IIt’s another one of those resignations that you knew was coming sooner or later. The only question was when which turned out to be yesterday. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the man responsible for appointing Robert Mueller to investigate the Russia scandal, officially submitted his resignation. Rosenstein’s last day on the job will be May 11.
Tuesday, April 30, 2019
The Commerce Department reported on Monday that personal income for farmers fell steeply in the first quarter to its lowest point since 2016. The drop in farm income was so severe that it weighed down the entire nation’s personal income growth even though farmers only make up two percent of working Americans.
Bloomberg reports that farm earnings fell by an annualized $11.8 billion for the first quarter due to the interruption in the exports of farm products to nations such as China. A $12 billion subsidy package for farmers last year propped up farm income for the previous quarter, but farm losses due to the trade war continued this year without being offset by the one-time federal bailout.
Farm losses from the trade war may help to explain the soft support for President Trump across the nation’s farm belt. President Trump’s approval is abnormally low in a number of typically red states with large farming sectors. Per Morning Consult, net approval for Trump is five or below in several states that are usually Republican strongholds such as Georgia, Indiana, Nebraska, and Texas. In the swing farm states of Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, and Ohio, net approval is at zero or below.
Eroding support from farmers, an integral part of Trump’s rural, male, white base, puts pressure on the Trump Administration to finalize trade talks with China, the market for many American farm exports, as soon as possible. US officials have said that they are close to an agreement with China, but the Wall Street Journal reports that several contentious issues remain. These include the removal of current tariffs placed by the president on Chinese imports, enforcement triggers that would reapply tariffs if the Chinese fail to abide by the agreement, and greater access for American companies to China’s cloud computing and farm markets.
Last month, President Trump said that tariffs on Chinese goods could remain for a “substantial period” after an agreement was reached to ensure that China complies. It is unlikely that China would agree to leave the tariffs on their exports in place. This may be one of the most difficult points to resolve in the talks.
White House Economic Advisor Larry Kudlow reportedly told Bloomberg that the Trump Administration is prepared to do more to help farmers. This may mean a second farm stimulus if trade talks are not successfully resolved soon.
As President Trump gears up for his re-election campaign next year, an ailing farm sector and soft support in farm states could be a bellwether for a difficult election. If the Republican farm states are in play, it will be difficult for Trump to repeat his 2016 performance.
Monday, April 29, 2019
Former vice president Joe Biden formally entered the Democratic primary race last week to instant frontrunner status and a massive $6.3 million fundraising haul in his first 24 hours. Yet despite the fact that Biden leads in virtually every poll, has just proven his ability to generate cash, has broad name recognition as a former vice president and senator, and is an experienced campaigner with few surprises in his closet, many Democrats are less than thrilled with the prospect of a Biden candidacy.
Among the unhappy Democrats was one of my cousins, who describes herself as “a lot more leftist than your garden variety Dem.” A Bernie Sanders supporter, she shared an article, “Joe Biden Is a Disaster Waiting to Happen,” from a liberal website, Jacobinmag.com, on her Facebook page last week, which sparked an enlightening discussion about the relative merits of “Scrappy Joe.” The problem that my cousin and the author of the article had was not Biden’s creepy, handsy behavior or his track record of gaffes, but that he isn’t liberal enough. Citing “Biden’s record on busing, mass incarceration, neoliberal economics, war and civil liberties, abortion, or immigration,” she said that Biden should “should run as a Republican.”
My cousin’s opinion on Biden seems widely held among Democrats. He is taking heat from many segments of the Democratic Party on issues ranging from his treatment of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas hearings to his friendship with Republicans and endorsement of Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican as well as his policies which, although they seem liberal to conservative observers, look relatively conservative when compared to the other Democratic candidates. After a career that began in the Senate in 1973, a period in which the United States has undergone massive changes, Biden has done and said a lot that is out of step with modern Democrats.
“He’s been a corporate Democrat for years, and I think the Democratic Party is recognizing that our nominee and our party moving forward really has to be prepared to challenge the D.C. power structure,” Democracy for America Chairman Charles Chamberlain told Politico. “The wheels are going to come off the cart.”
In a lot of ways, the 2020 Democratic primary is shaping up to resemble the 2016 Republican race. There is a bevy of candidates that better represent the beliefs of the liberal Democratic base just as a large number of Republican candidates vied for the support of traditional Republicans. The problem for liberal activists is that those candidates are all competing for the support of the same voters while Biden, like Donald Trump in 2020, dominates his niche of the party, the blue collar moderate.
In Trump’s case, he was able to secure the Republican nomination with only 44 percent of the Republican primary vote. Even in the closing days of the primary, Ted Cruz and John Kasich split the anti-Trump vote, allowing Trump to win a plurality in most states. A similar path may be open for Biden who has consistently polled at about 30 percent.
