The Party Crumbles

The humorist Will Rogers used to say that he didn’t belong to any organized political party – he was a Democrat – but times change. Will Rogers died in 1935 but he was right, and the Democratic Party finally reached peak dysfunction in the summer of 1968 at their Chicago convention. Lyndon Johnson wouldn’t run again, Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated and Eugene McCarthy gave up, and, after the riots in the streets, and Dan Rather getting punched out by the Chicago cops on the floor of the convention, the Democrats settled for the hapless Hubert Humphrey. There would be no big dreams, no end to war, just moderate non-threatening vague liberalism, and the young walked away from it all.

Nixon and the right were focused, and angry. They won easily, and four years later, when the Democrats nominated a somewhat boring combat-veteran antiwar pacifist, George McGovern, the moderates walked away from a party that had wandered too far left. The party didn’t get its act together until Bill Clinton with his neoliberalism – that Third Way triangulation stuff, where you do Republican stuff – cruel welfare reform, lots of law and order and new prisons, and the deregulation of banking and financial markets – all to find the funds to get a few liberal things done for the little people. The Democrats found their groove. Hillary Clinton is still in it.

After Nixon didn’t work out, and after another hapless Democrat, Jimmy Carter, the Republicans had found their groove in the Reagan years, which they couldn’t sustain with George H. W. Bush – but after eight years of Bill Clinton, they got their groove back in the administration of Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, with George W. Bush tagging along, looking perpetually startled. Rove even predicted a “permanent Republican majority” – but the Iraq War turned out to be the worst foreign policy decision in American history and the economy collapsed in the worst mess since the Great Depression, so that wasn’t to be. America elected a cool and cerebral total pragmatist, a guy whose caution infuriated them but kept us out of trouble – and he was a hyper-intelligent polite and gracious black man, of all things. Karl Rove got it wrong.

All that was left was to be the party of “no” to everything, which has defined the last eight years, even if half the country thinks they’re jerks. The Tea Party folks don’t think they’re jerks. They want them to be bigger jerks, total principled jerks, but now, at the end of March in another election year, the Wall of No is beginning to crumble:

There is at least one big crack in the Senate GOP’s blockade on considering President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee: Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME).

The Maine moderate has already said that there should be public hearings for the nominee, but on Tuesday she upped her criticisms of GOP leadership’s position that the next president should choose the successor to the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

“That’s a sincere belief, but it’s not one that I hold,” she said on Maine’s Newsradio WGAN, as flagged by ThinkProgress. “The President, whether Republicans like him or not, is our President until next January, until Inauguration Day and it just seemed to me that there was no basis for saying that no matter who the President nominates, we were not going to consider that individual.”

Hell, she’ll meet with Circuit Court Chief Judge Merrick Garland:

Hearings and meetings “are the best way to thoroughly understand a nominee’s views,” Collins said. “Undoubtedly, there will be issues that would arise in a hearing that would provide grounds for people who don’t want to vote for Judge Garland or in those who do.”

She also noted that Garland, a moderate who has won praise from politicians across the spectrum, was likely a better deal for Republicans than the hypothetical nominee a President Hillary Clinton would put forward, or even the nominee of a Republican President Donald Trump. She said she was “perplexed” by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) calculus.

She just doesn’t get it, and really doesn’t care:

Asked if she was catching flak for breaking away from the party line, she said, “Not really.” Collins also said she’d talked to an unnamed Republican colleague who had agreed to meet with Garland.

“He was saying how much better that he felt about going ahead with the meeting because that’s the way the process should work,” she said.

“The leader’s not real happy with me,” Collins also said.

She’s also not alone:

Two weeks into the nomination fight, 16 Republican senators now say they will meet with Garland – over 25 percent of the GOP caucus – according to a running count by NBC News. That includes senators up for re-election in Blue States, such as New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte and Illinois’ Mark Kirk, who will be the first Republican to actually meet with Garland when they talk Tuesday. The list also includes Republicans in Red States, such as Oklahoma, Alaska and Kansas.

That NBC News item discusses all the players and all the circumstances, but that’s a minor detail, as they should have seen this coming:

The Supreme Court on Tuesday said it was unable to resolve a major challenge to organized labor, and the result was a defeat for a group of California teachers who claim their free speech rights are violated when they are forced to pay dues to the state’s teachers union. The court said it was split 4 to 4 on the issue, following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. It was the most important case yet in which the eight-member court was unable to reach a decision.

At oral argument, the court’s conservatives appeared ready to junk a decades-old precedent that allows unions to collect an “agency fee” from nonmembers to support collective-bargaining activities for members and nonmembers alike…

Conservative groups directly asked the court to overturn a 1977 decision, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which favored the unions. That ruling said that states could allow public-employee unions to collect fees from nonmembers to cover the costs of workplace negotiations but not to cover the union’s political activities.

