Stop Treating the Republicans Like Buffoons; It’s Not a Winning Strategy

I was just listening to the talking heads on MSNBC (tuned in late, so I didn’t hear who they were). They exemplified for me, yet again, why the Democratic Party can have more registered voters, can even win elections, and still manage to be its own worst enemy.

The talking heads today were laughing about the Republican Party. In their view, the Republican Party doesn’t stand for anything, so it can’t possibly attract enough votes to win anything. One of them said “I think the Republican Party is going to have to be spanked again — they’re probably going to lose 25 seats in the election of 2022, reversing all historical trends for presidents losing seats in the midterm — before they wake up and realize they don’t stand for anything, and that they have to get rid of Donald Trump.”

And why did this catch my ear? Because I’ve been hearing dyed-in-the-wool Democrats say exactly the same thing for two decades. A political reporter friend of mine, twenty years ago, told me that the Republican Party was dying and would soon be dead. “Look at the last presidential elections,” he said to me then, in the aftermath of the election of 2000. “The last time the Republicans won a majority of the popular vote was in 1988. They’re dying.” It’s now five elections farther on. The Republican candidate won a majority of the popular vote only once more, in 2004. And yet there has been a Republican in the White House 60% of the time since he told me the party was dying.

It goes farther. We’ve had ten Congresses since the election of 2000, twenty years. In that time, the Senate had a Democratic majority for five Congresses, ten years, half the time, and a Republican majority the other half of the time. In the House of Representatives, there was a Democratic majority for only three Congresses, six years; the Republicans held the majority seventy percent of the time. And in this most recent election, which the staunch Democrats hail as a victory in retaking the Senate, look a little deeper. Consider the popular votes for each of the contested Senate seats in the elections of 2020. You may be as surprised as I was that the popular vote totals in all those elections combined are pretty darn close to 50–50, Republican and Democrat. The 50 Republicans in the Senate are not merely an artifact of two Senators per state regardless of size. There really are almost as many people voting for Republicans as for Democrats. And yes, I know, I’m playing with data. Of the four most populous states, only one had a Senate seat up for election in 2020. But my point remains: laughing off the Republicans is not a winning strategy.

Consider the election of 2016. How did the Republican candidate win the presidency? He won because the Democratic presidential campaign got complacent. They decided the goal was to run up the popular vote total, rather than remembering the rules of the game. Whether you like it or not, we have an electoral college, and the way to be elected President is to win the electoral college. That’s what the Republicans did in 2016.

Yes, the Republicans are acting like both thugs and buffoons. Their massive campaign to make it more difficult to vote is thuggish behavior of the most transparent and abhorrent sort. And their refusal to even adopt a campaign platform for the election of 2020 shows what a joke the party’s leaders think their party has become, that instead of publicly standing for issues, they’ll simply follow their chosen god-figure.

But if the Democrats are serious about enacting good, long-lasting changes, making things better for us all, they’re going to have to do far more than laugh at the Republican Party and demonize its chosen leaders. They’re going to have to be serious, they’re going to have to win over the undecided, middle-of-the-political-spectrum voters who hold our noses each time we vote for a Republican or a Democrat. I’m still ashamed to admit I voted against Donald Trump, rather than for Joe Biden, but both parties are most effective at pushing me toward the other, rather than drawing me to themselves.

And while President Biden does seem to be talking the talk, he’s going to have to get the rest of his supporting cast on board. The laugh fest I saw today is emblematic of one of the Democrats’ main problems. I may agree with them, that Donald Trump is a jerk and Mitch McConnell is a liar, but repeating that is not a reason that will convince voters to go for the Democrat in 2022 or 2024. And they’d better not be deluding themselves that “anyone who thinks can see that.” It’s like commercials advertising the “best-selling whatever”: popularity is not a rational reason to buy something, but people do it because they want to be associated with the winner. Donald Trump is a schmuck, but he presents himself — and a lot of people seem him — as a winner. The Democrats are not going to be able to tear that down with their laughter (though Trump may do it to himself); they’re going to need to show that they are effective winners.

And now, as I’ve finished writing this, MSNBC is starting its 5 o’clock program talking about “A GOP that has gutted itself,” pointing to their loss of the Senate and the White House. Those talking heads are delusional.

New Books Available

1515424200The newest edition of my ongoing series, The Complete Book of Presidential Inaugural Speeches, is now available. The book contains the texts of all 60 inauguration day speeches given by the presidents, going back to George Washington’s first, in 1789. In addition, each speech is supplemented by my notes on the election that brought that president to office, and commentary on the day of the speech itself. The book is available in both trade paperback and case laminate (hardcover) versions.

This year, for the first time, I’m also offering an oddball special edition of the book. Owing to a perceived public demand, a separate, “Trump-less Edition” is available. This book, for those who’d rather do their best to forget the 2017–2021 presidential term, contains 59 inaugural speeches and notes, and purposely omits reference to the 45th presidential administration.

