The rules for impeachment must be changed to save the Republic
In my last column of this topic, I urged the President to sue the House of Representatives for malfeasance on the basis of two unconstitutional actions with regard to the recent articles of impeachment passed by the House:
1) denial of due process as protected by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments in a procedure which, if upheld by the US Senate, would inflict irreparable harm on the plaintiff by depriving him of his livelihood, reputation and public office, and
2) by re-defining the Constitutional designation of “high crimes and misdemeanors” as the sole rationale for impeachment to include
I have since been advised that, while these arguments may have merit, the Roberts Supreme Court has shown itself too timid to adjudicate balance of power issues if there is any other option available. In this case, such an option exists in the ambiguity of the constitutional language concerning impeachment. It is therefore unlikely to accept this case.
While I am still an advocate of testing the strategy above, it seems wise to state the case in a broader context. What follows is a case for changing the rules of impeachment – by whatever means. This case stands even if the current impeachment reaches and is resolved by the Senate. The rules must be changed for all future adventures of this kind.
My concern is not to protect the current president. Rather, I am looking for a means to protect the nation from partisan usurpation of ultimate power, which this case portends if allowed to stand.
Partisanship has proven to be an effective means for limiting the power of one group or view of specific issues from dominating our government. It is not, however, a useful basis for taking over the government, and the last two impeachment cases have shown that partisan loyalty, not pursuit of justice, has governed the votes of the members of both Houses of Congress.
Our democratic elections are thus based on this very fragile foundation. A new set of rules has to be developed and adopted in order to preserve our democracy — whether by the Supreme Court, a Constitutional Convention, legislation, or a constitutional amendment. Otherwise, we could be witnessing the beginning of the end of checks and balances.
We cannot let this happen. But, if the current House impeachment process is allowed to stand as the prevailing precedent, our democratic elections are doomed to fall.
Last Thursday, after considerable delay, the United States Senate began to organize itself for the trial of the President of the United States. Things might have moved faster—28 days elapsed between the Democrats in Congress voting to impeach the president and the two articles being sent to the upper chamber—but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi apparently had to wait for gold-tipped pens embossed with her name to arrive so she could give them away as souvenirs to committee chairs and impeachment managers.
Kidding aside, it’s hard to tell just who is serious about the impeachment of President Donald J. Trump, or if this is all about politics by other means. Some have argued, with some justification, that the effort to see him removed from office began even before he was sworn in, and that we’ve experienced two and more years of charges in search of an underlying crime.
The upcoming trial seems Kafkaesque. The president stands accused of no crime. As the White House put it Saturday, “The Articles of Impeachment submitted by House Democrats are a dangerous attack on the right of the American people to freely choose their President.” Going further, the president called the entire affair “a “brazen and unlawful attempt to overturn the results of the 2016 election and interfere with the 2020 election—now just months away. The highly partisan and reckless obsession with impeaching the President began the day he was inaugurated and continues to this day.”
Be that as it may, the constitutional responsibilities and oaths taken last week by members of the Senate require the formalities of a trial to be observed. One hopes they will all—Democrats and Republicans alike—adhere to the oaths they have sworn to be fair and impartial in their consideration of the evidence compiled by the House and that their primary concern will be to see justice prevail. Some will say that means the president will be convicted as charged. Others say it means he will be acquitted. Some, including sources close to the President’s legal team, have suggested the very question is moot, arguing the articles as approved by the House are, on their face, constitutionally invalid, since they fail to allege any crime or violation of law whatsoever—let alone the “High Crimes or Misdemeanors” identified as impeachable offenses in the U.S. Constitution.
That argument may be persuasive to those senators genuinely undecided – especially if they observe the oaths they’ve taken. This seems certainly true where the allegation Trump engaged in obstruction of Congress by refusing to allow senior aides under subpoena to appear and testify. Disputes of this nature, when they arise, are typically resolved by negotiation between the executive and legislative branch or, in the extreme, by the federal courts. This time congressional Democrats, citing a need for urgency— belied by their 28-day wait before sending the articles to the Senate—preferred to act on their own. When one target of a subpoena tried to go to court, the Democrats withdrew them, choosing instead to criminalize what most constitutional scholars would see as an all-too-typical disagreement between two constitutionally co-equal branches of government. Based on the record on such issues, it’s easy to see how but hard to believe possible the Senate could vote 100 to 0 for acquittal on the obstruction charge.
Unfortunately, this is not a time in the political life of the nation when “the better angels of our nature”, govern the actions of our elected leaders. Instead, the Senate’s 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and 2 independents who caucus with them are highly polarized along ideological lines. The pressure, in particular, is on seven Republicans who are either in cycle or retiring to join with the Democrats in calling for witnesses and to consider issues and affidavits that are not part of the record compiled at the direction of committee chairmen Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler and Speaker Pelosi.
