The Democrats promised the public hearings into the impeachment of President Donald Trump would produce bombshells proving he should be removed from office. Thus far, they’ve failed, making it hard to take the whole thing seriously.
After weeks of closed-door hearings, allegations that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff coaches witnesses and multiple “key witnesses” trotted out before the cameras in the past few days, the best they seem to be able to come up with is “Heard it from a friend who… Heard it from a friend who… Heard it from another Trump’s been messin’ around.”
They sound like a bad REO Speedwagon cover band, not serious attesters to presidential malfeasance.
In fact, as numerous Republican critics of the process have pointed out, the whole thing stinks. The impeachment train has been warming up since January 20, 2017. The first story in The Washington Post on the possibility appeared online just about 20 minutes after he’d finished taking the oath of office. All the train needed was a destination and, with the allegation that the president withheld crucial military aid to Ukraine until it agreed to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter for corruption, it finally found one.
The problem, as is becoming clear for the Democrats, is the lack of proof there was ever a quid, let alone a pro quo. Which is probably why they’ve stopped talking about things in those terms and are instead throwing around words like “bribery,” saying “hearsay can be much better” than direct evidence and musing about whether the president exceeded his authority by firing the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine (spoiler alert: he didn’t). They’re adding to the sense of wrongdoing without offering, as of yet anyway, definitive proof it occurred because it’s more important, for political purposes, to make the president look guilty than to prove he is.
What we’re witnessing is the extension of politics by other—some might say illegitimate—means. Even if they cannot engineer his removal from office, the Democrats who lead the resistance have been working overtime for the entire length of his presidency to lessen his chances in 2020. They’re using official government resources in Washington and in the states to do opposition research, to blacken his reputation, to create narratives that will remain in the mind of the public and influence their vote the next time around. It’s unseemly—and one does not have to be a supporter of the president to admit that.
What Schiff has done up to this point reminds me of the old cooking shows my grandmother used to watch. They’d show the chef prepare some elaborate dish, put it in the oven and then—after cutting away to commercial—serve it up. The magic of TV made you overlook the fact there wasn’t enough time during the break for the dish to cook. What was served had already been prepared, just like what we’re seeing in the testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. The whole business has been baked in advance.
From Schiff’s committee, the investigation will move, at least according to the rules as we now understand them, to the House Judiciary Committee. There, the grounds for removing the president from office will be established and the actual articles of impeachment will be thrashed out. Hopefully, the institution of the presidency will be treated with more respect than Schiff is showing it, but that’s unlikely. The Democrats are on a mission and intend to see it through.
It’s unfortunate the current president is seen by so many Americans as unlikable. It makes it hard to see the line between his personal interests and the nation’s institutional—a division he has admittedly done much to blur all on his own. The precedents being set now by Schiff and company will give future congressional majorities a much bigger club to swing against the president and the presidency unless, as is all too often the case, the people who write about such things with a supposedly critical eye will allow for double-standards to rule the day.
We’ve seen it before. A cover-up without an underlying crime was still a crime when it involved Richard Nixon. When it involved Bill or Hillary Clinton, not such much—at least as far as the majority of the punditocracy was willing to state. The fact they liked they Clintons and didn’t like Nixon had a lot to do with it, just as what is going on now has so very much to do with how many of the media’s elite guard simply cannot stand Trump.
Column: Education, immigration, and densification
So this is what it feels like to live in a lab experiment. As a native Virginian, I’ve watched my state come full circle. The last time Democrats enjoyed the amount of power in the Old Dominion that they won on Tuesday, I was entering middle school in Fairfax County.
In 1993 the governor was a Democrat, one of two U.S. senators was a Democrat, Democrats held 7 of 11 House seats, and Democrats controlled both the House of Delegates and the state Senate. Next year, the governor will be a Democrat, both U.S. senators will be Democrats, Democrats will hold 7 of 11 House seats, and Democrats will control both the House of Delegates and the state Senate. Hardly anything has changed. Except for the Commonwealth itself.
President Trump so dominates the popular imagination that every election result is described in relation to his job approval and conduct in office. Trump is unpopular in Virginia, and suburban voters are eager to rebuke him at the polls. But the story of this particular Democratic winning streak is less about Trump than it is about long-running demographic and cultural transformation. He catalyzed changes decades in the making.
The former capital of the Confederacy is now a hub of highly educated professionals, immigrants, and liberals whose values are contrary to those of an increasingly downscale, religious, and rural GOP. Democrats continue to benefit from the shift in the college-educated population toward progressivism. Not only are Republicans increasingly bereft of a language in which to talk to these voters. They may be incapable of doing so. The two sides occupy different realities.