Joe Biden also has another advantage in support from crossover Republicans. On Facebook and Twitter, I regularly see posts from ideological refugees from the Trumpist Republican Party who are excited to vote for Joe Biden. In fact, ex-Republicans seem more excited about Biden’s candidacy than my Democrat acquaintances. Particularly in states with open primaries, Biden may well see a surge from Republicans who are unhappy with President Trump. This is especially likely if there is no serious Republican primary challenge to the president.
The big question is whether disaffected Democrats will stay home if Biden is the nominee. In 2016, Hillary Clinton’s uninspiring campaign led many Democrats, particularly those who had supported Bernie in the primary, to stay home on election night. FiveThirtyEight points out that there were enough of these nonvoters to sway the election.
The Trump campaign shouldn’t count on Democrats staying home next year, however. Despite Biden’s unpopularity with many in the party’s activist base, dislike for Trump runs much higher than dislike for Biden. Few would be willing to take the chance on re-electing the president by sitting out the election or voting for a third-party candidate like the Green Party’s Jill Stein from the last election. Again the situation mirrors 2016 in which Republicans were underwhelmed by Donald Trump but rallied around him with the rationale that “at least he’s not Hillary.”
My cousin probably speaks for many Democrats when she says, “I could take literally any other Democratic candidate other than Joe, but I will vote for him if I have to.”
To put it another way, at least he’s not Trump.
Thursday, April 25, 2019
Friday, April 19, 2019
I, for one, was happy to see former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld enter the Republican primary this week. I’m not ready to line up behind Weld, especially since there may be other candidates who have yet to enter the race, but I welcome the addition of a second choice for Republican voters and may very well end up supporting him.
Many of my Republican friends have made several predictable objections against Weld’s candidacy such as the fact that Weld is not a true conservative since he is liberal on many issues and that he has not won an election since 1994. Ironically, many of the objections against Weld apply to Donald Trump as well.
First off, let’s establish that there is no consistent conservative in the race. While Weld is libertarian (read “liberal”) on social issues, President Trump is to the left of Weld on a great many issues as well. Any conservative is going to have to look past either candidate on quite a few issues. Conservatives who backed Trump over the past four years should have little difficulty supporting another Republican with inconsistent conservative principles.
While Mr. Trump has a good record on some issues, he has a bad record on others. President Trump gets credit for tax reform, deregulation, and judicial appointments as well as withdrawing from the Paris Accords and issuing a number of pro-life Executive Orders, but his conservative bona fides don’t extend much further than that.
In reality, Mr. Trump’s tax reform and deregulation are offset by his trade war. The president’s affinity for tariffs has led to large increases in both taxes and regulations when it comes to trade. The trade war has increased the trade deficit to a record high while weakening American manufacturing and hurting farmers. Trump’s trade policies have slowed growth to Obama-like levels while his bailout of farmers hurt by the trade war contributed $12 billion to the deficit, which is growing at an alarming rate.
Mr. Weld’s position on gun control has been a frequent objection, but Donald Trump is the most successful anti-gun president since Bill Clinton. After the Parkland school shooting in February 2018, Trump signaled his willingness to accept a variety of gun control measures. His openness to a new assault rifle ban made Dianne Feinstein literally jump for joy. Mr. Trump’s unilateral decision to use the federal bureaucracy to ban bump stocks is the anti-gun left’s biggest victory since President Clinton signed the original “assault weapons” ban in 1994.
Policy aside, the Buckley rule should lead conservatives to consider alternatives to Donald Trump. In the past, I’ve argued that even after four years in the public eye that Mr. Trump was too erratic and had a closet too full of skeletons to be a viable candidate in 2020. In backing Trump and shutting out primary challengers, Republicans would be running the risk that the president would implode prior to the election, as he almost did in 2016, and leave the party without a standard bearer.
Thankfully, Mr. Trump’s implosion happened this week rather a few weeks before the election. Although the Trump Administration claims that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s failure to find a criminal conspiracy and decision not to recommend charges on obstruction of justice represent an exoneration of the president, the Mueller report is not good news for Mr. Trump. Mueller took time to point out that the report did not exonerate Trump on obstruction charges and suggested that Congress should investigate further. He also listed many instances of bad behavior, lies, and general corruption by President Trump and his subordinates. After the Mueller report, it is almost impossible for Donald Trump to be re-elected.
The damage goes beyond Mr. Trump himself to other members of his team. Hope Hicks said, “There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign,” and Reince Priebus similarly claimed, “We didn’t interface with the Russians” when in fact there were many secret contacts between Team Trump and Russia. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders admitted to making things up at press conferences. Even Attorney General Barr’s original letter detailing Mueller’s findings shaded the truth to make Trump look good. Trump’s bad behavior has damaged the reputations of many people who work for him.
