Monday, September 10, 2018

Featured Speaker

From the Washington Post:

Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), a gubernatorial nominee who recently was accused of using racially tinged language, spoke four times at conferences organized by a conservative activist who has said that African Americans owe their freedom to white people and that the country’s “only serious race war” is against whites.

DeSantis, elected to represent north-central Florida in 2012, appeared at the David Horowitz Freedom Center conferences in Palm Beach, Fla., and Charleston, S.C., in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017, said Michael Finch, president of the organization. At the group’s annual Restoration Weekend conferences, hundreds of people gather to hear right-wing provocateurs such as Stephen K. Bannon, Milo Yiannopoulos and Sebastian Gorka sound off on multiculturalism, radical Islam, free speech on college campuses and other issues.

“I just want to say what an honor it’s been to be here to speak,” DeSantis said in a ­27-minute speech at the 2015 event in Charleston, a video shows. “David has done such great work and I’ve been an admirer. I’ve been to these conferences in the past but I’ve been a big admirer of an organization that shoots straight, tells the American people the truth and is standing up for the right thing.”

[…]

The Freedom Center covered DeSantis’s expenses for the 2017 conference at a luxury resort in Palm Beach, according to disclosure forms he filed as a member of Congress.

Fellow speakers included a former Google engineer who was fired after arguing that “biological causes” in part explain why there are relatively few women working in tech and leadership; a critic of multiculturalism who has written that “Europe is committing suicide” by welcoming large numbers of refugees and immigrants; and a British media personality who urged the audience to keep the United States from becoming like the United Kingdom, where “discrimination against whites is institutionalized and systemic.”

Requests to the campaign and the congressional office to interview DeSantis were declined. A spokeswoman for the congressman, Elizabeth Fusick, provided a statement that described DeSantis as “a leader in standing up for truth and American strength.”

There are a large number of places in Florida — and not exclusively upstate in what’s known as Lower Alabama — where these kinds of views are held as mainstream.  And knowing that he attended these meetings and spoke at them is probably what got him Trump’s endorsement in the first place.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

That Was Fast

As I noted in the post this morning about the Florida gubernatorial race between Andrew Gillum and Ron DeSantis:

Andrew Gillum is African-American, setting up the possibility of being the first black governor of the state, and got backing from Bernie Sanders.  He came from behind to win in a field that included Gwen Graham, a one-term Congress-person and the daughter of former governor and senator, Bob Graham.  Ron DeSantis came out of the woodwork to beat Adam Putnam, who has been running for the office since he was in high school, thanks to a tweet by Trump.  He’s a Trumper all the way and this race is going to get really nasty really quickly; there are still parts of the state where whistling Dixie isn’t just an expression, and setting up an unapologetic liberal with a right-wing Trump-sucker will bring national focus, and that means lots of money for PAC ads and all sorts of shit.

Not even twelve hours into the general election and DeSantis comes up with this:

Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis urged Floridians not to “monkey this up” by voting for his Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum. Gillum is the first African-American gubernatorial nominee in Florida’s history.

[…]

“It’s disgusting that Ron DeSantis is launching his general election campaign with racist dog whistles,” the Florida Democratic Party chairwoman, Terrie Rizzo, said in a statement soon after the Fox News appearance.

Dog whistle?  That was about as subtle as a klaxon in an elevator.

Welcome to Florida.

Primary Results

Florida is setting up for an election between two very different candidates and ideologies in the governor’s race: Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee for the Democrats and Rep. Ron DeSantis for the Republicans.  They couldn’t be more different if you were asked by Central Casting to choose two polar opposites, and that seems to be the theme for the election as a whole, from governor down to local contests.

Andrew Gillum is African-American, setting up the possibility of being the first black governor of the state, and got backing from Bernie Sanders.  He came from behind to win in a field that included Gwen Graham, a one-term Congress-person and the daughter of former governor and senator, Bob Graham.  Ron DeSantis came out of the woodwork to beat Adam Putnam, who has been running for the office since he was in high school, thanks to a tweet by Trump.  He’s a Trumper all the way and this race is going to get really nasty really quickly; there are still parts of the state where whistling Dixie isn’t just an expression, and setting up an unapologetic liberal with a right-wing Trump-sucker will bring national focus, and that means lots of money for PAC ads and all sorts of shit.

Speaking of all sorts of shit, the Senate race between incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson and Gov. Rick Scott has been set for months, and that too is going to be a study in contrasts.  Mr. Nelson is old school; moderate, unassuming, and competent, while Gov. Scott has been a disaster for the environment, education, and still stinking of corruption.

Locally — as in Miami-Dade County — the race a lot of people have been focused on is the one for U.S. House District 27, which happens to be my district.  Ileana Roz-Lehtinen, a somewhat moderate Republican, is retiring, and the primary race generated a lot of contenders, including David Richardson, who is openly gay.  Donna Shalala, who served as Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Clinton administration and then was president of the University of Miami from 2001-2015, came back to the area, dumped a ton of money into the race, and won.  She will go up against Maria Salazar, guaranteeing that the district will send a woman to Congress.

Oh, and if you’re wondering about how Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera, the Republican running for Congress who claimed that she was abducted by Christ-like aliens and still keeps in touch with them via telepathy did, she got 1,684 votes.  The endorsement by the Miami Herald was a big help.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Friday, August 24, 2018

Space Race

Meet the candidate who’s out there:

U.S. House candidate Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera may have a long list of accomplishments, but she is perhaps best known for claiming that she was abducted by space aliens as a child.

Rodriguez Aguilera is a longshot in the race for the Miami-area seat being vacated by retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Yet last weekend, the Miami Herald endorsed her for the GOP nomination in the Tuesday primary out of a field of nine candidates.

In an interview, Rodriguez Aguilera said she is grateful for the endorsement and that her tale of kidnapping by aliens does not define her.

‘It has nothing to do with what I have done. It happened when I was 7 years old,’ she said. ‘I am so proud of the Herald and what they did.’