Virginia has followed broader trends of enrichment, immigration, and densification. John Warner’s election to the U.S. Senate in 1978 was an early sign of the Republican revival in the South. The election of 1993, which brought George Allen to the governor’s mansion, was a preview of the Republican Revolution the following year. In 2000, Allen joined Warner in the Senate.
For the next year, the governor and both U.S. senators were Republicans. Then Mark Warner won the governor’s mansion, then Jim Webb defeated Allen, then Warner replaced Warner (confusing, I know), and except for a brief appearance by Governor Bob McDonnell, Democrats have held all statewide offices since.
Over the last 29 years, Virginia has become wealthier, more diverse, and more crowded. The population has grown by 42 percent, from 6 million in 1990 to 8.5 million. Population density has increased by 38 percent, from 156 people per square mile to 215. Mean travel time to work has increased from 24 minutes to 28 minutes. The median home price (in 2018 dollars) has gone from $169,000 to $256,000. Density equals Democrats.
The number of Virginians born overseas has skyrocketed from 5 percent to 12 percent. The Hispanic population has gone from 3 percent to 10 percent. The Asian community has grown from 2 percent to 7 percent. In 1990, 7 percent of people 5 years and older spoke a language other than English at home. In 2018 the number was 16 percent.
If educational attainment is a proxy for class, Virginia has undergone bourgeoisification. The number of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher has shot up from 25 percent of the state to 38 percent. As baccalaureates multiplied, they swapped partisan affiliation. Many of the Yuppies of the 80s, Bobos of the 90s, and Security Moms of the ’00s now march in the Resistance.
Nationwide, “In 1994, 39 percent of those with a four-year college degree (no postgraduate experience) identified with or leaned toward the Democratic Party and 54 percent associated with the Republican Party,” according to the Pew Research Center. “In 2017, those figures were exactly reversed.” Last year, college graduates favored Senator Kaine over challenger Cory Stewart by 20 points.
All of these developments are more pronounced in the most important part of the state: northern Virginia. Fairfax County has grown from 800,000 people to 1.1 million. The percentage of foreign-born residents has gone from 16 percent in 1990 to 31 percent in 2018. The number of Hispanics has more than doubled from 6 percent to 16 percent. The number of Asians has almost tripled from 8 percent to 20 percent.
Slightly less than half of Fairfax County residents held a bachelor’s degree or higher in 1990. Now that number is 61 percent. The median home price has gone from $225,000 to $535,000. In 1992, George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot won a combined 58 percent in Fairfax. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won 64 percent of the vote.
When I was growing up, Loudoun County was considered a rural area disconnected from the rhythms of the Beltway. In the years since, its population has exploded from 86,000 people to 407,000. The percentage of foreign-born residents has gone from 6 percent to 24 percent. A county population that was 3 percent Hispanic and 2 percent Asian is 14 percent Hispanic and 20 percent Asian. The percentage of the county with a bachelor’s degree or higher has gone from 33 percent to 60 percent. Loudoun is the richest county in America. Fairfax is second. In 1992, Bill Clinton won 35 percent of the vote in Loudoun County. Twenty-four years later, his wife won 55 percent.
As Virginia has moved into the Democratic column, the state Republican Party has become more populist, more nationalist, and more culturally conservative. The dwindling number of Republicans who spoke the language of suburbia could not escape their party’s national reputation for hostility to immigrants and opposition to progressive ideals. A similar process occurred in states like California, Colorado, and Nevada. It may also be underway in Arizona and Texas (!).
Virginia became a blue state as the world celebrated the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The political development of the Commonwealth is emblematic of America in the post-Cold War world. The Republican Party found it no longer could count on unwavering support from the upscale college-educated white voters who once made up its base. The cultural churn produced by a migrant-driven, globalized, information-based economy gave suburban America a different population, with a different structure of values, which looks upon social conservatives as ambassadors from Mars.
The GOP has a path to the presidency and to congressional majorities. But it does not go through my old Virginia home.
'Over 86% of all households would lose' from free tuition policies
The “free” college plans touted by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) and other Democratic presidential hopefuls will require radical tax hikes and leave 86 percent of American households worse off, a recent study found.
Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) often promise tuition-free higher education and student debt cancellation on the campaign trail. However, a National Bureau of Economic Research study conducted by University of Wisconsin researchers found that free college translates to a hollowed-out higher education system that leaves many Americans worse off.
Researchers simulated two scenarios: one in which the federal government forces states to adopt tuition-free public colleges and another in which it provides subsidies to encourage states to do so. They calculated how each plan would affect the welfare of American households. The welfare function was derived from, among other things, the positive and negative impacts of higher tax rates and lower education costs.
