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If Trump Refuses To Leave (The John Roberts Conundrum)

by Kevin Kelton

Should the results of the 2020 presidential election be contested, Chief Justice John Roberts may determine who becomes the next president. But not because he might be the swing vote in a Supreme Court ruling on the matter. Instead, Roberts might find himself in the awkward position of choosing who to swear in.

Let’s back up a moment to find out how one man might end up deciding a presidential election. For months now, people have been asking, what happens if President Trump loses but refuses to leave? There are several scenarios that could get us to that point. Let’s look at them one by one.

First off, we need to put an end to the silly meme Democrats are spreading that Joe Biden has to “win big” to become president. No, he doesn’t! He just needs to win in the electoral college, even if the popular vote is close – just as Kennedy did in ’60, Nixon in ’68, Bush in 2000, and Trump in 2016. Please don’t create an artificial higher standard for Joe that Trump can then exploit to question the legitimacy of a tight race.

But if there is no clear winner and the matter is still in the courts, with Trump refusing to leave the White House, the Constitution is pretty clear on that point. Per the 20th Amendment, the sitting president’s four year term ends at noon on January 20th. If no one is sworn in as the next president, Trump doesn’t just continue in the job. It’s up to the Congress to determine who would become the 46th president, which opens a whole panoply of scenarios. As of today the GOP controls the 26 state delegations needed to win in the House. But the vote would happen in the next Congress, not this one, and since an overwhelming Biden popular vote win would likely have strong enough coattails to flip a few more state delegations blue, they would surely elect the Democrat.

And if no one is certified by congress as the new president by January 20th, that void in the line of presidential succession would be filled by… wait for it… Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

Yes, if Trump tries to hole up in the White House while chaos reins, Republicans might end up having to swallow a Nancy Pelosi presidency! (At least until the election results were fully resolved.) Wouldn’t that be a delicious plot twist?!

But let’s say we don’t get there. Let’s assume the electoral process works as it’s designed. The votes are counted, and Joe Biden has at least 270 electoral votes, but Trump claims that mail-in ballots were tainted or illegal voters tipped the outcome in one or more pivotal swing states. Each state would still have to certify its outcome, and we can presume that key swing states run by Democratic governors and secretaries of state (Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Colorado, North Carolina, Virginia, and Nevada) would defend the legitimacy of all the votes counted and certify the winner of their state. The right combination of those would give Biden 270 EC votes, even if there were certification shenanigans in the GOP led states of Florida, Georgia, New Hampshire, or Arizona.

So for the purposes of this hypothetical, let’s say 270 or more electoral votes are certified in Biden’s favor, but Trump still claims the vote was rigged.

The next step happens regardless of Trump’s public pronouncements of a fake election. The Electoral College votes (bound by the new SCOTUS ruling to honor the state outcomes) and Congress ratifies Biden as the winner. 

That brings us to January 20th. Let’s say Biden is the certified winner but Trump is still holding out in the White House, claiming the election was a sham. Biden will still show up at the Capitol Building to be sworn in, with the Chief Justice there to perform the oath. At that moment, boom! Joe Biden becomes the 46th president. It doesn’t matter who is living in the White House or who is sitting in the Oval Office. Neither of those locations are mentioned in the Constitution, and neither of them convey the power of the presidency. Trump would simply be an interloper on government property, and he would soon be escorted out by the Secret Service, whether he likes it or not.

Even if Chief Justice Roberts, for some reason, weren’t to show up, the inauguration would still go forward. Because the President does not have to be sworn in by the Chief Justice; any federal judge can perform the presidential oath of office. As has happened at least seven times in history. So Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg or another willing associate justice could swear him in, or any judge on the DC Circuit. That oath would make Joe Biden the official President of the United States, and he would assume the powers of the presidency and set up a government, while Trump was illegally barricading himself in the White House like a Branch Davidian.

Which brings us to the thorniest of possibilities: the Roberts conundrum.

Suppose both Biden and Trump claim victory, and each shows up to take the oath on January 20th. At that point, the country would be looking for some form of official validation as to whose inauguration counts. That would put the chief justice in the awkward position of having to decide who to swear in. If Roberts follows the Constitution, he will administer the oath to the congressionally certified winner, Biden.

However, if Roberts, for whatever reason – politics, loyalty, fear – decides to swear in Trump, leaving Biden to be sworn in by a less senior federal judge, an argument would be made that the Roberts inauguration was the more valid one, based on his top position on the federal bench.

Would Roberts really create that type of existential constitution crisis just to protect a Trump presidency? This author highly doubts so. But in the hyper-partisan world of today, it is a hypothetical that cannot be ignored.

So if Trump tries to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, and he is able to get the public support of Senate and House Republicans, it could come down to John Roberts to decide who will get the imprimatur of the chief justice and, with it, the perceive legitimacy of the oath. Lawsuits would certainly continue for years. But in the meantime Donald Trump might still serve as president, allowing him to pick Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s replacement. Which would all but certainly ensure he would prevail when the matter of the contested election eventually reaches the Supreme Court.