Rodriguez Aguilera says she was taken aboard a spaceship as a young girl by three blond extraterrestrials who resembled the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro.

Abducted aged seven, aliens told her her that the ‘center of the world’s energy is Africa’ and Coral Castle, a limestone tourist attraction, is really an ancient Egyptian pyramid

She says they told her that the ‘center of the world’s energy is Africa’ and that thousands of non-human skulls were once discovered in a cave on the Mediterranean island of Malta.

And she learned the Coral Castle, a limestone tourist attraction in Florida, is really an ancient Egyptian pyramid.

She has said she witnessed paranormal activity since then and saw a UFO at age 17. She also said she has been in touch with the aliens telepathically long after the abduction.

And she’s running in my district.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Purity Tests

One of the results of Tuesday’s primaries — and some others before — has been that the Republicans are being drawn in to nominating candidates who are true to the Trump brand and rejecting those who might have said an unkind word about him.

Case in point: former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s failed attempt to win the GOP nomination for his old job.  He lost, according to observers, because he had the nerve to criticize Trump for the Access Hollywood tape, calling him “unhinged and unfit.”  Apparently Minnesota Republicans are out to redefine “Minnesota nice” as smiling politely when they go to grab your genitalia.

Mr. Pawlenty isn’t the only one to find himself on the outs with the True Trumpers, and in several races around the country through the primary season we’ve seen Trump-endorsed candidates beat the more traditional faction.  Kansas could be on their way to having Kris Kobach, who never met an immigrant or a non-white voter he couldn’t demonize, and pick up a lucrative consulting fee in the process, elected governor, and the winds — at least in the tornado alley of GOP politics — are blowing from Trumpland.

A number of pundits are saying that this could be great news for the Democrats; the more Trumpistas the GOP runs the more the Blue Wave will become a tsunami and once and for all push those lemmings over the cliff and down onto the rocks of oblivion below.  And it could well happen; I’m pretty sure the good people of Virginia aren’t going to elect a white supremacist to the Senate, or any of the other alt-right candidates for Congress or local offices that have come slithering out from under their rocks now that we have a president who thinks home-grown Nazis can be very good people, too.  But I also remember the same assurances two years ago when a lot of people were sure that it would be a Democratic landslide and that Trump would be back to shilling his crap on QVC by January 2017.

There are a number of outside factors that on the surface have nothing whatsoever to do with the mid-terms: the outcome of the first Manafort trial, a report from the Mueller investigation, economic troubles from the tariff wars, and even more tell-alls from dismayed supporters.  But the fact that the GOP is handing the country some very clear choices in state and local elections will be the truest test of whether or not we’re going to be the ones to put an end to this calamity.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Sunday Reading

Get Out and Vote — George Packer in The New Yorker.

In the haze of summer, with books still to be read, weeds pulled, kids retrieved from camp, it’s a little hard to fathom that, three months from now, American democracy will be on the line. The midterm elections in November are the last remaining obstacle to President Trump’s consolidation of power. None of the other forces that might have checked the rise of a corrupt homegrown oligarchy can stop or even slow it. The institutional clout that ended the Presidency of Richard Nixon no longer exists. The honest press, for all its success in exposing daily scandals, won’t persuade the unpersuadable or shame the shameless, while the dishonest press is Trump’s personal amplifier. The federal courts, including the Supreme Court, are rapidly becoming instruments of partisan advocacy, as reliably conservative as elected legislatures. It’s impossible to imagine the Roberts Court voting unanimously against the President, as the Burger Court, including five Republican appointees, did in forcing Nixon to turn over his tapes. (Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s nominee to succeed Anthony Kennedy, has even suggested that the decision was wrong.) Congress has readily submitted to the President’s will, as if legislation and oversight were burdens to be relinquished. And, when the independent counsel finally releases his report, it will have only the potency that the guardians of the law and the Constitution give it.

Behind these institutions lies public opinion, and we are quickly learning that it matters more than laws, more than the Constitution, more than the country’s supposedly inviolable founding principles. “If large numbers of people are interested in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it,” George Orwell wrote, in “Freedom of the Park.” “If public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.” During 1973, the year Watergate became a national scandal, facts changed the political views of millions of Americans, Nixon’s approval rating fell from sixty-seven per cent to less than thirty per cent, and his fate was sealed. In our time, large blocs of public opinion are barely movable: Trump’s performance in Helsinki—declaring himself on the side of Russia, against his own intelligence agencies and the integrity of American elections—received favorable reviews from eighty per cent of Republicans. Yet public opinion still plays a central role in safeguarding democracy, and it becomes decisive through voting. Demonstrations can capture attention and build solidarity, books can provide arguments, social media can organize resistance. But if the Republicans don’t suffer a serious defeat in November, Trump will go into 2020 with every structural advantage.

Democrats have a habit of forgetting to vote between Presidential elections. Republican turnout has exceeded or equalled Democratic turnout in every midterm since 1978, no matter which party held the Presidency, with an average margin of three per cent—more than enough to decide control of Congress in a closely divided election. The demographic groups that are least likely to vote—young people, Latinos, and those with a high-school education or less—tend to be Democratic constituencies. This tendency has been especially stark in the past two midterm cycles: in 2014, the turnout among eligible voters aged eighteen to twenty-nine was seventeen per cent—one in six. The disappearing Democratic voter also had an effect on the latest Presidential election, when, for example, African-American turnout dropped almost five per cent from 2012—a crucial difference in the three key states that gave Trump the Electoral College.

Republicans, for their part, don’t always entrust their hold on power to democratic methods. Since 2010, nearly half of the states have passed laws that make it harder to vote—from restrictions on early voting to I.D. requirements, mandatory proof of citizenship, and purges of voting rolls. The purpose of these laws is not to fight a mythical epidemic of fraud but to depress turnout of normally Democratic constituencies. They show incremental signs of success: a government study found that new laws reduced turnout in 2012 in Kansas and Tennessee by two or three per cent, notably among young and black voters. Other states have expanded the franchise, particularly to former felons, but Republican control of two-thirds of state legislatures and the shift of courts to the right give the momentum to efforts to curtail voting.

