And then there were two.
Thanks to South Carolina and Super Tuesday, the race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination is between a candidate of the left and a candidate of the far left. The moderate, market-friendly, free-trade wing of the party has collapsed into nothingness. Clintonism is dead, long live the new left.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, whose come-from-behind and back-from-the dead win in South Carolina drove Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar out of the race, is widely considered to have been the big winner on Super Tuesday. True, he got more votes in 10 of the 14 states holding primaries that day but Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who took a third of the vote in California, also did exceptionally well.
The count as it now stands has Biden ahead but by only about 60 delegates. This is not, even given the way the remaining primaries and caucuses in the remaining states line up on the way to Milwaukee, so substantial a lead that it cannot be overcome.
This should give Biden pause. The combined vote for Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was bigger—outside the South anyway—than what Biden was able to draw. With Warren out and her vote presumably up for grabs, the calculations of future outcomes must be altered. The former vice president can no longer presume he’ll benefit from a split among primary voters who consider him part of the problem because he’s part of the party establishment.
One would think this would give the GOP pause as well, leading party leaders to think carefully about what President Donald J. Trump must do to secure a second term. Instead, they still seem to be counting on the vicious divisions among the opposition party to prevent the kind of unity needed to prevail in November.
This, to employ a shopworn but appropriate adage, is whistling past the graveyard. The turnout among Democrats participating in the 2020 nominating process is up considerably from 2016, suggesting the enthusiasm gap, which the Republicans hoped to benefit from, may not exist. Trump may have to fight to win.
To do that, he needs to have the kind of positive message that thus far seems to be eluding him. It will not be enough for him to define his opponent as so far outside the mainstream as to be unelectable—a strategy they are sure to use on Sanders and will try on Biden to see if it works. Trump is going to have to explain, to use his term, what he intends to do to “keep America great” in his second term. And, right now, with potential disaster seemingly around every corner, he’s not getting the job done. The fears connected to the spread of coronavirus are taking the markets and are poised to kick off a business contraction that could lead to a recession. If that happens, the president loses his principle talking point in favor of his re-election.
This may be why the scramble to respond to this entirely unexpected global crisis is being hyped by the mainstream, Trump-hating media as well as the Democrats but the epidemic is a reality the president and his campaign advisers must prepare to deal with. The fact he’s been right on many of the key points regarding ways to prevent the spread of the virus—by blocking incoming flights from China, by urging people to wash their hands repeatedly throughout the day, and his efforts to mobilize the free-market healthcare industry to get to work on a vaccine and a curative—isn’t helping calm people’s fears.
If you then add to all that the fact some people seem to have decided that since Trump appears to distort the truth its oaky for them to distort the truth in response and you have a recipe for disaster in the making, the kind that kills a re-election campaign in the cradle.
That the Democrats have moved so far away from the center in their drive to the left gives Trump and the other Republicans on the ballot in 2020 time to seize what historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., used to refer to as the “vital center” of American politics. Sanders and Biden will duke it out over whether real healthcare reform means ending private insurance and private health care in America—as some versions of the Medicare-for-All plan would do. The GOP, meanwhile, can step in with a reassuring message: not only will they preserve both, but also that what they’re prepared to defend what is, in fact, the best guarantor that the spread of a disease like the Coronavirus can be stopped before it becomes as lethal as the Spanish Flu, which killed so many Americans just over 100 years ago.
Despite what many analysts suggest, we’re a long way from clarity in this election. Sanders and Biden both have viable paths to their party’s nomination—and we still cannot discount the possibility a third candidate will emerge from a convention deadlock that could make for a whole new ballgame. The problem for Trump is that he must prepare for all these eventualities, while still performing the duties of his office which, to be candid, is a bigger challenge for him than the Mueller investigation or impeachment. The reason for this is simple: from here on out he’s at the mercy of “events” which, as former British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan once observed, are the thing most likely to take a government off the course chosen by its leader.