Just four need to break ranks to effectively put Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in charge. What they will do depends on whether they are guided by politics or principle.
“This impeachment trial is not going to convince anyone about how they are going to vote in the next election,” Ron Bonjean—a well-respected former GOP congressional leadership senior staffer—told me. “It’s not going to change anyone’s mind.”
He’s probably right, oaths of impartiality on both sides of the aisle be damned. “Sticking by the president is an affirmation that this is largely a political exercise by the House Democratic leadership, who know the president will be acquitted,” Bonjean, who is now a partner at ROKK Strategies, said. “Republicans should stick with the president because he’s likely going to win re-election. Those in cycle may have problems with their base if they get on the other side of this.”
Bonjean’s right on this too. Numerous polls show Trump’s approval rating above 90 percent among Republicans. The appearance of perception that any Republican senator seeking re-election is being disloyal to the president during his trial almost certainly guarantees a primary challenge. Sticking with Trump is the right thing to do politically, which is how these decisions are generally made by those actually in the arena.
A second—and, regrettably, secondary consideration—is that the president and his attorneys appear to be right on the legal issues involved. But raising this flag would, of course, imply Trump, even if he showed bad judgment in how the whole business involving aid to Ukraine was handled, has been right more than he has been wrong. And we know how loath chattering classes on both sides of the aisle are to do that.
The President answers his white-shirted enemies
The 2020 State of the Union address had all the elements of a Shakespearean drama. The setting was filled with tension and made for television. The primary picture showed the hero flanked on his right by his loyal acolyte, Vice President Mike Pence, and on the left by his archenemy, the little old lady of the Left, Nancy Pelosi, as he eloquently, at times even poetically, told America what he had accomplished with the responsibility the voters had given him while his enemies had been trying to destroy his presidency.
And it was quite a list! He has enhanced every facet of America’s welfare – from repatriating American manufacturing for both economic and national security reasons, to job creation, trade treaties, rebuilding the military, upgrading veterans’ health care, protecting our borders, to encouraging respect for the law enforcement community, protection of the right to bear arms, to the right to life of the unborn, the rights of parents to choose the education of their own children, to the fight against opioid addiction, human trafficking, and many more issues.
Half the room went wild – while the other half sat stoically on their hands, grim-faced and cold-hearted. They were represented symbolically by the action of the little old lady of the Left, as she sat in full view of the audience and the camera. Watching her was fascinating. Most of the time, she sat there with a slight scowl on her face, occasionally shaking her head at some statement by the speaker. Her torture had started when the President ignored her out-stretched hand after he handed her a copy of the speech. (One could hardly blame him for refusing to shake the hand which has tried to kill his office, his reputation, the rest of his life.) He was not going to forgive and forget this sworn enemy.
After that, she steadfastly avoided standing to applaud each remarkable achievement being noted, frequently squirming, sometimes trying to get Mr. Pence’s attention – which was also ignored.
Then came the salutes by Mr. Trump to a series of individuals. First, she hesitated; then she realized that she was not against these heroic people; so, she jumped up and applauded. Thereafter, she could be seen each time trying to decide whether to join the room or not.
One “not” was the President’s attention to a two-year-old child who had been the first survivor of a premature birth at 21 weeks. A poignant moment not shared by Grandmother Pelosi.
In the end, she stood and ceremoniously tore her copy of the speech in half in full view of the camera — and the nation. A fitting end by a hateful woman toward this hated man.
Indeed, the most impressive feature of the entire Democrat party in that hall last night was the tangible hatred demonstrated toward the President and all he stands for — and, by extension, all those people who stand with him.
This attitude was crystalized by the President’s attention to Rush Limbaugh, who was sitting in the gallery next to First Lady, Melanie Trump. Limbaugh announced last Monday that he has been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.
When Mr. Trump announced the presentation to Mr. Limbaugh of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the popular, but visibly astonished, 69-year-old broadcast pioneer, some of the Democrats started shouting, “No! No!” Their hatred might be understood since the younger ones were raised by liberal parents who considered Rush Limbaugh the archenemy of all that was sacred to them. But there is no denying that he is the most listened-to radio host of all time and the “father” of a whole new genre called “conservative talk show hosts” (of which this writer is one). It was not the time or place to demonstrate against this stricken giant.
In all, the 2020 State of the Union speech by President Donald John Trump was perhaps the most riveting, dramatic and exciting speech of its kind in recent memory, if not in American history.
Postscript: In the ultimate irony, the first Democrat response featured the Governor of Michigan, whose theme was that the Dems get things done, while the Republicans just talk. After 75 minutes of listening to the President give us a list of “promises kept” which may be the longest and most comprehensive list of actions by any president in American history in contrast to the “Do-Nothing” Democrats. She exemplified the fact that the Dems simply cannot seem to hear anything this President says.
