If someone wants you to send money to support Foster Campbell in Louisiana, they want you to waste your money. Trump beat Clinton in that state 58.1% to 38.4%. The top vote-getting in the Senate election that day– there were 2 dozen candidates– was John Kennedy. He took 25% of the vote. The second most vote went to Foster Campbell (17.5%). There were 7 Democrats in the race and in totally they won 36% of the vote. The 9 Republicans in the race collectively won 61.4% of the votes cast. Campbell is a conservative, anti-Choice Democrat– and one who's not going to win. Save your money for winning back the House in 2018. Not the Senate, the House.
The Democrats blew their shot to win the House because Schumer insisted on nominations going to corporate shills and conservatives who were less popular than progressives. Is there no path to win back the Senate? Well… suppose Trump turns out as absolutely horrific as Elizabeth Warren says he will be. If the voters in these 5 states see it the same way as Elizabeth Warren in November, 2018, the Democrats could possibly win back the Senate (maybe). These states (the percentage next to each one was Hillary's share of the vote last week:
• Indiana- 38%
• Missouri- 38%
• Montana- 36%
• North Dakota- 28%
• West Virginia- 26%
Turn those voters around– 180 degrees around– and the Democrats might take back the Senate. In other words, the reality is that the Democrats aren't going town back the Senate in 2018. There's no path. Anyone who tells you something different is either lying to you or lying to themselves.
The House is a very different story. Not in Louisiana; the Democrats aren't going to win any seats there. But they can win lots of them in New York, Pennsylvania, California, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Virginia, Texas, Washington, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio… What does “can” mean? It means Trump will be as bad as Elizabeth Warren says he's going to be and it means Ryan and the House Republicans will overplay their hand and go for what they see as the Holy Grail of Republican politics: gutting Medicare and Social Security. And it means the DCCC won't be as ideologically conservative as it was when Rahm Emanuel ran it and it won't be as incompetent and incapable as it has been since Chris Van Hollen and then Steve Israel took over. So… that's a lot of if's. But, believe it or not, I'm oddly optimistic– although “optimism” is a bizarre way to describe how I feel about Trump's likelihood to be as bad as what he promised during the campaign and Ryan and the House Republicans to be as bad as they've always threatened to be given the chance.
Last night, the drug-addled, thin-skinned Trumpanzee tweeted another crazy of his cockamamie tweets fighting with the cast of Hamilton– and almost immediately deleted it. He really is insane. Ashley Parker and Maggie Haberman wrote a Times article moments before that that began with Trump sitting “high in Trump Tower in New York, spending hours on the phone with friends, television personalities and donors to ask if they know people to recommend for his cabinet.” He's getting advice from Joe Scarborough again. And he gets pissed off when members of his inner circle, like Giuliani, gets too much media attention.
President Obama, who met with Mr. Trump two days after the election, has held out hope that the gravity of the presidency will change the former reality show star. But people close to the 70-year-old president-elect say that he has such long-held habits formed by fame, wealth and the freedom to have done whatever he wanted that they remain skeptical, at least for now, that he will transform to fit the constraints of the White House.
…Transition officials say the meeting with Mr. Romney, a moderate Republican who was the party’s nominee for president in 2012, may not have been simply for show. They say that Mr. Trump believes that Mr. Romney, with his patrician bearing, looks the part of a top diplomat right out of “central casting”– the same phrase Mr. Trump used to describe Mike Pence before choosing him as his running mate.
Yet Mr. Trump loves the tension and drama of a selection process, and has sought to stoke it. A senior adviser described the meeting, in part, as Mr. Romney simply coming to pay his respects to the president-elect and “kiss his ring.”
He is worried, his aides say, that he will not be able to keep his Android phone once he gets to the White House and wonders aloud how isolated he will become– and whether he will be able to keep in touch with his friends– without it as president. He continues to discuss with the Secret Service how much he can return on weekends to Trump Tower, and still expects to use the Bedminister golf club and his private Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., as vacation retreats.