William F. Buckley’s famous advice was that conservatives should vote for the most conservative candidate who can win. In the post-Mueller world, that candidate is not Donald Trump. Trump, who very nearly lost in 2016 and only eked out an Electoral College fluke after James Comey’s October surprise despite massive Russian intervention on his behalf, looks to have lost support since his popular vote loss that year. The Mueller report provides a rich trove of material for attack ads that undermine Donald Trump’s already shaky credibility. The president’s only chance is that Democrats nominate another candidate as bad as Hillary Clinton and even that would not be a sure thing.
If Republicans want to avoid an electoral blowout of epic proportions next year, they had better uncircle the wagons from around Donald Trump and find a candidate who has not lost the trust of the public. So far, Weld is the only Republican who has had the temerity to stand up to Trump and may be the only conservative alternative. If Republicans continue to stand by Donald Trump to the bitter end, they deserve the drubbing that they are about to receive.
Wednesday, April 17, 2019
The fundraising reports are in for the first quarter of 2019. The big news was the $30 million raised by President Trump’s re-election campaign, but the fundraising stats from the plethora of Democratic candidates could shed some light on who donors consider to be a viable candidate. Fundraising numbers also provide access to an important platform for Democrats. Only candidates with at least 65,000 individual donors will qualify to participate in the first Democratic primary debate in June 2019.
Candidate reports from the first quarter, which are available on Open Secrets, show that Bernie Sanders is the undisputed money leader in the race so far. Sanders raised more than $18 million, not counting transfers from previous campaigns. More than $15 million of Sanders’ take was from small donors, reflecting his extensive grassroots network. This bodes well both for Bernie’s ability to continue to raise money and his ability to tap into his donor network to find volunteers to work his campaign.
Kamala Harris was in second place with a $12 million take, which also excludes transfers. In contrast with Sanders, Harris received more than half of her donations, $7.6 million, from large donors. Harris has shown a better ability to raise money than to garner support, averaging about eight percent in polling.
In third place was Beto O’Rourke with $9.3 million. As with Bernie, Beto raised more money from small donors, but about 40 percent of his donations also came from large donors. This shows a good mix of grassroots and wealthy backers.
Pete Buttigieg was the surprising fourth-place finisher with more than $7 million. Buttigieg, who averages about five percent in polling, also performed well with both small and large donors.
A quartet of congressional figures make up the next four finishers. The campaigns of Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, and Kirsten Gillibrand were boosted by transfers from prior campaign coffers but none seem to have gained traction either in the polls or with donors. Warren is the only candidate of the four to raise a significant amount ($4.2 million) from small donors. The others don’t seem to have much grassroots support.
When it comes to cash on hand, Bernie Sanders is the leader once again. The Sanders campaign has more than $15.6 million in the bank, which is significantly more than Elizabeth Warren, who was in second place with $11.2 million.
The next four on the list were boosted by transfers from previous campaigns. John Delaney, a former congressman from Maryland, has the third-largest war chest with $10.5 million. Gillibrand, Harris, and Klobuchar follow in order with accounts ranging from $10.1 to $6.9 million.
In the seventh and eighth positions are newcomers Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg. O’Rourke held $6.8 million while Buttigieg had $6.4 million. Both of these candidates have strong fundraising numbers and will likely see their bottom lines increase sharply in the coming months.
Rounding out the top-tier candidates is Cory Booker. The New Jersey senator had just over $6.1 million in his bank account at the end of the first quarter.
Obviously, the big winner in the fundraising race so far is Bernie Sanders. His strong fundraising among small donors reflects a veritable army of dedicated grassroots supporters that will present a formidable opponent for the other Democratic hopefuls.
Other winners include Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg. The newcomers both had surprisingly strong showings that will enable them to get their names and messages out to primary voters. Fox Business reported that average donation for the Buttigieg campaign was $36.35. Simple math shows that this would almost certainly give the recently unknown candidate a place in the first debate.
Kamala Harris was also a winner. As the second-place fundraiser, her campaign is bringing in enough cash to keep going for the foreseeable future despite a poor showing in the polls.
The big loser was Elizabeth Warren who had very disappointing fundraising numbers. Her previous frontrunner status stands in stark contrast to her current status as a has-been who has generated little interest. Warren has a large war chest, however, so don’t look for her to drop out any time soon.
Everyone else was also a loser. The group of Washington insiders, Klobuchar, Booker, and Gillibrand, also had disappointing results, in terms of both polling and fundraising. Large war chests will enable these candidates to stay in the race at least until the first debate.