Column: Why Rush Limbaugh matters
Florida governor Ron DeSantis spoke to Rush Limbaugh last fall at a gala dinner for the National Review Institute. The radio host was there to receive the William F. Buckley Jr. award. “He actually gave me one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever had,” Limbaugh told his audience the next day. “He listed five great conservatives and put me in the list.” DeSantis’s pantheon: William F. Buckley Jr., Ronald Reagan, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Limbaugh.
Good list. No media figure since Buckley has had a more lasting influence on American conservatism than Limbaugh, whose cumulative weekly audience is more than 20 millionpeople. Since national syndication in 1988, Limbaugh has been the voice of conservatism, his three-hour program blending news, politics, and entertainment in a powerful and polarizing cocktail. His shocking announcement this week that he has advanced lung cancer, and his appearance at the State of the Union, where President Trump awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, are occasions to reflect on his impact.
It’s one thing to excel in your field. It’s another to create the field in which you excel. Conservative talk radio was local and niche before Limbaugh. He was the first to capitalize on regulatory and technological changes that allowed for national scale. The repeal of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 freed affiliates to air controversial political opinions without inviting government scrutiny. As music programming migrated to the FM spectrum, AM bandwidth welcomed talk. Listener participation was also critical. “It was not until 1982,” writes Nicole Hemmer in Messengers of the Right, “that AT&T introduced the modern direct-dial toll-free calling system that national call-in shows use.”
Limbaugh made the most of these opportunities. And he contributed stylistic innovations of his own. He treated politics not only as a competition of ideas but also as a contest between liberal elites and the American public. He added the irreverent and sometimes scandalous humor and cultural commentary of the great DJs. He introduced catchphrases still in circulation: “dittohead,” “Drive-By media,” “feminazi,” “talent on loan from God.”
The template he created has been so successful that the list of his imitators on both the left and right is endless. Even Al Franken wanted in on the act. Dostoyevsky is attributed with the saying that the great Russian writers “all came out of Gogol’s ‘Overcoat.'” Political talk show hosts came out of Limbaugh’s microphone.
Limbaugh’s success prefigured more than the rise of conservative radio. His two bestsellers, The Way Things Ought to Be (1992) and See, I Told You So (1993), were the leading edge of the conservative publishing boom. And his television program, The Rush Limbaugh Show, produced in collaboration with Roger Ailes, was a forerunner of the opinion programming on Fox News Channel. “I had to learn how to take being hated as a measure of success,” he told a Boy Scouts awards dinner in 2009. “Nobody’s raised for that. And the person that taught me to deal with this and to remain psychologically healthy was Roger Ailes.”
Limbaugh is not fringe. His views fit in the conservative mainstream. He idolizes Buckley. “He was a fundamental individual in helping me to be able to explain what I believed instinctively, helping me to explain it to others,” Limbaugh said last year. The ideas are the same but the salesman is different. Limbaugh is Buckley without the accent, without the Yale credentials, without the sailboat and harpsichord. Limbaugh is a college dropout from Cape Girardeau, Missouri, who spends Sundays watching the NFL and speaks in plain language. His background connects him to the audience—and to the increasingly working-class Republican voter.
Limbaugh entered stage right just as Ronald Reagan made his exit. He took from Reagan the sense that America’s future is bright, that America isn’t broken, just its liberal political, media, and cultural elites. “He rejected Washington elitism and connected directly with the American people who adored him,” Limbaugh said after Reagan’s death. “He didn’t need the press. He didn’t need the press to spin what he was or what he said. He had the ability to connect individually with each American who saw him.” The two men never met.
Limbaugh assumed Reagan’s position as leader of the conservative movement. In a letter sent to Limbaugh after the 1992 election, Reagan wrote, “Now that I’ve retired from active politics, I don’t mind that you have become the Number One voice for conservatism in our Country. I know the liberals call you the most dangerous man in America, but don’t worry about it, they used to say the same thing about me. Keep up the good work. America needs to hear ‘the way things ought to be.'”
In a long and evenhanded cover story in 1993 by James Bowman, National Review pronounced Limbaugh “the leader of the opposition.” Bowman quoted R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr., editor of The American Spectator. “We need to have people who can dramatize ideas,” Tyrrell said. “You need that literary spark. Luigi Barzini had it; Buckley has it. And, though he’s a great talker rather than a great writer, Rush has it too.”
More than a decade later, after the Republican defeat in 2008, Limbaugh once again stepped into the breach. The media likened Barack Obama to FDR. Republicans wavered. Should they cooperate with President Obama in building a “New Foundation” for America? Limbaugh gave his answer on January 16, 2009. “I’ve been listening to Barack Obama for a year and a half,” he said. “I know what his politics are. I know what his plans are, as he has stated them. I don’t want them to succeed.” Limbaugh said he hoped Obama failed. “Liberalism is our problem. Liberalism is what’s gotten us dangerously close to the precipice here. Why do I want more of it?” The monologue, and the speech he delivered to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., a month later, became a sensation. They set the tone for the Tea Party and Republican victories in 2010 and 2014.