Last week's most important read was by Matthew Yglesias at Vox We have 100 days to stop Donald Trump from systemically corrupting our institutions, although it wasn't the call to action that I found most compelling about the piece. “The country,” he wrote, “has entered a dangerous period. The president-elect is the least qualified man to ever hold high office. He also operated the least transparent campaign of the modern era. He gave succor and voice to bigoted elements on a scale not seen in two generations. He openly praised dictators– not as allies but as dictators– and threatened to use the powers of his office to discipline the media. He also has a long history of corrupt behavior, and his business holdings pose staggering conflicts of interest that are exacerbated by his lack of financial disclosure. But while most journalists and members of the opposition party think they understand the threat of Trump-era corruption, they are in fact drastically underestimating it. When we talk about corruption in the modern United States, we have in mind what Andrei Shleifer and Robert Vishny define as 'the sale by government officials of government property for personal gain.'”
This is the classic worry about campaign contributions or revolving doors the fear that wealthy interests can give money to public officials and in exchange receive favorable treatment from the political system. But in a classic essay on “The Concept of Systemic Corruption in American History,” the economist John Joseph Wallis reminds us that in the Revolutionary Era and during the founding of the republic, Americans worried about something different. Not the venal corruption we are accustomed to thinking about, but what he calls systemic corruption. He writes that 18th-century thinkers “worried much more that the king and his ministers were manipulating grants of economic privileges to secure political support for a corrupt and unconstitutional usurpation of government powers.”
We are used to corruption in which the rich buy political favor. What we need to learn to fear is corruption in which political favor becomes the primary driver of economic success.
Many American administrations have featured acts of venal corruption, and Trump’s will likely feature more than most. The larger risk, however, is that Trump’s lack of grounding in ideological principles or party networks will create a systemically corrupt government. Such governments, Wallis writes, “are rent creating, not rent seeking, governments” that operate by “limiting access to markets and resources in order to create rents that bind the interests of the ruling coalition together.”
This is how Vladimir Putin governs Russia, and how the Mubarak/Sisi regime rules Egypt. To be a successful businessman in a systemically corrupt regime and to be a close supporter of the regime are one and the same thing.
Those who support the regime will receive favorable treatment from regulators, and those who oppose it will not. Because businesses do business with each other, the network becomes self-reinforcing. Regime-friendly banks receive a light regulatory touch while their rivals are crushed. In exchange, they offer friendly lending terms to regime-friendly businesses while choking capital to rivals. Such a system, once in place, is extremely difficult to dislodge precisely because, unlike a fascist or communist regime, it is glued together by no ideology beyond basic human greed, insecurity, and love of family.
All is not lost, but the situation is genuinely quite grave. As attention focuses on transition gossip and congressional machinations, it’s important not to let our eyes off the ball. It is entirely possible that eight years from now we’ll be looking at an entrenched kleptocracy preparing to install a chosen successor whose only real mission is to preserve the web of parasitical oligarchy that has replaced the federal government as we know it. One can, of course, always hope that the worst does not come to pass. But hope is not a plan. And while the impulse to “wait and see” what really happens is understandable, the cold, hard reality is that the most crucial decisions will be the early ones.
…The risk is not that Trump becomes a dictator, but that civil society simply withers and dies. We all like to think we would stand up and do the right thing under difficult circumstances. But to be honest with ourselves, we are all susceptible to the push and pull of fear and greed– especially those of us with spouses and families to think of. A suborned regulatory state could easily quiet mass media criticism, defund opposition activity, and enrich politically friendly actors.
…As Anthony Scaramucci, who got rich peddling terrible investment products with sleazy sales pitches before becoming one of Trump’s biggest fans on Wall Street, wrote at the Financial Times, “Trump is a different type of leader not burdened by rigid ideology.”
He will be free to operate in a much more opportunistic manner than recent presidents, rewarding friends and supporters and punishing foes without regard to logic or consistency. Kleptocratic government and autocratic government will serve as mutually reinforcing tendencies– businesses that align with Trump will prosper while those that do not will fail, creating a compromised business-political elite that cannot afford to lose power.
