Category Archives: Elections

donna brazile

Donna Brazile is a Hack

After any failed presidential campaign, operatives reposition themselves to avoid being or appearing wrong — to keep prominence, respect, and power, they naturally want to be on the right side of every campaign decision, or at least make others believe they stood against the tide and fought for hindsight’s best strategy.  Donna Brazile is no different.  Her ethical shortcomings during the campaign rightly cost her a job with CNN; her poor leadership at the DNC and the bizarre strategy she pushed should cost her respect within the party.  But it probably won’t matter because of her revisionist and ironically titled forthcoming book, Hacks.  This effort to recast herself after a botched campaign shows that Donna Brazile herself is in fact the hack.

False Rigging Claims

One of the book’s most explosive claims is that the DNC rigged the primary through a joint fundraising agreement with the Hillary Clinton campaign that let the latter have de facto control over hiring and strategic decisions.  This claim seem unsupported by contemporary reports of the joint fundraising agreement and the text of the agreement itself (made available by WikiLeaks).  As an officer of the party, Brazile should have made herself aware of any subtext or unspoken agreements about the fundraising venture to make sure nothing underhanded happened.



In fact, Donna Brazile’s claims about the 2015 joint fundraising agreement seem very similar to the text of the 2016 agreement signed after Clinton won the nomination and her campaign assumed control of the national party apparatus.  Without supplying further documentary proof, it remains entirely possible that Brazile’s account simply mistakes (or deceitfully confounds) the two agreements.  *UPDATE* NBC reports that the memo on which Brazile based her claims of “rigging” pertained to the general election, not the primary, a routine move as candidates assume control of party structures after their nomination.  Brazile lied about the memo’s contents.

Her claims of the DNC tilting or “rigging” the primary simply by an alleged scheme in which the Clinton campaign could veto strategic action by the DNC has no basis in reality.  The national party does little and is fairly weak — observers often overstate its importance (campaign committees such as the DSCC and DCCC control most of the money and political activities carried out by the party).  Without the Clinton campaign’s support, a bankrupt DNC couldn’t have done anything and, even if it had the money, what could it have done to rig a primary to favor either candidate?

The best means by which a primary can be rigged are the rules.  But the DNC approved the 2016 primary’s rules in 2014 and most of those rules carried over from 2010.  Similarly, the idea that a small group of individuals could somehow control 50+ primaries and caucuses as well as the voting inclinations of tens of millions is absolutely ridiculous (even if some of those officers emailed each other about supporting Clinton over Bernie Sanders).  Brazile’s claims of a rigged primary simply tap into lasting anger in an attempt to ingratiate herself with that wing of the party.



Such an overture is needed because Brazile caught flack for leaking Democratic primary debate questions to the Clinton campaign, another instance which Sanders supporters claimed as evidence of “rigging.”  This, too, is a senseless claim as none of the few questions Brazile gave to the Clinton campaign appeared verbatim, Clinton never sought the questions in advance (Brazile simply handed them over), and campaigns that prep extensively for debates can predict the questions with a high amount of accuracy.  They don’t need leaks to prepare for what’s coming (and leaked questions do not cause tens of millions to vote for a candidate).

Regardless, this ethical impropriety rightly resulted in CNN firing Brazile and Brazile losing respect among much of the politically inclined.  It’s little surprise that to improve her image among the insurgent Sanders wing, Brazile needed to embrace their “rigged” rhetoric and appear on their side.

Donna Brazile’s Revisionist History

Brazile made other revisionist claims that either show a bad memory or the underhanded actions of a hack trying to be on the right side of history.  In her phone call to Sanders about alleged (read: non-existent) “rigging,” Brazile claimed to say that “I did not trust the polls…I told [Sanders] I had visited states around the country and I found a lack of enthusiasm for her everywhere. I was concerned about the Obama coalition and about millennials.”



When polls tightened in September, Brazile, then interim leader of the DNC, went on CNN and expressed her confidence in a Clinton victory.  It’s true this might not reflect her actual beliefs — no party leader will go on national television to express belief that her candidate will lose — but Brazile’s electoral strategy showed she truly believed her words.  As Politico reported, Brazile held millions the Clinton campaign transferred to the DNC, DSCC, and DCCC and had the committees buy airtime for minority voter turnout in places such as Chicago and New Orleans.

Donna Brazile never doubted that Clinton would win the Electoral College.  She feared Clinton would lose the popular vote — polls never showed that being a likely outcome — so she had the DNC spend millions in non-competitive states to drive minority turnout.  Had Brazile actually worried about voter enthusiasm, she never would have squandered millions on states with certain outcomes.  She would have directed resources to Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Florida.

Actions backed up her contemporary words about faith in Clinton’s ultimate victory but undermine her revisionist argument that she foresaw an enthusiasm gap that would cost Clinton the election.  Clearly, Brazile’s rewriting the past to appear correct even though her decisions at the time represented a major strategic blunder.



The false and confusing claims as well as the revisionism show Donna Brazile has little interest in helping the DNC unify and move forward.  Rather, she wants to reposition herself as a Sanders ally, one who stood up to the entrenched Clinton interests and tried to salvage the Clinton campaign.  Doing so keeps her prominent and indicates that she thinks Sanders will be a major force in 2020.  Naturally, a political operative at heart, Brazile wants to gain the favor of those who she believes will control the party for years to come even if she has to lie to do so.

With falsehoods stated and history changed, Donna Brazile reveals herself as nothing more than a hack.


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the party decides

A Party Should “Rig” Its Primary

There’s been much hoopla over allegations that the Democratic National Committee “rigged” the primary for Hillary Clinton, thus somehow denying Bernie Sanders a chance at winning the nomination.  This allegation, supported by the likes of Elizabeth Warren and Donna Brazile, is categorically false (and those who believe in the vast conspiracy cannot point to hard pieces of evidence showing otherwise).  That isn’t to say a party shouldn’t “rig” its primary — it absolutely should.  The national committee of all parties should tilt the scales to benefit a desired candidate who the party’s most dedicated stakeholders believe will best serve the party and country’s interest in the short and long run.

