The September Scenario

by John Lawrence

See you in September.  See you, when the summer’s through…

 Well, thank goodness this summer is through. Even by the current abysmal standards of journalism and political discourse, the summer of 2015 has marked a new low in so many ways that one can only cower in terror about what awaits us when the political season gets serious next week.

I’ve taken a little time away from DOMEocracy to work on my book on the Class of 1974 and congressional reform. So by way of catching up, here are some thoughts on three of the more immediate issues: Trump, Clinton, and the Iran nuclear agreement.

Trump. Little has occurred since my last blog (“Trump’s Tirade”) to change my mind that, when all is said and done, Trump will have been largely a flash-in-the-pan summer story. Yes, he has “surged” in several states; but he is still winning a fraction of the votes of GOP voters; in most polls, three-quarters of Republicans support other candidates and a majority of Republicans declare they will never vote for him.

Why are people surprised by Trump’s early support? Hello, have you been paying attention to Republican politics in the last 5 years? His message is hardly inconsistent with the steady stream of anti-government vitriol that has passed for political discussion from the Right since Obama took office. Trump is actually less absolutist than many Republicans on issues like taxes (endorsing an end to the “carried interest” tax break enjoyed by hedge fund managers) and health care (he embraced single payer, at least for Canada).

The racist claptrap that generates the greatest response in his speeches is little different from the loony nativism spewed in the Congress by the likes of Tom Tancredo and Steve King in recent years. At its heart, this is what the boomlet for Trump is really all about: affluent white males who fear their status is endangered by the changing demographics and politics of the country. Trump intimidates the other Republican candidates just as the Tea Party minority in the House intimidates the less extreme wing of the GOP which is loathe to cross the energized base and invite primary challenges.

Trump’s success could actually benefit the more moderate Republicans like Bush (whose performance has been inept even by Bush family standards) and Kasich (who probably has the surest likelihood of being somewhere on the Republican ticket in 2016 if he doesn’t do something incredibly stupid). Trump sucks up all the oxygen from the Far Right candidates like Paul, Carson, Cruz, and Perry who have been unable to get traction amid the Trump blitz. Others, including Graham, Christie, Walker have underimpressed. When the dust clears, these candidates may find their moment consumed by Trump who then faces off against the more establishment candidates (Bush, Kasich), one of whom will eventually get the nomination and may well, together, form the GOP ticket.

Clinton. If Trump has enjoyed a summer fling with voters, Hillary Clinton has continued to take a beating. The take on the Clinton campaign is that it is a slow-moving disaster led by a deeply flawed candidate who inspires tepid support and monumental anxiety. Well, there is a point to be made there.

On the other hand, Clinton remains dominant among Democrats in money and support; as my mother would say, any of the other hopefuls would give their eye teeth to be where she is. Still, the dichotomy that is the Clinton campaign can be found daily in the press: just a few days ago, MSNBC ran both of these headlines: “Hillary ‘Is On A Trajectory That Is Dramatically Downward’” and “Hillary Clinton Flexes Muscle As She Racks Up Endorsements.” On September 2, the Washington Post breathlessly headlined, “Clinton Wrote, Sent Classified E-mails on Private Server.” The story notes, however, that the e-mails in question were determined to contain classified information after she sent them, indeed, “after Clinton left office.” Still, that doesn’t stop the Post from concluding that this revelation “appears to contradict earlier public statements in which she denied sending or receiving e-mails containing classified information.”

No, it doesn’t. Clinton asserts she never sent classified e-mails; “government officials” – whoever they are – now postulate some of the information in her e-mails may have become classified at a later time. Clinton undercuts her assertion by repeatedly saying that she “did not send or receive classified material.” Why not simply say, “I didn’t send or receive any material that was classified at the time.” To my knowledge, no one has contradicted that statement as yet.

Of course, Clinton knows (as do we all) the charges and allegations will never stop, and it is understandable that she is loathe to let such histrionics drive her from a race she could easily win. But that determination doesn’t make us any more sanguine about the prospects of moving into a restorative phase of American politics anytime soon.

Thus the summer fling with Sanders who says all the correct things and endorses all the right policies, and has less chance of effectuating them than he does of getting elected in the first place. Democrats need to keep in mind we are electing a president, not picking a valedictorian; the goal of selecting a nominee is not to pick the person with whom we agree most often, but rather the one who has the best chance of getting elected and actually implementing what he, or she, has promised. That isn’t Sanders.

Fortunately Sanders’ supporters will likely be able to embrace Clinton and hopefully turn out in reasonable numbers, as Clinton’s supporters accepted Obama in 2008. They won’t be happy, but the serious implications of a Republican presidency will be evident, particularly given the possibility of a Republican Congress (not to mention an aging Supreme Court). You can almost hear Clinton imploring, “Compare me to the alternative, not to the Almighty.”

On the issue of Joe Biden: not happening. Biden knows that he would have to confront Clinton head on and vigorously take down her candidacy, and he will not be willing to do that, nor should he. Even if he were successful, the ramifications for the women’s vote in November would be calamitous. He carries a lot of baggage of his own, starting with hundreds of controversial votes in the Senate accumulated over a third of a century. He may not remove himself irrevocably, in the event Clinton collapses, but as to an active candidacy against her: nope.

Iran. The press spent the summer breathlessly awaiting the declarations of each Democratic senator as the number endorsing the agreement approached the 34 votes needed to sustain the presidential veto (achieved last night with Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s announcement). As usual, there has been an excess of attention to the Senate. It is quite possible the senators will never even have to vote on the override because the vote could come first in the House, where Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has spent the summer tying down and releasing the names of Member after Member who support the agreement.

This is Pelosi at her meticulous best, counting her votes, re-counting her votes, over and over, talking to her doubtful members, leaving nothing to chance. She has been the Democratic Leader and Speaker since 2003, but she has also never stopped being the inexhaustible and peerless Whip, the position in which she entered the Democratic leadership. As soon as the Republican majority agreed to require only a vote of disapproval on the agreement (which could be vetoed and sustained with just one-third of either house) rather than a vote to approve it, the scene was set for Pelosi to work her magic.

That September song sung by The Happenings’ (from Paterson NJ) warns “there is danger in the summer moon above.” As we prepare for the return of Congress and votes on Iran, the continuing resolution, the highway trust fund, the debt ceiling and who knows what other “cliffs,” as well as more presidential debates and Trump tirades, there’s plenty of danger in the September moon as well.