The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Republican congressional incentives force irrational actions

Jennifer Rubin attempts to explain "what stops Republicans from behaving rationally:"

First, unlike Senate and House Republicans during Watergate, there are few genuine leaders of principle whose sense of propriety is offended by Trump. The moral and intellectual quality of the current crew of Republicans pales in comparison to the type of Republicans who finally told Richard Nixon the jig was up. Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.), House Minority Leader John Rhodes (R-Ariz.) and Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott (R-Pa.), who went to the White House, have few if any equals in today’s House and Senate.

Second, elected Republicans by and large cower in the shadow of Fox Non-News hosts, talk-radio opportunists and right-wing interest groups. They fear noticeable distancing from Trump will prompt the vultures of the right to swoop down up them, leaving only bones behind. So long as the characters who populate the right stick with Trump, elected Republicans, sadly, won’t lead.

Krugman, channeling Nate Silver, sees lopsided election wins in Republican districts and epistemic closure as the root causes:

But mightn’t even Republican voters turn on you if you seem too slavish to an obviously corrupt leadership? Well, where would those voters get such an idea? For all practical purposes, Republican primary voters get their news from wholly partisan media, which quite simply present a picture of the world that bears no resemblance to what independent sources are saying. Even though most Republicans in DC probably know better, their self-­interest says to pretend to believe the official line.

So if you’re Representative Bomfog from a red state, your entire career depends on being an apparatchik willing to do and say anything the regime demands. Suggestions that the president’s men, and maybe the man himself, is in collusion with a foreign power? Fake news! Firing the FBI director in an obvious obstruction of justice? Let’s make excuses! Analyses suggesting that your bill will cause mass suffering? Never mind. Party loyalty is all — even if it demands humiliating displays of obsequious deference.

The one thing that might cause Rs to turn on Trump would be the more or less certain prospect of a wave election so massive that even very safe seats get lost. And at the rate things are going, that could happen. But if it does, it will be nothing like a normal political processÍž it will be more like a revolution within the GOP, a regime change that would shatter the party establishment.

Meanwhile, Kevin Baker has a good argument that Trump isn't Nixon, he's Jackson, but without the skill or strategy.

Chief of Staff Reince Bohica

Bend over, here it comes again. Welcome to the kakocracy:

As Trump went around the large table, one by one, most [cabinet secretaries] praised the president, while others gave brief updates on their departments' work.

When it was his turn, Energy Secretary Rick Perry said it was "an honor to be on team," telling Trump that "my hat is off to you" for pulling the United States out of Paris climate agreement.

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley proclaimed "a new day at the U.N.," where she said Trump has provided "a very strong voice."

"People know what the United States is for," Haley said. "They know what we're against. They see us leading across the board."

And the tributes kept coming:

  • Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price: "Mr. President, what an incredible honor it is to lead the Department of Health and Human Services at this time under your leadership."
  • Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke: "As your [Navy] SEAL on your staff, it's an honor to be your steward of your public lands."
  • Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross: "Mr. President, thank you for the opportunity to fix the trade deficit."
  • Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue: "I wanted to congratulate you on the men and women you place around this table. ... I want to thank you for that. These are great team members."

Chief of Staff Reince Priebus went even further, telling Trump: "We thank you for opportunity and blessing you've given us to serve your agenda and the American people."

I...I just...

I mean, if this were any other English-speaking country, the Dear Leader would have heard this as scathing sarcasm and understood his days in office to be numbered in single digits. I'm talking Chamberlain after Dunkirk or Ford after pardoning Nixon. On the other hand, in any other English-speaking country, the ministers would have intended scathing sarcasm, not the unprecedented sycophancy that the chief administrators of the United States displayed today.

But this is Donald Trump, who has no shame, no irony, no perspective, and no humility. And this is the modern Republican Party, who have no shame, no irony, no perspective, and no sense.

But thank you, people of New York, for the Senate Minority Leader:

Kansas abandons an "experiment"

The Kansas legislature overrode governor Sam Brownback's veto of their roll-back of his 2012 tax increase package, because even Republicans in Kansas have a limit to ideological myopia:

Lawmakers voted to override Brownback’s veto of a tax plan estimated to bring the state more than $1.2 billion over a two-year span.