Gerrymandering is another effective tool for staying in power. The Brennan Center for Justice recently released a report on the effects of redistricting in states like Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, and Texas. Algorithmic mapping has grown so precise that Republican legislatures have created a sixteen-seat advantage in the House of Representatives that remains impervious to standard electoral pressures. In November, just to achieve a bare majority, Democrats will have to win the national congressional vote by nearly eleven per cent. (Other studies put the number at around seven per cent.) And legislatures elected this year will redraw state and federal districts after the 2020 census. There’s a thick seawall standing in the way of a blue wave.

But it’s self-defeating to exaggerate the external obstacles: in 2016, Democratic turnout declined in states with and without new voter restrictions. Gerrymandering is a time-honored practice of both parties—look at Maryland’s House delegation. Unfettered money in politics doesn’t always favor Republicans, let alone guarantee victory—Hillary Clinton raised twice as much as Trump did. The greatest obstacle to voting is the feeling that it won’t matter, and that feeling seems to be more prevalent among Democrats.

In some cases, that sense may be based on overconfidence and insularity—a presumption that the other party’s outrages will automatically disqualify it in voters’ eyes. More often, it comes from a belief that politics doesn’t change anything in people’s lives. For two generations, the Republican Party has been an expression of grassroots conservatism, most recently the fever that’s ceded the Party to Trump. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party has grown less connected to its voters. It’s like a neglected building, perennially on the edge of collapse, which left-leaning Americans occasionally use for some purpose and then abandon.

This year, something seems to be changing. The new faces among Democratic candidates, the new energy behind them, suggest a party of members, not squatters. But, come November, they will have to vote. It’s the only thing left.

Pence Is Worse — Frank Bruni in the New York Times.

There are problems with impeaching Donald Trump. A big one is the holy terror waiting in the wings.

That would be Mike Pence, who mirrors the boss more than you realize. He’s also self-infatuated. Also a bigot. Also a liar. Also cruel.

To that brimming potpourri he adds two ingredients that Trump doesn’t genuinely possess: the conviction that he’s on a mission from God and a determination to mold the entire nation in the shape of his own faith, a regressive, repressive version of Christianity. Trade Trump for Pence and you go from kleptocracy to theocracy.

That’s the takeaway from a forthcoming book by the journalists Michael D’Antonio, who previously wrote “The Truth About Trump,” and Peter Eisner. It’s titled “The Shadow President: The Truth About Mike Pence,” it will be published on Aug. 28 and it’s the most thorough examination of the vice president’s background to date.

I got an advance look at it, along with a first interview about it with D’Antonio, and while it has a mostly measured tone, it presents an entirely damning portrait of Pence. You’ve seen his colors before, but not so vividly and in this detail.

The book persuasively illustrates what an ineffectual congressman he was, apart from cozying up to the Koch brothers, Betsy DeVos and other rich Republican donors; the clumsiness and vanity of his one term as governor of Indiana, for which he did something that predecessors hadn’t and “ordered up a collection of custom-embroidered clothes — dress shirts, polo shirts, and vests and jackets — decorated with his name and the words Governor of Indiana”; the strong possibility that he wouldn’t have won re-election; his luck in being spared that humiliation by the summons from Trump, who needed an outwardly bland, intensely religious character witness to muffle his madness and launder his sins; and the alacrity with which he says whatever Trump needs him to regardless of the truth.

In Pence’s view, any bite marks in his tongue are divinely ordained. Trump wouldn’t be president if God didn’t want that; Pence wouldn’t be vice president if he weren’t supposed to sanctify Trump. And his obsequiousness is his own best route to the Oval Office, which may very well be God’s grand plan.

“People don’t understand what Pence is,” D’Antonio told me. Which is? “A religious zealot.”

And D’Antonio said that Pence could end up in the White House sooner than you think. In addition to the prospect of Trump’s impeachment, there’s the chance that Trump just decides that he has had enough.

“I don’t think he’s as resilient, politically, as Bill Clinton was,” D’Antonio said. “He doesn’t relish a partisan fight in the same way. He loves to go to rallies where people adore him.”

There’s no deeply felt policy vision or sense of duty to sustain him through the investigations and accusations. “If the pain is great enough,” D’Antonio said, “I think he’d be disposed not to run again.”

So it’s time to look harder at Pence. “The Shadow President” does. It lays out his disregard for science, evident in his onetime insistence that smoking doesn’t cause cancer and a belief that alarms about climate change were “a secret effort to increase government control over people’s lives for some unstated diabolical purpose,” according to the book.

It suggests callousness at best toward African-Americans. As governor, Pence refused to pardon a black man who had spent almost a decade in prison for a crime that he clearly hadn’t committed. He also ignored a crisis — similar to the one in Flint, Mich. — in which people in a poor, largely black Indiana city were exposed to dangerously high levels of lead. D’Antonio told me: “I think he’s just as driven by prejudice as Trump is.”

During the vice-presidential debate with Tim Kaine, Pence repeated the laughable, ludicrous assertion that Trump would release his tax returns “when the audit is over” and falsely insisted that Trump hadn’t lavished praise on Vladimir Putin’s leadership — though the record proved otherwise.

The book says that in a high-level briefing about Russian interference in the 2016 election, Pence was told that intelligence officials hadn’t determined whether that interference had swayed the results. He then publicly claimed a finding of no effect.

At Trump’s urging and with taxpayer money, he and his wife, Karen, flew to a football game in Indianapolis just so he could make a big public gesture of leaving in protest when, predictably, some of the players took a knee during the national anthem.

And, following Trump’s lead, he rallied behind the unhinged former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio. In a speech he called Arpaio a “tireless champion” of the “rule of law.” This was after Arpaio’s contempt-of-court conviction for ignoring a federal judge’s order to stop using illegal tactics to torment immigrants. The conservative columnist George Will seized on Pence’s speech to write that Pence had dethroned Trump as “America’s most repulsive public figure.”

