if you’re looking for confirmation bias—and by all accounts, that’s the mode of analysis our president prefers—there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the only thing the Trump administration needs is More Trump.
.. the Trump clones did well. Sure, Corey Stewart and Kris Kobach lost. But Trump can tell himself that Virginia is a Clinton state he doesn’t need and that he couldn’t lose Kansas in 2020 if he tried. In important states—tossups he has to have for reelection—the Trump clones won. In Florida and Georgia, Ron DeSantis and Brian Kemp ran as Mini-Trumps. And not only did these two win, but they beat the kind of young, progressive minority candidates that the Democrats are itching to put up against Trump in two years... Trump skeptics took a thumping. Barbara Comstock, Mia Love, Mike Coffman—all of those uppity conservatives who voted for Trump when they had to, but refused to bend the knee? Gone, gone, and gone. And in case you doubt how crucial this was to the president, he spent several minutes of his postelection press conference naming and shaming the Republican losers who did not sufficiently “embrace”—his word, he used it five times—him... Because, as everyone knows, Carlos Curbelo would have held on to Florida’s 26th District—which is 72 percent Hispanic and 50 percent foreign-born—had he gotten on board with Trump’s plan to sign away birthright citizenship. Cuck got what he deserved... The gains in the Senate are even better. Not only did Republicans add to their number, they did so while subtracting people, such as Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, who never showed the same level of discernment as Beautiful Ted. The result is a bigger, Trumpier majority, which, by extension, will put even more pressure on the one or two remaining Republican senators who have been reluctant to embrace the president... So if, for instance, the president needed the Senate to confirm a judge or a new attorney general, or—and we’re just spitballing here—vote on a trial of impeachment, then Trump is in a much stronger position... for all the talk about how Trumpism is a reaction to leftism and social-justice warriors and political correctness, the truth is that it is principally an intra-party fight... And like the Maoists, the Trumpers aren’t really interested in picking a fight with the other superpower. They’re much more concerned with controlling the near abroad—which is to say, the Republican party. That’s why they tend to focus their hatred on Republicans and conservatives who decline to get on board, rather than on Democrats and liberals. Jeff Flake is the enemy; Kamala Harris is just a random nonplayer character... Always remember that Trumpers—the people who believe in him, not the remora fish looking for their bits of chum—care very little about the left. Their real opponents are other Republicans. Seen from that perspective, Tuesday’s vote was a huge success. Because for Trumpers, it’s never a binary choice. Wherever a Trump-skeptical Republican was running against a Democrat, Trumpism couldn’t lose... In the final weeks of the midterm campaign, 4 percent looked like the most important number in politics: unemployment was under it and GDP growth over it. This was, economically speaking, as good as it gets, and most political professionals thought Republicans should be running on these numbers... Yet Trump decided to close the election with American Carnage 2. He obsessed about the caravan that was winding its way to our southern border. (No one seems to have asked why they wouldn’t be deterred by the Wall that Mexico paid for.) Trump ordered 5,000 troops to the border. Then the number was 10,000. Then 15,000. Then he said he was going to order these soldiers to fire on anyone who threw a rock in their general direction, even though the caravan was still a thousand miles away. The president ran an anti-immigration ad so vile that Fox News—the network whose journalists appeared onstage at a Trump campaign rally—pulled it off the air... In short, Trump looked at our fat, happy days of peace and prosperity and decided to run on fear, division, and chaos. And he was right... In politics, as in every other facet of life, you must always consider opportunity cost. And yes, it’s possible that some other closing message from the president might have produced marginally better electoral outcomes for Republicans. But maybe not. At the very least, the president’s gambit did no great harm. There was no big break against Republicans. Most of the races went according to form... The caravan worked. Sticking with Brett Kavanaugh was smart. There was no price for playing “false flag” games with the attempted mail-bombing of Democrats. No apologies, for anything, ever... Those are the lessons of 2018 and the doctrines that will shape the war of 2020. You can understand why Trump looked across the country on Tuesday night and tweeted, “Tremendous success tonight. Thank you to all!” He was smiling. The GOP caucuses in both the House and Senate will be even more friendly to him than before. His enemies have been crushed beneath his feet... The problem with getting rid of Love and Curbelo and Comstock is that it gives Democrats control of the House. Trumpism may not be interested in Democrats, but Democrats are interested in Trump. And now they have subpoena power.
.. Once a new speaker is sworn in, the Democrats will be able to investigate and call witnesses and poke and prod the administration in ways we can foresee and ways we cannot. There are, for instance, reports that the president’s son expects to be indicted. If that comes to pass, any attempt by the president to protect him will face scrutiny with the force of law behind it.
.. The White House and its surrogates have announced that they welcome Democratic overreach and are prepared to make war against congressmen who push investigations. Trump expressly threatened potential investigators in his press conference.
