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If Campaign 2020 Becomes A War Between Cults, Trump Will Win

So here’s my fearless prediction for the 2020 presidential election: to borrow a Grateful Dead lyric, it’s bound to be a long, strange trip. No way it resembles a “normal” election year, whatever that would be. 

Unremoved but very far from being exonerated, President Trump isn’t going down without a wild spectacle. That much is sure.

Indeed, he may not go down at all. 

Otherwise, the national experience of Trump’s presidency resembles that of a family dealing with a mentally ill relative. Nobody can possibly imagine what mad follies may come next. Only that nobody could have predicted them. Over time, crazy people just wear everybody down.

It’s easier sometimes to just let them have their way.

Might Trump push out Mike Pence and make daughter Ivanka his running mate? Bomb Tehran? Have Hunter and/or Joe Biden arrested?

Crazy, yes. Impossible? Not at all.

Imagination fails. None of those things would be terribly surprising.

Meanwhile, Trump’s Democratic opponents, collectively speaking, inspire limited confidence. Moreover, as long as the U.S. economy, stimulated by runaway deficit spending of a kind Republicans pretend to abhor when Democrats are in power—Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin again predicts that Trump’s tax cuts will pay for themselves despite record trillion dollar deficits—swing state voters could opt for the devil they know. 

After all, Trump’s nothing if he’s not entertaining. There appears to be nothing he can do, no lie so brazen it offends his cultlike supporters.

Thus, while there appears to be little chance of Trump winning a national majority, the GOP’s Electoral College advantage makes his re-election entirely possible.

So why am I seeing headlines like this one, in Newsweek? “ONLY 53% OF BERNIE SANDERS VOTERS WILL DEFINITELY SUPPORT 2020 DEMOCRATIC NOMINEE IF HE DOESN’T WIN.” According to a recent Emerson College poll of 1,128 registered voters just over half of Sanders supporters say they’ll definitely vote for any Democrat against Trump. (The equivalent numbers for Biden supporters is 87 percent; for Elizabeth Warren’s, it’s 90 percent.)

This despite Bernie’s forthright vow at a recent Iowa debate that should any of his Democratic rivals win the nomination, “I will do everything in my power to make sure that they are elected in order to defeat the most dangerous president in the history of our country.”

Of course that’s not how Bernie acted in 2016, when his support for Hillary Clinton was both grudging and late in coming. But then, like most Democrats, he probably thought there was no chance of Trump’s winning the presidency.

So Sanders probably needs to double down on that vow if he really means it. Because a significant proportion of his followers appear disinclined to accept certain basic facts about American politics, specifically, as Ezra Klein recently explained in the New York Times “only half of Democrats call themselves liberals—and for Democrats, that’s a historically high level.”

Much less as radicals, or to use Bernie’s preferred term, people seeking a “revolution.” Many describe themselves as “moderate” or even “conservative,” by which they mostly mean in their cultural and lifestyle orientation.  

Securing the Democratic nomination therefore requires, Klein explains, “winning liberal whites in New Hampshire and traditionalist blacks in South Carolina. It means talking to Irish Catholics in Boston and atheists in San Francisco. It means inspiring liberals without arousing the fears of moderates.”

To say nothing of winning the presidency. To put it another way, there just aren’t a whole lot of revolutionaries in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin or Minnesota—states whose electoral votes could decide the November election. Bernie-style leftists predicted disaster during the 2018 congressional season; instead, mostly moderate Democrats took over the House.

So it’s distressing to read in the Washington Post about Sanders activists resorting to Russian-style Facebook smears against Sen. Warren. “Already, the pro-Sanders crusade has spawned groups calling for protests at the party’s national convention in July should Sanders not emerge as the nominee. #BernieOrVest is their rallying cry, echoing the Yellow Vest demonstrations that have roiled France.”

Yes, because Milwaukee, where convention will be held, is exactly like Paris. 

Now me, I disliked a lot about the Sixties the first time around. Historian Rick Perlstein’s book Nixonland brilliantly depicts how the excesses of self-dramatizing “radicals” back then—Bernie Sanders among them—led to a right-wing backlash that’s still very much with us.