Column: How a flight to safety helped the former vice president
On the day before the South Carolina primary, the stock market finished its worst week since the global financial crisis of 2008. Fear of Bernie Sanders and of coronavirus had investors panicked. They wanted safe returns. Bond yields fell to record lows.
The flight to safety was not just economic. It was also political. When the future looks grim, you turn to the familiar. And there aren’t many politicians more recognizable than a man first elected to the Senate when Richard Nixon was president.
South Carolina was Joe Biden’s last defense. It held. Credit congressman Jim Clyburn with the assist. His February 26 endorsement was powerful—and more decisive than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s backing of Sanders last October. Biden trounced the field in the Palmetto State, winning 48 percent to Sanders’s 20 percent.
The first signs of a Biden coalition of black voters, suburban women, and moderates became visible. These are the same people who returned the speaker’s gavel to Nancy Pelosi in 2018. After South Carolina, the non-Sanders vote consolidated behind Biden. And on Super Tuesday he pulled ahead in the delegate count.
Biden is too old to be called “the comeback kid.” He needs another moniker. Let’s call him “the comeback gramps.”
His achievement is something to behold. Not since 1992 has a candidate vaulted into frontrunner status after losing the first contests by such stunning margins. And circumstances were different 28 years ago. Back then, Iowa went to local hero Senator Tom Harkin. New Hampshire chose neighboring Senator Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts. Both men enjoyed homefield advantage.
Bill Clinton didn’t have a victory until Georgia and South Carolina. Whereupon his spin room went into action, persuading the media that the Arkansas governor was the “comeback kid.” Clinton was 45 years old at the time.
The bloom of youth left Biden long ago. And, for a while it seemed, so did any chance of becoming president. He placed fourth in Iowa. He came in fifth in New Hampshire. He finished a distant—light-years distant—second in Nevada.
Bernie Sanders and his red brigades threatened to sweep all before them. What saved Biden and the Democratic Party was panic. Worries over socialism, over handing the election to President Trump, but also over the invisible contagion whose global spread appears to be unstoppable.
Biden is not unstoppable. He’s had a great week. But it is not a straight line from here to the White House. For one thing, Sanders is still in the race. The slim possibility remains that he could deny Biden a majority of the 1,991 delegates necessary to win on the first ballot of the convention. That would complicate matters. And widen the Democratic divide.
Biden’s resuscitation was contingent on discrete events. Who knows what the situation would look like today absent Bernie’s striking momentum, Bloomberg’s flameout, Clyburn’s endorsement, South Carolina’s place on the electoral calendar, and the appearance of coronavirus? There is plenty of time for further developments. Not all of them will play to his advantage.
Biden is not a strong candidate. His brain and his mouth never seem to be in the same place at the same time. He hasn’t given a satisfactory answer to the question of what his son Hunter was doing on the board of a Ukrainian gas giant. He suffers from the brand confusion of a septuagenarian Washington insider calling for change. He has a habit of making bizarre and rude comments—to his own supporters. His agenda is vague at best and regressive at worst.
He promises a return to the status quo ante Trump. For many people, that’s enough. For how many? In which states? Biden is the secure choice, the comforting presence, the genial (if slightly out of it) grandpa you like to have around. You turn to him in threatening times not because of what he has done, but because of who he is. That is why Barack Obama put him on the ticket after Russia invaded Georgia. It is why so many Democrats chose him on Tuesday.
Threats recede. Panic fades. Good times return. And you are left with grinning, affable, ordinary, unexciting, flawed Joe Biden. Who might not be a safe bet after all.
Attorney General William Barr noted America’s slide toward despotism during remarks at the National Religious Convention in Nashville, Tennessee, Wednesday. He highlighted changes in three institutional “bulwarks” that have long preserved liberty: “religion, the decentralization of government power, and the free press.”