“Over 86% of all households would lose while about 60% of the lowest income quintile would gain from such policies,” the study found.
In both scenarios, the free tuition policy benefited a group of the poorest Americans at the expense of everyone else. For the vast majority of U.S. households, any benefit derived from a free college plan was outweighed by its negative consequences.
Sens. Warren and Sanders, as well as former Obama official Julián Castro, want to make public college free for all Americans. Other presidential candidates, including South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D., Hawaii), backed a less ambitious plan that removed tuition costs only for middle- and low-income families.
Such proposals could end up hurting students before they get to college. For example, Warren said she would pay for her free-tuition plan by levying an up to 2 percent wealth tax on “ultra-millionaires.” She claims in her policy plan that states will split the cost of college tuition with the federal government but still “maintain their current levels of funding” for academic instruction even after her plan is implemented.
Warren’s plan would force state governments to withdraw resources from public K-12 education to fund the free college program, worsening the overall quality of education students receive before college. The lower education quality, along with higher tax rates, would contribute to a decline in welfare for U.S. households, according to researchers.
“The idea of ‘free’ public colleges is politically seductive. But of course a college education can’t actually be free—someone must pay for it,” the study said. “Allocating additional resources to the college stage may be self-defeating if this entails a reduction of public expenditure in the earlier stages.”
Some scholars, however, argue that lower per-pupil costs do not necessarily lead to lower education quality, but may reflect a more efficient school system. Analysts at the Heritage Foundation found that D.C. public school students drastically underperformed despite the district spending nearly double the national average per pupil.
Other academics have found flaws in existing free college programs. A Harvard University study found that a Massachusetts tuition-free college program for high-performing students actually lowered the students’ college completion rate, complicating claims from 2020 Democrats that their education plans would allow more students to graduate.
Ever since President Donald Trump assumed office, he’s been on double-secret probation. And, as expected, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives Thursday voted to continue their heretofore-held-in-secret probe of his actions.
Where the authority for such a probe, as executed, comes is not clear. There are no “little-known codicils” in the U.S. Constitution giving the speaker of the house unlimited power to preserve order in times she regards as a national emergency, like when Hillary Clinton fails to win and election. What is actually occurring is a naked grab for political power, driven by partisan donors and activists applying pressure to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to drive Trump from office.
Yet rather than take the lead herself, Pelosi has assigned the responsibility for getting the job done to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff. The California Democrat is the right man for it, not because he’s a seasoned legislator and expert on the inner workings of the constitutional process but because he’s a “sneaky little” leaker comfortable with letting the ends justify the means.
Retired General Don Bacon, a Republican congressman from Nebraska, put it well when he tweeted Wednesday, “How can I make a judgment on the impeachment investigation if we don’t know what’s being said in these hearings? Adam Schiff’s secret investigation hasn’t released a single deposition statement. This is an unfair process not designed to get at the truth. #NoDueProcess for @POTUS.”
And “no due process” is an important point. What House Democrats voted to do has a distinct lack of it. It’s not that they’ve set in motion “Soviet-style hearings”—an analogy that, by the way, should be abandoned 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall because too few people understand it—because a semblance of due process existed even there. What we’ve got now is a Kangaroo Court, where opinions are considered evidence and guilt is predetermined.
Usually, like with the Delta’s in Animal House, we favor the slobs over the snobs. In this case, it’s reversed, with the favored Democrats and their allies acting like blue-haired old ladies going limp with the vapors at suggestions the emoluments clause of the Constitution has been violated or that a quid pro quo was dangled before the leader of another country during a phone call in which foreign assistance was discussed. Trump is surely neither the first nor the last occupant of the Oval Office to cross that particular threshold. Did we try to impeach Jimmy Carter for the quid pro quos he offered at Camp David to Israel and Egypt?
The voters may be smarter than those pushing impeachment may think. In a nationwide poll conducted at the end of October for Politico/Morning Consult, 63 percent of those surveyed described “the current media coverage of the impeachment process” as “frustrating,” 55 percent thought it was “disappointing,” 54 percent called it “negative,” and 52 percent labeled it “skewed.” Just 32 percent said it was “trustworthy.”
The Republicans have, by these numbers, at least the opportunity to defend the institution of the presidency and the electoral process if they choose to. They don’t have to defend Trump—something many of them appear reluctant to do because they fear adverse consequences at the polls.
That’s a mistake. What Pelosi, Schiff and their ilk are doing to our system of checks and balances and rule of law is far more dangerous than anything it’s been proven Trump has done.