The plethora of other candidates may not be so lucky. The numerous small and unknown candidates may start dropping out soon. If they don’t start to gain enough traction to get a seat at the debate, there will be little reason for them to stay in the race.
The wild card is Joe Biden. Biden is not reflected in the fundraising numbers despite leading in the polls because he does not have an active campaign yet. If Biden is serious about running, he is working to prepare potential donors to start giving as soon as he makes his announcement. The former vice president and senator is an experienced politician with an extensive network from his previous campaigns. He will hope to outraise the $6.1 million raised by Beto and the $5.9 million garnered by Bernie in the first 24 hours of their campaigns to affirm his status as the frontrunner.
Finally, Republicans should not feel too confident despite Donald Trump’s $30 million haul. While this is more than any Democrat, it should be noted that Democratic fundraising is splintered among a crowded field and many Democrat donors may be waiting for Joe Biden to enter the race. Despite Trump’s impressive number, it only takes two Democratic candidates, Bernie Sanders, and Kamala Harris, to eclipse the president’s haul. It may not be long before Democratic donors rally behind a presumed nominee and President Trump’s fundraising lead begins to quickly erode.
Tuesday, April 16, 2019
In a move that will increase pressure on President Trump to comply with the congressional request for his tax returns, Democrat-in-name-only presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders has released 10 years of tax returns. The Vermont senator’s tax documents show that the democratic socialist is among the nation’s “one-percenters” and has become a capitalist at least in practice.
CNN reported that Sanders’ taxable income jumped from $240,622 in 2015 to $1,073,333 in 2016 after his unsuccessful challenge to Hillary Clinton’s coronation as the Democratic nominee. Since the 2016 campaign, Sanders and his wife, Jane, have raked in $2.79 million, largely from book deals. Sanders has written a total of five books, three of them since 2016. “Our Revolution” (2016) and “Where We Go from Here” (2018) were best-sellers. Jane Sanders also has an upcoming book for which she was paid $106,000.
“These tax returns show that our family has been fortunate," Sanders said in a statement. "I am very grateful for that, as I grew up in a family that lived paycheck to paycheck and I know the stress of economic insecurity. That is why I strive every day to ensure every American has the basic necessities of life, including a livable wage, decent housing, health care, and retirement security. I consider paying more in taxes as my income rose to be both an obligation and an investment in our country.”
Sanders may have come from humble origins but his concern for the poor did not extend far beyond the taxes that he paid. Buzzfeed notes that the Sanders family paid an effective 26 percent tax rate on the $561,293 that they earned in 2018 but only donated 3.4 percent of their earnings to charity. After earning more than $1 million in 2016, Sanders gave only $10,600 to charity, less than one percent of his income. The charities that Sanders did donate to included senior centers, low-income groups, educational organizations, and political groups that advocate for housing and environmental causes.
Sanders denies that his millionaire status conflicts with his democratic socialist message, telling a reporter last week, “I didn't know that it was a crime to write a good book. My view has always been that we need a progressive tax system, which demands that the wealthiest people in this country finally start sharing their fair share in taxes. If I make a lot of money, you make a lot of money.”
Sanders’ attitude is symptomatic of the view of the Democratic Party that it is okay to make money but that taxes need to be increased to take the money from those who earn it. Sanders doesn’t seem to realize that he could voluntarily transfer an unlimited amount of his wealth to the needy without government compulsion. As the Bible says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Apparently, less than five percent of Sander’s heart is with the downtrodden.
But that’s okay. In a free country, people should have the right to give as much – or as little – to charity as they want. People should be free to spend the fruits of their labor in any way that they choose as long as it isn’t illegal.
Americans have a right to give Bernie millions for his books if they want. They also have the right to pay him for his 1987 folk album, "We Shall Overcome,” for which he reportedly earned $110 in royalties last year, indicating that the market has decided that the senator is a better writer than a singer.
Republican voters now officially have a choice between President Trump and another candidate in the 2020 Republican primary. Bill Weld, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts and Gary Johnson’s Libertarian running mate from 2016, has officially thrown his hat into the ring to challenge Mr. Trump for the Republican nomination.
Weld made the announcement with CNN’s Jake Tapper earlier today, saying, “I really think if we have six more years of the same stuff that we’ve had out of the White House [over] the last two years that it would be a political tragedy and I would fear for the Republic, so I would be ashamed of myself if I didn’t raise my hand and run.”
Tapper cited the Trump campaign’s report of raising $30 million in the first quarter and Donald Trump’s 90 percent approval within the GOP and asked Weld whether he really thought he could win a primary battle against the incumbent president. “I do, I’ve done it before,” Weld answered, “particularly in New Hampshire where I’m spending a lot of time. It’s one vote at a time and one voter at a time. You’ve got to meet them.”