And the question of him voluntarily leaving at the end of a second term becomes ever more in doubt.

Kevin Kelton is a cohost of The More Perfect Union podcast and founder of Open Fire Politics.

 

This Is What Abuse of Power Looks Like

by D.J. McGuire

Donald Trump committed an impeachable offense Friday night; if his defenders would rather I stop saying that, then he needs to stop doing them. This particular abuse of power and offense to the Constitution was his commutation of Roger Stone’s jail time.

I’m not going to provide chapter and verse on Stone’s role in Russia’s interference with the 2016 election, largely because David Frum whipped up an excellent cliff-notes version in The Atlantic. Here are his key takeaways (emphasis in original):

It is not illegal for a U.S. citizen to act or attempt to act as a go-between between a presidential campaign and a foreign intelligence agency, and Stone was not charged with any crime in conjunction with his Trump-WikiLeaks communications. But it’s a different story for the campaign itself. At a minimum, the Trump campaign was vulnerable to charges of violating election laws against receiving things of value from non-U.S. persons. Conceivably, the campaign could have found itself at risk as some kind of accessory to the Russian hacks—hacking being a very serious crime indeed. So it was crucial to the Trump campaign that Stone keep silent and not implicate Trump in any way.

Which is what Stone did. Stone was accused of—and convicted of—lying to Congress about his role in the WikiLeaks matter. Since Stone himself would have been in no legal jeopardy had he told the truth, the strong inference is that he lied to protect somebody else. Just today, this very day, Stone told the journalist Howard Fineman why he lied and whom he was protecting. “He knows I was under enormous pressure to turn on him. It would have eased my situation considerably. But I didn’t.” You read that, and you blink. As the prominent Trump critic George Conway tweeted: “I mean, even Tony Soprano would have used only a pay phone or burner phone to say something like this.” Stone said it on the record to one of the best-known reporters in Washington. In so many words, he seemed to imply: I could have hurt the president if I’d rolled over on him. I kept my mouth shut. He owes me.

And sure enough, Trump did owe him. Trump commuted Stone’s 40-month sentence. Roger Stone will not go to prison. Stone’s former business partner Paul Manafort is likewise keeping silent. And so the American public will likely never know what use the Russians made of the Trump polling information that Manafort shared with them. Manafort has extra reason to keep quiet, for he must feel new confidence that his pardon is coming.

Now I’m sure several of Trump’s defenders will populate the comments below with the closest thing they have to an intellectual defense on this: the president’s “right” to pardon or commute sentences for convicted federal criminals. The fallacy behind that is rather easy to expose.

The president has no “right” to exercise authority in the Constitution. The Constitution gives him the power to do several things – including pardon and commutation power. Having said power does not allow him to use it to obstruct justice. The ordinary American with a driver’s license has the power to operate an automobile. That doesn’t absolve one who drives the getaway car in a bank robbery, or transports an abductee, or even violates speeding limits. If one is using power to prevent themselves from being exposed for criminal behavior, then the power is being abused.

As it happens, Stone himself was brazen enough to present the evidence of abuse of power: “He knows I was under enormous pressure to turn on him. It would have eased my situation considerably. But I didn’t.”

Donald Trump can pardon whomever he wants. He can commute the sentence for whomever he wants. However, if he commits a crime in the process, it is an abuse of power that requires his impeachment and removal from office.

There’s no need to take my word for it; here’s Senator Mitt Romney: “Unprecedented, historic corruption: an American president commutes the sentence of a person convicted by a jury of lying to shield that very president.”

That from the lone Republican Senator who voted to convict Trump for abuse of power – and thus to remove Trump from office – over the Ukraine fiasco.

Simply put, Donald Trump abused his power – again. His actions warrant impeachment, conviction, and removal from office – again. I fear that outside of Mitt Romney, members of his party will deny this truth – again.

Restoring the American republic is up to the electorate in November.

Trump’s Immigration Deflection

by D.J. McGuire

Donald Trump recognized his response to coronavirus was a disaster both nationally and politically. He won’t tell you that; nor will his die-hard supporters. He knows it all the same. Otherwise, he would never have bothered trying to distract everyone – especially said die-hard supporters – with an irrelevant but damaging executive order halting all immigration to the United States.

Trump’s entire response to coronavirus has been a slow-motion version of “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks.” First, he insisted it wasn’t a big deal (Tim Miller, Bulwark). When that didn’t work, he tried convincing Americans that this was a surprise to everyone (Miller has the receipts showing otherwise). Then he tried blaming “China” – by which I presume he meant the Chinese Communist Party. That might have gotten him somewhere had he not tried to rope Joe Biden in via guilt by association (Biden promptly pulled out his own receipts on Trump’s obsequious praise for Xi Jinping). So he pivoted to spouting off about the need to remove restrictions imposed by the states (insisting governors should “LIBERATE” them). Pew Research found that most Americans would prefer they didn’t.

