Wednesday, October 25, 2017

BOTH FEAR AND ELECTIONS BEHIND HEADLINES

By Dominique Paul Noth

The White House press secretary, who should be named Sarah Huckster Sanders, keeps turning once normal phrases into laughable clichés.  Whatever Trump’s vague policies on health care, Dreamers and taxes, they are “clear and consistent.”  Every such major issue is always drawing his “laser-like focus” while every Trump critic is engaging in something Trump would never do – “petty grandstanding.” 

Flake, a strong conservative,
dislikes the image of the right
that Trump projects.
The tweets – which she described to shell-shocked journalists as Trump’s way of reaching the public “unfiltered” – have actually driven both camps into derision:  Democrats to prove the president is unhinged, Republicans because his tweets minimize every policy initiative they want, as now seems to be happening with the tax bill.

The situation has finally brought calls from the public to the press to stop wasting time covering Sanders’ constant lying for her president and Trump’s unsavory tweety birds insulting everyone who disagrees with him or anyone who reports conversations truthfully.   It does seem they keep putting the daily clang of Trump in our head when we desire Bach. Even Nine Inch Nails would be more soothing.

The media now is having its feet held to the fire even as it wonders why establishment Republicans are not holding Trump’s feet to the fire the way a few respected senators have.  There’s a sad, simple reason:

Upcoming elections, one as soon as December, will keep political headlines percolating and the GOP fence-sitting.  The fever for Trump is still too high – even with only 37% supporting him in polls, even with Republicans in obvious disarray about how to place the cold cloth of truth on the feverish.  The temperature may have to fall below 25% before the Republicans will act. 

Self-protection is proving more important than public service for the GOP -- because there are still policies Republicans hope from even an unstable, impulse-driven White House.  The common Beltway description of the tax bill has become “having a baby to save a failing marriage.”

Let’s be clear that conservatives are embracing their own brand but ashamed Trump is the spokesman.  Jeff Flake of Arizona, who took to the Senate floor for a blistering speech against Trump, still votes 94% his way. Similarly strong for conservatives is Bob Corker of Tennessee who has also called Trump “debasing of American values”  and dangerous enough to lead us into World War III.

Yet both are respected as principled and interested in bipartisanship – as is John McCain who has joined them in fierce criticism of Trump’s behavior (though not all his policies).  Since they represent what many once held important in the Republican Party (small government, fiscal conservatism, freedom from tyranny) it becomes painful to realize they are throwing the glove in Trump’s face as they are leaving the field of battle, not in advance of a duel. Both Flake and Corker have announced they are not running in 2018.

The Republicans left in Congress could not have a shinier example than their speeches for  standing up to the Trump who rides roughshod over statesmanship – but  they are not streaming to join the revolt. That suggests a key requirement of running for office is cowardice.

Presidential historian Michael Beschloss suggests many Republican office holders privately agree with Corker and Flake but are afraid saying so will arouse the Trump base to primary them.  That base may be shrinking to a hard core as polls suggest independents are abandoning the president, but there are more than enough immovables to scare up silence.

It is not Steve Bannon, no longer in the White House, who is driving up GOP caution, though he is whipping the hard core hard. It is the money behind him – the Mercer fortune that can be applied against Republican seat-holders in upcoming races. So they would rather be Trump’s nannies than the citizens’ voice.

All this may actually be good news for Democrats  the clearer it becomes the Republicans are too cowardly to follow their instincts. 

Corker was popular in Tennessee, which has long been solidly red (the last Democrat elected to the Senate was Al Gore in 1990) and thus Democrats at best face an uphill campaign.   Distaste for Trump, combined with concern for health care and other basic public values, could be changing things on the ground to the Democrats advantage.

Their best hope lies in the likelihood that strident Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a vehement hard-right Trump backer who has pushed her way into being a spokesperson for GOP House policies, will likely sweep the field in the primary to face the still undetermined Democrat. Given some of the names being floated, including popular mayors, her mere presence leaves the GOP vulnerable in November 2018.

Democrat Krysten Sinema
sees her chances go up
in Arizona
Arizona is even more in play, since chances are boosted for highly regarded Rep. Kyrsten Sinema on the Democratic side.  She has a winning life story and a reputation for independence that should appeal in Arizona, particularly if the GOP choose Kelli Ward, the physician who publicly wished John McCain would die so she could be appointed to his seat (a statement that pretty much guarantees Arizona governor Doug Ducey would look elsewhere if that eventuality occurs).

She has also been so indiscriminately in Trump’s corner  and so savagely anti  the popular McCain that  a lot of Republican voters could be swayed to Sinema’s side. It may even flip Flake.  His powerful speech on the Senate floor announcing his departure --  and his vision of an unsavory Trump who will never change --  has led the GOP to search for someone more palatable than Ward to run for the seat.

But a lot can happen before those events in November of 2018.  This December 12 there is a once unimaginable opportunity to lower the GOP Senate control from 52 to 51, basically blocking the worst legislative possibilities of the Trump administration (since finding only two GOP senators  stops Vice President Pence from casting the tie-breaking vote). If that Alabama upset had been in place October 24, Republicans could not have eliminated a strong plank at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

With help, Doug Jones may pull off
an upset in Alabama
Alabama is the definition of a deep red state, has been for years.  So much so that Sen. Richard Shelby switched to the Republican Party in 1994, reading the voter tea leaves. But the GOP primary decided to put up Roy Moore, the twice removed state supreme court justice whose policies can charitably be described as unconstitutional, anti-homosexual, anti-women, anti-Muslim and anti anything he interprets as against a Christian god.

His Democratic opponent, a well regarded former prosecutor,  Doug Jones,  still has an uphill fight despite a FOX poll that puts him in an amazing tie with Moore. That’s not decisive because Alabama voter turnout has traditionally been low. 

In the past there were few Alabama elections where the results were even in doubt between the parties, which means Democratic voters have not been much involved and are out of the habit.  But Jeff Sessions, whose seat is being filled, has been an extremist attorney general, angering  much of the nation with his policies. Roy Moore has not been making headway beyond a loyal band of supporters.  Doug Jones has been successful in raising money nationwide.

So the results could be a shocker – and not just to the Alabama system. 

About the author:  Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at milwaukeelabor.org.  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  His award-winning theater reviews appear at urbanmilwaukee.com.



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