You can thank Pence for DeVos. They are longtime allies, going back decades, who bonded over such shared passions as making it O.K. for students to use government money, in the form of vouchers, at religious schools. Pence cast the tiebreaking vote in the Senate to confirm her as education secretary. It was the first time in history that a vice president had done that for a cabinet nominee.

Fiercely opposed to abortion, Pence once spoke positively on the House floor about historical figures who “actually placed it beyond doubt that the offense of abortion was a capital offense, punishable even by death.” He seemed to back federal funds for anti-gay conversion therapy. He promoted a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

“He is absolutely certain that his moral view should govern public policy,” D’Antonio told me.

D’Antonio then recounted two stories that he heard from college classmates of Pence’s after the book had gone to bed, so they’re not in there. One involved a woman in Pence’s weekly college prayer group. When she couldn’t describe a discrete “born again” experience, “he lectured her on her deficiencies as a Christian and said that she really wasn’t the sort of Christian that needed to be in this group,” D’Antonio said.

Another involved a college friend of Pence’s who later sought his counsel about coming out as gay. D’Antonio said that Pence told the friend: “You have to stay closeted, you have to get help, you’re sick and you’re not my friend anymore.”

According to D’Antonio’s book, Pence sees himself and fellow Christian warriors as a blessed but oppressed group, and his “hope for the future resided in his faith that, as chosen people, conservative evangelicals would eventually be served by a leader whom God would enable to defeat their enemies and create a Christian nation.”

I asked D’Antonio the nagging, obvious question: Is America worse off with Trump or Pence?

“I have to say that I prefer Donald Trump, because I think that Trump is more obvious in his intent,” he said, while Pence tends to “disguise his agenda.” D’Antonio then pointed out that if Pence assumed the presidency in the second half of Trump’s first term, he’d be eligible to run in 2020 and 2024 and potentially occupy the White House for up to 10 years.

Heaven help us.

Doonesbury — Get up and go.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Fever Pitch

David Brooks is convinced that by 2020 we’ll be so over Trump and MAGA and angry white supremacists so that we can go back to whatever it is passes for normal here in the good ol’ US of A.  So he, like James Comey and other “thoughtful Republicans” is giving Democrats advice on how to win so the fever breaks.

Maybe this year is different, but for 100 years, Democrats have tended to win with youthful optimism and not anger and indignation. The Democrats who have won nationally almost all ran on generational change — on tired old America versus the possibilities of new America: F.D.R.’s New Deal, J.F.K.’s New Frontier, Bill Clinton’s bridge to the 21st century and Obama’s hope and change.

If I had to advise on a Democratic narrative I’d start with three premises: First, by 2020 everybody will be exhausted by the climate of negativism and hostility. Second, the core long-term fear is American decline; are we losing our mojo? Third, communities and nations don’t come together when they talk about their problems; they come together when they do something on behalf of their children.

Well, that would be nice, wouldn’t it?  And I suppose there’s a part of me that wants to believe it.  But if the past is any predictor, it will not happen even if the Democrats do come up with a well-crafted and meaningful message and candidate that breaks through to the people who need to hear it.

When the change comes, and it could start as early as November, they’re not going down without a fight.  If Trump loses in 2020 and the Democrats regain control of both Congress and the White House, there will still be backlash, most certainly from Trump himself who will claim that the whole system was rigged and the election of anyone but him is illegitimate.  He’s already started to feed that line to his base.  (He even tried it out in 2016 when even he didn’t believe he could win.)

So whomever the Democrats come up with — a supermix of FDR, JFK, and Obama — and no matter what message they craft to unify the country for ourselves and each other, the resentment and push-back will still be there.  After all, FDR, JFK and certainly Obama all faced it, and all Trump did was exploit it.

I truly would like to live in David Brooks’ world of rainbows and unicorns, but for the foreseeable future, we’re going to have to live with thunderstorms and jackasses.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Shadow Boxing

If a Republican is offering free advice to Democrats on how to get back in power, don’t take it.

Paul Waldman:

The Democratic Party’s steady move to the left in recent times, particularly in the past year and a half, is one of the most important developments of this era in American politics. And inevitably, the concern trolls are out, telling the party that it will waste an opportunity if it goes too far to the left.

[…]

While that may seem perfectly logical if you’re a political junkie, in the real world it seldom works. The reason is that most voters don’t think in ideological terms. They aren’t maintaining a running tally of positions candidates have taken, then assigning each candidate a score (plus 1 for her positions on abortion and health care, minus one for her position on NAFTA), then seeing which candidate’s total comes closest to the ideological score they’ve assigned themselves. That’s just not how voters make decisions.

Nobody understands this better than Republicans. After all, it’s the reason they can keep winning elections despite the fact that most of the things they want to do are absurdly unpopular. Tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, stopping any increase in the minimum wage, taking away protections for people with preexisting conditions, opposing even universal background checks for gun purchases? These are not popular ideas. Yet Republicans don’t spend a lot of time worrying about whether they’re moving too far to the right, because they find ways, like stoking culture war issues and playing on racial resentment, that push them over the finish line.

The purpose of the trolling is to push the Democrats back into their corner and start generating waves of “Dems in Disarray” columns and segments by George Will and Chuck Todd. “Don’t get too cocky or arrogant, and by all means don’t come up with candidates who push back as hard as the right-wingers push you.  It degrades the civil discourse.  We’ll be right back after this message from Viagra.”

The sad part is that the Democrats start to believe it themselves, which is a disconnect from reality and politics as it’s playing out in the Interregnum of Trump.  As Michelle Goldberg points out, the Republicans are running a slew of neo-Nazis, neo-Confederates, and plain old Nazis.  But we should be freaked out because a candidate for Congress in New York wants to give us Medicare for All?

