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Trump is at the top of the political ladder

The ladder of American politics has a top and a bottom. It took President Trump two weeks, maybe three, to climb to the top. During that time, Democrats tripped and fell to the bottom.

The causes of change can pile up quickly in politics, and indeed they have. But their consequences have yet to be understood by the media, Democrats, and even many Republicans. One thing, though, is clear: Trump is now in the strongest position of his presidency, and while he’s hardly a shoo-in to win a second term, his reelection prospects are better than ever.

Think about what’s driven Trump’s rise, starting with impeachment. That the president has gained from the ordeal unleashed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is more than a lucky break. It’s an amazing development that was foreseen by very few. It not only hurt Democrats; it has prompted an increase in approval of Republicans.

Pelosi turns out to be the most agonized victim of her decision to impeach Trump. She seemed agitated and unhappy during his State of the Union address. And Democratic members of Congress looked like a ragtag army stranded on the House floor, unsure when to sit, stand, or chant “H.R. 3,” a bill to cut prescription drug prices.

While the economy continues to boost Trump, there are special reasons why it makes Democrats miserable. Liberal economists, notably New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, assured them Trump and recessions were synonymous. With Trump in charge, the well-being of the public would become a thing of the past. The economists were wrong.

Trump has leapfrogged mere boasting about economic growth. He loves to talk about how minorities, whom Democrats see as their loyalists, have fared in the three years of his presidency. Here’s the White House transcript of his State of the Union speech:

“The unemployment rate for African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans has reached the lowest levels in history. (Applause.) African American youth unemployment has reached an all-time low. (Applause.) African American poverty has declined to the lowest rate ever recorded. (Applause.)”

In foreign policy, Trump’s greatest success is the humbling of Iran’s ruling mullahs. His decision to kill Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian terrorist chief, and the slapping of sanctions on Iran have crippled its economy and weakened its role in the world. Another result: The president’s stature, or at least his prowess, has increased.

This has led Trump to a new tack in dealing with the mullahs. If Iran abandons “its pursuit of nuclear weapons” and stops “spreading terror,” he promises to help revive its economy. “Perhaps they are too proud or too foolish to ask for that help,” he said in the State of the Union. “We are here. Let’s see which road they choose. It is totally up to them.”

Roger Kimball, the editor of the New Criterion, assessed Trump’s standing after the address to Congress. “The irony … is that despite the endless carping of his opponents in the government, the media, and the corridors of elite power, Donald Trump has emerged from the unremitting ad hominem attacks stronger and more persuasive.”

His reelection effort is far ahead of the campaign of any Democratic presidential rival, including billionaire Michael Bloomberg. And if the nominee is not decided until the Democratic convention in July, all the better for Trump.

But if he believes he can cruise to reelection, he is mistaken. He will be opposed by most of the media. Democrats are likely to vote in record numbers. And his enemies will finance a national dragnet to uncover unsavory tales, offensive comments, or questionable actions to use against him.

Scott Reed, manager of Republican Bob Dole’s bid for president in 1996, says the Trump campaign must deal with two priorities: message control and the suburban vote. And both involve Trump’s personality and tendency to cause trouble with off-the-cuff remarks and tweets. He can’t afford to alienate college-educated voters, women especially, as he did in 2016. In the 2018 midterm elections, Trump’s behavior was a cause of sweeping defeats in suburbs and the loss of the House.

Reed believes Trump “touched all the right political buttons” in the State of the Union address. Of those he introduced in the balcony, there was an emphasis on African Americans and Hispanics. It was a disciplined performance by the president. He read the speech from the teleprompters. He didn’t ad-lib. He rarely smiled. He was disciplined. “It was a tour de force,” Reed said, the kind that will keep Trump at the top of the political ladder.

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Pete Buttigieg’s Defense of His Billionaire Funding Is Orwellian

The final Democratic debate ahead of next week’s New Hampshire primary bore many of the hallmarks of those that preceded it: Joe Biden continued to lie about Iraq and his nonexistent involvement in the Civil Rights Movement; pundits loved Amy Klobuchar; both Hillary Clinton and Michael Bloomberg got airtime even though neither was on the stage; and several of the moderators were openly hostile to Bernie Sanders.