Limbaugh did not mock Trump when the businessman announced his presidential campaign in June 2015. “This is going to resonate with a lot of people, I guarantee you, and the Drive-Bys are going to pooh-pooh it,” he said. He spent the primary reminding listeners of the importance of defeating Hillary Clinton. Trump was not an ideological candidate, he said. Trump was a missile aimed at the establishment. If ideology matters, then you should vote for Ted Cruz. “If conservatism is your bag, if conservatism is the dominating factor in how you vote,” Limbaugh said in February 2016, “there is no other choice for you in this campaign than Ted Cruz, because you are exactly right: This is the closest in our lifetimes we have ever been to Ronald Reagan.” But, Limbaugh added, the feeling in the country might be so anti-establishment that Trump’s unusual coalition could win the presidency. It did.
To say that Limbaugh supports the president would be an understatement. Last December he introduced the president at a Turning Point USA summit. He mentioned a recent encounter on a golf course. Someone told him it is hard to defend President Trump. “I said, ‘What? Hard to defend the president? It’s one of the easiest things in the world to do.’ President Trump does not need to be defended.” The crowd cheered. A few seconds later Limbaugh said, “How do you defend Donald Trump? You attack the people who are attempting to destroy him. They’re trying to destroy you. They’re trying to transform this country into something that it was not founded to be.”
Bold, brash, divisive, funny, and amped up, President Trump’s style is similar to a shock jockey’s. His presidency is another reminder of Limbaugh’s staying power. The American right has been molded in his anti-elitist, grassroots, demotic, irreverent, patriotic, hard-charging image. Rush Limbaugh is not just a broadcaster. He defines an era.
Frontiers of Freedom expressed great alarm this week over the U.S. Postal Service’s (USPS) latest financial results which showed $748 million in losses during the first quarter of FY 2020.
George Landrith, President of Frontiers of Freedom, said:
“The U.S. Postal Service is hemorrhaging money! In the first quarter of FY 2020, they have already reported $748 million in losses. And it isn’t like 2019 was a good year. Last year, they lost an unbelievable $8.8 billion in FY2019. To put that into perspective, the Postal Service has posted 13 consecutive years with a net loss of a billion dollars or more, and its unfunded liabilities and debt now total more than $143 billion. It is extraordinarily difficult to lose that kind of money when you are operating a government-granted monopoly like the Postal Service has on First Class Mail.”
Frontiers of Freedom President George Landrith also called out the agency over its negligence and financials, stating:
“It is readily apparent that the current USPS business model is failing. It is up to Congress, the Postal Regulatory Commission, and the new heads of the USPS Board of Governors to address the ongoing challenges. This includes ending nonsensical postal subsidies, trimming down the agency’s excessive costs, and complying with new laws impacting the USPS.”
Frontiers of Freedom previously hailed the work of Congress and President Trump to address some of USPS’ major systemic flaws with the enactment of the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act in 2018. This bill was an essential step in requiring the Postal Service to meet industry standards in data collection and monitoring practices of packages that enter the U.S. from abroad.
Despite the required protocols to protect our communities from hazardous and criminal items, the Government Accountability Office reports that USPS continues to fall short on its requirements to provide Customs and Border Protection (CBP) with advanced electronic data (AED).
Failing to keep up with the directives of the STOP Act prompts further troublesome questions as the Department of Homeland Security embarks on robust initiatives to impede the flow of counterfeit and pirated goods. However, in assessing the Postal Service, DHS finds a “significant gap in the information CBP receives,” among numerous critiques and findings. Landrith remarked, “Ultimately, the work to intercept illicit drugs and contraband is an immense challenge, and there is simply no excuse for USPS to not do its part.”
On the USPS’ array of responsibilities, Landrith concluded:
“Americans should be greatly concerned about the USPS procrastinating on its priorities. Looking ahead, it is crucial for the board to install a new Postmaster General with well-qualified business expertise. The demands of stakeholders, legislators and citizens continue to go unanswered. The path to reform will be wide-ranging, and USPS leaders and lawmakers will need to act with urgency.”
Sorting the winners from the losers after the caucuses’ implosion.
Great, giant gobs of cash and a year’s worth of hard work by activists, campaigns, and candidates were flushed down the toilet last night. Technocrat reformers, in trying to “fix” the Iowa caucus, have instead probably destroyed it forever.
Democratic Party chairman Tom Perez saw fit to begin bragging about his party’s preparation for this night in the hours before it all fell apart. To hear him tell it, everything was done in the interest of transparency, fairness, and empowering the grass roots. “These changes are all about the future,” he wrote in a post that went live as the caucuses themselves kicked off. “They’re about growing our party, uniting our party, and earning the trust of committed Democrats like you.”
