How did we get here? Most Trump voters are voting against Biden and most Biden voters are voting against Trump. And this is the way it is in a lot of elections.
What it comes to climate change, most Americans think to themselves: someone will figure something out. And by someone, they probably mean the government. But this is the very same government that doesn’t seem to be able to address almost any other problem, most of which are much less complicated than climate change.
What if Hillary Clinton had won 114,000 more votes in four key states? Or, what if she’d picked up the two to three percent of the vote she lost because Bernie Sanders’ supporters sat on their hands on election day? She’d be “Clinton 2” or “Clinton 45” or “the second President Clinton” — and the world would look very different.
In terms of personnel and therefore policy, a Clinton Administration II would look and feel like a mash-up of Obama’s third term and a throwback to figures who populated her husband’s White House during the 1990s. Having moved to the right since Bill’s first term, progressive figures like then-Labor Secretary Robert Reich would be out in the cold. Rahm Emanuel and Timothy Geithner could expect cabinet offers. So could some Bush-era neo-cons like Robert Kagan.
Hillary didn’t promise much change to domestic policy during her campaign. Her biggest proposal was to spend $275 billion on infrastructure, which would have left us $1.3 trillion short of what’s needed. Not that she could have gotten it through the Republican Congress.
The alternate presidential history of 2017 differs most significantly in two respects: foreign policy, and tone.
Clinton’s liberal supporters always glossed over her long history of hawkish, arguably far-right, approaches to military matters. Those who mourn her loss to Trump today have completely forgotten that she convinced Obama to back military coups against the democratically-elected leaders of Honduras and Egypt. She also successfully advised advised Obama to arm and fund radical Islamist militias in Syria and Libya, plunging two modern Muslim countries into civil wars that have reduced them to failed states. Clinton’s famous cackle after a U.S. drone blew up Libyan ruler Moammar Khaddafi’s convoy, leading to his being sodomized by bayonet on video, is terrifying.
“It’s impossible to know which national security crises she would be forced to confront, of course,” Micah Zenko speculated in Foreign Policy in July 2016. “But those who vote for her should know that she will approach such crises with a long track record of being generally supportive of initiating U.S. military interventions and expanding them.”
Two months later, another FP writer penned an astonishing look behind the Kremlin walls at the thinking of top Russian officials worried about the U.S. election: “Moscow perceives the former secretary of state as an existential threat… That fear was heightened when Clinton surrogate Harry Reid, the Senate minority leader, recently accused Putin of attempting to rig the U.S. election through cyberattacks. That is a grave allegation — the very kind of thing a President Clinton might repeat to justify war with Russia,” wrote Clinton Ehrlich.
Would Hillary’s tough talk have triggered World War III with Russia by now? Probably not. But it’s not impossible — which shows us how far right she stands politically on the use of the force.
More likely and thus more worrisome, Hillary might have leveraged the current U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan into attacks against neighboring Iran. “I want the Iranians to know, if I am the president, we will attack Iran” if Iran were to attack Israel — even if there were no Congressional authorization or a clear and present danger to the U.S., Clinton said in 2008. “And I want them to understand that… we would be able to totally obliterate them [to retaliate for an attack on Israel].” Unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran has a real military and thus a real ability to defend itself — which would mean a long, costly and possibly unwinnable war.
The one arena where most people agree that President Clinton would have been better than President Trump is presidential tone. Yes, “she does yell into microphones and speak in an overly enunciated voice—two factors that may make her seem abrasive.” But this is a woman whose campaign assigned 12 staffers to compose a tweet; they went through 10 drafts over 10 hours. There wouldn’t be any Trump-style 3 a.m. Twitter diarrhea coming out of a Clinton White House.
When George W. Bush was president, there wasn’t one morning I didn’t regret that Al Gore wasn’t there instead. Gore wouldn’t have invaded Iraq. He might not have gone into Afghanistan either. Unlike pretty much every other president, he cared about the environment.
There isn’t a single moment I miss President Hillary Clinton, though. Trump is a disaster, a real piece of crap. But everyone knows it. Because Trump is so loud and stupid and cruel and greedy and corrupt, all liberals and not a few conservatives clearly discern the true nature of his administration, and of the system itself.
If Hillary Clinton were president, the left would still be just as asleep as it was between 2008 and 2016. First woman president! Aren’t we just the best.
Meanwhile, the drones fire their missiles and U.S. troops and spooks prop up tyrants, and the filthy rich rake in their loot.
Trump gives us clarity. That is no small thing.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is co-author, with Harmon Leon, of “Meet the Deplorables: Infiltrating Trump America,” an inside look at the American far right, out now. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
Some political experts doubted that Donald J. Trump would tough it out this long. This, after all, was a very strange man, possibly afflicted by obsessive-compulsive disorder to the point that he even floated the idea of staying in New York.
