Contradictory Readings in the Tea Leaves

Sheridan          It’s a tough time to be a commentator, pundit, or general political wizard.  It must be like walking a tightrope.  They know it’s scary when they start walking the wire and have to wonder if they’ll made it to the other side.

Take for example a long piece in the press about the continuing popularity of Senator Bernie Sanders and the nonexistent coattails his candidates have shown in recent elections, including the fact that only about 40% of Our Revolution picks have prevailed.  Days later I’m talking to friends in the Bay Area and a Sanders star and Richmond Progressive Alliance stalwart is giving long time Democratic Obama and Clinton operative Buffy Wicks a wild run for her money in a state assembly race.  Given Wicks refusal to endorse the statewide ballot initiative allowing cities wider discretion over rent control, that hot button issue could be her undoing.

An even bigger hole was punched in the “conventional wisdom” when Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, a 28-year old former Sanders organizer in Queens and the Bronx, upset the 10-term Congressman Joseph Crowley, the fourth ranking Democrat in the US House leadership who coveted a shot a being Speaker and upsetting Nancy Pelosi if the Democrats win control in the midterms.  Not only was Cortez advocating single payer health but she called for dismantling the entire Immigration and Customs Enforcement apparatus going to the heart of the beast.

A chart in the Times also measured increased voter turnout by Democrats so far in elections in twenty key Congressional districts that could flip the House.  Before the celebration starts while the game is still underway, it is worth noting that the increased turnout is lower than what the Republicans registered when they wrested control in 2010 in rebellion against Obama.

And, that’s the problem if “premature certainty” creeps in now when the tea leaves are so muddled.  Take immigration where the hard line and hard-hearted Trump-Sessions hateration and escalation on the border and its policy of family separation and child incarceration drove a wedge through the right and united the American people in drawing a line on fundamental values.  A poll cited by the Washington Post is a good example of the perils of prediction:

A new Economist/YouGov poll showed that 54 percent of Americans disapprove of separating families who cross the border illegally. But only 19 percent support “releasing the families and having them report back for an immigration hearing at a later date” — the approach now endorsed by every single Senate Democrat. By contrast, the poll found the most popular policy — supported by 44 percent of Americans and even 49 percent of Democrats — is “holding families together in detention centers until an immigration hearing at a later date.” And it found that 46 percent also support Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy of arresting and prosecuting anyone who crosses the border illegally.

See what I mean.  Politics is not simply a blunt instrument swinging one direction.  We can’t hope to win only talking to ourselves.  It must drive the pundits crazy, but for the rest of us, it’s a reminder to look before we leap and make sure we have people behind us before we jump.

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Could be a Smart Move on Trump’s Part

Houston  You have to give the devil’s his due. For a change rather than being just crazy, President Trump may have been crazy like a fox.

The pundits seem not to know what to make of Trump’s shuffle step in making a deal with Senate Majority Leader Schumer and House Majority Leader Pelosi to raise the statutory debt and combine that with stopgap hurricane relief. If the reports are too be believed, he pulled this rabbit out of the hat virtually in front of his Republican Congressional leadership surprising them and giving them a bit of red bottom.

The pundits ask themselves and thereby us, “why did he do this?”

Reporters speculated that he might have acted because of his recent personal displeasure and disregard for the Republican leadership. We might applaud, if that were the case!

Other commentators opined that perhaps that was just the zany and impulsive way that President Trump likes to operate, essentially arguing that he had an itch for the ceiling and just scratched it without a second thought to the politics.

All of the observers agree that he is transactional, rather than ideological, and wanting a deal so badly that he didn’t care who he made it with or what the consequences might be.

Certainly he is transactional and impulsive. No argument here.

But, for a minute let’s think about the method that might be behind his madness, although I will warn you that if this is the case, it’s a very shrewd move.

Here are the facts. He has a Republican caucus that is divided. He went through a debacle in trying to gut the Affordable Care Act, where his Republican leadership couldn’t satisfy the few moderates successfully and also keep the hard right so-called Freedom Caucus together in the House or the ambitious libertarians in the Senate. He already knew that the Freedom Caucus had preemptively thrown in the towel on the border wall and the debt ceiling recognizing that they had to respond to the Republican base that was up to their necks in water along the Gulf Coast in the wake of Harvey.

Just imagine for a minute that President Trump wanted to reassert himself in the middle of these deals and had reckoned with the fact that his leadership was simply unable to deliver the troops now. What better way to fire a warning shot over the heads of Ryan and McConnell and to discipline the unruly fringes underneath them and around the margins, than by demonstrating his willingness to make a deal with the hated Democrats including Pelosi and Schumer who has continually maligned?

Trump just created a “threat of exit” for himself within his own Republican party. Where previously they had assumed he had no choice but to either parlay with them on their terms or sit and stew with Twitter back at the White House. By picking a pretty easy play with a 3-month extension and a slam dunk appropriate for FEMA and disaster relief, he may have just created himself some real leverage for future deals, if he becomes disciplined enough to know when to show and when to hold his cards in the future. By showing that to get the job done, he will reach across the aisle to the Democrats doesn’t just give the Democrats leverage for the end of year ceiling fight and some others, but significantly empowers the President where he had been crippled, giving him huge leverage in holding the Republicans together when he wants them to follow his lead.

Whether by happenstance or deliberate, this was the smartest move by Trump since his election, and therefore could be the scariest thing we’ve seen so far.

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