Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Republicans Can Choose Between Right & Wrong

A month ago I did a post entitled, Donald The Muddler & The Ones That Know Better. Well, it’s time for a major update, but again the emphasis must not be on the most disgraceful, dishonest President ever to occupy the White House, it must be on the Ones That Know Better.

Following the catastrophic display of racism in Charlottesville and the President’s appalling response which has emboldened the extreme alt-right movement, he has now doubled down on his real values and granted a pardon to an overt bigot and racist.

Despite his insincere and disingenuous statements to the contrary, there can be no doubt that the President is fanning the flames of hatred and intolerance in America. In his totally inappropriate campaign-style rally in Phoenix following the tragedy in Charlottesville, he even mocked his own late admonishment of racism while attempting to defend his actions, saying flippantly:

"We will defend or protect the sacred rights of all Americans. . . I said everything. I hit [‘em] with neo-Nazi. I hit them with everything. I got the white supremacists, the neo-Nazi. I got them all in there, let's say. KKK, we have KKK. I got them all. . .”

Further teasing and encouraging his fan base, Trump asked, pretending earnestness:

“By the way, I'm just curious. Do the people in this room like Sheriff Joe? (APPLAUSE) So, was Sheriff Joe convicted for doing his job? That's why... (APPLAUSE) He should have had a jury, but you know what? I'll make a prediction. I think he's going to be just fine, OK? (APPLAUSE) But -- but I won't do it tonight, because I don't want to cause any controversy. Is that OK? All right? (APPLAUSE)

So, a few days later, on a Friday night, as hurricane Harvey was barreling down on the fourth largest U.S. city as a category 4 storm, the President granted a pardon for the convicted criminal bigot that terrorized the Phoenix area Latino community for years.

Considering his already exposed pre-presidential actions relating to race issues, and now his latest reactions, can there be any doubt where the President of the United States stands on racism, hate and bigotry?

I have been very critical of the lack of intervention of the top two Republican leaders – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan – to exercise their “check and balance” responsibilities and call out the President directly for his reckless, reprehensible and irresponsible actions. I would add to the list many others in GOP leadership roles in Federal, State and local government.

These are the “ones that know better” and the only people that can put an end to the abhorrent and outrageous behavior of this President that is tearing at the very fabric of everything that America stands for, exacerbating the divisions within the citizenry and resulting in shameful embarrassment in the eyes of our allies and the free world.

These are the ones who can distance themselves and their Republican Party from the hideous and despicable transformation taking place under the Trump leadership. These are the ones that must answer to their children and grandchildren when they ask “how could you let this happen?”

Some recent reports suggest that they (the ones that know better) may be beginning to see that the damage of a Trump presidency may be outweighing their zeal and passion for Republican Party supremacy.

·        McConnell, in Private, Doubts if Trump Can Save Presidency, 8/22/17, New York Times

But almost as soon as that news broke, the leadership began to walk back the notion that they are questioning Trump’s presidential capabilities. Both McConnell and Ryan have issued new statements indicating that they can continue to work with the President to advance their ideological agenda. Apparently they are having trouble letting go of the zeal and passion.

So why won’t Republicans, en masse, call out Donald Trump? I hear two primary excuses from the media and pundits. (1) They still believe they can pass health care, tax reform and infrastructure legislation while they control Congress and the White House; and (2) they are fearful that their home constituency (their political base) is more supportive of Trump than of them.

Let’s take a look at each of those excuses, but first I should recognize the few GOP mavericks that have spoken out against Trump including Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Jeff Flake (R-AZ). Additionally, Ohio Governor John Kasich has been outspoken in criticizing many of the President's actions.

But most notably, a generally recognized “non-maverick”, Republican leader Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee issued perhaps the most resolute critique on August 17, saying:  (https://goo.gl/pzDpTs).

“The president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful. . .  He also recently has not demonstrated that he understands the character of this nation. He has not demonstrated that he understands what has made this nation great and what it is today. . . And he’s got to demonstrate the characteristics of a president who understands that.  And without the things that I just mentioned happening, our nation is going to go through great peril. . . We’re at a point where there needs to be radical changes taking place at the White House itself. It has to happen. I think the president needs to take stock of the role he plays in our nation and move beyond himself — move way beyond himself and move to a place where daily, he’s waking up thinking about what is best for our nation.”

So, why isn’t there massive and decisive disdain for President Trump from elected GOP members? The first excuse: They believe they can advance their agenda. We have had a first hand look at the GOP-controlled House and Senate ability to advance their 7-year diatribe of “repeal & replace” Obamacare. It failed miserably and revealed irreconcilable differences between various extreme factions of conservatives and moderates within the Party and no Democratic support. Additionally, President Trump’s on-again, off-again involvement in the process proved more detrimental than constructive.

The Problem Solvers caucus, led by Tom Reed (R-NY) and Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), has attempted to formulate a bipartisan effort to address the health care crisis; however, the Republican leadership does not appear willing to seriously pursue that effort.

The future of health care remains in crisis, with serious implications and problems developing over the next few months. With no viable solution at hand, the President and GOP leadership appear to be willing to leave the issue unaddressed and are talking about moving on to a completely different subject -- tax reform.

In the meantime, when Congress returns following Labor Day they must immediately deal with highly contentious budget and debt ceiling issues, not to mention billions and billions of dollars of historic hurricane Harvey recovery efforts. While these complex and critically important issues are looming, our mindless President has threatened in a child-like manner, a government shutdown if he can’t get his way in funding his 2,000 mile imaginary wall which he promised would be paid for by Mexico. Imagine a government shutdown in the middle of the hurricane Harvey recovery.