All told, it was yet another one of those nights.

But as the race heads toward another critical contest in a few days’ time, one of the unspoken structuring dynamics was undoubtedly the aftermath of last week’s Iowa caucus — which saw Pete Buttigieg outperform Biden and Warren, and a victory for Sanders. Sanders’s de facto emergence as the race’s front-runner, coupled with Buttigieg’s palpable determination to become the default anti-Sanders choice, made some kind of clash all but inevitable, and when the moment finally came, it went much as you’d expect.

Asked by host George Stephanopoulos about Michael Bloomberg’s presence in the race, Sanders delivered a characteristic denunciation of money in politics that called out Buttigieg by name:

Our campaign, unlike some of the folks up here, I don’t have forty billionaires — Pete — contributing to my campaign, coming from the pharmaceutical industry, coming from Wall Street, and all the big money interests . . . If we want to change America, you’re not gonna do it by electing candidates who are going out to rich people’s homes begging for money. The way we’re gonna do it is by building a mass movement of working people who are prepared to stand up, not take money from these billionaires . . .

Buttigieg’s argument had two basic thrusts, the first of which was that raising large sums of money will be necessary in order to defeat Donald Trump:

We are going into the fight of our lives. Donald Trump and his allies according to news reports have raised twenty-five million dollars today. We need to go into that fight with everything we’ve got.

This claim — transparent political opportunism masquerading as hardheaded political realism — is quite easily dispensed with given that Buttigieg is badly losing the fundraising war to Bernie Sanders — whose campaign continues to demonstrate that popular policies and the right candidate can attract enough small donations to outperform the conventional, big money–infused Democratic model. Though Buttigieg’s aggressive courtship of America’s richest people has reportedly netted him some forty contributions from billionaires and their spouses, he ultimately trailed Sanders by nearly $10 million in the last quarter of 2019. A candidate does not, it would seem, need to court billionaires in wine caves after all.

The second (and altogether more ridiculous) portion of Buttigieg’s defense, however, also warrants a mention.

If we want to bring about any of the changes that everyone is talking about so elegantly up here, we need to put together the majority that can decisively defeat Donald Trump, and in order to do that, we need the politics that is defined not by who we reject but how we bring everybody into the fold. And if you are low-income or if you’re able to contribute a lot . . . we need you to join us right now. I will not pursue politics by telling people they can’t be at our side if they’re not with us 100 percent of the time. This is a time for addition, not rejection. For belonging, not exclusion.

It’s grotesque, though unsurprising given the source, to hear the language of inclusion and belonging leveraged in defense of America’s billionaires and their right to flood the democratic process with campaign contributions. No one who isn’t willfully deluding themselves can seriously believe the nation’s richest people — particularly those who help manage and run profitable industries — give so much money to politicians out of civic nobility. And no one should struggle to imagine a majority electoral coalition that excludes or alienates America’s billionaires, who are only a few hundred in number.

But in the midst of an important debate that often skirts around or muddies the issue of big money in politics, it was paradoxically refreshing to hear Buttigieg mount such a spirited and unapologetic defense of the indefensible.

With any luck, voters in the upcoming primaries and caucuses will treat it with the contempt it deserves.

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If Friday’s Debate Changed Any Minds, I’d Be Amazed

MANCHESTER, N.H— I have to admit, the one development that came at me fast during the Democratic presidential debate on Friday night was the sudden transformation of Tom Steyer. Over the past couple of weeks, thanks to the vast amounts of money he’s been shoveling into the state, Steyer has seen a bump in his poll numbers in South Carolina and Nevada. This mini-surge in two states that are manifestly more diverse than Iowa and New Hampshire has propelled Steyer’s impression that he has undiscovered strength among minority voters:

Look, out of narrative comes policy. And we’re talking about a lot of policies that affect Americans broadly and disproportionately affect black Americans or brown Americans. But what I believe is we should set up a commission on race and deal with race explicitly. Because everyone is saying we can’t have rules that are different for different people, but, in fact, we’re here because we had rules that are different for different people.