.. But the kinds of Democrats willing to take the hardest line against Trump will be from the safest districts. Trump can’t hurt them. And, moreover, getting to overreach means enduring an awful lot of pain during the initial-reach. Clinton and the Democrats benefited from Republican overreach in the 1998 midterm elections. The experience was not terribly pleasant for them... There are other problems on the horizon. The Democrats who won on Tuesday—Jon Tester, Joe Manchin, Tim Kaine—tended to be more centrist. The party’s progressive stars—Beto! Andrew! Stacey!—were wiped out, leaving Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sitting forlornly in the corner with her movie-star cheekbones, glamorous jackets, and lost dreams of a socialist-Democratic future. This does not mean that Democratic voters will choose a nominee who is in step with mainstream politics in 2020. But these losses make that possibility more likely. The lesson has been taught, and all Democrats have to do is learn it... There’s even the possibility that Democrats may look at the midterms and the caravan and learn a lesson about immigration. They’re never going to outbid Trump on nativism, but they don’t have to. All they have to do is convince a small share of marginal independent voters that they’re not secretly for open borders and that they do take illegal immigration seriously. If you can’t do that while maintaining your liberal base, then you don’t belong in professional politics. It’s not a heavy lift... The other problem for Trump is that the numbers don’t look especially good for him. It is difficult to imagine external circumstances being better for Republicans two years from now—you can’t really top “no major wars and 4 percent.” So the macro-environment will either be equivalent or worse... In 2016, he got the second-smallest share of the popular vote (46.1 percent) of any Republican since 2000. He ran 3 points—which is a lot—behind Republicans in the House popular vote that year. And in the 2018 midterms, he pulled the Republican share of the House popular vote down to his own 2016 level, to what is likely the third-smallest percentage for Republicans since 1994.. Trump won in 2016 because even though he ran behind most congressional Republicans, their turnout was enough to pull him over the line. Over the last two years, Republicans have been pulled backward toward him, not the other way around... The good news for Trump and his Republicans is that they won’t have to beat the ’27 Yankees. They just have to beat whomever the Democrats put in front of them... for Trump in 2020, there cannot be a Morning in America campaign. There will be no 48-state mandate that realigns American politics for a generation. At best, Trump can hope to radicalize Democrats into nominating a weak contender and then gamble that the country is closely enough divided to give him a chance of drawing to an inside straight, again. This is not a crazy strategy. It might even be the best move available on the board.All of which means more chaos, more apocalypse, more carnage. More Trump.
The OLC argues that the presidential order, issued without authorization by or consultation with Congress, was nevertheless lawful because the president “had reasonably determined that the use of force would be in the national interest and that the anticipated hostilities would not rise to the level of a war in the constitutional sense.”
.. Kaine describes as “ludicrous” the principle that presidents “can magically assert ‘national interest’ and redefine war to exclude missile attacks and thereby bypass Congress.”
The OLC’s capacious definition of actions in the “national interest” encompasses
- “protection of U.S. persons and property,”
- “assistance to allies,”
- “support for the United Nations,”
- “promoting regional stability,”
- prevention of a “humanitarian catastrophe,” and
- “deterrence of the use and proliferation of chemical weapons.”
.. Kim Jong Un committed himself only to a process — “to work toward” the goal of “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” — and processes can be interminable (e.g., the Middle East “peace process”). Furthermore, North Korea has espoused this goal for over three decades.
.. And that the achievement was related to the U.S. policy of “maximum pressure,” including the threat, made vivid by deployments of impressive U.S. military assets, of the use of force by the president, who, like many predecessors, feels free to act without involving Congress.
.. The threat of military force by an unconstrained president was underscored for Kim shortly before the Singapore meeting, when Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a confidant of this president, said of North Korea, “If they play Trump, we’re going to have a war.” He said “denuclearization” of North Korea is “non-negotiable,” and that a North Korean nuclear capability to strike America “ensures their demise”: “If [the president] has to pick between millions of people dying in America and millions of people dying over there, he’s going to pick millions of people dying over there.”
Note the senator’s clear premise: It is for the president to “pick” between war involving millions of deaths, and peace.
.. There can be “substantial” deployments (e.g., two years enforcing a no-fly zone, and 20,000 ground troops, in Bosnia) and engagements more violent than April’s Syria episode (e.g., the U.S.-led 2011 air campaign in Libya lasting more than a week and involving more than 600 missiles and precision-guided munitions) without “war in the constitutional sense.”
When his Democratic rival, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, delivered a scorching rebuke of Mr. Trump’s affection for autocrats like Vladimir V. Putin and Saddam Hussein, both of whom he has praised, Mr. Pence, the governor of Indiana, looked over, weighed the message and promptly changed the subject.