1515424227As with all books issued through Gray Rabbit Publications and Fantastic Books, these are distributed by Ingram, and are available from all the major online retailers, or via special order from any physical bookstore.

Guilty but acquitted

The US Senate voted 57–43 in the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump. 57 votes to convict, short of the two-thirds necessary. I’m disappointed that I’m not surprised.

I had been harboring a hope, a pipe-dream, that the Republican Party (as represented by those 50 Senators) would choose to repudiate the growing Trump Party within its ranks, and return to its role as a mature party representing rational conservative points of view. Sadly, 43 Senators said “No, we really are the Trump Party, not the Republican Party.”

The other disappointing-but-not-surprising facet of the proceedings was that so few Senators (if any) actually sat as impartial jurors, judging the trial solely on the cases presented to them (I watched it all; I found the argument for conviction to be convincing).

But after the vote, after the impeachment trial adjourned, Senator Chuck Schumer spoke (saying very little of surprise), and then Senator Mitch McConnell spoke. His speech was a surprise. McConnell spoke for probably fifteen minutes, and his words (in my mind) boil down to “Donald Trump was guilty of the crime imputed to him, but the Senate couldn’t convict because impeachment is accuse-try-convict-remove from office, and since he’s a former President, we couldn’t remove him from office. But some other court should definitely try him.” Those words resonate with me.

But Mitch McConnell has lost all credibility with me. Starting with his February 2016 statement that the Senate could not consider a Supreme Court nominee during an election year, and then completely reversing himself with his October 2020 rush to confirm a Supreme Court nominee days before an election, he has proven himself to be nothing more than a political opportunist, blowing whichever way the wind takes him. And let’s not forget, it was McConnell himself who determined the Senate could not be in session to receive the impeachment article from the House before the end of President Trump’s term. The trial lasted five days. The article of impeachment was adopted by the House on January 13. Had McConnell chosen to receive it, and held the trial in a timely manner, it would have concluded before the end of Donald Trump’s term. So McConnell “had” to vote to acquit based on a technicality, but it’s a technicality he himself caused.

So I want to believe what he said, but because he said it, I can’t. But it certainly does seem that there is emphatic evidence of Donald Trump’s guilt in inciting an insurrection.

Mitch McConnell can, but maybe we don’t want to convict Donald Trump. Not guilty by reason of…

A lot of the talking heads on my television news programs are handicapping the upcoming impeachment trial of Donald Trump. The prevailing comments seem to be that the Republican Senators are going to try to avoid taking any position because they fear what Trump and the Trump Party may do to them. They’re expressing incredulity that seventeen Republican Senators could possibly vote to convict.

But what seems to be missing in these analyses are, first, that this is (or at least ought to be) a trial in which the Senators, sitting as jurors, really ought to be deciding on their vote (verdict) based on the evidence which will be presented at the trial (I was pleased to hear Senator Toomey say just that today on CNN). We didn’t get a lot of that in the last three presidential impeachment trials, and we probably won’t see much of it this time around, but just think how refreshing it would be.

The other thing that is missing is the potential for Mitch McConnell to grow a backbone. McConnell is a smart politician, who has ruled his faction in the Senate for quite a while. He appears to be the leader of the entire Republican party today (except for Trump and his insanity). The time appears to be ripe for him to wrest control of the Republican name back, and to marginalize the aberration that is the Trump Party. By convicting former President Trump of inciting an insurrection, and by barring him from ever holding office again, the Republicans in the Senate would be clearly telling their party members that the insanity is done; that it is time to go back to being members of a government, rather than a bullying, rampaging mob of divisive haters.

Donald Trump managed to grab the White House, and drew out of the woodwork a gang of passionate thugs, but even Mitch McConnell, in his more lucid moments, must realize that Donald Trump’s Presidency was bad for the country. Now, McConnell has a few days to spread the word among his forty-nine Senate colleagues that they can retake the party, that they can once again look like mature adults in the government.

Of course, it wouldn’t be so simple as casting the vote (and convincing a few other Senators to do the same). If McConnell and other rational Republicans really want to regain control of the runaway train the Trump has turned their party into, it’s going to take effort. They’re going to have to speak about what they’re doing and why. They’re going to have to educate their party members, pointing out the lies and misdirection Trump spews as naturally as breathing. In short, they’re going to have to work to get there, and it won’t be easy. But nothing worth doing ever is easy.

