The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life
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Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Politics ...

We have another round of GOP primaries today — Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland and Delaware, the so-called “Acela Corridor” (Acela being the Amtrak high-speed train that runs through those states). Donald Trump is expected to do very well in all of them. There is still talk about Trump being denied a first round victory at the July 18 GOP Convention in Cleveland; but in order to do that, it appears that Senator Cruz would have to win both Indiana (May 3) and California (June 6). Otherwise, Trump will come within 50 votes of the 1237 delegate threshold; he could then reasonably be expected to pick-off enough of the 130 or so uncommitted delegates so as to seat him at the top of the GOP line this November. It would simply be a question of making deals with those floating delegates, and of course, Trump is the self-proclaimed master of the deal.

Unfortunately for those of us political junkies who would enjoy the spectacle of a contested GOP convention, several recent polls indicate that Trump is in the lead in both states. The Predictwise web site is today giving Trump 65% odds in Indiana (but no call yet in California). The 538 site is going the other way in Indiana despite the polls, giving Cruz a 54 to 45 advantage over Trump (perhaps on the weekend news that Governor Kasich agreed to suspend his ads and campaigning in Indiana so as to give Cruz a better shot against Trump). However, in California, Mr. Silver’s 538 now has Trump over Cruz by 74/22, despite a Cruz edge of 60/37 only two weeks ago.

So, it’s actually starting to look as if the GOP may actually go over the waterfalls and make Trump its candidate. There are a variety of opinions about what this will mean for the Grand Old Party in the long-run, but for now a Trump candidacy will probably
bode well for Hillary Clinton and Democrats (especially the Democratic Senate candidates hoping to re-claim Senate control from the GOP). Trump has attracted a loyal following, but it doesn’t appear that the Trump political brand does much better outside the GOP rank and file than Trump vodka did.

Admittedly, Trump pulled quite a few new people into the GOP tent. But regarding his overall popularity with the American electorate, his nation-wide “favorability” remains at historic lows, and most polls have and continue to indicate that Clinton will readily beat him in November (the RealClearPolitics Trump vs Clinton average currently shows Clinton with an 8.5 percentage point lead). Clinton’s popular vote advantage will probably overcome any Electoral College effects that Trump might arguably trigger. For example, Trump might flip one or two traditionally Democratic states like Pennsylvania, Michigan or Wisconsin into the GOP column, and could tip some of the on-the-fence states like Ohio and Iowa into the red column also. But Clinton’s advantage with racial minorities, Hispanics and college-educated professional voters could give her the edge in various southern and western states that prior to 2008 were seen as solid GOP bastions, e.g. Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado and Nevada (oh, and this trend could help put Clinton over the top in Florida, countering the probable GOP win in Ohio).

Thus, the “collective wisdom” of the American electorate, imperfect as it is, will probably respond appropriately to someone as uninformed, undiplomatic and uncouth as a Donald J Trump. Hillary Clinton has many personal flaws, including a variety of ego and power-mongering tendencies (and a charming touch of paranoia) that remind one of Richard M. Nixon. But as with Nixon, Clinton appears to have the intellectual and temperamental qualifications to be President; and again like Nixon, she certainly possesses many years of “on-the-job-training” in Washington. But what about that on-going FBI investigation of her exclusive use of a private e-mail server for governmental business while she served as Secretary of State? Has she really broken the law, since her server was not properly secured from hacking and her communications most likely included government secrets? I’ve read a lot of articles about this, roughly half of which say that she did not, and half saying that she did. Obviously the former are mostly written by GOP supporters and the latter by Democratic Hillary supporters (although there are some Bernie Sanders people who think that Clinton should go down for it). The Democrats have a heavyweight Hillary defender in the person of law professor and evidence scholar Richard Lempert; the GOP puts up former federal judge and Attorney General Michael Mukasey to make the case for criminal indictment.

I’ve tried to weigh the facts and get past the bias in these articles. The bottom line here is that for the interested public (like myself), there is not yet a clear and bright line that can serve as a “bottom line” regarding Hillary Clinton and her use of that server. Her initial protestations that there was never anything stored on her server or transacted through her server that endangered the national security interest or violated federal laws meant to protect highly sensitive documents have not held up well against what has so far been revealed to the public. However, we do not know the full story yet, and the federal laws that govern the use and define the penalties for the mis-management of sensitive federal information are quite complex and difficult for non-experts to grasp. I would say then that there MIGHT be something to the theory that Clinton transgressed the law regarding government secrets and thus should be indicted, given the variety of federal statutes involved and given that not all of them require evidence of specific intent and prior agency classification. Thus the possibility of Clinton’s guilt cannot be confidently dismissed on the grounds of lack of specific and willful intent to release known classified information. Despite my reservations (tongue in cheek here), most Hillary sympathizers keep repeating this, along with Hillary herself.