Liberals are too afraid of their own shadows of the past — universal health care, gun control, reproductive rights, fair taxation — despite the fact that those are overwhelmingly popular with the electorate, including Republicans.  Let someone scream “Socialist!” at a Trump rally and ten Democratic state chairmen start clutching their pearls and warn their local candidates to back off from advocating for those socialist values such as clean water, clean air, safe public schools, and equal rights under the law.  That is not how to win an election, and especially now when we have a majority party made up of those who don’t take a stand against their own fascists and a president that threatens democracy with his thumbs on the Twitter keyboard.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

A Race To Watch

There’s a good piece in The Hill on the importance of the Senate race in Florida, and it could all come down to how Puerto Ricans feel about Rick Scott and Bill Nelson.

About 1.3 million Puerto Ricans are now estimated to live in Florida, overtaking the number of GOP-leaning Cuban-Americans who were once the largest Hispanic group there. After Maria, an estimated 40,000 Puerto Ricans resettled in Florida, according to Stefan Rayer, who’s director of a population program at the University of Florida.

Hurricane Maria put Puerto Rico in the spotlight in September, as thousands continued to live without power for months after the storm struck and the death toll rose to more than 5,000 people. Trump endured heavy criticism for his tepid recovery efforts compared to his response to hurricanes that hit Texas and Florida.

Now it’s becoming a key campaign issue for both candidates, and it appears the crucial voter bloc is still up for grabs.

And if the Democrats lose this seat they could very well miss the chance to take over the Senate.

Florida has already played a crucial role in the nation’s electoral history, and while Bill Nelson may not be the most exciting candidate out there, he could be the one that could hobble or even end the GOP running roughshod over the Constitution.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Organize

I still find Joe Scarborough to be insufferably smug more often than not, and his tolerance meter for Trump outrage was several years behind the times, but I’ll give him credit where credit is due.

Blaming Hillary Clinton for the party’s demise is too easy. More than 18 months after that inexcusable loss, Clinton’s party still lacks a winning national message and has yet to find a candidate younger than 77 to replace Republican Speaker Paul D. Ryan.

But many Democrats campaigning across the United States understand that now is no time to panic. Instead of being distracted by those electric flashes of light created by Trump’s perpetual motion machine, they are knocking on doors, reaching out to neighbors, making Facebook friends and organizing teams to drive their supporters to polling places. For those still distracted by the latest cable news calamity, remember the words of a union activist wrongly executed in 1915. Before his death, Joe Hill sent a friend instructions: “Don’t waste any time mourning. Organize!”

If my inbox linked to this blog is any indication, the Democrats are doing just that, at least here in Florida.  I get ten to twenty missives from local campaigns and national organizations a day.  The difference between now and two and four years ago is that they’re not all begging for money.  They’re telling me about rallies, campaign appearances, and other such events where like-minded people are getting together.  (Yes, of course they all come with an appeal for a donation.  They’d be derelict in their duty if they didn’t beg.)

What I’m also seeing, though is an emerging message.  Like a star forms when various quantities of gas and dust begin to coalesce, it may not seem all that coherent until you realize that each individual mote and molecule has a message of its own, mainly geared to local issues and providing a positive outlook for the place they’re in.  And it might just be working.

The national Democrats are at the natural disadvantage in that they don’t have a national candidate like an incumbent president to rally around.  And it’s hard to sell a Dump Trump message without something to sell on your own.  But if the local campaigns keep concentrating on the local issues — forget about pussy-grabbing but fix the schools — the mix of a thousand different voices in a thousand local races can win over the places where they need to be won.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Upsetting News

There were primaries yesterday for the mid-term elections with some interesting results (and some predictable, such as Mitt Romney basically becoming the next senator from Utah).  The one election getting the most news comes out of Queens.

Activist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated powerful House Democrat Joe Crowley in a stunning primary election upset Tuesday, a result that could shake the foundations of the established party.

The 28-year-old’s decisive victory over the fourth-ranking House Democrat in New York’s 14th District holds potentially huge implications for the future of the party. Crowley, who has served in Congress for nearly two decades, had possible ambitions to challenge Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for House speaker if Democrats were to take a House majority in November’s midterm elections.

“We beat a machine with a movement, and that is what we have done today,” Ocasio-Cortez told supporters Tuesday night. “Working-class Americans want a clear champion and there is nothing radical about moral clarity in 2018.”

In another race seen as defining the Democratic Party’s path in 2018, primary voters emphatically backed a young woman who cast herself as a progressive on economic and social issues. Ocasio-Cortez, a community organizer and education advocate, is endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America and ran to Crowley’s left.

She ran without corporate donors. Crowley’s campaign spent spent about 16 times more than his challenger’s did. The incumbent had about 10 times more money on hand than Ocasio-Cortez did as of early June.

Ocasio-Cortez promoted proposals such as Medicare for all, a jobs guarantee and abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Ocasio-Cortez argued that Crowley — a 56-year-old white man — could not properly connect with the diverse district.

She has earned support from the wing of the political left embodied by Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont. In a tweeted statement, the senator congratulated Ocasio-Cortez on an “extraordinary upset victory.”

“She took on the entire local Democratic establishment in her district and won a very strong victory. She demonstrated once again what progressive grassroots politics can do,” he said.

I am glad to see new blood in the Democrats, and I hope she wins in the fall.  My concern — and it’s tempered by age and history — is that electing those who can be portrayed as outside the mainstream makes it easier for her opponent to paint her as a wild-eyed radical, not unlike the way we did when the Tea Party nutsery won primaries in 2010.  Yeah, I know the GOP is going to paint anyone in the Democratic party as a wild-eyed radical, especially a person of color with hyphens in their name.  But I hope that in winning the primary Ms. Ocasio-Cortez will be able to attract more than just the people who voted for her yesterday.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Follow The Leader

Based on the returns from the various primaries around the country on Tuesday, the Republicans seem to be lining up behind Trumpism and setting themselves up for reckoning in November.

“It’s becoming a cultish thing, isn’t it?” Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee told reporters Wednesday morning. “It’s not a good place for any party to end up with a cultlike situation as it relates to a president that happens to be of — purportedly — of the same party.”