Most notable was Barr’s calling out of the “remarkably monolithic” press as a vehicle for pushing Americans toward a secular progressive program and a “soft despotism,” wherein everyone is converted “into 25-year-olds living in the government’s basement, focusing our energies on obtaining a larger allowance rather than getting a job and moving out.” Barr described this progressive dream as a use of the “public purse to … build a permanent constituency of supporters who are also dependents.”
Barr noted the press, having become less like objective journalists and more like political activists, maintains massive influence in directing public opinion to “mobilize a majority” toward progressive goals.
When the media becomes a viewpoint monolith, “Not only does it become easier for the press to mobilize a majority, but the mobilized majority becomes more powerful and overweening with the press as its ally,” Barr said. “This is not a positive cycle, and I think it is fair to say that it puts the press’ role as a breakwater for the tyranny of the majority in jeopardy.”
The relationship among journalists, politicians, and the American people has shifted since 2016 and the run-up to Donald Trump’s presidential election. The president has repeatedly referred to the press as the “enemy of the people” producing “fake news,” for which he has received much criticism. A September 2019 Gallup poll revealed only 41 percent of Americans have “a great deal” or “fair amount” of faith in the mass media. Public mistrust in the press cannot be attributed wholly to Trump, however. The media’s track record speaks for itself: blatant lies over the Russia collusion hoax, Trump’s impeachment, the Jussie Smollett hoax, the Covington Catholic high school students story, and grossly mischaracterized pro-life legislation, among countless other errors. The media has even mocked Trump supporters as “credulous boomer rube[s].”
The press wielding its power in such a way is consistent with the attorney general’s assessment of progressives, however. According to Barr, progressives prop up politics as religion, taking a no-holds-barred approach — including weaponization of the press — to achieve their desired goals, which are “earthly and urgent.”
Totalitarian democracy, says Barr, “requires an all-knowing elite to guide the masses toward their determined end, and that elite relies on whipping up mass enthusiasm to preserve its power and achieve its goals. … [It] is almost always secular and materialistic, and its adherents tend to treat politics as a substitute for religion. Their sacred mission is to use the coercive power of the state to remake man and society according to an abstract ideal of perfection. The virtue of any individual is defined by whether they are aligned with the program. Whatever means used are justified because, by definition, they will quicken the pace of mankind’s progress toward perfection.”
Barr’s Wednesday remarks are reminiscent of his November 2019 speechto the Federalist Society’s National Lawyers Convention, where he said, “[S]o-called progressives treat politics as their religion. … [T]here is no getting around the fact that this puts conservatives at a disadvantage when facing progressive holy war, especially when doing so under the weight of a hyper-partisan media.”
According to many viewers, the presence of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on the Democratic stage Wednesday night turned a debate between presidential wannabes into a dumpster fire.
That’s a colorful way to look at what transpired in Nevada, but it’s also wrong. The dumpster fire started weeks ago, when it became clear Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was going to be the man to beat on the way to the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. Bloomberg’s appearance just added a lot more fuel.
While Bloomberg, a multibillionaire financial news executive and philanthropist funding liberal causes, may be the most electable candidate in the race, he’s also the one least likely to be nominated. He’s not surging so much as shimmering, a flash in the pan that for all practical purposes is likely soon to burn out.
His billions, even if he’s spending them on defeating Trump and other causes deemed worthy by the folks who write the editorials for The New York Times and like-minded publications, render him anathema to the party activists and allies who believe the wealth gap is an urgent crisis the nation must confront. He’s not a socialist. He believes in markets and defends the capitalist system, which, in the years since Barack Obama became president, has fallen into disfavor among many in the Democratic base.
Ads by scrollerads.com
His policies regarding the need for people to take responsibility for their life choices runs into the victimization organization of the Democratic Party like a log into a buzz saw. He says things about the poor and minorities that make people uncomfortable or even angry. And he can’t win their votes while alienating them.