Mind you, while I’m expressing hope that Mitch McConnell can work for the good of the country, I really don’t repose that much trust in him. Especially not after watching his actions of the last few years. In 2016, he said the Senate could not consider a Supreme Court nominee during an election year. In 2020, he said it was fine to do so, since the same party controlled the Senate and the White House. He has shown himself to be completely untrustworthy (so I am continually amazed that anyone is willing to negotiate with him). He is apparently not a Senator serving the nation, but a political opportunist seeking out any avenue to accumulate more power for himself and his cronies. In other words, I don’t hold out much hope that he will lead his party to convict Trump and blossom as a high-minded collection of political leaders. But I can continue to hope.

I wrote the above a few days ago, but then let it sit before posting it. I still think it’s valid reasoning, and that if they want to remain relevant, the Republican Party will have to repudiate the Trump Party and Donald Trump. But I’ve also started wondering if conviction in the Senate is necessary for that, or if it even is the best possible outcome.

Consider this alternative: what if the United States Senate, sitting as the jury in the impeachment trial of now-former-President Donald Trump, determines he is not guilty by reason of mental defect or diminished capacity (or some other such synonym)? Indeed, that may be why the House managers asked him to testify. If they can get Donald Trump on the stand to publicly state that he still believes he won the election, despite all evidence to the contrary, it becomes easier to find that he is out of touch with reality. Casting his actions in that light puts the onus on Congress to strengthen the 25th Amendment, and on future Cabinets to keep a better watch on their Presidents. It gives the Republican Senators—fearful of fringe party nut-jobs—an out of not voting to convict. And it means that, even without a separate finding that Donald Trump is ineligible to hold office in the future, he’s done.

Don’t get me wrong: I think the evidence is overwhelming that he did incite a mob to insurrection that resulted in damage, death, and the disruption of the normal functioning of the United States government. The impeachment was completely warranted, because he was the President when it was voted. But now we need to temper our need for vengeance with our need to try to bring his followers back into the fold of decent human beings. Convicting Donald Trump, at this point, will not change any minds, will not convince the rest of the Trump Party that he is wrong. But recognizing his diminished capacities might be a step toward allowing them an out from their own descents into madness.

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Is Donald Trump working for Russia?

Apparently everyone who knows—including, surprisingly, the Secretary of State—says that Russia has perpetrated (and is continuing to do so) a massive intrusion into the computer systems of multiple departments of the US government. (Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “…we can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians that engaged in this activity.”)

Finally, President Donald Trump chose to tweet about it just a few hours ago. He wrote “The Cyber Hack is far greater in the Fake News Media than in actuality. I have been fully briefed and everything is well under control. Russia, Russia, Russia is the priority chant when anything happens because Lamestream is, for mostly financial reasons, petrified of discussing the possibility that it may be China (it may!). There could also have been a hit on our ridiculous voting machines during the election, which is now obvious that I won big, making it an even more corrupted embarrassment for the USA.”

Why?

After four years of his presidency, this is not Trump’s first attempt to deflect American attention from bad actions perpetrated by Russia.

Why?

Donald Trump never released his tax returns, never provided any financial information, either as a candidate or president.

Why?

The questions I am now asking are:

1. How much money did Donald Trump owe to Russia or Russian entities when he was elected president?

2. How much has he paid on those debts during his term as president?

3. How much money does he currently owe on those debts?

4. Do those numbers show that the amount he owes has decreased more than the amount he has paid?

Where are the Republicans who want to run for president in 2024?

I’m surprised no Republican leader has taken what seems to be a very obvious opportunity to take control of the party. I would think that any legitimate Republican could publicly announce that this year’s election is over, and Donald Trump lost, and that it’s time for the party to return to rational, good leadership that cares about the people. I should think any Senator doing that, heck, even most of the Representatives or Governors, would automatically become the party’s front-runner for the next Presidential nomination.

The pundits keep talking about President Trump’s hold on the voters, pointing to the 74 million people who voted for him. But how many of those voters, when given the choice between some other non-Trump Republican and any Democrat, would vote for the Republican? Most of them, I’d wager.

Donald Trump is a loud, rampaging bully, but he’s over. He lost the election, and in 2024, he’ll have been a fuming, bloviating, irrelevant ex-president for four years; not the least bit appealing to voters. Imagine a rational candidate standing up and saying “okay, we tried an experiment. Now we know what happens when a plutocrat with no governmental experience gets elected. We know it’s not for the best. So let’s instead elect a rational Republican, someone who can work with the other branches of government—rather than trying to ignore or dominate them—and someone who can work with other countries around the world.”

This is the United States of America. We know the government should not be a cult of personality. And at home, behind closed doors, I’m sure every would-be Republican leader knows the same thing. I guess they’re waiting until after Inauguration Day to start showing their mettle, but in the meantime, the country continues to suffer from the buffonery emanating from the White House. Showing true leadership, breaking with Donald Trump now, before he is an ex-president, could be an incredible boost for the party’s fortunes, as well as the personal political fortunes of whoever steps up to take the lead.