Weld added, “What we have now is a president who mocks the rule of law. I spent seven years in the Justice Department trying to keep the politics out of law enforcement, he’s trying to put it in. A president who says we don’t need a free press, who says climate change is a complete hoax. He’s not paying attention.”
President Trump “has difficulty conforming his conduct to the requirements of law. That’s a serious matter in the Oval Office,” Weld continued.
Weld was born in New York, but most of his career has centered around Massachusetts. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he got his start as a legal counsel for the US House Judiciary Committee, where he took part in the Watergate investigation and impeachment inquiry of Richard Nixon. In 1981, Rudy Giuliani recommended him to President Reagan and he was appointed US Attorney for Massachusetts before serving as Reagan’s Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division. In 1990, he was elected to the first of two terms as governor of Massachusetts but lost a 1996 Senate race to John Kerry. In 2005, he was a candidate for governor of New York but did not win the Republican nomination. In 2012, Weld was co-chairman of Mitt Romney’s New York campaign, but in recent history, he is best known for his 2016 Libertarian campaign with Gary Johnson. Contrary to rumors, Weld did not endorse Hillary Clinton that year, but he did “vouch” for her after FBI Director James Comey’s October surprise announcement that more Clinton emails had been discovered.
Weld faces an uphill battle in his campaign against President Trump. He has a reputation as being liberal on many social issues such as gay rights, abortion, and marijuana. Those positions, along with conservative stances on fiscal issues, made him a good fit for the Libertarian ticket but will not sit well with many Republicans. They may help with moderate Republicans, however. Among Republicans, about a third are pro-choice, about 40 percent favor same-sex marriage, and about half support legalization of marijuana. While Trump has been active in signing pro-life Executive Orders, he has been quiet on the issue of marriage and there are rumors that the president will soon announce support of marijuana legalization as well.
Donald Trump currently has an overall average approval rating of only 42 percent, but the president still has approval approaching 90 percent among Republicans. Trump’s overwhelming popularity within the GOP will make it very difficult to unseat him in the primary unless his administration experiences an almost total meltdown over the next year. However, Trump’s unpopularity among other voters will make it very difficult for the president to win a re-election campaign. A March poll found that 46 percent of voters would refuse to even consider voting for Trump.
Even with Trump’s strong approval among Republicans, there may be an appetite for a primary challenger. Another poll taken last month found that 19 percent of Republicans had lukewarm support for Trump’s re-election campaign and 20 percent wanted another candidate. A state-by-state look at Trump’s approval shows that the president has slim margins in many deep red states. A challenger whose primary campaign focused on blue and swing states could make serious trouble for an unpopular president.
Weld has signaled that his strategy will be to focus on the early primary state of New Hampshire where Trump has a net disapproval of 13 points. Weld will canvas the area and meet voters face-to-face. This strategy can work in a small state like New Hampshire, but would obviously be impractical in a national series of primary elections.
A smart strategy for Weld would be to temper his direct criticism of President Trump and focus on the president’s most unpopular policies. On a number of issues, such as separation of immigrant families and using a national emergency to bypass Congress, Trump has lost even the support of Republican voters. The trade war, the ballooning deficit, and the president’s poor relations with allies also provide openings. By focusing on Trump’s unpopular policies and his inability to bring the country together, Weld might have a chance at winning enough moderate and conservative voters who are dissatisfied with the direction of the Trump Administration and skeptical about Trump’s ability to win against someone who is not Hillary Clinton to seize the nomination.
Weld’s candidacy is a long shot, but it should not be discounted. In an era in which the news cycle spins faster and faster and President Trump seems more and more out of touch with the electorate at large, by next year Republican voters could find themselves thankful to have an alternative to the outsider in the White House.
Friday, April 5, 2019
Both Good Trump and Bad Trump were on display yesterday as President Trump backed off from his threat to close the Mexican border and simultaneously threatened to add more tariffs to Mexican auto exports to the US. The threat to close the border had sparked fears of a disruption in trade with Mexico that could have led to shortages and price increases on numerous products including avocados.
Addressing reporters at the White House, President Trump said that Mexico was not doing enough to stop cross-border traffic of illegal immigrants and drugs, but that he would give the Mexican government a year to improve.
“We’re going to give them a one-year warning and if the drugs don’t stop, or largely stop, we’re going to put tariffs,” on cars, Trump said. “And if that doesn’t stop the drugs, we close the border.”
When asked if his comments meant that he would not close the border for a year, Mr. Trump answered, “I didn’t say that. We’ll start with the tariffs and see what happens.”
The president did not explain how what he has described as a national emergency at the border could withstand waiting a year to take action.