The Democrats will impeach the president along partisan lines despite Pelosi’s telling The Washington Post in March 2019, “Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country. And he’s just not worth it.”
Then they will try to argue, with help of the anti-Trump wing of the GOP establishment, that the president lacks the support he needs to avoid conviction in the Senate and removal from office. They think he’ll resign if it comes to that. Yet Trump will probably force a vote instead, believing, in the end, that he’ll win just like the Delta’s did. Either way, the country will be almost irrevocably damaged, as the politics of personal destruction becomes a full-blown war that the American system may not survive.
If you’ve been having trouble finding someone to walk your dog, don’t worry. Any day now, Elizabeth Warren will announce “a plan for that.” It will undoubtedly be comprehensive, detailed, and replete with subsidies for lower- and middle-class dog walkers and underserved breeds. It will cost tens of billions of dollars and will receive widespread positive notice from the media. However, to judge by her other recent plans, the one thing it won’t include is any discussion of how she plans to pay for it.
The Massachusetts senator has challenged and possibly overtaken former vice president Joe Biden as the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, largely based on having a plan for the government to tackle every problem facing this country, no matter how big or how small, from issues with military housing to Puerto Rican debt to climate change.
The price tag for this massive expansion of government is enormous. Much of the attention in recent weeks has been focused on Warren’s embrace of Medicare for All, which she refuses to admit would require an increase in middle-class taxes. Even Vermont senator Bernie Sanders has conceded that such proposals, which would cost $30–40 trillion over 10 years, cannot be financed without tax hikes. Warren’s refusal to address this obvious fact makes her look less like a would-be policy wonk and more like a typical politician.
But even setting aside Medicare for All, Warren’s plans are likely to dump oceans of red ink onto our growing national debt. Her non-health-care spending proposals already total some $7.5 trillion per year over the next 10 years. Although these are not quite Bernie levels of government largesse, her proposals would still require nearly double our current levels of spending.
To pay for all this, Warren proposes a variety of tax hikes, mostly designed to hit corporations or high-earners: higher payroll taxes for those earning more than $250,000 per year; a 7 percent profits tax on companies earning more than $100 million; a 60 percent lobbying tax on firms that spend a million or more on lobbying, and so forth. But the biggest chunk of money would come from Warren’s proposed “wealth tax,” a 2 to 3 percent levy on net worth above $50 million. Warren estimates that this wealth tax will pull in more than $2.75 trillion over ten years. It won’t.
First, there is the slight problem that a wealth tax is probably unconstitutional. Of course, constitutional constraints are quaint notions in the Age of Trump. Regardless, it is worth noting that the Constitution permits the federal government to impose only “direct taxes,” such as a property tax. That’s why it required a constitutional amendment to enact the federal income tax. Many constitutional scholars warn that a wealth tax is neither a direct tax nor income tax.
Even if Warren can find a way around the constitutional guardrails — perhaps by something such as a retrospective wealth tax in which you wait until a taxpayer sells assets or passes away — a wealth tax is unlikely to raise anywhere near the amount of money she predicts.
Simply look at Europe’s experiments with wealth taxes. At one time, a dozen European countries imposed wealth taxes. Today, all but three have abandoned those levies. Among those repealing their wealth tax are the Scandinavian social democracies that Warren admires, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden. Norway retains a wealth tax but has significantly reduced it in recent years. Additional countries abandoning the tax include Austria, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. Other countries, such as Great Britain, have considered wealth taxes and rejected them.
They did so because wealth taxes are administratively complex and difficult to enforce. Also, they significantly reduce investment, entrepreneurship, and, ultimately, economic growth. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, European wealth taxes raised, on average, only about 0.2 percent of GDP in revenues. By comparison, the U.S. federal income tax raises 8 percent of GDP.
Two groups, however, would benefit substantially from a wealth tax. The tax would be a full-employment opportunity for the tax-preparation industry and for lawyers. After all, we would now have to determine fair market value for everything from homes and vehicles to artwork and jewelry to family pension rights and intellectual property. The other big winner would be lobbyists, who could be expected to descend on Washington en masse seeking exemptions and exceptions for their clients. If you think the tax code is a mess today, just wait until D.C. is done with Warren’s plan.
There is an old Yiddish proverb that goes “Mann tracht, un Gott Lacht,” or “Man plans, and God laughs.” It is all well and good that Senator Warren has a plan for everything. But until she actually figures out how to pay for everything without crippling our economy, such plans really don’t add up
Impeachment, and then what?