The people who believe that money is everything in American politics think that’s what makes Bloomberg a factor. They’re probably right. He couldn’t get as far as he has without spending something just south of $500 million in this election alone. But, as the song says, “money isn’t everything.” You have to have a compelling message to go with it, and Bloomberg showed on the stage Wednesday night that he does not. Sure, “Mike Gets It Done” is a great slogan, but there are a lot of folks asking themselves what the “it” he’ll get done as president is.
There are other problems with his candidacy that have been better described by writers more capable than I, so there’s no need to take him apart piece by piece. Suffice it to say, every problem he has on issues is encapsulated in one form or another in the difficulties he’s having on both sides of the issue of “stop-and-frisk.”
For many independents and people concerned with basic “kitchen table” issues like law and order, it was a crime prevention policy that made sense. And contrary to the misinformed opinion of critics, the practice itself is constitutional. The United States Supreme Court said so in 1968, which is the last time it had something to say on the matter.
The crime rate came way down once the political leadership in Manhattan decided that people who jump subway turnstiles just might be committing other crimes like rape, robbery and murder. New York became known as the safest big city in North America. By turning his back on “stop-and-frisk,” Bloomberg is in effect apologizing for effective law enforcement and keeping people safe.
That’s going to alienate many independents, whom he’d need to win the election, while liberal activists who think America’s police are out of control and, in a manner of speaking, at war with African-Americans and Latinos remain furious the policy ever existed. And that’s an issue for Bloomberg that won’t be going away anytime soon.
To put it another way, Bloomberg’s biggest problem is the things that make him electable also make him unelectable. He may continue to surge a bit in the national polls, but he’ll start in the back of the pack in the hunt for delegates and likely stay there. That is probably appropriate, since he isn’t really a Democrat. Then again, neither is the man most likely to win the party’s nomination, unless the superdelegates, the super PACs and the people who hold the real power in the Democratic Party can figure out a way to steal the nomination from him again.
As part of their populist platforms, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have vowed to get rid of the Electoral College, so that the U.S. President is chosen by a direct popular vote. Likewise, Pete Buttigieghas also pledged support for the initiative, with Amy Klobuchar indicating her openness to the proposal. That structural change, if made, would profoundly impact all future political campaigns, as candidates would ignore former swing states in order to run up tallies in populous places like California, Florida, New York, and Texas. The consequences that would follow from such a dramatic realignment of voting power would greatly increase the risk of election fraud, such that the ensuing nationwide recounts would make Bush v. Gore look like a modest political skirmish.
Progressives are highly unlikely to gain sufficient support to implement this major reform through constitutional amendment. But right now, two major Supreme Court cases—Colorado Department of State v. Baca and Chiafalo v. Washington—pose the serious risk of undermining the integrity of the Electoral College by changing the long-established practice that all electors must vote as a bloc to support the presidential nominee of their party. In 48 states, the entire state follows that winner-take-all mandate. In Maine and Nebraska, the winner-take-all system is done by congressional district.
But in the aftermath of the November 2016 election, which Trump won by 306 to 232 electoral votes, both of the named electors in each aforementioned case were committed to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton but did not vote for her. In Colorado, Michael Baca, a Clinton elector, cast his ballot for then Ohio governor John Kasich; in Washington, Peter Bret Chiafalo voted for Republican Colin Powell. These two votes were not isolated events, as ten electors followed the same path in an attempt to block Donald Trump from becoming president by persuading enough Republican electors to defect so that Trump’s total would fall below 270 votes. Their acts of defiant independence brought forth prompt responses. Colorado replaced Baca with a new elector who voted for Clinton; Washington fined Chiafalo $1,000 for his action.
The intellectual leader of this movement to undo the Electoral College is Harvard Law School Professor Lawrence Lessig, whose Equal Citizen’s initiative has spurred the campaign to transform the American electoral system. Taking a page from Lessig Equal Citizen’s playbook, Baca and Chiafalo describe themselves as Hamilton Electors, because they insist that their actions are meant to return the Electoral College to the initial prominence ascribed to it by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist No. 68. Hamilton regarded popular democracy as a debased form of government, in contrast to the elitist republican form of government. The former relied heavily on direct elections; the latter used more complex indirect elections. He wrote: “And as the electors, chosen in each State, are to assemble and vote in the State in which they are chosen, this detached and divided situation will expose them much less to heats and ferments, which might be communicated from them to the people, than if they were all to be convened at one time, in one place. . . . Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption.”