Trump’s reversal on the threat to close the border was a welcome sign for businesses and economists. After decades of free trade under NAFTA, Mexico ranked as the second-largest export market for American-made goods as well as the second-largest supplier of imported goods to the US per the US Trade Representative. Many corporate supply chains are integrated within both countries with Mexican factories building components for products finished in the United States. Many consumer goods are also imported from Mexico.
Since the president made his threat to close the border, the avocado has become symbolic of the trade with Mexico that would be lost if Mr. Trump follows through. The fruit used in guacamole has become a very popular food in the United States and most of the American supply is imported from Mexico. Some supporters of the president’s strategy argue that avocados are also grown in the US and so the market would not be disrupted if the border was closed.
Several US states do grow avocados. The US produced a total of 292 million pounds of avocados in 2017. Unfortunately for avocado aficionados, Americans consumed about 2.2 billion (with a “b”) pounds of avocados the same year. If avocado imports were cut off from Mexico, the world’s largest producer. The avocado deficit means that the US would certainly suffer a large avocado shortage if supplies from Mexico were cut off.
When a product with high demand is in short supply, the laws of supply and demand take over. Prices increase and demand simultaneously falls. This has already happened as avocado markets reacted to the threat of border closure by increasing avocado prices by 34 percent.
The problem is the same for many other products as for avocados. Cars are one example. Mexico exports more than 2.5 million autos to the US that are produced by almost all major automakers, including popular Ford, Chrysler, and GM models. The application of tariffs or the closure of the border could hit American automakers and consumers hard. It would take years to move production back to the US.
Increasing prices would make it more attractive for American farmers to grow avocados, but the loss of avocado supplies could not be immediately replaced. As with moving a factory, it takes 3-4 years for newly planted avocado trees to produce fruit. Diverting American farmland to avocado production would also mean that other crops could not be planted, causing shortages of other commodities due to limited resources.
The resources of the Mexican government are also limited. Security forces in the third-world country face a much greater threat from drug cartels than from migrants seeking to make their way to the US border. If the Mexican government gives in to President Trump’s demand to allocate more resources to intercepting and detaining migrants, those resources won’t be battling the cartels and drug smugglers.
While the decision to keep the border open will be welcomed by many Republicans and members of the business community, the president’s threat to step up the tariff war is more problematic. The Trump Administration completed a NAFTA rewrite with Mexico and Canada last year, but the new treaty has yet to be ratified by each country. It is possible that Mexico will refuse to ratify the deal if President Trump continues to threaten new tariffs.
Killing the new version of NAFTA may suit President Trump just fine. Mr. Trump blamed NAFTA for US economic woes on the campaign trail in 2016. As recently as December, the president threatened to withdraw from NAFTA entirely. Killing the free trade agreement would allow both countries to place tariffs on US goods and could cause an economic shock.
President Trump’s erratic trade policies put the growth of the US economy at risk and work at odds with his regulatory and tax reform. Economic growth surged in the first half of 2018 following the passage of tax reform but slowed to Obama-era levels after the onset of Mr. Trump’s trade war. Growth for the fourth quarter of 2018 was recently revised downward to 2.2 percent, which is below the post-WWII average.
President Trump deserves credit for reversing his decision to close the border, but the reversal merely corrects a self-induced problem that stems from the president’s rash and ill-considered comments of a week earlier. Closing the border would be unlikely to have a significant effect on slowing smuggling and illegal immigration, especially since most new illegals enter the US legally and overstay visas, but it would have a punishing effect on trade and the economy.
If President Trump stands by his threat to close the borde next year, the debate would shift to the runup to the 2020 elections. The issue of a disruption of trade with Mexico could prove to be enough that many business leaders would see the socialist Democrats as less of a threat to the economy than an isolationist Trump Administration.
Thursday, April 4, 2019
The filibuster may be dying the death of a thousand cuts.
After Majority Leader Harry Reid implemented the nuclear option to eliminate the filibuster for cabinet appointees and judicial nominees below the Supreme Court in 2013, Mitch McConnell, leader of the Republican minority at the time, warned, “I say to my friends on the other side of the aisle, you’ll regret this. And you may regret it a lot sooner than you think.”
McConnell’s warning was prescient. It was only four years later that Republicans used Reid’s rules to confirm Donald Trump’s cabinet. Then McConnell dropped his own nuke and removed the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, allowing Republicans to confirm Neal Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh over Democratic objections. Now McConnell is about to go nuclear again.
American military strategists have long embraced a policy of no-first-use when it comes to nuclear weapons. The situation in the Senate is an example of why. Once one nuke is dropped, it becomes easier and easier for others to launch their own nuclear weapons at more and more targets. The first use of a nuclear weapon expands the Overton window to where usage of more nukes is acceptable.