Or as one-time Sixties leftist John R. Judis put it in a recent essay, “[t]he ’60s left’s rebellion increasingly took a religious rather than a political form. It consisted of establishing one’s moral credibility and superiority in the face of evil.”

Did you know that Bernie once wrote crackpot columns blaming cervical cancer on women not having orgasms? That he joined a political party taking Iran’s side during the 1979-80 hostage crisis? That he honeymooned in the Soviet Union? There’s video.

Should he secure the Democratic nomination, you will.

It’s that or the Yellow Vests.

Your call. 

Don’t Ban Fracking — Pass A Carbon Tax Instead

The Trump administration’s formal notification that it will abandon the Paris climate agreement should be treated as a huge in-kind contribution to the Democratic Party. It’s an emphatic message to anyone who cares about the planet: Do not, under any circumstance, vote Republican in 2020.

The Democrats running for president could not be more starkly opposed to Donald Trump. He mocks climate change as a hoax, wants to dig coal until West Virginia is just a vast cavity in the ground, and thinks the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge should be a safe space for oil rigs. The Democrats recognize scientific reality, favor the Paris climate accord and are committed to curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

Some of the candidates, unfortunately, are enamored of the old command-and-control approach to environmental protection: forbidding this and requiring that. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris support a ban on fracking, a method that has greatly increased U.S. oil and gas production. Almost all the candidates would end new oil and gas leases on federal lands. Raising vehicle fuel economy standards and setting a deadline for all vehicles to achieve zero emissions are common ideas.

These proposals all suffer from the same flaw: dictating purported solutions from on high, with little regard for side effects, instead of devising incentives for creative, inexpensive remedies. This approach guarantees that the cost will be higher than necessary and results worse.

It appeals to politicians, though, because it allows the illusion that major progress can be made without any sacrifice by voters, except maybe those who frack for a living. The assumption is that if people realize environmental improvement is not cost-free, they will run screaming from the room.

That theory has prevailed for decades. So I am startled but pleased to discover that this year, many Democratic candidates have decided to treat voters as intelligent people who can be persuaded to embrace optimal remedies.

The best of all is a carbon tax, which would raise the price of different fossil fuels to reflect the harm they do. Among the candidates who favor it are Sanders, Warren and Harris, as well as Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Julian Castro.

It would advance these purposes without draconian regulations, inflexible bans or cumbersome bureaucracy. The money collected could be rebated to every American — yielding a net tax increase of zero.

This represents a major shift. Even Barack Obama saw no way to sell it. His first energy secretary, Steven Chu, told Obama in 2012 that a carbon tax would be the ideal way to attack the problem. “It’s not gonna happen,” the president replied.

In 2015, Obama conceded publicly that it would be “the most elegant way to drive innovation and to reduce carbon emissions.” But he was not so masochistic as to try to get it through a Congress controlled by Republicans who wouldn’t admit the ocean was rising if it were lapping at their chins.

A carbon tax would stimulate good choices rather than force them, giving an advantage to those that are most cost-effective. It would discourage coal use, aid electric vehicles, foster conservation and boost renewable sources of energy. It would end fracking eventually rather than immediately, easing the journey to a low-emission future.

Asking economists if they favor the idea is akin to asking loggers if they like chainsaws. In January, an ad published in The Wall Street Journal endorsing a carbon tax boasted the signatures of 3,554 U.S. economists (“the largest public statement of economists in history”). Among them were 27 Nobel Laureates and 15 former heads of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, from Republican and Democratic administrations.

Contrast that with, say, a prompt ban on fracking, which would minimize flexibility and maximize pain. It would devastate an industry, sharply increase the price of oil, provide a windfall to Saudi Arabia and Russia and disrupt the transition away from coal-fired electricity.

“It would be a humongous shock to the global market and affect economies around the world,” Sam Ori, executive director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, told me. “But you wouldn’t do much to reduce emissions.”

Reducing emissions is the highest priority, to be achieved in the most efficient and least painful way. Democrats may be coming around to the realization that for most voters, a carbon tax is not nearly as scary as climate change.