In the 20th century, no Congress brought impeachment proceedings against a first-term president facing a reelection. Both the Nixon and Clinton efforts were aimed at reelected presidents, perhaps on the theory that there was supposedly no other means of bringing them to account once they had been elected twice.
In contrast, Trump faces reelection in about a year. The prevailing mood may soon be just to let the voters adjudicate his purported sins and for a year allow the Congress to get back to — or begin — governing.
The makeup of the Senate matters. Nixon resigned before House impeachment because he feared that, if he were impeached, there might be enough Republican senators to give the Democratic majority a possible two-thirds vote in the Senate to convict him, given that the media hated his guts and the economy was souring and draining public support.
Bill Clinton knew that impeachment, facts aside, did not matter much, because the Republican Senate majority was never going to find the necessary votes to convict him, the media was on his side, and the economy was still robust.
In Trump’s case, there is little likelihood that a Republican Senate majority will lose control of its membership to render a two-thirds majority guilty vote. The economy is strong, and impeachment will become unpopular when the public knows that it will not, and cannot, remove a president. The Democrats are more likely seeking a symbolic 51 percent conviction vote, and a year of “the walls are closing in” anti-Trump chant in the press.
Polls matter. When the media and Democrats started impeachment stories and investigations, Nixon’s favorability was near 70 percent, after his landslide reelection and second inaugural. After twelve months of Watergate, he ended 1973 at about 30 percent approval. When he left office in August 1973 before impeachment, his approval was at about 24 percent.
Clinton, in contrast, enjoyed about 70 percent favorability when impeachment started and he went down only about 10 points — before rebounding and leaving office impeached but quite popular at 65 percent approval. The therapeutic Clinton lived in a pre-Internet age, and “I feel your pain” still resonated.
Three years’ worth of talk of Trump impeachment waxes and wanes. His polls accordingly slide to the low forties when “bombshells” and “turning point” frenzies flood the media, and then they inch back up to the middle forties when the bombast passes.
At this point in his presidency, Bill Clinton was gradually climbing back to near 50 percent approval; Barack Obama was right where Trump is now, at about 42-43 percent. It is hard to know whether impeachment helped or hurt Clinton because the economy was booming, he was seen as bipartisan, and the debt was finally declining. Impeachment was either irrelevant to his status or seen as a threat to it. Either way, Clinton was popular right before and after impeachment.
In Trump’s case, it may be that he ends up at about 44 percent favorability after the impeachment circus either fades or is realized, about where he was when the whistleblower hysteria commenced.
Both prior impeachment efforts were transparent, not just because key congressmen such as Peter Rodino and Newt Gingrich followed protocols, but also because both impeachments were built on damning cases from the work of special counsels. They could afford, then, to be transparent and allow the minority to make its case in the manner of most Judicial Committee hearings. In Trump’s case, however, a special-counsel investigation of 22 months’ duration has already cleared the president and not recommended a criminal referral, and there is no legal case for impeachment.
Impeachment Now . . .
For all the bluster, it is hard to see how the Democrats enjoy a winning hand. The catalyst for this version of the latest episode of the serial coup was the late, great “whistleblower” complaint. But by any definition, the anonymous leaker is by no means a whistleblower. He did not go first to the IG, but to Adam Schiff’s staff, a fact Schiff abjectly lied about. The rules prohibiting hearsay complaints were recently and mysteriously changed to facilitate the complaints like those of the current leaker — hearsay that a short time ago would not have been permissible.
The melodrama allegations of quid pro quo deal-making with the Ukrainian president were belied by Trump’s own release of the transcript of his call. The details showed bluster, not high crimes and misdemeanors, and it did not even match the whistleblower’s second- and third-hand versions of the call — a fact emphasized by Schiff’s bizarre made-up rendition, during a congressional hearing, of the transcript, which Schiff branded a “parody.” That the once coveted whistleblower will likely fade back into the bureaucratic abyss — without Democrats wanting him to be seen, heard, or cross-examined — is a testament to just how ridiculous is the latest iteration of impeaching Trump.
The word “Ukraine” now conjures up Joe and Hunter Biden as much as Trump. So its evocation serves as a boomerang, in either hurting or eventually taking out the stubborn Democratic front-runner.
Nancy Pelosi still has not called a vote for either a former inquiry or formal impeachment. She apparently wishes to allow Adam Schiff’s Intelligence Committee — the absurd place to start an impeachment “hearing” — to run wild behind secrecy, redactions, and refusals to call in minority witnesses and allow cross-examinations, in hopes that the carnival drives down Trump’s numbers before the public puts a stop to the freak show. Again, why not — given that the whistleblower could never sustain questions about his prior relationships with Joe Biden, Schiff, and Schiff’s staff, and about liberal lawyers prepping his complaint, and the actual leaking sources of his allegation?