I would set up a formal commission on race on day one to retell the story of the last 400 years in America of systematic racism against African-Americans, not just legal discrimination, injustice, and cruelty, but also the contribution that the African-American community has made to America, in building it and in leading the entire country from a moral standpoint for generations and centuries. Because I believe out of narrative comes policy. We need to repair damage that’s been done officially. And pretending we’re all the same is not accurate. We got here a certain way. Let’s talk about Jim Crow. Let’s talk about Martin Luther King. Let’s talk about Barbara Lee, the congresswoman from Oakland, who’s one of our great leaders. And then let’s figure out how to repair the damage so we can move forward together.

And then there was this, ahem, appropriation of a slogan from departed candidate Cory Booker.

Imagine the mountain and then we climb it together. We are in perilous times. I am asking for your vote. Let’s rise together.

Tom Steyer, sampling Cory Booker and biting his slogan.

It was a debate that nobody really lost. If it changed any minds, I’d be amazed. Amy Klobuchar is getting a solid media bump, but that’s happened after every debate and she’s still bumping her head on double digits. (However, what was revelatory is that Klobuchar genuinely dislikes Pete Buttigieg. She went at him hard on one of his pet tropes — that it’s time for “Washington thinking” to get out of the way of a new mindset for governing, wha-dee-doo-dah. Her obvious disdain for him was refreshing and clarifying.) Joe Biden called for the audience to rise and give Alexander Vindman a standing ovation, which has to be the Joe Bidenest moment of Joe Bidenism in the history of Joe Bidens. Bernie Sanders continued to sail the sturdy old bark that has carried him into the lead in most polls here and emphasized that he is unafraid of being called a “socialist” by El Caudillo del Mar-A-Lago in November. If you wonder why his base is so solidly behind him, that’s a big part of the reason. The man is the stubbornest politician I’ve ever seen. You may not like his positions, but you can’t shove him off them with an earth-mover. And Andrew Yang once again offered me $1000 a month for my vote.

(Look, I know the Yang Gang is earnest and loud but, seriously, if you think Republicans can make a meal out of Sanders’s being a socialist, imagine what they can do with Yang’s “freedom dividend.” They’ve been fighting against a Universal Basic Income of this kind since George McGovern proposed one in 1972.)

Senator Amy Klobuchar and Tom Steyer.

Joe RaedleGetty Images

But it was the shadow of presidential criminality and vengeance that hung over the proceedings like a black curtain. Klobuchar, too, mentioned the Friday dismissal of several of the witnesses who testified against the president*, and she even managed the not inconsiderable feat of getting a Democratic debate audience to applaud Mitt Romney. (She was the unquestioned queen of the shout-out, name-checking both of New Hampshire’s senators twice, and even throwing the late ABC news icon Cokie Roberts a bouquet.) But the real question that’s rising behind all the squabbling over electability is what happens next. It was the question that Barack Obama dodged—in my opinion, wrongly—as regards the crimes of the George W. Bush administration and of the Wall Street brigands who brought on the Great Recession. Buttigieg loves to talk about the day when this president* is president* no longer, but that’s where he once again dives into the thickets of consultant-speak, never to be seen again. (And, by the way, if you are the cool young New Thinker, shouldn’t you be calling for someone to “refresh the screen” rather than “turn the page”? I wonder about things like this.) The only one of them who offered to take the problem head-on was Senator Professor Warren, who shaped the question into her overall campaign theme of fighting corruption, which is the one of her celebrated “plans” that resonates most deeply on the stump. She wants crooks in the dock and is not shy about it.

Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate In New Hampshire Ahead Of First Primary Contest

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren during the New Hampshire debate.