At oral argument, it appeared the groups would get their wish… but when the court is evenly split, it affirms the decision of the appeals court that considered it. In this case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit said it was bound by the Abood decision and turned down the challenge.

The court would not do the union-busting so near and dear to the hearts of all Republicans, and the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent explains the bind they’re in:

On the one hand, it shows that it makes some sense for Republicans to hold off on considering (or confirming) Garland. After all, if Garland filled Antonin Scalia’s vacant seat, labor probably would have won by five to four. Even if Garland is a moderate and a centrist, the fact of the matter is that putting him on the court would tilt it in a liberal direction in ways that would damage a range of conservative causes. So it makes sense for Republicans to roll the dice and hope a Republican president is elected who can replace Scalia with a conservative.

The problem is that, in the interim, even if Republicans are keeping the court from shifting in a liberal direction by refusing to act on Garland, lower court rulings that conservatives had hoped to overturn may be allowed to stand. That happened today. And it could happen in more high profile cases to come. The Court is set to hear a challenge to an Obamacare contraception-coverage mandate that religious conservatives object to, and a case that will determine how the populations of Congressional districts will be counted. In the latter case, a decision that only voters must be counted – rather than the total number of people – could probably help Republicans. But in both those cases, four-to-four ties will likely sustain lower court rulings that conservatives had hoped to get struck down.

Now they’re in trouble:

It has already been well established that GOP Senators who are facing tough reelection campaigns are holding their ground against Garland in hopes of keeping the GOP base engaged behind them. In a sense, Mitch McConnell’s whole strategy of inaction is all about keeping the base revved up in hopes of holding the GOP’s Senate majority. But big news of a deadlocked court (such as we saw today) gives Democrats an added political weapon to use against those vulnerable GOP Senators. Dems can highlight headlines reeking of dysfunction and tie them to broader charges that Republicans are making a mess of basic governing, to undermine vulnerable incumbents among independents and moderates.

All of this could get worse if it becomes more apparent that Trump is going to win the GOP nomination. It could make it politically harder for Republicans to refuse to consider Garland, since their implicit position will be that President Trump should choose the next nominee, while Obama should not. It could make it look more likely that Clinton will be the next president, tempting Republicans to go ahead and confirm Garland already – but that would anger the base, so that, too, constitutes a bind. And while holding firm against him might keep the base behind Republicans, Trump could blow up that plan, too. His nomination could cause millions of GOP voters to stay home; or if the nomination is given to someone else at a contested convention, Trump could go on the warpath against the GOP and do all he can to rupture the base Republicans are counting on.

Sargent then puts that more starkly:

The only way this ends well for Republicans is if they win the White House. If that doesn’t happen, perhaps in retrospect holding out against Garland in hopes that the base helps save the GOP Senate majority will have proven the least bad option for them. But nor is it a particularly good option, as we’re now seeing.

As for what really happened here, Scott Lemieux has the details:

Today’s ruling was in Friedrichs v California Teachers Association, a case that could have severely weakened public sector unions. Under existing law, public sector unions could not collect mandatory dues for workers they represent for political purposes, but could collect them for conducting union business such as negotiating and representing workers in disputes with management. The justification for “agency shops” is clear: it prevents free riding. If workers did not have to pay dues to pay for basic union business, they would get the benefits of union representation without having to share the costs. This would have the effect of undermining unions over time.

The argument made by the plaintiffs in Friedrichs was that compulsory dues even for basic union business violated the first amendment rights of workers. They sought to have the court overrule longstanding precedent and hold that all public sector agency shops violate the free speech and association rights of workers. The effects of the courts adopting this argument would be devastating for public sector unions.

The court heard oral arguments in January, and they left little doubt that a bare majority of the court was going to side against the unions. The Roberts court had been slowly using strained first amendment arguments to chip away at the ability to public sector unions to organize, and it was clear that they were poised to deliver the big blow. But on 13 February, Justice Antonin Scalia died while vacationing at a Texas ranch. 

That changed everything and impacts the elections in November:

There are many areas of the law where the difference between a swing vote on the Supreme Court appointed by Republican and Democratic president is huge. This case is a classic example. Virtually any justice nominated by a Democratic president would reject the argument that the first amendment forbids public sector agency shops, and almost any Republican-nominated judge would accept it. And it’s not just the presidential election that matters, either. If Democrats maintain control of the White House and recapture the Senate, President Clinton or Sanders will almost certainly be able to name Scalia’s replacement. If a Democratic president faces off with a Republican-controlled Senate, though, all bets are off.