Lawmakers marshaled together a coalition of moderate Republicans, conservatives and Democrats to overcome the governor’s opposition to seeing his landmark tax cuts, which have in large part come to define his tenure in Topeka, fundamentally come to an end.

A handful of other conservative Republicans in the statehouse continued to decry the new spending being pushed by lawmakers and said the House and Senate are doing the opposite of what the people of Kansas want them to do. They also said the tax increase is the largest in state history.

“What we’re doing is fleecing our constituents,” said Sen. Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican.

Paul Krugman cheers (a little) and points out how this shows the current Republican platform to be completely cynical:

For there was an idea, a theory, behind the Kansas tax cuts: the claim that cutting taxes on the wealthy would produce explosive economic growth. It was a foolish theory, belied by decades of experience: remember the economic collapse that was supposed to follow the Clinton tax hikes, or the boom that was supposed to follow the Bush tax cuts? And it was a theory that always survived mainly because of the Upton Sinclair principle that it’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.

But still, it was a theory, and eventually the theory’s failure was too much even for Republican legislators.

Now consider the AHCA, aka Trumpcare. What’s the theory of the case behind this legislation?

You might have expected some kind of appeal to the magic of the market, some claim that radical deregulation will produce wonderful results. It would have been silly, but at least would have shown some respect for the basic idea of analyzing policies and evaluating them by results.

But what we’re getting instead is a raw exercise of political power: the GOP is trying to take away health care from millions and hand the savings to the wealthy simply because it can, without even a fig leaf of intellectual justification.

The point is that what we’re seeing now is so bad, so cynical, that it makes the Kansas experiment looks like a model of idealism and honesty by comparison.

If Kansas Republicans can look at three years of evidence and admit they were wrong, maybe so can national Republicans? Maybe. But probably not before November 2018.

Illinois still has no budget

Now in our first full week of the third straight year that Illinois has no budget, it's interesting watching people try to figure out who's to blame. In Crain's alone, we have three opinions.

Their editorial board blames Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan, because they blame him for everything. Also, their readership tend to be Republicans. Because it's Crain's.

Still, they haven't tried very hard to muzzle their opinion writers. Business columnist Joe Cahill, noticing that before we had Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and his naive belief that politics and business are the same thing (like most Republicans) we had a budget, blames the governor.

And Springfield columnist Rich Miller avoids blaming either one 100%, but does note that Rauner's ideological inflexibility and his inexperience as a politician led him to reject a workable compromise offered by Madigan.

But we still don't have a budget. And the gubernatorial election isn't for another 16 months.

Sigh.

Incompetence is a feature, not a bug

Vladimir Putin biographer Masha Gessen explains why autocrats like Putin and President Trump tend to be so gloriously incompetent:

[A] careful reading of contemporary accounts will show that both Hitler and Stalin struck many of their countrymen as men of limited ability, education and imagination — and, indeed, as being incompetent in government and military leadership. Contrary to popular wisdom, they are not political savants, possessed of one extraordinary talent that brings them to power. It is the blunt instrument of reassuring ignorance that propels their rise in a frighteningly complex world.

Modern strongmen are more obviously human. We have witnessed the greed and vanity of Silvio Berlusconi, who ran Italy’s economy into the ground. We recognize the desperate desire of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to be admired or at least feared — usually literally at his country’s expense. Still, physical distance makes villains seem bigger than they are in real life.

In the past few months, Americans too have grown familiar with the sight of a president who seems to think that politics consists of demonstrating that he is in charge. This similarity is not an accident (nor is it a result of Russian influence). The rejection of the complexity of modern politics — as well as modern business and modern life in general — lies at the core of populism’s appeal.

Simple people like the simple message of other simple people. But the world has 7½ billion points of view, and is more complicated than ever, making the autocrats' incompetence more dangerous than in years past.

Latter days of the Republic

"A dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot."