At long last, with each narrative collapsing under the weight of reality, Trump shifted gears and went to his standby: irrelevant nativism.

The idea that an immigration pause would do anything against the “invisible enemy” is laughable. The nation with the largest caseload and body count from the virus is … the United States. Even on a per capita basis, we are in the top ten, with the only nations ahead of us from Europe (which was already under a partial travel ban). We have ten times as many cases and deaths as mainland China, a disparity no amount of (certainly happening) Communist cover-up could erase.

Then there is the question of how America is in such good shape that the economy can reopen while also being so bad that immigrants have to be barred for two months.

Of course, Trump probably knows this too – otherwise he wouldn’t have added boilerplate nonsense about “protecting jobs.” The idea that a two-month pause in immigration would have any visible effect on a labor force where 22 million (at least) have been forced into unemployment is nonsensical.

Not only is there no short-term gain, but lots of long-term pain, as Linda Chavez noted (Bulwark):

While most immigrants work in the service economy, a 2018 study by the Brookings Institution indicates that nearly a third of our STEM workers and students are also immigrants or the children of immigrants. When researchers find a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19, we shouldn’t be surprised that an immigrant or first generation American will be on the team, or even leading it.

In the meantime, the orderlies, nurses, and doctors caring for patients in hospitals around the country are increasingly likely to be foreign born, with immigrants accounting for almost a third of physicians and nearly 40 percent of health aid workers, according to a study by the Migration Policy Institute.

Note how Trump didn’t couch his order as “Fewer engineers and health care workers” – but those are the effect regardless. Unintended consequences don’t care about anyone’s feelings.

The reality is this: Donald Trump needed a distraction. He needed something to rile up his base. Bashing immigrants has always been his break-glass-in-case-of-emergency move.

There is one silver lining to this, however. We have yet more proof that for Trump and his supporters, it was never really about “illegal” immigration. It was about immigration, period. We should not forget this.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.

Biden Endorsements Galore (Ep. 253)

This MPU podcast catches up with the 2020 presidential race as Democrats line up to endorse Joe Biden. Then the hosts look at the week in the world of Coronavirus, and how it’s changing their own lives.

Covid-16 Is Infecting 2020

By Kevin Kelton

You wouldn’t knowingly risk infecting someone important to you with the coronavirus. Yet millions of thoughtless Democrats are infecting their party’s presumptive nominee.

Every day, we see reckless Democrats passing on the germs of dirty politics to Joe Biden. They selfishly cough up words like “dementia,” “handsy,” “corporate-owned,” and even high-risk terms like “pedophile” into the air of social media, spreading those deadly labels into the body politic, much like was done to Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Let’s be clear: Joe Biden is not Hillary. But he is just as suseptible to the same gutter character attacks that made millions of normally Democratic voters avoid the polls that year, killing her candidacy. It could be called Covid-16, and it was just as deadly as coronavirus germs are on your unwashed hands.

Four years later, it’s time for disappointed progressive voters to face reality. Whether you supportered Sanders or Warren or Buttigieg or Yang, Biden is going to be the Democratic candidate this Fall. He earned it fair and square, pulling off one of the greatest political comebacks in history. Not only did his one-on-one debate with Sanders prove he isn’t hobbled by age, it clearly demonstrated his mettle as a viable candidate and a strong leader.

And with his latest thumping of Sanders across Florida, Illinois, and Arizona (along with Michigan, Minnesota, Virginia, Texas, and North Carolina) he proved he can replicate the same coalitions that led to the blue wave of 2018. There is little doubt Biden will continue that success in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Georgia, and probably Wisconsin – virtually running the table in the swing states the party will need to hold come November 3.

Consider a second Trump term the political equivalent of the coronavirus, because it could literally kill thousands of LGBTs, Dreamers, seniors, pregnant women, service members, undocumented immigrants, POC, and other high-risk groups. Every time you infect Joe’s reputation with claims he may be suffering from dementia or some similarly untrue character smear, you risk spreading that idea to others. Your Facebook friends read it, then they spread it to their friends, and they spread it, until you have an epidemic of people turning off to Biden and staying home in November.

You might as well go phonebank for Trump, because that’s exactly what you’re doing with your social media posts.

It’s time for progressives to put some social media distance between them and the virus of hate that can kill our party’s chances in November. Irresponsible character attacks are our Covid-20. If you chose to be a carrier and infect this election cycle like so many did in 2016, don’t be surprised when you send your dearest issues – climate change, reproductive rights, economic inequality, and LGBT rights – to an early grave.

Kevin Kelton is the founder of the Open Fire community of Facebook discussion groups and a cohost of The More Perfect Union Podcast.

 

 

Supporting Bernie Sanders is a Mistake, No Matter Your Reason

by D.J. McGuire

I’ve said relatively little about the party I joined in the aftermath of Trump’s election victory — besides warning the Virginia branch not to get too complacent about recent election victories. The Trumpster fire that is the Republican Party has, for what I think are understandable reasons, dominated my attention.

