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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Trump Pays a Price for Lying

Caitlin Huey-Burns writes at RCP:
"A lot of Democrats don't trust Trump and don't trust the administration," Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan told RCP. "They've poisoned the well to try to actually bring the country back together and start finding things to work on together."

Ryan's northeast Ohio district encompasses areas of Youngstown and Warren, blue-collar bastions that helped to buoy Trump. While Trump lost Ryan's district, he outperformed Mitt Romney there by 10 points. Ryan challenged Nancy Pelosi earlier this year for House minority leader, arguing that the party had lost touch with its working-class constituents. But Ryan maintains Trump is "completely betraying" them with his hiring of Wall Street executives for his Cabinet and for backing an Obamacare replacement plan that the Congressional Budget Office said would disproportionally impact older and poorer Americans.
Josh Barro writes at Business Insider:
Often, a member of Congress agrees to vote for the president's pet piece of legislation, and the president promises to advance the member's favorite regulatory initiative, or to advocate another piece of legislation later, or to campaign for that member's reelection.
Trump might be making such promises. But because he has a decades-long reputation for reneging on his promises to counterparties, members are unlikely to trust Trump when he does so. This limits his negotiating toolbox; because Trump can't be trusted, his promises have to be made good in the bill text itself.
Trump's assurance that the bill's limitations — for example, its limited impact on insurance regulations under Obamacare — will be addressed through executive action and future legislation do not seem to be convincing enough of his party's own representatives to get this bill passed.
In a way, this is similar to the way Trump alienated mainstream banks with his reputation for not repaying debts, forcing him to seek increasingly creative means of financing his businesses. Screwing your partner in one deal makes it harder to get the next deal done.
There is an exception that proves the rule that side deals don't work for Trump.
One of the "no" votes who did flip to "yes" on the AHCA is Rep. Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania. Barletta's signature issue is illegal immigration (he's opposed), and he said he couldn't vote for the AHCA because he didn't have sufficient assurance that unauthorized immigrants wouldn't get insurance tax credits. Barletta changed his position once he was promised Trump would support his legislation to address the issue.
Trump can credibly promise to take punitive action toward unauthorized immigrants, because that is a passion of his. Beyond that, his lack of credibility is undermining his negotiating position.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Channeling Warren G. Harding

Jared Kushner: “The government should be run like a great American company. Our hope is that we can achieve successes and efficiencies for our customers, who are the citizens.”

From Warren G. Harding's acceptance address, June 12, 1920: "I believe Federal departments should be made more business-like and send back to productive effort thousands of Federal employees, who are either duplicating work or not essential at all."

Blamer in Chief

At NBC, Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Carrie Dann sum up the Trumpkins' effort to blame everybody else for the failure of repeal-and-replace:
  • Blaming Democrats: "Look, we got no Democratic votes. We got none, zero," Mr. Trump told the New York Times on Friday after the bill was pulled from the House floor. "The good news is they now own health care. They now own Obamacare."
  • Blaming the House Freedom Caucus: "Democrats are smiling in D.C. that the Freedom Caucus, with the help of Club For Growth and Heritage, have saved Planned Parenthood & Ocare!" Trump tweeted the next day, on Saturday morning.
  • Blaming Paul Ryan: "Paul Ryan needs to step down as speaker of the House," Fox News' Jeanine Pirro said Saturday night. "He failed to deliver the votes on his health care bill." (Pirro's declaration came after Trump tweeted to tune into her show, but Trump and Ryan aides say this was a coincidence.)
  • Blaming Republican moderates: "You can blame it on the Freedom Caucus if you want to. But there's also a lot of moderates, Charlie Dent will be on your show in a little bit, who are also against the bill," Trump OMB Director Mick Mulvaney said on "Meet the Press" yesterday.
  • Blaming Washington: "I think more importantly, we haven't been able to change Washington in the first 65 days. And I think if there's anything that's disappointing and sort of an educational process to the Trump administration was that this place was a lot more rotten than we thought that it was, and that I thought it was, because I've been here for six years," Mulvaney added on "Meet the Press."
At The Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin correctly puts responsibility on Trump:
Trump’s glaring unfamiliarity with the issues and distaste for policy made him wholly ineffective in addressing the substantive concerns of lawmakers. A purely transactional approach in which nothing matters but the deal turns out to be useless when trying to enact policies, as opposed to trying to get voters to pick you over another candidate. As an amateur in politics with no intellectual curiosity, Trump had no policy knowledge himself nor even an idea of the sorts of people he would need and what skills could be valuable for them to have. He admires only billionaires and generals who “look the part,” but he needs grizzled political pros who live and breathe politics. He mistakenly chose cronies who made him feel comfortable but who could not devise a plan that reflected his campaign message. (Reince Priebus and Stephen K. Bannon have never drafted a simple bill, let alone constructed a redesign of the health-care system.) Trump outsourced his most important legislative initiative, didn’t bother to understand the conflicts within the GOP, didn’t have the staff to explain what he needed to do and therefore was left with ineffective buzzwords and trite phrases that fell on deaf ears.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Death in Working Class America

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the cultural and political division between College America and Non-College America.

