Friday, October 21, 2016

RNC: No "Ballot Security" Monitoring

Tierney Sneed explains why the RNC wants no part of the vigilante "ballot security" monitoring urged by the Trump campaign on Talking Points Memo.

Donald Trump’s calls for vigilante poll watchers prompts all sorts of concerns -- for voters, for election workers and for other lawmakers on the ballot getting dragged into the mess. But for the Republican National Committee in particular the rhetoric brings up a very delicate but significant issue that has its roots in a 1981 court case that has had lasting implications for its Election Day activities.
Trump’s comments urging elections monitoring has drawn attention to the consent decree the RNC signed in 1982 that banned the very sort of “ballot security” measures Trump has encouraged from his supporters. If there’s reason to believe the RNC was participating, it could be found in violation of the decree, which could keep the committee under its restrictions for another eight years. That would be a major set back for the RNC, given the decree is set to expire in 2017.
The court decree in question stems from a 1981 lawsuit filed against the RNC by Democrats, for actions related to a gubernatorial race in New Jersey. According to the Dems' lawsuit, the RNC and its state counterpart engaged in a number of practices in the name of “ballot security” that intimidated, threatened or coerced minority voters. The alleged activities included the hiring of off-duty cops to patrol near polling places in minority communities, as well as a shady mailer campaign the RNC used to cobble together a list to challenge otherwise eligible voters from casting ballots at polling places. The case was settled with the consent decree, imposing a number of limits on what the RNC could do at polling places on Election Day.
Fast forward to 2016, and the thin tightrope Trump's rhetoric is making the RNC walk now.
During MSNBC’s post-debate coverage that spanned into the early hours of the Thursday morning, Washington Post reporter Bob Costa remarked on something Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway told him in the spin room about how the campaign was doing to crack down on "voter fraud."
While it was easy to see the contemporary ramifications of Conway tying Trump’s rigged election claims to the official party apparatus, Ben Ginsberg -- the staid Republican lawyer who was also on the MSNBC panel -- jumped in to bring up the decades-old decree.
“That’s a huge problem for the Republican Party," Ginsberg said. "The Republican National Committee is under a consent decree that severely limits its election day activities because of some actions back in the ‘80s."
Ginsberg, who has worked for the RNC and other Republican groups, as well as for a number of GOP campaigns, including George W. Bush's during the 2000 recount and Mitt Romney's in 2012, was later asked to elaborate on why the decree was such a big deal.
“The RNC is still under a consent decree, they are eager to have it come off next year when it expires and this activity, I can promise you is going to cause the Democrats go back into court and extend it,” Ginsberg said.
The RNC has since denied to TPM any coordination on Trump’s supposed voter fraud prevention effort.
“The RNC does not work with any campaign at any level on so-called ballot security efforts and will not do so,” Lindsay Walters, a spokeswoman for the RNC, said in a statement to TPM. “We are completely focused on getting out the vote for the Republican ticket.”
According the Wall Street Journal, RNC general counsel John Ryder wrote to committee members Wednesday asking them to avoid engaging in poll watching.
“You are encouraged not to engage in ‘ballot security’ activities even in your personal, state party or campaign capacity. If you elect to do so, please be aware that the RNC in no way sanctions your activity,” the letter said.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Debate #3 Reax

Some reactions to the third Presidential debate:

Andrew Sullivan:

In my view, this was easily the most decisive debate. She devastated him. He melted down. His refusal to accept the results of this election disqualifies him automatically from any office in the United States. There were several areas where he was utterly incoherent, grasping at “facts”, without any understanding of policy. His personal foulness emerged.
It seems to me he also has internalized that he has lost this election. May God save this democracy from him.
I’m going to end with a Republican president who was worthy of the office, a man who understood our democracy and whose decency now compels him to vote for Hillary Clinton. Here is George H. W. Bush’s letter to Bill Clinton, who denied him a second term. This is America:
I'm going to guess that the instant polls will show this one close to a draw. Maybe Clinton will come out a bit ahead. Basically, they both repeated the same attacks as they did in the first two debates, and they've lost some of their zest at this point. At about the 20-minute mark, Clinton started trying to bait Trump into melting down, but he generally resisted the temptation. Every time he started to get a little animated, it was like something blinked in his brain and he dialed himself back. He would have been more dangerous if he could have (a) dialed himself back even more, and (b) done this from the start.
Bottom line: by 2016 standards, this debate was a bit of a bore. It will have no effect on the election at all. However, Trump basically threatened to do—what? Well, something, anyway, if the election doesn't go his way. This is not a normal threat for a presidential candidate to make, but luckily I doubt the election will be close enough for him to gin anything up. I also doubt that the Republican Party will back him up.
This substance of the debate came down to two things. Clinton was able to deliver a handful of stinging blows against Trump, going as far as to call a "puppet" of Vladimir Putin. This was preceded by a brutal recitation of evidence that Trump is willingly going along with a foreign power trying to interfere in a US election. Later in the debate she went after him on his very long history of saying he was cheated or contests were "rigged" when he's simply losing. These runs focused attention on Trump's most dangerous qualities. He could do little to rebut them and he was quaking with angry jabs here and there, "Such a nasty woman."
More important however were the statements Clinton and Chris Wallace provoked. The biggest one of course was his repeated refusal to accept the result of a democratic election. When Wallace first asked he said: "I will look at it at the time." When Wallace pressed him again he said: "I'll keep you in suspense, okay."
That kind of 'suspense" is precisely what makes democratic polities collapse. Vicious cycles of civic violence and violation of democratic norms have the pernicious effect of distorting and transforming the behavior of those who believe in democratic institutions. They create a setting in which it becomes rational to take steps that undermine them further. If you really don't know if your opponent will accept the result of the election, you start taking steps to guard against what happens if he doesn't. You take steps to protect yourself, your political future, maybe your safety and property. This is the death spiral of democracies.
It is hard to weigh in the balance Trump's violations of our democratic order but this was a considerably greater violation than the pledge to jail Clinton if he becomes president, though that was as former Attorney General Michael Mukasey accurately put it, "a watershed." Yet they are both parts of the same civic cancer: politics through raw power and violence, as opposed to a combat of political forces, often unruly, mediated by the rule of law and respect for democratic institutions. The universal acceptance of those core rules allows everything that is vital in politics take to place. It's really that bad.
What I find notable is that Trump not only has little respect for our democratic institutions, his mindset and worldview makes it impossible for him to answer that question in a truly democratic, American way. For Trump, life is deal making and power plays. It's dominance. Who negotiates with himself? Sure, I'll probably accept the results but let me keep you guessing. Like anyone who deals in zero-sum adversary negotiations and operates in a mental world of dominance, the answer makes perfect sense. Why should I show you my cards when I don't have to? But of course, in a democracy, under the rule of law, there are lines we never try to resist. We all genuflect at the altar of elections. Because of his primitive mentality and his indifference to democratic government this was impossible for him to see.
I suspect many among his core supporters will thrill to his defiance. But again, those people don't amount to nearly enough votes to win the election. From the very start of the general election campaign the biggest liability Trump has carried is the perception that he lacks the temperament, emotional stability and judgment to be president. He confirmed that a thousand times over tonight.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Debate's Biggest Loser: GOP

Jonathan V. Last explains in the conservative journal The Weekly Standard.

