Would Everyone Please Shut Up for 48 hours?

It’s language I try not to use, but would everyone please shut up for a while?

How about two days? That’s not too much to ask, is it?

The accusations and finger-pointing are getting out of hand. And tiring. And depressing. And divisive.

Maybe the cable TV folks could do something to change the tone of our national discussion by showing only animal videos for a couple of days. Or maybe cooking shows.

How about temporarily canceling CNN and MSNBC panels about how crazy Donald Trump is and what a puppet of Vladimir Putin he is? (Not that both things couldn’t be true.)

Maybe both networks could report some news — about something other than the Trump administration. BBC says there’s news about Brexit. And I’m betting something is happening in South America and India that is worth my attention.

As for Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Lou Dobbs and Laura Ingraham, maybe they could tape their mouths shut for 48 hours. That would both improve the content of their programs and make them look less foolish defending Trump’s ridiculous statements and ill-advised foreign policy decisions.

Oh, and Adam Schiff, could you please take a couple of days off and go to a beach in the Caribbean, promising not to utter a word in English during your trip?

I’d appreciate it if Hillary Clinton and Tulsi Gabbard could stop some of the unbecoming bickering for a couple of days. Hillary, what the hell were you thinking? And of course, Tulsi couldn’t resist ratcheting up the rhetoric by firing back at Clinton.

The result was a wholly unnecessary fight that served nobody’s interest — except the opponents of democracy and civility. Now, who could that be?

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said there was a quid pro quo regarding Ukraine before he said that there was no quid pro quo.

By the way, do we all need to start learning Latin to understand cable television shows? Will the next CNN interview go something like this?

Erin Burnett: Welcome, Mr. Mulvaney. Quid pro quo?

Mulvaney: Yes, quo. No quo. Quid pro quo.

Burnett: Carpe diem.

Mulvaney: Et tu, Brute?

Burnett: In vino veritas.

Mulvaney: Nil desperandum.

Burnett: Caveat emptor. And thank you, Mr. Mulvaney.

I’m pretty certain I can’t get 48 hours, but could we please have one full day when any time a reporter mentions the Kurds, he or she also has to mention “whey”? At least that might make me laugh.

I know, the slaughter of the Syrian Kurds is nothing to laugh or joke about. It’s terrible. How dare I make light of something so horrible.

Excuse me, but could you lighten up for 24 hours? Instead of being offended by everything, talk about baseball, the beautiful fall weather, pumpkin pie or even HBO’s “Succession,” a really smart (and often funny) television show featuring a lead character who is a billionaire megalomaniac and narcissist with a corrupt family that runs a major media company.

I’d really like it if Trump could stop telling untruths for 48 hours — even if that means he has to do something to make sure he doesn’t move his lips for two whole days.

I know it’s unreasonable to ask the president to clean up his language and try to tell the truth for TWO WHOLE DAYS!!!!!

That would be quite a challenge for anyone with such an extreme personality disorder, especially a narcissist who thinks everything in the universe revolves around him.

But try, Donald, please.

Maybe you could play board games with your children. Or revitalize the State Department. Or get some therapy.

I’d appreciate it if I could get a day or two without Rudy Giuliani. Just because, well, if you’ve seen Rudy recently, you know why.

I could almost wax poetic about HUD Secretary Ben Carson, who knows so little about his own department and is so busy keeping his head down that he has gone mute.

Thank you, Ben, wherever you are and whatever you are doing (probably picking out more new furniture for your office).

A little more than a year ago, during the final week of September 2018, I wrote a column titled “I’m just tired of it all.” And I was.

Trump’s presidency was draining and debilitating, full of mean-spirited accusations, name-calling and controversy.

But here’s the problem: Things have only gotten worse since then. I’m more “tired of it all” a year later — tired of the daily controversies and the president’s outlandish tweets.

I didn’t think that was even possible.

Each morning I get out of bed knowing that the new day will only be worse than the day before. More chaos. More lies. More chatter in the media. More cable news panels with people saying the same things they said the day before.

More lunacy from the president of the United States who — whether at campaign rallies, press conferences or Q&A’s with the media as he’s leaving the White House — seems unable to put two coherent sentences together. More wins for Russia and Putin.

But no matter Trump’s shortcomings (and they are many), my request for a national timeout isn’t partisan. Both sides could use one, as could the country. And a bourbon. Or two. Just give me a couple of days to recover.

Then you can all return to the chatter, chaos, mind-numbing arguments, “what about” retorts and sometimes vulgar, belittling and demeaning attacks and counterattacks.


Note: This column appeared initially in Roll Call on October 22, 2019.