FBI Director James Comey recently said that the FBI might not be done with its server investigation before the Democratic convention. SO, what would Barack Obama and Attorney General Loretta Lynch do if Comey presents a good case for indictment against the nominated Democratic Presidential candidate, especially if it came after the Democratic convention but before the election? One could imagine a state of political chaos. Many had assumed that VP Joe Biden was waiting in the wings in the event of emergency, and that the Party would unanimously consent to a Biden Plan B. But with Bernie Sanders having done so much better than expected and having attracted so many followers — that scenario is no longer possible. Hillary would have to leave the race in the event of a grand jury indictment; and even if the public found out that the FBI recommended a grand jury presentation while the Dept of Justice pondered it, Clinton’s candidacy could be quickly sunk. Senator Sanders was too strong of a runner-up to be denied, should that occur.

Polls currently show that Sanders could beat Trump (by margins even greater than Clinton’s!), but as to whether he could actually be the President of the United States . . . that notion doesn’t come out all that much better than the thought of Donald Trump in the White House. Sanders would no-doubt pursue his idealistic policy proposals, but given the GOP-controlled House and possibly Senate, it mostly would come down to a lot of windmill tilting. America would go through another four years of political deadlock in Washington, just when it really needs to start moving on so many critical issues.

Given that set of possibilities, the best option for Obama and his AG might be to drag Comey out, try to keep him from sending a formal report and recommendation from the investigation until after the election (and as close as possible to Inauguration Day). If the FBI clears Clinton or issues a “bad practices but not indictable” report recommending slaps on the wrist, then everyone can heave a big sign of relief. Hillary will make a speech on how much she regrets what happened, outlining what she is going to do to make information security procedures more clear and effective in the future; and life will go on in Washington.

But on the 1 in 3 chance (my crude estimate) that the FBI presents a strong case for indictment . . . well, first lets look at what the effect on Barack Obama might be. Most of us won’t really care about that, because Obama is already on the way out. But Obama’s many devoted detractors will still raise a chorus against him for allegedly getting in the way and trying to kick the can down the road until the movers have all of his and Michelle’s stuff out of the White House. I believe that Obama is already taking steps to protect his own legacy against any mud from the e-mail controversy. His recent comments during an interview by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace sounded to me like an attempt to build a firewall. Obama told Wallace that although “there’s a carelessness in terms of managing emails that she has owned”, Clinton’s actions never threatened national security, and she had no intent to “put America in any kind of jeopardy”. Obama concluded that the real problem involves the confusion caused by over-classification, i.e. too much government information being classified by agencies after the fact.

In the event that things were to go the wrong way, Barack Obama could then say that he didn’t know and couldn’t find out how bad things really were, despite his best efforts. He could explain that officials from State and Justice along with Clinton’s top aides gave him faulty information, or they just didn’t tell him the whole story. When asked “didn’t you know what the FBI was coming up with during the course of its investigation”, Obama could reply with another question: “didn’t I say to Chris Wallace that ‘I do not talk to FBI directors about pending investigations. We have a strict line, and always have maintained it’? It would have been a violation of our strict protocols protecting the integrity of the FBI had I asked for updates. So I to go with what the agency staffers told me, and obviously they didn’t come completely clean.” That’s the Obama legacy firewall.

But now, back to the concerns of the rest of the American public. Let’s say that Obama does successfully delay the FBI recommendation (or Comey gets the hint and delays it on his own) until after Election Day. The damning recommendation finally arrives and Hillary Clinton has either been called before a grand jury or at least is potentially indictable. What happens then? I’m not a Constitutional expert, but based on what happened to Nixon in 1973, I would guess that Clinton would be formally inaugurated on January 21 but would immediately resign, and her Vice President then would become the President (or act as the President, should Clinton declare herself “temporarily incapable of serving pending the outcome of the government’s case against me”). This would certainly be very upsetting, but the path would nevertheless be relatively clear and certain. There would not be any Bernie Sanders chaos as would happen if the FBI dropped the bomb in September or October. The 2016 election would have taken place in an orderly fashion and the nation would have selected a new leadership team. And now the second member of that team would take over.