Robert HeinleinFriday

Montana's at-large congressional district will stay Republican after millionaire Greg Gianforte won yesterday's special election by 6 points. This is despite him assaulting a reporter Wednesday afternoon and being charged with the crime:

The Republican candidate for Montana’s congressional seat has been charged with misdemeanor assault after he is alleged to have slammed a Guardian reporter to the floor on the eve of the state’s special election, breaking his glasses and shouting: “Get the hell out of here.”

Ben Jacobs, a Guardian political reporter, was asking Greg Gianforte, a tech millionaire endorsed by Donald Trump, about the Republican healthcare plan when the candidate allegedly “body-slammed” the reporter.

“He took me to the ground,” Jacobs said by phone from the back of an ambulance. “I think he whaled on me once or twice … He got on me and I think he hit me … This is the strangest thing that has ever happened to me in reporting on politics.”

A Fox News TV team corroborated Jacobs' report.

Reactions immediately split along Republican/everyone else lines:

The Montana donnybrook quickly became a Rorschach Test that highlighted the divide within the conservative media between the serious and unserious outlets. It also showcased how many prominent figures on the right reflexively rally behind Republican politicians, whether the president or a House candidate, even when they are very clearly in the wrong. This is part of a growing tribalism that contributes to the polarization of our political system.

Laura Ingraham aggressively questioned the Fox reporter on her radio show: “You can’t body-slam someone by holding both hands on the neck. That’s impossible…Didn’t he grab him near the neck and throw him down? Just asking.” Acuna held firm: “I saw both his hands go up not around his neck in a strangling type of way, but more just on each side of his neck, just grabbed him. I guess it could have been on his clothes, I don’t know. I can’t say that for sure. But he grabbed him and slammed him down. … He had one hand on each side of his neck.”

And while the news division at Fox covered the story seriously and showed integrity, at least one commentator said on the air that the reporter had it coming.

And then there was this gem, demonstrating what happens when a media outlet becomes a monopoly in a market:

The Montana NBC Affiliate reportedly refused to cover the Gianforte story at all on Wednesday night, a shocking blackout. Irate sources inside 30 Rock appear to have called up New York Magazine’s Yashar Ali to complain: “KECI news director Julie Weindel was called by NBC News to see if KECI would cover the story or had any footage of the Gianforte incident that NBC News and its affiliates could use. … She was unyielding in her refusal to share any footage she may have had access to, or run a report on the story. … Weindel said that they weren’t covering the story, though it was running in outlets across the country at the time, explaining, ‘The person that tweeted [Jacobs] and was allegedly body slammed is a reporter for a politically biased publication.’ Weindel then added, ‘You are on your own for this.’ … The station was acquired, last month, by the conservative media conglomerate Sinclair Broadcasting.”

Here’s why that’s a big deal: Sinclair Broadcasting just struck a deal with Tribune Media to buy dozens of local TV stations. “Already, Sinclair is the largest owner of local TV stations in the nation. If the $3.9 billion deal gets regulatory approval, Sinclair would have 7 of every 10 Americans in its potential audience,” Margaret Sullivan explained in a column last weekend. “Sinclair would have 215 stations, including ones in big markets such as Los Angeles, New York City and Chicago, instead of the 173 it has now. There’s no reason to think that the FCC’s new chairman, Ajit Pai, will stand in the way. Already, his commission has reinstated a regulatory loophole — closed under his predecessor, Tom Wheeler — that allows a single corporation to own more stations than the current 39 percent nationwide cap…"

Meanwhile, the president appeared to shove the prime minister of Montenegro out of the way at a photo-op yesterday.

Who said Donald Trump would spread poison to everything he touched? Oh right. Everyone paying attention.

Justice Thomas joins the liberals

In yesterday's ruling in Harris v Cooper, the Supreme Court ruled against North Carolina's blatant gerrymandering. The surprising bit is that Justice Clarence Thomas voted in the majority on both issues. New Republic's Scott Lemieux postulates reasons why:

In a 2015 case, Thomas provided the fifth vote to an opinion holding that Texas was not required to issue license plates with the Confederate flag as part of its option of personalized license plates. It is not terribly surprising that even a conservative African-American who grew up impoverished in the rural Jim Crow South would have a different perspective on the Confederacy and its legacy than the typical conservative.

