Archive for the ‘The Deep Bench’ Category

It’s been a while since I’ve been inclined to post anything about politics, but I can’t let the occasion of the official destruction of The Deep Bench go unnoticed. The vaunted “deep bench” of Republican presidential contenders was today officially vanquished by an amateur. It’s about the only good thing to come out of Donald Trump’s impending nomination as the Republican candidate. But good lord, what a disastrous field the Republicans put forward this year.

I got a bit of a chuckle out of Ross Douthat’s column today, in which he writes that “Republican voters didn’t want True Conservatism any more than they wanted Bushism 2.0.” A longer quote (emphasis mine):

Trump proved that many evangelical voters, supposedly the heart of a True Conservative coalition, are actually not really values voters or religious conservatives after all, and that the less frequently evangelicals go to church, the more likely they are to vote for a philandering sybarite instead of a pastor’s son. Cruz would probably be on his way to the Republican nomination if he had simply carried the Deep South. But unless voters were in church every Sunday, Trump’s identity politics had more appeal than Cruz’s theological-political correctness.

Trump proved that many of the party’s moderates and establishmentarians hate the thought of a True Conservative nominee even more than they fear handing the nomination to a proto-fascist grotesque with zero political experience and poor impulse control. That goes for the prominent politicians who refused to endorse Cruz, the prominent donors who sat on their hands once the field narrowed and all the moderate-Republican voters in blue states who turned out to be #NeverCruz first and #NeverTrump less so or even not at all.

Finally, Trump proved that many professional True Conservatives, many of the same people who flayed RINOs and demanded purity throughout the Obama era, were actually just playing a convenient part. From Fox News’ 10 p.m. hour to talk radio to the ranks of lesser pundits, a long list of people who should have been all-in for Cruz on ideological grounds either flirted with Trump, affected neutrality or threw down their cloaks for the Donald to stomp over to the nomination. Cruz thought he would have a movement behind him, but part of that movement was actually a racket, and Trumpistas were simply better marks.

I’m not big on predictions–I’ll leave that to Mark Edward Noonan and his sorry track record–but I hope that Hillary trounces Trump. Nevertheless, one thing we should have learned by now is to not underestimate The Donald, nor the appeal that he generates. I think that appeal is too limited to win the general, and that the demographics are against him, but you never know. I may have to go work for another presidential campaign…

Meanwhile, to engage in a bit of schadenfreude, the comments at Blogs For Victory are just delightful. They’ll get with the program and support Trump because, ultimately, the only thing they all have in common is their hatred of President Obama, and now their hatred of Hillary Clinton. For example, see Amazona: “I’ll have to vote for Trump if he is the nominee, unless we come up with a third party before the election, which I think is probably impossible. I can’t just let the election go to Hillary because our party is infested with a bunch of fake conservatives who get all giddy and pee down their legs in glee if someone appeals to their issues while ignoring the fact that his promises all seem to depend on him out-Obamaing Obama when it comes to ruling rather than leading.”

Noonan hopes for a new party called the Christian Democrats. Yeah, that’s a great idea. Amazona suggests the Constitutional Party. “[A]nd I like Federalist except for the fact that it will confuse a lot of people when the party then comes out in favor of restricting federal size, scope and power.” She should read Douthat’s column.

Casper makes pretty much the same prediction as Noonan, and Amazona calls him a “good little Liberal footsoldier you.”

Eisenhower accurately lists the five cycles of grief (as seen on B4V as they come to grips with Trump) and gets jumped upon. Acceptance? No way, they cry. Except, well, yeah, we’re all gonna vote for him. Sure sounds like acceptance to me.

Cluster wants to “welcome this opportunity and work with the Trump coalition, educate it, and help navigate the party back to constitutional governance.” This after he admits that “it’s time that conservatives, and I include myself, recognize the reality of the political landscape and start to realize that our ideological brand is in the minority.” Um, Cluster, you don’t get it either. The Trump coalition doesn’t want or need your educational help. Does it occur to Cluster that his reaching out to educate them might come across as a tad condescending? Nah…

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Yup. He won second place in the Nevada caucus last night. Which is like winning first place in Rubio-land. He said on the TV this morning that he feels “good about our second-place finish.” Congratulations!