Hours later, the caucuses were complete, and the Democratic candidates had left Iowa clueless about who won and justifiably enraged at the DNC and rival campaigns. They bitterly accused one another of cheating. The fate of the contest was entrusted to the high-powered campaign lawyers, and we may not know the outcome for days. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try to sort the winners from the losers after this disastrous night . . .
The Winners Who Lost Something: Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg. All the numbers that we did have by this morning suggested that Sanders and Buttigieg were the top two vote-getters in Iowa. But with President Trump set to have the nation’s undivided attention for his State of the Union tonight, both of them should be justly angry that all the earned media that comes from winning the Iowa caucus, especially if you weren’t expected to win, has been irretrievably destroyed by the malfunctioning result-reporting app, the volunteers who counted supporters improperly, and the general chaos of the caucus system.
The Lucky Loser: Without this debacle, Joe Biden’s apparent Iowa faceplant would be front-page news. It would quickly be linked to his weakening poll numbers in South Carolina, across Super Tuesday states, and among African-American voters. A clean Iowa loss might have been the beginning of the end for Biden’s campaign. But now he is seizing the chaos to essentially claim that the results in Iowa are unreliable and shouldn’t count against him.
A Provisional Winner: Michael Bloomberg’s decision to stay out of this spares him the embarrassment of failing in ethanol country. It also spares his campaign from being involved in the intense, ugly sniping between candidates who did contest the Hawkeye State. The more the normal Democrats look like fools participating in a mismanaged circus, the more serious Mayor Mike — with his bottomless wallet and ability to make Trump seem hot-headed — looks by comparison.
Process Winner: Instant-runoff voting. The byzantine Iowa Caucus process, with its realignments, haggling, and minimum-support thresholds, does at least in theory serve a purpose in winnowing a large field, building consensus, and granting momentum to emerging front-runners. But all of this could be accomplished by a much-simpler ranked-choice instant-runoff ballot. Making voters fill out secret ballots ranking the candidates, and then having a process of weighting second and third choices, would avoid all the mess.
The Big Loser: Democrats. The party looks massively incompetent. Turnout was much lower than expected even though this contest was taking place just days before a vote to acquit in President Trump’s Senate impeachment trial. Trump’s approval rating is higher than it’s ever been at 49 percent, and he is set to own the news tonight as he delivers his State of the Union address.
And on we go to New Hampshire.
Britain is reclaiming its agency as a self-governing nation. Its example will reverberate throughout Europe.
Because European Union business runs on Brussels time, the United Kingdom will be leaving the EU at precisely 11 p.m. GMT Friday. (If you’re in New York and want to tip your glass to our newly sovereign friends, that’s 6 p.m. EST.) In my own, perhaps peculiar view, Brexit is the most important moment for democracy since 1989.
If the European Union were merely the European Market, Brexit would be foolish: The United Kingdom has enjoyed a kind of privileged access to the Common Market because it retains its own powerful currency rather than the Euro, which in reality is managed on behalf of Germany and against the interests of Southern Europe. But the European Union is not just a market but a political project, really a kind of institutionalized utopian project.
European Council president Donald Tusk said, “I fear Brexit could be the beginning of the destruction of not only the EU but also Western political civilization in its entirety.” It’s easy to point and laugh at such an extravagant statement, but Tusk was verbalizing the incredible challenge Brexit presents to a certain kind of European mind, a mind conditioned to the idea that democracy inheres not in popular sovereignty — democratic peoples governing themselves — but in the elite administration of human rights, insulated from democratic passions and prejudices.
It is this worldview that has shaped the construction of the European Union. The EU is governed by an unelected Commission and an unelected Court, both joined to an elected Parliament with no real legislative power. Can you impeach a European commissioner? Can you vote for one? Or vote to remove one? No, non, nein!
The European project that the Commission promotes and protects is guided by a spirit of ever-closer union, not the laws and treaties it makes. The European Union does not respect votes that go against that spirit, such as Ireland’s vote against the Lisbon treaty; instead, it forces reruns. It does not respect its own commitments, either: Angela Merkel’s welcome to 1 million refugees and migrants in 2015 totally blew apart the supposedly solemn Dublin Accords. It plays favorites: The pro-EU Emmanuel Macron is allowed to temporarily blow through the budgeting and debt requirements imposed on member states, but those same requirements are enforced with fervor against populists such as Italy’s Matteo Salvini. And it has no qualms about interfering in the politics of its member states: During the Euro crisis, recalcitrant national governments in Italy and Greece were replaced by a combination of pressure from above in the form of the Commission and the European Central Bank, and from sideways in the form of captured native interests.
In short, untethered from real democratic input, the EU at once suffocates European life with regulation and unmoors it with lawless caprice.
The response of the European Union to Brexit isn’t rebuke and repentance, a newfound willingness to accede to the wishes of the democratic peoples within it. No, it’s doubling down. MEP Guy Verhofstadt has said that Brexit has underscored the need to “make it into a real Union, a Union without opt-in, without opt-outs, without rebates, without exceptions. Only then we can defend our interests and defend our values.”