Will Trump Go Negative? Just Kidding …

There is no need to speculate about President Donald Trump’s strategy for reelection. He plans to — and needs to — destroy his general election opponent.

That’s the only way an incumbent president with a job approval rating in the low 40s and sitting at 40 percent in hypothetical ballot tests can possibly win.

Trump loves the combat and the name-calling. It wouldn’t matter if the Democrats nominated Mother Teresa (were she still alive). Trump would mock her, give her a demeaning nickname, portray her as selfish and self-centered, and brand her a phony. That’s what Trump does.

But don’t take my word for it. It was his wife, Melania Trump, who told a crowd in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in April 2016, “As you may know by now, when you attack him, he will punch back 10 times harder. No matter who you are, a man or a woman, he treats everyone equal.”

“Equal,” as in equally nasty.

Politics can be a rough game. I get it. I’ve been covering campaigns for the last 40 years. No, politics ain’t beanbag.

But in the old days, political dirt was shoveled under cover of darkness, circulated by whispering campaigns or anonymous handouts left on car windshields on Sunday mornings.

Trump has taken negativity to a new level.

He delivers the attacks himself, often during rallies or press events. So whether the Democrats nominate Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, Steve Bullock, John Delaney or someone else, you can be sure that Trump and his allies will run the same slash-and-burn campaign they did in 2016.

Something on everyone

There are no flawless candidates this year or any year. Democrats shouldn’t be looking for one.

Obviously, some Democrats are carrying more baggage than others.

Sanders’ embrace of socialism, for example, may earn him points for being frank, but it’s a considerable liability in a general election.

Biden’s son Hunter’s membership on the board of a Ukrainian energy company is also a liability for his father, though not one so serious that it would define the former vice president’s candidacy.

We don’t now know what opposition research Trump has on each of the Democratic candidates, but Democrats would be wise to assume he has something on everyone — and if he doesn’t, he’ll just make something up, as he has done in the past.

He is, after all, trying to muddy the waters so that he wins a chunk of voters who don’t like him but dislike his opponent even more.

Remember, Trump won the 2016 election even though he had worse ratings that Hillary Clinton, according to that year’s exit poll.

Forty-three percent of voters had a favorable opinion of Clinton, compared to 55 percent who saw her unfavorably. Trump’s rating was measurably worse at 38 percent favorable and 60 percent unfavorable.

A solid 55 percent of respondents said Clinton had the right temperament to be president, while only 35 percent said the same of Trump. And while 52 percent of those polled said Clinton was “qualified to serve as president,” only 38 percent said Trump was qualified.

Clinton even bested Trump, albeit very narrowly, when it came to honesty and trustworthiness. Only one in three respondents said Trump was “honest and trustworthy,” while 36 percent said that that description applied to Clinton, who was carrying years of political baggage.

Given all of those numbers, Clinton should have won the election comfortably. But she didn’t, in part because many voters didn’t trust her, eight years of Barack Obama produced an anti-Democratic fatigue, and a slice of voters were so frustrated with unfulfilled promises that they took a flier on an outsider they hoped could change the trajectory of the country in a positive way.

Even if many voters had doubts about Trump — even if it was a gamble to vote for someone unqualified and with the wrong temperament — wasn’t it worth the risk, given the alternative?

Four years later

Trump’s problem is that the rhetorical question he asked of black voters in 2016 — “What do you have to lose?” — now has a different answer for many voters (regardless of race) than it did four years ago.

He will continue to run against the establishment, the Deep State, the national media, Obama, Clinton and his eventual Democratic opponent. But unlike 2016, when voters could vote for Trump in the hope that he would become “more presidential” and would “grow” into the office, those voters now see that the exact opposite has occurred.

And while millions of Americans who still support the president may like his political incorrectness and the chaos he produces on a daily basis, some of those 2016 supporters won’t want to stomach another four years of disarray and insanity. It is simply too fatiguing.

So the president has no option but to drive his opponent’s negatives higher. That means attacks on his or her character, judgment, health, integrity, intellect, family members, friends, business associates and personal behavior.

And yes, Trump will brand him or her a socialist who wants open borders and gun confiscation, and who supports closing all houses of worship, destroying the U.S. military, bankrupting the country and letting rapists and murderers run free.

And he’ll probably do all that before the end of September. Just imagine what the last month before Election Day will be like.

Note: This column appeared initially in Roll Call on October 15, 2019.

What Happened to Kamala Harris?

When this year began, I expected California Sen. Kamala Harris to be in the middle of the fight for the Democratic presidential nomination. But now, after months of campaigning and three nationally televised debates, Harris finds herself sitting in the second tier as she reorganizes her campaign and revamps her strategy.