Meanwhile, in the real world, Trump won again. The inevitability of his nomination is beginning to seem, well, inevitable. But a glimmer of hope for sane Americans can be found in the 1992 presidential campaign, where Bill Clinton lost the first four primaries, and nine of the first ten. Bob Dole lost four out of the first five on the Republican side in 1996. So I guess Rubio isn’t out of this thing entirely.

How about Ted Cruz? Hard to see a path for him.

John Kasich today: “Of course I’m staying in. Why would I drop out when I’ve got the best chance to be the nominee outside of Trump?” Memo to John: You’re gonna need to win at some point. Or at least come in second so that you can claim you won.

And we can’t forget Ben Carson, another card carrying member of the deep bench. Apparently he’s finally come to the realization that his campaign is nothing but a scam. “We had people who didn’t really seem to understand finances,” a laughing Carson told CNN’s Poppy Harlow on “CNN Newsroom,” adding, “or maybe they did—maybe they were doing it on purpose.”

And lastly: Whomever is the Democratic nominee had better not take Trump lightly, assuming he is the Republican nominee. Paul Waldman outlines Trump’s potential strengths in the general election.

So Dr. Ben Carson is a winner, too! Never mind his last place finish in South Carolina.

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Yes, Marco is the big winner of the night! By coming in third. Or maybe second. And he’s not talking participation trophy here. No, he’s a winner, yes he is! Sheesh. At least he’s getting a lot of practice delivering his victory speech for when he actually needs it. If he ever does.

The big news, of course, is that the Donald Trump felled another member of The Deep Bench, namely Jeb! Bush. The Deep Bench was so deep–remember?–that a complete novice of a politician has laid waste to most of them. I feel a little sad for Jeb!. I mean, he was always supposed to be the smart one, but in the end he was bested by his dumb brother. That’s gotta sting. You know it does. But I’m also a little sad for Jeb! because he was really just about the only one to pushback against Trump’s ugly bigotry. So now the Republicans get to own Trump. He is them and they are him.

And we might be better off with him than Rubio, anyway–that is, assuming either one of them can beat Hillary. Matt Yglesias had an interesting piece on Vox the other day, titled “Why I’m more worried about Marco Rubio than Donald Trump.”

Yglesias explains that Rubio’s budget math is “ridiculous.” Remember: Republicans are supposed to be the ones who know how to manage budgets. You’d never know it from their presidential candidates.

Rubio has proposed a tax cut that will reduce federal revenue by $6.8 trillion over 10 years. Numbers that large don’t mean anything to people, so for comparison’s sake let’s say that if we entirely eliminated American military spending over that period we still couldn’t quite pay for it.

But of course Rubio doesn’t want to eliminate military spending — he wants to spend more. He also promises to avoid any cuts to Social Security and Medicare for people currently at or near retirement. For good measure, he is also proposing a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution. You could eliminate the entire non-defense discretionary budget and you’d still need $100 billion to $200 billion more per year in cuts to make this work.

This is, of course, totally unworkable. And the process that led Rubio to this point is telling and troubling.

Rubio entered the Senate at a time when an intellectual movement known as “reform” was hot in conservative circles, which argued that Republicans should concentrate less on supply-side tax cuts and more on tax policy focused on the working class. This originally took the form of a $2.4 trillion tax cut plan crafted by Utah Sen. Mike Lee that Rubio signed on to but then kept transforming into a larger and more regressive tax cut, as Rubio came under pressure from the supply-side wing of the party and it became clear that the constituency for “reform” conservatism was limited to a handful of media figures. Eager to prove that his dalliance with the reformocons was over, he actually ended up proposing to entirely eliminate taxes on investment income, meaning that billionaire captains of industry could end up paying nothing at all.

The upshot is a plan that is costly and regressive, yet paired with other commitments around entitlements, military spending, and constitutional amendments that make it completely impossible.