Joe RaedleGetty Images

Asked whether her proposal for a special independent commission to look into the crimes and thievery of this administration*, something like a modern-day Pecora Commission, would be too “divisive” for our poor, exhausted nation, SPW said, essentially, that we should all suck it up:

Look, I think no one is above the law, and that includes the president of the United States. We watched on Wednesday as Republicans—all but one—locked arms to protect him from impeachment, but we need to reestablish the rule of law in this country. I believe in an independent commission in our Justice Department that investigates crimes committed by our own government. It is an important part of accountability. It is an important part for every administration that we hold ourselves accountable to the American people. Look, people around this country are losing faith in our government. They’re losing faith that government works for them. They see a government that just works great if you’re rich. It works great if you’re a lobbyist. It works great if you’re a corporate executive. But they see themselves and their children with less and less and less. And we could do something about it. It’s not enough simply to talk about the future. We have to be willing to stand up to those who now control our government and make that government instead work for us.

Donald Trump is sui generis—a president* who runs the executive branch like one of the Five Families. The damage he is doing is sui generis, as are his crimes and thievery. Whoever wins the Democratic nomination is going to have to be prepared for a campaign the viciousness of which is likely to be unprecedented; hell, getting re-elected is the only way this president* and a lot of his people are going to stay out of jail. That encourages a certain, ah, vigor in campaigning. And, if the Democratic nominee wins, a lot of wounds are going to have to be harshly cauterized before they begin to heal. We learned that once already this century. This time, the infection is bone-deep and spreading.

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Pelosi’s miscalculation and Trump hatred

This week was one of the worst on record for the Democratic Party, and it’s been entirely self-inflicted. The meltdown in Iowa, the acquittal of President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways: Fear of Trump hangs over Democratic debate Klobuchar raises million since start of debate Buttigieg, Sanders aim to build momentum from New Hampshire debate MORE and the emerging schism between the far left and the Democratic establishment are all manifesting as a result of gross miscalculations by House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi: Republicans embraced ‘darkest vision’ of executive power by acquitting Trump Hillicon Valley: Democrats press Facebook, Twitter to remove new Trump video of Pelosi | Iowa Dem chair calls for investigation into caucus problems | How Reddit is combating coronavirus misinformation On The Money: Economy adds 225K jobs in January, topping expectations | Appeals court tosses Dems’ lawsuit over emoluments | Democrats decide against bringing back earmarks MORE.

The thesis going in must have rested on a misguided belief that impeachment would damage Trump and disadvantage the three senators who were challenging Joe BidenJoe BidenFive takeaways: Fear of Trump hangs over Democratic debate Buttigieg, Sanders aim to build momentum from New Hampshire debate Poll: New Hampshire Democrats would prefer an extinction-causing meteor over Trump reelection MORE for the nomination. Then Biden would outperform his history and expectations, and the party would unify around electability in the form of the former vice president.   

But “electability” is merely PC speak for “Trump hatred.”  Since Trump hatred is the only issue Democrats can agree on, it must have seemed like a reasonable theme to Pelosi.

With the unfolding events, we are seeing that this thesis rested on three gross miscalculations: 1) Biden has magically transformed into a viable candidate; 2) the Establishment can use Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersFive takeaways: Fear of Trump hangs over Democratic debate Klobuchar raises million since start of debate Buttigieg after debate: I would be ‘most progressive’ nominee in party’s history MORE (I-Vt.) and his legions of followers when it suits them, then push them aside when it counts; and 3) the case against Trump would attract bipartisan support. All 3 assumptions are proving to be without merit.

Pelosi and the Democratic establishment must not have been paying attention to Biden’s long record of terrible presidential campaigns. Biden didn’t even make it to Iowa during his 1988 run and didn’t make it out of Iowa when he ran again in 2008.

Entering 2020, Biden’s high name identification and a crowded field were his best assets. Now both advantages have faded away. Once a top tier of candidates formed, the name ID advantage expired. 

More importantly, as the field winnowed, Biden was subject to more visibility and scrutiny.   

With many candidates on the debate stage, his fragility was less evident. Now with fewer on stage, and more time for each candidate, Biden’s incapacity has been on full display.  

The Iowa caucus results show that his viability as the Democratic nominee is collapsing. This will be reaffirmed in New Hampshire and Nevada. If he fails to win South Carolina, it’s over. It could even be over before then. 

Meanwhile, the seeds sown after Hilary Clinton cheated Bernie Sanders out of the 2016 nomination were reaped on Monday night. As part of the concessions demanded by Bernie to endorse Hillary in 2016, there would be new technology used to count the votes in Iowa, and there would be three iterative counts released, so he wouldn’t be cheated out of a win next time around. What could go wrong?