That doesn’t change the fact that the Democrats are in danger of making a very serious mistake in whom we nominate for president. Bernie Sanders, should he be nominated, wouldn’t just be the least likely Democrat among the viable field to win in November; his Administration risks enabling the Trumpified GOP for decades — even as he, Sanders, advances much of Trump’s agenda.

I will not spend much bandwith insisting Sanders “can’t win,” because I’m not sure of that. His path to victory is very narrow (Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin — while giving up any chance of Arizona, North Carolina, or Florida) while requiring the party to play defense in states that have been moving its way (Colorado, Virginia, and possibly even New Mexico and Minnesota), but not impossible. What is being ignored — ironically, because so few pundits think Sanders can beat Trump — is what would happen if he does.

For starters, voters looking for a dramatic departure from the Trump Administration would find — to their chagrin — that they won’t get one. On some of the major issues America faces in the world, Sanders and Trump are in agreement.

They both support — and, indeed, personify — the rise in isolationism that is exceedingly dangerous to America. The revulsion felt by many Americans at Sanders’ potential nomination will be shared by our allies at his potential election.

Indeed, a Trump-Sanders race by its very existence is likely to weaken NATO and our other democratic alliances, to say nothing of our partners in the fights against the Taliban and against Daesh. The lesson of 2016 — namely, that leaving Russia to its own devices means allowing them to attack our elections as well as our interests around the world — will be lost. Our allies will take note, and further distance themselves from us.

There are similar problems on international trade. To some extent, the rest of world has been holding its breath, trying to see if America’s protectionist turn is permanent or not. A Sanders nomination would make than an unequivocal “yes” — and they will act accordingly. Tens of millions of Americans who also support freer trade will be effectively silenced, but the biggest problem is that a failed and backward economic theory will be validated without even so much as an argument.

Meanwhile, the Trumpenproletariat will simply bank the policy victories and go all-in on outrage caused by their differences with a Sanders Administration — one whose re-election chances are nearly zero. Whether you subscribe to the Bitecofer Theory (Politico) about negative partisanship dominating the electorate, or look to economics (where a long-delayed recession is almost certain to hit in the early 20s), the Republican nominee for president in 2024 will be in a very competitive position.

Who would that nominee be is less important than what the Republican electorate wants of them. Trump has exposed a dangerously wide authoritarian streak within the GOP. No 2024 nominee can ignore it. More likely, they will embrace it. Even assuming Trump himself doesn’t attempt a rematch, he could put forth one of his children as his successor. Ironically, that may be the best case scenario, as neither Junior nor Ivanka has the dark genius of Josh Hawley or Tom Cotton.

Either way, Republicans in 2024 will be able to run against a president who promised the moon and delivered only what Mitch McConnell would let him – namely, zilch. All the while the damage Trump has done to our international standing would continue, because the policies that created the damage would be continued.

Democrats still have numerous options before them in 2020: Barack Obama’s Vice President, a youthful mayor untainted by Washington, a moderate Senator from the Upper Midwest, a successful Mayor of New York City, and a policy wunderkind. They have their weaknesses, too, to be sure, but all of them would be a better general election candidate than Sanders.

More importantly, all of them would make a better president than Sanders.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.

Thank You, Senator Romney

by D.J. McGuire

“Romney voted to convict the president. His fellow Republicans voted to convict themselves.” – Windsor Mann, The Week

Truth be told, I don’t think I could have said it any better.

My antipathy for Donald Trump is no secret. He was why I left the Republican Party in 2016. I am in no small part a Democrat because of what he has exposed about the GOP. I have called for him to be removed from office, an effort that failed today with the Senate’s acquittal — a sure-fire sign that jury nullification is alive and well in the 21st Century.

We have seen Republicans pretend that Donald Trump really does care about corruption in Ukraine — never mind that he couldn’t even name a single Ukrainian oligarch in that “perfect” call of 25 July 2019.

We have seen Republicans attempt to out the whistleblower in a desperate attempt to change the subject.

We saw the entire House Republican caucus refuse to believe fact and follow the lead of Devin Nunes — now exposed as Trump’s co-conspirator.

We saw 51 of 53 Republicans refuse to even consider witness testimony last week.

Finally, today, we saw 52 Senate Republicans vote to acquit, including several who freely admit the president did something egregious but can’t bring themselves to do anything about it. Nearly the entire Republican Party in Congress prostrated itself to Donald Trump.

Nearly.

That’s where Mitt Romney comes in.

The last Republican presidential nominee to win my vote — something I don’t see changing in my lifetime — Mitt Romney felt the squeeze, with his sense of honor on one side and part loyalty on the other. He laid out his thinking in an interview with McKay Coppins in The Atlantic (emphasis in original)

The gravity of the moment weighed on him, as did the pressure from members of his own party to acquit their leader. As his conscience tugged at him, he said, the exercise took on a spiritual dimension.