There is one important sense in which Donald Trump "won" the debate on Sunday night: He did not implode. He wasn't "good," or attractive, or knowledgeable. He was coarse and whiny and unpleasant. He liedconstantly. And he became the first presidential candidate in the history of our Republic to promise that if elected he would attempt to have his opponent face criminal prosecution. Actually, he went a bit further than that, telling Clinton that if he is president, "You'd be in jail." Which, by the by, should terrify you and be disqualifying all on its own.
This is unprecedented. And catastrophic. Before the "grab them by the pus—y" tape, Trump was already down by five points with only four weeks to go. He was behind in Florida. Ditto North Carolina. His deficit in Pennsylvania was nearly double digits.
So the question going into the St. Louis debate wasn't "Can Trump turn the race around?" He cannot. No, the question was: "Can Trump perform well enough to avoid being forced out before Election Day?"
The three men with the power to force Trump's hand are Pence, Ryan, and Priebus. And while none of them are foolish enough to think that Trump has a chance to be president, they may decide after tonight that pushing the self-destruct button on the party's presidential campaign is too risky; that it's better to try to ride out the storm.
Which means that there wasn't really a "winner" at the debate. Clinton was terrible. Trump was marginally worse. But the big loser was the Republican party. Because the worst-case scenario for November 9 is not that Hillary Clinton wins—again, that cake is baked. It's that if the party does not cut Trump loose, then Democrats also take over the Senate. And carry the House.

And then as it attempts to rebuild from the wreckage, the GOP remains buried under its shameful Trumpian legacy.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Josh Marshall on Debate #2

Josh Marshall opines on the second debate on Talking Points Memo.

For those of us who've watched a number of these presidential townhall debates what's striking is how different this one was from every previous one. The citizen audience members were barely part of it. I could recall the debate and basically forget they were even there. Townhall debates usually focus tightly on audience questions, with those questions, often focused on real world concerns more than campaign narratives, driving the debate forward. This was totally different. It was largely a contentious and bristling brawl in which the moderators maintained tight control over time but basically let the candidates have a knife fight.

The part of the debate that sort of eludes me is the effect of Trump's manner. I said I thought Trump did considerably better than he did in the first debate. But throughout he was blustering, visibly angry, frequently whining to and about the moderators. He was bellicose, harsh and taunting.

The whole debate, rancid and intense, felt like an ordeal to live through just watching it on TV.

I don't think we can discuss this debate as citizens, take stock of it as a country, without noting that this is certainly the first time one candidate has openly threatened to jail the other candidate. Trump said openly that he would instruct the Justice Department to open a new investigation of Clinton and that he'd make sure it ended with her imprisonment. That's something we expect it kleptocracies and thin democracies where electoral defeat can mean exile, imprisonment or death.

Such a ferocious claim, one that puts our whole constitutional order on its head, is not something that can be easily undone. That's the ranting threat of a would-be strongman and dictator The threat itself is like a bell that can't be un-rung. Through the course of what was often an ugly debate, I was thinking a lot of the destructiveness of this entire campaign, virtually all of which stems from Trump's transgressive, norm-demolishing behavior. It's a topic we'll have to return to in the ed blog and one the country is going to need to wrestle with. None of this is going to disappear after November 8th. These are slashing wounds to the country's political fabric that will at best leave tremendous scar tissue we'll still see for decades.

So did that caustic manner matter? It's a little hard for me to figure that out simply because we know Trump is like this. It's hard to see how anyone is going to be surprised. My best guess is that through all the muck of this debate it will matter simply because it confirms what people already know.
The big issue for Trump, as we've discussed endlessly, is that most people think he's not fit, temperamentally and emotionally, to be president. I suspect anyone who has questions on that front will find their skepticism about him confirmed.

There were also numerous times when Trump simply lied. I suspect that those lies, outside the kinetic intensity of this debate, will come back to bite him over the next week - just as they did in debate one and similarly from the veep debate. Other points weren't 'lies' per se but he doubled and tripled down on his taped comments just being locker room banter.

With all that, my big picture sense is that Trump did significantly better than he did in the first debate. To the extent that one can evaluate these things in win or lose terms, on points, I'd say it was maybe a draw. But the only real measure is what it means for the outcome of the race. By that measure, a draw is a Clinton win. Because Clinton is significantly ahead of Trump with 30 days to go and his party is in the midst of abandoning him. I suspect Trump probably at least partly arrested or at least slowed the run of denunciations within his own party. But Trump needs to shake up the race in a big way or he's on the way to losing. He clearly did not do that. That's the only measure that matters. By that measure, it was Clinton's night.