Harris’s failure to launch has caused me to think about what went wrong and whether she will have a second chance to make a first impression.

Did those of us who expected her to be a formidable contender merely exaggerate this potential appeal, or did she fail to capitalize on her assets?

The California Democrat’s advantages were (and are) many. She’s a woman of color in a party where women and people of color are large and powerful constituencies.

Attractive, personable and well-spoken, she smiles easily and seems hip enough to appeal to younger voters. Turning 55 years of age later this month, Harris looks and sounds mature but is in her prime, far better positioning than the party’s front-running septuagenarians, each of whom seems a relatively weak contrast to President Donald Trump, who will turn 74 next June.

The calendar also looked like an asset, with South Carolina — home to a large number of African-American Democrats — an early test in February and the California primary following in early March.

Finally, her background as a former state attorney general seemed to be a general election asset, since it inoculates her against the inevitable GOP attacks that Democrats are “soft” on crime and generally weak.

Of course, Harris did have a moment over the summer when she seemed to take off.

After she confronted then-front-runner Joe Biden in the first debate, Harris’s poll numbers shot up.

A June 28-July 1 Quinnipiac poll found her in second place, trailing the former vice president by just two points, 22 percent to 20 percent. A June 28-30 CNN survey also found her second, with 17 percent to Biden’s 22 percent.

Harris started losing steam about a week later, but a July 7-9 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll still found her in the double-digits, at 13 percent.

That put her tied for third with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, while Biden (26 percent) and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (19 percent) led the field.

Since then, Harris has slipped in national polls, dropping her back to the single digits, generally drawing between 5 percent and 8 percent of the vote.

The RealClearPolitics average now has her under 5 percent and trailing former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Harris raised $11.6 million last quarter, a decent amount. But her haul was less than half of Sanders’s and Warren’s, and well below Buttigieg’s and Biden’s.

What happened? To find an answer (or answers), I turned to a number of veteran Democratic campaign consultants and strategists.

To be fair, as one strategist reminded me, Harris’s inability to show great movement in the national polls doesn’t make her unique.

Few hopefuls in the large field have moved much, which may tell us some things about the dynamics of a crowded contest. Still, Warren has shown movement — from the single digits in May to the 20s now — proving that movement, while difficult, was possible.

Many observers asserted that Harris’s message has been muddled. “What is Harris’s message? She doesn’t know why she is running,” argued one Democratic insider.

That view seemed to echo a comment from former Democratic pollster Diane Feldman on her website (viewfromthepearl.com) that Biden and Warren “are the two candidates who have presented the clearest rationales for their candidacy.”

Others argue that Harris, for all her smiling and “coolness,” isn’t very authentic.

Her attack on Biden in the first debate rubbed some the wrong way, and Maya Rudolph’s impression of the California Democrat on Saturday Night Live’s September 28th show suggested the senator was more Hollywood than Main Street.

Harris was clearly hurt by her performance in the second set of debates, at the end of July.

She took incoming fire early in the debate from Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who criticized Harris’ record as prosecutor, arguing “when you were in a position to make a difference and an impact in people’s lives, you did not and worse yet in the case of those who are on death row, innocent people, you actually blocked evidence from being revealed that would have freed them until you were forced to do so. There’s no excuse for that and the people who suffered under your reign as prosecutor — you owe them an apology.”

The attack seemed to catch Harris by surprise, and she never recovered. Polls quickly showed her sliding back to the single digits in national polls.

The California Democrat undoubtedly is suffering from her inability to attract black voters, who continue to support the former vice president (and didn’t like Harris’s attack on Biden in the first debate).

If she can’t attract blacks, wonder some Democratic strategists, how is she going to build momentum? And if she doesn’t show greater strength among whites, why would black voters see her as a viable alternative to Biden, the way they did Barack Obama after he proved his appeal in the 2008 Iowa caucuses?

Is Harris now toast, or will she get another look from Democratic voters?

It’s still “only” October, and the Iowa caucuses are almost four months away. Given that, and because of lingering questions about the top three in the Democratic contest — Biden, Warren and Sanders — I’m not ready to declare Harris’s quest over.

But it’s unclear whether she can compete in either the populist or the electability lane unless Warren or Biden stumble and offer an opening to her or someone else.

Most observers seem skeptical she can reboot her campaign. As one told me, “With so many options, you don’t get a whole lot of chances. If Biden were to falter, Mayor Pete would likely get a second look before Harris.”

Harris’s current standing in the race proves one thing: Checking the right demographic boxes may not be enough to make it into the Democratic presidential finals. The voters want more. We’ll see if Harris has more to give.