Presidential nominations are, by there very nature, party affairs.  It’s a discussion largely among loyal partisans (though a number of — too many — independents also influence these decisions) about the ideological direction of the party.  The nominee will be the leader of the party regardless of election result.  Presidents obviously lead their parties for at least four years (and often eight or more); general election losers still have a say in their parties direction and some retain prominent positions in government or even run for president again.  Parties have a natural interest in selecting a candidate who can harness temporary desires, move legislation towards the party’s ideal point, and still continue to lead whether in victory of defeat, for years to come.



The party itself has a vested interest in the party’s anointed leader.  Nominees and presidents essentially take over the national committee for years at a time and can either strengthen the central committee through a mix of patronage and dedicated fundraising (much of which the central committee then gives to state parties) or it can leave the party structure neglected as it withers in debt and falls into disarray.  This might incline some party actors to favor a former Democratic senator, First Lady, and Secretary of State from a family whose patronage and fundraising abilities helped keep the DNC afloat over, say, a candidate who never bothered to formally align with the Democratic Party until running for president.

Changing the primary rules offers parties their best opportunity to “rig” an election, and even in doing so, the changes made would not salvage the candidacy of its preferred candidate should the voters find that candidate repugnant.  Rule changes to maintain the party’s influence in nominating affairs include closing primaries to only those affiliated with a specific party, shortening the primary calendar to keep a high number of candidates in the race through the convention, increasing the number of superdelegates, and unbinding regular delegates elected through primaries (eliminating all caucuses).



Each of these changes increases the likelihood of an open convention — a convention in which no candidate has a majority of total delegates so candidates and their delegates must reach some nomination consensus.  This is how parties routinely selected presidential nominees until the McGovern-Fraser reforms that essentially removed parties from the selection process.

An open convention forces consensus and often the consensus candidate that emerges is a moderate voice with governing experience, not a threat to the party or country’s health.  Perhaps the most notable example of a consensus candidate is Abraham Lincoln, the first choice of few but the second choice of a great many.  Such delegate brokering, often led by party regulars and officials, would likely keep political hobbyists or other demagogues out of power.  A brokered Republican convention in which Donald Trump had only 42 percent of the delegates might not have selected him, choosing instead a candidate acceptable to both the far-right and moderate wings (someone like Scott Walker, Haley Barbour, or Mike Pence).



Preventing the likes of Donald Trump from winning the presidential nomination should be a party’s number one priority as that individual has the power to destroy the party itself while degrading the country and its institutions.  Voters have done fairly well at avoiding such populist temptations, have made flirtations in the past and now show a willingness to dally with far left or right ideologies.  This trend towards demagogic populism furthers the need to reinsert parties into nominating affairs.

It’s a non-intuitive proposal and one with which many will disagree, but in the long-run, avoiding unqualified candidates who manipulate voters’ emotions to serve themselves at the expense of the party and country benefits us all.  Let parties “rig” nominations.


For more on presidential nominating contests and the party’s role in them, see “The Party Decides,” which you can purchase by clicking the image below.

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donna brazile rigged primary

Elizabeth Warren and Donna Brazile are Wrong

 

Both Elizabeth Warren and Donna Brazile have declared the 2016 primaries “rigged” in Hillary Clinton’s favor.  This claim is entirely false and can only be made by those with political motives, whether rekindling popularity among the Bernie Sanders wing of the party or practicing revisionist history to shift society’s memory away from ethical improprieties that reflect poorly on Brazile, but not the the Clinton campaign.

Warren’s incorrect agreement that the DNC “rigged” the primary follows an explosive — at least to those not politically trained — excerpt from Brazile’s forthcoming book in which she reveals that the Clinton campaign used its Hillary Victory Fund to keep the DNC financially afloat in return for controlling a number of its operations.

That’s not new information, it’s not shocking information, and it in no way “rigs” an entire primary.  In August 2015, the DNC publicly announced its joint fundraising venture with the Clinton campaign — a remarkably poor way to hide the information Brazile claims is a bombshell.  Just three months later, Bernie Sanders himself signed a similar agreement with the party (to which he never belonged until he sought the presidency).



So Brazile’s Super Explosive Report That Changes Everything™ reveals no new information, but does rekindle the ignorant passions that rally those angered, without reason, at the DNC.  We can only hope Brazile, who noted in the book her desire to get to the bottom of the alleged “rigging,” didn’t expend money or resources to find a document of which all knew in 2015. (*UPDATE, November 3, 7:25p* NBC reports that the memo Brazile cites as “rigging” only pertained to the general election, a routine procedure worthy of no debate and certainly not evidence of non-existent “rigging.”)

Furthermore, in absolutely no way does a campaign trying to control party operations rig an election.  The party organization itself does not fall under campaign control until delegates select a nominee.  Up to that point, the party’s national committee is pretty impotent: It (wrongly) doesn’t choose favorites and even if certain staff members voice their desire to see one candidate elected over another, they can do nothing about it.

No DNC operatives hit the ground during the primaries to campaign for or against a candidate; the DNC spends no money on ads to boost or deride presidential aspirants; the party itself does little — and it almost always does little.  Fixation on the DNC and RNC largely misses the mark because those committees have little actual power or campaign prowess.  Most actions and funds go to campaigns or the national party’s committee arms (eg, the DCCC or RNSC).



The party does, however, decide the primary’s rules.  This represents the best method by which the party can “rig” a primary.  If an early favorite controls the rulemaking process and, for instance, moves the largest and most expensive states to the beginning of the primary calendar and makes the winner-take-all, then that would be rigging the primary by pricing out competitors and ensuring early momentum goes exclusively to the frontrunner.  Controlling the rule making process is one method by which Donald Trump can fend off a primary challenge in 2020.

But the Clinton campaign had not “infiltrated” the DNC (to borrow Brazile’s parlance) at the time of primary rule approval.  This happened back in 2014 and those rules by and large carried over from the ones to which the party agreed in 2010.  Moreover, the rules as they stand actually favor insurgent candidates.

Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina currently begin the primary season.  All are small states and relatively cheap television markets (New Hampshire’s a bit tricky as campaigns sometimes need to buy air time in the Boston television market to best reach New Hampshire voters), so underdog candidates are not priced out of competing.  Iowa’s caucus system favors populist candidates able to forge an intimate connection with the voters — caucuses and primaries differ rather dramatically in demographics with the former being far less democratic.  State demographics also favor factional candidates able only to appeal to certain races (IA and NH being overwhelmingly white whereas SC has a large African American constituency).



This calendar actually favored Bernie Sanders and enabled his continued presence in the primaries.  He performed best in smaller, caucus states with few minorities — exactly the demographics of the first two states (IA and NH), conveniently those which generate the most news coverage and which can decide momentum moving forward.  Had the calendar started with a diverse sect of states, Sanders would have lost each one by large margins and been written-off even by his most ardent supporters.

Far from the DNC “rigging” the primary for Hillary Clinton, the rules carried over from 2010 (agreed to in 2014) allowed Sanders to stay in the race and appear competitive.

Both Elizabeth Warren and Donna Brazile are wrong and while I cannot be sure of their motives, the most obvious — a political ploy to retain 2020 favor and an effort to revise history after an ethical embarrassment, respectively — point to weak characters willing to lie to angered partisans.  The Democratic Party doesn’t need the continued fabrication of alleged “rigging” hanging over its head.  It needs to rebound in strength to wage a strong midterm fight.  Enough with the lies.



roy moore theocrat

Roy Moore’s Hypocrisy

Perennial Alabama statewide candidate and Senate frontrunner Roy Moore seems unaware of his ceaseless hypocrisy.  He routinely calls for Congress and especially the judiciary (Moore is the twice-former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court) to respect the Constitution and abide by its words and understood meaning.  All politicians say this, of course, and most mean it.  But Moore doesn’t and his hypocrisy lies in the fact that he twice had to leave his elected position for failing to follow federal law.  Moore cannot simultaneously call for others to follow the Constitution’s word when he has long ignored it when doing so fit his purposes.

Just today, he released a statement on a federal judge blocking President Donald Trump’s transgender military ban, writing “Unless we return to faithful obedience to the Constitution and the separation of powers set therein, our form of government and our liberties will be in dire jeopardy.”  He also called for the judge’s impeachment, a worrying precedent he would establish in the Senate: Impeaching a judge for decisions with which any individual senator disagrees.

The separation of powers is perhaps the fundamental philosophical underpinning of our Constitution.  Powers do not overlap, but do constrain other branches of government (or other chambers within a single branch).  This important innovation, made popular by Enlightenment writer Montesquieu, prevents any one branch from becoming too powerful and using that consolidated authority to encroach on the liberties of those from whom the Constitution’s power arise — the people.



Restraints also bound judicial power, something which irked Roy Moore during both of his briefs stints on the Alabama Supreme Court.  The strength of Moore’s religious conviction and his anger towards a secular government that, through the First Amendment, enshrines the separation of church and state makes him a theocrat, one who wants to laws and government to align with and enforce the theological teachings of a particular religion (Moore’s religion).

At various points, he’s argued that the First Amendment doesn’t protect Muslims (it does), a Muslim congressman shouldn’t be seated because of his religion (again, wrong), hinted that homosexuality should be a capital crime, contended that the SCOTUS case which legalized same-sex marriage was worse than the case which condemned blacks to slavery, and referred to the Christian God as “the only source of our law, liberty and government.”



I’ll reiterate: Roy Moore thinks that God’s laws — or what some people in some religions consider to be God’s laws — trump the Constitution, a legal document borne from the consent of the governed.  And he happily enforced that belief while on the bench.

Moore denied a lesbian custody of her children simply because of her sexual orientation, which he called “an inherent evil” that shouldn’t be tolerated.  He used taxpayer dollars to erect a monument to the Ten Commandments in the Alabama state court house, which a federal judge found to violate the Constitution by endorsing a certain religion over others (and causing negative effects in the workplace).  Moore refused to move the statute despite an order from a superior court.  His refusal to follow principles of judicial hierarchy in place since the country’s inception simply because they conflicted with his firm religious belief that all should idolize the Ten Commandments resulted in his first removal from office.



After Alabama again elected Moore to the same post, he maintained his theological ways by ordering the Alabama judiciary to ignore the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell, which legalized same-sex marriage across the land.  His decision, which clearly violated established constitutional law and the obvious letter of the Constitution, represented tyranny from the bench: Ignoring the rule of law, he tried to supplant the Supreme Court with his own opinion, despite its hateful belief that the state should not recognize all love equally simply because of the writings in an ancient text that has no governing power. Moore again had to leave the bench for his illegal behavior.

It’s hypocritical for the same man who spurned constitutional law and federal orders that triggered him for their secularization and non-conformity with his orthodox religious views to lecture others on respecting and following the Constitution.  His actions denied the liberty of others — a workplace and government property free of religious endorsements and the ability to marry a loved partner and be treated as legitimate and equal in the eyes of the lie.

Roy Moore is a hypocrite whose theologic beliefs control his actions and will dictate how he governs all Americans.  He is a threat to the Constitution and the republic.



virginia election

Virginia’s Gubernatorial Election Has Big Consequences

Next week’s Virginia gubernatorial election has many important consequences, including whether a disgraced man running a race-baiting campaign will assume leadership of an increasingly blue state, but one that many voters and watchers overlook: The results may well determine whether Virginia changes its method of electoral vote allocation.

Republicans stung by Virginia’s swing to a blue state — it voted for a Democratic president in each of the last three elections after not having done so a single time since 1964 — want to take electoral votes away from future Democratic victors by ending the winner-take-all system.  Instead, they want to allocate electoral votes by congressional district, which only Nebraska and Maine do today.

The winner of each of Virginia’s 11 congressional districts receives an Electoral Vote with the remaining two votes going to the statewide winner.  This policy is nothing more than an effort to benefit future Republican candidates by taking a handful of votes away from likely Democratic victors and giving them to the statewide loser.  In close elections, always a likelihood given the mix of swing states, this could be decisive, especially if Republicans in Democratic Minnesota succeed in passing similar legislation.