“Did you work on that one a long time?” Mr. Pence mischievously asked his rival. “Because that had a lot of really creative lines in it.”
.. In Mr. Pence’s telling, it was the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, not Mr. Trump, who was running the “insult-driven campaign.”
.. Pressed on Mr. Trump’s startling and unsubstantiated claim that Mexico was sending rapists and criminals to the United States, Mr. Pence protested that his running mate had called some of those immigrants “good people.”
.. All running mates eventually play the role of human shield, sacrificing a measure of dignity and putting their future political prospects in jeopardy to protect the person at the top of the ticket.
.. In almost every conceivable way, he is Mr. Trump’s polar opposite: deeply religious, instinctively civil and conspicuously cautious — as at ease quoting from Scripture as Mr. Trump is mocking a woman’s physique.
.. Both were raised Roman Catholic — though Mr. Pence later became an evangelical Christian — in middle-class Midwestern families of Irish ancestry. Both have sons serving in the Marines.
.. When Mr. Kaine reminded Mr. Pence, once again, of Mr. Trump’s denigrating description of immigrants from Mexico, Mr. Pence could hardly muster a reply. “You whipped out that Mexican thing again,” he observed, sounding more like an analyst than a participant in the debate.
“Tim Kaine is the relatable neighbor next door,” an Iowa Republican added. “Mike Pence is the guy you feel the need to impress in church.”
.. “He’s a really good communicator and engaging personality,” a Pennsylvania Republican said. “Tim Kaine isn’t either.”
Trump’s taxes are the single most effective attack line Clinton’s campaign has against him in the homestretch, a slow-motion scandal akin to her slow-drip email nightmare. His refusal to release the returns — and his ill-considered blurt that he was “smart” to avoid paying at the first debate was followed by a bombshell of sorts: The New York Times was leaked portions of his 1995 tax return showing that he lost nearly a billion bucks on his lousy casino and real estate deals.
.. If there’s any pressure on Kaine, it’s that he has a reputation as a very good debater, a point my colleague Anna Palmer made recently, evidenced by his cool dismantling of opponent George Allen in the 2012 Virginia Senate race.
.. Despite his nice-guy rep, Kaine has a mean(ish) streak, and has no problem going negative. His somewhat awkward convention speech featured a game, if not quite Alec-Baldwin-quality imitation of Trump, and his stump speech is peppered with attack lines.
Pence will already have his talking points down on Tuesday evening — and getting him to deviate could prove nearly impossible.
.. Pence’s job is to steady the ship and remind conservatives what the Republican Party stands for: a pro-growth economic agenda and a break from the left-leaning policies of President Barack Obama.
..What’s extraordinary for Pence, however, is just how many individual topics he must be prepared to defend Trump on to get to his more orthodox pitch to Republican voters.
.. “Is Mike Pence going to aggressively defend his running mate when he hasn’t necessarily been inclined to go on full defense [in the past]?” asked a Kaine aide in an
.. Kaine’s allies are looking for Pence to either assume all of Trump’s rhetoric and positions or to publicly acknowledge disagreements with Trump. Either conclusion would be a win for Kaine and his fellow Democrats. Pence has been quick to laughingly admit he has a different “style” than Trump, but he will work hard to keep any daylight on policy from emerging between he and Trump.
.. “I hope Tim makes Pence own every bit of Trump’s radical, racist, misogynist agenda.”
.. And if Pence can weather Kaine’s Trump barbs, he’ll have a chance to stabilize the Republican ticket by simply contrasting his conservative bona fides with Clinton’s more liberal agenda.
.. Then there are Kaine’s own breaks with Clinton. He personally supports the Hyde Amendment, which bans taxpayer-funded abortions, yet says he will work with Clinton to overturn it as vice president. He praised the Trans-Pacific Partnership the same week he was selected as Clinton’s running mate, then came out against it.
.. “In any debate, he tries to be whatever the audience needs him to be,” Kilgore said of Kaine, whose raised eyebrow is a signature look.
.. more than 40 percent of voters don’t know who either Pence or Kaine is,
Hillary Clinton, by contrast, has chosen a male version of herself. Like Clinton, Tim Kaine is a culturally conservative liberal. He’s a devout Catholic who personally opposes abortion despite believing it should be legal. For her part, Clinton is a devout Methodist—she’s taught Sunday school, lectured on Methodist theology and participated in various prayer groups—who is personally skeptical of abortion, too. In 2005, she called it “a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women” and looked forward to the day when “the choice guaranteed under our Constitution either does not ever have to be exercised or only in very rare circumstances.”
.. In foreign policy, Clinton has tended to define the “responsible” position as the more hawkish one.
.. Her choice of Kaine underscores her disciplined, serious, earnest approach to governing. But it also underscores her tendency—so tragically in evidence when she voted to invade Iraq—to run with the Washington herd.