Once again — I still think that the chances of a strong FBI recommendation in favor of indictment are less than 50-50, although NOT by so much as to disregard the possibility. Therefore, THE HILARY VP SELECTION IS GOING TO BE AN EXTREMELY CRITICAL DECISION for the Democrats. Her VP had better be someone ready to be President, not an understudy who would be learning on the job !!! Unfortunately, the Democratic Party does not have a deep bench of people with such qualifications. Some names that are popping up are Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, and HUD Secretary Julian Castro. And maybe also Elizabeth Warren.

Out of that group I would give Kaine some credence, since he was a lieutenant governor and then served as Governor of Virginia between 2002 and 2010. In other words, he actually ran a government. Sherrod Brown by contrast was a teacher who backpacked through India, then became a state representative before being elected to Congress then the Senate. Klobuchar was a county prosecutor. Castro was the Mayor of San Antonio (pretty good, but still not a Governor) before going to HUD, which in recent years has become an under-funded backwater agency. And Warren was mostly in academia prior to running for Senate in 2012, although she served on a Congressional TARP oversight panel in 2008, and was appointed by President Obama in 2010 as an advisor to the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

So, other than Kaine and maybe Castro, we really don’t have anyone currently in the “Veepstakes” who would be ready for prime time on day 1. For the good of the nation, Hillary and the Democrats should consider one of the two Democrats who would probably be most ready and able to take over in the event of a pre-Inauguration emergency: either Joe Biden or John Kerry. Yes, I know, Joe is getting old and he’s served his 8 years in the VP office under the Obama Administration. But given the present circumstances, I would see that as a distinct advantage ! Kerry is also a has-been, but again, in the event that Hillary is not able to even start her term, Kerry would be a solid stand-in, and the nation would be in good hands.

I also realize that Presidential candidates do not want to run with a leftover from a previous Administration; they like to select their Veep as an expression of a “fresh start”, as someone who will be entirely loyal to them. If nothing happens and Hillary serves out her four and maybe 8 years in office, having a “grand-poobah” like Biden or Kerry for vice president would be a pain in the neck. And given Clinton’s huge ego (part of those Nixonian personality flaws that I mentioned earlier), I would see her bitterly resisting such a choice even though it would clearly be in the best interest of the nation, given the present circumstances.

In sum — both the GOP and Democratic primaries now appear to be winding down, with a Trump vs Clinton contest coming into focus. The big drama is now or will soon be shifting to Hillary’s VP choice. Will the Democrat elders (including President Obama himself, perhaps) convince her to sign Kerry or Biden on despite her natural distaste for a shotgun-marriage running mate? Or will she at least gravitate to the most qualified of her potential “fresh picks”, i.e. Tim Kaine, despite her reported fascination with an all-female ticket (i.e. Klobuchar or Warren), and despite pressure from the Sanders faction to pick someone more to the left?

We political junkies probably aren’t going to get our fantasy GOP contested convention, but some big political drama is still possible between now and Inauguration Day courtesy of the FBI !! (Along with whatever Hillary Clinton did or did not do on that e-mail server during her tenure at Foggy Bottom).

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:38 pm      

  1. Jim, After reading your post I have a couple of questions (or “wonders”), not that I expect they could actually be answered, but political things that I wonder about now and then. But I have to admit, not very often; after all, this IS politics we are talking about. In life I find myself wondering just how important any of this will be in the future. Maybe my trouble is that I just don’t know enough American history and should read up on it, see what kind of politicians there were in the last 240 years. I wonder how much hanky panky I’d find in the early history of America. I wonder if that is one of the reasons “Hamilton”, currently playing on Broadway, is sold out for what? a couple of years at this point? Must have been more going on than we might think if it’s capturing people’s attention so thoroughly.

    First of all, when it comes to Hillary Clinton’s emails and which ones were “safe and secure” and which ones were possibly available to anybody who might want to see them, I find myself saying a “who cares?” about it all; maybe I’m not a good enough citizen. But I don’t think I’m too different from everyday people either. There’s so much violence these days, young people being killed every night it seems; so many daily worries about money, jobs, retirement, etc., that emails are the least of any problem for a lot of people.