Trump’s tax plan is even costlier than Rubio’s by most measures. But in his defense, he barely ever talks about it and hasn’t compounded the cost problem with a balanced-budget amendment or a firm commitment to enormous quantities of new military spending.

Then there’s Rubio’s foreign policy:

Rubio’s approach to world affairs essentially repeats the “let’s have it all and who cares if it adds up” mentality of his fiscal policy. His solution to every problem is to confront some foreign country more aggressively, with no regard to the idea of trade-offs or tensions between goals or limits to how much the United States can bite off at any particular time.

There’s more in the article. I guess we shouldn’t worry too much until Rubio actually wins something.

I got a chuckle out of this article the other day. It seems that even Rubio’s Senate colleagues and fellow Republicans can’t think of a single thing Rubio has, er, accomplished. Rick Santorum appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, where host Joe Scarborough, who seems to be in the tank for his pal, The Donald, asked Santorum a simple question.

Asked repeatedly to name a single one of Sen. Marco Rubio’s accomplishments while serving five years as a U.S. senator representing Florida, Rick Santorum – who just endorsed the GOP lawmaker after bowing out of the presidential race himself on Wednesday – struggled to come up with any during an appearance Thursday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

Santorum floundered right off the bat when asked to list Rubio’s “top accomplishment” while in office. “Well, I mean, I would just say that this is a guy who’s been able to, No. 1, win a tough election in Florida and pull people together from a variety of different spots. This is a guy that I think can work together with people,” he said. “That’s the thing I like about him the most.”

Yet host Joe Scarborough didn’t ask which personal quality of Rubio’s Santorum liked the most. He asked for just one standout accomplishment – so he pressed the former Pennsylvania senator again: “So he can win, but he’s been in the Senate for four years. Can you name his top accomplishment in the Senate, actually working in the Senate doing something that tilted your decision to Marco Rubio?”

Santorum danced around the question for a second time, concluding that “I guess it’s hard to say there are accomplishments” when a junior senator is working in a government “where nothing gets done.”

“Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski called the exchange with Santorum “disturbing.”

Meanwhile, Scarborough brought up the fact that Republicans have been in the Senate majority for the past two years, and asked for a third time: “Can you name one thing that he’s passed in the last two years?” eventually pleading with Santorum to “like one accomplishment – just one, just one – that Marco achieved.”

Santorum then blamed President Obama for Rubio’s lack of accomplishments in the Senate, saying “he spent four years in the United States Senate being frustrated like everybody else that nothing got done, and then you can’t point to him and say nothing got done and therefore he has no accomplishments. The problem is we have a president who doesn’t work with people.”

Eventually, however, Santorum did offer an example of a Rubio achievement, albeit a vague one.

“Well, I know he included something that went after the insurance companies in the most recent omnibus. He fought for that, to stop bailing out insurance companies. That’s one thing I’m familiar that I just saw recently, ” he said. “But – and again, he was on the campaign trail and accomplished that. The bottom line is there isn’t a lot of accomplishments, Joe, and I just don’t think it’s a fair question to say.”

Oh. It’s Obama’s fault. And Rubio was on the campaign trail and, you know, didn’t have time to actually accomplish anything. Also, it’s not fair to ask about Rubio’s accomplishments. Got it.

David Brooks, of all people, states what has become painfully obvious so far in the 2016 presidential election cycle: “I miss Barack Obama.” Not his policies, of course, because Brooks is to the right philosophically of the president. But as Brooks says, “Many of the traits of character and leadership that Obama possesses, and that maybe we have taken too much for granted, have suddenly gone missing or are in short supply.” I particularly like the line about this year’s candidates “wallow[ing] in the pornography of pessimism, to conclude that this country is on the verge of complete collapse.”