No seat on the Supreme Court will be filled for four or eight years, but there’s more:

In addition, today’s case is about a broader political war. The Republican attack on public sector unions, in both state legislatures and the courts, is in large measure an attack on a major Democratic constituency. Making it more difficult for public sector workers to organize helps to produce self-perpetuating majorities at the state level, particularly combined with Republican vote suppression efforts. The at least temporary loss of the Republican Supreme Court majority, however, has made these efforts more difficult. And if the next vote on the Supreme Court is selected by a Democratic president, the red tide at the state level might start to recede.

This is a party that needs to get its act together, to present a unified front, but that evening, on the day of this union decision at the Supreme Court, that wasn’t to be:

Donald Trump has rescinded his pledge to support the Republican nominee for president.

Asked during a CNN town hall whether he stood by the earlier pledge – which he signed in September after meeting with party chairman Reince Priebus – Trump said: “No, I don’t.”

“We’ll see who it is,” he told moderator Anderson Cooper.

Cue the whining:

Trump said he had been treated “unfairly” by the Republican National Committee and the GOP establishment. He said he was unsure whether the Republican establishment was plotting to take the nomination away from him during the convention in Cleveland. He also said he didn’t need Ted Cruz to promise to support him should Trump win the nomination.

“I’m not asking for his support,” Trump said.

“I don’t want his support; I don’t need his support; I want him to be comfortable,” Trump said, taunting Cruz for dancing around the issue of whether he would support Trump if Trump were the nominee.

The Cruz campaign declined to respond to Trump’s comment, referring to Cruz’s earlier statements, when he repeatedly dodged whether he would back Trump as the nominee.

“Ted has said he does not make a habit of supporting people who insult his wife,” Cruz communications director Alice Stewart said when asked whether Trump’s remarks affect Cruz’s decision regarding backing the nominee, echoing comments Cruz has been making for several days.

And that left the third guy:

Later Tuesday night, [John] Kasich backed off the pledge to support the ultimate GOP nominee too, suggesting he’d wait and see if it’s someone he believes is good for the country.

“Frankly, all of us shouldn’t have even answered that question,” he said, referencing when, in an early debate, all of the candidates were asked to raise their hand if they’d agree to support the eventual nominee.

It seems as if Trump will be that nominee, but things fell apart for him that same day, as Maggie Haberman and Michael Grynbaum explain here:

Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, was charged with battery Tuesday by the police in Jupiter, Fla., who said he had grabbed a reporter this month as she tried to ask Mr. Trump a question.

His formal arrest was detailed in a police report that cited new security-camera images of the episode, which show Mr. Lewandowski roughly pulling the reporter, Michelle Fields, out of his way – despite his vigorous denials that he ever touched her and his repeated attacks on her credibility.

Mr. Lewandowski, who turned himself in on the misdemeanor charge, was quickly released.

That was weird, and that was trouble:

For much of the past year, fact-checkers have struggled to keep up with the frequent truth-stretching and wholesale inaccuracies of Mr. Trump and his campaign, with little discernible effect on his support among a large portion of the Republican electorate. But on Tuesday, the new video – taken from security cameras at a Trump property – confronted the Republican front-runner with a different kind of challenge: hard-to-discount visual evidence directly contradicting him, looping over and over again on cable news and news websites.

Moreover, the allegation of violence came as Mr. Trump faces accusations that he incites or condones violence against protesters at his rallies.

It offered a reminder that Mr. Trump, a candidate whose own communications, whether on Twitter or on television, can often be menacing in tone, has entrusted his White House bid to a political operative whose belligerence extends to physicality. On March 19, Mr. Lewandowski was captured on video grabbing a protester by the shirt collar at a Trump rally in Arizona and yanking him backward – normally the work of security guards, not a top political adviser.

The rest was expected:

To Mr. Trump, Ms. Fields was out of bounds, and his campaign manager was the victim.

“The news conference was over, and she was running up and grabbing and asking questions,” he said late Tuesday, in the first of several recapitulations of the episode. “She wasn’t supposed to be doing that.”

But Mr. Trump’s and Mr. Lewandowski’s depiction of Ms. Fields as a drama queen faking an injury – “How do you know those bruises weren’t there before?” Mr. Trump asked – risked a new level of fallout for a candidate repeatedly accused of making misogynistic remarks who polls show is already viewed negatively by an overwhelming number of American women.

This was the wrong time to do the pick-on-the-woman thing, but they went there:

Mr. Lewandowski, in the weeks since the March 8 encounter, repeatedly denigrated Ms. Fields as “delusional” and “an attention seeker.” And Mr. Trump, on Tuesday, redoubled the attack on Ms. Fields’s credibility, saying, “Wouldn’t you think she would have yelled out a scream if she had bruises on her arm?”

The man whose catchphrase on the television show “The Apprentice” was “You’re fired!” said that it would be easy to fire Mr. Lewandowski, but that it wasn’t his way. “I don’t discard people,” Mr. Trump said.