He moved to Washington. But Trump’s dangerous old compulsions remain: Twitter diarrhea. Impulsiveness. Recklessness. He insults adversaries whose cooperation he needs. He’s allergic to compromise. Will these character defects destroy him politically in 2018?
The odds of Trump remaining president by the end of next year, I said recently, were significantly less than 50%. I still think that’s true. But as noted above, we have a tendency to underestimate this highly inestimable man. The will-Trump-survive question is an equation with many variables.
One thing is clear: “The Resistance,” as the left-center political forces aligned against Trump and the Republicans grandiosely call themselves, is a null force. If Trump is forced out of office, it won’t have much to do with these Hillary Clinton supporters. The Resistance’s street activism peaked out with the Women’s March on January 21, 2017. They are, in Trumpspeak, Losers.
Russiagate, the allegation that Putin’s government “hacked the election” for Trump, still hasn’t risen above the level of a 9/11 Truther conspiracy theory — not one iota of actual evidence has appeared in the media. (Sorry, so-called journalists, “a source in the intelligence community believes that” is not evidence, much less proof.)
But Russiagate led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller’s sweeping powers and authority to pursue any wrongdoing he finds regardless of whether or not it’s related to Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election has already led to the downfall and flipping of ex-Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn.
Mueller’s pet rats may never turn up a smoking-gun connection between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. But they likely know where Trump’s bodies are buried. In addition to obstruction of justice — to which Trump de facto pled guilty in one of his insipid tweets — charges related to sleazy business dealings are a strong possibility. Was/is Trump in deep with Russian oligarchs and corrupt government officials? Perhaps not — but he’s an amoral real estate developer who follows money wherever it leads, including authoritarian regimes where transparency is nonexistent.
Behind every great fortune, Balzac wrote, there is a crime. Trump’s cash hoard probably results from many more than a single illegal act.
Impeachment or resignation? Having researched Trump for my 2016 biography, Trump is more likely to give away his fortune to charity than slink away in a Nixonian resignation. His ego is too big; he’s too pugnacious. He’d rather get dragged out kicking and screaming — unless it’s part of a deal with Mueller or other feds to avoid prosecution.
So impeachment it would need to be.
But no political party in control of both houses of Congress has ever impeached a sitting president of its own party. And there’s another powerful countervailing force protecting Trump from impeachment: Republicans’ self-preservation instinct.
GOP lawmakers suffered devastating losses in the 1974 midterm election following Nixon’s near-impeachment/resignation. Democrats did OK in 1998, after Bill Clinton was impeached — but that was an outlier impacted by the biggest boom economy ever.
In the long term, the Republican Party would probably be better off without Trump. But Congressmen and Senators live in the here and now. Here and now, or more precisely in 2018, Republicans know that many of them would lose their jobs following a Trump impeachment.
Despite those considerations, I think that, in the end, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other top Republicans are more likely to calculate that pulling the impeachment trigger is worth the likely losses in the fall.
Reason #1 is personal: Paul Ryan’s presidential ambitions. As I speculated in February, I believe Ryan wants to be president in 2020. As Speaker of the House, he’s the one person who can launch impeachment proceedings. I can easily imagine the following quid pro quo: Ryan gets rid of Trump, Pence agrees not to run in 2020, Ryan runs with Pence’s endorsement. Reason #2 is meta: to save the Republican Party as Ryan and McConnell know it. Here’s what I said in February: “Becoming the party of impeachment at a time when impeachment is popular transforms crisis into opportunity, allowing Republicans to cleanse their Trump-era sins (trying to repeal the increasingly well-received Obamacare, paying for the Great Wall of Mexico with deficit spending, etc.) and seize the moral high ground in one swoop. Vice President Mike Pence takes the helm, steadies the ship, promotes their right-wing agenda with more grace than his former boss, and Ryan and his buddies prepare for 2020.”
If anything, the GOP is in bigger trouble now.
Trump’s approval ratings hover between 35% and 40%. More worrisome for him and the Republicans, his support is shaky while those who hate him are firmly entrenched in their beliefs.
Approval of the Republican Party has hit 29%, the lowest ever recorded.
After failing to repeal Obamacare, the Republicans finally scored their first legislative victory last week when the Senate passed a sweeping series of tax cuts — but it’s wildly unpopular (52% against, 25% for). Pyrrhic much?
GOP elders were already fretting that Trump was ruining the GOP brand following the alt-right riots in Charlottesville. What they’re about to realize (if they haven’t already) is that the president has also undermined one of the party’s strongest longstanding arguments: “The government should be run like a great American company,” as Jared Kushner said in March. “Our hope is that we can achieve successes and efficiencies for our customers, who are the citizens.”