Note: This column appeared initially in Roll Call on October 8, 2019.

Beware Confirmation Bias with the 2020 Presidential Race

“The next debate is do or die for many Democratic hopefuls.”

Andrew Yang “is on fire.”

Elizabeth Warren is “surging.”

“It’s a three-way race.”

I’m betting you can think of a long list of other things you’ve heard on television or read in print to explain what is going on in the presidential race. Many of them will need to be revised eventually.

I’ve written often over the years — and even this cycle — that you shouldn’t believe the hype, so I don’t need to warn you about that again, right?

Just remember that people in the media covering elections invariably (with important exceptions) have an interest in showing “movement” and “change” — and they want to be the first to identify a trend and offer predictions — so tone down most of what they say.

Instead, I’ll merely look at where the Democrats stand now and how the president looks as he runs for another term.

And then there were …

One of the front-runners – former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — may well win the Democratic nomination, but it is still far too early to declare everyone else out of contention.

What’s the rush to label the Democratic race a three-person contest?

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar had strong third-debate performances, and California Sen. Kamala Harris and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg have top-tier qualities that could help them emerge from the crowd, depending how the three front-runners perform in the months ahead.

Just as important, the Democrats’ top tier is, well, fragile.

Sanders received almost half of the Democratic primary vote in 2016 but is now stuck in the mid-teens, largely confirming the assessment of many party strategists that he won’t have the same appeal the second time around, particularly given the very different field.

He still affects the race, of course, because he shares his populist rhetoric and agenda with Warren.

Warren has had three pretty good debates, and slowly but surely, she has gained some ground in the imaginary Democratic national primary since she kicked off her campaign.

But she’ll need to demonstrate even broader appeal and prove that she can dodge the obvious Republican assault that she is too far left to win a general election. The stronger she looks, the more scrutiny she will receive.

Biden is the pick of many Democrats looking for a safe choice against President Donald Trump, but his performance has been inconsistent (including in the last debate) and plays to those who see him as part of the party’s past, not its future.

His supporters must hold their breath every time he answers a question. To be sure, it’s possible that grassroots Democrats will simply overlook his verbal stumbles, just as GOP voters gave George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush passes when they were sloppy with their language.

It’s simply too early to know, but Biden will be put to the test many more times in debates and on the stump.

The former vice president’s reliance on the support of the African American community is a red flag, given the presence of two well-credentialed black candidates in the race in Harris and Booker.

Should Biden lose a chunk of that support, his campaign would be in serious trouble. Hillary Clinton had excellent support in the black community until Barack Obama won the Iowa caucuses in 2008, for instance.

In spite of the national media’s infatuation with long-shot hopefuls, it seems unlikely that businessman Andrew Yang, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard are going anywhere in the race.

Businessman Tom Steyer is both very wealthy and very annoying. Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke could break out, I guess, but he still hasn’t established he has any gravitas apart from the gun issue, where he has probably taken his party too far left for general election voters.

So, Democratic voters are likely to take their time sorting through the very large field as they look for someone they like, someone who has their values and views, and someone who is likely to defeat Trump.

Iowa, the first real test of campaign organization and candidate appeal, is still months away.

Mr. Unpopularity

As for Trump, his national poll numbers from highly regarded pollsters remain stunningly bad. His job approval continues to sit in the 40 percent to 44 percent range, and his personal ratings are no better. His “strongly disapprove” job rating is near 50 percent, most polls show, a stunning number for someone presiding over a healthy economy with low unemployment and wage growth.

Hypothetical ballot tests show Trump trailing the top-tier Democrats most likely to be their party’s nominee.

A majority of Americans seem to have decided they don’t like Trump and they don’t like what he has done to the country.

That’s disastrous for a president who was elected almost three years ago and who dominates the news almost daily.

Trump will need to demonize the eventual Democratic nominee, making him or her unacceptable — which guarantees a scorched earth reelection campaign by the GOP and additional risk of an anti-Trump backlash.

The polling we need

But the most astonishing thing so far about the coverage of the 2020 race is the lack of major media polling in the handful of key states that are likely to decide the election.

Do we really need another national poll that shows how unpopular the president is or that the national Democratic race is stagnant?

What we should be getting from the major media are high-quality surveys in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina, Florida and Georgia. What we have seen from those key states is very limited polling that shows Biden (and normally Sanders) significantly ahead of Trump — again, not where an incumbent would want to be at this point in the election cycle.

However, the one truth we can count on is that we don’t know what lies ahead — not in the Democratic contest and not in the general election.