Thomas’s votes yesterday were squarely within that tradition. His brief concurring opinion emphasized that the result comported with two of his longstanding views. First, he believes that any use of race by the government, for any purpose, triggers strict scrutiny, a high burden North Carolina could not meet. Since the state conceded that District 1 was intentionally created as a majority-minority district, this made the case easy for Thomas as well as the other conservatives.

He also explained that he joined the liberal faction with respect to District 12 in part because of his belief in deferring to the findings of the trial court unless it clearly errs.

This isn't an evolution, but who Thomas really is, Lemieux says. Maybe Antonin Scalia so overshadowed Thomas that we really didn't see it? I'll need more convincing.

Things that I can't read until I have a few drinks

Just, I dunno, man.

Sleep is overrated.

They can't be that stupid, can they?

I'll get to Eddie Lampert's interview with the Chicago Tribune later today. But first, let's take a moment to realize that as we shake our heads at the amateur hour over at the White House, we knew damn well they were going to cause a Constitutional crisis at some point.

And that point arrived last night:

President Trump on Tuesday fired the director of the F.B.I., James B. Comey, abruptly terminating the top official leading a criminal investigation into whether Mr. Trump’s advisers colluded with the Russian government to steer the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

The stunning development in Mr. Trump’s presidency raised the specter of political interference by a sitting president into an existing investigation by the nation’s leading law enforcement agency. It immediately ignited Democratic calls for a special counsel to lead the Russia inquiry.

Mr. Trump explained the firing by citing Mr. Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, even though the president was widely seen to have benefited politically from that inquiry and had once praised Mr. Comey for his “guts” in his pursuit of Mrs. Clinton during the campaign.

But in his letter to Mr. Comey, released to reporters by the White House, the president betrayed his focus on the continuing inquiry into Russia and his aides.

The White House staff, apparently caught off-guard about their boss's unprecedented, earth-shaking action, rushed into full Keystone Kops mode:

After [White House Press Secretary Sean] Spicer spent several minutes hidden in the bushes behind these sets, Janet Montesi, an executive assistant in the press office, emerged and told reporters that Spicer would answer some questions, as long as he was not filmed doing so. Spicer then emerged.

“Just turn the lights off. Turn the lights off,” he ordered. “We'll take care of this. ... Can you just turn that light off?”

Spicer got his wish and was soon standing in near darkness between two tall hedges, with more than a dozen reporters closely gathered around him. For 10 minutes, he responded to a flurry of questions, vacillating between light-hearted asides and clear frustration with getting the same questions over and over again.

The first question: Did the president direct Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein to conduct a probe of FBI Director James B. Comey?

As Spicer tells it, Rosenstein was confirmed about two weeks ago and independently took on this issue so the president was not aware of the probe until he received a memo from Rosenstein on Tuesday, along with a letter from Attorney General Jeff Sessions recommending that Comey be fired.

Nobody believes that last bit. Not even a little. In fact, CNN reported that President Trump asked Rosenstein to come up with a rationale for firing Comey last week, so the thought that Rosenstein did this sua sponte is preposterous. Josh Marshall:

There is only one reasonable conclusion that can be drawn from the decision to fire Comey: that there is grave wrongdoing at the center of the Russia scandal and that it implicates the President. As I write this, I have a difficult time believing that last sentence myself. But sometimes you have to step back from your assumptions and simply look at what the available evidence is telling you. It’s speaking clearly: the only reasonable explanation is that the President has something immense to hide and needs someone in charge of the FBI who he believes is loyal. Like Jeff Sessions. Like Rod Rosenstein.

Yes. Under any other administration, this would be an unbelievable development. But under this administration, it's not only believable, it seems inevitable. And we're 603 days away from a new Congress taking their seats, which seems the earliest that anyone will have the political will to start impeachment proceedings.