In essence, the original Electoral College required that each state would have its own mini-deliberative sessions until the electors made up their mind. This setup is patterned on the Catholic College of Cardinals, which uses a similar voting method to pick the next pope. But there is a vast difference between the two devices. The Cardinals who vote are not the agents of anyone, so it is proper for them to be able to vote their own consciences. But the electors in a presidential election are the agents of the voters who selected them. Faithless electors could therefore betray the wish of the voters who selected them.
Hence the practice quickly arose for electors to “pledge” themselves to the candidate whose slate of electors they joined. As noted in McPherson v. Blacker (1892), “experience soon demonstrated” that these electors “were so chosen simply to register the will of the appointing power in respect of a particular candidate.” Sixty years later, Ray v Blair (1952) held that the Executive Committee of Alabama was within its rights when it refused to certify Blair as a primary elector because he refused to “pledge to aid and support ‘the nominees of the National Convention of the Democratic Party for President and Vice-President of the United States.’” In so doing, the Court rejected the view that the complex Twelfth Amendment, passed in 1804 and which called for electors to “meet in their respective states and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President,” necessarily gave them the same discretion that Hamilton had contemplated in Federalist 68.
Ray might be distinguished from Baca and Chiafalo for two reasons: first, Ray involved a primary election contest, and second, it did not specify any sanctions that could be lodged against a certified elector who voted his own conscience. But neither of these points should make the slightest difference. The principles of electoral integrity that apply to primaries carry over to general elections, where the stakes are even higher.
In addition, Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution provides that “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress.” The words “shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct” cannot be sensibly read to say that the only power of the state is to make the appointment, when it is certainly necessary and proper that it imposes restrictions that ensure that the appointed elector will follow the instructions of the state legislature.
Nonetheless, this Clause is given just that truncated meaning by Equal Citizens, which writes: “of ‘electors’—that is, choosers—to make their own free choice, as politicians of both parties have recognized.”
That argument should be emphatically rejected. It should never be the case that the potential elector who makes known his independence before selection can be rightly denied his place, but the savvy elector who conceals his intention before being chosen is entitled thereafter to vote his conscience and disregard his oath.
In this connection, Colorado therefore was fully within its rights to pull the errant Baca from his place and appoint a substitute. Full relief against this constitutional abuse cannot be obtained by any lesser means, so that removal and replacement is needed to stop the ex post defection. Washington state, in contrast, did not exercise its full constitutional power when it imposed a small fine to achieve that same end. But that small fine is little deterrent to future defections, so Washington should adopt the Colorado solution. Otherwise, the risk that mass defections could turn any election into a free-for-all becomes too great.
Ironically, these faithless electors purport to return to some originalist conception of the Constitution. But their unilateral actions do not get us to that place, given that they reserve the right to defect without participating in any collective deliberation, past or future. Moreover, if that constitutional transformation were accepted, then the entire system of selecting electors would become hopelessly politicized, with little chance that Hamilton’s elites would control.
Right now, the selection of electors is no big deal. But if their individual views were to count, then voters would want to know their electors’ (nonbinding) intentions to determine whether they would defect from the party’s nominee once chosen. At this point, the entire selection process would become far more complex and indeterminate. Just who would choose them? And once chosen, could these electors resist powerful interest group pressures to change their views? A new round of campaigns would begin before the vote took place, and continue nonstop in close elections until the votes were cast in December.
People might even insist that their electors actually deliberate, instead of just mouth-off, which could further postpone the final tally until those sessions were concluded. That delay could in turn postpone the transition between presidents, inviting yet further discord. Increased popular disaffection would undermine presidential legitimacy. And for what?