The impeachment modus operandi for a while longer is by now old hat: Schiff calls in a supposed friendly witness and leaks the opening statement to the media, the latter declare it proof of Trump’s guilt, and then he keeps under wraps incriminating cross-examination questioning, if it even occurs, of the witness. The public already knows that such procedures are foreign to the American experience and violate the spirit of the Constitution — the resort of a Star Chamber inquisitor afraid he has no real case and that he’ll look stupid publicly pursuing such a chimera.
Giving Schiff such power was like arming an arsonist with a fuel tanker. Schiff has been serially caught in a number of outright lies and double-dealing. More will follow, because he is ignorant and arrogant — and oblivious to both. “Impeachment” is now a construct to divert from the Trump record, goad Trump into Twitter-frenzies, and drive down his polls to the high thirties — necessary for a serious impeachment bid.
If impeachment does not occur by Christmas, and it may well not, then the news cycle will preempt coverage of Schiff’s fading melodrama, especially if there are referrals for, or actual, indictments of, Obama-era intelligence officials. The extremism voiced on the Democratic stage will not help impeachment. The candidates themselves may come to resent the diversion of media coverage away from their candidacies and chafe if there is no compelling evidence for the impeachment stampede. In any case, far from the Horowitz, Barr, and Durham investigations being diversions from impeachment, the latest round of impeachment frenzy was likely designed to divert from the final unfolding of the greatest political scandal of the last half-century: the Obama-era intelligence agencies’ efforts to derail a campaign and then subvert a presidency.
None of the major issues aired on the democratic debates poll at 51 percent or above — not the Green New Deal, reparations, the abolishment of ICE, open borders, Medicare for all, free tuition and cancellation of student debt, a wealth tax, legal infanticide and late-term abortions, and on and on.
Rather than introduce any of these agendas in Congress, Democratic House and Senate members obsess over Trump. Democrats may scream “Now Trump has a record,” and he certainly does. But it is mainly characterized by near-record-low unemployment, massive new gas and oil production, strong growth, and a vibrant stock market. Trump pushed, as he promised, his four signature agendas, designed to separate him from all 16 of the 2016 primary candidates — being tough on China, unfair trade, and open borders; and having fewer optional overseas military interventions — often against congressional and court opposition.
All caused hysterias, but the public more or less supports calling Beijing to account, securing borders, insisting on reciprocal and symmetrical trade, and it opposes intervening again in the Middle East, given past displeasure with Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, and Syria, and de facto U.S. independence from Middle East oil.
The Democratic field resembles that of 2003 as it was entering Bush’s reelection year of 2004, when unhinged Howard Dean was the front-runner, and blow-dried phony John Edwards seemed the only alternative — until old warhorse John Kerry entered to reassure Democratic donors that they would have a choice between a quasi-socialist and a helium-filled suit. The tripartite choice now is between a 78-year old who is an avowed but increasingly frail socialist; a 70-year-old who has in the past fabricated her identity and is running as a socialist in all but name; and a 76-year-old white guy who has trouble stringing together simple sentences and thoughts, and who failed in two earlier presidential bids due to plagiarism, lies about his bio, and racially insensitive remarks.
How weird to watch a triad of private-jet-flying, SUV-driven, privileged multimillionaire old white people railing against multimillionaires, fossil fuels, and white privilege.
There are no moderate fringe candidates pulling any of them to the center, but rather incompetent, off-putting hard leftists such as the hyperactive Beto O’Rourke, the self-righteous Pete Buttigieg, the whiny Kamala Harris, the incoherent Cory Booker, and a host of other forgettables. If Warren or Sanders is nominated, neither will raise much money — given that Wall Street, Corporate America, and Silicon Valley do not equate their Democratic loyalties with a suicide pact.
If Biden survives, he will raise a great deal of cash, and his future depends on how well he remembers where he is, whom he is surrounded by, and what he is supposed to say.
The State of the Union
No one knows what the state of the union will be in November 2020. If unemployment stays near the near-record peacetime low of 3.5 percent, the economy still chugs along at 2 to 3 percent growth, and there is a decrease in illegal border crossings and staged caravan melodramas, Trump will be in a good position against any Democratic candidate to repeat his 2016 performance of winning the Electoral College while losing the popular vote. A Warren or Sanders McGovern- or Mondale-like candidacy would make his reelection much more likely.