It would, obviously, take years to fully suborn the bureaucracy; it is full of career professionals who have their own principles and values. But Trump will have years. Most incumbent presidents are reelected, and a president who’s willing to cast professionalism to the wind and install a partisan Federal Reserve can all but guarantee a temporary economic boom calculated to ensure a second term.
Past presidents have been restrained from behaving in such a manner by institutional checks and balances that are eroding under the pressure of rising partisan polarization.
But most of all, past presidents have simply been restrained by restraint. By a belief that there are certain things one simply cannot try or do. Yet Trump has repeatedly triumphed in circumstances that most predicted were impossible. As Ezra Klein has written, he operates entirely without shame:
It's easy to underestimate how important shame is in American politics. But shame is our most powerful restraint on politicians who would find success through demagoguery. Most people feel shame when they're exposed as liars, when they're seen as uninformed, when their behavior is thought cruel, when respected figures in their party condemn their actions, when experts dismiss their proposals, when they are mocked and booed and protested.
Trump doesn't. He has the reality television star's ability to operate entirely without shame, and that permits him to operate entirely without restraint. It is the single scariest facet of his personality. It is the one that allows him to go where others won't, to say what others can't, to do what others wouldn't.
Trump lives by the reality television trope that he's not here to make friends. But the reason reality television villains always say they're not there to make friends is because it sets them apart, makes them unpredictable and fun to watch. “I'm not here to make friends” is another way of saying, “I'm not bound by the social conventions of normal people.” The rest of us are here to make friends, and it makes us boring, gentle, kind.
Trump does not care if normally conservative newspapers’ editorial pages denounce him, if media fact-checkers slam him, if GOP operatives furiously tweet against him, or anything else.
He cares about hard, objective obstacles. And that’s where hope lies.
Yglesias then wanders off into a delusional state of mind in which the Senate– particularly it's GOP caucus– is something other than a political body and different from a collection of careerists. He asserts with a straight face that “a critical mass of Republican senators has given us reason to believe that they understand Trump appointees need to be held to an unusually high bar for qualification and integrity– not an unusually low one.” Really? I'm willing to bet that there will be more Democratic senators willing to play footsie with Trump– cowardly hacks like Joe Manchin, Heidi Heitkamp, Claire McCaskill, Joe Donnelly, perhaps, depending on polls, Bill Nelson and JonTester– than there are these imaginary Republican senators who will standup him. None of them are going to do anything to stop a Steve Bannon, Michael Flynn or Jeff Sessions– not one. What was Yglesias smoking when he wrote that “Obama’s top-tier Cabinet posts included a secretary of state who ran against him in the primary, a secretary of defense who was a lifelong Republican, and a Treasury secretary who was a largely apolitical technocrat. Attempting to hold Trump to that bar of independence and integrity may sound like a fool’s errand. But it’s of course precisely because Trump does not seem like the kind of high-minded individual who would value independence and integrity in public officials that the Senate must insist on it.” He was clear-eyed when he wrote that “if Trump is allowed to stack the Cabinet with yes men, cronies, and sycophants, then the danger becomes severe,” but insane if he thinks the Senate will lift a pinkie to slow him down. He suggests Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz or Lisa Murkowski will. They won't. Nor will Ben Sasse or Susan Collins or Dean Heller. Maybe McCain, Lindsey Graham on a few issues– not personnel– maybe Jeff Flake or Mike Lee or even Rob Portman… but I wouldn't count on any of them, not when it comes to the systemic corruption Yglesias is writing about.
“[S]enators from both parties,” he concluded, “who know in their hearts that we are living through a dangerous moment need to avoid falling prey to wishful thinking. Because Trump is a vengeful and irrational man, picking a fight with him over an SEC commissioner or an assistant attorney general feels unpleasant, and many would simply rather duck the issue. But that vengeful and irrational nature is precisely why the fights must be picked and must be picked now.” They won't be. There's exactly one way to fight Trumpism– and only one: win back the House in 2018. Blue America is recruiting now. Please help us if you can.
“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.” — Sinclair Lewis