accomplished during his time in office is in jeopardy of disappearing if a Republican President is sworn in on January 20, 2017. The Affordable Care Act? Gone. The CFPB? Gone. Deferred action and any real hope at immigration reform? Gone. Marriage equality? If you think a Republican is going to let a pesky Supreme Court decision keep that around, you haven't been listening. If you need a reminder of how little that matters, consider that Citizens United struck down the very same law the Supreme Court had upheld only seven years earlier. The only thing that had changed in the intervening years was the makeup of the Court. And once they set about dismantling every other thing that Obama has managed to make progress on in his two terms, they'll start working on everything dating back to the New Deal. Medicaid? Food Stamps? Gone. Medicare? Cut. Social Security? Privatized. Civil Rights Era reforms will be in jeopardy. What little remains of the Voting Rights Act will be gutted by a Supreme Court which could see as many as four new appointments in the coming years. In short, what the Democratic Party needs most of all right now is someone who can and will defend Barack Obama's legacy.

In that respect, if you had fallen asleep after the 2008 election and woken up just now, you might find the choice of Hillary Clinton as the person to pick up that mantle to be a bit odd. Given the acrimony and distrust during the 2008 primary campaign, how could we ever expect Hillary Clinton to carry on Barack Obama's legacy? Because when it mattered, Barack Obama trusted her. And in a time where the leading Republican candidate for President is Donald Trump, I trust that she not only has what it takes to beat him, but that she will provide the calm, steady leadership which is the antithesis of everything that he represents.

The moment is different. This is not a time for iconoclasts and demagogues. It is not a time to tear down what we've built and start over. It's a time to take the foundation we have and make it better. And yes, it's time for a woman to get the job. 

I'm with her.

I'm back!

Hello again! So, around ten years ago I started writing a lot about Nebraska politics while a student at UNO (Go Mavs!). I didn't really keep it up once I graduated college and started working for candidates and elected officials full time, and law school has taken over my life the last few years. But throughout that time I've still shared many, many random political thoughts (and not so political ones) on Twitter (@davesund), and with the election upcoming I wanted another outlet to share some more in-depth thoughts. So, I restarted my blog. 

Anyway, I can't promise that I'm going to post too frequently, just whenever the opportunity arises and I can spare a moment to write. Most of what I post here is going to be the sort of too-long-for-Facebook stuff I end up posting there. I'll be sharing some thoughts from here in "Obamaha" from a recovering political hack.