Romney, a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, described to me the power of taking an oath before God: “It’s something which I take very seriously.” Throughout the trial, he said, he was guided by his father’s favorite verse of Mormon scripture: Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good. “I have gone through a process of very thorough analysis and searching, and I have prayed through this process,” he told me. “But I don’t pretend that God told me what to do.”

In the end, the evidence was inescapable. “The president did in fact pressure a foreign government to corrupt our election process,” Romney said. “And really, corrupting an election process in a democratic republic is about as abusive and egregious an act against the Constitution—and one’s oath—that I can imagine. It’s what autocrats do.”

According to Romney’s interpretation of Alexander Hamilton’s treatise on impeachment in “Federalist No. 65”—which he says he’s read “multiple, multiple times”—Trump’s attempts to enlist the Ukrainian president in interfering with the 2020 election clearly rose to the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

“It’s what autocrats do.”

Romney also revealed the mentality that has taken over his party — and revealed why it is no longer mine:

“I get that a lot—‘Be with the president,’ ” Romney told me, sounding slightly perplexed. “And I’ll say, ‘Regardless of his point of view? Regardless of the issue?’ And they say yes. And … it’s like, ‘Well, no, I can’t do that.’ ”

I wish I could say Mitt Romney will be the conscience of the GOP. More likely, he will find himself as ostracized as Justin Amash was before he left. Romney has more time (his term expires in 2024), but as a Senator he also has more visibility. We will see what happens. For now, though, he has validated my vote for him in 2012.

For that, even as we are now across the partisan divide, I am deeply grateful.

“Romney voted to convict the president. His fellow Republicans voted to convict themselves.” – Windsor Mann, The Week

Truth be told, I don’t think I could have said it any better.

My antipathy for Donald Trump is no secret. He was why I left the Republican Party in 2016. I am in no small part a Democrat because of what he has exposed about the GOP. I have called for him to be removed from office, an effort that failed today with the Senate’s acquittal — a sure-fire sign that jury nullification is alive and well in the 21st Century.

We have seen Republicans pretend that Donald Trump really does care about corruption in Ukraine — never mind that he couldn’t even name a single Ukrainian oligarch in that “perfect” call of 25 July 2019.

We have seen Republicans attempt to out the whistleblower in a desperate attempt to change the subject.

We saw the entire House Republican caucus refuse to believe fact and follow the lead of Devin Nunes — now exposed as Trump’s co-conspirator.

We saw 51 of 53 Republicans refuse to even consider witness testimony last week.

Finally, today, we saw 52 Senate Republicans vote to acquit, including several who freely admit the president did something egregious but can’t bring themselves to do anything about it. Nearly the entire Republican Party in Congress prostrated itself to Donald Trump.

Nearly.

That’s where Mitt Romney comes in.

The last Republican presidential nominee to win my vote — something I don’t see changing in my lifetime — Mitt Romney felt the squeeze, with his sense of honor on one side and part loyalty on the other. He laid out his thinking in an interview with McKay Coppins in The Atlantic (emphasis in original)

The gravity of the moment weighed on him, as did the pressure from members of his own party to acquit their leader. As his conscience tugged at him, he said, the exercise took on a spiritual dimension.

Romney, a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, described to me the power of taking an oath before God: “It’s something which I take very seriously.” Throughout the trial, he said, he was guided by his father’s favorite verse of Mormon scripture: Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good. “I have gone through a process of very thorough analysis and searching, and I have prayed through this process,” he told me. “But I don’t pretend that God told me what to do.”

In the end, the evidence was inescapable. “The president did in fact pressure a foreign government to corrupt our election process,” Romney said. “And really, corrupting an election process in a democratic republic is about as abusive and egregious an act against the Constitution—and one’s oath—that I can imagine. It’s what autocrats do.”

According to Romney’s interpretation of Alexander Hamilton’s treatise on impeachment in “Federalist No. 65”—which he says he’s read “multiple, multiple times”—Trump’s attempts to enlist the Ukrainian president in interfering with the 2020 election clearly rose to the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

“It’s what autocrats do.”

Romney also revealed the mentality that has taken over his party — and revealed why it is no longer mine:

“I get that a lot—‘Be with the president,’ ” Romney told me, sounding slightly perplexed. “And I’ll say, ‘Regardless of his point of view? Regardless of the issue?’ And they say yes. And … it’s like, ‘Well, no, I can’t do that.’ ”

I wish I could say Mitt Romney will be the conscience of the GOP. More likely, he will find himself as ostracized as Justin Amash was before he left. Romney has more time (his term expires in 2024), but as a Senator he also has more visibility. We will see what happens. For now, though, he has validated my vote for him in 2012.

For that, even as we are now across the partisan divide, I am deeply grateful.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.

So You Really Want to Defeat the Iranian Regime?

by D.J. McGuire

“A strange game, the only winning move is not to play” – Joshua, War Games

Less than a week after Qasem Soleimani was killed in an American drone attack in Baghdad, the Iranian regime’s military has responded with a dozen-plus missile attacks on two American bases. Thankfully, as of early this morning, there appear to be no American or Iraqi casualties.