Like The Kentucky Derby: Democrats Face A Stampede, Not A Horse Race

Regarding “horse race” coverage of presidential primaries, the current Democratic contest quite resembles the Kentucky Derby. Coming out of the starting gate, there are at least twice as many entries as there ought to be. The majority have no realistic chance.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio? Crackpot new age guru Marianne Williamson? Former tech executive Andrew Yang? I could go on. All such long-shot, 500 to 1, vanity candidates can do is make a cluttered, potentially dangerous mess of things. Rather like this year’s actual Kentucky Derby, I suppose—more stampede than horse race.

Meanwhile, former Vice President Joe Biden appears to be leading the field heading into the first turn. Which most often means he’ll fade in the stretch. Wire-to-wire winners are rare in presidential primaries. The most recent was Hillary Clinton, hardly an inspiring example. Many Democrats have their money on Biden largely because everybody knows his name, and he’s personally popular. Never mind that he’s something like 103 years old.

OK, that’s an exaggeration. Since the majority of Americans dislike Donald Trump, many Democrats think Biden’s the best bet to win next year, when his real age will be 78. Too old to be president, in my view as his marginally younger contemporary. And far too old for the even more exhausting job of campaigning. That applies to Uncle Bernie too, who’s a year older. For that matter, Trump himself is showing signs of wear.

But I digress. Democrats being Democrats, it’s considered discriminatory—the cant term is “ageist”—to mention the candidate’s advanced years. So instead, they decided to bicker about race, a topic that brings out the worst in almost everybody.

Joe Biden, see, was a U.S. Senator back in the 1970s, when Deep South segregationists, all Democrats, walked the earth and ran all the important committees. You wanted to get anything through Congress, you had to deal with them. Rattling on in his loosey-goosey way at a fund-raiser, Biden explained how the experience of working with odious specimens like Senators James O. Eastland (D-MS) and Herman Talmadge (D-GA) made him confident he could bargain with Trumpist Republicans.

Biden described his deep philosophical differences with the two, affecting a deep Southern drawl (rarely a good idea), and calling Talmadge “one of the meanest guys I ever knew.” He added that Eastland “never called me ‘boy,’ he always called me ‘son.’ ”

Most people would call Eastland’s language patronizing, but short of offensive, which seemed to be Biden’s meaning. He certainly wasn’t bragging about “white privilege.”

“Well, guess what?” he continued. “At least there was some civility. We got things done. We didn’t agree on much of anything. We got things done…But today you look at the other side and you’re the enemy. Not the opposition, the enemy. We don’t talk to each other anymore.”

Two of Biden’s more estimable rivals sensed a potential opening. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker announced himself hurt by the former vice-president’s flippant use of racist language and called for an apology. Biden then demanded a counter-apology for doubting his motives. Lame on lame.

See, I quite doubt anybody’s called Cory Booker “boy” since he turned twelve. He grew up a football star in a comfortable New Jersey suburb, played at Stanford, and became a Rhodes Scholar.

The first time he ran for mayor of Newark, incumbent Sharpe James called Booker a “faggoty white boy,” and accused him of “collaborating with the Jews to take over Newark.” In 2012, he became a folk hero by running into a burning apartment building to carry a neighbor to safety. Fire officials said he could have been killed.

So I think Booker’s not somebody whose feelings are easily hurt.

Ditto California Sen. Kamala Harris, whose parentage is Indian and Jamaican. She objected to segregationists being referenced positively at all. If Talmadge and Eastland had their way, she observed, she could never have become a U.S. Senator. True, although they couldn’t prevent African-American Sen. Edward Brooke (R-MA) from serving even then.

Harris spoke feelingly about seeing her mother, a medical researcher, treated “like she was a substandard person” by people who assumed “she was somebody’s housekeeper…based on how she looks.”

Painful, I’m sure. Unless your own mother was a housekeeper.

Anyway, it’s nothing to do with Joe Biden. “I don’t think his remarks are offensive,” said legendary civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-GA). “During the height of the civil rights movement we worked with people and got to know people that were members of the Klan.  We never gave up on our fellow human beings.”