To be sure, today’s practices unmistakably deviate from the design of the Founders. But such transformations are common to our constitutional history. Judicial review, which gives the Supreme Court final say over the validity of all federal and state laws, forms no part of the original constitutional plan, but was instituted by judicial decision from an early date—most notably in Marbury v. Madison(1803), and Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee (1816). As I argued in The Classical Liberal Constitution, these decisions have become embedded in our prescriptive constitution through long-use. That deliberative process protects the nation from imprudent convulsions, which would follow if Hamilton’s misguided elitism somehow became law.
The Supreme Court should reject emphatically this unwise invitation to rewrite our nation’s history. And when it does, calmer heads in the political arena will reconfirm the wisdom of its ways.
It’s been a week and people are still fretting over the president’s most recent address to Congress. That’s unusual. State of the Union addresses are usually forgotten as soon as they’re over, dismissed as a lot of hot air and bluster that will not affect events as they move forward.
Not the president’s latest. Democrats are still complaining. To be fair, they’re on the money when they say it seemed more like a political rally than an official state occasion, but what did they expect? Donald Trump is a promoter at heart and a reality TV star, and he used every rhetorical device at his disposal to take his message right to the American people.
It worked, and well. If you have any doubt, consider the number of people who don’t like Trump still whining about it. The louder and longer they complain, the better things went for the president, something his post-speech bump in his approval rating demonstrates. For the first time, Democrats may be having to face the possibility that they’ve been farther out on a limb than is safe.
Consider that the enduring image of the speech, the one firmly fixed in voters’ minds, has nothing to do with Trump or his presidency or any of the made-for-TV moments involving his guests in the gallery. The one thing people remember, the one thing they see in their heads when they think about the speech, is the look on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s face when she ripped her copy into pieces as soon as he was finished.Ads by scrollerads.com
The best thing the Democrats have going for them headed into the next election is how unlikable, how obnoxious the president can be. As I’ve written before, he’s a living, breathing reminder to the rest of the country why they dislike New Yorkers so much. All the opposition had to do was sit there and smile, and they’d be favored to win in 2020.
Thanks to Pelosi, that advantage has, at least for the moment, been lost. She gave it away because of her self-righteous belief, shared by far too many in her party’s leadership, that most of the country hates Trump like she does.
“Flyover Country,” as the coastal elites deride it, is not San Francisco, Chicago or New York. You don’t have to look at the 2016 electoral map to see which candidates won what counties to see that. And that, at least in the current system, matters because that’s how we elect presidents. You can’t win just by running the numbers up in the major cities controlled by one party. You must win in Utah and Iowa and Alabama too.
The Republicans are having a field day with the footage of Pelosi tearing up Trump’s address. She tore up, they say, the story of a reunited military family. Of a little girl given a chance for a better future by an opportunity scholarship that will get her out of a failing public school. Of a 100-year-old newly promoted Air Force veteran who served his country faithfully in three wars over 30 years—even while it was doing him disservice after disservice because of the color of his skin—and of his grandson who wants to soar into the stars.
The Democrats are complaining that’s unfair. It’s not. Those stories were just as much a part of the speech as Trump’s list of his administration’s accomplishments, which she and her fellow party members write off as “lies.” They’ve gotten away with that for so long they’ve forgotten they need to address the opposition rather than ignore it.
Pelosi and company thought they had the upper hand. They’re coming to realize they don’t—and they don’t know what to do about it. No less than Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor emeritus who used to be the go-to guy for the official liberal position, has defected to Trump and is calling for Pelosi’s head, along with that of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. This is neither incidental nor inconsequential. And, when coupled with top political consultant James Carville‘s recent comments about how silly (or a word to that effect) the presidential candidates’ platforms are, should be sending up red flags all over the place.
Republicans, meanwhile, need to prepare for the moment—which should happen right after New Hampshire—for the Pelosi and company to realize they just might lose, and lose big, in 2020. If they do, things could get ugly.
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.