That the Khomeinist regime in Tehran is hostile to the United States is not news – and no, said hostility did not start in January 2017. Tehran has been subverting Iraq’s democracy for over a decade. It has played a critical role in Bashar Assad’s bloody repression of the popular uprising in Syria – spearheaded by Soleimani himself before he met his own well-deserved demise. It has continually, and successfully, waylaid attempts by the Lebanese people to escape its influence.

All of these have been swept under the rug by the projectile exchange – including a burgeoning anti-Tehran movement among Iraqi Shiites, as I noted last week. Tehran’s attempt to change the subject worked beautifully. Now, they’re hoping to reap the benefits by relying on outrage at “the Great Satan” to isolated domestic opponents and keep any of the aforementioned anti-Tehran movements from getting more oxygen.

At this moment, Trump can continue military action, or he can move to defeat Tehran in the region. Note, I said or, not and. America can (and should) deliver serious geopolitical defeats to Tehran, but they won’t be delivered via direct military force. What would it entail? As it happens, I provided some of that answer last week:

A broader strategy would have recognized and reached out to the Iraqi protestors (and their counterparts in Iran) and challenged the mullahcracy across all fronts – including Syria and Lebanon. It would go beyond the ridiculous yet stubborn false choice of nothing or full military force. It would work with regional and global allies to press the case for true democracy and the stability that comes with it. It would make clear that the Tehran regime itself is the problem, and that we recognize its behavior is but a feature of its tyranny and the anxiety that always comes from a lack of popular legitimacy.

Contrary to what Tehran would like us to believe, opposition to their influence in Iraq hasn’t gone away. Even as the Shiite parties in the Iraqi parliament voted to demand U.S. troops leave Iraq, the Sunni, Kurdish, and other non-sectarian Shiite parties refused to show up for the vote (Washington Post). Had six more Shiite MPs been unable to attend, the parliament would have lacked a quorum and been unable to vote on anything.

The largest of the parties that did vote for the demand that is led by Muqtada al-Sadr, whose anger at the U.S. is at least matched by his fury at Tehran’s influence in his country. The current Prime Minister there is already on his way out because of the anger of the anti-Tehran Shiite movement. An American president who understood the nuances of the situation would realize we could seriously damage Iran geopolitically without firing a shot.

Meanwhile, we do still have a military presence in eastern Syria, and thus still have an opportunity to build and support Syrians who reject the false choice of Assad or Wahhabism. Of course, that first requires a president who recognizes that to be a false choice. Again, a Syria without Assad would strike a major blow against the Khomeinist regime.

Finally, there is the matter of the dissidents within Iran itself. For all of Trump’s supposed toughness, he has repeatedly insisted he is not looking for regime change in Iran (CNBC). This continues to send the wrong message to the Iranian people – the regime’s first and longest suffering group of victims. Lest we forget, Ronald Reagan gave the Polish Communists fits by supporting the Solidarity movement with words, funds, and communications materials. The Communist regime fell in 1989 without a shot being fired.

The first two objectives, if achieved, would badly defeat the Khomeinist regime; the third would help the Iranian people end it entirely. The problems are these: direct military action against Iran is more likely to damage than to benefit efforts for all three, and Donald Trump has never shown an interest in any of them in the first place.

That is why I have been so critical of his policies in the region. That is why I came up short of three full cheers for the successful dispatching of Soleimani. That butcher’s death would have been very helpful at least regarding the Syria and Iraq objectives, but without said objectives, all we got was a president with a goosed-up ego and the business end of roughly a dozen missiles. That said, it’s not too late to shift gears and “go long” with the aforementioned objectives to actually defeat the Khomeinist regime.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.

More Perfect Monologues (Ep. 234)

In this special episode, each of the MPU hosts speaks directly to you about issues that have been on their minds over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Donald Trump Is a Coward

by D.J. McGuire

Over the past year, it has become clear that the Stalinist regime in northern Korea has no intention of slowing – let alone reversing – its build-up of nuclear weapons and missiles. Yet with each act of provocation, Donald Trump responds by backing down or explaining away the danger (Time)…

As Russia continues to grind down Ukraine (Reuters), Trump falls upon the weakened Ukraine to demand it smear the Bidens (CNN)…

As the Chinese Communist regime continues to constrain the people of Hong Kong while slaughtering the people of occupied East Turkestan, Trump refuses to make any criticism (Bloomberg)…

As the anniversary of 9/11 approached, Trump considered a full withdrawal from Afghanistan (New York Times)

Just last week, Trump removed American troops from a position that would have blocked Turkey from invading northeastern Syria …

… and yesterday, when the Turkish invasion was far bloodier and closer to American troops than promised, Trump simply withdrew our troops from northeast Syria entirely (Washington Post).

Much of this could have been chalked up to the president’s narcissism and refusal to acknowledge when things go wrong, or to his long-held isolationist worldview (he’s been like this since the 1980s). More than a few are wondering about Trump’s investments in Turkey – after all, he has himself admitted to “a little conflict of interest” (New York).