Had this legislation been in effect during the 2016 election, Donald Trump would have won six electoral college votes to Hillary Clinton’s seven despite Clinton winning the state easily.  Barack Obama also would have seen some five or six votes lost to Mitt Romney (Democrats would have benefited in the years prior).  That Republicans push this policy now rather than a decade ago when Virginia seemed reliably red shows they foresee losing the state in future presidential elections and want to bolster their candidate.  It’s not about accurately reflecting the statewide vote, as Republicans have claimed, because they obviously showed no concern for Democrats earning electoral votes even as George Bush won the state.

Switching to proportional allocation of electoral votes makes sense, but only if all states embrace such a reform (otherwise, it hurts the statewide winner and could potentially deny her enough votes in the election).  However, any such change to proportional allocation should not be done by congressional districts.  As we all know, gerrymandering plagues congressional districts (as does geographic clustering), so attempts to proportionally allocate electoral votes based on congressional district results falls well short of fairness.  Trump won 44 percent of the Virginia vote but 54 percent of its congressional districts.  Proportional allocation must be done at the statewide, not congressional district, level (and with a threshold requirement).



Virginia has yet to enact such a blatant Republican power-grab because it has a Democratic governor.  The measure passed the Election Subcommittee along party lines, which portends well for Republicans: They have a nearly 2/3 majority in the House of Delegates and a one-seat majority in the state senate.  But they don’t control the governorship and the governor can veto the measure.

If Ed Gillespie wins the election, Republicans will control the state legislature (the senate is not up for election this cycle) and can pass its desired measure by whipping the party into line.

This election has lasting influence on the nature of the GOP, the Republican majority in the House of Delegates, and controlling 2020 redistricting.  It also may well determine whether Virginia helps statewide Republicans losers — that is, Donald Trump — in the next presidential election.

Go vote!



clinton russia collusion

No, the Clinton Campaign Did Not Collude with Russia

Upon the Washington Post’s report that the Hillary Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee helped pay for the Steele dossier, right-wing media went into a frenzy declaring that the Clinton campaign, and not Donald Trump, colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election.  Such claims are complete hogwash.  The Clinton campaign did not in any way, shape, or form collude or have connections with Russia, a fact so stunningly obvious that any claims to the contrary shows the extent to which the right-wing apparatus has engaged in Orwellian DoubleSpeak simply to defend a president all know to be dangerously unit for the job.

These orgies of accusations, whose participants include Donald J. Trump, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Fox News, Sean Hannity, the National Review, the Federalist, Jeb Bush, and the Wall Street Journal editorial board, ignore that the Washington Free Beacon — a conservative publication — partnered with Republican megadonor Paul Singer to fund the dossier during the primaries.

They also ignore reports last year that Democrats took over the dossier project after Trump won the Republican nomination.  No new information, just confirmation of previous reports and a pretty evident event: Many in Washington knew of some opposition research into Trump that included Russian improprieties — why would the Clinton campaign not pay a firm to probe for information?



Opposition Research is not Collusion

I should emphasize “pay a firm to probe for information.”  The Clinton campaign hired Fusion GPS to conduct opposition research on Trump.  Fusion GPS then hired former British spy Chris Steele for the investigation.  Steele collected raw intelligence; that obviously included speaking with Russians.  Undoubtedly, many of these Russians, speakingly disconcertingly freely, likely had lines fed to them by the Kremlin, whose efforts to influence our election and voters (of both parties) has been well documented.

But that’s not collusion (except, perhaps, in the delusional world of those who truly believe everything 1,200 time liar Donald Trump says).  Collusion involves a secret agreement or cooperation for some deceitful purpose — say, agreeing to meet with Russian agents after they promise dirt on your political opponent, which Donald Trump Jr did.  Hiring a firm for opposition research and then that firm hiring a spy and then that spy conducting routine raw intelligence collection is not by any means collusion.

Did the Clinton campaign coordinate responses with Russia?  Did it directly go to Russian operatives in hope of collecting dirt on Trump?  Did an agent of the Clinton campaign beg a de facto Russian outlet for hacked Trump emails (Cambridge Analytica, a Steve Bannon production with funding from alt-right Robert Mercer, solicited Clinton’s emails from Russian puppet Julian Assange).  The answer to all of these questions is a resounding no.



A Lack of Logic

Let’s also walk through the wholly foolish logic of those claiming Clinton/Russia collusion:

  1. Fund the bombshell dossier
  2. Say nothing about
  3. Let Russia hack your emails
  4. Lose election in large part because of leaked emails hacked by Russia
  5. Profit!

It’s utterly bizarre and entirely nonsensical that people think the Clinton campaign would break all sorts of laws and arguably commit treason to coordinate with Russian and then not use the document during the campaign to win the election.  How does that make sense?  Like all of the right-wing attacks, it doesn’t.

Paying for opposition research is not collusion.  By not stretch of the imagination is it collusion.  These new attacks, conveniently emerging in the same week as special counsel Robert Mueller’s first indictment, are only misinformation driven by stakeholders of the Trump administration who will go to any lengths to defend their Great White Hope — he who will take healthcare from millions and cut taxes on the wealthy all while enabling the GOP’s most racist and deplorable faction.




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A Race-Baiter’s Party Now

Former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie barely defeated Prince William County Supervisor Corey Stewart to win the GOP nomination for Virginia’s gubernatorial election.  No one expected the race to be close: Gillespie, a former adviser to President George W. Bush and candidate Mitt Romney, led all polls by at least 15 points and Stewart never impressed with his transplant knowledge of the state.

No one expected Corey Stewart to earn 42.5% of the primary vote because no one understood the true depths of irrational nativist anger that now defines a substantial faction — perhaps the most important faction — within the Republican Party.  The GOP is no longer the party of conservatism.  It’s the party of race-baiters.

Stewart ran a despicable campaign centered around issues of proclaimed heritage, by which he meant protecting the glorification of those who waged war against the Union in an effort to continue an engrained system of crimes against humanity.  In other words, Stewart’s campaign drew on support for traitors.



His rallies became cesspools of Confederate-loving individuals wrapping their obvious bigotry in the high-handed guise of “preserving history” — the history of the Confederate flag, which so many displayed as they cheered a vicious know-nothing.  Speeches descended to diatribes against proclaimed “political correctness,” a catch-all phrase used to decry those who think that states and localities maybe shouldn’t proudly display emblems of secession.

 

We shouldn’t really be surprised by Stewart’s campaign antics.  After hearing the Access Hollywood tape in which Trump bragged about sexually harassing and assaulting women — a tape which preceded two dozen accusations of such behavior, which Trump dismissed because some of the women were “too ugly” to harass — Stewart organized a rally outside of the RNC headquarters to protest the organizations lack of support for their predator candidate.

Even the Trump campaign, the same campaign that lead calls to lock up a political opponent (a highlight in banana republic campaigns) and which ran against the Constitution and the soul of our nation, tired of Stewart’s antics and fired him from his unpaid position.



But Trump’s ultimate victory — a victory made possible by voters overlooking bigotry, predation, and disturbing ignorance — emboldened Republican primary voters to free themselves of the Enlightenment’ shackles; hatred empowered, they no longer saw a need to keep up their facade of constitutionalism.  So 42% of them voted for Stewart and far-right populism.  Only the DC explants residing on Northern Virginia (briefly) saved the state from Stewart’s bombastic nativism (but he’ll be back, running for Senate against Tim Kaine in 2018).

With Stewart defeated by the slightest margin, Gillespie had two choices: Continue a campaign of decency wherein he would combat the most insidious factions of the Republican Party and try to shed conservatism of its fetish for demagogues or continue the campaign Stewart won.  To his shame and that of the GOP writ large, Gillespie chose the latter.

Gillespie decided to further kowtow to race-baiters because today’s GOP is so rotten that any ambitious politician now has to adopt racially biased principles to escape a primary and consolidate support for a general election.  That’s why actual conservatives such as Jeff Flake opt not to run for reelection.  Values would have to be surrendered to the scourge of far-right populists yearning for a nationalism that legitimizes naked hatred of Mexicans and Muslims.



The Republican’s campaign has devolved into running clear race-baiting ads that feature heavily tattooed Latinos and the threats of menacing gangs, such as MS-13.  “MS-13’s motto is Kill. Rape. Control,” screams one. “Ralph Northam’s policy? Northam cast the deciding vote in favor of sanctuary cities that let illegal immigrants who commit crimes back on the street, increasing the threat of MS-13.”

 

Sanctuary cities play a central part in Gillespie’s rallies.  “Do we need to have sanctuary cities here in Virginia?” Gillespie asks rally-goers. “No!” they yell in response, not understanding that sanctuary cities don’t help criminals, do not led to increases in crime, but do help victims of domestic abuse and violence contact police without fear of deportation.

But there aren’t any sanctuary cities in Virginia.

What end, then, could these ads that link Democrat Ralph Northam with muscular, tattooed, Latino gang members serve?  Race-baiting.  Nothing else.



This is the Republican Party now.  Candidates have to invoke racial fears, prejudices, and grievances to rally Lost Cause troops behind their campaign.  The state that witnessed a Nazi drive through a crowd of protesters, killing one, now sees a gubernatorial candidate embrace the exact same principles — saving statues.

Between Gillespie and Roy Moore, racist extraordinaire, we’re seeing how the GOP and its base will act in the years to come.

Emboldened by Trump, they doubled-down on nativism, hatred, and ignorance.



hamilton jefferson election 1800

Republicans Could Learn from Alexander Hamilton

The election of 1800 pushed the young American republic to the brink of a constitutional crisis.  Just the fourth election, and the first truly competitive one, the Federalist and Republican parties — though they would bristle at being labelled parties — organized candidate tickets, John Adams and Charles Pinckney and Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, respectively.

This innovation, a devolution into faction which so frightened the Founders, threatened the Electoral College because prior to the 12th Amendment, Electors had no way of differentiating between the president and vice-president.  Designed without parties in mind, each elector cast two votes and the top two electoral vote getters receiving at least a majority (in 1800, 70 votes) would become president and vice-president.

However, with a party ticket and partisan electors choosing from preferential candidates rather than dispassionately selecting a president from the population, electors had to coordinate votes to ensure that they didn’t each cast their ballots for the president and vice-presidential hopeful; one elector had to cast one vote for a third candidate lest the presidential and vice-presidential designee end up with the same number of electoral votes.

Failing to do so would throw the election to the House of Representatives.



A Republican Coordination Failure

Federalists managed this feat, no easy task given difficultly of coordination in a nation that moved at the speed of horses, with one elector giving a vote to John Jay, leaving John Adams with 65 electoral votes and Charles Pinckney with 64.  Republicans failed to execute their similar plan.  Their electors cast 73 electoral votes for both Jefferson and Burr and the tied election went to the Federalist-controlled House of Representatives, which threatened to overturn the election, nullify results, or even pass installation to install an interim chief magistrate.

In the House, state delegations each cast one vote for president with a majority (9) needed for victory.  While Federalists dominated the chamber — they lost their majority in 1800, but the new Congress would not be seated until March — they only controlled eight delegations, short of a majority.  Republicans controlled seven states and one, Vermont, had a split delegation.

All knew that Republicans picked Thomas Jefferson as their presidential nominee, but that did not bind Federalists, most of whom despised the former vice-president.  They wanted to deny him the presidency and so a number of them voted for Burr: Six Federalist delegations initially voted for Burr, all seven Republican delegations as well as Federalist Georgia voted for Jefferson.  Vermont, split, cast a blank ballot.  Maryland had five Federalists and three Republicans in its delegation — four Federalists voted for Burr while one voted for Jefferson along with the Republicans, leading to a blank ballot.  No president had been decided.

These divisions — six states for Burr, eight for Jefferson, two blank — held for 35 ballots.



Hamilton’s History with Jefferson

Throughout the affair, Alexander Hamilton urged his Federalist colleagues to vote for Thomas Jefferson, his longtime nemesis, because he trusted Jefferson’s character and virtue whereas he found Burr unscrupulous and too self-serving.  A perfect example of Burr’s self-serving character is his unwillingness to stand down after the election when to the House, despite knowing his designation as vice-president.

It’s hard to overstate the depths of the animosity that flowed between Hamilton and Jefferson.  Hamilton considered Jefferson’s political views as “tinctured with fanaticism,” and, as a person, “a contemptible hypocrite.”  During the 1796 election, Hamilton wrote a series of some 25 essays under the pseudonym Phocion attacking Jefferson.  The most notable of the works, all published in the Gazette, accused Jefferson of having an affair with one of his female slaves.

For his part, Thomas Jefferson lambasted Hamilton and funded James Callender, a sensationalist Republican journalist who frequented the muck to attack Federalists, primarily Hamilton.  Callender helped destroy Hamilton’s career and public reputation through false accusations of corruption and the popularization of Hamilton’s affair with Jane Reynolds.



The Callender Affair

In 1792, information came to light that made then-senator (and future president) James Monroe believe Hamilton used his position as Secretary of the Treasury to enrich himself through speculation.  Such accusations naturally angered Hamilton, who prided himself on virtuous leadership that sacrificed his own interests for those of the country.  That disinterested leadership defined his views of government and explains his eventual support of Jefferson over Burr in the 1800 election.

When Monroe and other Republicans confronted Hamilton, they learned Hamilton dallied with Reynolds, but did not act corruptly or abuse his powers.  Monroe and his counterparts understood the distinction between public and private life, realizing that indiscretions in marriage did not equate to corrupt or insidious public action.  The investigation ended without leaks.

Some four years later, Callender uncovered the papers related to the Hamilton investigation, perhaps leaked to him by Jefferson, though more likely released by former House clerk John Beckley, a Jefferson ally.  He published the documents and further editorialized the affair, lambasting Hamilton’s moral standing and falsely accusing him of corruption.

Hamilton responded in a lengthy pamphlet that he assumed would end the confrontation and restore his stature — after all, the same defense and revelation of facts had ended Monroe’s intrigue.  Unfortunately, the pamphlet, in which Hamilton admitted the sordid details of his affair but denied all allegations of corruption, reached a mass audience and that audience assumed Hamilton’s moral indiscretions exposed a rotten character.  Callender’s efforts, funded by Jefferson, thoroughly disgraced Hamilton.



Differences Aside

And yet, when it came to the tied 1800 election, Hamilton put his long-standing rivalry and antipathy towards Jefferson behind him and fervently wrote Federalist congressman urging them to make Jefferson, not Burr, president.

Hamilton worried that the country would suffer, that the government would be subverted or otherwise harmed, by “an unprincipled man [who] would exploit public passion.”  He warned of a latter-day Catiline, the Roman senator who tried a populist uprising against the Republic.  Burr’s populism — he was the first (vice) presidential candidate to canvass for office and helped establish the first political machine in New York — and ambition made him such a man.

Federalists believed that Burr, who held few core principles and profited from the Hamiltonian economic system, would maintain the Federalist program.  But Hamilton, who did so much to consolidate government and design the Federalist programs, willingly sacrificed their rollback for character in the presidency.  “Great Ambition unchecked by principle…is an unruly Tyrant,” he wrote.

“As to Burr there is nothing in his favour. His private character is not defended by his most partial friends. He is bankrupt beyond redemption except by the plunder of his country. His public principles have no other spring or aim than his own aggrandisement per fas et nefas. If he can, he will certainly disturb our institutions to secure to himself permanent power and with it wealth.”



The Lesser of Two Evils

Jefferson, on the other hand, had greater ability than Burr and was not “zealot enough to do anything in pursuance of his principles which will contravene his popularity, or his interest. He is as likely as any man I know to temporize — to calculate what will be likely to promote his own reputation and advantage; and the probable result of such a temper is the preservation of systems, though originally opposed, which being once established, could not be overturned without danger to the person who did it. . . . Add to this that there is no fair reason to suppose him capable of being corrupted, which is a security that he will not go beyond certain limits.”

“He is of a temper to undertake the most hazardous enterprises because he is sanguine enough to think nothing impracticable, and of an ambition which will be content with nothing less than permanent power in his own hands.  The maintenance of the existing institutions will not suit him, because under them his power will be too narrow & too precarious; yet the innovations he may attempt will not offer the substitute of a system durable & safe, calculated to give lasting prosperity, & to unite liberty with strength. It will be the system of the day, sufficient to serve his own turn, & not looking beyond himself.”

“The truth,” Hamilton wrote, “is that under forms of Government like ours, too much is practicable to men who will without scruple avail themselves of the bad passions of human nature.”

Hamilton put his hatred towards Jefferson and concerns over the longevity of his system to support a candidate with character fit to be president, eschewing his party in the process.  He recognized the dangers posed by a self-serving individual without ideology of which to speak and no clear attachment to the constitutional system.



How Republicans Can Learn from Hamilton

Republicans should learn from that.  Donald Trump has no interest in protecting the Constitution — in fact, his actions as president have undermined it through violating the foreign emoluments clause, the domestic emoluments clause, undermining the separation of powers, and trying to erode the First Amendment’s protections of free speech and press.

Obviously, Trump is not fit for office.  He promotes falsehoods, lies to the American people, and blunders about without a clear understanding of policy, domestic and foreign.  About 1/3 of his presidency is spent on properties he owns, mingling with donors and lobbyists who pay companies in which he maintains a financial stake hundreds of thousands a year simply to have access to the president.  The Founders never wanted such a businessman to be president because that individual would have innumerable conflicts of interest and act on in a self-serving manner; the fears Hamilton had of Burr come true in Trump.

Trump’s authoritarian minded.  He has offered a tacit endorsement of political violence and degraded political discourse through slander, libel, and countless lies told about the opposition.

Our institutions do constrain him, and that’s a testament to the efforts of Hamilton and other Founding Fathers to create precedents of separated power and checks and balances, not risking the early republic for personal or factional interests, but instead recognizing the gravity of their decisions.  Precedents can be overturned and the normalization of an authoritarian president coupled with weak congressional opposition does not bode well for the country going forward.

Hamilton acted for the country, not for himself.  He worked ceaselessly to protect the country from the dangers of ann ambitious and self-serving character.  Republicans need to learn from Hamilton’s actions and recognize that our country would be best served by abandoning Donald Trump.

If Republicans want to be glorified as Hamilton has, if they want to protect the American republic, they would do well to deny Trump the 2020 GOP nomination and, if he claims it, unite behind a Democrat for the sake of our nation.



For more on election of 1800 and the histories of Hamilton and Jefferson, checkout Gordon S. Wood’s “Empire of Liberty.”  Click the image to buy.

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Apportionment Based on False Premises

Defense of the Electoral College centers on its bias towards small states — to its supporters (of whom I do consider myself one), the Electoral College protects the liberty of small states from the tyranny of an assumed collusion of their larger counterparts.

This argument comes straight from the constitutional convention debate over the president’s election, but in neither time did the argument actually hold merit.  Coalitions and divisions between states arose from interests related to economics, not size.  Small states resisting population-based representation simply wanted to maintain their power by creating a union with legitimacy drawn from the states, treated as equals, rather than the people.



The Constitutional Convention

At various points in the constitutional convention, small states threatened to leave the proceedings if the foresaw their power in the new government decline.  These threats almost came to a head during the debate over Senate representation.  Nationalists such as James Madison and Alexander Hamilton pushed — and the convention initially accepted — a Senate apportionment scheme that allotted members on the basis of a state’s population.

Angered, small states ranted about their looming decline in power and forcefully argued for representing the states equally in the Senate.  The Connecticut Compromise did just that, with the House of Representatives being apportioned based on state population.  Divisions on that vote largely followed state sizes.

Similar debates erupted over the method by which the president should be selected.  Those from large states tended to favor either direct popular election of the president or the indirect election of president with electors apportioned based on state population.



Again, small states took issue with the proposals, presenting a plethora of arguments that ranged from alleging that large states would collude to control the presidency or the likelihood of individuals within states voting for a “favorite-son” candidate, thus preventing any one candidate from earning a majority of the votes and throwing the election to a large-state dominated legislature (the tie-breaking method in many early plans for presidential election and the final one adopted).

False Premises

But these fears had no basis in reality, as should have been immediately clear to all present at the convention.  Small-state delegates had a cynical desire to maintain their state’s power and so naturally resisted any effort that would bring their residents back to status of united equality.  Large-state collusion would never materialize because they had different material interests.

Of the five-largest states at the convention — Virginia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New York, and North Carolina, in that order — no natural allegiance could emerge.  MA and NY naturally had mercantile interests.  Boston and the fast-growing New York City bound the two states in favor a strong state with an eye towards economic development (and later embraced the Hamiltonian financial system).[1]

VA and NC had few commercial interests and no large cities to become international ports.  They had an interest in preserving slavery and, later, resisting an expansive federal government that helped “stockjobbers” and other “speculators.”



PA, with the nation’s largest city and its capital, had split interests: Naturally, Philadelphians would align with those in MA and NY, but the western frontiersfolk of PA cared little for commercial emphasis and policy geared towards presumed speculators.  They wanted a government that protected from Native American raids and which did not align closely with the British.

As party splits emerged, western PA became Republicans while Philadelphia remained in the Federalist camp.  It should have been obvious that the different interests between (and within) these states based on the vastly different nature of their economies would have prevented any collusion.

Coalitions of Region, Not Size

Unsurprisingly, no large-small state divisions emerged; geographic differences largely defined the nascent parties.  In 1796, the first competitive election, location, not state size, explained support for Federalist John Adams or Republican Thomas Jefferson.  Northeastern states of all sizes supported Adams whereas southern states of all sizes chose Jefferson.  Of the five largest states, only NY and MA voted for Adams.  PA, VA, and NC went for Jefferson.  Of the five smallest states (Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Rhode Island, and Vermont), 3 went for Adams and 2 for Jefferson.  The hotly contested election of 1800 saw 4 of the largest states and 3 of the smallest states go for Jefferson.  Clearly, no alliances on the basis of state size formed.



A Nation of States and Unequal People

In the end, the cynical actions of small-state delegates forever changed the republic by creating a natural inequality on the basis of geography.  Those living in large states find their Senate votes worth fractions of those in small states — this also holds true for the Electoral College, though the disparity is less pronounced.  Small-state delegates pushed a union wherein legitimacy came from the states, thus demanding their equal status in government.  Nationalists envisioned a government with legitimacy, or power, coming from the people, and so urged representation to follow the population, not be bound by the amorphous and rather arbitrary state lines.

The huge consequences related to this decision gave small-states the power they craved, but it created a union with representation determined by arguments based on false premises.


[1] New York City, at that time, had not yet developed into a central commercial port and New York did not immediately embrace the Constitution.  NY and MA did not initially ahve the same interests as NY had a frontier that bordered with Native Americans and British Canada.  MA had no frontier of which to speak.


For more on the early republic, read Gordon S. Wood’s “The Empire of Liberty,” which you can purchase by clicking on the image below.

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The Alpha Male of a Chimpanzee Colony

The Primal President

Donald Trump appealed to millions of Americans through sheer primal dominance.  His bluster, his unpredictable and easily inflamed temperament, his agenda driven by extreme narcissism, and his story of (white) American warriors constantly fighting in a Hobbesian world of (racial and cultural) change made him appear as an alpha male, a force with which to be reckoned.  But really, Trump’s psychological appeal that preys on those who lust for authoritarianism makes him the alpha male of the chimpanzee colony that is now the Republican Party. 

Prestige Psychology and Statesmanship

In an ideal polity, humans embrace prestige psychology, a somewhat recent evolutionary gain that has prepared our brains to respect honor those with culturally valued skills.  These skills usually contribute to a society’s well-being and are wielded for benevolence.

Prestigious individuals apply their talents not for self-aggrandizement, but to help others.  Members of society respond by elevating these individuals to positions of leadership and revere; they seek to emulate these cherished individuals and to respect the prestigious leader’s proclivity to collaborate with other experts (prestigious themselves) and act with degrees of “magnanimity, generosity, forbearance, and dignity in their leadership roles.”



Today, we would call those individuals patricians, or statesmen.  Such qualities can be attributed to some of our best presidents, including, namely, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, two men whose actions created and saved the Union while furthering liberty for all.

Donald Trump, of course, shuns statesmanship and his appeal did not draw on prestige psychology.  He won because his rhetoric appealed to primal human psychology: Social dominance.



Chimpanzee Politics

To understand Donald Trump’s appeal, we have to look at chimpanzees.  Chimpanzee societies are dominated by a single top-chimp – the alpha.  He earns his position through a mix of aggression, intimidation, and threat (which will often devolve into outright violence to squash insurrections and to completely assert social dominance through physical injuries).  The alpha chimp also manages to forge coalitions of pragmatism, allying himself with other forces to maintain leadership or, once dethroned, instantly supporting the new alpha in order to keep some vestiges of power.

Humans often act in similar ways.  Affinity for social dominance hails from from our ancient history – whereas prestige psychology developed around 100,000 years ago, social dominance became engrained some 5 to 7 million years ago.  It’s this truly primal psychology that explains Trump’s appeal.

Trump’s intemperance and (mental) instability means he’s constantly at risk of exploding – he often does this while watching Fox News in the mornings or evenings.  His looming aggression and stalking during the second presidential debate show an aggressive man lusting to pounce or charge his opponent.  Early morning Twitter tirades insult opposition (often with violent undertones), vent, and relentlessly self-promote such that the uninformed are almost bullied into believing Trump’s competency.



Primal Fear

Fear, too, permeates chimpanzee politics – and Trump’s success.  Alpha chimps must instill in their potential challengers a sense of fear, a belief that any attempt to overthrow the existing regime would be futile, resulting in pain and even death.  Trump uses fear in two ways: To solidify standing among his base and to bully other Republicans into acquiescence.

Trump portrays certain minorities as rapists (Mexicans) and terrorists (Muslims) who hope to destroy the American experiment and undermine Western civilization.  By identifying entire groups – large groups, nonetheless – as existential threats to continued existence, he instils in his base a sense of fear.  They obviously want to alleviate this fear and so flock to Trump because of his harsh rhetoric towards those groups.  And, when irrationally scared, the ends always justify the means.  That’s why people supported Trump even after his announcement that he would ban Muslims from entering the country and floated shutting down Mosques and establishing a Muslim database.  Anything would be justified to make us safe.



With a solid base unwavering in their support, Trump can bully Republican lawmakers by the implicit (or explicit) threat of a primary challenge.  Politicians are cautious creatures.  They fear losing and will go to great lengths to avoid real challenges, even if it means compromising on principles (as with most Americans, politicians don’t understand statistics and thus greatly overestimate the probability of losing to a primary challenger).  Trump can threaten to endorse and campaign for a rubber-stamp challenger and his base, so the argument goes, will follow him.  To avoid that, Republican legislators, in fear of the chimpanzee base, rally behind the president.

Transactional Coalitions

This same alpha will also be willing to enter coalitions so long as they benefit himself.  He views all relationships as transactional and will end any connection once it ceases to be useful.  Hence why Donald Trump ran as a Republican despite having little in common with the party – he needed its resources.

Similarly, after spending months denigrating the RNC and his competitors, he gleefully accepted their endorsements and help; most notably, after claiming that Ted Cruz’s father had been a part of the JFK assassination, Trump accepted Cruz’s endorsement when Cruz ignored his own “vote your conscience” convention speech.  It also explains why Trump abandoned Jeff Sessions after the latter’s recusal from the Russia probe: Sessions no longer had anything to offer Trump.



Authoritarianism

Trump’s appeal, in its primacy, relied on authoritarianism.  As mentioned, Trump’s hostile rhetoric towards minorities created a good versus evil false choice in which members of the proposed in-group – (white, Christian) Americans adhering to traditional values – came into conflict with the out-group, bad people (Mexicans and Muslims) who wanted to end the American way of life.

At worst, authoritarianism results in the utter dehuminziation of the out-group.  This is how violence and genocide happen.  The out-group becomes a subhuman with no natural rights and which must, by all means, be destroyed.

As humans think about conflict with out-groups – whether naturally or at the prompting of a malicious actor – support for highly dominant, authoritarian leaders increases. 



Authoritarian Personalities among Voters

Authoritarianism defines the alpha as well as his followers.  The (right-wing) authoritarian personality – the best predictor of Trump’s electoral support – desires nationwide values that revolve around traditional norms, submission to (strong) authority figures to either embody or reinforce those norms, and virulent antipathy to those who dare challenge the existing social order.

Trump perfectly fits the needs of those with authoritarian personalities.  His extraversion (social dominance, gregariousness, reward-seeking) and low levels of agreeableness (humility, altruism, care, empathy) cultivate a strongman image seemingly dedicated to a strict and traditional social order.

With no political philosophy, Trump acts out of pure narcissism.  He wants, above all, to promote himself.  This plays into the authoritarian dynamic as those looking for salvation and safety in an authoritarian figure feel vindicated in their choice when the leader believes himself to be a savior, that his “his superior intelligence, his charismatic dominance, his single-minded devotion to a grandiose self will triumph in the end.”  That, of course, perfectly defines Trump, a man who constantly (and wrongly) brags about his intelligence.



Conclusion

Donald Trump is the primal president, a man whose support and ascent to power can best be understood by studying chimpanzee politics.  He’s an authoritarian who seized the fascination of those with authoritarian personalities and expanded that solid base through fear, intimidation, and coalitions of practicality.  His support does not come from political philosophy or long-held ideology.  It’s not because of his prestige and skills or natural statesmanship.  It’s because Donald Trump tapped the tribal dominance that we evolved millions of years ago but thought we had left behind after the Enlightenment and with the embrace of civil, democratic societies.