Do any of today’s candidates project an air of optimism? Maybe Trump comes close, but only in the sense that this country is already so monumentally stupid, weak, and screwed up that it will take a bully like himself to fix it. Christie? Same story, but more articulately expressed. Rubio? A wannabe. Cruz? As Brooks asks, would you want Cruz on the board of your community groups or charities? Carson? He might have once been a brilliant brain surgeon, but he’s simply out of his depth as a national politician, eagerly gobbling up every conspiracy theory put in front of him. Bush? He had the potential to come across as an actual compassionate human being, but he got steamrolled by the rest of the bullies. Sanders? Sadly, he also sounds a one-note symphony of pessimism, only from the left.

In any event, I’m post the rest of the article because it’s worth reading.

The first and most important of these [traits of character and leadership] is basic integrity. The Obama administration has been remarkably scandal-free. Think of the way Iran-contra or the Lewinsky scandals swallowed years from Reagan and Clinton.

We’ve had very little of that from Obama. He and his staff have generally behaved with basic rectitude. Hillary Clinton is constantly having to hold these defensive press conferences when she’s trying to explain away some vaguely shady shortcut she’s taken, or decision she has made, but Obama has not had to do that.

He and his wife have not only displayed superior integrity themselves, they have mostly attracted and hired people with high personal standards. There are all sorts of unsightly characters floating around politics, including in the Clinton camp and in Gov. Chris Christie’s administration. This sort has been blocked from team Obama.

Second, a sense of basic humanity. Donald Trump has spent much of this campaign vowing to block Muslim immigration. You can only say that if you treat Muslim Americans as an abstraction. President Obama, meanwhile, went to a mosque, looked into people’s eyes and gave a wonderful speech reasserting their place as Americans.

He’s exuded this basic care and respect for the dignity of others time and time again. Let’s put it this way: Imagine if Barack and Michelle Obama joined the board of a charity you’re involved in. You’d be happy to have such people in your community. Could you say that comfortably about Ted Cruz? The quality of a president’s humanity flows out in the unexpected but important moments.

Third, a soundness in his decision-making process. Over the years I have spoken to many members of this administration who were disappointed that the president didn’t take their advice. But those disappointed staffers almost always felt that their views had been considered in depth.

Obama’s basic approach is to promote his values as much as he can within the limits of the situation. Bernie Sanders, by contrast, has been so blinded by his values that the reality of the situation does not seem to penetrate his mind.

Take health care. Passing Obamacare was a mighty lift that led to two gigantic midterm election defeats. As Megan McArdle pointed out in her Bloomberg View column, Obamacare took coverage away from only a small minority of Americans. Sanderscare would take employer coverage away from tens of millions of satisfied customers, destroy the health insurance business and levy massive new tax hikes. This is epic social disruption.

To think you could pass Sanderscare through a polarized Washington and in a country deeply suspicious of government is to live in intellectual fairyland. President Obama may have been too cautious, especially in the Middle East, but at least he’s able to grasp the reality of the situation.

Fourth, grace under pressure. I happen to find it charming that Marco Rubio gets nervous on the big occasions — that he grabs for the bottle of water, breaks out in a sweat and went robotic in the last debate. It shows Rubio is a normal person. And I happen to think overconfidence is one of Obama’s great flaws. But a president has to maintain equipoise under enormous pressure. Obama has done that, especially amid the financial crisis. After Saturday night, this is now an open question about Rubio.

Fifth, a resilient sense of optimism. To hear Sanders or Trump, Cruz and Ben Carson campaign is to wallow in the pornography of pessimism, to conclude that this country is on the verge of complete collapse. That’s simply not true. We have problems, but they are less serious than those faced by just about any other nation on earth.

People are motivated to make wise choices more by hope and opportunity than by fear, cynicism, hatred and despair. Unlike many current candidates, Obama has not appealed to those passions.

No, Obama has not been temperamentally perfect. Too often he’s been disdainful, aloof, resentful and insular. But there is a tone of ugliness creeping across the world, as democracies retreat, as tribalism mounts, as suspiciousness and authoritarianism take center stage.