    A couple of years ago my sister told me that Jimmy Carter sent by snail mail every single piece of communication he wrote to any world leader or any person in any influential position in any country. Thus, nobody could ever blame him for using the wrong server; nor could anybody “listen” in to his communications (which seems to be such a big business these days it rated a sub-story in “The Good Wife”). Oddly enough, I tho’t Shonda Rhimes probably came close to real life in her portrayal of the “listeners” who, for the most part, read into communications between people and make something where there is nothing. (Continued to P. 2)

    Comment by Mary S. — April 28, 2016 @ 1:42 pm

  2. (Continued) I find it odd though that I’ve noticed that someone must be reading, have some access to (or maybe it’s a “simple” [to some people but not to me] algorithm of some sort) even my own most ordinary emails to individuals. I say this as occasionally I will add a P.S. to a note and just put “M” as an ending to it. Suddenly, I notice advertisements for things (emails I tend to immediately delete) I will never in 100 years buy addressed very casually and congenially to “M”. If “they” are not reading my ordinary, everyday notes they have some way of finding how I may/may not sign an everyday note. If these people are reduced to reading my everyday notes, I pity them, both for getting things so wrong and being reduced to capturing how I might be addressed in order to entice me into buying whatever it is they are selling.

    Well, that was tangential to the topic of Hillary’s emails and “what horrible damage she must have done to the secrets of our country”. But I have to add that anybody with an ounce of sense dealing with something of strict and high secrecy for our country would casually and thoughtlessly use a “wrong server”. I just find that difficult to believe.

    I also find myself wondering just where all the “good” politicians may have disappeared to. Let me define “good” as I’m using it here: Those who have had some experience in the politics at the level of those who might actually run the country and those same individuals who did a good job at the work they did. For instance: Chris Christie (sp?)—where did he disappear to? except for his standing behind Trump on one picture, looking like a mouse caught in a trap. Why did Biden decide he wanted nothing to do with running for the presidency? John Kerry? Elizabeth Warren? I’m sure there were others I didn’t pay close enough attention to. Where have these people disappeared to?

    What is it about today’s young people (and most of them are young people) that they seem so enamored of Donald Trump—and his negativity especially. (I think I might consider him as a GOP nominee if he were more positive toward people as a whole, if he more often said something that actually made some sense. (E.g.: He wants to build a border wall that Mexico will pay for; meanwhile the border is riddled with tunnels that have been used for years. He wants to send back all immigrants and their children born here; does that include his own wife and his own children?) (Continued on P. 3)

    Comment by Mary S. — April 28, 2016 @ 1:42 pm

  3. (Continued) Has anyone noticed his non-verbal behaviors? I must admit they have improved recently; someone must have “told him”; they are so negative; well, at least so it seems to me.
    Just to mention two or three: He had a standard way of using his hands: Opening his palms toward the audience and pushing away his hands forward from his body—as if to push someone away from himself. Seems to me he’s pushing away those who are saying we want you for president. Why does he often in this same hand gesture lift his first finger and thumb in a “loser” sign?—again, pointing toward the audience. Some of his other behaviorisms: He will point at someone in the audience, make a “snatching” gesture and then immediately point to himself. As if he’s saying: I want “you/that/whatever it is he’s pointing at” for ME. I see this as a “me, me, me” gesture. I have not seen one non-verbal communication from him that is truly positive. I wonder why it is young people are so attracted to such negative gestures. Would they be so truly FOR him if they took time to read his non-verbal and likely unconscious behavioral gestures? Even worse that nobody seems to notice the negativity of his non-verbal communications.

    One last thing: As to who actually RUNS the government, given a new president, I think that should Trump win, that would not be the first time someone else actually ran the office of the president. For instance: Ronald Reagan was most likely afflicted with Alzheimer’s in the last year of his first term; yet Nancy did a wonderful job of secretly running the government and making it seem Reagan did. George W. Bush most likely handed over most of the running of the government to Cheney.

    As I said earlier, maybe I need to learn more about American History to see exactly how and who ran the government; I may be seriously lacking in knowledge of the office of president actually being run by someone other than the president, and the president being nothing but a figurehead.

    Little of this is about how “bad” a president Hillary may be. I guess it’s because I like her; I think she’s had a lot of experience that is important to being president, and I think it’s about time a woman get a chance in the office. I do hope she gets the required number of votes she needs to be the Democrat nominee. I will be very happy to vote for her (faults and all). Her being president does not scare me one bit; I think she may bring to the office an approach we have never had and that will be a new and good approach for the country. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — April 28, 2016 @ 1:43 pm

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