The agonies this country’s two major political parties are going through were foreshadowed last fall, but in both cases it’s worse than anyone expected. The rebellions by anti-establishment populists on both sides have produced two divided parties. And in the case of the all-but-official nominees, Trump and Hillary Clinton, we have the unusual situation of two imperiled candidates.
The long arc of Trump’s thinking makes it less surprising that a reality television star and wealthy businessman is a nominee for the presidency. Trump’s pasting his name on everything he can get his hands on has had a long-term political as well as economic purpose. Trump is the first brand to run for president.
With finalists in both parties questioning the legitimacy of the presidential nominating process, the 2016 election is once again presenting the country a hitherto unimagined spectacle. Though each likely final candidate will have a clump of strong supporters, most people will be casting their ballot for the one they dislike less. That’s not the healthiest start to the next presidency.
Trump commented on Wednesday that if the nomination is taken from him, “You’d have riots.” If he is the nominee there remains that possibility of a third party formed, among other things to give Republican politicians a place to go until the storm blows over. But whatever ultimately becomes of their candidacies, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are atop movements that won’t go away.
The first half of March 2016 may well go down as the turning point in this election and one of the most consequential periods in the history of nomination politics. It could presage the death of the traditional Republican Party and the birth of a third party. For the Democrats, it may show that the party’s split runs deeper than many have recognized.
The collapse of the Republican Party, which has been foreshadowed since last fall, if not before, is now taking place before us. The probably unstoppable candidacy of Donald Trump—who won seven states on this so-called Super Tuesday—bears witness to the broad rebellion against the Republican Party establishment.
This country is facing the extraordinary situation of an election year in which control of all three branches of government is up for grabs. The confluence of a Supreme Court vacancy—a seat that could be the Court’s deciding vote—with presidential and congressional campaigns raises the stakes to an unusual height.
Clinton’s campaign is now shadowed by the questions of whether the FBI director will recommend prosecution for mishandling classified information, a standard that requires knowledge and intent, and if that happens, what the Justice Department and the White House will decide.
The near-total failure of our political institutions to invest for the future, eschewing what doesn’t yield the quick payoff, political and physical, has left us with hopelessly clogged traffic, at risk of being on a bridge that collapses, or on a train that flies off defective rails, or with rusted pipes carrying our drinking water.
In the presidential campaign, both parties are so divided as to raise the question of whether any victor will be able to govern. The anger, fear, resentment, racism, and frustration that are playing into the current political climate make for a situation prone to undermining our democratic system.
Though Jeb Bush set out to run for president with the line, “I am my own man,” he has discovered that being George W’s brother is quite a burden. What is arguable about the events of 9/11 is whether they could have been stopped; what isn’t arguable is that George W. Bush didn’t try. The 9/11 Commission avoided assigning individual blame in order to get a unanimous report, and it deliberately avoided saying whether the attacks could have been prevented, though it was apparent that some commissioners believed this to be the case.
The Republican Congress’s failure in September to pass a resolution disapproving the nuclear agreement with Iran didn’t mean that the deal was safe.* The president won a major victory when its supporters managed to bottle up the resolution disapproving the deal in the Senate, thus protecting him from having …
Though the turmoil over the House leadership will end at some point, and there will be a presidential election in November 2016, less clear is whether this country will be governable, or whether the inchoate rage felt by so many will be contained. One might wonder how John Boehner survived as long as he did.
The presidential campaign has gone from peculiar to worrisome. This isn’t only because of who’s ahead in the polls at the moment, but also what an accumulation of polls and anecdotal evidence tell us about the state of the electorate, and what that portends. Of big concern is whether there can be any mediation between the “governors” and the stronger-than-ever anti-government forces. Will whoever is elected be able to govern?
I can find no one on the side of the nuclear deal with Iran who thinks that it will have majority support in either the Senate or the House of Representatives, which means that the president will veto what Congress sends him. Therefore, beneath all the rhetoric, the realists here are looking for one thing: whether there will be enough votes in either chamber—one-third plus one of the members—to uphold that veto.
There are numerous uncertainties about what will happen on November 8 of 2016, but one thing is not in doubt: it will be a very peculiar election, and not just because there are, as of now, so many candidates. It’s also that some candidates were running before they announced. And it will almost certainly be the most expensive election in history, with the wealthiest in the land able to have more influence than ever.
With each election come innovations in ways that the very rich donate and the candidates collect and spend increasingly large amounts of money on campaigns. And with each decision on campaign financing the current Supreme Court’s conservative majority, with Chief Justice John Roberts in the lead, removes some restrictions on money in politics.
Inevitably, there was much self-congratulating last week when the Senate adopted by an overwhelming bipartisan majority a proposal that would allow Congress to vote on whether to approve a final nuclear deal with Iran. But the Corker-Cardin amendment was actually quite circumscribed in its reach and import.
While people are wasting their time speculating about who will win the presidency more than a year from now, growing dangers to a democratic election, ones that could decide the outcome, are being essentially overlooked. The three dangers are voting restrictions, redistricting, and loose rules on large amounts of money being spent to influence voters.
A vote by Congress to reject an Iran deal could lead to an end of diplomatic efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions and a possible Israeli military attack on Iran. The president could veto a negative resolution, but even if he weren’t overridden, the fact that there’d been a vote against it would seriously hobble his ability to implement the agreement without congressional interference.
As the new Congress gathered in early January, we were treated to news story after news story about how the Republicans, now in control of both chambers for the first time in eight years, were set to prove that they could “govern.” This was more than an exercise in public relations, though it was that as well. Republican leaders knew they had a problem.
By distorting an essential truth about the relationship between Lyndon Johnson and Dr. Martin Luther King over the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Selma has opened a very large and overdue debate over whether and how much truth the movie industry owes to the public.
The White House is stuck in a policy that has very little chance of working, putting the president and his national security aides in real peril. And Chuck Hagel, who watched all this with dismay, became the odd man out.
Never in memory has a midterm election been turned against a president so cynically as it was by the Republicans this year. Scott Brown was among those who made the comprehensive and efficient charge that ISIS was bringing Ebola into America over the Texas border. In exit interviews voters told pollsters that ISIS and Ebola were reasons they voted for Republicans.
Thus far, interest in this year’s midterm elections is in almost inverse proportion to their importance. The most important question is whether the Republicans will gain control of the Senate while retaining their majority in the House.
The time has come to talk about “the Beltway.”
The term, a reference to the roadway that circumnavigates the District of Columbia and patches of its Maryland and Virginia suburbs, has long been in widespread use—as if everyone within the isolated island thinks alike, has the same amount of information and the same political opinions, simultaneously. But lately “the Beltway” has also become an epithet, hurled at those who live within it for some real or imagined transgression. As a concept of how information and opinion move between Washington and the rest of the country “the Beltway” is epistemological nonsense.
The new Broadway play All the Way presents President Lyndon Johnson dominating Congress and, through a combination of willpower, guile, wit, and near-bribery, browbeating it into passing the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964. But this isn’t what happened.
On the basis of what we know and what seems conceivable, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is not a Richard Nixon. But there does seem to be a pattern in Christie’s activities, and indications of corruption on a scale that could be unprecedented even for New Jersey. Christie has morphed from a “bully” into a man who has governed by creating an atmosphere of fear and retribution