Obama radiates an ethos of integrity, humanity, good manners and elegance that I’m beginning to miss, and that I suspect we will all miss a bit, regardless of who replaces him.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/09/opinion/i-miss-barack-obama.html

A “deep bench” update…

I didn’t watch the entire Republican debate last night, but I watched enough. Most people are talking about the poor showing of Marco Rubio, particularly his moment of “flat out panic and mental paralysis,” repeating the same phrase over and over: “Let’s dispel with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing.” As far as repetition, many observers have noted for a while that Marco’s debate performances mostly consist of regurgitating the same old talking points he uses in his stump speeches, which also vary little from one giving to the next.

But let’s also remember that Rubio used to claim that President Obama didn’t know what he’s doing. Now, he can’t stop himself from repeating that Obama does know what he’s doing. Marco, Marco, Marco… Do you have any convictions that you will stick to? Of course, this is the fundamental problem of conservative Obama hatred: They can’t decide whether he’s an incompetent, bumbling fool, or a devious, brilliant schemer bent on intentionally destroying the United States. They don’t even bother acknowledging their inconsistency; that would require some introspection on their part.

Anyway, I’ve long thought that Rubio comes across as a poor imitation of Barack Obama–leaving aside their ideological differences, of course. I mean, let’s face it, the absurd conservative criticism of Obama–not vetted, uses a teleprompter–just falls apart in the face of Rubio. And David Frum, in a series of tweets last night, made that point devastating clear. Below are the tweets in text form, but you can go here to see them in their original form.

Rubio’s 4x repeat was not an act of excessive message discipline. It was a display of panic at a moment of uncertainty.

Faced with a genuinely new situation, Rubio could not figure out what to do… and so stumbled into doing precisely the wrong thing.

The bug question about Rubio is: can this untested novice cope with the demands of the presidency?

Voters have pitifully little information about hi. In this way, Rubio is NOT like Obama at all.

The question D[emocratic] voters were asking in 2008 was: who’d opposed the Iraq war? Obama had little record – bit was the right record for Ds.

On the central question of 2016, immigration, Rubio go the answer massively wrong from a Republican point of view.

Phyllis Schlafly here massively documents how wrong (from an R point of view) Rubio was http://www.eagleforum.org/immigration/rubio-record.html

Worse, Rubio’s explanations re immigration raise questions about how well he ever understood what he was doing.

Was he merely a personable front man? Was he outwitted by Chuck Schumer? What did he learn from what he himself now describes as error?

Rubio has gotten away with his glibness because of persistent R under-estimation of Barack Obama.

Candidate Obama in 2008 was dangerously untested yes, but he was obviously a man of profound depths.

Obama had laid out his whole philosophy of life in a massive, highly self-aware and very revealing memoir.

But yes, the lack of experience in Obama was grounds for worry. That’s why Obama added Biden to the ticket.

With Rubio, though, Republicans are asked to nominate an unknown quantity – wrong by his own admission on his most important decision.

Republicans are asked to nominate an unknown quantity who has not offered useful information to predict the kind of president he’d be.

Last night, they got a maybe unfair glimpse of the kind of president he’d be when the pressure was on.

It was unnerving – and what has Rubio offered over this campaign to calm those nerves when they twitch?

The world instantly tests new presidents. Nobody can be fully read. But some are more read; some are less – and less is dangerous.

Love the title of this short piece in New York magazine: “Scott Walker Finds Secret Cheat Code That Allows Him to Avoid All Campaign Questions”

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who has previously declined to have stances on birthright citizenship, evolution, whether being gay is a choice, and whether he would meet with Black Lives Matter organizers, discussed the philosophical underpinnings of his political apathy when announcing that he has no opinion on the migrant crisis in Europe.

ABC News asked Walker how he would respond to the massive influx of refugees from Syria if he were president today. He explained that the query was flawed. As he is obviously not president, Walker argued, there is no way that he would be able to answer that question. “I’m not president today and I can’t be president today,” he said. “Everybody wants to talk about hypotheticals; there is no such thing as a hypothetical” — a sentence that probably would have moved Socrates to set Walker’s pants on fire himself.