Mr. Corker — who is leaving the Senate when his term is up next January — is one of the few Republicans who have stood up to Trump; easy to do when you don’t have to run for re-election.  But the rest of them are all heading for Jonestown.

Not that I’m in the habit of giving advice to people I’d like to see removed from both office and polite society, but when a party re-forms itself to comply with the vagaries and vulgarities of one man — and in doing do blithely abandons its core principles such as fiscal responsibility, family values, freedom (not that they having been breathtakingly hypocritical about all of them before) — they’re setting themselves up for a real turkey shoot.  History — both here and abroad — is littered with the bleached bones of parties and movements that have aligned themselves behind a personality, and there have always been body counts of the innocent to go along with them.  Political parties may unite behind the nominee or a candidate, but they don’t make their platform all about him.  And there has always been a core of loyal, even cordial, opposition within the party to keep a balance and provide a home for the voters who may not have gotten their candidate of choice but still believe in the values that made them join in the first place.  What seems to be the motivating factor behind this cult isn’t a unity of ideas but fear of a tweetstorm from the Dear Leader.

I’m not a great prognosticator of election outcomes, but if the last couple of midterms are any indication, the Republicans are in for a bit of a shock.  Kellyanne Conway, the Wormtongue of this administration, noted the other night that Trump’s approval level rivals that of Barack Obama’s in 2010.  And remember how well the Democrats did in the midterms then?

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Sunday Reading

The Enduring Legacy of Bobby Kennedy — Charles P. Pierce.

Because it has been 50 years, his grandson is my congressman now—a young, passionate red-haired fellow with a crooked smile and a fascinating back story of his own to tell. My congressman’s mother was the first person to take a chunk out of the hide of the unspeakable Bernard Cardinal Law long before the clerical sex-abuse scandal broke and won everybody Pulitzers and Oscars. She took on the Roman Catholic Church’s ridiculous annulment process and won. She fought the case for a decade and finally got the Vatican to cry “Avunculus!” in 2007. My congressman was one of the reasons she fought so hard against preposterous odds. Because it has been 50 years, and there is a through-line that leads all the way back to a cold tiled floor in a hotel kitchen, the end of one good fight and the beginning of so many others.

I have no idea whether Robert F. Kennedy actually would have been elected president in 1968 if someone with a gun hadn’t gotten in the way, as people with guns tended to do during that plague-ridden year. He certainly was building momentum toward his party’s nomination. He had won in places like Indiana and Nebraska, and he had bounced back from having lost in Oregon with a high-stakes win in California. It is possible, as so many of the wise guys of the time claim now in retrospect, that he could have pulled the two wings of the Democratic Party close enough together to beat Richard Nixon, who was not as inevitable as events indicated at the time.

(Hell, Hubert Humphrey almost whipped him and, given another week, probably would have.)

But I am far from completely convinced of that. The Chicago convention likely would have been a free-for-all anyway, inside and outside the hall. The honest protestors might have been mollified by his nomination, but the angrier of the species would have caused their trouble anyway. At the very least, it’s possible that fewer heads would have been busted and it would have been less likely that Dan Rather would have been sucker-punched on live TV.

And what of President Lyndon Johnson, already a lame duck and with nothing at all to lose? How would he have reacted to the nomination of his nemesis to replace him? LBJ, as much as I respect much of what he did, was capable of anything at that point. That is a riddle that was rendered unsolvable by those gunshots in the pantry of the Ambassador Hotel.

What I do know is that his campaign was like no other—a howling cri de Coeur from a wounded nation in a world gone mad around it. It is remembered fondly because the cri de Coeur seemed to be one of stubborn hope that the country could be pulled back from the abyss into which it was staring. But there were other cries from other coeurs that year, too.

Running on the ur-Trumpian platform of the American Independent Party, George Wallace and Curtis LeMay managed to rack up 46 electoral votes, carrying five states, all of them in the old Confederacy. Nixon saw this, and the Southern Strategy was born. In truth, the cri from the coeur of the Wallace campaign has echoed more loudly through American politics than has anything Robert Kennedy said or did as a candidate in 1968. His cri died away when his coeur stopped beating. There is a profound sadness in that.

Whatever it was that drew people to Robert Kennedy is lost to time, although there was some evidence of its abiding force in the two campaigns that Jesse Jackson ran, and even more in the 2008 election of Barack Obama. But the ferocity that drove the Kennedy campaign in 1968, the outrage burning beneath all the healing rhetoric, has been lost ever since. Politicians, and Democratic politicians in particular, became frightened by passion, by the personal, visceral force that drove RFK into the Indianapolis ghetto and announce to the crowd the news of the murder that night of Dr. King, quoting Aeschylus along the way.

That is still the most astonishing performance I have ever seen from a politician, because it was not a politician speaking that night. It was a bleeding country talking through a man who’d already seen tragedies descend upon himself like dark and predatory birds. It was a human being who’d already lost a sister and two brothers, the last of whom was killed from ambush while he was President of the United States.

One of the most remarkable passages from that Indianapolis appearance, a moment unlike any in American politics before or since, came when RFK talked about the murder of his brother.

For those of you who are black—considering the evidence evidently is that there were white people who were responsible—you can be filled with bitterness, and with hatred, and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization—black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion, and love. For those of you who are black and are tempted to fill with—be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.

That sentiment can be read, in cold pixels, as almost condescending, but the crowd didn’t take it that way. His brother’s murder almost killed him. He knew it, and the people in the streets of Indianapolis knew it and drew a connection unlike any other and believed that he felt the way they felt. No politician since that night ever has spoken so frankly about the power of love and compassion in politics, not even Barack Obama, who often sounded as though he believed love and compassion were always present, even though events have proven that not to be the case. Love and compassion have to be dragged to the surface of our politics, and, even when all the effort is expended to do so, there’s still no guarantee that anyone will buy them.

Ultimately, the great unknowable is whether the country would have taken the turns it took in the 1970s and 1980s, the dangerous detours that have brought us to our present moment, if there had been no guns in the kitchen that night. The reactionary forces against the gains of the Civil Rights Movement already were gathering force, and it’s not unreasonable to conclude that the Republicans would have formed their dark alliance with the remnants of American apartheid even more swiftly had Nixon been defeated by yet another Kennedy.