NBC News reports that Mr. McConnell may drop his next nuke as early as today. Yesterday, in a party-line vote, the Senate rejected a change to rules that would have limited debate on cabinet appointees and district-level judicial nominees to two hours from the current 30. This would make it easier for the Senate to confirm more of President Trump’s judicial nominees. Even though the Senate required 60 votes to make the change, McConnell has the ability to use procedural tactics to make the change with only a simple majority.
Burgess Everett writes in Politico that each time the filibuster is weakened unilaterally by one party, it becomes more likely that the measure will eventually be totally eradicated. Already, members of both parties are claiming that the other wants to eliminate the filibuster so why not take pre-emptive steps and do it to their own advantage?
“If eliminating the legislative filibuster will serve Sen. McConnell’s purposes, he’ll eliminate it,” said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). “After what Sen. McConnell has done to this institution, there will be many people who will be putting pressure on us to do the same thing.”
“It’ll go down the road,” Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said. “If the Democrats take control of the Senate and we’re in a strong minority then they’ll change it immediately.”
President Trump has also made repeated calls to eliminate the filibuster. Mr. McConnell rebuffed those calls as recently as last June, but the majority leader’s repeated weakening of the filibuster whenever it is convenient may be dooming the Senate rule.
The argument against the filibuster is basically that Congress is too divided to compromise. Neither party has enough votes to force its will on the other without convincing a few senators to cross the aisle. While this division is frustrating to party activists, the voters who keep Congress decided seem to prefer stalemate to one-party rule.
Both sides will be to blame for killing the filibuster. Harry Reid uncorked the nuclear genie from his bottle but Republicans have taken the idea and run with it. If Republicans eliminate the filibuster, it will be the GOP that bears the brunt of voter anger for the change.
Regardless of who eventually pulls the trigger to finally eliminate the traditional safeguard for the Senate’s minority, the country will be worse off without the filibuster. The need for 60 votes to advance legislation acts as a speed brake to slow down bad bills. Without the restraining influence of the minority, a bevy of bad ideas could easily become law. National policy could veer wildly from one side of the political spectrum to the other.
While eliminating the filibuster would allow Republicans to fund President Trump’s wall and repeal Obamacare in the short-term, it is very likely that after the 2020 elections the situation will look very different. If Democrats win control of the Senate and the presidency while retaining the House of Representatives, the absence of the filibuster would allow them to defund the wall while, at the same time, passing a veritable liberal wish list that includes gun control, Medicaid-for-all, higher taxes, and who knows what else. Even with a large Republican minority, the Democrats would be unstoppable until after the next election.
It may already be too late to prevent the death of the filibuster, but Mitch McConnell and his Senate Republicans should think very carefully before further weakening the tradition. They may regret it if they do. And they may regret it a lot sooner than they think.Originally published on The Resurgent
Wednesday, April 3, 2019
President Trump surprised many people with his pivot to health care last week. Now it seems that Senate Republicans were just as surprised as the rest of the country. Now Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is saying definitively that the GOP is not ready to move ahead with another attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare.
Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, McConnell said, “We had a good conversation yesterday afternoon and I pointed out to him [Trump] the Senate Republicans’ view on dealing with comprehensive health care reform with a Democratic House of Representatives.”
“I was fine with Sen. Alexander and Sen. Grassley working on prescription drug pricing and other issues that are not a comprehensive effort to revisit the issue that we had the opportunity to address in the last Congress and were unable to do so,” McConnell said. “I made clear to him that we were not going to be doing that in the Senate.”
Health care reemerged as a campaign issue last week when the Trump Administration advocated that judges in a lawsuit should strike down the entire law. On April 1, President Trump announced that Republicans were “developing a really great HealthCare Plan with far lower premiums (cost) & deductibles than ObamaCare.”
After the conversation with McConnell, the president tweeted this morning that he never intended to hold a healthcare vote before the election. Mr. Trump reiterated his belief that healthcare, an issue on which the Democrats usually hold an advantage, would be a “great issue” for Republicans.
The Republican reversal leads to several questions. The most obvious is whether there was any communication between Republican leaders in the healthcare pivot or whether Mr. Trump merely tweeted an off-the-cuff remark that shifted the entire strategic planning of the Republican 2020 effort. It seems likely that the GOP reacted to an unplanned announcement by Mr. Trump.
A second question is how the GOP can co-opt the issue of health care from the Democrats. As I noted last week, the previous Republican effort at repeal succeeded in shifting public opinion from favoring repeal of the Affordable Care Act to an all-time high level of approval of the law. Unless Republicans can coordinate a strong message that calms voter fears about losing coverage, the health care issue is more likely to be beneficial to Democrats.