Joel Achenbach and Dan Keating report at The Washington Post:
Sickness and early death in the white working class could be rooted in poor job prospects for less-educated young people as they first enter the labor market, a situation that compounds over time through family dysfunction, social isolation, addiction, obesity and other pathologies, according to a study published Thursday by two prominent economists. 
Anne Case and Angus Deaton garnered national headlinesin 2015 when they reported that the death rate of midlife non-Hispanic white Americans had risen steadily since 1999 in contrast with the death rates of blacks, Hispanics and Europeans. Their new study extends the data by two years and shows that whatever is driving the mortality spike is not easing up. 
The two Princeton professors say the trend affects whites of both sexes and is happening nearly everywhere in the country. Education level is significant: People with a college degree report better health and happiness than those with only some college, who in turn are doing much better than those who never went.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The White House Is Incompetent at Dealing with Congress

Mike Allen reports at Axios:
When the balky hardliners of the House Freedom Caucus visited the White House earlier this week, this was Steve Bannon's opening line, according to people in the conference room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building: 
"Guys, look. This is not a discussion. This is not a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill." 
Bannon's point was: This is the Republican platform. You're the conservative wing of the Republican Party. But people in the room were put off by the dictatorial mindset. 
One of the members replied: "You know, the last time someone ordered me to something, I was 18 years old. And it was my daddy. And I didn't listen to him, either."
Tim Alberta reports at Politico about Trump's Thursday meeting with the Freedom Caucus
"Forget about the little shit," Trump said, according to multiple sources in the room. "Let's focus on the big picture here." 
The group of roughly 30 House conservatives, gathered around a mammoth, oval-shaped conference table in the Cabinet Room of the White House, exchanged disapproving looks. Trump wanted to emphasize the political ramifications of the bill's defeat; specifically, he said, it would derail his first-term agenda and imperil his prospects for reelection in 2020. The lawmakers nodded and said they understood. And yet they were disturbed by his dismissiveness. For many of the members, the "little shit" meant the policy details that could make or break their support for the bill—and have far-reaching implications for their constituents and the country. 
"We’re talking about one-fifth of our economy," a member told me afterward
On Tuesday, Trump spoke to the entire GOP Conference
Then Trump made a mistake. After singling out Meadows and asking him to stand up in front of his colleagues, Trump joked that he might "come after" the Freedom Caucus boss if he didn't vote yes, and then added, with a more serious tone: "I think Mark Meadows will get on board

It was a crucial misreading of Meadows, who has been determined to please both the White House and his conservatives colleagues on the Hill. Upon assuming the chairmanship of the Freedom Caucus earlier this year, Meadows was viewed suspiciously by some of his members who worried that the North Carolina congressman is too cozy with Trump and would hesitate to defy him. Meadows campaigned extensively with Trump last fall and struck up a relationship with White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who communicates with him almost daily by text. Meadows knew the health care fight would be viewed as a test of his independence from Trump, and the moment the president called him out, he was boxed in.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Left and Right Go Secular

Peter Beinart writes at The Atlantic:
Whatever the reason, when cultural conservatives disengage from organized religion, they tend to redraw the boundaries of identity, de-emphasizing morality and religion and emphasizing race and nation. Trump is both a beneficiary and a driver of that shift.
So is the alt-right. Read Milo Yiannopoulos and Allum Bokhari’s famous Breitbart.com essay, “An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right.” It contains five references to “tribe,” seven to “race,” 13 to “the west” and “western” and only one to “Christianity.” That’s no coincidence. The alt-right is ultra-conservatism for a more secular age. Its leaders like Christendom, an old-fashioned word for the West. But they’re suspicious of Christianity itself, because it crosses boundaries of blood and soil. As a college student, the alt-right leader Richard Spencer was deeply influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche, who famously hated Christianity. Radix, the journal Spencer founded, publishes articles with titles like “Why I Am a Pagan.” One essay notes that “critics of Christianity on the Alternative Right usually blame it for its universalism.”

Secularization is transforming the left, too. In 1990, according to PRRI, slightly more than half of white liberals seldom or never attended religious services. Today the proportion is 73 percent. And if conservative nonattenders fueled Trump’s revolt inside the GOP, liberal nonattenders fueled Bernie Sanders’s insurgency against Hillary Clinton: While white Democrats who went to religious services at least once a week backed Clinton by 26 points, according to an April 2016 PRRI survey, white Democrats who rarely attended services backed Sanders by 13 points.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Thrasymachus on the Hudson

Jonathan Chait writes at New York:
It is remarkable — and perhaps praiseworthy — that Donald Trump gave a long and detailed interview on the subject of his being a pathological liar. The interview, with Time’s Michael Scherer, covers a wide range of Trump’s lies, and features many of his own justifications for them. The truly revealing moment of the interview comes at the end, when Trump gives up the game. “But isn’t there, it strikes me there is still an issue of credibility,” asks Scherer, referencing Trump’s hallucinatory claims to have been surveilled by his predecessor, which his own intelligence officials have refuted. Trump rambles through various talking points, and lands on this conclusion: “I guess, I can’t be doing so badly, because I’m president, and you’re not.” 
This small line is an important historical marker of the bizarre and disconcerting reality into which American politics has plunged. Trump is not merely making an attack on truth here. He is attacking the idea of truth. His statement is a frontal challenge to the notion that objective reality can be separated from power.