I would like to think that Robert Kennedy would have been able to stand against the foul gales that were then rising. I prefer to think that he would have, because I prefer to think of this country as perpetually redeemable. So many of our wounds are self-inflicted, and, by and large, through our history, we’ve at least made some good faith effort to heal them and to atone to ourselves for having inflicted them in the first place. That, ultimately, is what Robert Kennedy stood for and, alas, what he died for as well. Wisdom, through the awful grace of God.

A Good Week — John Cassidy in The New Yorker on the Democrats’ results in the primaries.

Donald Trump has had a remarkable impact on American politics. During the 2016 Presidential campaign, he occupied and conquered the Republican Party by mobilizing disaffected, non-college-educated white voters. His accession to the Presidency politicized and mobilized another big segment of the population: liberal, college-educated Americans of all races, particularly women. As the past week has confirmed, this mobilization is just as real as the Make America Great Again phenomenon.

Most coverage of Tuesday’s midterm primaries has concentrated on California, the nation’s most populous state, but I’ll focus here on New Jersey, which may be a bellwether. If there’s anything that analysts from across the political spectrum agree on, it’s that the November general election will be decided in the suburbs and exurbs, where Democrats are targeting Republicans and Independents put off by Trump. New Jersey is perhaps the most suburban of all the states, and, although it has been trending toward the Democrats in recent years, it still has five Republican congressional districts.

The Democrats have their sights set on four of them: the Second, which covers the southernmost portion of the state, from Atlantic City to the Delaware Bay; the Third, which runs across the south-center of the state, from Toms River to close to Philadelphia; the Seventh, which extends from just west of Newark along Route 78 to the Pennsylvania line; and the Eleventh, which includes much of affluent Morris County, and which has for the past twenty-four years been represented by Rodney Frelinghuysen, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, who is retiring.

On Tuesday, the Democrats got a strong turnout in all of these districts, except in the Third, where both parties’ primaries were uncontested. In fact, more Democrats voted in these G.O.P. districts than Republicans. (Democrats 112,751; Republicans 100,028.) For a number of reasons, it doesn’t make sense to extrapolate these figures directly to the general election. But at the very least, they point to an enthusiasm gap between the two parties that augurs poorly for Republicans.

So does the fact that the Democrats chose some experienced candidates who won’t be easy for the G.O.P. to defeat this fall. Two of them worked in the Obama Administration: Andy Kim (Third District) and Tom Malinowski (Seventh District). Jeff Van Drew, who won in the Second District, is a veteran state senator who, in the past, has supported lax gun laws and opposed gay marriage. His victory outraged some progressive Democrats, but his conservative views may well help him in a district that is largely blue-collar, and which Trump carried in 2016.

The victory, in the Eleventh District, of Mikie Sherrill, a former federal prosecutor and Navy pilot, demonstrated the key role that people new to politics, and especially women, are playing in the anti-Trump mobilization. She told the Bergen Record’s Charles Stile that she was motivated to run by Trump’s “attacks on women, minorities, Gold Star families, POWs, and the Constitution.” She lives in liberal Montclair, a focal point for anti-Trump activism in the state. In addition to criticizing Trump and supporting Robert Mueller, the special counsel, she has also stressed pocketbook issues, such as health care and the impact on New Jersey homeowners of the Republican tax bill, which limited local property-tax deductions. Her formidable presence in the race was one of the factors that prompted Frelinghuysen, the scion of a New Jersey political dynasty, to retire.

The success of centrists like Sherrill demonstrates that the anti-Trump movement isn’t an ideological phenomenon. It is based on a visceral reaction to the President, the values—or lack of values—he represents, and the way he is running roughshod over Presidential norms. You can see this all across the country, as evidenced by a new national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, which found that, by a margin of twenty-five percentage points, voters are more likely to go for a candidate who promises to provide a check on Trump.

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent obtained a breakdown of these figures in districts that the Cook Report classifies as competitive, such as the four districts the Democrats are targeting in New Jersey. It showed the margin of voters wanting a check on the President was even larger in these places: thirty-three percentage points. “It should be noted that the vast, vast majority of these seats are held by Republicans,” Sargent wrote. “And so, in a whole lot of competitive seats mostly held by Republicans, majorities are more likely to vote for the candidate who will act as a check on Trump and will oppose him on most of his policies.”

Now, this was just one survey, and it did provide some encouraging bits of data for Republicans, including the fact that more than six in ten respondents said they were “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with the economic situation. As I noted earlier this week, the Republicans are trying to turn the midterms into a referendum on the economy. Over all, though, the findings of this poll and others released in recent days confirm what is evident in New Jersey—Trump’s presence in the White House has created a major backlash against him and his G.O.P. enablers. (The new polls also indicate that the Democrats still hold a big lead in the generic congressional ballot, which political analysts watch closely.)

Going into the campaign season, anti-Trump fervor remains the key factor shaping the political environment. With four months to go until the general election, some things could change. But it’s hard to see public sentiment toward Trump shifting much, and this week confirmed why Democrats have reason to be encouraged about the fall.

Doonesbury — Back to normal.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Now That’s Chutzpah

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the one man who held up the appointment of a replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia for nearly a year and who is the majority leader of the Senate, which means the Democrats can’t do much more than just watch, is cancelling summer break:

“Due to the historic obstruction by Senate Democrats of the president’s nominees, and the goal of passing appropriations bills prior to the end of the fiscal year, the August recess has been canceled,” McConnell of Kentucky said in a statement on Tuesday. “Senators should expect to remain in session in August to pass legislation, including appropriations bills, and to make additional progress on the president’s nominees.”

Yes, the party that decided on January 20, 2009, that Barack Obama wouldn’t get a thing done and they’d use every trick in the book to obstruct his agenda and make him a one-term president, is complaining about obstructionism by the Democrats.