Scandal, Wars, and Depression
What sinks presidencies, either preventing reelection or de facto ending them in stasis and crises are unpopular wars (Vietnam, Iraq), perceived recessions (1980, 1992), or major scandals (Watergate). Trump may cause furor by pulling back tripwire troops in Syria, but the move will probably continue to poll at over 50 percent with the public. He is unlikely to insert forces in optional engagements. A tit-for-tat missile or bombing response to an Iranian or ISIS attack would likely win approval.
Impeachments and scandals, as the case of Bill Clinton reminds us, are two different things. So far, Donald Trump is the most transparent, investigated, and cross-examined president in history. The result is not much dirt, but a lot of now-predictable and boring duds — the voting machines, impeachment 1.0, the emoluments clause, Stormy, Michael Avenatti, Michael Cohen, the 25th Amendment, the McCabe-Rosenstein Keystone Kops coup, Robert Mueller’s investigation, taxes, and now Ukraine.
The public may find the latest blood sport amusing at first and support an inquiry. But as it drags on and Schiff burns up the Constitution, they will tire and prefer to weigh in during the election — when they will likely opt for a continued resurgent U.S. and a strong economy over socialism and finger-wagging at a sinful America.
Even the ‘moderate’ proposals would sabotage private coverage, driving everyone into a government-run system. That’s probably why Democrats don’t really answer questions about their health proposals.
For more than two hours Thursday night in Houston, 10 presidential candidates responded to questions in the latest Democratic debate. On health care, however, most of those responses didn’t include actual answers.
As in the past several contests, health care led off the debate discussion, and took a familiar theme: former vice president Joe Biden attacked his more liberal opponents for proposing costly policies, and they took turns bashing insurance companies to avoid explaining the details behind their proposals. Among the topics discussed during the health care portion of the debate are the following.
Most notably, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren again declined to admit whether individuals will lose their current insurance, or whether the middle class will pay more in taxes, under a single-payer health care system. By contrast, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders claimed that while all (or most) Americans will pay higher taxes to fund his single-payer system, middle class families will come out ahead due to his plan’s elimination of deductibles and co-payments.
The problems, as Biden and other Democratic critics pointed out: First, it’s virtually impossible to pay for a single-payer health care system costing $30-plus trillion without raising taxes on the middle class. Second, even though Sanders has proposed some tax increases on middle class Americans, he hasn’t proposed nearly enough to pay for the full cost of his plan.
Third, a 2016 analysis by a former Clinton administration official found that, if Sanders did use tax increases to pay for his entire plan, 71 percent of households would become worse off under his plan compared to the status quo. All of this might explain why Sanders has yet to ask the Congressional Budget Office for a score of his single-payer legislation: He knows the truth about the cost of his bill—but doesn’t want the public to find out.
Believe it or not, Biden once again repeated the mantra that got his former boss Barack Obama in trouble, claiming that if people liked their current insurance, they could keep it under his plan. In reality, however, Biden’s plan would likely lead millions to lose their current coverage; one 2009 estimate concluded that a proposal similar to Biden’s would see a reduction in private coverage of 119.1 million Americans.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar echoed Biden’s attack, saying that while Sanders wrote his single-payer bill, she had read it—and pointing out that page 8 of the legislation would ban private health coverage. (I also read Sanders’ bill—and the opening pages of my new book contain a handy reading guide to the legislation.)
For his part, Sanders and Warren claimed that while private insurance would go away under a single-payer plan, people would still have the right to retain their current doctors and medical providers. Unfortunately, however, they can no more promise that than Biden can promise people can keep their insurance. Doctors would have many reasons to drop out of a government-run health plan, or leave medicine altogether, including more work, less pay, and more burdensome government regulations.
While attacking Sanders’ plan as costly and unrealistic, Biden also threw shade in Warren’s direction. Alluding to the fact that the Massachusetts senator has yet to come up with a health plan of her own, Biden noted that “I know that the senator says she’s for Bernie. Well, I’m for Barack.”
Biden’s big problem: He wasn’t for Obamacare—at least not for paying for it. As I have previously noted, Biden and his wife Jill specifically structured their business dealings to avoid paying nearly $500,000 in self-employment taxes—taxes that fund both Obamacare and Medicare.
Tax experts have called Biden’s avoidance scheme “pretty aggressive” and legally questionable, yet neither Democrats nor Thursday’s debate moderators seem interested in pursuing the former vice president’s clear double hypocrisy about his support for Obama’s health care law.
I’ll give the last word to my former boss, who summed up the “contrasts” among Democrats on health care:
Dem debate on health care:@berniesanders: If you like your health plan, too bad, we are going to take it away now.