Revealing that he has no clue how the budgetary process or government processes work, the President indicated at an August 28, press conference that a government shutdown and hurricane recovery efforts are two separate issues and "everybody" agrees with him that the recovery efforts will be dealt with very quickly.
“I think you [Texas] you'll be up and running very, very quickly.  Really, very quickly.  So, yeah, I think you're going to be in fantastic shape. . . I think it [government shutdown] has nothing to do with it [recovery efforts], really.  I think this is separate. This is going to go really very, very quickly.  Again, I have spoken to many of the people we're talking about, and everybody feels the same way I do.” *[press conference transcript]
So without a plan to overcome the demonstrated inability of the Republican Party to address critical legislative priorities with generally acceptable solutions, it does not seem that the excuse of advancing their ideological agenda is viable.

The second excuse, uncertain support from their political base, is even more disturbing. The Republican Party appears to be at a crucial decision point.

Heretofore, the Republican Party has not been in favor of giving encouragement to white supremacists, neo-Nazis, or the KKK. The Party historically has not supported continuous and documented lying and distortion of facts regarding information presented to the public. The Party has not previously supported systematic attacks on the freedom of the press which the President decries as “fake news” whenever it challenges his beliefs. The Republican Party has also generally regarded Russia as a serious threat to national security and institutional stability and a foreign power to be dealt with, with extreme caution.

Donald Trump has violated many of the core, fundamental underpinnings of the Republican Party, American democracy, and social and political norms held by a large majority of Americans. Polls have consistently shown that the President retains support from only 35-40 percent of overall electorate, but 70-80 percent support from the Republican base.

I applaud the Republicans who have had the courage to speak out directly and challenge the views and leadership of this President. There should be more – many more. Most of the American public knows instinctively that Donald Trump does not represent American values.

He was elected narrowly by a frustrated electorate in an election fraught with domestic and international interference on the belief that he would bring a new management style and ideas. In the first 7 months of office we have witnessed that new style and ideas. Many are offensive, embarrassing and indefensible.

Now that we know, there should be no excuses. Many of the actions and beliefs of Donald Trump must be rejected. The GOP leadership is the only check on his erratic and unacceptable behavior. Republican leaders should not equivocate in their rejection and try to rationalize this behavior based on the pursuit of an unrealistic legislative agenda.

As to their political base, Republicans must draw a line in favor of longstanding American beliefs and ideals over short term political ideology; or forever change the Party brand and identification. A point recently made by former Senator John Danforth (R-MO, 76-95) in a Washington Post op-ed: 
“[Trump] stands in opposition to the founding principle of our party. . . We cannot allow Donald Trump to redefine the Republican Party. That is what he is doing, as long as we give the impression by our silence that his words are our words and his actions are our actions. . .” *[complete op-ed]
As for Democrats; they are not without blame. While most Democrats have rebuked the abhorrent behavior of Donald Trump, they have done very little to articulate their Party brand and identification as an alternative to the GOP.

Why is this important? It is important because Democrats share in the responsibility of breaking the cycle of Congressional gridlock and the intense tribalism that has grown to be the American way. Democrats must participate in a constructive way to change the culture of D.C. politics and strive to reach a point where Congress can function and carry out its constitutionally-mandated responsibilities as one of three equal branches of government and its critical oversight of the Executive Branch. Dysfunction in Congress is a two-way street. I emphasized this point in a previous July 18 post -- Wake Up Democrats; Another Chance At Self-Identification.

In a country where the electorate is virtually divided 50-50, I have previously stressed that Congress, whether controlled by Republicans or Democrats, cannot continue to propose one-sided solutions to complex problems. I have advocated a solution consisting of “shared legislative power.” A solution that is counter to the political DNA of most Congressional members, but one that has a limited but highly encouraging track record. See my post: Shared Legislative Power: Inspiring, Refreshing, Encouraging, Promising.

The Problem Solvers caucus (mentioned above), which is attempting to address the health care issue, is a step in the right direction. It starts with the premise that politically acceptable solutions cannot be one-sided. The concept should be expanded and institutionalized in Congressional procedures.

The existing legislative process, called “regular order”, where one Party completely controls the agenda, funding, resources and votes does not work. There is no constitutional requirement for the regular order process; it is completely established by Congressional rules. It can be changed at any time – IF CONGRESS WANTS TO. There are better ways to govern and deliver the real bipartisan solutions that most Americans want.

The President’s approval is currently at 35% and the approval rating of Congress is at 10% (see Real Clear Politics). Republicans are currently in control and have the power to choose – right or wrong.

References & Information

  • June 20: Seventy-two percent (72%) of Republicans approve of the job Mr. Trump is doing; along with 9% of Democrats and 35% of Independents (CBS News poll, 6/15-18/17, margin of error 4pts)
  • July 17:According to a POLITICO survey of more than two dozen local Republican Party leaders in counties where 2018’s most competitive races are shaping up, the GOP grass roots aren’t fazed by news of Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting last year with a Kremlin-linked lawyer or the daily drip of stories about Trump and Russia. They aren’t even paying close attention. . . Local Republican leaders say the only collusion going on is between Democrats and the media.” Politico
  • August 16: Top Republicans Criticize White Supremacists, But Don't Call Out Trump, NPR
  • August 17: Republican leaders dance around Trump remarks, ABC News
  • August 17: Sixty-seven percent (67%) of Republicans approve of President Trump’s reaction to the Charlottesville attack; along with 10% Democrats and 32% Independents (CBS News poll, 8/14-18/16, margin of error 4pts)
  • August 21: “Loyalty to Trump has quickly become the most potent issue for the Republican base, according to a dozen candidates and strategists immersed in 2018 races.” Politico
  • Official GOP Listening to America Survey. 32 questions the last of which is open ended and you may submit your written concerns to the question: What else do you think the President needs to know about the real America? We’re listening.