The real reason, of course, is that the August recess before an election is prime campaign time and either McConnell is trying to hobble the Democrats from storming the beaches or he is trying to fend off a landslide — or both.  But c’mon; he’s got to come up with a better line of bullshit than this.

By the way, the House is going out for the whole month, so I don’t really see the point of having the Senate stay in session when there’s no one on the other side of the Capitol to do anything with what they come up with.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Don’t Even Try

There was another round of primaries for the mid-term elections in several states yesterday, including the newly re-districted Pennsylvania.  As the article in the Times notes, the Democrats are getting their hopes up that they can retake the House and even the Senate in the fall.

There’s a stream of thought going around that maybe one way to really win is to convince Trump voters that they got screwed over in 2016 and now it’s time to get off the crazy train.  But I doubt that will actually work.

The problem, as Paul Waldman relates here, is that the Trump voters are so convinced that the Democrats and the mainstream media — which is every outlet other than Fox News and AM talk radio — look down on them from their ivory towers of elitism, and the only reason they’re showing them any respect at all is because they want their money and their votes.  After all, that’s how the GOP elitists got them.

The assumption is that if Democrats simply choose to deploy this powerful tool of respect, then minds will be changed and votes will follow. This belief, widespread though it may be, is stunningly naive. It ignores decades of history and everything about our current political environment. There’s almost nothing more foolish Democrats could do than follow that advice.

Trying to convince a Trump voter that they’re wrong is like setting up a Yankees souvenir stand outside Fenway Park.  You’re not going to get anywhere, and you’ll annoy them in the process; in fact, they’ll dig in even harder just to spite you.  What would make it even worse is to try to convince them that you respect them but have different views: “agree to disagree, my friend.”  That only tells them that you’re either patronizing them or worse, that you’re weak-willed and unwilling to fight for your cause at the same level that they are.

Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security over the stories that are popping up now about how some folks in Trump territory are finding out that they bought a pig in a poke.  They are few in number and deep in the closet; they’ll show up at a MAGA rally just to keep up appearances, and when it comes to voting, they’ll stick with their brand.

So don’t bother to try to win them over.  There are more Democrats in this country than Republicans and Hillary Clinton got 3 million more popular votes.  We simply need to get them to turn out and vote.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Clean Getaway

The only thing mildly surprising about House Speaker Paul Ryan’s surprise announcement that he won’t run for election again was that he trotted out the old reason: he wants to spend more time with his family.  As if staring down the barrel of a possible landslide of Democrats taking the House and possibly even the Senate in the midterms only earned a “oh yeah, that too” ranking in his reasoning.  Wanting to spend more time with the family is what a man caught in a dalliance with another woman — or a rent boy — tells the press as he ducks and covers on his way outta town.  I expected something a bit more original.

Or at least more honest.  I think he’d do the world a favor, and perhaps even the GOP, if he said, “Look, we’re up the creek with Trump in the White House and we know it.  Even if I won re-election, if we lose the House, I’m gonna have to live in a party that is run by Trump and I don’t have the balls to do that.  So I’m outta here.”

The one good thing Mr. Ryan’s departure does is give lesser and more vulnerable House members the green light to decide to spend more time with their families, even if they don’t have one.  The number of Republican vacancies, either by retirement or running for another office (or looking for an attorney) is approaching 40.  Now that the Speaker of the House and one-time vice presidential nominee has seen the glare of the oncoming train in the tunnel, there’s no shame in polishing up the old LinkedIn account, lining up some lobbying gig with an oil or coal company, or getting a commentary job on a local Sinclair Broadcasting station.  There has to be a market somewhere for a used Republican.

Paul Ryan’s personal history — that he came from a low-income background in rural Wisconsin, that he lost his father at a young age, and that he went on to achieve some Capra-esque vision of the American dream — is tarnished by the fact that he’s never held a job in the private sector and he’s spent his entire political career trying to undercut and eventually tear down the support system that got him to where he became Speaker of the House.  And now he’s retiring before he’s hit 50 and will, more than likely, never have to work a day in his life thanks to his generous pension from the government.  How very Republican.

I will give him credit for making a clean getaway.  Rather than face the ignominy of defeat next fall, either in his own election or that of the majority, he won’t have to face the press and the microphones as he tries to polish the turds.  He’s going out with applause from his caucus and turning the office over to someone else to clean up the piles that he’s leaving.  And that’s very Republican, too.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Ryan’s Nope

Via the Washington Post:

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has told friends and several colleagues that he has decided not to seek reelection this year and will soon inform colleagues of his plans, according to several people familiar with his plans.

The decision comes ahead of mid-term elections that were already looking treacherous for Republicans, who risk losing control of the House.

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.  Let the rake do it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Not So Fast There, Rick

All the punditocracy seems to think that with Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) entering the Senate race against incumbent Bill Nelson, the GOP will pick up the seat.

I’m not so sure.  Yeah, it’s going to be a tough and expensive race, but I wouldn’t start measuring for drapes for Rick’s office in Washington just yet.  Bill Nelson may not be the most exciting guy — as if that’s a quality you look for in a senator — but Mr. Scott is no knight in shining armor.  He’s an opportunist, he’s run the state like it’s his own business, he’s made a shitload of money through unknown means while doing it, and he’s taking credit for a lot of things such as job growth that aren’t his doing.

For instance, he’s claiming that since he came into office in 2009, Florida has picked up millions of jobs.  Yes, that’s true, thanks to the economic policies of Barack Obama.  He’s claimed he’s increased education spending in Florida.  Yes, but not as much as compared to the years before he came into office, and right now, it’s lagging behind his predecessors if you account for inflation.

And there’s the simple matter of popularity.  He won election in 2008 against Alex Sink by a very narrow margin (and she was not the most energizing candidate), and re-election in 2012, again by a very narrow margin.  He has baggage from his days of running a hospital corporation, he’s a huge Trump supporter, and — fairly or not — he’s kinda creepy.  I think the only reason he may win is because the people of Florida want him somewhere else.