Nita Chaudhary, a co-founder of UltraViolet, an advocacy group that fights sexism, denounced Mr. Trump for sticking by Mr. Lewandowski. “What Donald Trump is doing fits the very definition of victim blaming, and it is not only unacceptable, it is actively dangerous,” she said. “They are belittling Michelle Fields’s claim despite overwhelming evidence.”

She added: “Comments like this essentially perpetuate violence against women.”

And then everyone piled on:

Mr. Lewandowski’s arrest prompted renewed criticism from Mr. Trump’s rivals in both parties. Alice Stewart, a spokeswoman for Senator Ted Cruz, Mr. Trump’s chief rival, said “abusive behavior” seemed to be “part of the culture of the Trump campaign.”

“Personal attacks, verbal attacks and now physical attacks have no place in politics or anywhere else in our society,” she said.

And the Democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton, told reporters that Mr. Trump had for months been “inciting violent behavior, aggressive behavior that I think is very dangerous.” She added that Ms. Fields “deserves a lot of credit for following through on the way she was physically manhandled.”

That’s throwing away what was left of the women’s vote, and there was this odd reversal:

The episode involving Ms. Fields set off an incendiary dispute within Breitbart News, the conservative website where she worked and that has at times been a vocal champion of Mr. Trump. Several of its journalists resigned after accusing management of failing to support Ms. Fields, who resigned on March 14, six days after the episode.

Before her resignation, one of Breitbart’s top executives, Joel B. Pollak, publicly questioned the veracity of her claims. On Tuesday, after Mr. Lewandowski’s arrest, Mr. Pollak wrote on Twitter, “Clearly I was wrong.”

Yes, Trump threw away Breitbart News too, not that it mattered:

A spokeswoman for Mr. Trump, Hope Hicks, said Tuesday that Mr. Lewandowski was “absolutely innocent of this charge,” that he would plead not guilty and that he had not been arrested but had merely been issued a “notice to appear.”

But Officer Joseph Beinlich, a spokesman for the department, said otherwise. “A notice to appear is an actual arrest,” he said.

And they may have arrested the right man:

Mr. Lewandowski, 42, has been a combative and sometimes divisive figure in Mr. Trump’s circle. He has been known to scream and curse at reporters with regularity, putting some on a “blacklist” for coverage he considers unfavorable.

In 1999, as chief of staff to Bob Ney, then a Republican representative from Ohio, Mr. Lewandowski was charged with a misdemeanor when he took a pistol into a congressional office building. He said then that it had been an accident. The police seized the weapon prompting him to sue unsuccessfully in federal court claiming he had been stripped of his gun without due process.

He is a bit of a hothead, and then it got absurd:

Before his late-afternoon remarks on Mr. Lewandowski’s behalf, Mr. Trump responded to his arrest in a string of midday Twitter posts.

“Wow, Corey Lewandowski, my campaign manager and a very decent man, was just charged with assaulting a reporter. Look at tapes – nothing there!” he wrote in one.

In another, Mr. Trump appeared to raise questions about Ms. Fields’s veracity, asking why people were not looking at her “earliest statement as to what happened,” from “before she found out the episode was on tape.”

To which Ms. Fields responded in her own Twitter post: “Because my story never changed. Seriously, just stop lying.”

The Republican frontrunner is having problems with uppity women. Wait until he faces off against Hillary, but he has his defenders like the British talk show host Piers Morgan three classic Tweets:

If a male reporter tried to claim this was ‘battery’, he’d be rightly mocked. Toughen up.

Can you imagine Barbara Walters, Katie Couric or Diane Sawyer claiming ‘battery’ for this? Just ridiculous.

This is so absurd; I’m going to have to write a column about it.

This young woman should man-up or something, but then the story gets really strange:

An attorney helping Donald Trump’s embattled campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, fight a battery charge previously resigned from his Justice Department post after allegations surfaced that he bit a dancer at a south Florida strip club.

Kendall Coffey, who was the U.S. attorney in Miami from 1993 to 1996, resigned just one day after being called to Washington to meet with then-U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, according to the Sun-Sentinel.

After racking up a $900 bill at the Lipstik Club in south Miami-Dade County, Coffey allegedly bit a stripper known only as “Tiffany” during a dispute. He paid the bill with a credit card before being kicked out of the club, according to the Miami Herald. The paper also reported Coffey’s father later bought back the credit card slip for $1,200 in an attempt to conceal his alleged involvement.

Where does Donald Trump find these people? Lewandowski pushes women around and carried a loaded gun into a congressional office building, and wants it back. His attorney bites strippers. And Donald Trump, who is fine with these folks, will be this party’s nominee for president – but no one in the party will now support him, and if he’s not the nominee, he won’t support whoever is. Where does the party find these people? It’s no wonder that Susan Collins and the others are saying no to the Party of No. There may be no party left. It finally crumbled.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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