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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

WASHINGTON — For President Obama, these are the days of never hearing an encouraging word. Not since his own supporters were losing faith in his presidential campaign in the summer of 2007 has Obama confronted so many bad reviews and such widespread frustration and angry criticism from his own side.

Now, the censure is reinforced by terrible tidings from the outside in the form of wildly swinging stock markets, persistent unemployment and divisions in the nation’s capital so deep that they make the period around President Clinton’s impeachment look like an era of good feelings

For Obama’s lieutenants, his comeback from the ’07 summer doldrums provided an over-learned lesson that encouraged them to ignore external criticism and cruise along with complete confidence in their man’s almost magical powers of restoration.

The president’s loyalists still have faith in him and still love to criticize media narratives they think underestimate him. But this time, both he and they are expressing a level of frustration that may be the healthiest thing happening to Obama in what is an otherwise dismal moment in his presidency. A White House crowd often too sure of itself is fully aware of the ferocious fight Obama faces and the seriousness of the problems he confronts. Their mood and past experience suggests that a new Obama — or, in many ways, the old Obama of 2008 — is about to reappear.

The biggest factor is the end of the default threat. Make no mistake: The administration was petrified that conservatives in Congress really would push the country over the cliff in the debt-ceiling fight. GOP leaders may have realized the dangers involved, but Obama worried that if he miscalculated, House Republicans might not muster a majority to prevent the worst from happening.

Obama’s aides say he understood liberal anger over the Republicans’ irresponsibility in using the default threat to strengthen their own bargaining position. But while progressives wanted the White House to call the right wing’s bluff, Obama insisted that this was not a risk a president could take. He preferred to escape this box with the best flawed deal he could get, provided he could take the lethal debt-ceiling weapon out of Republican hands.

Having done so, the White House now sounds liberated. Even a government shutdown would be a day in springtime compared with the economic Armageddon that default might have let loose. Obama has a margin for maneuver and action he didn’t have before.

Then there is Obama’s own character. He is both conflict-averse and highly competitive. On the one hand, he believes his old speech declaring there is neither a red America nor a blue America, and he trusted his own capacity to bring left and right together — an imprudent presumption, given the nature of the current GOP.

Allowing this side of himself a much longer run than seems reasonable is what unleashed all the recent commentary describing him as weak and indecisive. But no sane human being (and sanity is still an Obama hallmark) can pretend anymore that today’s Republicans remain the party of Bob Dole or Howard Baker. The proof came in last week’s Republican presidential debate when every candidate on stage raised a hand to declare unacceptable even a deficit deal involving 10 times as many spending cuts as revenue increases. This provides a handy new definition of extremism: When 90.9091 percent purity is not good enough.

Obama knows he’s reaching the end of the line on negotiating. Now he has to win. This brings out his competitive side. The rules of an election are similar to those of the sporting contests Obama so enjoys. Candidates are expected to be tough, to go after their opponents, to push and shove and throw them off balance. If you doubt Obama can do this, ask Hillary Clinton or John McCain.

The president’s speech last Thursday in Holland, Mich., was the first sign that the competitive Obama is re-emerging. His target, like Harry Truman’s in 1948, was an obstructionist Republican Congress. He condemned “the refusal of some folks in Congress to put the country ahead of party” and urged that it “start passing some bills that we all know will help our economy right now.”

With Obama, there is always the danger of a relapse into the passive, we’re-all-reasonable-people style. The fighting Obama has briefly appeared before, only to go back into hibernation. This time, the evidence suggests he’ll stick with it — and, in truth, he has no other choice.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is ejdionne(at)washpost.com.

(c) 2011, Washington Post Writers Group

Many Democrats are getting nervous about the upcoming presidential election. Ominous, extensively reported articles by two of the best in the business—the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin and The Atlantic's Barton Gellman—outline Boss Trump's plot to keep control of the White House in 2021 no matter how the American people vote.
Trump is hardly making a secret of it. He's pointedly refused to commit to "a peaceful transfer of power."

"Well, we're going to have to see what happens," is how he answered the question. He added that after we "get rid of the ballots"—presumably mail-in ballots he's been whining about for weeks--"there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation."

Of course, Trump himself has always voted by mail, but then brazen hypocrisy is his standard operating mode. If you haven't noticed, he also lies a lot. Without prevaricating, boasting, and bitching, he'd be mute. And even then, he'd still have Twitter. He recently tweeted that the winner "may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED" because mail-in ballots make it a "RIGGED ELECTION in waiting."
Gellman gets this part exactly right in The Atlantic: "Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.
"Trump's invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before."
No, we haven't. However, it's important to remember that Trump makes threats and promises almost daily that never happen. Remember that gigantic border wall Mexico was going to pay for? Trump has built exactly five miles of the fool thing, leaving roughly two thousand to go.
His brilliant cheaper, better health care plan? Non-existent.
On Labor Day, Boss Trump boasted of his unparalleled success in strong-arming Japan into building new auto-manufacturing plants. "They're being built in Ohio, they're being built in South Carolina, North Carolina, they're being built all over and expanded at a level that we've never seen before."
Not a word of that is true. Two new plants, one German, another Swedish have opened in South Carolina, but construction began before Trump took office. Auto industry investment during Barack Obama's second term far exceeded Trump's. His version is sheer make-believe.
But back to the GOP scheme to steal the election.
First, it's clear that even Trump understands that he has virtually no chance of winning the national popular vote. He's been polling in the low 40s, with no sign of change. To have any chance of prevailing in the Electoral College, he's got to do the electoral equivalent of drawing to an inside straight all over again—winning a half-dozen so-called battleground states where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.
At this writing, that looks highly unlikely. The latest polling in must-win Pennsylvania, for example, shows Trump trailing Joe Biden by nine points. That's a landslide. Trump's down ten in Wisconsin, eight in Michigan. And so on.
So spare me the screeching emails in ALL CAPS, OK? Polls were actually quite accurate in 2016. Trump narrowly defeated the odds. It can happen. But he's in far worse shape this time. Furthermore, early voting turnout is very high, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans two to one.
Hence, The Atlantic reports, "Trump's state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states."
The plan is clear. Because more Democrats than Republicans are choosing mail-in voting during the COVID pandemic, Trump hopes to prevent those ballots from being counted. Assuming he'll have a narrow "swing state" lead on election night, he'll declare victory and start filing lawsuits. "The red mirage," some Democrats call it.
"As a result," Toobin writes, "the aftermath of the 2020 election has the potential to make 2000 look like a mere skirmish." With Trump in the White House urging armed militias to take to the street.
Mail-in votes take a long time to count. Things could definitely get crazy.
True, but filing a lawsuit to halt a Florida recount was one thing. Filing suits against a half dozen states to prevent votes from being counted at all is quite another. Public reaction would be strong. Also, winning such lawsuits requires serious evidence of fraud. Trumpian bluster ain't evidence.
The Atlantic reports that GOP-controlled state legislatures are thinking about sending Trumpist delegations to the Electoral College regardless of the popular vote winner—theoretically constitutional but currently illegal.
Fat chance. If that's the best they've got, they've got nothing.
Anyway, here's the answer: Vote early, and in person*.

[Editor's note: In some states, receiving an absentee ballot means that a voter can no longer vote in person* or may have to surrender the absentee ballot, including the envelope in which it arrived, at their polling place. Please check with your local election authorities.]