There is, however, a simpler explanation: one that explains Trump’s slavish treatment of dictatorships and the continuing retreat of American power under his tenure in office.

I humbly submit before you this proposition: Donald Trump is a coward.

All of his talk about being “tough” is simply that – talk. When push comes to shove, and he has to do more than hire lawyers, lie to the press, or bully elected Republicans, he folds like a cheap suit. Rather than face the consequences of his business mistakes, he sought Russian funding to keep his empire afloat. Rather than acknowledge mistakes and accept the consequences, he lies, sues, and blames others. When he believes he is more powerful, he punches down. But when someone – anyone – appears able to square up against him, he appeases and surrenders, all the while pretending that he isn’t.

As a result, he is manifestly unfit for office. His refusal to acknowledge his own failings has led him to be used by tyrants repeatedly (see above). His psychological need to compensate for that has led to abuses of power and other high crimes.

As for the consequences to the rest of us, Max Boot put it better than I ever could:

Most of the time, the costs of the Trump presidency are inchoate — laws are broken, norms transgressed. But when it came to immigrant children in cages or Kurds in the line of fire, the costs are all too human and horrifying. Are you happy now, Trump supporters?

That last question is not for me to answer, of course, but I also ask it, with an addendum: Did you, Trump supporters, know you were supporting a coward? Is it worth it so long as he is “your” coward?

It will be tempting to presume this is just a debate among Americans – or even just among conservatives. It isn’t. Trump’s cowardice, to the rest of the world, is America’s cowardice. All Americans will share this stain, including brave men and women such as the special forces soldier who told Fox News, “I am ashamed for the first time in my career.”

Americans can wash ourselves clean, but only if we begin by cleansing the office of the presidency. Every day Donald Trump continues in that office incurs greater shame and greater danger. If he survives impeachment and wins re-election, the damage his cowardice will do to American interests, American prestige, and American lives themselves will grow exponentially.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.

Donald Trump Should Be Removed From Office

by D.J. McGuire

The opinion expressed in the title of this post is almost certainly a minority position among the Bearing Drift editors and contributors. It is still my view, however. While I have multiple reasons, I will focus on the most recent one to come to light: President Trump’s attempt to strong-arm the popularly elected leader of Ukraine to smear an American political opponent.

That attempt was revealed last week, ironically by the Trump Administration itself, via the Memorandum of Telephone Conversation between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (via Washington Post). For anyone who grew up in the Tri-State Area (North Jersey, West Connecticut, NYC, Long Island, and Downstate NY) – as Trump did – it reads as a classic Mafioso conversation: Nice country you have there, Volodymyr; be a shame if something happened to it.

What makes this worse – and more obvious – is that something is happening to Ukraine – it’s being invaded by Putinist Russia. Zelensky himself noted his country’s need for military support – right down to the specific missile type he thought would be most helpful for his military. Trump – who had already frozen Congressionally-appropriated aid for Urkaine, over the objections of his own Pentagon (WaPo) – responds with a request for two personal political favors.

The first is a bizarre request to “get to the bottom of” a mythical conspiracy theory involving Ukrainian officials and Democrats supposedly framing his campaign and Putin. David French explains the horror in National Review Online:

In fact, his commitment to this absurd theory is so complete that he apparently tossed aside his advisers’ repeated warnings that it had been debunked and allowed it to taint American diplomacy. This weekend, former Trump homeland-security adviser Thomas Bossert spoke on the record to ABC News and the New York Times and noted that members of the administration had “repeatedly” tried to convince Trump that there was nothing to the notion that a Crowdstrike server in Ukraine held the key to questioning the reality of Russian election interference.

Think of Zelensky’s position. His nation desperately needs American military assistance, and so he makes a direct ask for a key weapons system. Trump responds not with a reasonable request but rather with a question about a conspiracy theory, and then he urges Zelensky to work not just with the proper conduit for investigations of election interference, Attorney General Bill Barr, but also with his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani — the same man who Bossert said would “feed” him “all kinds of garbage,” including that conspiracy theory.

Trump was thus placing immense pressure on the government of Ukraine to validate a thoroughly debunked theory, and in so doing to place an even greater strain on American politics.

Amazingly enough, this wasn’t even the worst of the call. After dropping this whopper, Trump went on to smear Joseph Biden – insisting that Biden demanded the firing of Ukrainian prosecutor Victor Shokin to stop an investigation into Hunter Biden in 2016. The problems with that assertion are legion and well known: Shokin had stopped probing the owner of the firm for which Biden worked a year prior; the events under investigation were before Hunter Biden came on board; Biden was joined by nearly all the democratic world in demanding Shokin’s ouster (WaPo and Bloomberg).

In other words, the President of the United States used hundreds of millions in taxpayers’ money (in theory in the phone call and in practice by holding up Congressional appropriations) to strong-arm another nation into smearing his political opponents. As Tom Nichols put it (cited by yours truly last week): “If this, in itself, is not impeachable, then the concept has no meaning.”