Third, there is apparently no change in the Trump Administration’s position that courts should strike down the ACA. Are Republicans planning for the possibility that this ruling could come in the runup to the election? Do they have a plan to take advantage of the opportunity to pass a market-based healthcare reform?
Regardless of the questions and current lack of organization and planning, President Trump apparently intends to continue hammering away on healthcare. At the National Republican Congressional Committee’s annual spring dinner last night, Trump said, “We blew it the last time, man I was fed a bill of goods,” but added “we can’t run away” from healthcare or “we’ll lose.”
The back-and-forth on healthcare is reminiscent of the Keystone Kops with positions being reversed at a head-spinning rate. With Democrats in control of the House, there was never any chance that Obamacare could be repealed before the election, but President Trump has handed Nancy Pelosi an issue with which to hammer Republican candidates next year.
Charlotte’s WBTV reports that former congressman and current chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party has been indicted on charges of directing illegal campaign contributions to North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey in an attempt to bribe him. Greg Lindbergh, a Durham businessman and two of Lindbergh’s associates were also indicted.
Tuesday, April 2, 2019
Sometimes the most riveting stories are the ones from real life. True tales of courage and survival can sometimes rival anything that Hollywood screenwriters can cook up. That’s the case with Hotel Mumbai, the new thriller based on the real-life terrorist attack on the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai in November 2008.
Hotel Mumbai was lost in the shuffle between the pro-life drama, Unplanned, the horror movie, Us, and a bevy of superhero flicks. Until I started looking for a movie to see, I hadn’t even heard of Hotel Mumbai.
The movie is the gripping tale of how 10 Islamic terrorists from Pakistan attacked 12 sites in the Indian city of Mumbai. The terrorists eventually penetrated the luxury hotel and terrorized the staff and guests until Indian security forces were able to respond. The terrorist assault lasted three days, during which time the occupants of the hotel were forced to fend for themselves.
The movie follows several guests, staff members, policemen, and the terrorists through the attack. For the most part, the gunmen are depicted as remorseless killing machines who are repeatedly instructed by their leader in Pakistan that they should kill without mercy. And kill they did. The combined death toll from the attacks was 166 people with more than 300 wounded.
Although the terrorists were heartless and were depicted as such, there are scenes towards the end of the movie in which one of the murderers breaks the façade to reveal that some traces of humanity have been left. The effect is to humanize the murderers enough for the viewer to fully sense the tragedy that these men too left behind lives that could have been lived more fully and had loved ones to mourn their loss. In the end, the real villain was the unseen imam who turned what a policeman called “just boys” into brainwashed killing machines.
To balance the cold, calculated brutality of the terrorists, Hotel Mumbai depicts the hotel workers and guests who fought to survive. There are moments of courage, nobility, and love as well as fear, cowardice, and stupidity. These are the understandable reactions of ordinary people who are suddenly faced with extraordinary evil.
The movie, which is rated R, is fast-paced and gritty. There is almost nonstop violence and it is depicted in a realistically bloody manner. This is not a movie for children or the faint of heart. The movie is also filmed in several languages so there are subtitles. The majority of the dialogue is English, however, so the reading is not unduly burdensome.
It did keep my heart pounding, however. The action onscreen was riveting and the characters, aside from the terrorists, were very sympathetic. What made the movie even more intense was the knowledge that this really happened to real people. Hotel Mumbai is somewhat reminiscent of No Escape, the 2015 Owen Wilson movie in which an American family is caught in the midst of a third-world coup, but the historical aspects of Mumbai make it worth watching, even if you’ve seen the earlier terrorists-in-a-hotel film.
As I watched, Hotel Mumbai also reminded me of how fortunate we are in the United States. We have occasional active-shooter killing sprees but we don’t have organized terror attacks by well-trained gunmen acting in teams. In the event that there is an attack of some sort, we also have police tactical units in most major cities. In Mumbai, the nearest SWAT team had to be deployed from Delhi, about eight hours away. Despite the problems that we have on our border, our neighboring countries aren’t filled with people of a hostile religion who want to kill us just for the sake of killing.
Nevertheless, the threat is real, even here. As a frequent traveler, the thought of being trapped in a hotel room with gun-toting terrorists roaming the halls and no way out is chilling. So is the thought that any airport, train station, or shopping mall could become a shooting gallery to a determined terrorist. If spree-killers can inflict large numbers of deaths in this country, so could a jihadist. The spree might not continue for three days but it would be very bloody and very difficult to defend against.
Hotel Mumbai is the best new movie that you never heard of. It doesn’t have big name actors, superheroes, mind-numbing special effects, or exotic fight scenes, but it does have heart and intensity. This true story of survival and sacrifice against unflinching evil is one that needs to be told.