Not president today. Not president tomorrow. How did this guy get elected to anything?

Is Scott Walker stupid or what? More to the point, does he think we’re all stupid?

Peter Suderman at reason.com writes about the sorry campaign of Scott Walker. Just a few months ago Walker was considered a top-tier candidate. Now he’s buried at the darkest part of the very deep bench. What happened? “Walker is running a pandering, cringe-worthy campaign marked by a consistent inability to clearly articulate, and stick to, his own positions.” How friggin’ hard is it to say what you believe in? (Especially when you are a conservative who’s convinced of his righteousness.) Apparently, it’s pretty hard. Unless, that is, your only concern is how you sound to the audience in front of you. You know, like a craven politician might do.

But Walker is no politician, at least according to him. No, he’s “just a normal guy.” Well, one who happens to have run for or held elected office for his entire adult life. Seriously, he claims he’s not a career politician. This is a man who first ran for office at the age of 22 and has held elected office since age 25. Now he’s 47. He’s been a politician since he became a grown up, for God sakes. He lamely claims, “A career politician, in my mind, is somebody who’s been in Congress for 25 years.”

No. A career politician is someone who runs or holds office for his entire adult life. I mean, is he an idiot? Does he think we are? It’s hard to believe he could be this clueless about what he is.

More from Peter Suderman about Walker’s “cringe-worthy campaign” and his inability to stick to his own positions:

Most recently, for example, Walker seemed to suggest that he was open to the possibility of a building a wall along the Canadian border in order to stop illegal immigration. He responded by saying that he’d been asked this question by people in New Hampshire, that the people asking the questions had “very legitimate concerns,” and that the idea of building a wall would be “a legitimate issue for us to look at.”

It’s not exactly a “damn right we should build a wall!” But Walker’s response clearly takes the idea seriously, and pointedly does not rule it out.

Yesterday, however, he claimed that the talk about it was “just a joke” and that he’s “never talked about a wall at the north.”

This is the Walker campaign playbook: Say something awkward or ill-advised, watch as the media swarms to cover it, then insist that there was never anything to see.

The same thing happened with Walker’s comments on birthright citizenship. Questioned on camera by MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt about whether he supported ending birthright citizenship, as Donald Trump has called for, he nodded his head and said “yeah, absolutely, going forward.” When Hunt pressed him further, “We should end birthright citizenship?” he nodded again and said, “Yeah, to me it’s about enforcing the laws in this country.”

A few days later, when asked about it again, he shifted course by explicitly declining to take a position. “I’m not taking a position on it one way or the other,” he told CNBC’s John Harwood. Yet just a few more days after that, he did take a position, telling ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that was definitely not in favor of ending birthright citizenship.

That’s three different positions in the space of week—and yet when asked about the shifts, a campaign spokes erson complained about efforts to “mischaracterize” his position.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to correctly characterize a candidate’s position on an issue when the candidate himself cannot seem to state it with any clarity.

This sort of flip-flopping, what might generously be called policy confusion, has dogged Walker’s campaign essentially from the moment it began. Back in March, Walker, in what was obviously a sop to Iowa voters, reversed his previously clear opposition to federal ethanol subsidies.

A week later, when asked about the change, he denied that he had flip flopped on the issue. Since then, his position appears to have shifted again, with Walker suggesting to The Washington Examiner’s Timothy Carney that he supports ending the ethanol mandate after two years.

Even when Walker holds what looks to be a relatively clear position, he has a difficult time describing it. After his campaign released an imperfect but detailed-enough Obamacare replacement plan last month, he was asked about whether he can justify its redistributive effects. Politically speaking, the best answer to this entirely predictable question would have been that Walker’s plan is designed first and foremost to help the broad middle class.

Instead, as The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent notes, Walker offered a stumbling, semi-coherent invocation of “freedom,” “freedom,” and more “freedom,” and insisted that redistribution simply wasn’t an issue for his plan—even though it is, both in the sense that it changes the relative redistribution from how it is now, and in the sense that it puts its own alternative system of redistribution into place.