Lest you dismiss his words as empty, it is Verhofstadt who has been chosen to lead the next Conference on the Future of Europe, which is already preparing to recommend removing the last true badges of sovereign and democratic control from national parliaments: their freedom to tax and appropriate money as they see fit. Doing this is likely necessary to save the Euro. But the price is the loss of self-government on the continent where self-government was born into this world. Having bought off almost every party save for nationalists and populists, the European Union is, ironically, guaranteeing the very thing it was created to stop: the ascendance of nationalist parties to domination of Europe.
Brexit is not just a way to preserve British democracy by restoring independence and sovereignty to the United Kingdom’s Parliament. It is a way of recovering the very things a democratic constitution enables: the conciliation of diverse interests and the political moderation of the people that comes with it.
Our friends are escaping the Brussels nomenklatura. They are demystifying the supposed “arc” of history, a bit of superstition used to rob democratic peoples of real agency. There are many dangers Britain may yet face, but it will be all the better for facing them as a free, independent, and self-governing nation.
Column: Iowa's holding a caucus—and nobody cares
The Fox News website highlights “hot topics” at the top of the page. As I write, the topics are: “Kobe Bryant dead,” “Trump impeachment,” and “Coronavirus.” Compelling—and in the last case terrifying—stories. But something is missing: the Democratic primary.
The Iowa caucus will be held in a matter of days. New Hampshire votes a week after that. Twelve Democrats are stillin the race. Nobody cares.
Maybe that’s harsh. No doubt the candidates’ mothers are paying attention. Yet in two decades of serious observation of politics I have not seen a presidential primary that exerts less of a hold on the nation’s attention than this one. Why?
The obvious answer is impeachment. It is all Washington cares about. The trial of President Trump hasn’t just overshadowed the campaign. It’s stopped it. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Klobuchar, who are in the game in Iowa, as well as Michael Bennet, who is not, have been strapped to their chairs. Think of all the selfies Warren has missed out on. She must be despondent.
Because the television camera in the Senate chamber is pointed at the rostrum, Warren and Sanders can’t even communicate to their supporters through hand gestures. Nor have Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg capitalized on the opportunity of having Iowa to themselves. They can’t break through wall-to-wall coverage of senators’ questions and legal maneuvers, of John Bolton’s book, of Mitch McConnell’s quest to end the trial as soon as possible.
True, impeachment has kept Biden’s name in the news. But not in a way he would like. Trump’s defense has drawn further attention to Hunter Biden’s questionable position on the board of Ukrainian gas giant Burisma. What was Hunter being paid for? Relationship advice? His dad doesn’t have a good answer. Whether he likes it or not, impeachment reinforces the impression that Joe Biden is a lifelong D.C. politician whose family benefits from his connections.
Look at the numbers. Prior to Nancy Pelosi’s announcement of the impeachment inquiry on September 24, Biden was at 44 percent favorable, 49 percent unfavorable. Last week he was 41 percent favorable, 53 percent unfavorable. That isn’t progress.
President Trump’s job approval rating hasn’t budged. It was 45-52 in the Real Clear Politics average then and now. And Trump has improved in head-to-head matchups. In the late October ABC News / Washington Post poll, Biden held a 15-point advantage over Trump. As of last week’s poll, his lead had been cut to four points.
If Nancy Pelosi thought impeachment would help the Democratic frontrunner, she was mistaken. That’s not strategy. It’s what Will Ferrell, portraying George W. Bush, once called “strategery.” (Of course, Pelosi’s objective may have been simply to insulate herself from a left-wing rebellion.)
Biden’s troubles suggest another reason for the lack of excitement. The candidates are weak and uninteresting. Biden is barely comprehensible. Buttigieg has all the pizzazz of a PowerPoint. Warren reminds you of your least favorite professor.
Sanders and his surrogate-successor Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez draw crowds. But so did the Jacobins. The democratic socialists are exciting, sure. They are also terrifying.
How can you tell the rest of the Democratic field is uninspired? Two billionaires have bought support through supremacy of the airwaves. It’s not Mike Bloomberg’s personality that has contributed to his rise. It’s his checkbook.
Worse than the dullness of the contestants is the plodding horserace. Biden has floated above his rivals since the beginning. The one major change in the dynamic has been Warren’s rise and fall. The two exciting moments came when Kamala Harris ambushed Biden in the first debate and Tulsi Gabbard sideswiped Harris in the second. Months passed without any incident. The most recent controversy is whether Sanders told Warren a woman can’t be president. Surely they can do better than that.
Sanders victories in Iowa and New Hampshire would liven things up. For a while. The fundamental problem is the Democratic primary is a sideshow.