Donate to Ian Randal Strock’s very much tongue-in-cheek 2024 presidential campaign fund at paypal.me/ianrandalstrock .

Failed Wartime President Trump

On March 18, referring to the then-brand new Covid-19 pandemic just sweeping the country and the planet, President Donald Trump called himself “a wartime president” (https://www.npr.org/2020/03/22/819672681/trump-tries-on-the-mantle-of-wartime-president).

It’s nearly nine months later. Lame duck President Donald Trump has given up doing his job as President (though he’s still rampaging all over the place claiming he won re-election). Should we hang the mantle (shackle?) of “wartime president” around his neck? As of December 2, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 249,570 Americans have died of Covid-19 (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid19/index.htm).

For comparison, the Department of Veterans Affairs lists Battle Deaths in America’s Wars (https://www.va.gov/opa/publications/factsheets/fs_americas_wars.pdf):
World War II (1941-45): 291,557
Civil War (1861-65): 214,938 (Union and Confederate combined)
World War I (1917-18): 53,402
Vietnam War (1964-75): 47,434
Korean War (1950-53): 33,739
American Revolution (1775-83): 4,435
War of 1812 (1812-15): 2,260
Mexican War (1846-48): 1,733
Indian Wars (1817-98): 1,000
Spanish-American War (1898-1902): 385
Desert Shield/Desert Storm (1990-91): 148

In other words, of all American wars, more soldiers died on the field of battle only in World War II than people have died in nine months of Covid-19. More people have died this year of Covid-19 than our number of war dead in every other war in which the United States was involved. More of us have died in 2020 of this virus than the number of American soldiers who died on the field of battle in all the wars we fought, combined, except World War II and the Civil War.

My point? My point is: yes, he’s leaving office in seven weeks, but he’s not doing his job now. He seems to be unable to carry out the duties of President. The Vice President and the Cabinet should activate section 4 of the 25th Amendment, and try to show a little leadership, a little class, on their way out the door; try to help us survive the next few months, which CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said will be among “the most difficult in the public health history of this nation.”

I spent the last twelve years, since the publication of my book, The Presidential Book of Lists, trying to avoid one word in the subtitle. Every time someone looked at that book, they saw the one word, “worst,” and asked me who the worst President was. And every time, I would demur, avoid answering, and turn the conversation to another point. No longer. We now have a clear “winner”: Donald John Trump is clearly the worst President in American history.

Election day continues, despite the candidates

If you missed it, President Trump just made a speech from a stage in the White House’s East Room, in which he declared victory in the presidential election, and announced that all vote counting should cease immediately. I’m outraged. I delivered my ballot a week ago, but as with most mail-in ballots, it probably hasn’t been counted yet, because the counters can only go so quickly, especially when they don’t even open the ballots before “election day.” So I called the White House to express my “concern” (well, I used slightly more forceful language). If you’re in a similar situation, I urge you to call, too. The phone number for the White House is 202-456-1414.

Voting Day

I delivered my absentee ballot today to a nearby early voting location. As I’ve said several times, my vote probably doesn’t matter, because of where I live. Yours may be far more important.

Something odd about this ballot, for me: this is the first time that I’ve voted a straight party ticket. I voted for the candidate representing the Democratic Party in every single race. And this ballot is my response to the actions (and inactions) of President Donald Trump, and to the leaders of the Republican Party who have rolled over and allowed the president’s nonsense and villainy to run rampant and unchecked through the government and the country. (Yes, villainy: he frequently seems to think he’s still playing the villain on a reality television show, rather than realizing that he is the President of the United States, and that his words and actions have very great impact on the planet.)

I regret that my votes are against candidates, rather than for candidates (and this is also notice to the Democratic Party not to take my action in this election as an indicator of my future votes), but I’ve decided that a continuing Trump Presidency is a danger to the continued health and well-being not only of the country, but of each one of us individually. Joe Biden is not my ideal choice for President, but he is a much better choice in this election, and my vote for him and the rest of the Democratic ticket is my attempt to emphasize how much I think Donald Trump is the wrong choice in this election.

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Late news: President Trump tests positive for Covid-19

Off-the-top-of-my-head theorizing regarding the late-breaking news about President Trump’s health. Happy, light thoughts: rational Republicans are ecstatic that the president has a legitimate external reason to skip or cancel the upcoming debates. Darker, more sober thoughts: the president has another reason to push for a “delay” in the election.

Caveat: in addition to being a political scientist, I’m a science fiction writer, so I often theorize far beyond the probable.

For those who haven’t heard the news: senior presidential advisor Hope Hicks tested positive for Covid-19 Wednesday. About 1am Friday, President Trump Tweeted “Tonight, [Melania] and I tested positive for Covid-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately….”

At the moment, I’m watching CNN live and occasionally jumping to the other news channels. More data in this CNN article.