As if that wasn’t enough, Trump has spent the last week threatening to execute the sources of the information provided in the initial whistleblower complaint on this matter – itself an impeachable offense on multiple fronts, as Nichols noted in USA Today.

I will acknowledge that I am the loudest Trump critic here on Bearing Drift (and, as far as I know, the only conservative Democrat among the editors and contributors). I am also aware that even if the House chooses to impeach the president, the Senate is likely to acquit him. That doesn’t mean the effort shouldn’t be taken. This kind of abuse of power must be resisted with every effort – even if the effort fails.

Donald Trump has attacked – and arguably destroyed – several of the constitutional “guard rails” that were supposed to limit him. He has used a fake national emergency to run roughshod over Congress’ power of the purse. He has defied court orders and Congressional subpoenas on a massive scale. He has used his EPA to cripple states rights in order to score political points against California …

… and now, it has been shown that he has been abusing the power of his office to roll a fellow democracy into smearing his political opponents.

The Founders specifically had behavior like this in mind from a president when they considered the Impeachment and Trial method of removing a president from office. Congress must use the tools given them by the Constitution to remove the threat of further abuses of power. This can only be done by impeaching, convicting, and removing Donald Trump.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.

Will Ukraine Shift the Never-Trump Ground on Impeachment?

by D.J. McGuire

House Democrats deciding whether or not to support impeaching President Trump have faced numerous pressures in either direction – usually, folks to their left all but demand, while those to their right forswear it.

One of the loudest impeachment-is-a-bad-idea factions has been the slowly dwindling but still influential group known as Never Trump Conservatives (of which, full disclosure, I still consider myself to be one). Then the Ukraine story hit (Washington Post):

A whistleblower complaint about President Trump made by an intelligence official centers on Ukraine, according to two people familiar with the matter, which has set off a struggle between Congress and the executive branch.

The complaint involved communications with a foreign leader and a “promise” that Trump made, which was so alarming that a U.S. intelligence official who had worked at the White House went to the inspector general of the intelligence community, two former U.S. officials said.

Two and a half weeks before the complaint was filed, Trump spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian and political newcomer who was elected in a landslide in May.

That call is already under investigation by House Democrats who are examining whether Trump and his attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani sought to manipulate the Ukrainian government into helping Trump’s reelection campaign.

In particular, there was concern about whether or not Trump tried to pressure Zelensky to rehash old and disproven charges surrounding the family of Joe Biden. That later became the explicit accusation (WaPo).

President Trump pressed the leader of Ukraine to investigate the son of former vice president Joe Biden in a call between the two leaders that is at the center of an extraordinary whistleblower complaint, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Trump used the July 25 conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to pressure the recently elected leader to pursue an investigation that Trump thought would deliver potential political dirt on one of his possible challengers in 2020, the people said.

The descriptions of the call provide the clearest indication to date that Trump sought to use the influence of his office to prod the leader of a country seeking American financial and diplomatic support to provide material that could aid the president’s reelection.

On one level, this was just one more log for the Trumpster-fire, as Trump supporters and opponents took their usual positions…

…except for Never Trump Conservatives, some of whom took the additional step of moving past their previous skepticism about impeachment.

For example, Max Boot (WaPo)…

Until now, I have been willing to accede to the judgment of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to go slow on impeachment proceedings that are unpopular with voters and could imperil the Democratic majority. But if the new scandal involving President Trump and Ukraine is as bad as it seems — and that is, of course, a very big if at this early stage — the House will have no choice but to impeach, consequences be damned.

…George Conway (WaPo)…

To borrow John Dean’s haunting Watergate-era metaphor once again, there is a cancer on the presidency, and cancers, if not removed, only grow. Congress bears the duty to use the tools provided by the Constitution to remove that cancer now, before it’s too late. As Elbridge Gerry put it at the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, “A good magistrate will not fear [impeachments]. A bad one ought to be kept in fear of them.” By now, Congress should know which one Trump is.

…Tom Nichols (The Atlantic)…

If this, in itself, is not impeachable, then the concept has no meaning. Trump’s grubby commandeering of the presidency’s fearsome and nearly uncheckable powers in foreign policy for his own ends is a gross abuse of power and an affront both to our constitutional order and to the integrity of our elections.

…and none other than Rick Wilson himself, in reaction to ex-Congressman David Jolly’s recommendation for an impeachment inquiry: “We’re in new territory, and this is clearly the only way to move this past the WH/Barr/DNI obstruction.”

I am not going to say we should expect impeachment to happen tomorrow. The Ukraine story is evolving; people are reacting; and where predictions are concerned, I’m terrible.

am saying that one of the redoubts of the impeachment-is-mad argument appears to be coming down. Democrats in the House who have not yet decided to support it are less likely to hear Wilson et al warn against it. Indeed, they might hear encouragement for it from their right.

That makes impeachment more likely today than it was yesterday.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.