For four-and-a-half years the main event in American politics has been Donald Trump. Policy isn’t the issue. He is the issue. Everything revolves around him. “Our political solar system, in short, has been characterized not by two equally competing suns,” wrote the political scientist Samuel Lubell, “but by a sun and a moon. It is within the majority party that the issues of any particular period are fought out; while the minority party shines in reflected radiance of the heat thus generated.”
The party system Lubell described no longer exists. The parties are shells. The incumbent has changed parties five times. He settled on the GOP four years before winning the presidency. Bernie Sanders is running for the nomination of a party he has never joined and doesn’t trust.
What matters today are individual brands. And no brand is more prominent, more polarizing, more overpowering than Donald J. Trump’s.
If and when the race narrows to the strongest candidate in each ‘lane,’ Democrats will be forced to focus on the only questions that really matter to them.
Sure, anything can happen, and pundit predictions are hardly worth the pixels that deliver them. But if I were phoning my bets overseas to PaddyPower, I’d buy Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden and short Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg. The four-person race looks set to become a two-person race in the near future, and I think the dynamic will be self-reinforcing. Biden vs. Bernie: a race for the ages — and the aged.
Biden has basically stayed at the top of the heap since he entered this race. He’s done so despite substandard fundraising and no cheering section in the media. Many Democrats detest the fact that he is leading. They worry about his verbal slip-ups and his politically incorrect statements. They don’t want the Democratic standard-bearer in 2020 to be a man old enough to remember doing deals with segregationists, much less one who seems proud of that history. They fear that he would become the party’s Bob Dole, a past-his-prime senator who got the nod through sheer seniority, unable to take on the energetic, if sleazy, incumbent. Yet while he’s been attacked by younger, hungrier, more diverse candidates, Biden has maintained his dominant position among African-American voters and kept a healthy plurality of the older Democrats who turn out in primary elections. And front-runners have a tendency to sweep through divided fields.
Standing in his way is Bernie, who is surging two weeks before Iowa, in striking distance of the lead there and, according to one reliable poll, holding a decent lead in New Hampshire. Part of his national surge is his increased performance among non-white voters.
I’d bet on the field to narrow to these two for two reasons.
First, there’s a tendency for the top-polling candidates going into Iowa to overperform in the final results, because the caucusing process ultimately forces supporters of low-performing candidates to cast their votes for stronger ones. Second, the possibility of Bernie’s winning may drive a stampede toward Biden or vice versa.
The emergence of a head-to-head race between Biden and Sanders would immediately clarify the choices for Democrats.
One septuagenarian — Sanders — has recently suffered a heart attack. The other septuagenarian — Biden — frequently seems to have senior moments in the middle of his sentences. A race between these two could eliminate age as a relevant dynamic, leaving clear questions of electability and ideology on the table.
And what then? On one side there is Biden, the more moderate Democrat who scares nobody by design — he’s framed his entire campaign as a return to normalcy — but doesn’t excite progressive activists. On the other side there is Sanders, whose has argued in recent debates that he is electable because he has the backing of a large, young, grassroots movement whose enthusiasm will become contagious. The viability of one could drive the viability of the other.
After many pointless hours debating the ins and outs of Platonic health-care reforms that will never be implemented and many pointless minutes worrying about personality, a Biden–Sanders clash would focus the race on the only questions that really matter to Democrats: Should the party move to the left or to the center? Do the necessary voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin want a major revision to the American economic model, or do they merely want a Democratic candidate who connects with them on the gut level, who won’t call them deplorable?
Those are debates worth having, and Democrats may have them sooner than you’d think.
Watchdog launches probe after state officials admit adding 574 noncitizens to voter rolls
A watchdog group has requested records from the Illinois State Board of Elections after 574 noncitizens were added to its voter rolls, allowing some of them to vote illegally in the 2018 midterm elections.
The Public Interest Legal Foundation, an election integrity law firm, made the request on Thursday after the board admitted the error. The individuals in question were improperly invited onto the rolls through a glitch in the state’s automatic voter registration system while applying for a driver’s license or state identification.
The watchdog says Democratic politicians are pushing automatic voter registration at the expense of election integrity. The issues in Illinois with automatic voter registration, which has been implemented in 18 states and the District of Columbia, contribute to an already widespread trend of noncitizens making their way onto voter rolls nationwide.
“States have no business experimenting with automatic voter registration until they can zero out the risk of ineligible noncitizens passing through traditional Motor Voter,” said Logan Churchwell, communications director at PILF.
PILF is attempting to find out if all of the self-reported noncitizens were registered through DMV transactions and if the state is undertaking any efforts to identify remaining registered noncitizens. The 574 noncitizens were self-identified and more could potentially remain on the voter rolls. The state found 19 who cast ballots in 2018, but the total number of illegal votes remains unknown. The group is also seeking information on whether any noncitizens self-reported prior to the new cases or if any noncitizens voted in elections that could have been decided by their participation.