This can’t be news to black voters in South Carolina, most of whom attending Rep. Jim Clyburn’s annual political fish fry told Daily Beast reporter Hanna Trudo they regarded the whole thing as media nonsense. As a preacher she interviewed told her: “If you give the devil a ride, he will drive.”

IMAGE: Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) addresses the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Legislative Conference and Presidential Forum in Washington March 9, 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Why Centrist Democrats Disdain Bernie Sanders — And Prefer Elizabeth Warren

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

While former Vice President Joe Biden remains the frontrunner in many polls on the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont can often be found in second place — and the Vermont senator and self-described “democratic socialist” raised an impressive $18 million during the first quarter of his campaign. If Sanders were to win the Democratic nomination and defeat President Donald Trump in the general election, he would be the most liberal/progressive president the U.S. has had since Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960s. But some centrist Democrats fear that Sanders is unelectable, as a new report in The Guardian details with a review of the “anyone-but-Bernie” movement.

The Guardian’s Lauren Gambino reports that on June 18, the centrist think tank Third Way held an event in South Carolina — where about 250 people were in attendance and Third Way members expressed fears that Sanders would win the primary but lose to Trump in the general election.

Jon Cowan, president of Third Way, told the crowd, “I believe a gay midwestern mayor can beat Trump. I believe an African-American senator can beat Trump. I believe a western governor, a female senator, a member of Congress, a Latino Texan or a former vice-president can beat Trump. But I don’t believe a self-described democratic socialist can win.”

Cowan, in an interview with the Guardian, expressed his worries about Sanders’ influence on the Democratic Party, asserting, “He has made it his mission to either get the nomination or to remake the party in his image as a democratic socialist. That is an existential threat to the future of the Democratic Party for the next generation.”

Sanders was quick to respond to the June 18 event. The following day on Twitter, he denounced the anyone-but-Bernie movement as the work of “the corporate wing of the Democratic Party.”

The anyone-but-Bernie movement raises an interesting question: what about Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic presidential candidate who shares many of Sanders’ liberal/progressive views and has been surging in recent polls? Why would Third Way be so hostile to Sanders but not to Warren? Arguably, it comes down to messaging.

Warren, unlike Sanders, has rejected the term “democratic socialist.” The Massachusetts senator has declared that she favors “markets” and is a “capitalist to my bones”; Warren has positioned herself as a blistering critic of crony capitalism but not of capitalism itself. If anything, Warren is — not unlike President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930s — promoting herself as a savior of capitalism, not an opponent.

On Twitter, Sanders shared a June 19 Politico report on Warren’s relationship with Third Way, which was highly critical of her in the past but in 2019, likes the fact that she stresses her capitalist credentials. At the Third Way event in South Carolina, Matt Bennett (the group’s co-founder) compared Sanders and Warren and stressed, “One is a Democratic capitalist narrative. The other is a socialist narrative.”

Truth be told, Sanders is really a capitalist — and the “socialism” that he favors draws its inspiration from FDR’s New Deal, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society and the modern-day governments of Sweden, Denmark and Norway rather than Che Guevara or Mao Tse Tung. But in a soundbite culture like the United States, some people can’t get past the fact that Sanders is using the word “socialist” at all. And Trump is certainly using the word to bash Democrats and terrorize voters, claiming that only Republicans can save the U.S. from the type of severe economic problems Venezuela has been suffering under President Nicolas Maduro.

Despite all the Sanders-bashing at the South Carolina event, Cowan also warned the crowd against Democrats promoting a message of “warmed-over 1990s centrism” —declaring, “Voters do not want mushy, bland, empty Democratic centrism.”

Whether the Democratic Party will ultimately nominate Biden or another centrist for the 2020 election or go with someone more liberal/progressive remains to be seen. Sanders might win the nomination regardless of what Third Way thinks. But as the primary moves along, the anyone-but-Bernie voices in the Democratic Party will be no doubt be railing against him — and urging fellow Democrats to please refrain from calling themselves “socialists.”

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) waves at the BlueGreen Alliance Foundation’s Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference in Washington. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo