An utterly depressing week with the Democrats facing strong head winds

It was not a quiet week in Washington, or in America, last week. Far from it.

Rather, it was a news-filled, momentous, and utterly depressing week, as Donald Trump, impeached by the Democrats in the House of Representatives, was acquitted by the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate, which voted with one exception to acquit the president as the  Democratic minority unanimously supported impeachment.

The acquittal came after a trial that was has more of a non-trial, a sham and a shame. The lead impeachment manager for the House, Congressman Adam Schiff, Democrat from California, described the whole scene as “descending into constitutional madness” as he outlined the two articles of impeachment — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Only Mitt Romney, Senator from Utah and the 2012 Republican presidential candidate, voted to impeach Trump. Now, I am no fan of Romney, but here he showed himself to be a true profile in courage.  For Trump, however, he became an immediate target and Don Trump Jr. demanded Romney’s expulsion from the Republican Party.

That Trump tolerates no opposition or dissent in the ranks has been made crystal clear many times, not the least in his lie-filled State of the Union speech to Congress at the start of the week. Compromise and reconciliation were nowhere to be found and there was was no attempt to expand his support beyond his faithful Trumpsters.

His ire against Romney was quickly followed by the firing of two members of his administration, both of whom had testified against him during the impeachment proceedings.   The firings of EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland and national security adviser Alexander Vindman created a wave of comparisons with the so-called Saturday night massacre during the Watergate scandal. Obviously, Trump had learned nothing from his impeachment and acquittal. He was not going to change, he was not going to say he was sorry, he was not backing down, and Maine Senator Susan Collins was quickly proven wrong, and then ridiculed by the Democrats, for naively expressing her hope, as she voted to acquit Trump, that he had now learned his lesson.

As if this was not bad enough for the Democrats and their presidential candidates, the first stop during their long primary election road, the Iowa caucuses, could not have gone worse. No clear victor in much lower turnout than hoped for and expected, a turnout, which is so vital for the Democrats to have any chance for victory against Trump in November.  Then, they were unable to count the votes. Total fiasco. Scandal. And, of course, Trump and the Republicans immediately took advantage of this – how can they (Democrats) claim to run the country when they can’t even count their votes. In the end, after almost a week, the results showed that Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg ran even at the top, followed by Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar not far behind.

On Tuesday, they battled again, this time in New Hampshire, but the wind is blowing hard in their faces. All momentum, right now, is with Trump.

Still, for many present and former Republicans the road ahead is clear. For Jennifer Rubin,conservative columnist in the Washington Post, the election means voting for the Democratic nominee, whoever he/she will be, because a second Trump term would be “disastrous.” As she recently wrote, “almost four years ago, I checked out of the Republican Party, recognizing that the moral rot, intellectual dishonesty and authoritarian tendencies that led to embrace President Trump were a threat to our democracy. Events since then have proved my initial assessment horribly accurate.”

Republicans, she continued, have transformed themselves in an “authoritarian cult,” and the Republican-led Senate under Mitch McConnell has become a “lawless, amoral and destructive,” where “fairness, truth and the Constitution are subordinate to the exercise of raw power and the population of the judiciary with unqualified and partisan judges.”

Rubin is not alone among former Republican columnists at leading American newspapers, such as David Brooks, Michael Gerson, and George Will. For Washington Post’s Gerson, the November election will be “a referendum on the moral and ethical standards we apply to our political life. Will corruption, cruelty and coverups be excused and encouraged? Or will the boundaries of integrity, honesty and public spirit be redrawn?“  For Gerson, Congress “has largely failed to defend the democratic virtues essential to self-government. American voters had better do better.”

And, so, the American voters will have to do what the U.S. Senate failed to do and issue their verdict on a corrupt president by denying him another four years in the White House. I still think they will, but, then, I still have hope in America, although it has turned very dark.



The “historic vacuum” for the Republicans makes the guessing game for 2016 even harder

My Swedish journalist colleague Staffan Heimerson wrote in his column in Aftonbladet the other day about Swedish predictions regarding the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Who will be the two parties’ candidates? On the Republican side, the Swedes most often mentioned  Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, but also Rand Paul, while Hillary Clinton was pretty much a given as the Democratic candidate.

My American journalist colleague Carl Cannon, Washington bureau chief of RealClearPolitics, explained this confusion very nicely in his column yesterday. He writes about a “historic vacuum” for the Republicans, which  “has prompted stirrings among a veritable roster of colorful, ambitious—and unlikely—White House aspirants,” and continues:

“The cast of characters includes a popular conservative neurosurgeon with the habit of making outlandish political pronouncements; a New Jersey governor whose main personality trait is in-your-face aggression; a freshman senator from Texas loathed by his peers and whose idea of high jinks is shutting down the government; a Kentucky libertarian who barely tolerates the idea of a standing army; a Baptist preacher and Fox News host better known for his weight-loss book than his stint as governor of Arkansas; and a former a Florida governor who hasn’t held office in eight years and would (a) be forgotten by now or (b) have been president already—if he wasn’t the son and younger brother of two previous presidents.”

Nicely put about Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, and Jeb Bush, although he excluded Marco Rubio. But then he added an even “less likely” name, “almost as unlikely as Ben Carson,” Mitt Romney, the man who ran from the wrong state. He needs to remedy this mistake, if he wants to run again — “Mitt Romney for Mayor.”

If he does, it would certainly add to the Republican confusion.

Massive criticism of Ryan’s “dishonest” speech

As I suspected after Paul Ryan’s speech last night, many commentators have not been kind to him. I am not talking about his performance. It was powerful and the speech was well written speech, and although Ryan in the beginning looked a bit like a nervous young kid, he clearly managed to establish a very good contact with convention delegates.

So the Republican base is now not only secure but clearly enthusiastic about Romney’s choice as vice president. Thus, the goal of the speech was accomplished.

But did Ryan manage to reach the broader American voter groups, especially the independents? We do not know yet. Probably not. It was somehow too partisan, the picture of President Obama’s years in the White House somehow too dark, with no nuances.

A few examples: “Mr. Ryan’s misleading speech,” the Washington Post wrote in its main editorial today, while one of the paper’s blogs, The Plum Line, talked about Ryan’s “staggering, staggering lie”.

Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic has a good compilation under the headline “The Most Dishonest Convention Speech … Ever”? And Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine called the speech “Paul Ryan’s Large Lies and One Big Truth”.

Here’s a bit of what they are talking about:

  • The GM plant in Ryan’s hometown of Janesville closed before Obama became president.
  • Ryan, just like Obama, wants to cut more than $ 700 billion from the Medicare, but he was silent about this.
  • The downgrading of U.S. credit rating was not a result of Obama’s policies but of Republican’s refusal to agree to raising the debt ceiling.
  • Obama has not contributed more than anyone else to the increase of the national debt. It is rather the result of the policies that George W. Bush pursued and which Ryan as congressman fully supported: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the two huge tax cuts.
  • Ryan’s pledge to support the weak and the poor do not rhyme with his budget proposal, where 62 percent of his cuts affect the low-income earners, including Medicaid.
  • Bowles/Simpson Commission: Ryan attacked Obama for not having adopted his own commission’s proposal. But he neglected to say that Ryan himself, as a member of that Commission, refused to sign the proposal because it contained tax increases.

The Democrats have a lot of new ammunition for the remaining days of this election campaign, but Ryan, unlike Sarah Palin, is no fool, so it will be a tough debate! Who will the American voters believe in the end? Mitt Romney has a big task tonight.

Here is Ryan’s speech:

Success in Tampa crucial to Romney’s chances in the fall

Leading up to the Republican convention in Tampa this week, it’s not just the weather that’s put a spoke in the wheel of the Romney/Ryan strategy to focus the campaign on the economy and unemployment, and that they are better suited than Obama to lead the U.S. in these difficult times.

There has also been an abortion debate after Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin’s stupid statement about “legitimate rape,” which produced lots of attention on the fact that the Republican Party platform prohibits abortion in all cases, even rape and incest. Then we had Romney’s equally stupid statement that he has never been asked to show his birth certificate — a bad joke to some, to others a calculated political signal to the despicable “birther” movement.   And we had Medicare, Medicare, Medicare.

So it hasn’t been a smooth ride, which raises the stakes for the Republican ticket this week in Tampa. Although conventions are no longer what they used to be, an estimated TV audience of about 35 million is nothing to sneeze at. In fact, it is a golden opportunity for Romney/Ryan to re-focus their campaign, show who they are and where they want to take the United States in the years to come. Romney, it is said, must reveal more for himself and of who he really is. It will be difficult. Does he really have something to offer beyond what we already know about him?

Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his vice presidential candidate has not resulted in any major swings in the polls, except that Obama’s lead in Ryan’s home state Wisconsin has shrunk a bit. On point after point, voters still prefer Obama over Romney, according to the latest Gallup Poll. Obama is more “likable” with 54 percent against 31. Obama is a stronger leader, he is more honest and generates more confidence, and he cares about people like you (the respondents). He is ahead on foreign policy, taxes, energy, healthcare. Only on the economy did Romney beat Obama, 52 percent to 43.

The economy is the most important issue for November, so the fact that those asked in the Gallup Poll thought that Romney is better suited to reverse the present dismal picture – something that could be re-enforced with successful convention – is of great importance looking ahead to November. But the economy alone will not decide the election. There will be Medicare and taxes and abortion, but, most of all, there will be the fundamental question of whether an ever more conservative Republican Party, increasingly hostile to the government, dominated by whites with only five percent Hispanics and two percent African-Americans, and with ever fewer moderate Republicans in the ranks, can appeal to a broader American electorate.

One of those moderates, Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, has chosen to retire and walk away for a certain re-election this fall after 18 years in the Senate. In Sunday’s Washington Post, she pleaded almost in despair for deep changes in her party now so hostile to America’s women.

“Today, the Republican Party faces a clear challenge: will we rebuild our relationship with women, thereby placing us on the road to success in November, or will we continue to isolate them and certainly lose this election?”

This will be no easy task for Romney/Ryan. Another Gallup Poll recently showed that Obama leads among women voters by 50 percent to 42. Romney, once a moderate Republican governor of Massachusetts, has since then a moved righton a number of issues, disavowing his record as governor, and taking far more conservative positions.

With his choice of Ryan, Romney’s conservative conversion is complete. He has now joined the ranks of Ryan and the Tea Party sympathizers in the House of Representatives and a party about which Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein recently wrote in their book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks:”

“The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme, scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science, and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition. When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges. “

This is where Mitt Romney now stands. The Republican Party’s conservative base is certainly happy about this. The question is what the broader American electorate, those outside the Republican Party, will say about this in November. Without them, Romney cannot win.

Ryan’s budget will haunt the Republican ticket

They look happy, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, but it’s hard for me to see how Romney’s choice of Ryan as his running mate will strengthen the Republican ticket, increase its chances for victory, and bring joy for the party in November.

Yes, the choice will energize the far right in the party — the born-again Christians and the Tea party, who will now feel more motivated to actually turn out and vote. That’s not bad, of course, but beyond that? Not much.

Ryan is not broadly known and has no strong geographic base. It is unlikely that he will succeed in helping Romney carry his home state of Wisconsin in the fall. And his view of America, based on his budget proposal that he persuaded his fellow Republicans in the House of Representatives to support, is too radical and too controversial for the broader electorate. But the former Governor of Massachusetts, seen by many as a moderate voice in the Republican party, is now closely associated with that budget, and he will not be spared in the coming months.

Here is what the The New Yorker’s economic commentator James Surowiecki wrote about Ryan’s budget last spring:

But the simple truth is that his plan is not an evenhanded attempt to solve America’s long-term budget problems. It’s a profoundly radical document, its proposals skewed by ideological biases. Raising taxes, of course, is out of bounds. The same goes for using federal power to hold down Medicare costs, which will be the key driver of future budget deficits. Instead, House Republicans would cut spending on almost everything else the government does.

This budget will be a big negative for Romney/Ryan during the rest of the election campaign. The Obama team will see to that and their attacks will be relentless. Here is what Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager said today, and this is just the start:

In naming Congressman Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney has chosen a leader of the House Republicans who shares his commitment to the flawed theory that new budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy, while placing greater burdens on the middle class and seniors, will somehow deliver a stronger economy. The architect of the radical Republican House budget, Ryan, like Romney, proposed an additional $250,000 tax cut for millionaires, and deep cuts in education from Head Start to college aid. His plan also would end Medicare as we know it by turning it into a voucher system, shifting thousands of dollars in health care costs to seniors. As a member of Congress, Ryan rubber-stamped the reckless Bush economic policies that exploded our deficit and crashed our economy. Now the Romney-Ryan ticket would take us back by repeating the same, catastrophic mistakes.

Here is what Paul Ryan said himself today, in his first speech as the Republican Vice Presidential candidate:

Paul Ryan: a sign of a campaign in trouble

Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan, congressman from Wisconsin, as his running mate was surprising, but no bolt out of the blue like when John McCain nominated Sarah Palin as his vice presidential candidate. But Romney is taking a big chance with Ryan, just like McCain did. Ryan is untested, like Palin, largely unknown to the general American public, like Palin, and Romney’s choice gives the impression of desperation, as McCain’s did.

Romney’s campaign is in trouble, if not in a crisis. He needed to do something drastic to. In three recent major polls, President Obama’s lead over Romney has increased, and according to Fox News, it is now 9 per cent. Romney needed to do something drastic to wake up the slumbering conservative Republican base.

The choice of Ryan means that Romney has succumbed to the harsh pressures from the party’s right wing and leading press voices like The Wall Street Journal and the Weekly Standard, which demanded that Ryan, seen by them as a leading conservative intellectual, be nominated. These voices opposed candidates such as Minnesota’s Tim Pawlenty and Ohio’s Rob Portman, too plain, too much like Romney himself and without any chance to inspire the conservative Republican voter base.

Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee and the Republican Party’s chief economic and budget spokesman, is a controversial figure, best known for the heavy-handed, radical cuts, in the country’s entitlement programs, particularly Medicare, while lowering the taxes for higher income groups and increasing them for the middle class. Ryan as the Republican Vice Presidential nominee means that the campaign will now completely be about pensions, health care for the elderly and a fair tax system. That debate will be favorable to President Obama.

Conservative columnist David Frum describes the problems in his comments on the Daily Beast today. The election will not be at about jobs and the economy but about security, about pensions and Medicare.

Economic conditions are so tough – the Obama re-election proposition is so weak – that Romney may win anyway. But wow, the job just got harder.

The choice of Ryan, according to Ezra Klein’s Wonkblog in the Washington Post, means that “both the Democrats and the Conservatives have the exact debate they wanted. I’m not so sure about Republicans. “

To learn more about Paul Ryan, 42 years old, Catholic, father of three children, born in Janesville, Wisconsin, which he has represented in the House of Representatives since 1998, you must not miss Ryan Lizza’s recent stellar profile of the Republican Vice Presidential candidate in The New Yorker.

“There is a guy called Mitt Romney…”

I know Mitt Romney’s disastrous start on his European trip is already all over the Internet, but it won’t go away, and I can’t resist showing it, too. I just love the way London mayor Boris Johnson says, “there is a guy called Mitt Romney…”

And, of course, the Democrats could not sit idly by. Romney’s bumbling was just too good to be true, so here is a spot released by the National Democratic Committee!

Now, on to Israel and Poland — I can’t wait!

Mitt Romney to Europe with little to offer

Mitt Romney won’t have much to offer his as he heads to London, Poland and Israel today for a bit of foreign policy. The trip belongs to the tradition of American presidential candidates, seeking foreign policy credentials before the election and there is no other reason for the trip.

The trip may in any case act as a breather after weeks relentless political TV-attacks by the Obama campaign. According to the blog The Fix, advertising spending on both sides is already up in the fantasy figures — $179 million for Romney against $128 million for Obama.

The trip follows Romney’s highly critical speech last night in Reno, Nevada before for American war veterans of President Obama’s foreign policy. He will  be asked about that in Europe. But he will also bring in his baggage the knowledge that foreign policy is Obama’s strong suit leading up to November’s presidential election. The traditional image of a weak democratic presidential candidate when it comes to foreign policy, an image that the Republicans have for decades used to their advantage, is no longer true in Obama’s case – all opinion polls show that – so, here, Romney is not likely to gain many votes, if any at all.

The speech in Reno mirrored this problem. It was thin and lacked specificities. How does he really differ from Obama?

“What Romney is offering voters on American security is neither impressive nor convincing,” said the New York Times main editorial today.

Here is Mitt Romney’s speech in its entirety. Judge for yourselves!

Low voter turnout spells problems for Republicans

Nothing decisive has happened since I last blogged about the Republican primary election campaign. That was after the Florida primary. And nothing decisive is likely to happen for a long time yet. But the campaign is now taking a break until February 28 so let’s take a quick look at the race.

Mitt Romney won in Nevada and Maine, while Rick Santorum came first in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri. But it was all mostly symbolic victories, without much importance for the battle about the electoral votes which decide U.S. presidential elections.

It is worth noting that Santorum has now taken over second place after Romney. For Newt Gingrich the week was not fun – he came last in three of the four elections in which he participated.

However, most notable was the low voter turnout, which means that the results in all five elections should be taken with a big grain of salt.

In Maine last night, for example, with a population of 1.3 million, only 6,135 people voted. That’s nothing – only two percent of its registered Republicans. Romney won with 2,190 votes against Ron Paul’s 1,996 — that is 194 votes. And it’s been the same all week: in Nevada 12,000 fewer people voted than in 2008; in Minnesota 15,000 fewer; in Colorado 5,000 fewer; , and in Missouri over 50 percent fewer voted compared to 2008.

That tells the story of a Republican electorate both uninterested in the process and lukewarm towards the party’s candidates. That does not bode well for the Republicans in the decisive battle against President Obama, where enthusiasm and a strong, joint effort will be needed to win.

Today, Obama has the upper hand in the polls against all four Republican candidates — over Romney by 48 percent to 43 percent, Santorum by 50 to 40, Gingrich by 51 against 40, and Paul by 48 to 41.

And in the battle for the crucial electoral votes, — it takes 270 to win in November – RealClearPolitics has Obama in the lead by 217 to 181 with eleven toss up states. In 2008, Obama won in ten of these eleven states — Missouri the exception — and defeated John McCain with 368 electoral votes to 173.

“Sabato’s Crystal Ball” explains it all

What’s the situation in the Republican presidential race? Who’s ahead? Who’s behind? What’s next? How long?

I doubt if anyone can explain it all better than Larry Sabato in his “Sabato’s Crystal Ball.”

Sabato is a political science professor at the University of Virginia and the director of its Center for Politics.

Take a listen — it’ll save you a lot of reading!