Voters have watched Trump’s staff churn through one resignation and shakeup after another, the president diss his own sitting cabinet members, with no sign of his campaign’s stated goals being talked about, much less executed. The Trump Administration has been characterized by communication breakdowns, chaos, mismanagement and waste — and has little to show for its efforts.
This is the current face of the Republican Party: corrupt, stupid and inept. Ryan and McConnell know they must disassociate the GOP from Trump.
They have to destroy their party in order to save it.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is co-author, with Harmon Leon, of “Meet the Deplorables: Infiltrating Trump America,” an inside look at the American far right, out December 12th. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
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Hillary Clinton has everything she needs to run for president: money, name recognition, staff, organization. Everything except ideas.
The 2016 presidential campaign will begin in earnest in late summer. This hasn’t snuck up on her; she has known this was coming since at least 2008. Yet here she is, six months before the unofficial start of her run, starting to figure out what she’ll do if she wins.
“People close to Mrs. Clinton say she has not yet settled on a specific platform” on the economy, the New York Times notes in a report about a recent series of meetings she held with 200 economists in order to collect their assessments of the economy.
There’s nothing wrong with asking experts for suggestions about how to fix the problems you want to solve. But you should already have a vision for what America and its economy ought to look like. You should be born with your platform – and, if you decide to run, collect advice from your brain trust on a granular level, concerning how to realize your goals.
If you haven’t always known what you would do if you woke up tomorrow morning as president, and whom you would appoint to help you govern, you have no business running.
Unfortunately, the former senator’s lack of ideas isn’t unique. She reflects a disturbing shift in American politics that most people haven’t noticed because it snuck up on us over time: in the past, politicians ran on a slate of ideas. Now they campaign as personalities.
Look at political buttons from a century ago. FDR ran on “prosperity” and “jobs.” They’re vague — but they’re ideas. And when he won, FDR demanded that his ideas become laws within his first 100 days. Reagan declared that it was “morning in America.” What does that mean? It’s been 35 years, he served two terms, I still don’t know. “Yes we can,” Obama promised in 2008. Can what? It worked because your mind fills in the rest, but it says nothing. “Hope.” “Change.” For/to what?
Reading the diaries of Chief of Staff HR Haldeman, I was surprised to learn that the newly-elected Nixon administration – led by this reputedly hardheaded ideological warrior – spent much of its first year, 1969, recuperating from the campaign it had just won, learning how to use the White House phone system and how to liaise with Capitol Hill before finally sitting down to determine what it actually wanted to do domestically and vis-à-vis foreign policy. I realized that, at least dating back to the 1960 race between Nixon and JFK, presidential candidates haven’t gone into it with much of a vision of how they want to change America. Their primary goal is to get the job, to add the gig to their resume, satisfied that their face may someday end up on a stamp or maybe a coin, and that schoolchildren will forever have to memorize their names.
Think back to the first year of every presidency in recent memory. None, even those like Reagan and George W. Bush who eventually oversaw radical policy changes, pushed major legislation right out of the gate – which is surprising given that a president will never have as much political capital as when he first takes the office. Stepping in during the middle of a global economic crisis, Obama never proposed anything on the economic front and handed off his Affordable Care Act to congressional Democrats throughout his first year. Since 2009 Obama has come off like a guy who achieved everything he wanted simply by having been elected. Bush’s first year was derided as aimless and policy-free until 9/11 gave him a sense of purpose. No major policy prescriptions came out of the Clinton White House for much of his first term.
2016 is once again shaping up as a clash of personalities over ideas, a high school student council-style personal popularity contest – “who would you most rather have a beer with?” (or, in Clinton’s case, are you “likeable enough“?) – as opposed to a debate over the direction of the country. Writing in the Washington Examiner, Michael Barron asks: “Can Jeb Bush — or anyone — come up with a platform for primaries, general, and presidency?”
Implicit in this question is the curious fact that none of the likely contenders for the Republican presidential nomination have yet articulated a platform. Even the most ideologically grounded GOP candidate, Rand Paul, finds himself showcased in a New York Times profile as drifting to the so-called “center” of his party – i.e., away from libertarianism. Isn’t it a little late in the game to be drifting?
Instead of dealing with ideas Paul, who made headlines for filibustering against Obama’s drone strikes and aggressively criticizing NSA spying, is said to be facing “questions about his style and temperament.” Never mind what he wants to do. This is about style: “Does someone who can be so impetuous and unapologetic have the finesse and discipline to win over people who are more naturally inclined to vote for someone else?” asks the Times.
They say we get the candidates and the presidents we deserve, but that’s not true. The system is broken, and has been for a long time. What else can you say about politics that isn’t about politics, but primarily if not exclusively about personality?
We may or may not deserve it, but we need better.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
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