“Moderate” Dem: If you like your health plan, don’t worry, we will gradually take it away.#DemDebate #DemocraticDebate2078:47 PM – Sep 12, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy104 people are talking about this
As I have previously noted, even the “moderate” proposals would ultimately sabotage private coverage, driving everyone into a government-run system. And the many unanswered questions that Democratic candidates refuse to answer about that government-run health system provide reason enough for the American people to reject all the proposals on offer.
There’s her backtracking on busing and her waffling on Medicare for All, not to mention her prosecutorial scandals.
A new national CNN poll of the 2020 Democratic primary has some pretty brutal numbers for Kamala Harris. When CNN last polled the presidential race shortly after the first Democratic debate in June, Harris was on Joe Biden’s heels, trailing just 17 percent to 22 percent. But according to the latest survey by CNN, conducted August 15 to 18, Biden has rebounded to 29 percent, while Harris has dropped all the way down to 5 percent, tied for fourth place with South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg.
What went wrong for Harris?
The second Democratic debate was a clear defeat for the California senator, but it’s now also obvious that her June debate performance was a Pyrrhic victory.
At the first debate, Harris staked everything on attacking Joe Biden’s record on busing. It worked for her that night: Biden’s immediate response was hapless, Harris was widely declared the winner, and she got a significant bump in the polls.
But Harris’s line of attack raised an obvious and problematic question for her: Would she support reinstating the policies that Biden opposed?
Logically, the answer would appear to need to be “yes.”
“I support busing. Listen, the schools of America are as segregated, if not more segregated, today than when I was in elementary school,” Harris said on June 30. “Where states fail to do their duty to ensure equality of all people and in particular where states create or pass legislation that created inequality, there’s no question that the federal government has a role and a responsibility to step up.”
But there was a problem for Harris: Busing policies were abandoned because they were wildly unpopular, and there’s no reason to think they’ve magically become popular. So Harris equivocated and then backtracked.
That attacking Biden on busing would paint the attacker into a corner was predictable. It was in fact predicted. See, for example, the end of this article from March in National Review.
Going on the offensive and then retreating on busing made Harris seem inauthentic. And the candidate had been dogged by questions of inauthenticity since the start of her campaign because of her waffling on the issue of Medicare for All, the policy at the center of the 2020 Democratic primary.
First Harris indicated at a CNN town hall that she supported abolishing private insurance, as Medicare for All proposes. Then Harris said she didn’t support abolishing private insurance: She tried to hide behind the fig leaf that Medicare for All allows “supplemental insurance,” while obscuring the fact that “supplemental coverage” would be legal for only a very small number of treatments not covered by Medicare for All, such as cosmetic surgery. And cosmetic-surgery insurance doesn’t even exist.
Harris thought she’d finally figured a way out of the Medicare for All mess in July: She introduced her own plan shortly before the Democratic debates. It tried to split the difference: She promised to transition to a single-payer plan in 10 years (as opposed to Sanders’s four-year deadline). This was meant to reassure progressives that they’ll get there eventually while also reassuring moderates that there will be at least two more presidential elections before the country goes through with anything crazy.
Harris’s provision of Medicare Advantage–type plans was also supposed to reassure moderates, but the second debate demonstrated that she still wasn’t ready to respond to the fact that her plan would eventually abolish existing private health plans for everyone, and she has no serious plan for how to pay for single-payer.
Then there were Joe Biden’s and Representative Tulsi Gabbard’s devastating attacks on Harris’s record as a prosecutor at the second Democratic debate. “Biden alluded to a crime lab scandal that involved her office and resulted in more than 1,000 drug cases being dismissed. Gabbard claimed Harris ‘blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until she was forced to do so.’ Both of these statements are accurate,” the Sacramento Bee reported after the debate.
As Harris’s backtracking on busing made clear, no one is seriously considering resurrecting the deeply unpopular policies of the 1970s. But criminal justice is very much a live issue in Democratic politics, and that’s why the attack on Harris’s record as a prosecutor has had such a greater impact than the attack on Biden’s record on busing. Biden continues to do very well among African-American voters, while Harris continues to struggle.
So Harris’s problems go deeper than the fact that she had one good debate followed by one bad debate on matters of style. Both debates revealed she has serious weaknesses on matters of substance. And the hits keep coming on Medicare for All: On Monday, she was savaged by Bernie Sanders after it was reported that Harris told wealthy donors in the Hamptons that she was not “comfortable” with Bernie Sanders’s Medicare for All bill, which she co-sponsored and supported until a few weeks ago. There are still five months left until the Iowa caucuses, but the past two months have demonstrated that Harris has deep problems that she can’t paper over with some well-rehearsed, well-delivered lines in subsequent debates.