Note: This column appeared initially in Roll Call on September 17, 2019.

Why Working-class Whites Aren’t Giving Up on Trump

“In some countries working-class groups have proved to be the most nationalistic and jingoistic sector of the population,” wrote the highly esteemed sociologist and political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset — 60 years ago last month.

In his seminal article “Democracy and Working-Class Authoritarianism,” which appeared in the August 1959 issue of the American Sociological Review, Lipset observed that many in the working class were “in the forefront of the struggle against equal rights for minority groups, and have sought to limit immigration or to impose racial standards in countries with open immigration.”

“The social situation of the lower strata, particularly in poorer countries with low levels of education,” he argued, “predisposes them to view politics in simplistic and chiliastic terms of black and white, good and evil. Consequently, other things being equal, they should be more likely than other strata to prefer extremist movements which suggest easy and quick solutions to social problems and have a rigid outlook rather than those which view the problem of reform or change in complex and gradualist terms and which support rational values of tolerance.”

Lipset’s analysis in that article, which I discovered after reading Jordan Michael Smith’s piece “Who Are Trump’s Supporters” in Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, obviously resonates today, both internationally (with the rise of populism in Europe) and in Donald Trump’s America.

Trump’s comments and tweets that “trade wars are good and easy to win,” that Mexico will “pay for the wall,” and that he knows more about ISIS “than the generals do” are just a few examples of his simplistic messages that have resonated with white working-class voters.

When he said during his 2016 Republican National Convention speech in Cleveland that, “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it,” Trump was echoing other authoritarians, who, like him, tore up treaties, portrayed previous leaders as incompetent or worse, and undermined long-established institutions, including the independent press. Only he, said Trump, could save the country.

The behavior of white, working-class Americans in 2016 and since has seemingly confirmed Lipset’s assessment. This demographic has embraced Trump’s authoritarian style, his criticism of key institutions and his culturally conservative agenda, including on abortion, immigration and gay rights.

Trump’s rallies, with cheers of “Lock her up” and threats to the media, are hardly a testament to tolerance.

Culture wars

Cultural issues remain a major part of our national political debate, and they were a major reason why Trump won the White House in 2016, which must surprise veteran analyst Ruy Teixeira, a thoughtful observer of American politics.

A decade ago, in his July 15, 2009 article “The Coming End of the Culture Wars,” Teixeira announced that the so-called culture wars, “far from coming back (after the Obama presidency) are likely coming to an end as a defining aspect of our politics.”

The issues around which the war was waged — women’s issues, gay rights, abortion and immigration — allegedly were fading into obscurity as younger, more tolerant voters were replacing socially conservative white working-class voters in the electorate.

“Ongoing demographic shifts have seriously eroded the mass base for culture wars politics and will continue to erode this base in the future,” he wrote, adding that “the advantage conservatives can gain from culture wars politics will steadily diminish and, consequently, so will conservatives’ incentive to engage in such politics.”

Teixeira, like many of us (myself included), got the trend right but the timing very wrong.

Yes, generational change has changed the makeup of the electorate and lessened the importance of white voters without a college degree, who have been declining as a proportion of the electorate.

But that didn’t mean that those voters couldn’t join in 2016 with others — including suburban college-educated whites, evangelicals and rural voters — to elect Donald Trump.

In fact, Trump beat Hillary Clinton among whites with a college degree (48 percent to 45 percent), and he and Clinton evenly split (47 percent each) respondents with an income of at least $100,000 a year.

But he carried Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, in part, because he added working-class white voters without a college degree to a Republican coalition that included swing voters.

Still a force

Teixeira’s biggest mistake was in thinking that conservatives would give up the fight on cultural issues.

Not only did they not give up, they doubled down on their resistance to change. And at a time of dissatisfaction with politics and politicians, they found a champion who told them what they wanted to hear.

The cultural and economic divisions that Lipset found 60 years ago are still very apparent today. Democratic appeals to woo downscale white voters back to the party of Franklin Roosevelt on issues like minimum wage, jobs, and economic fairness and equality have had limited success because those voters continue to respond to cultural issues — and candidates with authoritarian styles and simplistic messages.

It’s no wonder that white, working-class Americans are still in the president’s corner — and why, unless a strong economic downturn refocuses their attention on economic issues, they will remain devoted fans.

But in the long run — and as long as cultural issues remain a deep divide in the country — it is difficult to see those voters finding a comfortable place in a Democratic Party that places such a high value on tolerance and diversity in general, and on issues like global climate change, women’s rights and racial inequality, in particular.

Note: This column appeared initially in Roll Call on September 10, 2019.