As bad as the Iowa dumpster fire was, it isn’t the main problem. The main problem is that the anti-Trump coalition of Democratic Socialists and the Democrat establishment lack sufficient overlap to unify the party.   

The one remaining plausible hope could be Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharFive takeaways: Fear of Trump hangs over Democratic debate Klobuchar raises million since start of debate Buttigieg, Sanders aim to build momentum from New Hampshire debate MORE (D-Minn.), because her identity as a relatively young woman might appease the identity-obsessed hard Left, and her comparatively moderate policy stances might appease the establishment.  

But it won’t happen because of Mike Bloomberg. The former New York City mayor has spent more than $300 million on various forms of advertising. Spending money is not as important as developing the loyalty that comes from raising small donor money – like Bernie has done – but it still counts. If Bloomberg has a big delegate haul after Super Tuesday, then by March 4 he may be the only viable alternative to Bernie.

Which leaves us with the Trump impeachment. Instead of attracting bipartisan support, it unfolded like the Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughWarren, Biden call for law to protect abortion rights Consumer bureau chief explains support for lawsuit limiting her power Manchin will vote to convict Trump MORE hearings: With both sides dug in and rallying their base. That might have worked if the Democrats could unify around Trump hatred. But as it is playing out, it’s not going to be enough. They have a really big problem.  

The Democrats have a schism over policy, and it is now on full display. Congratulations, Speaker Pelosi, you have inadvertently made Trump’s case: The Democrats waste all their time and energy hating Trump, and they can’t agree on how to accomplish anything for the American people. 

Dan Palmer is a Republican donor and conservative political strategist.

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Schiff Explains What Really Happened When Nadler Stole The Spotlight During Impeachment Trial

Democratic California Rep. Adam Schiff pushed back Friday on allegations that New York Rep. Jerry Nadler stole the spotlight, despite objections, during closing arguments at President Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper spoke to all seven House managers Friday evening on “Anderson Cooper 360” following the Senate’s vote to acquit Trump on both impeachment charges. Towards the end of the interview, Cooper asked Schiff what really happened Jan. 30 when he appeared to object to Nadler sprinting ahead to give a closing argument.

“There was a moment – yes, as you know, the president was clearly watching all this very carefully,” Cooper said. “There was a moment when, Chairman Schiff, you were – Chairman Nadler, you were getting up to speak. Chairman Schiff, you said, ‘Jerry, Jerry.’ The president said that you guys were fighting big-time. ”

“Were you fighting big-time?”

WATCH:

Schiff said the two were not fighting, and blamed the rhetoric on the president, who “loves to sow division.” He added that Trump “loves to pit people against each other” and claimed it was a simple miscommunication between himself and Nadler.

“Well, we tried to choreograph our questions, so that each of us would have a different subject matter, and each of us would know when we would go up to the mic,” Schiff claimed. “We couldn’t do it – we couldn’t do it perfectly. We couldn’t do it perfectly, because some questions were repeats, and some were sort of in the midst between two.

“I don’t think Jerry knew that was going to be the last question of the evening. And so we had our signals crossed. But I think, frankly, we were pretty flawless in terms of arranging for members to be able to respond to those questions in real time.”

Nadler added to that, dismissing the idea that he was trying to have the last word, as it appeared to viewers.

In the original clip, Chief Justice John Roberts read the last question of the evening, provided by Democratic Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar. The question asked House managers to give senators any other comments before the trial ended for the night.

WATCH:

Schiff was sitting closer to the podium and stood up to respond to the question, but Nadler scurried ahead of him. Schiff could be heard calling Nadler’s name, but the pleas went unanswered as the New York congressman began his speech.

“Jerry, Jerry, Jerry,” Schiff said as Nadler ignored him and delivered remarks. (RELATED: ‘The Senate Is On Trial’: Jerry Nadler Says The Impeachment Is No Longer Just About The President)

Trump tweeted that the two were “fighting big time!” the day after the incident happened.

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