“This is not a new problem for Illinois. That state’s Motor Voter system made national news in 2017 well before policymakers foolishly installed automatic voter registration,” Churchwell said. “States like Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, California, Georgia, Florida, and more have demonstrated how foreign nationals can and do enter voter registries through the Motor Voter process, regardless of automation.”
PILF previously uncovered 232 cases of noncitizens who registered to vote in Chicago. The individuals later self-reported their illegal registrations in hopes of becoming naturalized U.S. citizens.
“The Foundation fully expects there are more foreign nationals still registered to vote in Illinois—and some of them voted in 2018,” Churchwell said. “We just don’t know who they are yet since they haven’t felt the need to self-report—but their time will come.”
Illinois’s State Board of Elections did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
Column: Efforts to remove Trump didn't start with Ukraine. And won't end there.
Maybe Nancy Pelosi held on to the impeachment articles because she was waiting for her pens to arrive. The fancy commemorative ballpoints, featuring the speaker’s name engraved in gold, that Pelosi gave to colleagues at Wednesday’s engrossment ceremony quickly became the subject of mockery. Republicans saw them as emblematic of Democratic partisanship and triviality. “Nothing says seriousness and sobriety like handing out souvenirs,” saidMitch McConnell. “As though this were a happy bill-signing instead of the gravest process in our Constitution.”
In Pelosi’s eyes, impeachment is something to celebrate. It’s more than an accomplishment. It’s the most significant product of the 116th Congress. What McConnell calls “the gravest process” has been the preferred means of Democrats to inflict maximum damage on President Trump and possibly remove him from office before the end of his term. The trial that begins on Tuesday has been years in the making. And the drive to impeach Trump won’t end when the verdict is rendered. He may well end up the first president to be impeached multiple times.
Maxine Waters has been chanting “impeach 45” since the spring of 2017. Rep. Al Green introduced the first impeachment resolution that summer. Tom Steyer founded “Need to Impeach” that October. In November 2017 a group of House Democrats introduced additional articles of impeachment. The same thing happened in December 2017, January 2018, March 2019, May 2019, and July 2019. House Democrats accuse Trump of violating the emoluments clause, obstructing justice, associating with white nationalism, separating families of illegal immigrants, and more.
Pelosi resisted. Why? Not because she thought impeachment was wrong. Because none of the articles advanced by the left could win a majority of her caucus.
Then the whistleblower arrived. The story he told about shenanigans in Ukraine was enough to bring aboard moderates from swing districts. The rushed inquiry and polarized vote on two vague and weak articles betrayed the political motivations behind the enterprise. Impeachment shields Pelosi from leftwing recriminations in the event that Trump is reelected and Democrats retain the House. And the investigations, hearings, and trial guarantee a steady stream of bad press for Trump and hostile questions that make some Republicans squirm.
Pelosi is more than happy for additional evidence to be disclosed and for the Senate to call witnesses, even after the House has impeached and when the resolution of the trial is foreordained. It’s not justice she’s after. It’s victory in November. Expect leaks of damaging information before key procedural votes just as happened during the Kavanaugh confirmation fight. When Trump is acquitted or the charges against him dismissed, Democrats will pronounce the verdict illegitimate and accuse Republican senators of involvement in a cover-up. No charge is too outlandish. Pelosi and impeachment manager Hakeem Jeffries have advanced the ridiculous conspiracy that McConnell has “Russian connections” of his own. “It’s a win-win,” Chuck Schumer toldthe New York Times.
There’s a cautionary lesson for Democrats in the Kavanaugh episode. As the allegations against Kavanaugh grew more absurd, and the D.C. climate more inhospitable, Republicans found themselves more unified. The senators that Democrats hope will side with them on procedural motions might demur. Susan Collins, for example, isn’t anybody’s pawn. “I don’t think Chuck Schumer is very interested in my opinion,” she said in a blistering comment to the Times. “I don’t think he’s really very interested in doing anything but trying to defeat me by telling lies to the people of Maine. And you can quote me on that.”
After the House Intelligence Committee dropped a trove of documents from Lev Parnas, the former Giuliani associate under indictment for campaign finance violations, the day before senators were sworn in as jurors, Collins said, “I wonder why the House did not put that into the record and it’s only now being revealed.” Good question!
House Republicans voted in unison against impeachment not because they fear President Trump but because the Democratic case was weak. A similar dynamic might take shape once senators who haven’t been paying attention to the scandal listen—in silence—to the House managers and the president’s attorneys. How the House managers such as Adam Schiff behave on the Senate floor might also sway jurors.
The test of Republican unity will be a motion to call witnesses. Republican senators will have to ask why they would want to make Schumer’s job—winning the Senate for Democrats in 2020—any easier by crossing party lines. Prolonging the trial would legitimize a flawed and politicized investigation. Republicans understand by now that Pelosi and Schumer aren’t engaged in an honest fact-finding mission. They are the leaders of an impeachment that will never end.